September 3, 2015

Steve Schultze

Steve is a Program Officer for Internet Freedom at the United States Department of State, within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. For four years, he was Associate Director at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton. Prior to that, he was a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He also holds a Masters in Comparative Media Studies from MIT, and helped create the Public Radio Exchange.

avatar

Free Law Project Partnering in Stewardship of RECAP

More than five years ago, I spoke at CITP about the US Federal Courts electronic access system called PACER. I noted that despite centuries of precedent stating that the public should have access to the law as openly and freely as possible, the courts were charging unreasonable rates for access to the public record. As it happened, David Robinson, Harlan Yu, Bill Zeller, and Ed Felten had recently written their paper “Government Data and the Invisible Hand“, arguing that:

…the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data.

After my talk, Harlan Yu and Tim Lee approached me with an idea to make millions of court records available for free: a simple browser extension that made it easy for individuals to share the records that they had purchased from PACER with others who were looking for the same records. The idea became RECAP (“turning PACER around”), and the tool has indeed helped to liberate millions of public records in the years since then. But the time has come to turn over our stewardship, and we could not be more pleased that CITP is announcing a new partnership with Free Law Project to take over and expand upon RECAP.
[Read more…]

avatar

Christopher Yoo on Comcast and Competition: When Antitrust Lawyers Do the Math

Update:

Christopher Yoo gave his talk, and I encourage you to watch it. As you can see from the rather extensive comment thread below, Yoo does not think that my critiques are fair, and he is more than a little bit upset that I trolled him. Nevertheless, upon review of the debate, I believe that you will find that the TL;DR is:

  • He admits that his “well established” means of quantifying broadband competition are anything but.
  • When I ask him to verify basic assertions that he made in answering my critique (eg: Netflix has historically paid ISPs for “carriage”), he dodges and claims that I don’t understand the industry.
  • He thinks that ISPs are incapable of traffic shaping that they were already doing six years ago.
  • He admits that ISP discrimination, which has recently helped ISPs to negotiate “paid peering” (a.k.a. reversing the transit relationship), does in fact destroy the “bill-and-keep” model that has historically been de facto for broadband service, and that this discrimination leads to a terminating access problem.
  • He claims that, nevertheless, last-mile market power does not exist when “networks at the core of the network engage in settlement-free peering.” I’m not sure why.
  • He avoids answering my basic critique of his legal interpretation of Time Warner v. FCC, 240 F.3d 1126, which is key to his “viability” standard.
  • He appears to feel that the government should make regulatory decisions based on what feels equitable or at least some economist’s definition of welfare-maximization (presumably a leading-edge neo-schumpeterian n-sided-market economist).
  • He accuses me of not reading his scholarship, even after I quote from it liberally, and equates ex-post enforcement of antitrust principles to “regulatory intervention” (I suppose we could have a semantic debate about this one, but the chasm between concrete rules and his notion of antitrust is great.)
  • He’s upset that I keep mentioning his own public disclosures of corporate funding. My view is that if you are a decent academic, the degree to which corporate support is relevant is indirectly proportional to the merit of your scholarship. This calculation is an exercise left to the reader.

Today at 12:30, Christopher Yoo will give a live-streamed talk at CITP entitled “The Open Internet in the Aftermath of Verizon v. FCC: What Comes Next?” Yoo will talk about the Verizon v. FCC ruling that overturned the FCC’s network neutrality rules, and place them in the context of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner. Yesterday, unnamed sources within the FCC gave a possible answer to Yoo’s question: a “fast lane” for sites and services that pay for preferential access to Comcast’s customers. The FCC is reportedly considering new rules that would permit broadband Internet providers to discriminate against specific content as long as they don’t do so in an “anticompetitive manner.” The FCC will then be left to decide what makes for anticompetitive behavior — a domain typically left to antitrust law.
[Read more…]

avatar

Take Over My Dream Job: Associate Director at CITP

Nearly four years ago, I joined the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton as Associate Director. The CITP community is a fantastic collection of smart and funny people who work passionately on all aspects of information technology policy. It was my dream job, so it was bittersweet when I accepted a new job working on internet freedom programs at the State Department. However, this means that someone else has a chance to step into this incredible position. If you love tech policy and want to help lead a vibrant and growing research center, you can now apply to be the Associate Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have, at

