Sunday, April 30, 2006

We interrupt this Program...

So I had a plethora of links I was going to unload in this post about current developments in the political realm regarding the internet and our liberty interests. Unfortunately, the guys over at PublicKnowledge decided to hijack this thread by creating a video I think everyone should see. Just let the video load below and you will see what I mean.



Just a note...Anyone who has tried to visit PublicKnowledge probably knows that their site is loading very slowly, or not at all. I can't figure out if this is because they are getting too much web traffic after being posted on Digg, or because they have become victims of exactly what the video speaks against. If it's the latter, they have just become the prime example for why Net Neutrality is so important.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The New Windows Genuine Advantage...

Honestly, its not much of an advantage. Starting yesterday, Microsoft released a mandatory update for Windows XP that continues to check the validity of a user's version of Windows. Windows update gives an interesting description of what the new WGA does. BetaNews.com is running an interview with David Lazar about the new program. In his own words:

BN: Is the main problem piracy committed by OEMs, street vendors or end users?

Lazar: We think more about counterfeit because we made a very conscious decision several years back to not really focus on end user behavior, but to think about this more as a systemic problem in our distribution channels and our distribution policies. So we really focus more on counterfeit than on the broader term "piracy."
So, on this basis Microsoft is really trying to prevent distribution counterfeit versions of Windows, but it really doesn't care about its end users. Between the lines, we see that the bottom line is profit.

For some reason this feels like they might be trying to pushing a new End User License Agreement on their users giving them more control over what is on your computer. I don't buy it, but unfortunately, without this new tool, you can't download other Windows Updates. When I received the update prompt, I opted not to install the software knowing what it does. The result was Windows Update refusing to install the definition update for Windows Defender Beta. these comments show that people are working on a quick fix. Really, its starting to look like a good time to switch to Linux. Conspiracy theory...ready...set...GO!

Changing the Law and the Impact of Digital Rights

Digital rights, and digital copyright law has made plenty of news lately, and there is good reason. C|Net News is reporting on a bill coming through Congress that aims to replace the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Justice Department supports these changes, apparently because businesses making money from violating Intellectual property rights helps fund terrorism. What's the most interesting about this particular law is that it punishes piracy with harsher penalties than people involved in child pornography. As anomalous as this seems, it gets worse. The practical effects of this bill will permit the government from restricting the distribution of software that subverts digital rights management software. (see also Public Knowledge's Analysis of the new Law) I can't imagine why Congress would be interested in passing such a bill, especially because of the detrimental impact it will have on the average American computer user. Enough damage has been caused by DRM, take a look at the Sony rootkit fiasco. This will irreparably harm the rights of individual's to use the kind of software they want for their private consumption, prevent do-it-yourself projects, and stifle innovation by non-corporate entities. Something that all iPod users might be concerned about...THIS WILL PREVENT YOU FROM RIPPING CDs TO YOUR IPOD! Realistically, these kinds of laws hurt everyone but media corporations, and prevents the advancement of technology. Maybe we need to make our votes count again, instead of letting deep corporate pockets control our rights.

UPDATE: The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted against Net Neutrality today.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Following Up..

You know something is becoming an issue when Michael Froomkin articulates a pointed opinion. This time, its net neutrality. He also discusses the work going on at SaveTheInternet.com.

Interactive Map of Gas Prices by County Across the United States

More on the Great Internet Debate...


