June 13, 2024

Archives for June 2009

CITP Announces 2009-10 Visitors

Today, I’m pleased to announce CITP’s visitors for the upcoming academic year.

Deven R. Desai, Visiting Fellow: Deven is an Associate Professor of Law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and a permanent blogger at Concurring Opinions. Professor Desai’s scholarship centers on intellectual property, information theory, and Internet-related law. He plans to work on a major project exploring the ways trademark law can foster, or limit, online innovation.

James Katz, Visiting Fellow. Jim is Professor, Chair of the Department of Communication, and Director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers, where he holds the University’s highest professorial rank. He has devoted much of his career to exploring the social consequences of new communication technology, especially the mobile phone and Internet. Currently he is looking at how personal communication technologies can be used by teens from urban environments to engage in informal science and health learning. This research is being carried out through an NSF-sponsored project with New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center.

Rebecca MacKinnon, Visiting Fellow (spring term): Rebecca is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. She is currently on leave, as an Open Society Fellow, to work on a book tentatively titled “Internet Freedom and Control: Lessons from China for the World.” She will spend the spring 2010 semester at CITP, continuing to work on the book. Rebecca is a cofounder of Global Voices, a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, and a former television journalist, having served as CNN’s bureau chief in Beijing and, later, Tokyo.

Jens Grossklags, Postdoctoral Research Associate: Jens, a new PhD from the UC Berkeley School of Information, studies information economics and technology policy. He focuses on the intersection of privacy, security, and network systems. His approach is highly interdisciplinary, combining economics, computer science, and public policy. Currently, he is investigating the ways institutions and end users make decisions about complex computer security risks under conditions of uncertainty and limited information.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Visiting Postdoctoral Research Associate: Joe, whose work is supported by the NSF ACCURATE Center, also earned his PhD from the UC Berkeley School of Information. His dissertation examined public policy mechanisms for making computerized voting systems more transparent. He continues to work along the same lines, drawing lessons from voting machines, gaming machines and other technologies on how to best protect users from error and malicious activity.

In addition to these full time appointments, the Center will also welcome two Visiting Research Collaborators on an occasional basis: Alex Halderman, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan (and recently in the news for his research group’s analysis of China’s Green Dam software), and David Lukens, an attorney who has been collaborating on the Center’s transparency work.

Did the Sanford E-Mail Tipster or the Newspaper Break the Law?

Part of me doesn’t want to comment on the Mark Sanford news, because it’s all so tawdry and inconsistent with the respectable, family-friendly tone of Freedom to Tinker. But since everybody from the Gray Lady on down is plastering the web with stories, and because all of this reporting is leaving unanalyzed some Internet law questions, let me offer this:

On Wednesday, after Sanford’s confessional press conference, The State, the largest newspaper in South Carolina, posted email messages appearing to be love letters between the Governor and his mistress. (The paper obscured the name of the mistress, calling her only “Maria.”) The paper explained in a related news story that they had received these messages from an anonymous tipster back in December, but until yesterday’s unexpected corroboration of their likely authenticity, they had just sat on them.

Did the anonymous tipster break the law by obtaining or disclosing the email messages? Did the paper break the law by publishing them? After the jump, I’ll offer my take on these questions.

U.S. Objects to China's Mandatory Green Dam Censorware

Yesterday, the U.S. Commerce Secretary and Trade Representative sent a letter to China’s government, objecting to China’s order, effective July 1, to require that all new PCs sold in China have preinstalled the Green Dam Youth Escort censorware program.

Here’s today’s New York Times:

Chinese officials have said that the filtering software, known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, is meant to block pornography and other “unhealthy information.”

In part, the American officials’ complaint framed this as a trade issue, objecting to the burden put on computer makers to install the software with little notice. But it also raised broader questions about whether the software would lead to more censorship of the Internet in China and restrict freedom of expression.

The Green Dam requirement puts U.S.-based PC companies, such as HP and Dell, in a tough spot: if they don’t comply they won’t be able to sell PCs in China; but if they do comply they will be censoring their customers’ Internet use and exposing customers to serious security risks.

There are at least two interesting new angles here. The first is the U.S. claim that China’s action violates free trade agreements. The U.S. has generally refrained from treating China’s Internet censorship as a trade issue, even though U.S. companies have often found themselves censored at times when competing Chinese companies were not. This unequal treatment, coupled with the Chinese government’s reported failure to define clearly which actions trigger censorship, looks like a trade barrier — but the U.S. hasn’t said much about it up to now.

