Tech News

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A Robotics Startup Perishes, and It’s Got Tales to Tell

Wired - Tue, 2018-05-01 11:11
With the demise of TickTock comes valuable insights into what the robotic home of the future may look like, and which company will end up conquering it.
Categories: Tech News

Germany's Supreme Court Confirms That Adblocking Is Legal, In Sixth Consecutive Defeat For Publishers

TechDirt - Tue, 2018-05-01 10:42

Adblocking is something that many people feel strongly about, as the large number of comments on previous posts dealing with the topic indicates. Publishers, too, have strong feelings here, including the belief that they have a right to make people view the ads they carry on their sites. (Techdirt, of course, has a rather different position.) In Germany, publishers have sued the makers of AdBlock Plus no less than five times -- and lost every case. It will not surprise Techdirt readers to learn that those persistent defeats did not stop the German media publishing giant Axel Springer from trying yet again, at Germany's Supreme Court. It has just lost. As Adblock Plus explains in a justifiably triumphant blog post:

This ruling confirms -- just as the regional courts in Munich and Hamburg stated previously -- that people have the right in Germany to block ads. This case had already been tried in the Cologne Regional Court, then in the Regional Court of Appeals, also in Cologne -- with similar results. It also confirms that Adblock Plus can use a whitelist to allow certain acceptable ads through.

Reuters notes that Springer's case was just the first of five against Adblock Plus to reach the Supreme Court in Germany, although the others are presumably moot in the light of this definitive decision. However, that does not mean Springer is giving up. There remains one final option:

Springer said it would appeal to the [German] Constitutional Court on the grounds that adblockers violated press freedom by disrupting online media and their financial viability.

Yes, that's right: if you are using an adblocker, you are a bad person, who hates press freedom....

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+.



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Daily Deal: 2018 Essential JavaScript Coding Bundle

TechDirt - Tue, 2018-05-01 10:37

JavaScript provides web developers with the knowledge to program more intelligently and idiomatically, and the 2018 Essential JavaScript Coding Bundle will help you explore the best practices for building an original, functional, and useful cross-platform library. With 8 online courses and 3 ebooks, you'll have the ultimate guide to JavaScript. Topics covered include Angular 2, Vue.js, Node, Redux, and more. The bundle is on sale for $29.

Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.



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Mark Zuckerberg Says It Will Take 3 Years to Fix Facebook

Wired - Tue, 2018-05-01 10:34
In an exclusive in-person interview, Zuckerberg discusses F8 and Facebook's trust issues.
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High Court Says UK Government Can No Longer Collect Internet Data In Bulk

TechDirt - Tue, 2018-05-01 09:36

UK civil liberties group Liberty has won a significant legal battle against the Snoopers Charter. A recent ruling [PDF] by the UK High Court says the data retention provisions, which include mandated extended storage of things like web browsing history by ISPs, are incompatible with EU privacy laws.

The court found the data retention provisions are at odds with civil liberties protections for a couple of reasons. First, the oversight is too limited to be considered protective of human rights asserted by the EU governing body. As the law stands now, demands for data don't require independent oversight or authorization.

Second, even though the Charter claims demands for data will be limited to "serious crimes," the actual wording shows there are no practical limitations preventing the government from accessing this data for nearly any reason at all.

The decision quotes the Charter's stated reasons for obtaining data, which range from "public safety," to "preventing disorder" to "assessing or collecting taxes." Obviously, the broad surveillance powers will not be limited to "serious crimes," contrary to the government's assertions in court.

First, the wording of the draft declaration is so broad that it would include areas which are outside (or potentially outside) the area of serious crime: for example, the area of national security. As will become apparent later, the issue of whether the area of national security falls within the scope of EU law at all is the subject of dispute between the parties.

The second sentence refers to the government's argument: that UK national security concerns trump European law. Unfortunately, the High Court does not provide an answer as to whether UK law can ignore CJEU decisions when it comes to securing the nation. This will have to wait until after a decision is handed down in another challenge to the surveillance law.

[I]n our view, although the terms of section 94 of the 1984 Act and the terms of Part 4 of the 2016 Act are not identical, the questions which have been referred by the IPT are not confined to the precise scope of section 94. Rather they raise broader questions about the scope of EU law, having regard to Article 4 TEU and Article 1(3) of the e-Privacy Directive; and also raise the particular question of whether any of the Watson CJEU requirements apply in the field of national security.

