Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal are quietly circulating a serious threat to your free speech and security online. Their proposal would give the Attorney General the power to unilaterally write new rules for how online platforms and
services must operate in order to rely on Section 230, the most important law protecting free speech online. The AG could use this power to force tech companies to undermine our secure and private communications.
We must stop this
dangerous proposal before it sees the light of day. Please tell your members of Congress to reject the so-called EARN IT Act.
The Graham-Blumenthal bill would establish a National Commission on Online Child
Exploitation Prevention tasked with recommending best practices for providers of interactive computer services regarding the prevention of online child exploitation conduct. But the Attorney General would have the power to override the Commission's
recommendations unilaterally. Internet platforms or services that failed to meet the AG's demands could be on the hook for millions of dollars in liability.
It's easy to predict how Attorney General William Barr would use that
power: to break encryption. He's said over and over that he thinks the best practice is to weaken secure messaging systems to give law enforcement access to our private conversations. The Graham-Blumenthal bill would finally give Barr the power to demand
that tech companies obey him or face overwhelming liability from lawsuits based on their users' activities. Such a demand would put encryption providers like WhatsApp and Signal in an awful conundrum: either face the possibility of losing everything in a
single lawsuit or knowingly undermine their own users' security, making all of us more vulnerable to criminals. The law should not pit core values--Internet users' security and expression--against one another.
Graham-Blumenthal bill is anti-speech, anti-security, and anti-innovation. Congress must reject it.
A newly proposed law in the state of Tennessee would block all internet porn sites, unless a user chooses to opt in to porn by going through a series of steps and typing in a unique password. The bill was introduced last week by Republican state
representative James Van Huss.
HB 2294 would require ISPs to provide parental controls that block access to a specific website or website category, and the category of pornography must be blocked by default.
Though Van Russ's Tennessee bill is
titled the Safer Internet for Minors Act , the text of the bill contains no specific means for restricting access to the required parental controls to users over 18, and no age verification requirement.
A draft executive order from the White House could put the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in charge of social media censorship. The FFC has a disgraceful record on the subject of internet freedom. It recently showed totally disregard for the
rights of internet users when siding when big business over net neutrality.
Donald Trump's draft order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media
websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration's draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into
account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.
US media giants have clearly been showing political bias when censoring conservative views but appointing the FCC as the internet censor does not bode well.
According to the summary seen by CNN, the draft executive order currently carries the title
Protecting Americans from Online Censorship . It claims that the White House has received more than 15,000 anecdotal complaints of social media platforms censoring American political discourse, the summary indicates.
The FTC will also be
asked to open a public complaint docket, according to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways. Companies whose monthly user base accounts for
one-eighth of the U.S. population or more could find themselves facing scrutiny, the summary said, including but not limited to Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.
The Trump administration's proposal seeks to
significantly narrow the protections afforded to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Under the current law, internet companies are not liable for most of the content that their
users or other third parties post on their platforms. This law underpins any company wanting to allow users to post their own comments without prior censorship. If protectsion were to be removed all user posting would need to be censored before being
After the recent censorship purge of over 800 independent media outlets on Facebook, the Supreme Court is now hearing a case that could have ramifications for any future attempts at similar purges.
The United States Supreme Court has agreed to take a
case that could change free speech on the Internet. Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702, the case that it has agreed to take, will decide if the private operator of a public access network is considered a state actor.
could affect how companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google and YouTube are governed. If the Court were to issue a far-reaching ruling it could subject such companies to First Amendment lawsuits and force them to allow a much broader scope of
free speech from its users.
DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Melendez claimed that they were fired from Manhattan Neighborhood Network for speaking critically of the network. And, though the case does not involve the Internet giants, it could create a
ruling that expands the First Amendment beyond the government.
US politicians are debating the need for internet censorship, social media regulation and privacy legisation.
Recently Axios' David McCabe published a fascinating policy paper from the office of Senator Mark Warner. The paper outlines a comprehensive
censorship and regulatory regime that would touch virtually every aspect of social networks. It's a comprehensive starting point for discussion
The paper is notably well-versed both on the dangers posed by misinformation and the trade-offs that
come with increased regulation, especially to privacy and free speech. No doubt the US debate will be echoed around the world.
So what exactly do Warner and his staff propose? The ideas are designed to address three broad categories:
misinformation, disinformation, and the exploitation of these technologies; privacy and data protection; and competition.
Here are some the ideas presented.
Misinformation, disinformation, and the exploitation of technology.
requiring networks to label automated bots;
requiring platforms to verify identities, despite the significant consequences to free speech;
legally requiring platforms to make regular disclosures about how many fake accounts they've
ending legal protections on contents hosts for defamation;
legally requiring large platforms to create APIs for academic research;
spending more money to fight cyber threats from Russia and other state-level actors.
Privacy and data protection.
Create a US version of the GDPR;
designate platforms as information fiduciaries with the legal responsibility of protecting our data;
empowering the Federal Trade Commission to make rules around data privacy;
legislative ban on dark patterns that trick users into accepting terms and conditions without reading them;
allow the government to audit corporate algorithms.
Require tech companies to continuously disclose to consumers how their data is being used;
require social network data to be made portable;
require social networks to be interoperable;
designate certain products as
essential facilities and demand that third parties get fair access to them.
These proposals remain far from becoming law -- but perhaps not as far as tech platforms would wish.
California is considering a bill that would require the state's attorney general to create a board of internet censors that would target social media.
The group would include at least one person from the Department of Justice, representatives from
social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars, according to CBS13. They would theoretically study how fake stories spread through social media and then advise platforms on how to stop them.
