July 26, 2007
Forrester Opinion Amended
The Ninth Circuit amended the opinion in U.S. v. Forrester to limit the scope of circumstances when the FBI can collect electronic information generated by a target. The FBI got email addresses, web URLs visited, along with telephone numbers dialed. The Court had equated this with the same kind of data collecting as with a traditional pen register case. Since then, the word broke on the CIPAV program used by the Bureau which is essentially spyware. The Court issued an addendum noting that the surveillance took place through connections at the local ISP office, with a warrant having been issued. This is consistent with the analysis the Court used to justify the similarities in the types of surveillance techniques.
July 25, 2007
House Holds Hearings on P2P Role in Subverting National Security
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing yesterday on peer-to-peer networks and their ability to compromise government security. The only person representing peer-to-peer networks was Mark Gorton, chairman of Lime Wire. Did he get an earful. Aside from the fact that he was told his and similar p2p networks were national security risks, they were deliberately being used by evildoers.
The problem arises from the fact that a person with p2p software installed can share files unwittingly, and some of those files may be sensitive security documents on government computers. This is relatively true if someone uses these programs casually. But one has to ask why p2p software is on any government computer at all? What are these people doing? Sharing music, videos, porn, or other personal stuff on government work time? Peer-to-peer has some interesting legal applications. The Joost video service plans to operate peer-to-peer once it gets out of beta, and that should be legally licensed materials.
Other employers have rules about personal matters on work computers and work time. If Congress is going to huff and puff over this, it should be at government managers for letting their employees put this type of software on their machines. It doesn't take an act of Congress to tighten government computer security.
July 24, 2007
FBI Wants to Buy Telecom Customer Data
Wired is reporting on a proposal by the FBI to fund creation of data centers with the three major telecoms for the purpose of archiving and processing information requests for the government. The telecoms would retain data for network calling and Internet connection records for at least 2 years. There would be a dedicated employee at each data center ready to retrieve records.
The Attorney General has been calling for Congress to enact a law requiring these actions as a way to investigate potential terrorism. Congress, so far, has declined. A funding request means that the government would buy the information that they couldn't get for free. The telecoms certainly would have little problem with this approach. Their main objection was the cost of maintaining data for two years when their business objectives didn't require it.
How this all jibes with the major search engines falling all over themselves in efforts to reduce the amount of time they maintain person identifiable search records. Google started earlier this year stating it would anonymize records after 18 months. Very recently Microsoft joined with Ask to meet the same standard and called for any industry wide conference to hammer out a common standard. Not a bad idea, even if just a little self serving on the part of Microsoft. Industry regulating itself is preferable to Congressional intervention. Laws have little flexibility as technology changes.
Calling and Internet records combined with actual search data would be pretty revealing. The search industry is going in the opposite direction of the telecoms on data retention. It remains to be seen if the government will urge the major search engines to keep data or buy them off as well.
It would also be interesting to see how Google addresses Internet privacy if it successfully bids on wireless spectrum. Assuming Google offered WiFi access, phone calling services, search services, mobile search services, video services, targeted advertising and, oh, everything else anyone needs to connect and use the Internet, it would own a fairly integrated portrait of its customer base. That proposition should get the Justice Department salivating.
July 23, 2007
Google May Bid on Wireless Spectrum
Google is willing to commit $4.6 billion to bidding on the wireless spectrum up for sale, available once the switch to digital television takes place. The commitment comes if the FCC is willing to embrace four conditions Google is placing on its bid. As detailed in the official Google Blog, they are
- Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
- Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
- Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
- Open networks: third parties (like Internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network
AT&T and other carriers denounced the open network requirements and suggested that would destroy their business model. AT&T changed its tune when FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin floated proposals that embraced some, but not all, of Google's proposals. Martin's proposal specifically lacked the wholesale condition. AT&T later said that Martin's proposals represented a compromise that would not destroy the carrier's business model after all because it wouldn't be forced to resell spectrum. That's true in the sense that AT&T or Verizon winning the sale wouldn't force them to open up anything to other players and would give them control over some aspects of the open device requirement.
Google's entry into the wireless Internet business could have serious impact both on wireless phone networks and the Internet generally. Google could offer competitive WiFi service that gives away some access others charge for, all ad supported of course. That would probably peel away some (a lot of?) customers from existing carriers. Google could position itself to become another network offering all kinds of services such as Voice over IP, video leveraged through YouTube, along with all the other brand recognized services that a traditional ISP offers. The company had purchased a significant quantity of dark fiber over the last several years and may be ready to compete with the telecoms head on.
It would be something for a company with enough leverage, money, brand recognition, and market power to force the telecoms to compete in a world they previously defined. Microsoft isn't going to do it as they won't want to jeopardize selling software that AT&T uses to power their U-verse TV over IP service. Yahoo won't do it because they have more fundamental problems aside from their relationship with AT&T as the service provider on the AT&T network. Imagine a world where the Internet came to you over the airwaves like television, with ads powered by Google.