In my new role at the State Department, I help to award and oversee grants to groups that are supporting internet freedom worldwide. This includes technology tools as well as advocacy, training, and research. I am always eager to hear from folks with projects or ideas, and part of my goal is to help support the growing internet freedom community however I can. Feel free to email me at , and to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) for technology projects (the next quarterly round of SOI’s are due on August 30th).

avatar

I Join the EFF and Others in Calling for Craigslist to Drop CFAA Claims

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

Craigslist is suing several companies that scrape data from Craigslist advertisements. These companies, like Padmapper and 3taps, repurpose the data in order to provide more useful ways of searching through the ads. I have written about this in earlier posts, “Dear Craig: Voluntarily Dismiss with Prejudice,” and “A Response to Jerry: Craig Should Still Dismiss.” Fundamentally, I think that the company’s tactic of litigating against perceived competitors is bad for Craigslist (because it limits the reach of its users’ ads and thus the success of Craigslist), it is bad for the law and policy of the web (because scraping of public web sites has historically been a well-established and permissible practice that beneficially spreads public information), and is in bad taste (given Craiglist’s ethos of doing well by doing good).

One of the most problematic aspects of the lawsuit is the set of claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and its California state-law counterpart. The CFAA, passed in 1986, introduces criminal and civil penalties for “unauthorized access” to “protected computers.” The CFAA was largely a reaction to generalized fear of “computer hacking,” and it did not envision the public internet as we know it today. Nevertheless, some have tried to apply the CFAA to public web sites. This approach has been widely frowned upon by both the tech community and the courts. For instance, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are actively pushing to reform the CFAA because it has been subject to prosecutorial abuse. Craigslist has nevertheless alleged violations of the CFAA based on access to their public web site.

Today I signed on to an an amicus brief written by the EFF–which was also co-signed by other scholars in the field–that urges the court to dismiss these ill-advised CFAA claims. The brief reads, in part:
[Read more…]

avatar

Arlington v. FCC: What it Means for Net Neutrality

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Arlington v. FCC. At issue was a very abstract legal question: whether the FCC has the right to interpret the scope of its own authority in cases in which congress has left the contours of their jurisdiction ambiguous. In short, can the FCC decide to regulate a specific activity if the statute could reasonably be read to give them that authority? The so-called Chevron doctrine gives deference to administrative agencies’ interpretation of of their statutory powers, and the court decided that this deference extends to interpretations of their own jurisdiction. It’s all very meta, but it turns out that it could be a very big deal indeed for one of those hot-button tech policy issues: net neutrality.

Scalia wrote the majority opinion, which is significant for reasons I will describe below. The opinion demonstrated a general skepticism of the telecom industry claims, and with classic Scalia snark, he couldn’t resist this footnote about the petitioners, “CTIA—The Wireless Association”:

This is not a typographical error. CTIA—The Wireless Association was the name of the petitioner. CTIA is presumably an (unpronounceable) acronym, but even the organization’s website does not say what it stands for. That secret, known only to wireless-service-provider insiders, we will not disclose here.

Ha. Ok, on to the merits of the case and why this matters for net neutrality.
[Read more…]

avatar

A Response to Jerry: Craig Should Still Dismiss

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

Jerry Brito, a sometimes contributor to this blog, has a new post on the Reason blog arguing that I and others have been too harsh on Craigslist for their recent lawsuit. As I wrote in my earlier post, Craigslist should give up the lawsuit not just because it’s unlikely to prevail, but also because it risks setting bad precedents and is downright distasteful. Jerry argues that what the startups that scrape Craigslist data are doing doesn’t “sit well,” and that there are a several reasons to temper criticism of Craigslist.

I remain unconvinced.

