“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
It’s been a busy week. The Senate voted 74-21 to pass CISA, the problematic surveillance bill that has privacy advocates and civil liberties groups up in arms. In better news, the EU Parliament voted to net neutrality rules filled with loopholesthat aren’t exactly neutral. The Library of Congress approved copyright law exemptions that would allow people to modify software on their cars—but the exemptions only last three years after they begin to take effect, which won’t be for another year. And Tor launched the beta version of Tor Messenger, which looks like the easiest-to-use encrypted, anonymous instant messaging app.
But that’s not all. Each Saturday we round up the news stories that we didn’t break or cover in depth at WIRED, but which deserve your attention nonetheless. As always, click on the headlines to read the full story in each link posted. And stay safe out there!
The fact that local governments collect data on every driver’s travel history is pretty disconcerting. That idea that this data is sometimes widely available to anyone with a web browser is even scarier. Earlier this year, EFF learned that information from more than 100 auto license plate reader cameras was available online, and sometimes the camera’s live video stream (and plate captures) could be viewed in real time. The digital rights group was able to trace five cameras to their sources, and found multiple issues such as poor or default passwords, or no passwords at all. Luckily, when notified by EFF, the agencies secured the systems, but tracking the sources of all cameras wasn’t possible. Other than securing surveillance technology before using it (what a concept!) it would behoove law enforcement agencies to limit their data storage to days, not years—and only for vehicles suspected to have been involved with a crime, the EFF concluded.
Net neutrality has been the law of the land for only 10 days, but already a web-cam company is knocking on the FCC’s door to complain that Time Warner Cable is breaking the rules. The case could, in theory, lead the agency to flex new powers over an internet provider – but the smart money will bet that the FCC throws the web-cam firm out on its ear.
The complaint, which came to light on Monday, comes via Commercial Network Services (CNS), a San Diego company that live-streams views of southern California. It asks the FCC to do something about the fact that Time Warner Cable TWX -0.37% wants to charge it for delivering its web traffic. Because CNS won’t pay, its live stream is choppy and slow.
“Aha!” some might say, “Isn’t this what net neutrality is supposed to prevent?”
Not quite. The dispute here doesn’t involve the so-called “last mile” where ISP’s like Time Warner Cable bring broadband to consumers – and where the FCC has made it clear that all web traffic must be treated the same. Instead, the CNS case involves “peering” or “interconnection,” which refers to a type of connection that occur at a deeper layer of the internet, and takes place between content providers (like Netflix or CNS) and the ISPs.
In these cases, the FCC only requires for arrangements between ISP’s and the websites providing content to be reasonable. So is Time Warner Cable being unreasonable? Well, that’s for the FCC to decide but, according to a gaggle of people who live and breathe this stuff, the ISP is not obliged to serve CNS for free, and its complaint will fail.
The backlash against Facebook’s “free mobile data” Internet.org scheme has spread across the globe.
A total of 67 digital rights groups – including i Freedom Uganda, Ecuador’s Usuarios Digitales and Indonesia’s ICT Watch – have signed a letter to Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, stating concerns about the initiative.
They say the project threatens freedom of expression, privacy and the principle of net neutrality.
Facebook has yet to respond.
However, Mr Zuckerberg has previously defended his effort to get people online, by saying: “It’s not an equal internet if the majority of people cannot participate.”
He has also promised to make changes to address some of the security concerns.
What is Internet.org?
Internet.org allows subscribers of partner mobile networks to use a limited number of online services without having to pay to make use of the data involved.
They include Wikipedia, the Facts for Life health site run by the United Nations Children’s Fund, BBC News, Facebook, Accuweather and a selection of local news and sports results providers.
The fight over regulating the Internet is far from over, however.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler holds hands with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, left, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during a hearing on Thursday. The agency has voted in favor of new rules governing Internet traffic.
After nearly a year of intense debate about the future of the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to approve net neutrality rules that aim to preserve competition online by treating all Internet traffic equally.
The newly approved rules forbid Internet service providers from blocking or slowing the traffic of their rivals, and ban new fees for faster download speeds that would create “paid prioritization” or “fast lanes.” The rules will affect competition between certain companies, especially those reliant on fast download speeds like Skype and Netflix.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made some last-minute revisions to his net neutrality plan after Google and public interest groups pressed for the changes, according to sources at the commission.
Google, Free Press and New America’s Open Technology Institute last week asked the commission to revise language they said could unintentionally allow Internet service providers to charge websites for sending content to consumers. Such a scenario could open the door to an avalanche of new fees for Web companies and threaten their business models.
Google executives on Feb. 19 called aides to Wheeler and staffers for the FCC’s two other Democratic commissioners — Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel — to make their case, according to a company disclosure. Clyburn has been the most vocal proponent of the revisions inside the commission, the sources said.
The exact scope of the language changes — which came to light a day before the FCC is scheduled to vote on the rules — wasn’t immediately clear. They do not appear to alter the main thrust of Wheeler’s proposed order, which would regulate broadband like a public utility to ensure Internet providers treat all Web traffic equally. The commission’s Democratic majority is expected to approve the order over objections of Republicans who say the rules are heavy handed and will harm investment.
Network neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs), including cable companies like Time Warner and wireless providers like Sprint, should treat all internet traffic equally. It says your ISP shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest.
