September 2004

Good article by Tom Hazlett on the Oracle-PeopleSoft case (from the Financial Times):

The US government’s antitrust enforcers have been rebuked. In a stinging rejection of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit to block the acquisition of PeopleSoft by Oracle, federal judge Vaughn Walker handed the antitrust division its collective head. While the DOJ alleged that the merger would substantially reduce competition in enterprise software applications for high-end corporate users, Oracle is now free to pursue its hostile tender for PeopleSoft shares…

Interesting article by Robert Robb of the Arizona Republic, who argues that the Rathergate affair will (unfortunately) lead us to more regulation of of the media.

Sometimes you can just sense the machinery of the regulatory state shifting into gear.I sense it in what would seem an unlikely event: CBS’ use of forged documents in a story attempting to discredit President Bush’s National Guard service. Paradoxically, this journalistic blunder is likely to stimulate efforts to muzzle the conservative media, which few would accuse CBS of being part of.

He makes a good point–this is a real concern. I’d go farther, however. I fear many conservatives as well as liberals, will use this an a reason to push for more regulation. The real lesson, of course, is that the whole affair is evidence that the media is more competitive–and less in need of regulation–than ever before.

Well, just when you think nothing good can come from the other side of the Atlantic, there’s news like this. It looks like Mario Monti, the EU’s outgoing competition commissioner is set to give a “si” to Oracle’s takeover of PeopleSoft. The legal arguments against the merger were always screwy, on either side of the Atlantic. But given the EU’s history of blocking mergers that could hurt European firms (Germany’s SAP is a big competitor to both Oracle and PeopleSoft), many of us were bracing for the worst. The decision, however, may tell us little about the future direction of EU policy, however, as Monti is leaving Brussels next month, to make way for a new commissioner.

No one really likes spyware. My own view is that it would be perfectly legitimate for government to ban it. The problem though, is that any legislation would likely inadvertantly hit legitimate activities and–most importantly–private-sector anti-spyware programs will in any case solve the problem far better than government. (Compare my relatively mushy position to that of fellow TLFer Jim Harper, who is trying to keep me in line on the subject.) That all said, I was a bit taken aback by Sen. George Allen’s statement (as quoted in Congress Daily) after the Senate Commerce Committee adopted spyware legislation yesterday. Congress, he declared “must come down with hobnail boots on the people who create this [spyware]”. Umm, I’m all for stopping spyware, but “hobnail boots” seems a bit too much, no? Let’s protect property rights here (and that includes cyber-property), but let’s be careful about issuing those hobnailers to regulators.

Just when you thought you had enough to fret about, here’s comes yet another Internet worry: Spam Over Internet Telephony, appealingly acronymed “SPIT.” As reported in MIT’s Technology Review, SPIT is the potential use of VOiP telephone services to send spam via voice mail, rather than via e-mail. Just imagine having hundreds of Viagra ads and confidential requests from Nigerian ex-strongman in your voice mail each morning. As TR says “it’s a nightmare that few of us want to imagine.”

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On Video Voyeurism

by on September 22, 2004

If you found this entry thanks to a Web search, you’re probably a perv. Go away!

For the rest of you, yesterday the House passed a bill to ban video voyeurism. Because it has already passed the Senate, it is likely to become law.

‘Upskirting’ with little cameras is ugly behavior, and juvenile. So do we all support a law against it? Good question.

Laws are supposed to protect people from bad things. So the most important question about anti-video voyeurism law is: Who is hurt?

Now, I’m a Web user who occassionally, purely by accident, runs across sites with vulgar content. And I’m here to tell you that ‘upskirt’ photos almost never identify whose skirt is being looked up.

In cases where a person’s identity could be determined because a face appears or a caption says “This is . . . ‘s backside,” the behavior is a clear violation of common law privacy rights. A cause of action already exists in nearly every state.

But to protect the decency and morals of the nation, should there be criminal penalties? Well, that justification has no stopping point, so I won’t abide it. On balance, the bill takes for the government a role that civil society should play: shaming and ostracizing perverts (like I did with you at the beginning of this post – why are you still reading?)

