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U.K. to Allow Extradition of Web Entrepreneur to U.S....For Something That's Probably Not Illegal


An unprecedented intellectual property fight is underway involving a British university student who is under extradition order from the U.K .to the U.S. to face charges that could land him in prison in a country he has never visited.  Richard O'Dwyer, a U.K. citizen and an interactive media student at Sheffield Hallam University, is under extradition order to the U.S.t o stand trial for criminal infringement of copyright and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement.  If convicted, he could wind up in a U.S. prison for ten years for a crime that would carry only a five-year sentence in the U.K.

In 2007, as a 19 year-old student, O'Dwyer founded a website, TVShack.net, which offered links to online TV shows, both legal and unauthorized.  O'Dwyer had no control over the links that TVShack.net's search engine produced and responded to requests by copyright holders to remove any offending links. TVShack.net hosted no content of its own. 

In 2010, under a program operated by the U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), O'Dwyer's domain was seized.  In May 2011, the U.S. Justice Department asked for O'Dwyer to be extradited to the U.S. under a controversial 2003 US-UK extradition treaty, which makes it easier for either country to honor extradition requests from the other in criminal cases.  In January 2012, a UK judge granted the U.S. request and in March Conservative Party member and Home Secretary Theresa May granted the request. O'Dwyer immediately appealed May's ruling, but for now the extradition order stands.

Along the way, O'Dwyer has become something of a cause célèbre in the U.K., highlighting what many of the country's political observers believe is an overly solicitous attitude by the British government toward the U.S. and its military and commercial interests.  And it's clear that U.S. commercial interests, very specifically the Hollywood studios, are behind ICE's push to make an intellectual property poster child out of O'Dwyer.

Hollywood, which has backed stern and often harshly punitive legislative, legal and international treaty efforts to strike at individuals whom the studios believe to be content pirates, has managed to keep a relatively low profile in the O'Dwyer fray.  Part of the reason could be the public drubbing the studios experienced earlier this year,when Hollywood so riled the Internet and human rights communities that a Hollywood-backed bill, the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), was defeated following massive international and web-based protests by leading Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is doing his part to elevate O'Dwyer's cause by launching a petition to stop his extradition.  Wales points out "that no US citizen has ever been brought to the UK for alleged criminal activity on US soil" and Britain's own Crown Prosecution investigated O'Dwyer and chose to bring no charges against him.  Moreover, "America is trying to prosecute a UK citizen for an alleged crime which took place on UK soil," an absurdity which would few Americans would tolerate if the UK tried to prosecute an American for a crime that took place on American soil.

Another salient aspect of the case:  O'Dwyer's efforts are likely not even illegal in the U.S.  O'Dwyer hosted no content himself; he merely provided the links to TV content available on the web, only a portion of which was infringing content.  U.S. law permits content linking and O'Dwyer responded to take-down requests from copyright holders.  All of which is permitted under U.S. law.  At most O'Dwyer might have encouraged others to post links to unauthorized content (the conspiracy charge).

But as the UK's Guardian newspaper put it in an editorial, let's keep things in perspective.
To understand the absurdities of the case to extradite Sheffield undergraduate Richard O'Dwyer to the US, you can do one of two things. The first is to study internet and copyright law (on both sides of the Atlantic), and extradition precedent. The somewhat easier alternative is to imagine a giant sledgehammer hovering over a walnut, because what this case is really about is proportionality.
(Image from CinemaBlend.com)

Growth in Google User Data Requests Jumps in Germany, Turkey, Australia, South Korea and U.S.


Internet giant Google released its twice yearly Global Transparency Report over the weekend and the big news coming out of this treasure trove of data is that government censorship, measured as government requests to Google for content take-downs, is on the rise, with surprising growth in Western and democratic nations such as the U.S., Spain and Poland.  

Google also released twice yearly data on the number of  requests from government agencies and courts to hand over user data in what are presumed to be criminal investigations (Google notes in its FAQ section that it really isn't sure all the requests are truly pursuant to criminal investigations; some requests, for example, may reflect emergency situations where a life is at stake).  These requests can include access to GMail accounts, Google Documents,  identification of YouTube video posters or information related to any Google product.

Google doesn't offer much detail about the kinds of data turned over to the government, saying that different kinds of requests come from different government agencies with different legal authorities.  The company says it may in the future offer greater transparency regarding exactly what kinds of information is given to which governments' agencies and for what kinds of reasons.

For the first time, the data released with the Global Transparency Report permits analysis of trends on an annual basis, with seemingly good data available for 2010 and 2011 for the bulk of countries for which Google tracks this information.  Based on our analysis, requests by governments for user data from Google grew the fastest in Germany, with the number of requests jumping 73.5% year-over-year, from 1,436 to 2,491.