Electronic Frontier Foundation is already taking a stand against the measure, noting that it violates the First Amendment and make the government responsible for deciding if news is true or false.
President Donald Trump has signed the internet censorship FOSTA/SESTA bill into law, paving the way for more law enforcement actions against websites that facilitate prostitution.
Websites started shutting down sex-work forums even before Trump signed
the bill. Craigslist removed its Personals section, Reddit removed some sex-related subreddits, and the Erotic Review blocked any user who appears to be visiting the website from the United States.
The bill becoming law will likely lead to more
voluntary site shutdowns or law enforcement actions against sites that continue to be used for prostitution.
The SESTA and FOSTA acronyms (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) suggest that the new law is aimed at
cracking down on sex trafficking. But the law barely distinguishes between trafficking and consensual sex work.
Operators of websites that let sex workers interact with clients could face 25 years in prison under the new law.
There is no shortage of hostility towards Facebook at the moment, as a result of recent revelations about their exploitation of user data and dissemination of supposed 'fake news'.
And the Californian Government has taken this to a whole new level and
come up with a tradition approach to demand that all online news in the state is censored by government approved 'fact checkers'.
California State Senator Richard Pan introduced the bill SB1424 Internet: social media: false information:
strategic plan. that requires any online communication to be run through government-approved censors fact-checkers.
This bill would require any person who operates a social media Internet Web site with a physical presence in California to
develop a strategic plan to verify news stories shared on its Web site. The bill would require the plan to include, among other things, a plan to mitigate the spread of false information through news stories, the utilization of fact-checkers to verify
news stories, providing outreach to social media users, and placing a warning on a news story containing false information.
Although the bill initially suggests that this would apply only social media companies, the definitions confirm that it
would apply to all internet communications from individuals, and companies large and small. The scope is defined in the bill:
As used in this section, social media means an electronic service or account, or electronic
content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.
The bill stands little chance of passing and, if it did, would face serious challenges in court as an infringement of The First Amendment, but it is astonishing that a legislator would even consider such a thing in America.
Rhode Island state Senator Frank Ciccone has pulled his bill that would have charged users $20 to unblock online porn, citing that dubious origins of the people who suggested th ebill to him.
Ciccone said he made the decision to shelve SB 2584 , which
would have required mandatory porn filters on personal computers and mobile devices, after Time.com and the Associated Press published stories on the main campaigner, Chris Sevier, who has toted his ideas to several states.
Sevier had publicized
that language in his template called the legislation the Elizabeth Smart Law after the girl who was kidnapped from her Utah home as a teenager in 2002. But Smart wanted nothing to do with Sevier idea, and she sent a cease-and-desist letter to
demand her name be removed from any promotion of the proposal.
Ciccone later found out about Smart's letter and learned another thing about Sevier: He had a history of outlandish lawsuits, including one trying to marry his computer as a statement
against gay marriage. Besides filing similar lawsuits targeting gay marriage in Utah, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky, Sevier was sentenced to probation after being found guilty four years ago of harassment threats against country singer
The Senate Commerce Committee just approved a slightly modified version of SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act ( S. 1693 ).
SESTA was and continues to be a deeply flawed bill. It is intended to weaken the section commonly
known as CDA 230 or simply Section 230, one of the most important laws protecting free expression online . Section 230 says that for purposes of enforcing certain laws affecting speech online, an intermediary cannot be held legally responsible for any
content created by others.
It's not surprising when a trade association endorses a bill that would give its own members a massive competitive advantage.
SESTA would create an exception to Section 230 for
laws related to sex trafficking, thus exposing online platforms to an immense risk of civil and criminal litigation. What that really means is that online platforms would be forced to take drastic measures to censor their users.
Some SESTA supporters imagine that compliance with SESTA would be easy--that online platforms would simply need to use automated filters to pinpoint and remove all messages in support of sex trafficking and leave everything else untouched. But such filters do not and cannot exist: computers aren't good at recognizing subtlety and context, and with severe penalties at stake, no rational company would trust them to .
Online platforms would have no choice but to program their filters to err on the side of removal, silencing a lot of innocent voices in the process. And remember, the first people silenced are likely to be trafficking victims
themselves: it would be a huge technical challenge to build a filter that removes sex trafficking advertisements but doesn't also censor a victim of trafficking telling her story or trying to find help.
Along with the Center for
Democracy and Technology, Access Now, Engine, and many other organizations, EFF signed a letter yesterday urging the Commerce Committee to change course . We explained the silencing effect that SESTA would have on online speech:
Pressures on intermediaries to prevent trafficking-related material from appearing on their sites would also likely drive more intermediaries to rely on automated content filtering tools, in an effort to conduct comprehensive content moderation at scale. These tools have a notorious tendency to enact overbroad censorship, particularly when used without (expensive, time-consuming) human oversight. Speakers from marginalized groups and underrepresented populations are often the hardest hit by such automated filtering.
It's ironic that supporters of SESTA insist that computerized filters can serve as a substitute for human moderation: the improvements we've made in filtering technologies in the past two decades would not have happened without
the safety provided by a strong Section 230, which provides legal cover for platforms that might harm users by taking down, editing or otherwise moderating their content (in addition to shielding platforms from liability for illegal user-generated
We find it disappointing, but not necessarily surprising, that the Internet Association has endorsed this deeply flawed bill . Its member companies--many of the largest tech companies in the world--will not feel the
brunt of SESTA in the same way as their smaller competitors. Small Internet startups don't have the resources to police every posting on their platforms, which will uniquely pressure them to censor their users--that's particularly true for nonprofit and
noncommercial platforms like the Internet Archive and Wikipedia. It's not surprising when a trade association endorses a bill that would give its own members a massive competitive advantage.