Before I get to the substance of this post, I have promised a couple of my readers some pictures. So, this guy on the right is what I saw when walking into the coffee shop today. I didn't know they had K9 driver's licenses.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. I have been throwing the concept of network neutrality around a lot lately, mostly because its such a hot issue, or at least the debate is heating up. The guys over at SaveTheInternet.com sure seem to think so. This kind of situation, especially when you consider the kinds of abuses that can take place under such a system. A recent post at GigaOM gives several reasons why net neutrality is necessary for the survival of the internet. Net neutrality will have other effects as well. If the net was essentially independently owned, as it would be under these proposals, then the government could easily regulate the content flowing over the internet and institute hideous programs that would require a rating system for web pages, or require data retention so that the government could easily search where a user has been or what a user has been doing. For the sake of both commercial and libertarian interests, net neutrality must be maintained. If not, technology will be relegated to the kind of high-cost, low-innovation, low-service systems criticized in the 1980's and 1990's because of monopolistic control. Worst case scenario, we end up with a system of private censorship that does not fall within the ambit of First Amendment protection. This would give corporations, and possibly the government, carte blanche to violate civil liberties in a medium that used to be the most open forum on the planet. This needs to end now, to insure equal and fair access to information.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

If I was Alberto Gonzales...

If I was Alberto Gonzales, I would diminish the rights of the average American because they don't do what the President says. I would prohibit free speech on the internet by advocating for legislation that would permit the government to track the average person's internet traffic. I would like to make the American populace like the sheep of China, who have no rights. But, only if I was Alberto Gonzales.

P.S.A. You too can be like Alberto Gonzales, and support the dwindling liberties protected by the Constitution that the President is supposed to uphold, even with a 33% approval rating.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Privatizing the net version 2.0

I have written several posts recently on the big telecos plan to charge at both ends for access to network infrastructure. The outlook at this point continues to be bleak, and points out another problem with the operation of the current legislative process.

A few weeks ago, AT&T announced plans to charge internet based companies for bandwidth, creating what was dubbed the multiple tiered internet. This plan continues to march into reality, especially with the defeat of the Net Neutrality Act. This is not new news by any stretch of the imagination, but it does demonstrate that AT&T is getting closer to implementing the system. A disturbing development is how it all came to be. TechSearch is reporting the disturbing trend of how the politics of this move all came about. Not surprisingly, the guy who carries the buck gets the ear of Congress. As a result, a private company is about to take the internet away from the users and relegate it to a waste of virtual space.

What, though, does this say about the operation of government? Fundamentally, it demonstrates that legislation can be bought. This means that the average citizen is left out of the loop, entirely undermining the political process. The worst part is that the citizenry is largely in the dark because news venues fail to report the subject. The presentation of information to the people continues to get locked up by private interests, and the spread of misinformation is beginning to resemble the spread of propaganda. Information must remain free, both in its distribution and consumption. China is a perfect example of the detrimental consequences of any kind of censorship. What happened to the government protecting the liberty interests of the people?

On a side note, apparently one of the new FCC commissioners is a fan of digital rights management. The guys over at the Tech Liberation Front have an interesting analysis of the situation. I don't necessarily endorse their prospective on DRM but the analysis of Chairman Tate's perspective is interesting none the less.

Update on gas prices...

I wanted to bump this to the front, just an idea of what is going on in the world with gas prices.

For those of you in New York, $4.50 per gallon sound?

In contrast, lets all go to Venezuela, where, as you can tell from the chart, gas only costs $0.14 per gallon!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

RIAA and the End of the Internet...

P2Pnet is running an interesting story about a development in RIAA file sharing litigation in the New York federal district court. The most astonishing claim of the story is that one of the RIAA's legal arguments is ANY shared file violates copyright law, regardless of whether it was legally obtained. This could cause a potential problem because just about everything on the internet exists in this manner, networks connected through links to make content available. I doubt the average reader of the Grey Area would consider themselves in violation of copyright law. The reductio ad absurdum argument gets better when carried to its legal conclusion. If open directories (basically the entire internet) are violations of copyright law, then copyright law its self is a violation of the First Amendment, and is unconstitutional as a general principle. Interestingly, the RIAA no longer has a legal copyright claim against any P2P file sharer. Why would this violate the First Amendment? Construing contract law in this manner would effectively end the use of the internet for free communication. The Grey Area, for example, could not be used to express this very opinion. This blatant infringement on a generally unregulated area of discourse and commerce violates the principles of free speech by preventing bloggers from presenting their point of view. It could possibly even be construed to violate the Free Press clause of the First Amendment because it would prevent news outlets like The New York Times from disseminating information.