Turkey came in second with an increase of 67.7% (growing from 96 in 2010 to 161 in 2011), followed by Australia with an increase of 47.7% (545 to 805) and South Korea, with an increase of 43.3% (360 to 516).  Although topping the list in terms of sheer number of requests, probably indicative of the wider user of Google products in the U.S., the U.S. ranked fifth in terms of user data request growth, with the number of requests increasing by 38.06%, from 8,888 in 2010 to 12,271 in 2011.

Overall growth for user data requests for the countries analyzed (sufficient data for annual growth analysis was not available for a number of countries) was 19.3%.

The U.S., though, did rank first in terms of the number of such requests fulfilled by Google for the second half of 2010 and the two halves of 2011, with Google complying with these requests 94%, 93% and 93% of the time, respectively.

Of the countries analyzed, Argentina ranked last in terms of how often Google complied with the government requests - Google responded to the requests only about a third of the time during the first half and second half of 2011.  It's not surprising, then, that Argentina ranked dead last in terms of user request growth, with the number of such government requests in Argentina dropping by 46% from 2010 to 2011, sliding from 261 to 141.

AT&T CEO: FCC is Getting Better But Spectrum Situation Must Be Addressed


(Note:  We've added to our curated content collection with a new curated content page on spectrum issues. Take a look and send us your feedback.)

(Washington, DC)  The spectrum crunch in the U.S. is real and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping up its game by speeding the pace of spectrum transfers AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said today.  Speaking at a Brookings Institution event here. Stephenson said "over the last three months, the pace for moving spectrum has been 60 to 90 days," referring to the FCC's ability to process and approve individual spectrum purchase deals AT&T has made.

The quicker pace in turning around the requested transfers "should be the norm and not the exception," Stephenson said, highlighting the sluggish rate at which AT&T contends the regulatory agency has handled these transactions in the past.  "We're trying to encourage the FCC to bring predictability to the industry.  I've commended the FCC here this morning because what we've seen is a stepped-up pace."

AT&T no doubt is still stinging from the Commission's refusal to approve the company's merger with T-Mobile, a deal driven by the need for spectrum.  The soft praise for the FCC signals a softer approach than AT&T has displayed since that deal was scuttled.

A more conciliatory tone toward the FCC could help AT&T as it goes about finding more spectrum.  The company will bid on 700 MHz spectrum that Verizon will sell off once its deal to purchase spectrum from a group of cable companies (SpectrumCo) goes through, Stephenson confirmed.  "It [Verizon's spectrum] pairs perfectly with ours.  If we were to have access to that spectrum, we would put it to work in 60 days."

AT&T hopes that the FCC's handling of the Verizon-SpectrumCo deal will yield some clues about what "the rules of the road" are regarding spectrum purchases.  "We are all waiting for the Verizon-Cableco deal to get approved because of the expectations we can glean from that deal," he said.

The meteoric rise of mobile devices will continue to strain AT&T's capacity, Stephenson said. "We're in a position today where we see exhaust in key markets."  Mobile data is the culprit, with voice and text services mere commodities, he said.  Addressing rival Verizon's announcement this morning that its phone service plans are shifting to data-centric options, Stephenson said "the value is in the data, and the voice and the texting are commoditized.  We've become a mobile data business.  Voice and texting are just apps that ride on top of this."

The dimensions of mobile communication are "mind-boggling," Glenn Hutchins, co-founder of investment firm Silver Lake said during the same event. "Today there are a billion devices that are handheld.  There are six billion mobile service subscriptions worldwide," which exceeds the total world population.

With most annual growth estimates hovering around 100% for mobile communications, "this is the biggest opportunity in the history of technology," Hutchins said.  But the fly in the ointment is not money to build the networks:  it's spectrum.

"This is not an industry that is lacking for capital investment.  The thing that will cause it to slow is lack of availability of spectrum," Hutchins said.

(Note:  We've added to our curated content collection with a new curated content page on spectrum issues. Take a look and send us your feedback.)

Privacy Fear: Will Apple "Spy" Planes, EU Smart Meters Peek into Everyday Lives?


Privacy threats arrive in a lot of different forms -- fears that governments spy on their citizens, concerns that adversaries or criminals will gain an upper hand, vague apprehensions that corporations will use sensitive data to psychodynamically manipulate customers..  But one growing fear is simply an existential unease that someone or something somewhere is keeping track of our everyday, mundane lives, compiling a permanent record that could somehow be used against us by the government, adversaries, criminals or corporations.

Two developments today highlight this nagging fear.  First, European press reports say that Apple, as well as its app rival Google , is using "spy" planes that can "photograph sunbathers in their back garden," surreptitiously capturing every day acts as people go about their ordinary routines, much the way Google's Street Views does.  Reports say that following Apple's purchase of C3 Technology, a 3-D mapping company that uses aerial video recording technology, the company is now testing plane-based video recording systems in twenty locations, including London.  Google, meanwhile, is reportedly using plane-based video recording to augment its 3-D Google Earth system.