If you rely on online communities in
your day-to-day life; if you believe that your right to speak matters just as much on the web as on the street; if you hate seeing sex trafficking victims used as props to advance an agenda of censorship; please take a moment to write your members of
Congress and tell them to oppose SESTA .
A trade group representing giants of Internet business from Facebook to Microsoft has just endorsed a "compromise" version of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), a misleadingly named bill that would be disastrous for free speech
and online communities.
Just a few hours after Senator Thune's amended version of SESTA surfaced online, the Internet Association rushed to praise the bill's sponsors for their "careful work and bipartisan
collaboration." The compromise bill has all of the same fundamental flaws as the original. Like the original, it does nothing to fight sex traffickers, but
it would silence legitimate speech online .
It shouldn't really come as a surprise that the Internet
Association has fallen in line to endorse SESTA. The Internet Association doesn't represent the Internet--it represents the few companies that profit the most off of Internet activity.
The Internet Association can tell itself and its members whatever it wants--that it held its ground for as long as it could despite overwhelming political opposition,
that the law will motivate its members to make amazing strides in filtering technologies--but there is one thing that it simply cannot say: that it has done something to fight sex trafficking.
A serious problem calls for serious solutions, and SESTA is not a serious solution. At the heart of the sex trafficking problem lies a complex set of economic, social, and legal issues. A
broken immigration system and a torn safety net. A law enforcement regime that puts
trafficking victims at risk for reporting their traffickers. Officers who aren't adequately trained to use the online tools at their disposal, or use them against victims. And yes, if there are cases where online platforms themselves directly
contribute to unlawful activity , it's a problem that the Department of Justice won't use the powers Congress has already given it .
These are the factors that deserve intense deliberation and debate by lawmakers, not a hamfisted attempt to punish online communities.
The Internet Association let the Internet down today. Congress should not make the same
A bill filed this month by state Representative Bill Chumley would require sellers to install a digital censorship hijack on computers and other devices that access the internet to prevent the viewing of what the lawmaker considers obscene content.
The proposal also would prohibit access to any online resource that supports sex work and would require manufacturers or sellers to block any websites that supposedly facilitate trafficking.
Both sellers and buyers could get around the
limitation, for a ransom fee. The bill would fine manufacturers that sell a device without the blocking system, but they could opt out by paying $20 per device sold. Buyers could also verify their age and pay $20 to remove the censorship software.
Money collected would go toward the Attorney General's Office's pet project of a human trafficking task force.
Chumley's bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Legislators return to Columbia for a new session next month.
US police have shut down TheReviewBoard.net, one of the best known and highly used escort review forums in the Seattle area.
TheReviewBoard.net operated for several years. The site describes itself as
Seattle hobbyists and providers gather to share information, or chat in a relaxed environment.
The website's home page has now been hijacked by police and shows a message indicating it has been:
Seized pursuant to a promoting prostitution investigation conducted by the King County Sheriff's Office, the Bellevue Police Department, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to KIRO-TV, eight men associated with TheReviewBoard.net site were arrested for promoting prostitution, money laundering, and various other charges.
The Sex Workers Outreach Project, known as SWOP, condemned the
site's seizure and noted that there is resulting collateral damage.
SWOP believes the closure of TheReviewBoard.net is the latest in a long history of abuses of people in the sex trade that puts these communities in
more vulnerable and often more dangerous situations.
Along with raids, attacks on web-based communities like TRB harm both native and non-native sex workers. In addition to a discussion forum, TRB functioned as a free advertising
platform for adult workers. Many adult workers in the Northwest relied on the site as a low-barrier and free way to advertise and work without management, indoors, especially subsequent to MyRedbook's closure new barriers for using Backpage to advertise.
Capri Sunshine, a local sex worker and the SWOP-Seattle media coordinator, said:
The site was valuable to a lot of sex workers. It was free, undocumented workers without ID or credit cards could use
it, and it was where most girls got the majority of their work
The US Department of Justice has seized the domain names of three websites offering pirated Android apps.
With help from French and Dutch police, the FBI took over applanet.net, appbucket.net and snappzmarket.com. In their place visitors to the
sites now see the familiar FBI seizure banner.
The domain seizures are the first of their kind against rogue mobile app marketplaces.
Leading up to the actions FBI agents downloaded thousands of popular Android apps from the websites
without charge. FBI Special Agent Brian Lamkin who led the operation described this type of online piracy as a growing problem that can't be ignored.
Arisona's legislature has passed a bill which would update an existing telephone harassment law to apply to the Internet and other forms of electronic communication. The problem, though, is that it dramatically broadens the scope, making it potentially
criminal to even marginally offend someone when they aren't even the target of the offensive communication.
The bill reads:
It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten,
harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.
outlined by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:
The bill is sweepingly broad, and would make it a crime to communicate -- via any electronic means -- speech that is intended to 'annoy,' 'offend,' 'harass' or 'terrify,'
as well as certain sexual speech.
Because the bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, House Bill 2549 would apply to the Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected
material the state finds offensive or annoying.
Words like lewd or profane are not defined by statute, or in reference. Most people understand lewd to mean of a lusty or sexual nature, and profane is
disrespectful of religious beliefs and practices. And how does one define annoying, when it's so individual?
Section one of this law is so vague, in fact, that a person could be prosecuted because a friend of a friend of a friend found a
Facebook post offensive. Which is ridiculous.
Right now, the only thing standing in this bill's way is the governor's signature.
