New Zealand Apologizes for Illegal Domestic Spying

Meanwhile the United States continues to snoop on everyone and doesn’t even admit it.

By TREVOR TIMM | EFF | OCTOBER 9, 2012

Imagine this: A government, faced with public evidence that its foreign spy service was conducting domestic surveillance on its residents—instead of claiming the information is somehow secret and the people responsible are above the reach of the law—admits in public and in the courtroom that it violated basic rights.

That is exactly what happened last week in New Zealand in the controversial copyright infringement case surrounding Megaupload and its founder Kim Dotcom. At the same time in the US, the government is faced a very similar scenario: overwhelming evidence the National Security Agency (NSA) has illegally spied on Americans. However, not only has the government refused to admit any wrongdoing, it is actively trying to prevent courts from coming to any conclusions.

As EFF has previously reported, the case against Megaupload and Dotcom has been controversial from the start. Dotcom was arrested in New Zealand, while the U.S. government seized Megaupload’s property and executed search warrants on its leased servers based on claims of alleged copyright infringement the day after SOPA was declared dead by Congress. The military-style raid by the New Zealand police was criticized as over-excessive. And the loss of access to the servers has left many innocent users without access to their lawful data.

Then in June, the High Court in New Zealand ruled the warrants executed for the raid in New Zealand were invalid, making the resulting searches and seizures “illegal.” Now add that to the recent news that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)—New Zealand’s equivalent to the NSA—was illegally spying on Dotcom by monitoring all Internet traffic coming to and from his home.  (The GCSB is legally barred some spying on residents of New Zealand, and a cursory check of government records shown Dotcom has been an official resident since 2010.)

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Google Founder: Internet Freedom Under Greatest Threat Ever

Threats range from governments trying to control citizens to the rise of Facebook and Apple-style ‘walled gardens’.

By IAN KATZ | UK GUARDIAN | APRIL 16, 2012

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. “I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, he claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks. He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

“There’s a lot to be lost,” he said. “For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”

Brin’s criticism of Facebook is likely to be controversial, with the social network approaching an estimated $100bn (£64bn) flotation. Google’s upstart rival has seen explosive growth: it has signed up half of Americans with computer access and more than 800 million members worldwide.

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”

He criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years,” he said.

Brin’s comments come on the first day of a week-long Guardian investigation of the intensifying battle for control of the internet being fought across the globe between governments, companies, military strategists, activists and hackers.

From the attempts made by Hollywood to push through legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s plans to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the pioneers of the internet and worldwide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.

In China, which now has more internet users than any other country, the government recently introduced new “real identity” rules in a bid to tame the boisterous microblogging scene. In Russia, there are powerful calls to rein in a blogosphere blamed for fomenting a wave of anti-Vladimir Putin protests. It has been reported that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed “national internet” from this summer.

Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists, echoed Brin’s warning: “We’ve seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.”

Writing in the Guardian on Monday, outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says the Chinese government’s attempts to control the internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. “In the long run,” he says, “they must understand it’s not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.”

Amid mounting concern over the militarisation of the internet and claims – denied by Beijing – that China has mounted numerous cyber-attacks on US military and corporate targets, he said it would be hugely difficult for any government to defend its online “territory”.

“If you compare the internet to the physical world, there really aren’t any walls between countries,” he said. “If Canada wanted to send tanks into the US there is nothing stopping them and it’s the same on the internet. It’s hopeless to try to control the internet.”

He reserved his harshest words for the entertainment industry, which he said was “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot” by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirate material.

He said the Sopa and Pipa bills championed by the film and music industries would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticised China and Iran for using. The entertainment industry failed to appreciate people would continue to download pirated content as long as it was easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material, he said.

“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy,” he said.

Brin acknowledged that some people were anxious about the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers. He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so.

He said: “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”

ISP’s to start policing the web July 12

RUSSIA TODAY | MARCH 15, 2012

Some of the biggest Internet service providers in America plan to adopt policies that will punish customers for copyright infringement, and one of the top trade groups in the music biz announced this week that it could begin as soon as this summer.

The chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America told an audience of publishers on Wednesday that a plan carved out last year to help thwart piracy is expected to prevail and be put in place by this summer. RIAA CEO Cary Sherman was one of the guest speakers among a New York panel this week and he confirmed that, at this rate, some of the most powerful Internet providers in America should have their new policies on the books by July 12, 2012.

Last year, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision Systems and other Internet service providers proposed best practice recommendations that they suggested would help curb copyright crimes on the Web. The end result largely settled on consisted of a “graduate response” approach, a plan that would mean culprits could be issued a series of warnings for illegally downloading suspect material which, after a certain number of offenses, would lead to “mitigation measures,” connection speed throttling and termination of service.