The term was coined in 2002 by Tim Wu, who is now a law professor at Columbia University. In a 2003 paper explaining the concept, Wu argued for a non-discrimination rule that would ensure a level playing field among Internet applications.
Ever since then, the term has been at the center of the debate over internet regulation. Congress, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC), and the courts have all debated whether and how to protect network neutrality. Advocates argue that network neutrality lowers barriers to entry online, allowing entrepreneurs to create new companies like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.
But critics warn that regulations could be counterproductive, discouraging investment in internet infrastructure and limiting the flexibility of ISPs themselves to innovate.
On February 26, the FCC is expected to vote on new, stronger network neutrality rules that regulate internet access like a public utility. Network neutrality supporters have hailed the proposal. But Republicans in Congress argue that it will lead to excessive regulation of the internet, and are working on a legislative alternative to the FCC proposal.
Most Americans believe that when they sign up for Internet access with a broadband provider, they are paying to access the lawful content and services of their choice. But without crucial protections, the relationship can quickly be reversed—instead of selling their customers access to the Internet, broadband providers can effectively sell privileged, fast access to their customers to the highest bidders. By limiting their subscribers’ access to only the websites that can afford to pay, or by blocking or throttling lawful content, broadband providers have the potential to thwart the Internet’s role as an engine of economic growth, democracy, and free speech.
Internet users have now gone more than a year without crucial protections in place that guarantee their right to access the lawful content and services of their choice. The Federal Communications Commission is on the brink of putting those protections back in place. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled his proposal to restore certainty to the Internet by adopting net neutrality rules that will apply to all domestic broadband providers. If approved by the commissioners on Feb. 26, there will once again be meaningful rules that protect consumers and provide certainty to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The proposal under consideration would prohibit blocking and throttling of lawful content and ban paid prioritization agreements where broadband providers sell fast access to their customers to the highest bidders. As outlined, Chairman Wheeler’s plan represents meaningful action to ensure that the Internet remains a dynamic engine of economic growth, democracy, and free speech for years to come.
There is now widespread and bipartisan agreement that open Internet principles should apply to broadband providers. The FCC received nearly 4 million comments on the issue from Americans, and they spoke almost unanimously: Consumers and small businesses want and expect an Internet where the best websites and services thrive on their merits, not based on financial relationships with broadband providers. These comments, along with copies of more detailed filings and disclosures of meetings with FCC commissioners and staff, are available online for all to see. The record Chairman Wheeler is basing his proposal upon is open, transparent, and overwhelmingly in favor of his approach.
The impact of the public comments, most of which were filed using the Internet, highlights the transformative role that online access to policymakers can have on our democracy. Preserving the Internet’s growing role as a conduit for citizen participation is exactly what Chairman Wheeler’s proposal is designed to do. Some critics have claimed that U.S. legal rules protecting an open Internet could be used by extreme foreign governments to justify their own censorship of online speech or oppressive censorship policies. This claim is plainly far-fetched. The rules being contemplated by the FCC make it clear that no entity, whether it is the government or a big broadband company, should be able to dictate the terms of free speech online. The fear of foreign entities twisting the meaning of our laws and goals to serve their purposes should not prevent United States policymakers from taking responsible steps to protect American consumers.
Republicans in Congress have now joined us in recognizing the need for net neutrality protections to keep the Internet open and equally accessible for all. Despite their stated support for the same principles included in Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, however, they have been loudly critical of FCC action, claiming that only Congress can provide the necessary protections. We feel strongly that the legislation recently put forward by congressional Republicans would not adequately protect consumers and small businesses online—nor would it provide the FCC the tools it needs to ensure that broadband service remains accessible to everyone.
By stripping the FCC’s ability to issue clear guidance, the Republican proposal would also create an avalanche of litigation each time the FCC acted to protect an open Internet. A core function of an expert agency like the FCC is to help all involved parties, from the regulated companies to the protected consumers, understand what behavior is and isn’t permissible. The Republican bill ties the FCC’s hands by limiting its role solely to enforcement, allowing it only to evaluate behavior on a case-by-case basis. Each of those enforcement proceedings will inevitably lead to litigation in federal court, with a broadband provider asserting that the FCC has overstepped its bounds. There is no need to alter the FCC’s traditional authority to issue the kind of clear forward-looking rules of the road that both consumers and providers can understand. Further, the bill as currently drafted creates a category of exempted “specialized services” that could operate outside of the bill’s protections. The end result is a massive loophole that could be used to undermine open Internet principles. This is not the certainty that consumers, small businesses, and broadband providers need and deserve.
In the midst of overheated rhetoric about government takeovers and overregulation of the Internet, it is important to remember that reinstating popular and bipartisan principles to preserve an open Internet is the goal of the FCC’s proceeding. Congress should let the FCC do its work to fulfill this important mandate and put in place protections that both Republicans and Democrats agree must exist.
This is a key moment in the history and the future of the open Internet. Targeted FCC action will protect and promote the Internet as we know it today, a dynamic platform that has led to stunning innovation and economic opportunity for millions of Americans. We must not lose sight of that goal or take it for granted: The driving force of the 21st-century economy must remain open and accessible to all. We have no doubt that that is a bipartisan goal, and we urge all sides to keep that in mind when the FCC acts on Feb. 26.