Despite numerous media reports stating that Arizona's HB 2549---the now infamous bill that, as one headline put it, would censor the internet ---has moved from the legislature and is sitting on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk waiting for her John
Hancock, such is not the case, according to the Phoenix New Times.
As we've already mentioned twice before, reported Matthew Hendley this afternoon, the bill was never transferred to the governor, contrary to the numerous media reports
saying it has. The bill was amended before it passed the Senate, meaning it was returned to the House---where it's apparently been stopped.
The bill, which sponsor Vic Williams says was drafted to address online harassment and stalking, and to
protect people's privacy, contains language so sloppily written that UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who is certainly no tinfoil hat-wearing Leftie, said it would not pass constitutional muster.
Filesonic, one of the Internet's leading cyberlocker services, has taken some drastic measures following the Megaupload shutdown and arrests last week. In addition to discontinuing its affiliates rewards program, the site has disabled all sharing
functionality, leaving users only with access to their own files. Many hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of links all around the web have now been rendered useless, at least temporarily.
This combination of news all adds up to a pretty big
deal. Filesonic isn't just some also-ran in the world of cyberlockers. The site is among the top 10 file-sharing sites on the Internet, with a quarter billion page views a month.
Like Megaupload, Filesonic appears to based in Hong Kong and it's
clear that the authorities there already worked with the US government to shut down Kim Dotcom's operations and seize his assets there.
The events of the last week have turned the cyberlocker world upside down and there is quite literally panic
among users and site operators.
The Megaupload takedown appears to be a game-changer.
Fileserve, another leading player, also ended its affiliate program this weekend. Additionally, this morning TorrentFreak received news that Fileserve has now joined Filesonic in banning all 3rd party downloads.
VideoBB and VideoZer have both
reportedly closed their rewards program and according to reports have also been mass deleting accounts and huge numbers of files.
Other sites closing their affiliate programs and/or deleting accounts/files include FileJungle, UploadStation and
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has announced that the encyclopedia will go dark this Wednesday in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, aka SOPA.
Wales tweeted that the English-language version of Wikipedia would go down at midnight this
Wednesday, Eastern standard time (5am in the UK), and come back up in 24 hours.
The heat is rising in the SOPA debate. Over the weekend, for example, three top Obama-administration officials issued a statement that said, in part, While we
believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative
Presumably at least partially in response to the White House's statement -- and a possible Obama veto -- SOPA author Smith has dropped the DNS-blocking provision of the controvertial bill -- an action also taken by Senator
Patrick Leahy (D-VT), sponsor of the Senate's equivalent, the PROTECT IP* Act.
This links to
a protest page with comment and a petition:
Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.
Two bills before
Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and
The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. Sign this petition urging Congress to vote NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late.
Founder Jimmy Wales said:
More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge, it said.
You said no. You shut down Congress's switchboards. You melted their servers. From
all around the world your messages dominated social media and the news. Millions of people have spoken in defense of a free and open Internet.
Along with Facebook, Google and other major technology corporations, Wikipedia says the
laws would place onerous obligations on websites to vet content uploaded by users, and threaten free expression online.
In a dramatic display of the power of online protest, a congressional vote on the anti-piracy bills Pipa and Sopa have been shelved after some of the internet's main players demanded a legislative rethink.
Just two days after chunks of the
internet went dark in opposition to proposals that critics claim will hamper the flow of online information, Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced the postponement of a planned ballot on Pipa, also known as the Protect IP Act.
the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary committee, followed suit, saying his panel would delay action on similar legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or Sopa, until there is wider agreement on the legislation.
The decision to
postpone the votes was made in light of recent events , Reid said -- taken to be a reference to Wednesday's day of action in which Wikipedia led the way with a 24-hour blackout.
During the CNN primary debate in South Carolina on Thursday,
the four remaining Republican candidates vying for the White House nod came out against the Sopa. GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney said the law was far too intrusive and could hamper job creation and would harm the economy. His main rival, former House
speaker Newt Gingrich, said existing laws were sufficient to allow an aggrieved copyright holder to sue, while libertarian Ron Paul said the bill threatened freedom.
The U.S. Justice Department has charged seven individuals connected to the file-sharing site Megaupload.com, accusing them of a massive worldwide online piracy scheme that costed more than $500 million in damages and generated more than $175
million in profits, according to a Justice Department release. Megaupload's CEO is the rapper and DJ Swizz Beatz.
The business is allegedly led by Kim Dotcom of Hong Kong and New Zealand. Dotcom was arrested in New Zealand along with associates.
The main site, Megaupload.com which has been shut down, is accused of infringing on copyright by distributing movies, television shows, books and software even before their release dates. The companies Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited are
accused of having a business model expressly designed to promote uploading of the most popular copyrighted works for many millions of users to download. The site provided financial incentives for uploading popular content, the indictment charges.
The interest in this case is likely to be high as it is conveniently timed to match interest in the recent SOPA protest.
The Megaupload case continues, with Kyle Goodwin from the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) asking the court to return the files, that were legal, back to Goodwin.
Goodwin lost his files when Megaupload was seized in
January, since then they've been to court, both for a hearing and a mediation, but nothing has changed according to the EFF.
On May 24, EFF filed a brief asking the court to order Goodwin's rightfully owned data returned. But the problem is, is
that's not just Goodwin's files, it's the thousands upon thousands of other Megaupload users who had data on their servers, where they thought it was safe.
EFF has asked the court to implement a procedure to make all of those customers whole again
by giving them access to what is legally theirs.
Goodwin used Megaupload to house business files, with others losing person data and information.
Update: MPAA: Megaupload Users Can Have Their Files Back, But...
