Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

Is the CFAA Masking Systematic Discrimination?

Masking-Discrimination

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a key computer crime law, arguing that it violates the Constitution and specifically prevents researchers from identifying systemic discrimination, such as those related to housing and job searches.

The group is backing several anti-discrimination researchers and First Look Media — publishers of the Intercept — in a legal challenge filed Wednesday. At issue is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). This law, among other things, makes it a jailable offense to break the terms of service of any Internet company. (That means that, technically, using a pseudonym on Facebook or lying to let a 12-year-old create a Google account breaks the law.)

The researchers and journalists say that breaking those rules can be necessary for research, and argue that simply violating websites' rules shouldn't carry such a heavy penalty. In particular, the lawsuit says that those looking to investigate whether housing and job sites discriminate against applicants often must create several fake accounts to test how sites' algorithms view similar candidates.

"The law has long protected such socially useful misrepresentation in the offline world," the complaint reads.  "In the online world, however, conducting the same kind of audit testing generally violates websites’ terms of service," the filing notes, which in turn violates the CFAA.

The complaint also argues that researchers must be able to scrape sites — using tools to pull massive amounts of information from them — to collect the datasets they need to conduct their research. Companies tend not to like this, as it pulls what they may consider proprietary data from the businesses they've built.

The researchers and the ACLU argue that the CFAA, as written, violates the First and Fifth amendments by preventing news organizations and researchers from conducting their investigations without fear of harsh punishment. They also argue that the law puts too much power in the hands of companies, which can change their terms at any time — and, in doing so, criminalize any number of behaviors.

The CFAA has been sharply criticized in the past for being overly broad, poorly defined and disproportionately harsh. The debate came to the fore after the 2013 suicide of noted programmer Aaron Swartz, who was facing jail time for scraping information from the academic site JSTOR.

A reform law, called Aaron's Law, was introduced some months later, and proposed that those who violate terms of service should be punished for any damage caused, rather than simply for breaking the rules. The bill has languished in Congress ever since.

By highlighting how the CFAA specifically prevents further research into housing and job discrimination, the ACLU and researchers have found a way to use the government's own priorities against itself. The Obama administration has repeatedly called for close study of whether companies use big data in a discriminatory way. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, asked explicitly whether the use of big data is inclusive or exclusive. And the White House itself released a major report last month cautioning that, used poorly, big data can perpetuate damaging stereotypes.

"Without deliberate care, these innovations can easily hardwire discrimination, reinforce bias, and mask opportunity," the report's authors — including U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith — said in a blog post.

Read Article (name | domain | 03/11/2016)

Agreements or contracts are binding to both parties. But it appears that companies are exempt from penalties of violating said agreements or contracts. To quote a comment of the article: “If breaking the terms of service is a crime, then when an Internet company does not fulfill their 'unlimited speed' or bandwidth agreement, their CEO should also go to jail.”

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Tesla Offers $2.79b for SolarCity & Shares Drop

Tesla-Shares-Drop

Elon Musk called the proposed marriage of Tesla Motors Inc. and SolarCity Corp. a “no brainer,” saying his $2.86 billion plan to combine the companies would benefit both.  Tesla investors didn’t seem so sure. While SolarCity shares rose as much as 29 percent in extended trading, Tesla fell as much as 14 percent.

Oppenheimer & Co. analysts including Colin Rusch downgraded Tesla to perform from outperform in a research note published late Tuesday, saying they expect “a robust shareholder fight over this acquisition centered on corporate governance.”

“We believe investors are likely to view this transaction as a bailout for SCTY and a distraction to Tesla’s own production hurdles,” said Rusch in the note.

Credit Suisse Group AG analysts including Patrick Jobin said in a separate note that they expect “resistance from Tesla shareholders” and warned of “many corporate governance challenges.”

“Investors expect Tesla to keep all its focus on completing the gigafactory and on quickly ramping up production of Model 3 in 2018,” said Salim Morsy, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Both of these goals are existential for Tesla. A SolarCity acquisition doesn’t help execute these critical milestones.”

Musk -- who is chief executive officer of Tesla, chairman of solar-panel maker SolarCity and the largest shareholder of each -- was upbeat. “In my personal opinion, this is obviously something that should happen,” the billionaire said on a conference call Tuesday.

Tesla plans to hold a conference at 7:30 a.m. New York time to discuss the rationale surrounding the offer to acquire SolarCity.