For those reasons we refuse the application by the Claimant to make a reference to the CJEU on this question. This part of this claim will be stayed pending the CJEU’s decision in the reference in the Privacy International case.

In the end, the court decides this part of the Snoopers Charter must be stricken and rewritten to comply with EU privacy protections. The UK government has six months to fix the law. Until that point, it appears UK agencies will still be able to demand data in bulk under the Charter draft. Once the fixes are in and enacted, bulk collections of internet browsing data and communications metadata will cease… at least until the UK exits the European Union.



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CGI 'Influencers' Like Lil Miquela Are About to Flood Your Feed

Wired - Tue, 2018-05-01 09:28
Lil Miquela may be fascinating in her own right, but the rise of digital humans in social media and elsewhere is just getting started.
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‘Avengers: Infinity War’: We Need to Talk About That Ending

Wired - Tue, 2018-05-01 09:08
That was intense, right?
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Robert Mueller Likely Knows How the Trump Russia Investigation Ends

Wired - Tue, 2018-05-01 08:27
Nearly a year since his appointment as special counsel, Robert Mueller has accelerated the pace of his investigation.
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Sprint, T-Mobile Try To Sell The Public On A Job-Killing, Competition Eroding Megamerger

TechDirt - Tue, 2018-05-01 06:21

Sprint and T-Mobile are once again talking megamerger. The two companies tried to merge in 2014, but had their romantic entanglements blocked by regulators who (quite correctly) worried that the elimination of one of just four major players in the space would eliminate jobs, reduce competition and drive up costs for consumers. Emboldened by the Trump FCC's rubber stamping of industry desires, the two companies again spent much of last year talking about a potential tie up, though those efforts were ultimately scuttled after the two sides couldn't agree on who'd get to run the combined entity.

But the two companies appear to have settled their disagreements, and over the weekend announced they'd be attempting to merge once again as part of a $26 billion deal. Executives for both companies spent most of the weekend trying to convince the public that dramatically reducing competitors in the sector would magically somehow create more competition:

By coming together with @TMobile, we’ll drive competition, lower prices, accelerate disruption and spur innovation to make America the true leader in mobile #5G. #5GForAll $S $TMUS https://t.co/RzFeNxSjxk pic.twitter.com/IsFogZ6qYK

— MarceloClaure (@marceloclaure) April 29, 2018

Of course that's not how competition works. While T-Mobile has had a net positive impact on the wireless sector on things like hidden fees and absurd international roaming costs, the four major carriers had already been backing away from promotions so far this year as they try to avoid something the telecom sector loathes: genuine price competition. As our friends in Canada can attest, reducing the overall number of major competitors from four to three only reduces the incentive for real price competition even further. It's simply not debatable.

And while the two companies are trying to claim that Sprint couldn't have survived on its own, that's not really true. The company's debt load is notable, but with Japanese owner Softbank the company had slowly but surely been getting a handle on its finances. And if a deal was inevitable for survival, there's plenty of potential merger partners (from Dish Networks to a major cable company like Charter Spectrum) that could have been pursued without eliminating a major competitor.

The two companies are also amusingly trying to claim that the deal will somehow create jobs:

Nothing will happen for a while, but after the deal closes, it will open thousands of new jobs! Key details here: https://t.co/J3IO4CPpu1

— John Legere (@JohnLegere) April 29, 2018

And while that's adorable salesmanship, it's indisputably false. History has proven time, and time, and time again that such consolidation in telecom erodes competition, jobs, and quality service. Mindless M&A mania is a primary reason why you all loathe Comcast, since growth for growth's sake consistently means service quality takes a back seat.

Wall Street analysts had previously predicted that a tie up between the two companies could result in the elimination of anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 jobs (the latter being more than Sprint even currently employs) as redundant retail locations, middle managers, and engineers are inevitably dismissed. And while both companies are spouting the usual lines about how "nothing will really change," anybody that has lived through a deal like this one (or, say, just paid attention to history) should realize the folly of such claims.