While this exercise in legal logic is a farfetched, its demonstrates exactly how dangerous the arguments presented by the RIAA really are. I think it would be interesting to see the whole of copyright law invalidated under First Amendment concerns, as the law is presented to the court by the RIAA because it demonstrates how short-sighted the goals of the RIAA truly are. Regardless, for all the interesting developments on the battle for intellectual property ownership, check out The Recording Industry v. The People.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Evil of Oil...

This is a subject that I tend to avoid because of its speculative nature, but now that oil is generally broaching $3 per gallon just about everywhere in this part of the country, its time to gripe, but just a little bit. Its no surprise that gas prices are currently ebbing so high, after all the price of light sweet crude just crested above $70 per barrel. Prices appear to fluctuate based on need, availability, and production. Recently, prices seem to fluctuate based on the musings of governments in countries like Iran, Iraq, Chad, and Venezuela. What's worse, these days it feels as though the right person sneezing the wrong way will result in a price increase at the pump. This is a precise example. Amid all of these concerns, we have to wonder if this is really the cause of the price increases. Especially when this is how the executives at Exxon get to retire. Under basic principles of supply and demand, the cost of fuel shouldn't fluctuate in such an outrageous manner. In the end, the average consumer gets screwed at the pump. The net affect on the consumer is the increase cost of everything since you have to pay for had to be shipped and the increase in fuel is pro rated for each item to absorb the increased cost in overhead for the product. Eventually, the increased cost of fuel affects the cost of everything we buy, causing a net increase in the cost of living. The average consumer is then the victim of uncontrollable inflation.

On the other hand, Brazil uses a fuel source known as E85 ethanol, which they use sugar and corn. Currently, American fuel uses 10% ethanol. Brazil is self sufficient in terms of energy and oil. ethanol is a good option, and will probably solve the issue in the interim. However, we can't just create a new form of oil, we really need an energy replacement. Until that occurs, ethanol and hybrid vehicles appear to be the best option. I for one plan on purchasing one as soon as possible, if anything to solve my budget problem from having to shell out $30 to fill my ten gallon tank.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Providing More Substance for the End of Privacy...

Ok, so, my last column in the law school newspaper had some unintended consequences. First, it was actually read, or should I say, it got a reaction. Usually my work fails to inspire people in such a visual way. Second, I am setting up a meeting with the Dean to "discuss my concerns." I guess I should just go back to more fruitless writing. In doing so, we get the following result.

Most privacy-minded individuals and Fourth Amendment scholars worry about things like the NSA warrantless electronic surveillance program, but how about this for a scare. I was amazingly shocked to find out that legislation pending with support of the White House (no surprise there) that would require internet service providers to record the on-line activities of their users in order to track illegal activities. Ok, NSA spying is one thing, but legalizing such a clear violation of personal liberty? (Hi Big Brother. How are you?) Is this what we have come to as a society? I am trying to figure out exactly what the Government is so afraid of. It can't seriously be questionable literary purchases from Amazon, or the junk e-mail I receive peddling Viagra. While the law is proposed to battle on line distribution of Child Pornography, this just seems downright invasive. Like the domestic spying program, there are many who will tout this kind of legislation as necessary to assist the government in stopping the worst kinds of perverts, like they need the NSA program to help catch terrorists. What people don't realize is that so long as any search is legal, ANY evidence of wrongdoing may be used for prosecution of that wrongdoing. Sure, we want to stop the distribution and resulting abuses of child pornography, but the tools to aid this endeavor should NOT sacrifice our own liberties, and give the government a strangle-hold on our rights, on-line or otherwise!