Tesla announced its bid for SolarCity in a blog post, saying the acquisition would “complete the picture.” The move comes as Tesla prepares for production of the Model 3, its more affordable electric car late next year and completes construction of its battery-manufacturing gigafactory east of Reno, Nevada.

If the deal is approved, SolarCity would become a part of Tesla. It’s already part of the family: SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive are Musk’s first cousins. The idea for SolarCity was hatched during a trip the three made to the Burning Man arts festival in the Nevada desert over a decade ago.

According to Tesla, the all-stock deal is worth $26.50 to $28.50 for each SolarCity share. That calculates to a premium of as much as 35 percent from Tuesday’s closing price. The average 12-month price target among analysts surveyed by Bloomberg is $29.82.

‘Room for a Deal’

“It’s clearly not a ‘done deal,’ but rather just an offer for now,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James. “I think there is room for a deal, but likely at a higher level, maybe in the $30s.”

With 100.2 million SolarCity shares outstanding, the proposal is worth as much as $2.86 billion.

Musk said he and Antonio Gracias -- a member of both boards -- would recuse themselves from voting on the takeover offer. JB Straubel, Tesla’s CTO, is also a SolarCity director.

Tesla shareholders will likely look askance at taking on more debt by combining the money-losing companies, said Morsy, the BNEF analyst.

“The company just raised $1.4 billion from an equity issuance in May to finance an accelerated production ramp of Model 3,” he said in an e-mail. “Investors will have trouble looking past the $3.2 billion in debt that Tesla moves on to its own balance sheet for a SolarCity enterprise value of just $5.8 billion.”

Musk owns 22 percent of SolarCity and 21 percent of Tesla, the youngest and smallest publicly held U.S. automaker. The two companies work closely together: SolarCity picked batteries made by Tesla to provide 13 megawatts of electric storage for an array of solar panels to be built on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

“Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun,” Musk said in the blog post.

“Most of our customers have an interest in solar,” he said on the conference call. “But a small percentage actually have it.”

Read Article (Dana Hull | Bloomberg.com | 06/21/2016)

Merging these two seems to be a very logical move. Everyone will benefit, including technology. We are still looking for that leap in energy storage and this may signal something big on the horizon.

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How Brexit Affects Global Technology Industry

Brexit-Affects

Brexit has officially happened, and the implications of the vote to leave the European Union has raised many questions for the global technology industry.

In Britain, a majority of tech firms were against leaving the E.U. A technology industry group survey found that 87 percent of British technology firms wanted to stay in the European Union, and that 70 percent of them worried a vote to leave would damage London’s reputation as a technology hub. Global companies with offices in Britain, such as Microsoft, also campaigned against the move.

Now that the votes have been cast, here are some major issues facing the tech industry in Britain and abroad, in light of the decision.

Data flow and data privacy: The U.S. and the E.U. are in the process of making the final adjustments to their latest data privacy agreement, which governs the flow of data between U.S. and Europe. With a major player in the E.U. now backing out of the coalition, there are obviously some questions about what happens to data flowing in and out of Britain from the U.S. and elsewhere.

Despite the referendum results, however, things in this area will remain with the status quo — for now.

“The Data Protection Act remains the law of the land irrespective of the referendum result,” confirmed the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office, but added that the Brexit does mean that the U.K. will not be subject to upcoming reforms the E.U. is planning to make around data protection.

However, Britain is unlikely to deviate from the policies of the E.U. in this particular area, simply because E.U. standards have become basically standard around the world. Should Britain shy away from those regulations, experts said, it would face dire consequences.

“It will be left out of the group of progressive and forward looking countries with suitable safeguards for personal data,” wrote privacy law expert Eduardo Ustaran ahead of the vote.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the Brexit will have no effect on the world’s data economy. There is also a sense, now that Britain has voted to leave the E.U., that the counterweight it provided against privacy-heavy countries such as Germany and France will also disappear. Germany and France have been leading the charge against major American tech firms -- notably Google, with the “right to be forgotten” ruling.

“This will help strengthen calls from the E.U. member states more concerned about protecting privacy rights,” said privacy advocate Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Some are optimistic that, with fewer E.U. regulations, British companies would thrive. But the uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of the vote makes some uneasy.

“Europe is such an important economy, it would be a shame if this and some existing policy proposals by some in the E.U. came into effect in a way that dampened the ability to use technology and grow their economies,” said Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

Funding: One of the key reasons that many British technology firms said they were against a British exit from the E.U. was that it would be more difficult for them to secure funding for start-ups. London’s technology industry has been on the rise for the past several years.