Whether the deal will be approved by the Trump administration is uncertain. While the Ajit Pai run FCC has made it abundantly clear it's willing to rubber stamp every fleeting sector desire regardless of its impact (net neutrality, privacy), the Trump DOJ has become a bit of a wildcard in the wake of its lawsuit to thwart the AT&T Time Warner merger. Some analysts see the deal as having only a 40% chance of approval, though Sprint and T-Mobile are trying their best to pander to the Trump admin by claiming that the miracles of next-gen wireless (5G) can only arrive if they're allowed to merge.

But there's a reason both companies announced the deal on a Sunday when everybody was napping or tending to the lawn. There's also a reason they're trying to rush this deal through now before adult regulatory supervision inevitably returns at the FCC. And that's again because this deal, like so many telecom sector megadeals before it, will only benefit investors and shareholders, not the public or the internet at large. Since companies can't admit that these deals are largely harmful to anybody but themselves, we get obnoxious sales pitches that aggressively ignore common sense -- and history.



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Police Use Genealogy Site To Locate Murder Suspect They'd Been Hunting For More Than 30 Years

TechDirt - Tue, 2018-05-01 03:23

DNA isn't the perfect forensic tool, but it's slightly preferable to the body of junk science prosecutors use to lock people up. It's ability to pinpoint individuals is overstated, and the possibility of contamination makes it just as easy to lock up innocent people as garbage theories like bite mark matching.

In terms of process of elimination, it's still a go-to for prosecutors. The rise of affordable DNA testing has provided a wealth of evidence to law enforcement. Investigators are no longer limited to samples they've taken from arrestees. Databases full of DNA info are within reach 24 hours a day -- and all law enforcement needs is an account and a few bucks to start tracking down DNA matches from members of the public who've never been arrested.

Investigators used DNA from crime scenes that had been stored all these years and plugged the genetic profile of the suspected assailant into an online genealogy database. One such service, GEDmatch, said in a statement on Friday that law enforcement officials had used its database to crack the case. Officers found distant relatives of Mr. DeAngelo’s and, despite his years of eluding the authorities, traced their DNA to his front door.

“We found a person that was the right age and lived in this area — and that was Mr. DeAngelo,” said Steve Grippi, the assistant chief in the Sacramento district attorney’s office.

This "search" may possibly close the books on at least ten unsolved murders featuring the same suspect DNA. The process involved, however, raises questions. But customers of companies like GEDmatch and 23andMe probably won't like the answers. Any ethical questions they may have about companies sharing DNA info with law enforcement is likely covered by the terms of service. Customers looking to the Bill of Rights may be disappointed to discover the courts have little positive to say about Fourth Amendment protections for third party records.

Adding your DNA to these databases makes this info publicly-available. If everyone's DNA was siloed off from everyone else's, genealogy services would be completely useless. It's expected your DNA info will be shared with others. If "others" includes law enforcement, the terms of service have that eventuality covered. Even if other uses of your DNA weren't specified, there's nothing illegal about law enforcement agencies creating accounts to submit DNA for matches. If there's a Constitutional challenge, the third party doctrine likely eliminates anything remaining for the court to consider once it gets past the obvious hurdle: DNA-matching services match DNA. Complete strangers are able to "access" DNA info of others without creating privacy issues.

GEDmatch's response to all of this? If you don't want your DNA to end up in the hands of law enforcement, delete your account. This isn't exactly customer-friendly, but it reflects the reality of participating in a service that offers DNA matching. Even if a company refuses to hand over info voluntarily, it probably wouldn't take more than a subpoena to knock it loose. As long as law enforcement is using the system like a customer would -- that is, simply submitting DNA for a match -- the only problems it poses are at the far end of the ethical spectrum. If it's doing anything else -- like asking companies to notify them if certain DNA samples are submitted -- then there are problems. But as long as it's not inserting itself into the supply chain, there's really no privacy invasion occurring.



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Device Detects Drug Use Through Fingerprints, Raising A Host Of Constitutional Questions

TechDirt - Mon, 2018-04-30 19:36

If this tech becomes a routine part of law enforcement loadouts, judicial Fourth and Fifth Amendment findings are going to be upended. Or, at least, they should be. I guess citizens will just have to see how this all shakes out.