Almost half a year has passed since Megaupload's servers were raided by the U.S. Government, and still there is no agreement on how former users can retrieve their files. Previously the authorities and MPAA have objected against such a mass
retrieval, but in a filing at the court today the movie industry changed its tone. The MPAA states that users can have their files back as long as access to copyrighted files is blocked.
In the wake of the January shutdown of Megaupload, many of
the site's legitimate users complained that their personal files had been lost.
Among these users are many people in the U.S. military who used the site to share pictures and videos with family. Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom previously informed
TorrentFreak that least 15,634 soldiers had accounts at Megaupload, between them sharing hundreds of thousands of files.
But as of January those files were rendered inaccessible and attempts by the parties involved to come to a solution have
Last month one of Megaupload's users, represented by the EFF, filed a motion asking the court to facilitate such a user data retrieval. Today, the MPAA filed a response to this motion in which they appear to be more open to the
uploaded materials, MPAA's lawyers write.
But along with this sympathy comes a caveat. The movie studios don't want users to have access to copyright-infringing files.
If the Court is willing to consider allowing access for users
such as Mr. Goodwin to allow retrieval of files, it is essential that the mechanism include a procedure that ensures that any materials the users access and copy or download are not files that have been illegally uploaded to their accounts.
Update: US authorities refuse to give back property they have stolen...
Innocent bystanders who lost mountains of data, personal files, documents, and more when the popular but illegitimately operated cloud-based site MegaUpload was taken down, may end up being just plain out of luck, at least for a while. The US Deparment
of Justice wants to block former user Kyle Goodwin from accessing his high school football videos which he uploaded to the site.
But what happens to those who didn't do anything wrong? Lawyers for the US Attorney say the answer is nothing. In the
same way that if you left a video game at a friend's house on the night that police raided your friend's house with a warrant, the government does not have a duty to make sure you get your stuff back in before the case is resolved.
The White House just released a statement commenting on the pending SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills in congress. While the Obama Administration sides with the opposition by saying that free-speech should be protected, censorship is evil, and that
DNS-blocking is a no go, the statement doesn't mean that the bills are off the table.
Responding to two petitions signed by over 50,000 people each, the Obama administration recited much of the criticism voiced by SOPA/PIPA opponents. The
Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe,
the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected.
To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of
current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity.
The only strong position the Obama Administration takes is against
DNS blocking. Here, the White House sides with many of the tech experts, and against the MPAA, by concluding that tampering with DNS poses a threat to the Internet.
In fact many of the lawmakers previously in favor of DNS-blocking have suddenly
started to back pedal. They probably got a heads up and changed their tone before the White House statement was released. SOPA author Lamar Smith said DNS blocking would be removed from the bill until further notice.
On January 18, the online community at reddit will go dark for 12 hours in opposition of the Stop Online Piracy Act now being considered in the House and its companion PROTECT IP Act in the Senate. Both bills would give copyright holders tremendous power
to have websites blocked, to get their advertising cut off, and to shut down their credit card or PayPal payments.
reddit's community has been organizing all manner of objections to the two bills, including a targeted (and successful) boycott of
GoDaddy, which supported the legislation. This time, site admins decided to get involved in order to get the word out to all of reddit's users.
Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated
chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action..
We're not taking this action
lightly. We wouldn't do this if we didn't believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it.
Operation In Our Sites, launched by the US Department of Homeland Security's ICE unit, continues with the seizure of 11 Korean domain names that were allegedly related to movie piracy.
Since Korean websites are becoming likely targets for the
operations launched by US authorities, the well-known banner that declares a site illegal, alerting its visitors that it has been shut down by law enforcement agencies, now has a Korean translation of the warning.
82movie.com, 82movie.net, 82us.com, bzserv.info, itvwmg.com, ktvwmg.com ,wmgitv.com, wmgus.com and wmgus.net were domains that offered download links to the latest movies in return for a small fee.
Many of the seized domains belong to a US
company, even if they were clearly designed to target Korean speakers.
So far, 350 domains have been taken into custody by the US federal government and these operations will not stop too soon.
After a series of one-sided hearings, luxury goods maker Chanel has won recent court orders against hundreds of websites trafficking in counterfeit luxury goods. A federal judge in Nevada has agreed that Chanel can seize the domain names in question and
transfer them all to US-based registrar GoDaddy. The judge also ordered all Internet search engines and all social media websites ---explicitly naming Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bing, Yahoo, and Google---to de-index the domain names
and to remove them from any search results.
The case has been a remarkable one. Concerned about counterfeiting, Chanel has filed a joint suit in Nevada against nearly 700 domain names that appear to have nothing in common. When
Chanel finds more names, it simply uses the same case and files new requests for more seizures. (A recent November 14 order went after an additional 228 sites; none had a chance to contest the request until after it was approved and the names had been
How were the sites investigated? For the most recent batch of names, Chanel hired a Nevada investigator to order from three of the 228 sites in question. When the orders arrived, they were reviewed by a Chanel official
and declared counterfeit. The other 225 sites were seized based on a Chanel anti-counterfeiting specialist browsing the Web.
US authorities have initiated the largest round of domain name seizures yet as part of their continued crackdown on counterfeit and piracy-related websites. 131 domain names have been taken over by the feds to protect the commercial interests of US
companies. The seizures are disputable, as the SOPA bill which aims to specifically legitimize such actions is still pending in Congress.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have resumed Operation In
Our Sites , their domain name seizing initiative.
TorrentFreak has identified 131 domains taken over by the government during the last 24 hours (See
article for list),.