Britain benefits in large part from funds such as the European Investment Fund, which backs an estimated 41 percent of venture capital investments in Europe. Its majority investor is the European Investment Bank.

But if Britain is no longer a part of Europe, that dries up a source of funding just as questions about how a U.K. shorn of its E.U. ties will regulate health tech, financial tech and other technology industries.

For its part, the EIF has said that it will continue business as usual for the time being. But the vote has injected a note of uncertainty into the start-up market, as Britain will now have to make its own negotiations with the fund.

“The European Investment Fund takes note, with regret, of the vote of the British people to leave the European Union,” the group said in a statement. “EIF will actively engage with the EIB and relevant European institutions to define the EIF’s activity in the UK as part of the broader discussions to determine the future relationship of the UK with Europe and European bodies."

Others also have financial concerns. For example, the video game industry in particular has said that it's worried that the new tax environment won't be as favorable to it as the E.U.'s has been.

Immigration: British tech firms — and technology firms from around the globe with offices there — have also raised concerns that the Brexit will fundamentally harm the tech industry’s ability to fill positions for highly skilled workers. Without the E.U.’s allowances to let workers move freely between countries, British companies are now worried about a shortage of qualified workers. That might be something that gets ironed out in a later agreement. But right now, there are plenty of expat workers in and outside of Britain that are raising questions about how Brexit affects their lives.

The concerns echo the talking points of the tech industry’s calls for immigration reform in the U.S. right now. The tech industry has repeatedly said that it needs to be able to recruit highly skilled foreign-born workers from across the globe in order to meet its labor demands.

Todd Schulte, president of the U.S. immigration group FWD.us, said that while the situations between the U.S. and Britain are obviously different, the need for support for a foreign-born workforce is not.

“In a globalized economy, when you’re trying to sell to the world, a diverse workforce is an asset,” he said.

There are also worries that companies that looked to London as an ideal place to start a company will now look elsewhere. Some start-ups have already begun to evaluate whether London is still the right place for their offices.

"To us, it was obvious to have London as a headquarters for all of Europe," said Allan Martinson, chief operating officer of the delivery startup Starship Technologies. "Today we may need to look for another location if we're working with continental Europeans."

Read Article (Hayley Tsukayama | washingtonpost.com | 06/24/2016)

Leading countries in the digital era have prospered through the sharing of methodologies, agreements and policies. To suddenly stand-apart, exposes one’s self to unknown ramifications.

We can only hope that nothing negative results from this decision.

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Broadband Internet Providers Lose to Net Neutrality

Providers-Lose

WASHINGTON — In a long-awaited decision, a federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, dealing a punishing blow to telecom and cable companies that have sought to overturn the regulations.

Characterizing the government’s net neutrality effort as an “attempt to achieve internet openness” and “the principle that broadband providers must treat all internet traffic the same regardless of source,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded that the rules are authorized under current law.

The FCC rules — which the Obama administration has strongly supported — prevent internet service providers, or ISPs, from charging content producers for faster or more reliable service, a practice known as “paid prioritization.” The rules also ban blocking and purposefully slowing the traffic of lawful services, and apply to both mobile and fixed broadband service.

Taking each of these proposals in turn, the appeals court looked at how they fit within the legal framework that Congress has given the FCC to set the rules for internet service — from dial-up to DSL to cable modem service — and determined that the agency has the power to reclassify broadband service in its various forms as a “telecommunications service” for regulatory purposes.

Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, praised the ruling in a statement. “Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth.”

For years, activists, businesses, politicians and regulators have debated how ISPs should be treated. The ISPs want less regulation so they have more freedom to choose how they manage their services. President Barack Obama and major tech companies have argued that ISPs should be treated more like the legacy phone companies, which cannot unjustly discriminate when providing services.

The current legal spat is an extension of that dispute. Last year, the FCC voted 3-2 to reclassify broadband internet service as a utility under a 1934 law called the Communications Act, which originally aimed to ensure that customers would have access to universal radio and wire service at a reasonable price.

This didn’t mean ISPs would be treated the same as old-school utility companies — they have their own unique rules — but defining them this way gave the FCC broader powers to regulate them. The agency used this authority to enact the net neutrality rules.

