Associated Press is shocked –SHOCKED — To Discover Government Cannot Be Trusted With Power to Spy

Dutch explorer and author Arthur Wichmann summed up the history of bungled exploration attempts of New Guinea with the phrase “Nothing learned, everything forgotten.”

I find myself thinking of this phrase in light of the revelations that the Department of Justice (DoJ) asked for, and got, two-months of phone and data records for Associated Press reporters. DoJ apparently asked for the data because it wanted to find the source of a leak that the Administration foiled an Al-Qeda plot. According to sources, the AP apparently sat on the story for several days to protect the lives of U.S. agents, but balked at further delay so the Administration could break the news itself in a press conference. AP accuses the DoJ of abusing its surveillance powers to punish AP for raining on its parade. Verizon apparently turned over the information with nary a quiver or question.

The Administration denies any knowledge of DoJ’s actions, it also denies any comparisons to Nixon, saying: “People who make these kinds of comparisons need to check their history.”

Actually, a bunch of us do and did. Which is why I say “nothing learned, everything forgotten.”

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Shutting Down the Phone System: Comcast’s Very Scary Filing

I’ve been sorting through the various filings at the FCC in the Phone Network to IP transition docket. I single out the 7-page filing by Comcast as the filing that scares the absolute bejeebers out of me.

 

Why? Because everyone else – no matter what their financial interest or political alignment – at least paid lip service to the idea that we ought to have some kind of regulation. Whether it’s a general nod to a “minimal and light touch regulatory regime” or a specific shopping list, the vast majority of commenters recognized then when you have something as big, complicated and utterly essential to people’s lives as the phone system, you need some kind of basic backstop for people to feel comfortable and to address problems that will invariably come up. Even AT&T has made it utterly clear that it does not see the future of phone service as a regulation-free zone.” Even staunch free market conservatives such as TechFreedom and Free State Foundation acknowledge that, as a practical matter, there is going to need to be some set of rules – even if they hope to keep these rules to what they regard as the barest minimum necessary.

 

Comcast, and Comcast alone, suggests otherwise. Comcast alone thinks we can manage the phone system as the Libertarian Nirvana. This smacks either of unbelievable hubris (“we’re so big everyone will have to deal with us – what could go wrong?”) or an incredible sense of market power (“we’re so big everyone will have to deal with us – heh heh heh”). Either way, this sends chills down my spine, because the filing signals loud and clear that Comcast – one of the largest providers of residential phone service in the United States, the largest residential broadband provider, and the single most powerful entity in U.S. telecom policy – simply doesn’t get it when it comes to the future of the phone system.

 

As I explain below, Comcast needs to understand that “With Great Market Share Comes Great Responsibility.” Because when you are this big, even what you don’t say can have huge consequences. Comcast is beyond “too big to fail.” It is now officially in its own regulatory category called “too big to be allowed to screw up.” Because Comcast is now so big, and so central to communications in the United States, that it could single-handedly crash the phone system by stupidly trying to manage it as if it were the cable world. Unless Comcast gets with the program and acknowledges the need for some kind of ongoing oversight of the phone system, this transition is guaranteed to become an utter disaster.

 

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I’m Testifying Tomorrow And It Will Be WCIT-Awesome!

I will be testifying tomorrow at a joint hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecom and Technology and Several of the Foreign Affairs Committees tomorrow, February 5 at 10:30 a.m. The hearing, Fighting For Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond will focus on the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) that took place in Dubai this past December.

If you click on the Hearing Homepage tomorrow, there should be a link for livestreaming. I am hoping this will prove entertaining and informative. Well, at least informative.

Stay tuned . . .

The ITU, WCIT and Internet Freedom

Very few people ever heard of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) until recently – and with good reason. For more than 100 years, the ITU managed quite nicely serving as the forum for countries and telecom carriers to coordinate insanely-technical-mind-numbingly-boring-but-really-really-important stuff related to making the phone network work internationally, distributing satellite slots, and trying to harmonize what frequencies countries allocate to what services. But now the ITU has suddenly become very interesting. Why? Because the ITU members will hold a rare meeting — the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) – where the 193 member countries will vote on whether to amend the current ITU rules (“ITRs”) that set the framework for all this extremely important boringness.

