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This Week In Techdirt History: July 25th - 31st

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Five Years AgoThis week in 2016, the hack of DNC emails was sweeping the news, revealing things that were important regardless of who conducted the hack (and some things that were just plain embarrassing) while we warned against any disastrous overreactions in response. We also highlighted Trump's worrying response as well as a ridiculous tidbit in the backlash from the DNC itself. IsoHunt settled the last of its lawsuits, an MPAA front group was attacking CloudFlare for not censoring the internet, and the TPP was meeting more resistance around the world. This was also the week that Verizon bought Yahoo, and of course it featured a continuation of the Monkey Selfie saga.Ten Years AgoThis week in 2011, governments were engaging in a propaganda war against hacktivist groups, Ron Wyden was pressing intelligence officials about their "secret" interpretation of the Patriot Act while other senators were trying to shift attention elsewhere, and Homeland Security was finally 'fessing up to the latest round of domain seizures. We saw worrying copyright rulings and laws in several countries including Sweden, Sierra Leone, and the UK (which offered up a double) — but perhaps the most concerning was in the US, where a judge put another nail in the coffin of the idea/expression dichotomy by allowing a photographer's lawsuit against Rihanna to move forward. But even more problematic than that was the CAFC ruling in the Myriad case that said individual genes can be patented.Fifteen Years AgoWell, this is an unusual one — as I was looking through posts for this section, I got a sense of deja vu, and had a realization: last month, I accidentally messed up the dates somehow and featured posts from this week in the flashback roundup for the final week of June. So you can go check out that link to see what happened this week in 2006, and today I've rounded up a few things that should have appeared in that post:There were trends of gimmicky WiFi offerings and people blaming Google for their own failures; people were still working to figure out what Nathan Myhrvold was up to with Intellectual Ventures while the Supreme Court agreed to look into the question of patent obviousness; the Sony Rootkit fiasco reared its head again as the makers of a virus that exploited the technology were arrested; we wondered why there was so little honesty in the net neutrality debate, and how Senators who voted against net neutrality could be in favor of the broadcast flag; and we looked at just how little impact the Grokster decision had on the world of file sharing.

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posted at: 12:00am on 01-Aug-2021
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Stop The Antitrust Gerrymandering

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The social media app TikTok was reported to have passed more than 3 billion total downloads in July and was the most downloaded app in the first half of the year. This growth is impressive as it not only was banned in India but is the first app not owned by Facebook to pass 3 billion downloads. Yet in the recent antitrust cases from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the states attorneys general against Facebook, there is little mention of the popular app.This omission is reminiscent of politicians gerrymandering or drawing political lines to benefit their parties' candidates in re-election. Attorneys general and federal agencies have also relied on excluding competitors or narrowly defining markets to make their cases against Google and Facebook.The FTC led lawsuit against Facebook provides a case in point. The lawsuit accuses Facebook of having a monopoly over personal networking services. The FTC argues that products like LinkedIn or Twitter are different from Facebook and shouldn't be considered as a personal networking service. TikTok with its 3 billion downloads fails to warrant a mention.Even with these exclusions, the FTC contends that Facebook only controls approximately 60 percent of the market yet omits whatever company or companies control the other 40 percent. Unsurprisingly the judge was unconvinced of the claim that Facebook controlled 60 percent of the market and gave the FTC 30 days to amend the complaint to show their work.As other cases against Google move through the process, they will likely face the same struggles at convincing judges due to their gerrymandering. The most recent case filed against Google for allegedly holding a monopoly on app stores in the Android mobile operating system is another example.The lawsuit immediately fails to pass any logical test since Android is not the only, let alone the dominant, mobile platform in the United States. Apple's iOS has the majority of users in America and is facing its own antitrust lawsuit from Epic games over its supposed app store monopoly. The states try to get around this by claiming the market is specifically "licensable" operating systems, which excludes iOS, but that only highlights how this is gerrymandering the definition to get to a desired outcome.Even ignoring Apple, the Android system is extremely open allowing users to download a variety of app stores and even allowing for sideloading or downloading apps directly from the developers without need of an app store. The Freedom Phone which uses the Android operating system and purports to protect users from big tech comes preloaded with its own app store for example.The problem with these narrow definitions is that it asks judges to ignore the world in which we actually live for ones constructed for the purpose of showing targeted tech companies are monopolies.Other lawsuits contend that Google holds a monopoly over search when Bing and DuckDuckGo are easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection at no cost. Or that Google faces stiff competition from Facebook, Amazon, and a host of other companies to say nothing of more traditional advertisements.Like political gerrymandering, elected officials filing these cases seem to believe there is political gain for being tough on big tech. But as with poorly drawn political maps, judges are proving more skeptical. Judges play an important role in protecting a fair in neutral system from political pressure. This is true for both elections and antitrust.Eric Peterson is the Director if the Pelican Institute for Technology and Innovation. He currently lives in New Orleans