A raft of sensitive new fingerprint-analysis techniques is proving to be a potentially powerful, and in some cases worrying, new avenue for extracting intimate personal information—including what drugs a person has used.

[...]

The new methods use biometrics to analyze biochemical traces in sweat found along the ridges of a fingerprint. And those trace chemicals can quickly reveal whether you have ingested cocaine, opiates, marijuana, or other drugs. One novel, noninvasive forensic technique developed by researchers at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom can detect cocaine and opiate use from a fingerprint in as little as 30 seconds. The team collected 160 fingerprint samples from 16 individuals at a drug-treatment center who had used cocaine within the past 24 hours—confirmed by saliva testing—along with 80 samples from non-users. The assay—which was so sensitive that it could still detect trace amounts of cocaine after subjects washed their hands with soap—correctly identified 99 percent of the users, and gave false positive results for just 2.5 percent of the nonusers, according to a paper published in Clinical Chemistry.

Let's discuss the phrase "non-invasive." It was relatively non-invasive when fingerprints were simply used to identify people. (That science isn't exactly settled, but we'll set that aside for now.) When smartphones and other devices used fingerprint scanners for ID, the "non-invasive" application of fingerprints was no longer non-invasive. An identifying mark, possessing no Fifth Amendment protection, gave law enforcement and prosecutors the option of using something deemed "non-testimonial" to obtain plenty of evidence to be used against the fingerprinted.

This opens up a whole new Constitutional Pandora's Box by giving officers the potential to apply fingerprints during traffic stops to see if they can't generate enough probable cause to perform a warrantless search of the car and everyone in it. It's generally criminal to possess drugs. Evidence of ingested drugs means suspects possessed them at some point in time, but evidence of drug use is generally only useful in driving under the influence cases. That's in terms of prosecutions, though. For roadside searches -- where officers so very frequently "smell marijuana" -- evidence of drug use is a free pass for warrantless searches.

That's just the Fourth Amendment side. The Fifth Amendment side is its own animal. Evidence obtained through fingerprints would seemingly make the production of fingerprints subject to Fifth Amendment protections. It should at least rise to the level of blood draws and breath tests, even though this is far more intrusive (in terms of evidence obtained) than tech normally deployed at DUI checkpoints. Blood draws often require warrants. Breath tests, depending on surrounding circumstances, aren't nearly as settled, with courts often finding obtaining carbon dioxide from breathing humans to be minimally testimonial.

As Scott Greenfield points out, the first tests of constitutionality will occur at street level. Cops will deploy the tech, hoping to good faith their way past constitutional challenges.

Precedent holds that the police are authorized to seize people’s fingerprints upon arrest, as the Fifth Amendment does not apply to physical characteristics. But the rubric is “fingerprints can be seized” based on their limited utility as physical characteristics used for identification purposes.

If they should be used for entirely different purposes, for the ascertainment of whether a person ingested drugs, then the rationale allowing the seizure of prints under the Fifth Amendment no longer applies. It certainly won’t be in the cops’ best interests to draw this distinction, to limit their use of prints to the purpose for which they’re allowed and to demonstrate constitutional restraint by not exceeding that purpose.

This means everything will get much worse for drivers and other recipients of law enforcement attention in the short-term. When the challenges to searches and seizures filter their way up through the court system, things might improve. But it won't happen rapidly and any judges leaning towards redefining the scope of fingerprint use will face strong government challenges.

It will probably be argued evidence of drug use obtained through these devices is no different than a cop catching a whiff of marijuana. On one hand, no cop could credibly claim to be able to detect drug use simply by touching someone's fingers. On the other hand, the reasonable reliability of the tech makes challenges more difficult than arguing against an officer's claim they smelled drugs during the traffic stop. The key may be predicating a challenge on the fact that the device actually tests sweat, not fingerprints, making it an issue of bodily fluids again and (slightly) raising the bar for law enforcement.

This news isn't disturbing for what it is. The obvious initial application is in workplaces, where random drug tests are standard policies for many companies. That tech advancements would progress to this point -- a 10-minute test that requires only the momentary placement of a finger on a test strip -- was inevitable. It's what comes after that will be significant. Courts have often cut law enforcement a lot of slack and tend to lag far behind tech developments and their implications on Constitutional rights. A new way to obtain evidence using something courts generally don't consider to be testimonial is going to disrupt the Constitution. Hopefully, the courts will recognize the distinction between identification and evidence and rule appropriately.