“We anticipate that very few subscribers, after having received multiple alerts, will persist (or allow others to persist) in the content theft,” the Center for Copyright Information said in an official statement last summer as plans were first publicized. Now nearly a year after developments made by the big ISPs were first discussed, the RIAA’s Sherman says that online censorship sanctioned by corporate conglomerates such as Time Warner and Verizon are practically set in stone.

Discussing the road to realizing how to implement the policies, Sherman briefly touched on the technical aspects of the plan this week during the panel. “Each ISP has to develop their infrastructure for automating the system,” Sherman said. They need this “for establishing the database so they can keep track of repeat infringers, so they know that this is the first notice or the third notice. Every ISP has to do it differently depending on the architecture of its particular network. Some are nearing completion and others are a little further from completion.”

So what does this mean for you? If you’re an Internet user in America, almost certainly something significant. Between Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Cablevision, those ISPs alone accounted for around 51 percent of the market in America back in 2008. Figures from June 2010 collected by the United Nation’s ITU division suggests that there are around 240 million Internet users now in the US, which means more than three-fourths of the country’s total population. With those big ISPs only thriving since their last figures were disclosed, 51 percent coverage of the market today would mean that around 120 million users can expect to fall under the umbrella of a massive campaign that could soon see half of the country at risk of having their Internet shut off.

As RT reported last year, a flip of the kill-switch is indeed an option that ISPs can take if they decide they find their customers at fault. That doesn’t mean it’s the be-all-end-all response, though. Under the “six-strike” policy discussed last year, each alleged instance of copyright infringement would prompt the ISP to reach out to its customer in question and inform them that they have detected a violation of US law. Strikes one through four would constitute email warnings of increasing severity, but five through six can come with legal action and end with the termination of service and potentially time behind bars. Although cooperating ISPs said last year that they would suspend service after a certain number of infringements, today they are hesitant to announce permanently cancelling any accounts — but merely putting them on hold while users respond to their legal requests.

The explanation for a change of heart, of course, comes down to money. Earlier this year Cary Sherman penned a ranting diatribe in the New York Times attacking opponents of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act — or SOPA and PIPA, respectively — two anti-Internet legislations that had the hefty support of the RIAA.

“There’s no question that all the companies that are providing access to music are benefiting in some way, legal companies, and that’s entirely appropriate,” Sherman wrote earlier this year. “ISPs have done very well by the availability of music online, because it has created greater demand for broadband access, and as a result they have now penetrated to the 66-67 percent level of US households, because they want access to the content that the entertainment industry offers.”

With the big ISPs having more than 100 million users at their mercy, limiting connection speed could easily convince a good number of people to remediate the alleged violations they are accused of, but actually terminating service for good could be a grave mistake for the industry. National Cable & Telecommunications Association President James Assey said last year that, by implementing the plan,“We are confident that, once informed that content theft is taking place on their accounts, the great majority of broadband subscribers will take steps to stop it.”

Some companies have already taken similar steps, but have been met with their fair share of roadblocks along the way. Verizon has previously sent warning letters to users alleged to be in violation, but those warnings have in some cases proved to be bothersome. In one 2010 episode, for instance, a 53-year-old grandmother was threatened with having her Internet shut-down for sharing copyrighted material — specifically clips from the television show South Park — to which she was completely unaware of. In that case it was an instance of mistaken identity where the woman’s WiFi signal had been hijacked. In their own report, CNet reporters acknowledged that  Verizon never bothered to investigate into the legitimacy of their own claims until after a third-party became involved in the mediation.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we are telling you that the RIAA and certain Internet service providers are the bad guys here. After the SOPA legislation threatened to terminate a good chunk of online services, many websites waged a protest earlier this year by taking themselves offline for 24-hours. Cary Sherman then took to the press to turn the fight around and make it seem like it was the entertainment industry that was suffering, not sites like Wikipedia, a champion of the protest; Cary called them out in his op-ed for aiding in a “digital tsunami” that, along with Google, “manufactured controversy by unfairly equating SOPA with censorship.”

“The hyperbolic mistruths, presented on the home pages of some of the world’s most popular Web sites, amounted to an abuse of trust and a misuse of power,” added Sherman. “When Wikipedia and Google purport to be neutral sources of information, but then exploit their stature to present information that is not only not neutral but affirmatively incomplete and misleading, they are duping their users into accepting as truth what are merely self-serving political declarations.”

Cary went on to say that the last minutue decision to drop SOPA was a questionable one prompted by the mass creation of “misinformation” and suggested it wasn’t the work of democracy, but rather demagoguery. Of course, when the RIAA attacked Megaupload for copyright infringement — which eventually led to US authorities seizing and shutting down the file-sharing site — the response from hacktivists aligned with the Anonymous collective was a massive distributed denial-of-service attack on the websites for the RIAA and a handful of other music and movie biz sites.

