Washington Post

The ACLU’s latest lawsuit on warrantless cellphone tracking has hit a dead end

Earlier in June, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a local police department over the warrantless use of cellphone tracking devices, demanding that officials in Sarasota (FL), hand over court documents concerning the practice. The suit has now been thrown out.

State Circuit Court Judge Charles Williams found that he didn't have the jurisdiction to hear the case. That's because even though the case concerns a local police department, it was working on behalf of the US Marshals Service at the time that it deployed the stingray.

Stingrays are used to collect information on nearby cellphones by setting up a fake cell tower; when wireless phones try to connect with the stingray, those contacts get logged by law enforcement. The ACLU claims this is a violation of privacy.

The group said it tried to get Sarasota police to produce the application it filed to a judge for permission to use the stingray, as well as the judge's order. But then, the ACLU said, the US Marshals whisked the documents away to a federal facility, beyond the reach of Florida's public records law. Now the ACLU must either file a federal FOIA request to the US Marshals or continue fighting the court case.

Michael Barfield, the vice president of the ACLU of Florida, said privacy advocates have a chance if they can prove to the court that the records in question were state public records, not federal records. A written agreement between the US Marshals and another local police department on the use of stingrays seems to agree with that interpretation, he said.

Democrats unveil legislation forcing the FCC to ban Internet fast lanes

Democratic lawmakers will unveil a piece of bicameral legislation that would force the Federal Communications Commission to ban fast lanes on the Internet.

The proposal, put forward by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA), requires the FCC to use whatever authority it sees fit to make sure that Internet providers don't speed up certain types of content (like Netflix videos) at the expense of others (like e-mail). It wouldn't give the commission new powers, but the bill -- known as the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act -- would give the FCC crucial political cover to prohibit what consumer advocates say would harm startup companies and Internet services by requiring them to pay extra fees to ISPs.

"Americans are speaking loud and clear," said Sen Leahy, who is holding a hearing on net neutrality in Vermont this summer. "They want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider."

Sen Leahy and Rep Matsui's proposed ban on fast lanes would apply only to the connections between consumers and their ISPs -- the part of the Internet governed by the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules. The FCC's current proposal tacitly allows for the creation of a tiered Internet for content companies, though the commission has asked the public whether it should ban the practice as "commercially unreasonable."

"A free and open Internet is essential for consumers," said Rep Matsui. "Our country cannot afford ‘pay-for-play’ schemes that divide our Internet into tiers based on who has the deepest pockets."

Google and Apple want to be your doctor, and that’s a good thing

Health care has always been a sector ripe for disruption, and now with Google and Apple launching new initiatives for digital health, we’re getting a glimpse of how it might actually happen.

Wearable tech is turning out to be the back door into the health care sector, mostly through data collected from wearable sensors that enable us to monitor our bodies in real time. If done right, both Google Fit and Apple’s HealthKit could eventually help to bring down the high costs of health care.

All those wearable sensors could one day be transmitting so much data that it’s almost a no-brainer that it will help physicians make better decisions about our conditions and ailments. Instead of stopping by the doctor’s office once a year for a check-up, or only once something’s gone wrong, you will now be checking up on your body weekly, daily, maybe even hourly. And that means that you’d have early warning of emerging problems and be able to take proactive measures in advance. Google and Apple -- as two of the tech sector’s most prominent consumer-facing brands -- can do a lot to change the way we think of health care.

15 questions for Tim Wu, the net neutrality scholar who’s running for NY lieutenant governor

A Q&A with Tim Wu, law professor at Columbia University, who is running for New York lieutenant governor.

On running for office, Wu said: “I believe in open democracy as much as I believe in an open Internet."

Regarding mergers in the media industry, Wu stressed the importance of state cooperation with federal regulators: “The state can block a merger. They can't block two companies merging in Texas, but Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable, which happens to have substantial business operations in New York. It is a New York State merger.”

Apple opens applications for $100 million program to improve tech in schools

Schools around the country should start watching their mailboxes. Apple chief executive Tim Cook is starting to send out letters soliciting applications for its portion of a larger White House initiative to improve connectivity and technology in schools.

Apple, which has the most products in use by students in US schools, began sending the letters to various school districts inviting superintendents to apply for its portion of the ConnectED program -- the White House initiative aimed at getting 95 percent of American students on high-speed broadband networks by 2019.

Apple’s portion of the program is in providing iPads, MacBooks, software and technical training to schools with a high percentage of students in lunch assistance programs. The company’s $100 million investment in the program was announced during President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address. Several other firms, including Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon are also participating.

Iraq tries to censor social media, but its success is limited

The Iraqi government moved to block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in a bid to disrupt the social media tools deployed by insurgents as they have swept through the country in a bold drive toward Baghdad.

But the initiative ran into a hard reality of warfare in the 21st century: Losing physical ground means losing control of cyberspace as well. Companies that monitor Internet traffic reported significant declines in access to social media services in Baghdad and the immediate vicinity as providers complied with censorship orders from the Ministry of Communication.