A scary new form of private censorship. For some reason I can't keep my hand from my forehead...

Here is another reason why the RIAA is evil. Lets not forget they have a quota to make in order to continue to make $100 Million from suing the legally defenseless. I guess this would be a good reason to help fight the RIAA.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

New Layout

Ok, I promised some changes, and this is the start of said changes. I decided to go with a three column float, basic style sheet because I like the organization. I also have everything set to auto width based on individual resolutions for visitors. I got really sick of seeing the same pixel width for everything. If this is problematic, or if you have some suggestions for a new color scheme let me know by posting some comments. I also want to smooth out the style sheet with rounded edges. I am going to continue to tweak everything as I go. Let me know what you think.

Update: Had a complaint about the alignment of the layout earlier, so I played with the settings to get it to work right with every resolution, 800x600 and up. let me know if there are any other issues.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

More Support for a Neutral Net

The title link goes to a story from Wired.com. In the article, a former AT&T employee comments on the extent of intrusion the NSA already has, and has had, in our telecommunications. At this point you are probably wondering why this is important, I think Mark Klein says it best:

...it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet -- whether that be peoples' e-mail, web surfing or any other data.


While the existence of the Echelon program is hardly a revelation, its alarming to think exactly how pervasive the program may be. Food for thought.

UPDATE:

This is exactly what Mr. Klein is talking about. With scary technical spec. goodness. That's right everyone, this system can intercept the contents of Voice over Internet Protocol (or VoIP) phone calls. So much for the Fourth Amendment. James Madison is rolling over, again and again...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Following-up on the end of the internet...

The title link goes to an article in the Oklahoma Gazette detailing a new proposal in the House of Representatives. Apparently, this is what we have to look forward to with the death of the Net Neutrality Act. The law, questionably called the Computer Spyware Protection Act (the text of its bigger brother in the Senate), would permit software companies like Microsoft, internet service providers, celluar phone companies, and really anyone else with the appropriate software, to access the harddrive on your personal computer while you are using it. While the law requires the "consent" of the end user, these consent provisions will likely be buried in the End User License agreement (EULA). The EULA is the license agreement that controls the way the end user may legally use the software. Usually, this is the long text document that you are required to read prior installing almost any software. Basically, you would have to permit this sort of access to your computer by installing Windows, or any other software that fits the bill. Effectively, Microsoft could access your computer and delete spyware or viruses. Interestingly enough, it could also target and delete "pirated" music, videos, or other Microsoft software.

While operating under the guise of protecting privacy, this law would allow unfettered access to personal information. There also does not appear to be any definition of what constitutes material that software companies could delete from a personal computer. The worst part is the end user agrees, so there is NO recourse for the end user if a software company deletes material that is otherwise not in violation of any definition of pirated software, maleware, spyware, or a computer virus. Say so long to computers as you know them. If this bill passes, not only will it cause the end of the internet as we now know it, but also the end of personal computer privacy. This kind of "shrink wrap" license contract is, at best, unconscionable. Write your representative from the house and let them know the ramifications of passing this bill!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Oh, By the Way...

If you are a student, in public school, in Washington, don't plan on protesting the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad by wearing your t-shirts. Thanks to Nerdgirl for tipping me off. There is something vaguely familiar about this situation. Regardless, what has our society come to when we so fundamentally diminish the rights of students? The Supreme Court decided this issue in the Tinker decision in 1969. We should not be teaching students that voicing their opinion is unacceptable, this will lead to an adult population willing to submit to actions of the State in conflict with our enumerated rights.

Executive Absurdity...

Wait, what do you mean the President authorized the Scooter Libby CIA leak? Michael Froomkin at Discourse.net made Interesting points regarding this revelation and the operation of the Presidential administration. Apparently, anything the President does is legal. Food for thought.

Litigious Absurdity...

In continuing the theme of catching up on things, we must revisit the constant struggle between regular Americans and juggernauts like the RIAA.

