Black Hole Sun

Blackest is the New Black: Scientists Develop a Material So Dark that You Can’t See ItThe Independent: “A British company has produced a ‘strange, alien’ material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the ‘super black’ coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.”

A Fundamental Problem with the NSA’s Domestic Bulk Data Collection

NSA = J. Edgar Hoover On SteroidsThe Big Picture:

“With a few hundred cable probes and computerized decryption, the NSA can now capture the kind of gritty details of private life that J. Edgar Hoover so treasured and provide the sort of comprehensive coverage of populations once epitomized by secret police like East Germany’s Stasi. And yet, such comparisons only go so far. After all . . . . J. Edgar Hoover still only knew about the inner-workings of the elite in one city: Washington, D.C. To gain the same intimate detail for an entire country, the Stasi had to employ one police informer for every six East Germans — an unsustainable allocation of human resources. By contrast, the marriage of the NSA’s technology to the Internet’s data hubs now allows the agency’s 37,000 employees a similarly close coverage of the entire globe with just one operative for every 200,000 people on the planet. In the Obama years, the first signs have appeared that NSA surveillance will use the information gathered to traffic in scandal, much as Hoover’s FBI once did.”

Read the whole thing. Domestic bulk data collected by the NSA conveys immense power on those with access to this information and will be prone to political (and financial) abuse. History demonstrates that the lure of such data for improper purposes likely will be irresistible. Hoover stayed in office for decades, aided in large part by the information the the FBI had collected on politicians of the day. Imagine what could be done with the data collected by the NSA.



Cyber Law, Tech and Policy

“Arnbak and Goldberg said that the NSA could increase its surveillance of Americans by modifying overseas communications networks so that they would intercept data being transmitted between destinations inside the United States. As soon as the data passes through a foreign server, the NSA could legally monitor it, they said. ‘There are all sorts of things you can do to change the flow of traffic,’ Goldberg said.”

Internet traffic rerouting, swaps and sharing of intelligence with foreign intelligence services, etc. – all these loopholes serve to make vigorous Congressional and judicial oversight of permitted U.S. intelligence activities of prime importance. See also, by the paper’s authors, ‘Loopholes for Circumventing the Constitution’, the NSA Statement, and Our Response at Freedom to Tinker.

“’You should presume that someday, we will be able to make machines that can reason, think and do things better than we can,’ Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in a conversation with Khosla Ventures founder Vinod Khosla. To someone as smart as Brin, that comment is as normal as sipping on his super-green juice, but to someone who is not from this landmass we call Silicon Valley or part of the tech-set, that comment is about the futility of their future . . . . [T]he new machine age is already underway, unseen by us. ‘It is not really just a human world,’ said Sean Gourley, cofounder and CTO of Quid who points out that our connected world is producing so much data that it is beyond human cognitive abilities and machines are going to be part of making sense of it all. So the real question is what will we do and what should we — the technology industry and we the people do?”

General Interest


The Latest on the EU’s “Right to Be Forgotten”

“[T]he incongruity of having Google – or any private party, for that matter – as a decision maker about rights. To place Google in that role is to diminish Europe’s sovereign power, not enhance it, even if the role is compelled by European authorities. It turns a rights problem into a customer service issue, and one that Google and others in its position no doubt rightly disdain. If Google can process 70,000 requests, so can and should the data protection authorities. And not every public decision needs the full, lawyer-heavy trial format to be sufficient to the cause – any more than Google is using it now. This would place decisions about rights in the public sphere where they belong, and limit the scope to the sovereign’s jurisdiction, so a European decision would still not affect use beyond the relevant country-specific Google portals.”

Professor Zittrain also puts forward the sensible proposal that redactions pursuant to the “right to be forgotten” be limited in duration, with claimants required to pursue renewals – after all, information not relevant today for public policy purposes could become so tomorrow.

