March 2010

CNet‘s Declan McCullagh has a great piece about the politics of actually implementing the ECPA reform principles announced today by the Digital Due Process Coalition, which PFF, CEI and Net Coalition all proudly signed on to along with a number of other think tanks, advocacy groups, and leading tech companies.  Ryan and I explained earlier today how these proposals would Protect Americans’ Privacy by Restoring Constitutional Limits to Government.

As I note at the end of the article:

“This is an opportunity for President Obama to show that he understands President Reagan’s central lesson: ‘Government is not the solution to our problem—government is the problem,’” says Berin Szoka, an attorney at the Progress and Freedom Foundation. “These proposals offer a sensible, long-overdue way of protecting us from the real Big Brother, our government, without crippling law enforcement or the private companies that keep giving us all wonderful new content and services, mostly for free.”

This is a point Adam Thierer and I have made repeatedly in the debate over how to deal with concerns about online privacy. Check out our/my key pieces on this point:

Ever since he’s been blogging, Scott Cleland’s blogging has been in overdrive. However, anyone willing to look behind the curtain of his latest post will discover that many of the attributes of Scott Cleland are attributes that are shared by the Zodiac Killer.

  • First, Scott Cleland, like the Zodiac Killer, has a face. Eyes, nose, mouth—they’re all there. They are alike in this respect—Scott Cleland and the Zodiac Killer are both, unrepentantly, people with faces.
  • Second, Scott Cleland, like the Zodiac Killer, speaks English. We know this from his blog posts—which are written in English—the same language the Zodiac killer used during his murderous spree in the San Francisco Bay Area between December 1968 and October 1969.
  • Third, delving more deeply into the language of the Zodiac Killer and Scott Cleland, both use articles like “the”; “a”; and “an”. An equal propensity to use prepositions inhabits the writing styles of Scott Cleland and the Zodiac Killer.
  • Fourth, like the top suspect in the Zodiac Killer case, DNA evidence does not implicate Scott Cleland. Diabolically, he has done nothing to indicate his participation in these crimes.

(Dropping the imitative send-up) Scott’s recent post implicating Google as similar to China is probably best described as conflation, a logical fallacy in which similarities between two distinct entities collapse them together.

Scott has many similarities to the Zodiac Killer, but lacks the one that matters: he never killed anybody.

Likewise, Google has many similarities with the Chinese government—all organizations do—but it lacks the one that matters: Google makes no claim to exclusive power to initiate force. That is the hallmark of government which is what makes government so dangerous. Related: Unlike China, Google never killed anybody.

In the struggle between Google and China, there is no moral equivalency. China oppresses a billion people. Google enlightens.

Just in case you missed Adam Thierer’s unhinged rant, My Swan Song Moment: I Will Take Elmo Hostage in the Name of First Amendment Freedoms!, you’ll want to go back and read it after watching this:

Not exactly a highpoint in the history of deliberative democracy or rhetoric (in the best sense), but I suppose it beats wading through the 376 page National Broadband Plan… Anyway, given all this talk about increasing funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a way of “saving media,” I do have to wonder: Just how far will we go in allowing taxpayer-funded muppets to rally public support for this (or future) administration’s policy agenda? I mean, if the White Houe had put Oscar the Grouch on national TV to lobby for health care socialization “reform” by explaining whatever trash-related chronic medial conditions are responsible for making him so darn cranky, I think some folks would rightly have been upset.

Yes, I’m trying to be funny here but, seriously, where’s the line between harmless fun and… inappropriate use of taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes? I’m not sure. The administration probably crossed that line last September when President Obama gave a speech to kids and the Department of Education sent a proposed lesson plan to schools nationwide (later withdrawn) suggesting that pre-K-6 teachers have their students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” But is Elmo’s meeting with Chairman Genachowski ok as a way of rallying kids—and, more importantly, their parents and everyone else who finds it cute—around a policy agenda? Any thoughts on where this line should be drawn?