Apparently, the RIAA would rather have victims of their abusive litigious practices drop out of college to pay their settlements than strike a better deal. It's no wonder that artists like Radiohead have blasted the RIAA and the recording industry in general. If that doesn't make you sick, let me put it this way, the RIAA makes $100 Million per year from suing regular Americans. Its no wonder this is the new profit model for big business since they don't have a prayer of making money when their idea of winning over consumers is suing the pants off of them. Logic just committed suicide.

Update:

Wait, What?

Legislative Absurdity...

I have been busy attempting to write my seminar paper examining the role of the judiciary in resolving conflicts over the war powers between the legislative and executive branches of our government. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to post as often as I would like. I guess this is what I have been missing, but in reverse-chronological order. There will be several posts today and tomorrow to catch up.

Apparently, Congress has a need to continue to meddle in the public school system. Screwing the system up through no child left behind just wasn't enough. Now, Congress needs to increase its paternal presence in the public school system and make sure that kids have a selection of healthy snacks in their vending machines. First off, can someone please explain the Constitutional basis for this type of legislation, or legislation about public education in general? Usually, these kinds of laws are justified under the Commerce Clause, but this obscene expansion of Congressional power is now subverting the power of the states to control what should rightfully remain under state control. Yes, we have an adolescent weight problem in this country. No, the answer is not more legislation adding to the bureaucratic bloat of the legal system. Now, I know the idea of people being responsible for themselves is, to some extent, revolutionary, but maybe this could be a viable alternative to legislation.

So much for the internet. While this point is largely hyperbole, the possible effects of cutting the Net Neutrality Act out of upcoming telecommunications legislation will have, essentially, this effect. Some of my previous posts have detailed the problems with creating multiple tiers to the internet and charging companies like Google and Yahoo! for their bandwidth usage. This could have disastrous consequences for our everyday usage of the internet. Could you imagine...MORE ADDS...to pay for these pay schemes? Its more likely that the telecos are using this as a method to limit the influence of technology developments like Internet Protocol TeleVision (IPTV) and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). For all the Vonage users out there, switch from MCI long distance, and now you have to pay $10 more per month to cover MCI's fee levied against Vonage for their bandwidth use. This is particularly absurd because individual users already pay for web access through the same companies who want to raise prices for bandwidth use. The Telecos, then, get the windfall of double billing. Charge the end user for access, and charge the web companies for the amount of traffic they generate. The net result, a charge on both ends.

Update:

My Point Exactly.

Even More.

Scary.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Movement in Laws about Video Games

A number of states have enacted laws preventing the sale of violent of sexually explicit video games to anyone under the age of 17. These laws codify the rating system designed by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). Michigan has one of these laws, but the title link demonstrates that many of these laws violate various state and federal constitutional provisions. Many of these provisions impede upon the free speech rights of the game developers. That notwithstanding, these laws are superfluous. The ESRB rating system is like the film rating system initiated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). These ratings, be it for movies or video games, alert the consumer to the content of the media. Any legislation mirroring the goal and operation of these ratings is unnecessarily repetitive. Moreover, the laws are ridiculously paternalistic. If parents don't want their children to play certain video games, then the parents should be responsible for determining when a game is not suitable for their child, and refuse to buy it. It's unreasonable to presume that laws like these will protect children since it's rarely the children who buy the games. Government intrusion into industry regulation in this manner prevents the advancement of the commercial market for video games. Like the film industry, video games do not need external enforcement. The rating system is sufficient on its own to alert consumers to what they are buying. Thankfully, state and the federal constitutions will likely not permit this sort of legislative over-achievement.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Second...

The BBC is reporting on the same story in the New York Times. From the look of it, the BBC story goes into more depth about the lengths in which the President was willing to go to provoke a confrontation that would lead to the current military action. This is just more proof of the ill intentions of the administration concerning the military operations in Iraq.