This time the action appears to be mostly sites selling sports kit, football jerseys etc, but there are
also DVD and software sellers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it has seized 70 domain names of websites accused of selling counterfeit products. During the operation,
federal law enforcement officers purchased sports jerseys, baby carriers and luxury goods from the sites. Many of the goods purchased from the sites were shipped from outside the United States.
Federal authorities have seized a total of 839 domain
names, including the latest round of seizures, according to ICE. Of that number, 229 domain names have been forfeited to the U.S. government.
A US federal court has ruled that the domain seizure of sports streaming site Rojadirecta does not violate the First Amendment, and has refused to hand the domain back to its Spanish owner.
The order stands in conflict with previous Supreme Court
rulings and doesn't deliver much hope to other website owners who operate under US controlled domain names.
Two months ago the company behind the site, Puerto 80, filed a petition in the Southern District of New York for the return of its domains.
This call was later supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who together with Center for Democracy and Technology and Public Knowledge submitted an amicus brief in support of the Spanish company.
However the United States District
Court Judge Paul Crotty decided to deny Puerto 80?s request, which means the domain will remain in the hands of the US Government. The Judge argues that seizing Rojadirecta's .com and .org domains does not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The Judge wrote that the main purpose of the Rojadirecta websites, however, is to catalog links to the copyrighted athletic events, any argument to the contrary is clearly disingenuous.'
The Department of Homeland Security's National Operations Center (NOC) will monitor blogs, social media, public forums, message boards and keywords to create a real time estimate of the U.S. national threat situation.
The Mexican paper Milenio
reported a few weeks back that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPC) through its National Operations Center (NOC) will monitor social media websites, blogs, public forums, news websites and keywords to
create a real-time snapshot of the [U.S.] nation's threat environment at any moment.
As the document, titled Privacy Impact Assessment of Public Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative , states:
The NOC will use Internet-based platforms that provide a variety of ways to follow activity related to monitoring publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards. Through the use of
publicly available search engines and content aggregators the NOC will monitor activities on the social media sites.
The NOC will review information posted by individual account users on third-party social media
websites of activities and events necessary to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture. The NOC will access these web-based platforms to identify content posted by public users for the purpose of providing situational
awareness and establishing a common operating picture.
British website owners could face extradition to the US on piracy charges even if their operation has no connection to America and does something which is most probably legal in the UK, the official leading US web anti-piracy efforts has told the
The US's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is targeting overseas websites it believes are breaking US copyrights whether or not their servers are based in America or whether there is another direct US link, said Erik
Barnett, the agency's assistant deputy director.
As long as a website's address ends in .com or .net, if it is implicated in the spread of pirated US-made films, TV or other media it is a legitimate target to be closed down or targeted for
prosecution, Barnett said. While these web addresses are traditionally seen as global, all their connections are routed through Verisign, an internet infrastructure company based in Virginia, which the agency believes is sufficient to seek a US
As well as sites that directly host or stream pirated material, ICE is also focusing on those that simply provide links to it elsewhere. There remains considerable doubt as to whether this is even illegal in Britain, the only such
case to be heard before a British court, involving a site called TV-Links, was dismissed by a judge in February last year.
Barnett, in an interview with the Guardian, explained the broader thinking behind it: By definition, almost all copyright
infringement and trademark violation is transnational. There's very little purely domestic intellectual property theft, he said.
Civil rights and internet freedom organisations said they were alarmed at the apparent intention to enforce US
copyright laws around the globe.
Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: Many countries, including the US, are increasingly asserting jurisdiction over alleged actions that take place in other parts of the world. The internet
increases our risk of falling foul of the law, making it possible to commit an offence on the other side of the world without even leaving your bedroom.
She called on the government to amend the UK's extradition agreement with the US so a
British judge could decide where an alleged crime should be best tried: It would allow UK courts to bar extradition in the interests of justice where conduct leading to an alleged offence has quite clearly taken place on British soil .
The US has come up with a far reaching internet censorship bill called PROTECT IP ( Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property).
The bill is an attempt to deal with foreign sites which can
be difficult for US enforcement to reach, even when those sites explicitly target US citizens.
The PROTECT IP Act makes a few major changes to last year's COICA legislation. First, it does provide a more limited definition of sites dedicated to
infringing activities. The previous definition was criticized as being unworkably vague, and it could have put many legitimate sites at risk.
While the definition of targeted sites is tighter, the remedies against such sites get broader. COICA
would have forced credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa to stop doing business with targeted sites, and it would have prevented ad networks from working with such sites. It also suggested a system of DNS blocking to make site nominally more
difficult to access.
The PROTECT IP Act adds one more entity to this list: search engines. According to the detailed summary of the PROTECT IP Act, this addition responds to concerns raised that search engines are part of the ecosystem that
directs Internet user traffic and therefore should be part of the solution.
Rightsholders also score a major victory with the new legislation, which grants them a private right of action---something Google publicly trashed as a terrible idea
earlier this year. Copyright and trademark holders don't have to badger the government into targeting sites under the new bill; they are allowed to seek court orders directly, though these orders would only apply to payment processors and advertising
networks (not to ISPs or search engines).
The emphasis here is on forcing intermediaries to get involved in policing such sites. The PROTECT IP Act goes even further than forcing these intermediaries to take action after a court order; it actively
encourages them to take unilateral action without any sort of court order at all.
controversial PROTECT IP Act unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today. When the PROTECT IP Act becomes law U.S. authorities and copyright holders will have the power to seize domains, block websites and censor search engines to prevent
copyright infringements. Introduced just two weeks ago, the bill now heads over to the Senate for further consideration and another vote.
Two weeks ago a group of U.S. senators proposed legislation to make it easier to crack down on so-called
rogue websites, and today the Senate's Judicial Committee unanimously approved the bill.