To begin with, the notion that something doesn’t “sit well” is not necessarily a good indicator that one can or should prevail in legal action. To be sure, tort law (and common law more generally) develops in part out of our collective notion of what does or doesn’t seem right. Jerry concedes that the copyright claims are bogus, and that the CFAA claims are ill-advised, so we’re left with doctrines like misappropriation and trespass to chattels. I’ll get to those in a moment.
[Read more…]

avatar

Dear Craig: Voluntarily Dismiss with Prejudice

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

Last summer, Craigslist filed a federal lawsuit against the company Padmapper (and some related entities). Padmapper.com is a site that, among other things, allows users to view Craigslist postings on a geographical map. It is a business premised on providing value added services to Craigslist postings — with some of that added value going back to Craigslist in the form of more users. Craigslist did not like this, and alleged a host of claims — seventeen of them, by the time they were done with the “First Amended Complaint” (FAC). Among their claims were alleged violations of copyright, trademark, breach of contract, and — surprisingly — Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The CFAA claims were not in the original complaint (they showed up only in the September 2012 FAC). Today, the judge ruled that some of the claims would be dismissed, but that many would survive.

I am still at a loss about why Craigslist is taking such a scorched earth tactic against a site that appears to help more people find Craigslist postings. Sure, they’re looking to make money while doing it, but that’s how much of the internet business ecosystem works. I’m particularly shocked, because Craig Newmark has been at the forefront of fighting for so much good online policy. We’ve met a few times, including the period when he was embroiled in the fight over whether or not “adult services” would do away with his CDA 230 intermediary liability. He was on the right side of SOPA/PIPA and helped to fight against over-expansive copyright. I’ve always found him to be personally friendly, thoughtful, and savvy about what makes the internet work.
[Read more…]

avatar

Drones over Princeton: A Goofy Video About a Serious Issue

Last week, privacy attorney Grayson Barber brought her “drone” to CITP in order to do a demo at her talk, “Drones Are Like Flying Computers.” Grayson discussed the many serious legal issues raised by drones (you can watch the video of her presentation here). But her drone takes great video, so I couldn’t resist making a somewhat silly video from the footage that she took during the demo.


(watch the video directly here)

avatar

Two Major updates to RECAP: Developers from Around the World Write Code in Memory of Aaron Swartz

A little over two months ago, we joined with the Think Computer Foundation to offer a set of grants in memory of our friend Aaron Swartz. Aaron worked on many issues in his too-short life, but one of those was liberating American court records from behind a pay-wall. He helped to inspire our RECAP project, which has allowed thousands of people to legally liberate and share millions of public records.

We didn’t know if anyone would take up the challenge, but today we are extremely pleased to award two of these grants. These awards recognize some truly amazing coding by software developers that were inspired by Aaron Swartz and his causes. Over the past several years, the two most-requested features for RECAP have been support for US Courts of Appeals (a.k.a. circuit courts), and a version of RECAP that works with the Chrome browser.

Ka-Ping Yee, Filippo Valsorda, and Alessio Palmero Aprosio represent the best kind of technological idealists. They are idealists that not only believe in worthy causes, but also have the engineering expertise and the dogged determination to see their vision through. Read more about them and install their code at recapthelaw.org.

avatar

The District of Columbia Claims Copyright on the Law

Update: They released the unofficial version of the DC Code under a CC-0 License. Josh Tauberer has the backstory.

Copyright exists to incentivize people to create new works. The federal government is not allowed to copyright things, because they don’t need the added incentive, and it would be bad if they started charging for access to something like the text of laws that they promulgate. If ignorance of the law is no excuse, the law must be public and knowable.

It’s a little bit more muddled at the state level. The District of Columbia claims that they own the copyright to the municipal code of DC. This is insane. Furthermore, as documented by Tom MacWright, DC has sold the exclusive rights to digital copies of the DC code to West (Thomson Reuters), and they cannot legally redistribute an electronic version of the code. This makes all kinds of democracy-enhancing activities impossible. In fact, even the physical copies of the DC Code bear the notices “Copyright 2001 by The District of Columbia” and “All Rights Reserved.”

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud thought that this was not only stupid, but also illegal. So, he bought all 23 volumes of the DC code for $803.00, scanned them, and posted them on the web. I agreed with Carl, so I downloaded his copies, printed one of the volumes, and took a picture inviting Thomson Reuters or the DC Council to sue me too.
[Read more…]