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posted at: 12:00am on 31-Jul-2021
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DC Court Dumps Police Union's Attempt To Block Release Of Recordings, Officers' Names Following Police Shootings

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Last year, a number of police reforms were passed by the city of Washington, DC. These efforts angered the Fraternal Order of Police -- which represents a number of DC Metro police officers -- enough for it to sue. It sued over two reforms in particular: the release of police recordings (body cam or otherwise) and the names of officers involved in shootings of residents.The FOP insisted this was a bad idea. According to the union, releasing this information would place officers in danger. The FOP speculated making officers' names public would subject them to humiliation, possible armed retribution by city residents, and make it ever so slightly more difficult for them to be employed by other law enforcement agencies.It also suggested releasing footage would violate the privacy rights of citizens, including victims and witnesses at the scene. And it insisted the entire thing reeked of due process violations, since there was a chance (probably a pretty good one) that officers would be cleared of any wrongdoing.Well, the court has rejected all of the FOP's arguments and Metro PD officers are going to have to get used to the new level of transparency that now surrounds their use of deadly force. The court likes exactly zero of the FOP's arguments. First, the court [PDF] points out the police union has no standing to bring this suit, no matter which version of standing it attempts to use.Speculating that the FOP will be involved in more defense of officers accused of wrongdoing following use-of-force incidents isn't an injury the court's willing to recognize. (And it's unclear how releasing footage and names would result in more litigation or internal investigations.)

Simply stating that more resources will be expended is insufficient because the passing of the Temporary Act did not prevent the plaintiffs from performing tasks or actions that they previously could prior the Temporary Act.[...]Further, plaintiff’s alleged future injuries are too speculative to establish organizational standing. The plaintiff alleges that it will have to expended resources to challenge improper transfers of Detectives, but as the defendants pointed out, such an allegation is based a series of potential future events. It is not concrete or imminent injury when the allegations involve a chain of events that essentially start from the Mayor’s release of the footage, to less witnesses willing to testify, to a more difficult investigation, to a lower closure rate, to potential transfers or disciplinary action, and then to plaintiff’s decision whether to represent the officer, assuming that the officer is one of plaintiff’s members. [...] Therefore, plaintiff’s pure speculation about potential future harm is insufficient to establish organizational standing.
The court says the FOP also can't sue because it feels release of footage will infringe on the privacy rights of residents who aren't cops.
In the Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the Temporary Act will infringe on the rights of citizens of the District, such as infringing on their privacy rights. However, it is unclear how the plaintiff can establish a close relationship with every member of the general public who are not members of the plaintiff’s organization. Furthermore, there is no allegation of any “hindrance” to the ability of the public to protect their own interests.
There's no associational standing either.
In the Amended Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the release of the camera footage and names of officers will result in “unjust reputational harm, result in “immediate risk of a significant bodily harm,” and lead to “psychological trauma” to an officer and his/her family. However, these allegations are purely speculation and conclusory allegations that the Court has no obligation to accept under the relevant standards. The pure possibility that something might happen does not constitute an injury.
In addition, there's nothing connecting this speculation to the actions of the city government, which passed the order governing the release of footage and names.
Further, the Amended Complaint also fails to allege how any alleged injuries can be “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s actions. The defendants are not in control of public opinion and cannot be held responsible if a citizen or citizens criticizes or condemns an officer’s use of force in a particular incident.
The court saves the best for last in this dismissal. It dispenses with the union's due process violation allegations by pointing out there's no difference between the officers' body cameras and cameras operated by citizens. You can't say one is protected speech but the other somehow violates the privacy rights of police officers.
In Count II, the plaintiffs contend that Subtitle B of the Temporary Act “violates the fundamental right to privacy held by D.C. Police Union members.” Specifically, the immediate public release of names of officers and body-worn camera footage “will allow criminal suspects and their associates to identify the officer and potentially seek retribution.” First and foremost, there is “no authority that the Constitution imposes on the government an affirmative duty—untethered to specific constitutional provisions such as the First Amendment—to ‘safeguard personal information’ from the criminal acts of third parties.”Importantly, as the defendants mentioned, MPD policy explicitly states that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to record MPD members during official business, unless they interfere with police activity. See MPD General Order 304-19 at § 1. If the public is legally able to record officers during official business, it is unclear how any reasonable officer can assume that they have the right to privacy when conducting said official business.
The lawsuit is dismissed. Presumably this will be appealed, but even when given two chances to fill a lawsuit with actionable claims and firmly establish standing, the FOP failed. Once this is appealed, it's stuck with the arguments that have already failed once. It should probably save its time and money for future Hail Mary litigation in the event of impending release of footage and names.