AT&T and cable and wireless trade groups sued the agency last year, arguing that the FCC had overstepped. They argued that the Communications Act, which provided legal backing for the new rules, is an outdated framework that was never intended to be used this way. Providers have repeatedly said that they support net neutrality, but believe it can be accomplished under a lighter regulatory regime.

But the FCC already tried using a lighter touch with net neutrality rules. In 2010, it adopted an order that drew authority from a section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a law meant to promote investment and competition. Verizon sued the FCC in 2011 to overturn the rules, and the same appeals court agreed that the FCC did not have solid legal footing, even as it upheld the commission’s power to promulgate open internet rules.

The agency went back to the drawing board and — after receiving more than 4 million comments from the public, activists and business — came up with its new approach, which is how broadband providers ended up with rules they disliked even more. (Verizon is now the parent company of The Huffington Post.)

Though the ruling is a victory for the government and consumer advocates, other big winners include “edge providers” — companies such as Netflix and Google that depend on third parties’ broadband services to drive their product offerings.

In a prior ruling, one of three touching on the legality of regulating broadband services, the D.C. Circuit said these businesses are part of the “virtuous circle” that leads to increased innovation and investment. They, too, were giddy with Tuesday’s watershed result.

“The third time was the charm,” Pantelis Michalopoulos, a lawyer who argued in favor of the net neutrality rules on behalf of Netflix and other intervenors, said in a statement. “The open Internet rules are here to stay.”

Read Article (Liebelson & Farias | huffingtonpost.com | 06/14/2016)

In plain words, ISP’s have distributed Internet service as if “They Owned It!” Yes, some people have forgotten that the Internet belongs to us, the public. We built it and paid for it, we only need ISP’s to access what we own. Hopefully, this will finally put them in their place.

As owners of the Internet, don’t you think you should know how to fully take advantage of it and any device that connects to it? That’s what our campaign is all about.

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Facebook & Google Battle Latest FBI Challenge

Latest-FBI-Attempt

Now the FBI wants access to your web browsing history as they continue efforts to expand surveillance. The FBI and Silicon Valley are in a fight over whether web browsing records are the same as telephone bill records.

The latest surveillance battle gripping the technology industry is focused on a rewrite of US surveillance law that would mean the justice department would be able to access a citizen’s web browsing history, location data and some email records without approval from a judge using a so-called “national security letters” (NSLs).

The FBI contends that such data is covered implicitly under current statute, which was written years ago and only explicitly covers data normally associated with telephone records.

Director James Comey now is lobbying Congress to make clear it also applies to the digital equivalent.

Late on Monday, major technology companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo sent a letter warning Congress that they would oppose any efforts to rewrite law in the FBI’s favor.

“This expansion of the NSL statute has been characterized by some government officials as merely fixing a ‘typo’ in the law,” the companies wrote. “In reality, however, it would dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without court oversight.”

It marks another battle over a small clause in federal law that could dramatically affect how the US conducts terrorism investigations. For years, the bureau has relied on the controversial national security letters to obtain certain types of data quickly from technology companies. These letters don’t require a warrant and often come with a gag order prohibiting the recipients from discussing them. Technology companies complain the FBI has become too reliant on them, but the FBI complains that cases are getting slowed down because some companies have stopped cooperating.

It’s not so much that technology companies don’t want to give any user data to the government. Rather, their legal teams have problems with the growth of national security letters because the accompanying gag orders prevent companies from telling users much about how they help the government. This can create mistrust and, as happened after the Edward Snowden leaks, eventual embarrassment if the details are disclosed.

Companies also argue NSLs are problematic because of the lack of judicial oversight. They give too much power to one branch of government, they argue, and make it hard to predict what the government may ask for next.

Comey has said expanding NSL rules is one of his agencies top legislative priorities. US senators are exploring multiple ways to pass the law tweak this year.

Technology and legal experts also dispute Comey’s argument that he effectively is asking Congress to correct a typo. In 2008, the justice department’s office of legal counsel said explicitly that the agency can only issue national security letters for “name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records”.

At the time, the government had asked DoJ’s lawyer if those four types of data are “exhaustive or merely illustrative of the information that the FBI may request and a provider may turn over”.

To which the office of legal counsel responded: “We conclude that the list ... is exhaustive.”

Read Article (Danny Yadron | theguardian.com | 06/07/2016)

How important is your browsing history to the law? Federal Prosecutors have Claimed that Clearing Browser History is an Obstruction of Justice. Negligent Mom’s Browser History Admissible in court.

Knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important as Internet access if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

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