Archive for the ‘US News’ Category

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eff logo The day before a committee debate and vote on the EARN IT Act, the bill’s sponsors replaced their bill with an amended version . Here’s their new idea: instead of giving a 19-person federal commission, dominated by law enforcement, the power to regulate the Internet, the bill now effectively gives that power to state legislatures

And instead of requiring that Internet websites and platforms comply with the commission’s best practices in order to keep their vital legal protections under Section 230 for hosting user content, it simply blows a hole in those protections. State lawmakers will be able to create new laws allowing private lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against Internet platforms, as long as they say their purpose is to stop crimes against children.

The whole idea behind Section 230 is to make sure that you are responsible for your own speech online–not someone else’s. Currently, if a state prosecutor wants to bring a criminal case related to something said or done online, or a private lawyer wants to sue, in nearly all cases, the prosecutor has to seek out the actual speaker. They can’t just haul a website owner into court because of the user’s actions. But that will change if EARN IT passes. That’s why we sent a letter [PDF] yesterday to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the amended EARN IT bill.

Section 230 protections enabled the Internet as we know it. Despite the politicized attacks on Section 230 from both left and right, the law actually works fine . It’s not a shield for Big Tech–it’s a shield for everyone who hosts online conversations. It protects small messaging and email services, and every blog’s comments section.

Once websites lose Section 230 protections, they’ll take drastic measures to mitigate their exposure. That will limit free speech across the Internet. They’ll shut down forums and comment sections, and cave to bogus claims that particular users are violating the rules, without doing a proper investigation. We’ve seen false accusations succeed in silencing users time and again in the copyright space, and even used to harass innocent users. If EARN IT passes, the range of possibilities for false accusations and censorship will expand.

EARN IT Still Threatens Encryption

When we say the original EARN IT was a threat to encryption, we’re not guessing. We know that a commission controlled by Attorney General William Barr will try to ban encryption, because Barr has said many times that he thinks encrypted services should be compelled to create backdoors for police. The Manager’s Amendment, approved by the Committee today, doesn’t eliminate this problem. It just empowers over 50 jurisdictions to follow Barr’s lead in banning encryption.

An amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), also voted into the bill, purports to protect encryption from being the states’ focus. It’s certainly an improvement, but we’re still concerned that the amended bill could be used to attack encryption. Sen. Leahy’s amendment prohibits holding companies liable because they use end-to-end encryption, device encryption, or other encryption services. But the bill still encourages state lawmakers to look for loopholes to undermine end-to-end encryption , such as demanding that messages be scanned on a local device, before they get encrypted and sent along to their recipient. We think that would violate the spirit of Senator Leahy’s amendment, but the bill opens the door for that question to be litigated over and over, in courts across the country.

And again, this isn’t a theoretical problem. The idea of using client-side scanning to allow certain messages to be selected and sent to the government, circumventing the protections of end-to-end encryption, is one we’ve heard a lot of talk about in the past year. Despite the testimonials of certain experts who have sided with law enforcement, the fact is, client-side scanning breaks the protections of encryption. The EARN IT Act doesn’t stop client-side scanning, which is the most likely strategy for state lawmakers who want to use this bill to expand police powers in order to read our messages.

And it will only take one state to inspire a wave of prosecutions and lawsuits against online platforms. And just as some federal law enforcement agencies have declared they’re opposed to encryption, so have some state and local police.

The previous version of the bill suggested that if online platforms want to keep their Section 230 immunity, they would need to earn it, by following the dictates of an unelected government commission. But the new text doesn’t even give them a chance. The bill’s sponsors simply dropped the earn from EARN IT. Website owners–especially those that enable encryption–just can’t earn their immunity from liability for user content under the new bill. They’ll just have to defend themselves in court, as soon as a single state prosecutor, or even just a lawyer in private practice, decides that offering end-to-end encryption was a sign of indifference towards crimes against children.

Offering users real privacy, in the form of end-to-end encrypted messaging, and robust platforms for free speech shouldn’t produce lawsuits and prosecutions. The new EARN IT bill will do just that, and should be opposed.

260,000 petitioners call for film to be banned over a female actor playing the role of Jesus .

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Poster Habit Janell Shirtcliff Habit is a 2020 USA film by Janell Shirtcliff.
Starring Bella Thorne, Bria Vinaite and Paris Jackson. IMDb The casting of Jackson, a model and actor who is the daughter of the late pop star Michael Jackson, opposite Bella Thorne and musician Gavin Rossdale in the film was announced in April .