“[T]he European court found that people have the right to ask for information to be removed from search results that include their names if it is ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive’. In deciding what to remove search engines must also have regard to the public interest. These are, of course, very vague and subjective tests . . . [W]e obviously respect the court’s authority and are doing our very best to comply quickly and responsibly. It’s a huge task, as we’ve had over 70,000 take-down requests covering 250,000 web pages since May. So we now have a team of people reviewing each application individually, in most cases with limited information and almost no context . . . When it comes to determining what’s in the public interest, we’re taking into account a number of factors. These include whether the information relates to a politician, celebrity or other public figure; if the material comes from a reputable news source, and how recent it is; whether it involves political speech; questions of professional conduct that might be relevant to consumers; the involvement of criminal convictions that are not yet ‘spent’; and if the information is being published by a government. But these will always be difficult and debatable judgments.”

“The issue with the ECJ judgement isn’t European privacy law, or the response by Google. The real problem is the impossibility of an accountable, transparent, and effective censorship regime in the digital age, and the inevitable collateral damage borne of any attempt to create one, even from the best intentions. The ECJ could have formulated a decision that would have placed Google under the jurisdiction of the EU’s data protection law, and protected the free speech rights of publishers. Instead, the court has created a vague and unappealable model, where Internet intermediaries must censor their own references to publicly available information in the name of privacy, with little guidance or obligation to balance the needs of free expression. That won’t work in keeping that information private, and will make matters worse in the global battle against state censorship.”

Get a Warrant: Supreme Court Rules on Cell Phone Searches Incident to Arrest

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court in Riley v. California, 573 U. S. ____ (2014), held today that the police generally may not, in the absence of a warrant, search digital information on a cellphone seized from an individual under arrest:

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life’ . . . . The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple— get a warrant.”

This decision calls into serious question the constitutionality of the NSA’s bulk data collection and will likely impact other areas as well, such as cases involving access to cloud-based data and the third-party doctrine.


In Riley v. California, a Unanimous Supreme Court Sets out Fourth Amendment for Digital AgeSCOTUSblog

The Supreme Court Brings the Fourth Amendment into the 21st Century – Law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds in Popular Mechanics

Why the Supreme Court May Finally Protect Your Privacy in the CloudWired


Essential Reading

“Recall that advertising is when someone pays you to tell your users they’ll be happy if they buy a product or service . . . . Investor storytime is when someone pays you to tell them how rich they’ll get when you finally put ads on your site . . . . Most startups run on investor storytime. Investor storytime is not exactly advertising, but it is related to advertising. Think of it as an advertising future, or perhaps the world’s most targeted ad. Both business models involve persuasion. In one of them, you’re asking millions of listeners to hand over a little bit of money. In the other, you’re persuading one or two listeners to hand over millions of money . . . But investor storytime is a cancer on our industry. Because to make it work, to keep the edifice of promises from tumbling down, companies have to constantly find ways to make advertising more invasive and ubiquitous. Investor storytime only works if you can argue that advertising in the future is going to be effective and lucrative in ways it just isn’t today. If the investors stop believing this, the money will dry up. And that’s the motor destroying our online privacy.”

“We need to decentralize the data, you understand. If we keep it all in one great big pile—if there’s one guy who keeps all the email and another guy who does all the social sharing about getting laid—then there isn’t really any way to be any safer than the weakest link in the fence around that pile. But if every single person is keeping her and his own, then the weak links on the outside of that fence get the attacker exactly one person’s stuff. Which, in a world governed by the rule of law, might be exactly optimal: one person is the person you can spy on because you’ve got probable cause. Email scales beautifully without anybody at the center keeping all of it. We need to make a mail server for people that costs five bucks and sits on the kitchen counter where the telephone answering machine used to be, and that’s the end of it. If it breaks you throw it away. Decentralized social sharing is harder, but not so hard that we can’t do it. Three years ago I called for it. Wonderful work has been done that didn’t produce stuff everybody is using, but it’s still there: it can’t go away, it’s free software, it will achieve its full meaning yet.”

“As our desires conflict with the [intelligence community], we become less and less worthy of rights and considerations in the eyes of the [intelligence community]. When the NSA hoards exploits and interferes with cryptographic protection for our infrastructure, it means using exploits against people who aren’t part of the NSA just doesn’t count as much. Securing us comes after securing themselves. In theory, the reason we’re so nice to soldiers, that we have customs around honoring and thanking them, is that they’re supposed to be sacrificing themselves for the good of the people. In the case of the NSA, this has been reversed. Our wellbeing is sacrificed to make their job of monitoring the world easier. When this is part of the culture of power, it is well on its way to being capable of any abuse.”