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USPTO Suggests That AI Algorithms Are Patentable, Leading To A Whole Host Of IP And Ethics Questions

TechDirt - Mon, 2018-04-30 15:44

The world is slowly but surely marching towards newer and better forms of artificial intelligence, with some of the world's most prominent technology companies and governments heavily investing in it. While limited or specialist AI is the current focus of many of these companies, building what is essentially single-trick intelligent systems to address limited problems and tasks, the real prize at the end of this rainbow is an artificial general intelligence. When an AGI could be achieved is still squarely up in the air, but many believe this to be a question of when, not if, such an intelligence is created. Surrounding that are questions of ethics that largely center on whether an AGI would be truly sentient and conscious, and what that would imply about our obligations to such a mechanical being.

Strangely, patent law is being forcibly injected into this ethical equation, as the USPTO has come out in favor of the algorithms governing AI and AGI being patentable.

Andrei Iancu, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), says that the courts have strayed on the issue of patent eligibility, including signaling he thought algorithms using artificial intelligence were patentable as a general proposition.

That came in a USPTO oversight hearing Wednesday (April 18) before a generally supportive Senate Judiciary Committee panel.

Both Iancu and the legislators were in agreement that more clarity was needed in the area of computer-related patents, and that PTO needed to provide more precedential opinions when issuing patents so it was not trying to reinvent the wheel each time and to better guide courts.

On some level, even without considering the kind of AI and AGI once thought the stuff of science fiction, the general question of patenting algorithms is absurd. Algorithms, after all, are essentially a manipulated form of math, far different from true technological expression or physical invention. They are a way to make equations for various functions, including, potentially, equations that would both govern AI and allow AI to learn and evolve in a way not so governed. However ingenious they might be, they are most certainly no more invention than would be the process human cells use to pass along DNA yet discovered by human beings. It's far more discovery than invention, if it's invention at all. Man is now trying to organize mathematics in such a way so as to create intelligence, but it is not inventing that math.

Yet both the USPTO and some in government seem to discard this question for arguments based on mere economic practicality.

Sen. Kamala Harris drilled down on those Supreme Court patent eligibility decisions -- Aliceand Mayo, among them -- in which the court suggested algorithms used in artificial intelligence (AI) might be patentable. She suggested that such a finding would provide incentive for inventors to pursue the kind of AI applications being used in important medical research.

Iancu said that generally speaking, algorithms were human made and the result of human ingenuity rather than the mathematical representations of the discoveries of laws of nature -- E=MC2 for example -- which were not patentable. Algorithms are not set from time immemorial or "absolutes," he said. "They depend on human choices, which he said differs from E=MC2 or the Pythagorean theorem, or from a "pattern" being discovered in nature.

Again, this seems to be a misunderstanding of what an algorithm is. The organization and ordering of a series of math equations is not human invention. It is most certainly human ingenuity, but so was the understanding of the Bernouli Principle, which didn't likewise result in a patent on the math that makes airplanes fly. Allowing companies and researchers to lock up the mathematical concepts for artificial intelligence, whatever the expected incentivizing benefits, is pretty clearly beyond the original purpose and scope of patent law.

But let's say the USPTO and other governments ignore that argument. Keep in mind that algorithms that govern the behavior of AI are mirrors of the intelligent processes occurring in human brains. They are that which will make up the "I" for an AI, essentially making it what it is. Once we reach the level of AGI, its reasonable to consider those algorithms to be the equivalent of the brain function and, by some arguments, consciousness of a mechanical or digital being. Were the USPTO to have its way, that consciousness would be patentable. For those that believe we might one day be the creators of some form of digital life or consciousness, that entire concept is absurd, or at least terribly unethical.

Such cavalier conversations about patenting the math behind potentially true AGI probably require far more thought than asserting they are generally patentable.