The plot synopsis suggests that Thorne plays a street smart party girl with a Jesus fetish [who] gets mixed up in a violent drug deal and finds a possible way out by masquerading as a nun. Jackson’s gender-bending take on the religious figure was reported to include a nose ring, tousled waves and a traditional robe.

Echoing PC rules that selectively ban actors from playing roles based on a different ethnicity (‘blackface’), the petitioners claim that it is unacceptable for a female to play a male role.The petitioners denounce the film as Christianophobic garbage, and call for the film to be banned. The petition has attracted about 260,000 signatures.The petition, which names Warner Bros and Lionsgate as its targets, claims that Jackson will play Jesus as a lesbian, though there is no mention of this in any publicly available reports of the film. The petition also claims the film is blasphemous.

The project previously sparked protest from a christian organisation called One Million Moms , which claimed the film was sacrilegious and ridicules people of faith. It has started its own petition which has attracted about 69,000 signatures.

 

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trump snake oil Donald Trumps re-election team has failed in attempt to censor Nick Anderson’s cartoon mocking Trump’s laughable suggestion that injecting disinfectant could protect against Covid-19.

The cartoon is a reference to the 1978 Jonestown massacre , where more than 900 people died after drinking cyanide-laced punch at the order of cult leader Jim Jones.

The Pulitzer-winning cartoonist put his cartoon The Trump Cult up for sale on the online retailer Redbubble this month. But Redbubble pulled Anderson’s illustration from sale following a trademark infringement claim made by Trump’s campaign organisation, Donald J Trump for President Inc .

Anderson said that he believed the copyright claim was made due to his depiction of Maga hats, and described the situation as absurd.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and other free speech organisations subsequently got involved, sending a group letter to Redbubble that accused Trump’s campaign of having misused Redbubble’s reporting mechanism and arguing that the work and those who publish it are protected by the first amendment.

Redbubble reinstated Anderson’s cartoon this week citing the usual excuse that the censorship was all some ghastly mistake.

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top gun maverick US Senator Ted Cruz will introduce legislation cutting off Defense Department assistance for US movie studios that permit China to censor their content,Cruz said the bill, called the Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, Protecting Talkies Act, (SCRIPT), would bar Hollywood studios from doing business with the Pentagon if they accommodate Chinese censors. He said:

For too long, Hollywood has been complicit in China’s censorship and propaganda in the name of bigger profits. The SCRIPT Act will serve as a wakeup call by forcing Hollywood studios to choose between the assistance they need from the American government and the dollars they want from China.

It is common for major Hollywood films to work with the Pentagon in order use Defense Department assets such as jets, tanks or naval bases. Cruz’s legislation would prohibit the DoD from providing access to such assets to US studios that censor films for screening in the Communist nation.A cited example of Chinese censorship was the removal of a Taiwan flag from Tom Cruise’s flying jacket in the film Top Gun.

The senator’s office said he would introduce the bill when the Senate is next in session.

Go

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doj logo Prager University (PragerU) is a right wing group that creates videos explaining a right wing perspective to political issues.YouTube didn’t much care for the content and shunted the videos up a ‘restricted mode’ back alley.

PragerU challenged the censorship in court but have just lost their case. First Amendment rights in the US bans the state from censoring free speech but this protection does not extended to private companies. PragerU had tried to argue that Google has become so integral to American life that it should be treated like a state institution.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed that YouTube, a Google subsidiary, is a private platform and thus not subject to the First Amendment. In making that determination, the Court also rejected a plea from a conservative content maker that sued YouTube in hopes that the courts would force it to behave like a public utility.Headed by conservative radio host Dennis Prager, PragerU alleged in its suit against YouTube that the video hosting platform violated PragerU’s right to free speech when it placed a portion of the nonprofit’s clips on Restricted Mode, an optional setting that approximately 1.5 percent of YouTube users select so as not to see content with mature themes.

Writing for the appeals court, Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown said YouTube was a private forum despite its ubiquity and public accessibility, and hosting videos did not make it a state actor for purposes of the First Amendment.

ogle wins US court case about its right to censor PragerU

Clinton’s Gang vs the Deplorables…

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Poster Hunt 2019 Craig Zobel The Hunt is a 2019 USA action horror thriller by Craig Zobel.
Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank and Emma Roberts. YouTube icon IMDb

Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt.