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posted at: 12:00am on 31-Jul-2021
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Germany's Constitutional Court Ponders Whether Government Users Of Zero-Day Surveillance Malware Have A Duty To Tell Software Developers About The Flaws

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As Techdirt has reported previously, the use of malware to spy on suspects -- or even innocent citizens -- has long been regarded as legitimate by the German authorities. The recent leak of thousands of telephone numbers that may or may not be victims of the Pegasus spyware has suddenly brought this surveillance technique out of the shadows and into the limelight. People are finally starting to ask questions about the legitimacy of this approach when used by governments, given how easily the software can be -- and apparently has been -- abused. An interesting decision from Germany's constitutional court shows that even one of the biggest fans of legal malware is trying to work out how such programs based on zero-days can be deployed in a way that's compatible with fundamental rights. The court's press release explains:

The complainants [to the constitutional court] essentially assert that, by enacting the authorisation laid down in [the German Police Act], the Land Baden-Württemberg violated the guarantee of the confidentiality and integrity of information technology systems -- a guarantee arising from fundamental rights -- because under that provision, the authorities have no interest in notifying developers of any vulnerabilities that come to their attention since they can exploit these vulnerabilities to infiltrate IT systems for the purpose of source telecommunications surveillance, which is permitted under [the German Police Act]. Yet if the developers are not notified, these vulnerabilities and the associated dangers -- in particular the danger of third-party attacks on IT systems -- will continue to exist.
That is, the failure to notify developers about the vulnerabilities means the authorities are putting IT systems in Germany at risk, and should therefore be stopped. The complainants went on to argue that if the court nonetheless ruled that the use of such malware was not considered "inherently incompatible with the state's duty of protection", at the very least administrative procedures should be be established for evaluating the seriousness of the threat that leaving them unpatched would represent, and then deciding on a case-by-case basis whether the relevant developers should be notified.The German constitutional court dismissed the complaint, but on largely technical grounds. The judgment said that the complainants did not have standing, because they had failed to substantiate a breach of the government's duty of protection. Moreover, the top court said the question should first be considered exhaustively by the lower courts, before finally moving to the constitutional court if necessary. However, the judges did recognize that there was a tension between a desire to use zero-days to carry out surveillance, and the German government's duty to protect the country and its computer systems:
In the present case, the duty of protection encompasses the obligation for the legislator to set out how the police are to handle such IT security vulnerabilities. Under constitutional law, it is not inherently impermissible from the outset for source surveillance to be performed by exploiting unknown security vulnerabilities, although stricter requirements for the justification of such surveillance apply due to the dangers posed to the security of IT systems. Furthermore, fundamental rights do not give rise to a claim that authorities must notify developers about any IT security vulnerabilities immediately and in all circumstances. However, the duty of protection does necessitate a legal framework that governs how -- in a manner compatible with fundamental rights -- an authority is to resolve the conflicting aims of protecting IT systems against third-party attacks that exploit unknown IT security vulnerabilities on the one hand, and on the other hand keeping such vulnerabilities open so that source surveillance can be carried out for the purpose of maintaining public security.
It's not clear whether that call for a legal framework to regulate how the authorities can deploy malware, and when they must alert developers to the flaw it exploits, will be heeded any time soon in Germany. But in the light of the Pegasus leak, it seems likely that other countries around the world will start to ponder this same issue. That's particularly the case since such malware is arguably the only way that the authorities can reliably circumvent encrypted communications without mandating the flawed and unworkable backdoors they have been calling for. If more countries decide to follow Germany in deploying these programs, the need for a legal framework to regulate their use will become even more pressing.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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posted at: 12:00am on 30-Jul-2021
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