Unclear for now – especially in the pre-game – is whether and how the WCIT represents a potential threat to freedom of expression online. I recently had an argument with Professor Milton Mueller (see the comments section of this post on the IGP blog) about this. Milton’s central thesis is that the recent hysteria about the ITU “taking over the Internet” is overblown and that this is just about how carriers negotiate payments. This has been interpreted by some to mean that civil society organizations concerned with free expression online ought to stop fretting about fleets of UN black helicopters seizing the DNS rootservers and relocating them to ITU Headquarters in Geneva.

For a number of reasons, I strongly disagree with this assessment.  Even without the concern that the ITU will somehow “take over the Internet,” certain WCIT proposals advanced by a number of regimes that engage in Internet censorship threaten the future of free expression online. These proposals, from the Russian Federation and several Arab states, would for the first time explicitly embrace the concept that governments have a right to control online communications and disrupt Internet access services. This would reverse the trend of the last few years increasingly finding that such actions violate fundamental human rights – a valuable tool in trying to pressure repressive regimes to stop using such tactics.

More below . . . .

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A Not-So-Brief History of DNS Blocking — And Why It Sucks

I suppose I’m getting old. I cannot believe that the intellectual property lobbyists (or, as I affectionately refer to them, the “IP Mafia”) have once again trotted out their Holy Grail of blocking websites at the domain-name level. More mind boggling, I cannot believe that this idea gets more popular with policymakers over time, despite the fact that DNS blocking would do far more widespread damage to our overall economy and communications infrastructure today than it could have done back when the IP Mafia, the anti-pornography crusaders, and all the other would be censors of the Internet first floated it in the late 1990s. Part of the problem, of course, is that the vast majority of people (lucky for them) never had to sit through the endless iterations of this for the last fifteen years. Hence, the endless repetition by “serious” white-haired guys who just happen to work for the largest content companies who have not updated their talking points since the late 1990s and rant about how this ‘gosh-darned Internet is full of lawlessness and by-gum we gotta do something con-sarnit.’

So please forgive yet another old geezer his wander down memory lane on DNS blocking and why it builds a massive security hole into our underlying broadband infrastructure. For those playing at home, this is why the vast majority of the cybersecurity establishment in the United States is having serious heebie-jeebies about PIPA/SOPA. Sandia National Laboratory is not exactly a hotbed of piracy, and former Bush Admin Cybersecurity Czar Stewart Baker is hardly part of the “information wants to be free” crowd. They are freaked out because the proposal builds a permanent hole in our broadband infrastructure and invites every identity thief and Iranian hacker to come in and do their worst. Which means that even if we totally 100% believed the Hollywood lobbyists about the legal intent of the law, building the capacity to do DNS blocking compromises security for everyone. Because once the capacity is built in to the system, it will get hacked and exploited. So while we are sitting here in the dark because some hacker crashed our electric grid, or trying frantically to chase down every identity thief who redirected our credit card information from Amazon.com, we can console ourselves that Congress never intended for this to have any domestic impacts.

More below . . .

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PK Action Alert To Save the Future of Unlicensed Spectrum

Despite the obvious reliance on unlicensed spectrum by Americans every day in the form of everything from wifi to baby monitors to RFID, the current mania for spectrum auction revenues combined with lobbying from companies opposed to the TV white space has put the future of unlicensed spectrum at risk. This is particularly true under the discussion draft circulated by House Republicans last week. That draft would require that before the FCC could allocate any new spectrum for unlicensed use, it would first have to have an auction that would allow companies to buy the spectrum for exclusive use. Only if everyone collectively outbid AT&T or Verizon for unlicensed would the spectrum go to unlicensed use. As Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOm notes, this would have devastating impact on the future of unlicensed and the innovation that comes out of the unlicensed bands.

As if that were not enough, the proposed bill literally allows companies to buy their way out of FCC consumer protection regulation.