The spate of articles precedes Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco, during which the Cupertino giant announced that Apple's latest operating system, iOS6, will feature Apple's own maps application, which enables detailed navigation and local search, among other features.  It's not clear at this point how the C3 technology fits into the new maps feature.

The fear of inadvertently capturing the prosaic details of everyday life also emerges in a report released today by an EU privacy watchdog, which argues that consumers should be able to control all but the most basic data collected by smart meters, which are only now being introduced across the continent.  Issued by the European Data Protection Supervisor, the report (PDF) says that unprecedented and massive collection of personal information in the energy sector ushered in by smart metering will create an impossibly finely grained record of virtually all activities within the home, compiling a domestic data trove ripe for mining by criminals and corporations alike.
To illustrate, by analysing detailed electricity usage data it may be possible in the future to infer or predict -also on a basis of deductions about the way in which electronic tools work- when members of a household are away on holidays or at work, when they sleep and awake, whether they watch television or use certain tools or devices, or entertain guests in their free-time, how often they do their laundry, if someone uses a specific medical device or a baby-monitor, whether a kidney problem has suddenly appeared or developed over time, if anyone suffers from insomnia, or indeed whether individuals sleep in the same room.
In both cases, Apple's "spy" plane and smart meter domestic data collection, the unstated privacy fear is that there is no place to run, no place to hide when it comes to keeping your personal matters private.  It's one thing to log onto Google and conduct searches, or send text messages by smart phone -- most people by now understand that those acts are recorded somewhere.

But everyday acts of living, such as sunning oneself in the garden or turning on the light in the middle of the night, are assumed to be private.  It's no surprise, then, that Apple's planes or smart meter data collection add to the growing list of privacy fears:  surreptitious tracking of activities once thought to be private.

Infographic by Greenpeace.

Did the U.S. Let the Cyber Security Animals Out of the Zoo?


Last Friday, the New York Times ran this article by David Sanger that lays out a detailed account of how the Obama Administration, following the efforts of the Bush Administration and with great personal involvement by the President himself, implemented America's first sustained use of cyber weapons aimed at crippling Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities.  The cover was blown on this massively sophisticated effort when one of its elements, the Stuxnet worm, got loose in the wild.

The article sparked hundreds of follow-on pieces, blog posts and analyses of the new information revealed, given widespread credence by security experts who say that the information Sanger presents is accurate and appears to be based on highly placed government sources.  Particularly compelling is the description of how a coding error enabled Stuxnet to get loose "like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage" and how the Obama Administration opted to continue the still-effective cyber attacks against Iran's nuclear program even after the cover got blown on the top-secret program.

Stuxnet has provided a powerful template for malicious cyber attackers everywhere, posing a threat to industrial control systems that operate critical infrastructure systems around the globe.  Today's big cyber security news suggests that Stuxnet may not be the only animal that escaped from the zoo.

Sanger's article hints at a connection between the Iran cyber attacks and a brand new, large-scale cyber threat, Flame, an espionage virus that is 40 times larger than Stuxnet and which has already infected computers across the Middle East.  Among Flame's capabilities are:
  • it can gather data and information from  from many sources, including computer microphones and web cameras and files; 
  • it has keystroke logging capabilities; 
  • it can communicate with any Bluetooth device; 
  • it can listen to VoIP or cell calls;
  • it can take screen shots;
  • it can replicate itself on any network;
  • it can expand its functionality beyond the above capabilities through 20 modules.
In short, Flame is a complex, sophisticated threat that most experts suspect was only capable of development by a major nation state.  Some experts speculate that Flame is part of a precursor program to Stuxnet, designed to do forward reconnaissance in preparation for the real cyber attacks.  Like Stuxnet, Flame is dependent on a "zero-day exploit" or an undiscovered vulnerability  in Windows technology.

Today's cyber news was the discovery of the likely propagation route of Flame via Windows update features, raising the notion that the newly discovered threat is capable of jumping from machine to machine on any network.  Microsoft quickly issued a patch to protect against the virus, but as was true with Stuxnet, experts are still scrambling to comprehend and protect against the awesome intruder and an accurate assessment of Flame is likely months away.

In both cases, fingers are pointing at the U.S. government (along with its ally Israel) as the progenitor of these big and powerful viruses, which, to date, are the most real cyber security threats to critical infrastructure systems.  As Paul Rosenzweig points out, it seems a little ironic that the Obama Administration is the chief advocate for legislation mandating cyber security requirements on critical infrastructure industries given that the biggest threats to critical infrastructure right now are viruses and worms developed by the U.S. government and set free by the Administration itself.

Rosenzweig quotes Jason Healey in saying that the Administration's call for mandatory cyber security requirements is akin to an arsonist calling for better fire codes, a possibly simplistic analogy that nonetheless shines a light on the dangers of playing with cyber security fire.  Stay tuned for more information as Sanger's new book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, gets released tomorrow.

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