The politically charged satire The Hunt, in which elites track and kill deplorables, will now be released after being pulled last year in the wake of of a string of mass shootings.

According to the Hollywood Reporter , The Hunt’s backers will release it in March, having shifted the film from its original release in September last year.

The Hunt is described as a ultra-violent thriller about a gang of wealthy progressives who try to wipe out a group of assorted individuals who have posted right-wing views online.

The decision to scrap the original release was taken in August 2019 in the wake of a series of massacres in Ohio, Texas and California

The Hunt is due for release on over 3,000 screens in the US on 13 March. No date has been set for a UK or Australian release.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee joins the UK and Australia Wanting Everyone to Know It’s Concerned About Encryption.

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EFF logo Yesterday the US Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on encryption and lawful access. That’s the fanciful idea that encryption providers can somehow allow law enforcement access to users’ encrypted data while otherwise preventing the bad guys from accessing this very same data.

But the hearing was not inspired by some new engineering breakthrough that might make it possible for Apple or Facebook to build a secure law enforcement backdoor into their encrypted devices and messaging applications. Instead, it followed speeches, open letters, and other public pressure by law enforcement officials in the U.S. and elsewhere to prevent Facebook from encrypting its messaging applications, and more generally to portray encryption as a tool used in serious crimes, including child exploitation. Facebook has signaled it won’t bow to that pressure. And more than 100 organizations including EFF have called on these law enforcement officials to reverse course and avoid gutting one of the most powerful privacy and security tools available to users in an increasingly insecure world.

Many of the committee members seemed to arrive at the hearing convinced that they could legislate secure backdoors. Among others, Senators Graham and Feinstein told representatives from Apple and Facebook that they had a responsibility to find a solution to enable government access to encrypted data. Senator Graham commented:

My advice to you is to get on with it, because this time next year, if we haven’t found a way that you can live with, we will impose our will on you.

But when it came to questioning witnesses, the senators had trouble establishing the need for or the feasibility of blanket law enforcement access to encrypted data. As all of the witnesses pointed out, even a basic discussion of encryption requires differentiating between encrypting data on a smartphone, also called encryption at rest, and end-to-end encryption of private chats, for example.

As a result, the committee’s questioning actually revealed several points that undercut the apocalyptic vision painted by law enforcement officials in recent months. Here are some of our takeaways:

There’s No Such Thing As an Unhackable Phone

The first witness was Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., who has called for Apple and Google to roll back encryption in their mobile operating systems. Yet by his own statistics, the DA’s office is able to access the contents of a majority of devices it encounters in its investigations each year. Even for those phones that are locked and encrypted, Vance reported that half could be accessed using in-house forensic tools or services from outside vendors. Although he stressed both the high cost and the uncertainty of these tools, the fact remains that device encryption is far from an insurmountable barrier to law enforcement.

As we saw when the FBI dramatically lowered its own estimate of unhackable phones in 2017, the level of security of these devices is not static. Even as Apple and Google patch vulnerabilities that might allow access, vendors like Cellebrite and Grayshift discover new means of bypassing security features in mobile operating systems. Of course, no investigative technique will be completely effective, which is why law enforcement has always worked every angle it can. The cost of forensic tools may be a concern, but they are clearly part of a variety of tools law enforcement use to successfully pursue investigations in a world with widespread encryption.

Lawful Access to Encrypted Phones Would Take Us Back to the Bad Old Days

Meanwhile, even as Vance focused on the cost of forensic tools to access encrypted phones, he repeatedly ignored why companies like Apple began fully encrypting their devices in their first place. In a colloquy with Senator Mike Lee, Apple’s manager of user privacy Erik Neuenschwander explained that the company’s introduction of full disk encryption in iOS in 2014 was a response to threats from hackers and criminals who could otherwise access a wealth of sensitive, unencrypted data on users’ phones. On this point, Neuenschwander explained that Vance was simply misinformed: Apple has never held a key capable of decrypting encrypted data on users’ phones.

Neuenschwander explained that he could think of only two approaches to accomplishing Vance’s call for lawful access, both of which would dramatically increase the risks to consumers. Either Apple could simply roll back encryption on its devices, leaving users exposed to increasingly sophisticated threats from bad actors, or it could attempt to engineer a system where it did hold a master key to every iPhone in the world. Regarding the second approach, Neuenschwander said as a technologist, I am extremely fearful of the security properties of such a system. His fear is well-founded; years of research by technologists and cryptographers confirm that key escrow and related systems are highly insecure at the scale and complexity of Apple’s mobile ecosystem.