We are trying to stop this before it’s too late.  Public Knowledge has created an Action Alert asking anyone who cares about protecting unlicensed, or opposed to letting companies literally buy their own rules, then help us this Friday (tomorrow) by telling your member of Congress not to sell off our digital future or let companies buy their way out of public interest obligations. Sign up for the PK mobile Action Alert and you will get a text message tomorrow letting you directly contact your member of Congress so you can tell them why this bill is a really, really bad idea.

I reprint the PK Action Alert below.

Stay tuned . . . .

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My Travel Schedule For The Next Two Weeks

I haven’t had a lot of time to post a lot lately, which actually bums me out a great deal. It’s been an insane time here in telecom land, for all that we seem to be running in place. Eventually, I will get to blog about things like the Comments we filed in the FCC’s Third Way Proceeding, and the 40–gajillion things going on in spectrum (NONE of which are the White Spaces Proceeding. Damn! When is unlicensed gonna actually see a little love?) Meantime, however, I am doing a bunch of travel an speaking appearances in the next two weeks, and would love to see anyone whose schedule coincides with mine.

On Monday, I am flying out to Sacramento for two-days at the Summer Committee Meetings of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.  I will be speaking on a panel about the National Broadband Plan at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 The next morning, I’m going head-to-head with Ray Gifford of PFF about the virtues (or lack thereof) of the FCC’s “Third Way” Proceeding. While summer in Sacramento with a hotel full of regulators and policy wonks is probably not most people’s idea of a fun time, I hope that those who do come and who read this blog will look me up and say “hi,” as well as show up to cheer me on at the panels (or cheer Ray on, if you you are so inclined).

After NARUC, I am proceeding on to Netroots Nation, where I will be preaching the Progressive Telecom gospel (and why other progressives should care when there are sooooo many other issues demanding attention.) I’m not on any panels, but I am definitely planning to attend the one on Protecting Rights In The Digital Realm on Thursday, July 22, at 10:30 a.m.  A bunch of folks are also organizing an informal social event around Net Neutrality and Title II, details as soon as I have them.

Again, I’d love to hear from anyone who reads this blog who will be there. I’ll be there from Wed. night to Friday morning, so hopefully I’ll see some of you there.

Finally, July 29 I will be going to SuperNova — Kevin Werbach’s amazing conference on future trends. I’ll be speaking with Rick Whitt and Rebecca Arbogast on “The Broadband Challenge,” at 1 p.m. July 29. That one is in Philly, so at least it does not require changes of time zone.

I expect to be tweeting these events (assuming my phone holds out). You can follow me on Twitter at haroldfeld. Or on Facebook . Hopefully, I will also be able to get some decent substantive postings here, on the PK Policy Blog, on HuffPo, and on TMCNet (for someone with no time to blog, I have a lot of places I’m not blogging).

Stay tuned . . . .

O.K., Now You Can Call Some Bush Supporters Facists

By which I mean in the literal and technical sense of adhering to the philosophy of facism, rather than simply as a pejorative. Glenn Greenwald writes this piece critiquing an Op Ed in the Wall St. J. by Harvey Mansfield. Greenwald chooses to focus his analysis and ire on Mansfield. In doing so, he misses the far greater danger — the reemergence of the philosophy of facism as a political force in the United States.

My analysis below . . .

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Outsourcing Big Brother

I gave this speech last July at the ACLU Biennial Conference in New Orleans. At the time, the news that major telcos and search engine companies were cooperating with the government by providing all kinds of personal infomration had not yet hit the press. I was just applying logic.

It seems useful to me to publish here as a reminder that the recent headlines are not an aberration or the work of a few evil or gready or misguided men. It is the inevitable result of a system that concentrates power and information in the hands of a few large coorprations with every interest keep those in government happy.

We don’t ask chain saws to distinguish between human beings and trees. They are inanimate tools. If you turn it on, it cuts through things. If you want to make it safer, you need to put on safety locks and other devices, or someone is likely to cut his or her own leg off by accident some day.

Similarly, it is ridiculous to depend on corporations to defend private information. They are designed to maximize revenue for shareholders. This does not make them good or bad, greedy or virtuous. It makes the corporation a tool. If we, as citizens of democracies, care about our civil liberties, then we need to install some safeties.

Stay tuned . . .

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