The other interesting angle is the direct U.S. objection to censorship of political speech. For some time, the U.S. has tolerated China’s government blocking certain political speech in the network, via the “Great Firewall“. It’s not clear exactly how this objection is framed — the U.S. letter is not public — but news reports imply that political censorship itself, or possibly the requirement that U.S. companies participate in it, is a kind of improper trade barrier.

We’re heading toward an interesting showdown as the July 1 date approaches. Will U.S. companies ship machines with Green Dam? According to the New York Times, HP hasn’t decided, and Dell is dodging the question. The companies don’t want to lose access to the China market — but if U.S. companies participate so directly in political censorship, they would be setting a very bad precedent.

My Testimony on Behavioral Advertising: Post-Mortem

On Thursday I testified at a House hearing about online behavioral advertising. (I also submitted written testimony.)

The hearing started at 10:00am, gaveled to order by Congressman Rush, chair of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. He was flanked by Congressman Boucher, chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet , and Congressmen Steans and Radanovich, the Ranking Members (i.e., the highest-ranking Republican members) of the subcommittees.

First on the agenda we had opening statements by members of the committees. Members had either two or five minutes to speak, and the differing perspectives of the members became clear during these statements. The most colorful statement was by Congressman Barton, who supplemented his interesting on-topic statement with a brief digression about the Democrats vs. Republicans charity baseball game which was held the previous day. The Democrats won, to Congressman Barton’s chagrin.

After the opening statements, the chair recessed the hearings, so the Members could go to the House floor to vote. Members of the House must be physically present in the House chamber in order to vote, so it’s not unusual for hearings to recess when there is a floor vote. The House office buildings have buzzers, not unlike the bells that mark the ends of periods in a school, which alert everybody when a vote starts. The Members left the hearing room, and we all waited for the vote(s) to end, so our hearing could resume. The time was 10:45 AM.

What happened next was very unusual indeed. The House held vote after vote, more than fifty votes in total, as the day stretched on, hour after hour. They voted on amendments, on motions to reconsider the votes on the amendments, on other motions — at one point, as far as I could tell, they were voting on a motion to reconsider a decision to table an appeal of a procedural decision of the chair. To put it bluntly, the Republicans were staging a kind of work stoppage. They did this, I hear, to protest an unusual procedural limitation that the Democrats had placed on the handling of the appropriations bill that was currently before the House. I don’t know enough about the norms of House procedure to say which party had the better argument here — but I do know that the recess in our hearing lasted eight and a half hours.

These were not the most exciting eight and a half hours I have experienced. As the day stretched on, we did get a chance to wander around and do a little light tourism. Probably the highlight was when we saw Angelina Jolie in the hallway.

When we reconvened at 7:15 PM, the room, which had been overflowing with spectators in the morning, was mostly empty. The members of the committees, though, made a pretty good showing, which was especially impressive given that it was Thursday evening, when many Members hightail it back home to their districts. Late in the day, after a day that must have been frustrating for everybody, we sat down to business and had a good, substantive hearing. There were no major surprises — there rarely are at hearings — but everyone got a chance to express their views, and the members asked substantive questions.

Thinking back on the hearing, I did realize one thing that may have been missing. The panel of witnesses included three companies, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, that are both ad services and content providers. There was less attention to situations where the ad service and the content provider are separate companies. In this latter case, where the ad service does not have a direct relationship with the consumer, so the market pressure on the ad service to behave well is attenuated. (There is still some pressure, through the content provider, who wants to stay in the good graces of consumers, but an indirect link is not as effective as a direct one would be.) Yahoo, Google, and Facebook are household names, and we would naturally expect them to pay more careful attention to the desires of consumers and Congress than lower-profile ad services would.

Witnesses have the opportunity to submit further written testimony. Any suggestions on what I might discuss?

My Testimony on Behavioral Advertising

I’m testifying this morning at 10:00 AM (Eastern) at a Congressional hearing on “Behavioral Advertising: Industry Practices and Consumers’ Expectations”. It’s a joint hearing of two subcommittees of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection; and the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet .

Witnesses at the hearing are:

  • Jeffrey Chester, Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy
  • Scott Cleland, President, Precursor LLC
  • Charles D. Curran, Executive Director, Network Advertising Initiative
  • Edward W. Felten, Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs, Princeton University
  • Christopher M. Kelly, Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook
  • Anne Toth, Vice President of Policy, Head of Privacy, Yahoo! Inc.
  • Nicole Wong, Deputy General Counsel, Google Inc.

I submitted written testimony to the committee.

Look for a live webcast on the committee’s site.