What makes this bill only minimally bad is that it applies in “the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States”. My understanding is that this means on federal property and within federal jurisdiction. It doesn’t establish law most places in most states. The states get to decide for themselves what’s legal and what’s not.

And the states should leave shame in place as the primary means of getting at camera-toting pervs who don’t expose identified individuals.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has introduced an important new bill dealing with the digital television (DTV) transition and the vexing question of how to get the broadcasters to return their old analog spectrum. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for today.

The bill proposes a controversial new policy ($1 billion in subsidies for set-top converter boxes to help some households convert to DTV) to correct for a controversial old policy (the misguided giveaway of $10-$100 billion worth of free spectrum to the broadcast industry). While not the optimal policy approach, the new McCain bill offers a quick way out of the DTV industrial policy fiasco and will help free up massive amounts of valuable spectrum for other important wireless uses.

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As part of their continuing effort to censor political speech in America, several “campaign reformers” in Congress have won an important case in the U.S. District Court regarding FEC interpretations of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA”).

I’m not going to go off on a rant about this disgusting piece of political censorship, but if you want to understand just how despicable this incumbent protection legislation really is, then I encourage you to read “Campaign Finance Reform: Searching for Corruption in All the Wrong Places” by Brad Smith and “Making the World Safer for Incumbents The Consequences of McCain-Feingold-Cochran,” by John Samples.

It just makes me sick to think that politicians can just throw around the word “corruption” so loosely and then ban all sorts of legitimate political speech and advertising before an election as a result. Amazingly, we now live in a country that affords more constitutional protections to Internet pornography than political speech before elections. While I’m happy the courts apply such strict scrutiny to other forms of speech, one wonders what our Founding Fathers would have thought about a state of affairs where you have an absolute right to view porn online but not see certain types of political advertising 60 days before an election. Bizarre.

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Spyware Legislation Top 10

by on September 18, 2004

‘Anti-spyware’ legislation is being marked up in the Senate Commerce Committee this week. Here are the Top 10 reasons why it’s a dumb idea:

10. The lives of real consumers won’t be any better after it passes.

9. It doesn’t add any protections to existing law.

8. Preempting states prevents state legislators from learning how much harm they’re doing to their constituents with their own dumb anti-spyware laws.

7. In the future, so-called “consumer” groups and Luddite activists will use it as a sword against yet-unknown innovations.

6. Nascent software entrepreneurs, faced with yet more legal/compliance costs, will throw in the towel rather than delivering the next cool thing.

5. Requires lobbyists to pour more money into the Washington maw to protect against errant FTC interpretations and enforcements.

4. Legal ‘protections’ confuse consumers and steer them away from burgeoning market for anti-spyware tools (which actually work!).

3. Spyware writers, like spammers, don’t obey laws.

2. A bill that’s better than the House version is still not a good bill.

1. Once federal anti-spyware legislation passes, the tech lobbyists with nothing else to do will just push for another worthless law!

Every once and awhile I see or hear something that reminds me just how far removed our society and government now is from the limited government principles of our founding. A front-page story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on this ridiculous spat over the new Neilsen ratings system quotes Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), who chairs the communications subcommittee, as follows: “It’s impossible to achieve a high quality of broadcasting if shoddy audience measurement practices are permitted to proliferate.”

I’m sorry, but why in the world are TV ratings system a pressing governmental matter? For the life of me, I cannot lay my finger on that portion of the Constitution that authorizes our government to do ANYTHING about “shoddy audience measurement practices” on television. I mean, come on, we’re talking about television!

It would be one thing if our government wasn’t accurately measuring our budget deficit (oh, wait, they don’t do that very well today), or the Social Security trust fund (oops, they don’t get that right either), or the number of WMDs over in Iraq (OK… I give up), but we’re talking about measuring television audiences here; hardly something that government should worry about, and certainly something it has no constitutional power to control.

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