When the PROTECT IP Act becomes law the authorities can legitimately seize any domain name they deem to be facilitating copyright infringement. All that's
required to do so is a preliminary order from the court. But that's just the start, the bill in fact provides a broad range of censorship tools.
In case a domain is not registered or controlled by a U.S. company, the authorities can also order
search engines to remove the website from its search results, order ISPs to block the website, and order ad-networks and payment processors to stop providing services to the website in question.
US authorities have resumed Operation In Our Sites and have seized several domain names associated with copyright infringement or counterfeit related crimes. Among the new targets are two sites that linked to copyrighted films hosted on third
party streaming sites such as megavideo.com and veoh.com.
Previously under the flag of Operation In Our Sites the authorities shut down a dozen file-sharing and streaming sites and many more accused of selling counterfeit goods.
TorrentFreak was able to confirm the latest targets:
The first two domains are accused of copyright-related offenses, but did not host any copyrighted films themselves. Both Re1ease.net and Watchnewfilms.com linked to popular movie streaming sites such as Veoh.com and Megavideo.com. The rest of the
domains appear to be connected to sales of counterfeit goods.
The new targets were most likely put forward to ICE by movie industry groups. In April of this year ICE director John Morton admitted that his organization was acting based on tips
from industry representatives, among others.
The authorities are also aware of the fact that the domain seizures themselves are not really an effective tool. As pointed out before, more than half of the piracy-related domains that were seized
by Operation In Our Sites simply continued under a different name.
Mozilla officials have refused a US government request to ban a Firefox add-on that helps people to access sites that use internet domain names seized earlier this year.
The Firefox add-on, available on Mozilla.org, made it easy for users to
access sites that used some of the confiscated addresses. It did this by redirecting them to substitute domain names that were out of the reach of US courts, such as those with a .de top level domain.
You simply type Demoniod.com into your
browser as usual, the add-on's authors wrote in an FAQ explaining how it works. The browser sends the address to the add-on, the add-on checks if Demoniod.com is on the list of sites to be redirected and immediately redirects you to the mirror
US officials alleged MafiaaFire circumvented their seizure order and asked Mozilla to remove it. The open-source group, in not so many words, said no. Our approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates,
but in this case there was no such court order, Harvey Anderson of Mozilla explained.
A vocal chorus of lawmakers and policy wonks have decried the domain seizures, arguing that the ex parte actions are a serious power grab that threaten the
stability of the internet. If the US government can confiscate addresses it doesn't agree with, what's to stop China or any other country from doing the same thing?
In a major operation against online gambling, the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office have charged the founders of the three biggest Internet poker sites with supposed fraud, illegal gambling and laundering (ie spending) billions of dollars in gambling
The FBI said it's indicting 11 defendants, including the founders of PokerStars , Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, with bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling offenses. The feds also seized five Internet
domain names used by the companies to host their poker games and issued restraining orders against 75 bank account used to process payments. The U.S. attorney's office is also seeking $3 billion in damages. The defendants could be sentenced with up to 20
years in prison.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement: As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued
flow of billions in illegal gambling profits Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud. Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not
free to flout the laws they don't like simply because they can't bear to be parted from their profits.
The feds say the poker sites violate the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in 2006. The offshore poker companies have argued
they operate outside the reach of U.S. law.
The seizure of file-sharing related domain names by the US Government hasn't been as effective as the entertainment industries had hoped since many of them simply continued their operations under new domains. To make these type of domain transitions
go more smoothly, an anonymous group has coded a simple Firefox add-on that automatically redirects users to these new homes.
ICE director John Morton confirmed last week that the seizures will continue in the coming years. But at the same time
the authorities amp up their anti-piracy efforts, those in opposition are already coming up with ways to bypass them.
One of these initiatives is the MAFIAA Fire add-on for Firefox. The plugin, which will support the Chrome browser at a
later stage too, maintains a list of all the domains that ICE (hence the fire) has seized and redirects their users to an alternative domain if the sites in question have set one up.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has received a great deal of backlash for their actions of seizing tens of thousands of domains over the past year, and accusing site owners of counterfeiting, piracy, and ,most recently,
engaging in child pornography. Even a US Senator has pointed out that these actions may violate the constitutional rights of site owners affected, however ICE Director John Morton continues to defend the domain seizures as a noble effort to protect
Morton points out that websites are property that the government has the right to seize when evidence of a crime is revealed: We can seize and forfeit them just like we seize and forfeit bank accounts, houses and vehicles that
are used in other crimes. Any instrument of a crime is subject to our jurisdiction in terms of seizure and forfeit.
Morton also states that the domain seizures are not a tool to censor websites ...BUT... to simply enforce
copyright laws: We're about making sure that the intellectual property laws of the United States, which are clear, are enforced. When somebody spends hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the next movie or a billion dollars to develop the next
heart medicine, the innovation and the enterprise that went into that effort is protected as the law provides. It's that simple.
Fine words but they will be lost on the tens of thousands of innocent website owners who had their domains seized
last month. It is also the duty of these agencies to preserve the rights of Americans. These domain seizure processes need to be reviewed and appropriately overhauled before more mistakes are made and more innocent people are affected.
The US Government has yet again shuttered several domain names this week. The Department of Justice and Homeland Security's ICE office proudly announced that they had seized domains related to counterfeit goods and child pornography. What they failed to
mention, however, is that one of the targeted domains took down 84,000 innocent websites with it.