More on the Comcast-Netflix Deal


The Sad State of American Broadband

  • The Internet is F*cked (but we can fix it)Nilay Patel at The Verge:

    “[T]he entire problem, expressed in four simple ideas: the internet is a utility, there is zero meaningful competition to provide that utility to Americans, all internet providers should be treated equally, and the FCC is doing a miserably ineffective job. The United States should lead the world in broadband deployment and speeds: we should have the lowest prices, the best service, and the most competition. We should have the freest speech and the loudest voices, the best debate and the soundest policy. We are home to the most innovative technology companies in the world, and we should have the broadband networks to match.”

  • You Won’t Have Broadband Competition Without RegulationFelix Salmon at Reuters:

    “[W]e already have perfectly adequate pipes running into our homes, capable of delivering enough broadband for nearly everybody’s purposes. Creating a massive parallel national network of new pipes (or pCells, or whatever) is, frankly, a waste of money. The economics of wholesale bandwidth are little-understood, but they’re also incredibly effective, and have created a system whereby the amount of bandwidth in the US is more than enough to meet the needs of all its inhabitants. What’s more, as demand increases, the supply of bandwidth quite naturally increases to meet it. What we don’t need is anybody spending hundreds of billions of dollars to build out a brand-new nationwide broadband network. What we do need, on the other hand, is the ability of different companies to provide broadband services to America’s households. And here’s where the real problem lies: the cable companies own the cable pipes, and the regulators refuse to force them to allow anybody else to provide services over those pipes. This is called local loop unbundling, it’s the main reason for low broadband prices in Europe, and of course it’s vehemently opposed by the cable companies.”

  • America’s 10-Year Experiment in Broadband Investment Has FailedBrendan Greeley at Bloomberg:

  • Why Super-Fast Internet Is Coming Super Slowly; The FCC Could Change this Overnight by Focusing on What’s Best for the Economy, Not Just for Those it Regulates.Andy Kessler at The Wall Street Journal



Cyber Law, Tech and Policy

General Interest

  • Why People Work For Rewards They’ll Never Get to Enjoy – a/k/a Why Do Rich People Work So Much?Nicholas Hune-Brown at Hazlitt:

    “The researchers call this behaviour ‘mindless accumulation’—the tendency for people to forgo leisure to work towards rewards they’ll never be able to use. They argue that it’s a distinctly modern problem. For much of human history, earning rates were low and people needed to work as much as possible just to survive. The idea that you could ‘overearn’ simply wasn’t realistic. If you’re one of today’s highly paid office workers, however, earning comes comparatively easily, yet the drive to hoard as much as possible remains.”

  • Moving South and West? Metropolitan America in 2042Wendell Cox at


Today’s Must Read on the NSA

“The NSA has become too big and too powerful. What was supposed to be a single agency with a dual mission — protecting the security of U.S. communications and eavesdropping on the communications of our enemies — has become unbalanced in the post-Cold War, all-terrorism-all-the-time era . . . . The result is an agency that prioritizes intelligence gathering over security, and that’s increasingly putting us all at risk. It’s time we thought about breaking up the National Security Agency.” Bruce Schneier at CNN.Opinion with practical suggestions for reform.


Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Criticizes NSA Program

“Watchdog Report Says N.S.A. Program Is Illegal and Should End.” New York Times

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s “Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” (pdf; 238 pages). Also separate statements of Board members Elisebeth Collins Cook (pdf; 6 pages) and Rachel Brand (pdf; 8 pages)

Some additional background:

Liberty and Security in a Changing World – December 12, 2013 Report and Recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” (pdf; 308 pages)

Supplemental Chapter on NSA from Professor James Grimmelmann’s “Internet Law: Cases and Problems” (downloadable pdf; 37 pages) offered on freemium basis.


The First Anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s Death

“[T]he law seems really interesting to me. It’s a system of rules, like computers are and you can hack it by finding the implications of those rules. Go to a judge, show your hack, and the judge has the power to change the world based on your conclusions.”Aaron Swartz