End-to-End Encryption Is Here to Stay

Finally, despite the heated rhetoric directed by Attorney General Barr and others at end-to-end encryption in messaging applications, the committee found little consensus. Both Vance and Professor Matt Tait suggested that they did not believe that Congress should mandate backdoors in end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms. Meanwhile, Senators Coons, Cornyn, and others expressed concerns that doing so would simply push bad actors to applications hosted outside of the United States, and also aid authoritarian states who want to spy on Facebook users within their own borders. Facebook’s director for messaging privacy Jay Sullivan discussed ways that the company will root out abuse on its platforms while removing its own ability to read users’ messages. As we’ve written before, an encrypted Facebook Messenger is a good thing , but the proof will be in the pudding.

Ultimately, while the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing offered worrying posturing on the necessity of backdoors, we’re hopeful that Congress will recognize what a dangerous idea legislation would be in this area.

Comment: Open Rights Group joins international outcry over UK government calls to access private messages

11th December 2019. See article from openrightsgroup.org

See letter from openrightsgroup.org

open rights group 2016 logo Open Rights Group has joined dozens of other organizations signing an open letter to the UK government to express significant concerns raised by their recent statements against encryption.

The UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has joined her US counterparts in demanding weaker encryption and asking i nternet companies to design digital back doors into their messaging services. The UK government suggests stronger capabilities to monitor private messages will aid inf fighting terrorism and child abuse. ORG disagrees, arguing that alternative approaches must be used as the proposed measures will weaken the security of every internet user.

ORG is concerned that this attack on encryption forms a pattern of attacks on digital privacy and security by the UK government. Only last week leaked documents showed that the UK wants to give the US access to NHS records and other personal information, in a free flow of data between the two countries.

The open letter was also addressed to US and Australian authorities, and was coordinated by the US-based Open Technology Institute and was signed, among others, by Amnesty International, Article 19, Index on Censorship, Privacy International and Reporters Without Borders.

Javier Ruiz Diaz, Policy Director for Open Rights Group, said:

The Home Secretary wants to be able to access our private messages in WhatsApp and similar apps, demanding that companies remove the technical protections that keep out fraudsters and other criminals. This is wrong and will make the internet less safe. Surveillance measures should be targeted and not built into the apps used by millions of people to talk to their friends and family.

Comment: Facebook has also responded to UK/US/Australian government calls for back doors

11th December 2019. See article [pdf] from about.fb.com

Facebook logo As the Heads of WhatsApp and Messenger, we are writing in response to your public letter addressing our plans to strengthen private messaging for our customers. You have raised important issues that could impact the future of free societies in the digital age and we are grateful for the opportunity to explain our view.

We all want people to have the ability to communicate privately and safely, without harm or abuse from hackers, criminals or repressive regimes. Every day, billions of people around the world use encrypted messages to stay in touch with their family and friends, run their small businesses, and advocate for important causes. In these messages they share private information that they only want the person they message to see. And it is the fact that these messages are encrypted that forms the first line of defense, as it keeps them safe from cyber attacks and protected from falling into the hands of criminals. The core principle behind end-to-end encryption is that only the sender and recipient of a message have the keys to unlock and read what is sent. No one can intercept and read these messages – not us, not governments, not hackers or criminals.

We believe that people have a right to expect this level of security, wherever they live. As a company that supports 2.7 billion users around the world, it is our responsibility to use the very best technology available to protect their privacy. Encrypted messaging is the leading form of online communication and the vast majority of the billions of online messages that are sent daily, including on WhatsApp, iMessage, and Signal, are already protected with end-to-end encryption.

Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly proven that when you weaken any part of an encrypted system, you weaken it for everyone, everywhere. The backdoor access you are demanding for law enforcement would be a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes, creating a way for them to enter our systems and leaving every person on our platforms more vulnerable to real-life harm. It is simply impossible to create such a backdoor for one purpose and not expect others to try and open it. People’s private messages would be less secure and the real winners would be anyone seeking to take advantage of that weakened security. That is not something we are prepared to do.