Thousands of site owners were surprised by a rather worrying banner that replaced their website. Advertisement, distribution, transportation,
receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution, was the worrying message they read on their
The shared domain in question is mooo.com, which belongs to the DNS provider FreeDNS. It is the most popular shared domain at afraid.org and as a result of the authorities' actions a massive 84,000 subdomains were wrongfully seized as
well. All sites were redirected to the US takedown banner.
Eventually the domain seizure was reverted and the subdomains slowly started to point to the old sites again instead of the accusatory banner.
Hilary Clinton scolds other nations for internet censorship
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned repressive governments not to restrict internet freedom, saying such efforts will ultimately fail.
She said the US was committed to global internet freedom and announced that the US government would
invest an additional $25m to help online dissidents and digital activists fight state repression.
She named China, Syria, Cuba, Vietnam and Burma as countries restricting online speech, and noted that Egypt's attempt to stifle protesters by
switching off the internet was unsuccessful. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook were important tools that gave voice to people's aspirations.
She acknowledged that the internet has a problem with hateful speech which can inflame
hostilities, but said that efforts to curb such content often become an excuse to violate rights to free speech: The best answer to offensive speech is more speech. People can and should speak out against intolerance and hatred .
...BUT...she drew a sharp distinction between Wikileaks' possession of secret government correspondence and internet freedom.
Fundamentally, the Wikileaks incident began with an act of theft, Clinton said: Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase.
The whistleblowing group WikiLeaks claims that it has had its funding blocked and that it is the victim of financial warfare by the US government.
Moneybookers, a British-registered internet payment company that collects WikiLeaks donations,
emailed the organisation to say it had closed down its account because it had been put on an official US watchlist and on an Australian government blacklist.
The apparent blacklisting came a few days after the Pentagon publicly expressed its anger
at WikiLeaks and its founder, Australian citizen Julian Assange, for obtaining thousands of classified military documents about the war in Afghanistan, in one of the US army's biggest leaks of information. The documents caused a sensation when they were
made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and German magazine Der Spiegel, revealing hitherto unreported civilian casualties.
WikiLeaks defied Pentagon calls to return the war logs and destroy all copies. Instead, it has been reported
that it intends to release an even larger cache of military documents, disclosing other abuses in Iraq.
Moneybookers moved against WikiLeaks on 13 August, according to the correspondence, less than a week after the Pentagon made public threats of
reprisals against the organisation. Moneybookers wrote to Assange: Following an audit of your account by our security department, we must advise that your account has been closed … to comply with money laundering or other investigations conducted by
A novel use of encryption by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks could challenge the legal system for years to come, according to an influential observer of the hacking community.
Emmanuel Goldstein, editor of 2600 The Hacker Quarterly
magazine, made his comments in reference to an encrypted file recently posted on the Wikileaks site.
Some suspect the file - as yet unopened - contains further sensitive material. It has been reposted around the web and is available for anyone to
Wikileaks recently published 76,000 secret US military logs detailing military actions in Afghanistan; an act the US authorities described as highly irresponsible. The website now says it will release 15,000 further sensitive documents,
once it has completed a review aimed at minimising the risk that the release could put people's lives in danger.
The release of the logs has led many to wonder what action the US might take against Wikileaks. Now it seems the site may be using
encryption as insurance against legal and other threats to the information it holds.
The insurance.aes256 file has been posted alongside the already published leaked war logs and can be downloaded by anyone. Leaked video of July 2007 helicopter
attack in Baghdad Some have speculated that the insurance file is another video
From the file name, it is believed that it has been encrypted using the AES256 algorithm - described as extremely strong by Professor Whitfield Diffie, of the
Information Security Group at Royal Holloway University, London. Prof Diffie believes that AES256, which he says has been extensively studied could prove too tough even for US intelligence agencies to break.
While no-one knows what the
insurance file contains, this has not prevented the contents becoming a matter of considerable speculation. Some suspect that the file contains a further leaked US military video, others that it is another tranche of US military logs - perhaps this time
from Iraq. Or it could just be an imaginative bluff.
Wikileaks has been urged by human rights groups to censor previously secret files on the Afghanistan war to protect civilians who have worked alongside the US and other foreign forces from reprisals.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights
Commission, Amnesty International and three other groups have sent a series of emails to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange calling for the names of Afghan civilians to be removed from the 77,000 classified military documents published by the online
whistle-blower last month, and from any documents disclosed in the future.
Nader Nadery, of the commission said: There was no consideration about civilian lives , noting a rise in assassinations of Afghan civilians seen as government
The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Open Society Institute and the International Crisis Group have also been involved in exchanges about the released documents.
A WikiLeaks spokesman said the group had
requested help from NATO to check the files prior to publication to ensure the lives of civilians were not put at risk: For this reason, we conveyed a request to the White House prior to the publication, asking that the International Security
Assistance Force provide us with reviewers, he said. That request remains open. However, the Pentagon has stated that it is not interested in 'harm minimization' and has not contacted us, directly, or indirectly to discuss this offer.
The website WikiLeaks recently publicly disclosed more than 70,000 classified US field reports from the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says it wants them back.
Press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters the Pentagon was formally demanding
– through the news media – that WikiLeaks return the reports, as well as 15,000 additional records the website says it might release soon: We are asking them to do the right thing and not further exacerbate the damage done to date . If doing
the right thing is not good enough for them, we'll figure out what other alternatives we have.
He declined to elaborate on whether the defence department was contemplating legal action but said the FBI and the justice department were
investigating how the documents were leaked.
Morrell acknowledged that the genie is out of the bottle in regard to the more than 70,000 reports that are not only posted on the WikiLeaks site, but have since been copied and downloaded by
people all over the world. He said the Pentagon was primarily interested in blocking the release of the 15,000 other documents.