By Ryan Radia & Berin Szoka

Today a broad array of civil liberties groups, think tanks, and technology companies launched the Digital Due Process coalition. The coalition’s mission is to educate lawmakers and the public about the need to update U.S. privacy laws to better safeguard individual information online and ensure that federal privacy statutes accurately reflect the realities of the digital age.

Over 20 organizations belong to the Digital Due Process coalition, including such odd bedfellows as AT&T, Google, Microsoft, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Progress & Freedom Foundation (where Berin works), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where Ryan works), the Internet Technology & Innovation Foundation, Citizens Against Government Waste, and Americans for Tax Reform. The full member list is available at the coalition’s website.

Amidst the heated tech policy wars, it’s not every day that such a diverse group of organizations comes together to endorse a unified set of core principles for legislative reform. Over two years in the making, the Digital Due Process coalition, spearheaded by the Center for Democracy & Technology, is a testament to the broad consensus that’s emerged among business leaders, activists, and scholars regarding the inadequacies of the current legal regime intended to protect Americans’ privacy from government snooping and the need for Congress to revisit decades-old privacy statutes. It also represents a revival of a bipartisan consensus on the need for reform reached back in 2000, when the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee voted 20-1 to approve very similar reforms (HR 5018).

Today, in the digital age, robust privacy laws are more important than ever. That’s because U.S. courts have been unwilling to extend the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure to individual information stored with third parties such as cloud computing providers. Thus, while government authorities must get a search warrant based on probable cause before they can lawfully rifle through documents stored in your desk, basement, or safe deposit box, information you store on the cloud enjoys no Constitutional protection. (Some legal scholars argue this interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, referred to as the Third Party Doctrine, is outdated and deficient. See, for example, Jim Harper’s excellent 2008 article in the American University Law Review.)

Continue reading →

As mentioned last week, in a new series of essays, PFF scholars will be examining proposals that would have the government play a greater role in sustaining struggling media enterprises, “saving journalism,” or promoting more “public interest” content. With many traditional media operators struggling, and questions being raised about how journalism in particular will be supported in the future, Washington policymakers are currently considering what role government can and should play in helping media providers reinvent themselves in the face of tumultuous technological change wrought by the Digital Revolution. We will be releasing 6 or 7 essays on this topic leading up to our big filing in the FCC’s “Future of Media” proceeding (deadline is May 7th).  And here’s a podcast Berin Szoka and I did providing an overview of the series.

In the first installment of the series, Berin and I critiqued an old idea that’s suddenly gained new currency: taxing media devices or distribution systems to fund media content. In the second installment, “The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media, Part 2: Broadcast Spectrum Taxes to Subsidize Public Media,” I discuss proposals to impose a tax on broadcast spectrum licenses to funnel money to public media projects or other “public interest” content or objectives. Such a tax would be fundamentally unfair to broadcasters, who are struggling for their very survival in the midst of unprecedented marketplace turmoil.  Moreover, such a tax is unnecessary in light of the many other sources of “public interest” programming available today. Finally, even if the government creates or subsidizes wonderful, civic- and culturally-enriching content, there’s no way to force people to consume it.  Nor should government force such media choices upon the public. There’s no good reason for government to be socially-engineering media choices through taxes.

I’ve attached the entire essay down below.

Continue reading →

PFF recently started a new “TechCast” podcast series and the topic for one of our first episodes was about the new series of essays that we have coming out about “The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media.” In this series, we’re examining proposals that would have the government play a greater role in sustaining struggling media enterprises, “saving journalism,” or promoting more “public interest” content. We’re concerned about the prospect of central planning for media or a “public option” for the press.

Berin Szoka and I recently sat down with PFF’s press director Mike Wendy to chat about our concerns in this brief 5-minute podast:

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MP3 file: PFF TechCast #1 – Overview of Wrong Way to Reinvent Media Series (3-28-2010)

Last week there was another leak of the secretly negotiated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). This time it was a copy of the of the entire latest draft. It seems to dispel some of the initial worries bloggers had written about, including customs searches of your iPod at the border, but also stokes other concerns. For one thing, the U.S. seems to be pushing for protocols to cut off copyright violators from their internet access.