 

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Facebook logo UK police will be able to force US-based social media platforms to hand over users’ messages, including those that are end to end encrypted, under a treaty that is set to be signed next month.According to a report in The Times, investigations into certain ‘serious’ criminal offenses, will be covered under the agreement between the two countries.

The UK government has been imploring Facebook to create back doors which would enable intelligence agencies to gain access to messaging platforms for matters of national security.

The news of the agreement between the US and UK is sure to ramp up discussion of the effectiveness of end to end encryption when implemented by large corporations. If this report is confirmed and Facebook/police can indeed listen in on ‘end to end encryption’ then such implementations of encryption are worthless.

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Poster Hunt 2019 Craig Zobel The Hunt is a 2019 USA action horror thriller by Craig Zobel.
Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank and Emma Roberts. YouTube icon IMDb

Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt.

The film was also originally titled Red State vs Blue State.

The film had earlier been MPAA R rated for crude and sexual content, nudity, language throughout, comic violence and drug use.

The movie The Hunt has been withdrawn prior to release by the US distributors after two US shooter incidents echoed the politically charged allegory of elites vs red caps underpinning this film.

Hollywood studio Universal distributing an action satire depicting a dozen supposedly red state Americans who wake up in a clearing and realize they are being stalked for sport by elite liberals, is to scrap the movie’s release. The company had already announced that it would not promote or market the film.

The Hunt, produced by Blumhouse, the independent film house known mostly for low-budget horror films such as Paranormal Activity and The Purge as well as also the Oscar winner BlacKkKlansman, was due to come out on 27 September. But gun massacres in Ohio, Texas and California which resulted in more than 30 deaths has reignited a debate about gun control legislation. Blumhouse and distributor Universal Pictures have now said it would no longer release the movie.

Donald Trump inevitably had his say and tweeted about Hollywood liberals:

They like to call themselves ‘Elite,’ but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!

Universal said in a statement.

We stand by our film-makers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.

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FBI logo A few days ago Donald Trump responded to more mass shooters by calling on social networks to build tools for identifying potential mass murderers before they act. And across the government, there appears to be growing consensus that social networks should become partners in surveillance with the government.So quite a timely moment for the Wall Street Journal to publish an article about FBI plans for mass snooping on social media:

The FBI is soliciting proposals from outside vendors for a contract to pull vast quantities of public data from Facebook, Twitter and other social media to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests.

The request was posted last month, weeks before a series of mass murders shook the country and led President Trump to call for social-media platforms to do more to detect potential shooters before they act.

The deadline for bids is Aug. 27.

As described in the solicitation, it appears that the service would violate Facebook’s ban against the use of its data for surveillance purposes, according to the company’s user agreements and people familiar with how it seeks to enforce them.

The Verge comments on a privacy paradox:

But so far, as the Journal story illustrates, the government’s approach has been incoherent. On one hand, it fines Facebook $5 billion for violating users’ privacy; on the other, it outlines a plan to potentially store all Americans’ public posts in a database for monitoring purposes.

But of course it is not a paradox, many if not most people believe that they’re entitled to privacy whilst all the ‘bad’ people in the world aren’t.

hyp3r logo Commercial interests are also very keen on profiling people from their social media postings. There’s probably a long list of advertisers who would love a list of rich people who go to casinos and stay at expensive hotels.

Well As Business Insider has noted, one company Hyp3r has been scraping all public postings on Instagram to provide exactly that information:

A combination of configuration errors and lax oversight by Instagram allowed one of the social network’s vetted advertising partners to misappropriate vast amounts of public user data and create detailed records of users’ physical whereabouts, personal bios, and photos that were intended to vanish after 24 hours.

The profiles, which were scraped and stitched together by the San Francisco-based marketing firm Hyp3r, were a clear violation of Instagram’s rules. But it all occurred under Instagram’s nose for the past year by a firm that Instagram had blessed as one of its preferred Facebook Marketing Partners.

Hyp3r is a marketing company that tracks social-media posts tagged with real-world locations. It then lets its customers directly interact with those posts via its tools and uses that data to target the social-media users with relevant advertisements. Someone who visits a hotel and posts a selfie there might later be targeted with pitches from one of the hotel’s competitors, for example.

The total volume of Instagram data Hyp3r has obtained is not clear, though the firm has publicly said it has a unique dataset of hundreds of millions of the highest value consumers in the world, and sources said more than of 90% of its data came from Instagram. It ingests in excess of 1 million Instagram posts a month, sources said.

See full article from businessinsider.com