Internet monitoring services detected several hours of outages in Iraq. In Iraq, overall Internet traffic was running at about one-third of its usual levels, according to Akamai, a network that delivers Internet content from servers across much of the world.

In addition to affecting Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the outages also curbed access to WhatsApp and Viber, both of which provide instant messages through cellphones, said Collin Anderson, a researcher affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, who tested access within Iraq to thousands of top Web sites. “Anything that’s a social media site . . . that’s what they’re going after,” Anderson said.

Here’s how people are watching the World Cup -- without cable

Like many popular television programs, online viewing is still only available to those who can prove they also subscribe to cable or satellite television bundles of channels.

That's true for many sports programs and HBO hits such as "Game of Thrones."

But increasingly, consumers are finding ways to defy the requirements of cable companies. And a niche industry has emerged offering software that helps consumers cut the cable cord but still get the content they want online. “Tired of cable? Cut the cord! Learn how to watch LIVE sports without cable here," software company Ghost Path VPN marketed on its blog and through tweets and messages on Facebook.

Through a simple software download, consumers can create virtual private networks that mask or change one's location. The VPN services have also become popular for consumers seeking privacy and security against hackers.

The use of VPNs to watch sports programs do not violate copyright laws, according to John Bergmeyer, a staff attorney at Public Knowledge. But ESPN or other networks with distribution rights to the programs could determine that use of "geo-blocking" services like VPNs violate their terms of service, he said.

Privacy experts say Facebook changes open up ‘unprecedented’ data collection

Facebook came under fire from privacy advocates who say that changes to its ad network mark an unprecedented expansion of its ability to collect users' personal data.

The advocates are also criticizing the Federal Trade Commission for allowing Facebook to make the changes and argue that the network's size gives it too much knowledge about its users.

The social network announced the changes in an official company blog post, saying it will now draw information from other Web sites to inform its ad choices, mirroring the set-up that many other online advertisers use.

Facebook may simply be offering its own version of what other companies already do, said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. But it is a significant change in the advertising landscape because of Facebook's size, he said.

The network has over one billion users worldwide, and hundreds of millions of users in the United States. "It's true that everybody is doing all of this, and that's how the system works," Chester said. "But this is unprecedented. Given Facebook's scale, this is a dramatic expansion of its spying on users."

Chester said that he and other privacy advocates will raise their concerns in a previously scheduled meeting with Federal Trade Commissioner Edith Ramirez and will also be contacting regulators in Europe about the changes. He believes that the new changes should be considered a violation of Facebook's earlier agreement with the regulatory agency.

Facebook argues: "We can't speak for the commission, but we are confident that these updates comply with our legal obligations, including our commitments to the FTC.”

Five myths about net neutrality

[Commentary] It’s not you. “Net neutrality” is confusing. As broadband Internet has replaced dial-up in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has struggled to come up with rules to make sure high-speed Internet service providers adhere to the principle of “neutrality.” Fans and foes of net neutrality both say that if they don’t get their way, the Internet will be ruined. But will it?

  1. The Internet has never been regulated -- no need to start now.
  2. If new net neutrality rules aren’t adopted, the Internet will quickly fall apart. If net neutrality were imposed, the Internet would oses the experimentation that has long been its hallmark.
  3. Net neutrality rules will limit the growth of broadband Internet.
  4. Net neutrality is a battle between corporate giants. It’s the online grass-roots that has kept the vision of a neutral Internet alive for nearly a decade, with assists from advocacy groups such as Free Press and Consumers Union, and tech leaders such as Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Craigslist’s Craig Newmark. They’ve taken a highly technical -- and arguably poorly branded -- idea and turned it into a statement of values.
  5. Either the Internet’s neutral or it’s not. That’s never been true. Wu said himself in his 2003 law journal article, “Neutrality, as a concept, is finicky.” For one thing, even allies on the pro-regulation side of the debate haven’t settled on one definition of “net neutrality.”

Eric Cantor was a friend of the NSA. The guy who beat him hates it.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning defeat in the Virginia primaries had pundits and policy wonks signing the death certificate for immigration reform. But Cantor's loss -- and David Brat's win -- promises to add even more momentum to a different high-profile issue before Congress: National Security Agency surveillance.

Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, has wildly different views on the NSA from his erstwhile opponent. Where Cantor voted against a landmark proposal to rein in the NSA -- a measure that wound up getting defeated but by a much narrower margin than expected -- Brat has argued that the government has abused its powers and "spun out of control." He's called for an end to the NSA's bulk collection of phone records and greater protections for e-mail.

Brat deftly navigates the political waters surrounding the NSA where other Republicans have made confusingly contradictory statements. Brat believes former NSA contractor Edward Snowden should stand trial for breaking the law -- but also appreciates the value of what Snowden did, which for a majority of Americans puts him on the right side of the issue.