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Congress And The CASE Of The Proposed Bill That Helps Copyright Trolls

TechDirt - Mon, 2018-04-30 14:12

One of the recurrent themes on Techdirt is that law itself should not become a tool for unlawful abuse. No matter how well-intentioned, if a law provides bad actors with the ability and opportunity to easily chill others' speech or otherwise lawful activity, then it is not a good law.

The CASE Act is an example of a bad law. On the surface it may seem like a good one: one of the reasons people are able to abuse the legal system to shut down those they want to silence is because getting sucked into a lawsuit, even one you might win, can be so ruinously expensive. The CASE Act is intended to provide a more economical way to resolve certain types of copyright infringement disputes, particularly those involving lower monetary value.

But one of the reasons litigation is expensive is because there are number of checks built into it to make sure that before anyone can be forced to pay damages, or be stopped from saying or doing what they were saying or doing, that the party making this demand is actually entitled to. A big problem with the CASE Act is that in exchange for the cost-savings it may offer, it gives up many of those critical checks.

In recognition of the harm removal of these checks would invite, EFF has authored a letter to the House Judiciary Committee raising the alarm on how the CASE Act would only aggravate, rather than remediate, the significant troll problem.

Per the letter, federal courts have been increasingly "reining in [trolling behavior] by demanding specific and reliable evidence of infringement—more than boilerplate allegations—before issuing subpoenas for the identity of an alleged infringer. Some federal courts have also undertaken reviews of copyright troll plaintiffs’ communications with their targets with an eye to preventing coercion and intimidation. These reforms have reduced the financial incentive for the abusive business model of copyright trolling."

But under the CASE Act, these provisions would not apply. Instead

[L]egally unsophisticated defendants—the kind most often targeted by copyright trolls—are likely to find themselves bound by the judgments of a non-judicial body in faraway Washington, D.C., with few if any avenues for appeal. The statutory damages of up to $30,000 proposed in the CASE Act, while less than the $150,000 maximum in federal court, are still a daunting amount for many people in the U.S., more than high enough to coerce Internet users into paying settlements of $2,000–$8,000. Under the Act, a plaintiff engaged in copyright trolling would not need to show any evidence of actual harm in order to recover statutory damages. And unlike in the federal courts, statutory damages could be awarded under the CASE Act even for copyrights that are not registered with the Copyright Office before the alleged infringement began. This means that copyright trolls will be able to threaten home Internet users with life-altering damages—and profit from those threats—based on works with no commercial or artistic value.

And that's not all:

Another troubling provision of the CASE Act would permit the Copyright Office to dispense with even the minimal procedural protections established in the bill for claims of $5,000 or less. These “smaller claims”—which are still at or above the largest allowed in small claims court in 21 states—could be decided by a single “Claims Officer” in a summary procedure on the slimmest of evidence, yet still produce judgments enforceable in federal court with no meaningful right of appeal.

Also:

[T] he federal courts are extremely cautious when granting default judgments, and regularly set them aside to avoid injustice to unsophisticated defendants. Nothing in the CASE Act requires the Copyright Office to show the same concern for the rights of defendants. At minimum, a requirement that small claims procedures cannot commence unless defendants affirmatively opt in to those procedures would give the Copyright Office an incentive to ensure that defendants’ procedural and substantive rights are upheld. A truly fair process will be attractive to both copyright holders and those accused of infringement.

The CASE Act appears to reflect an idealized view that the only people who sue other people for copyright infringement are those who have valid claims. But that is not the world we live in. Trolls abound, parasites eager to use the threat of litigation as a club to extract money from innocent victims. And the CASE Act, if passed, would give them a bigger weapon.

It also gives would-be censors additional tools to chill their critics through the use of a new subpoena power administered through the Copyright Office, without sufficient due process built into the system to ensure that these subpoenas are not being used as a means of unjustly stripping speakers of their right to anonymous speech.

The CASE Act also gives the Copyright Office the authority to issue subpoenas for information about Internet subscribers. The safeguards for Internet users’ privacy established in the federal courts will not apply. In fact, the bill doesn’t even require that a copyright holder state a plausible claim of copyright infringement before requesting a subpoena—a basic requirement in federal court.

EFF was joined on this letter by many other lawyers (including me) and experts who have worked to defend innocent people from unjust threats of litigation, in the hope that it can help pressure Congress not to give the green light to more of it.



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