In the most recent episode of the Surprisingly Free Podcast, I talk with Prof. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, who has been following ACTA more closely than anyone else. He explains that not only is the content of ACTA troubling, but the fact that it’s being negotiated in such secrecy.

Listen to other episodes and remember to subscribe to the podcast using RSS or iTunes.

This is the 5,000th post on the TLF.  We started on August 14, 2004 with this post, so we celebrated our fifth anniversary last August. As Adam Thierer explained back then:

The idea for the TLF came about after I asked some tech policy wonks whether it was worth putting together a blog dedicated to covering Internet-related issues from a cyber-libertarian perspective.  The model I had in mind was a “Volokh Conspiracy for Tech Issues,” if you will. I wanted to bring together a collection of sharp, liberty-loving wonks (most of whom worked in the think tank world) to talk about their research on this front and to give them a place to post their views on breaking tech policy developments.  It was to be a sort of central clearinghouse for libertarian-oriented tech policy analysis and advocacy.

At first, Tim Lee and I debated whether it even made sense to have that sort of narrow focus, but I think the passage of time and the rise of plenty of competition on this front shows that it was worthwhile.  And I’ve been very pleased with the tag-team effort of all our TLF contributors and the way—without anyone planning it, in true libertarian fashion—we’ve sort of developed a nice division of labor on various tech policy issues.

Our traffic level is roughly in the same place as it was last summer: hovering somewhere around 2600 active Feedburner subscribers measured on a rolling basis (see the little red box at the top right-hand corner of the page under the banner) and our PageRank is still a healthy 7, putting us in the same league (logarithmically speaking) with the Volokh Conspiracy, our model, as well as popular sites like TechMeme, my daily first-stop for tech news. Here are a few key traffic statistics:

Since last August, we’ve had three new bloggers join our merry band, now 21 strong! Continue reading →

Please join us for this Progress & Freedom Foundation luncheon briefing on Friday, April 16, 12-2 pm in the Capitol Visitor Center, Room SVC 208/209 at E Capitol St NE & 1st St NE. I’ll be moderating a discussion of the growing powers of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and what it might mean for consumers, advertisers, media creators, and the Internet.

As I’ve discussed herehere and here, financial reform legislation passed by the House (HR 4173) and now under debate in the Senate would give the FTC sweeping new powers to regulate not just Wall Street, but also unfair or deceptive trade practices across the economy. This could reshape regulation in a wide range of areas, such as privacy, cybersecurity, child safety, COPPA, and child nutrition, affecting media online as well as offline. Unfortunately, as Adam and I have noted, there seems to be a disconnect at the FTC between concerns over the future of struggling media creators and efforts to step up regulation on a number of fronts, especially privacy. The FTC has also asserted expanded authority to regulate “unfair” competition in its lawsuit against Intel, based solely on the FTC’s Section 5 unfairness authority rather than traditional antitrust law. PFF has assembled a group of expert panelists—veteran FTC practitioners, scholars and insiders—to discuss these issues and more. Here’s our panel:

  • Jack Calfee, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) & author of Fear of Persuasion: A New Perspective on Advertising and Regulation (1998)
  • Maureen Ohlhausen, Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, Consumer Protection Law and Competition Law practices, & 11-year FTC veteran
  • Jim Davidson, Chair of the Public Policy group, Polsinelli Shughart PC
  • Stu Ingis, Partner, Venable LLP Continue reading →

earmarkpigAs required by rules instituted last year, members of Congress are posting their earmark requests online. And in a small improvement over past practice, the House Appropriations Committee  is posting links to all those pages (in alphabetical order and by state). The Senate Appropriations Committee is doing the same.

So, great. You can go line-by-line and figure out what requests your member of Congress has put in. But what’s the total number of your members’ requests? What’s the total amount of his or her requests? Who requested the most earmarks, in dollars or in number? Where in your district is the money supposed to go?

HTML pages and PDF documents are very hard to work with and don’t allow us to answer these questions. The Earmarkdata.org project is asking Congress to produce information about what it’s doing in formats sites like WashingtonWatch.com can use.

If you haven’t already, please sign the petition at Earmarkdata.org And please tell a friend about this effort too.