With SOPA and PIPA out of the way for now, American users of the Web must look ahead before declaring victory in a war against online censorship. Recently the US fought and won for the extradition of a 23-year-old UK man who operated a website that American authorities decided was in violation of US law. If they are willing to ship a college student abroad to bring him to trial for posting a few links, will they think twice before turning off your Internet for sharing your own copies of South Park? That’s an episode you’ll have to stay tuned for to find out.

Ireland Passes SOPA-like Bill

Russia Today
March 1. 2012

Ireland has signed a controversial amendment dubbed the “Irish SOPA” which reinforces existing copyright law amid widespread concern that it will encroach on Internet freedom.

The new legislation will effectively allow copyright holders to press for legal action against Internet service providers and social networks which show content that infringes copyright legislation. It will force Internet service providers to effectively become censors, by blocking access to these sites.

Irish Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock said that the amendments, signed on Thursday, were more limited than the original proposal after a European court ruled that Internet service providers could not be “proactive” censoring sites.

Sherlock’s statement did not address the controversy surrounding the new law. Instead, he called for “all interested parties to focus now on making Ireland a model of international best practice for innovation, and ensuring that our copyright laws facilitate the achievement of this goal.”

The new law has been a bone of contention over the past month, with protests being held across Ireland and an Internet petition opposing the legislation gathering over 80,000 signatories.

Hacktivist group Anonymous also targeted the Irish government when the amendments were announced at the end of January, breaking into Department of Justice and Department of Finance websites.

“This legislation subverts the democratic process, favors the special interests of corporations over the rights of individual citizens, will destroy the largest growth sector in the Irish economy, and will subject the citizens of Ireland to unwarranted and unintended censorship,”  reads the declaration on the official petition website against the “Irish SOPA”.

America’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), aiming at fighting online piracy, were halted in the US Congress following widespread criticism and protests by the online community.

In a similar development, the EU suspended the ratification of its controversial ACTA legislation, whose proposed powers are similar to its American analogues. The move followed days of resistance, including street rallies, against what has been labeled an undemocratic bill.

União Europea Suspende Ratificação de Acordo ACTA

Por Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
22 de fevereiro de 2012

A UE suspendeu a ratificação do Acordo de Comércio Anti-Contrafacção (ACTA) e encaminhou o texto para o Tribunal Europeu de Justiça para investigar possíveis violações de direitos de privacidade.

A Comissão Europeia decidiu na quarta-feira fazer que o mais alto tribunal da União Europeia “esclareça que o acordo ACTA e sua implementação devem ser totalmente compatíveis com a liberdade de expressão e a liberdade da Internet.”

O debate sobre ACTA “deve ser baseado em fatos e não na falta de informação ou rumores que dominaram sites de mídia social e blogs”, disse o comissário de Comércio da UE, Karel De Guch. A UE não vai ratificar o tratado internacional até que o tribunal emita a sua decisão, acrescentou.

De Guch insiste em que o tratado não vai mudar nada no bloco, mas vai ajudar a proteger a economia criativa.

Países europeus rapidamente assinaram o acordo com os EUA e o Japão pressionando para que o mesmo fosse aprovado em Tóquio há apenas um mês. A ratificação do acordo, no entanto, não está indo tão bem.

ACTA tem enfrentado forte oposição por parte dos europeus, que o vêem como anti-democrático. O povo tomou a sua raiva para as ruas em um protesto sincronizado, dizendo que ACTA viola os seus direitos. Cerca de 200 cidades participaram de uma marcha contra ACTA no dia 11 de Fevereiro.

As autoridades tinham a intenção de proteger a propriedade intelectual e direitos autorais, mas ativistas de direitos humanos alegaram que o conteúdo do acordo demonstra a sua parcialidade em favor de quem está no poder. Eles argumentam que isso viola a liberdade de expressão na Internet e permite o controle sem precedentes de informações pessoais dos cidadãos e a privacidade.

Alguns críticos têm dito que ACTA é como Lei contra a Pirataria na Internet (SOPA), que queriam passar discretamente sem muita discussão.

ACTA até agora foi assinado pela UE como um bloco, 22 membros da UE, e também os EUA, Canadá, Japão, Austrália, Coreia do Sul e alguns outros países. O número total de signatários do tratado é 31.

O Parlamento Europeu se prepara para votar ACTA em junho. Em paralelo, o acordo deve ser ratificado por todos os 27 estados membros da UE. Alemanha, Holanda, Chipre, Estónia e Eslováquia nao assinaram o tratado como tal e, como resultado dos protestos massivos contra ACTA na Europa não estão dispostos a ir em frente com ele. Bulgária, República Checa e Letónia suspenderam o processo de ratificação, enquanto a Polónia recusou-se a ratificar o acordo.

Decisão de quarta-feira significa que a ratificação de ACTA na UE poderia ser adiada por meses.

Traduzido do artigo original: European Union Suspends ACTA Ratification