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Friday, January 11, 2008

Swedish Politicians Strike Blows at Copyright Lobby

Last week, seven Swedish MPs wrote to a prominent Swedish tabloid newspaper ‘Expressen’ to express their dissatisfaction with proposals for dealing with copyright infringers. Now, that number has increased to 13, and the issue seems to keep growing.

Initially, Karl Sigfrid, and 6 other MPs [Members of Parliament] wrote to Expressen (Swedish, English) to express their opposition to a plan proposed by Cecilia Renfors, a copyright analyst appointed by the Swedish government, in what Expressen called “Seven MPs defy the party line: Legalizing file sharing is not just the best solution, but the only solution”. Her plan was that ISPs would close down the connections of filesharers, preventing them from participating in any further copyright infringement. The condemnation for this was broad-based, from the Data inspection Board, the Competition Authority, all the way to the Swedish court of Appeal.

The message from the Moderate Party MPs to their Antipiratbyrån supporting colleagues was “be careful, they will never be satisfied”, drawing parallels to the earlier attempts to ban MP3 players, and VCRs, both areas in which, having failed to ban, industry groups are now making a profit from selling content.

Karl Sigfrid told TorrentFreak that the APB proposals make no practical sense. “I think it could be solved in theory. However, in reality, you would need such a surveillance system to achieve this that it would be all out of proportion. So I don’t think there’s a feasilbe way of stopping individuals copying. The cause for file sharing is basically that it’s possible. People have always done it to the extent that they’ve been able to. With cassette tapes 20 years ago and electronically today. Copyright laws preventing individuals from sharing information have never been legitimate in the eyes of most people.”

When asked about if it was down to content industries being slow to change their business practices, he replied: “It’s hard to say what would have happened if the content industries had been quicker releasing their material online, before the P2P networks grew mainstream. Probably the illegal filesharing would be less extensive, but it’s possible that it would still have been increasingly difficult for iTunes and such services to compete with free downloading. The change needed might be so radical that it’s no longer about selling copies of immaterial products at all.”

Rickard Falkvinge, of the Swedish Pirate Party was understandably upbeat about it. “Karl Sigfrid’s taking a stand marks a major turning point. For the first time, an established politician shows deep-down understanding of the real conflict, instead of cluelessly humming along with a technophobical luddite industry. Some other Swedish mainstream politicians have previously talked in terms of how it’s unreasonable to declare war on an entire generation. Sigfrid is the first to understand why.” His enthusiasm is understandable as, one Swedish torrent user put it “a bunch of members of The Conservative Party have started listening to the policies of The Pirate Party, and they want to jump on their bandwagon, as it’s gaining popularity”.

Gaining popularity it is, as yesterday, thirteen members of Parliament joined in another attack (Swedish only, no English translation at present) on the likes of the APB, and recording industries, saying “The record labels are obviously opposed to a development that makes them obsolete.” However, not everyone has been celebrating. Pirate Bay administrator Brokep was skeptical, saying “I’m intrigued that the debate is sparking up again. There’s been a lot of lies from the politicians. Promises and nothing has happened, so at least this will put the debate back on the map.”

The initial seven MPs were Karl Sigfrid. Margareta Cederfelt. Ulf Berg. Lena Asplund. Staffan Appelros. Lisbeth Grönfeldt Bergman and Göran Montan. Tuesdays additions were Marie Weibull Kornias,Finn Bengtsson, Ann-Charlotte Hammar Johnsson, Sven Yngve Persson, and Anders Hansson.
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US Medical System: The Worst in 19 Industrialized Nations

Reuters reports on a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, authored by Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee, published in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal:

France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.

The study abstract:

We compared trends in deaths considered amenable to health care before age seventy-five between 1997 - 98 and 2002 - 03 in the United States and in eighteen other industrialized countries. Such deaths account, on average, for 23 percent of total mortality under age seventy-five among males and 32 percent among females. The decline in amenable mortality in all countries averaged 16 percent over this period. The United States was an outlier, with a decline of only 4 percent. If the United States could reduce amenable mortality to the average rate achieved in the three top-performing countries, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths per year by the end of the study period.

One hundred thousand deaths per year. You'd think Mike Huckabee would be all over this, after his statement about requiring immigrants for labor because we've been aborting people for 35 years:

Sometimes we talk about why we're importing so many people in our workforce," the former Arkansas governor said. "It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973.

One hundred thousand deaths per year. We need immigrants because of aborted fetuses, but there's no need to stop killing 100,000 people unnecessarily because we don't have universal health care:

"I think health care in the U.S. is pretty good if you have access. But if you don't, I think that's the main problem, isn't it?" Nolte said in a telephone interview.

I have a little experience with universal health care, because I've lived in Canada for four years. It's taken me almost that long to stop asking people, "Have you seen a doctor for that?" when they talk about a health problem. Canadians look at you funny if you ask them that.

Last month I was visiting a dojo in Bellingham and one guy tweaked his knee when his foot didn't pivot on the mat (nobody hit him, he just went one way and his foot didn't follow) -- and I was confused when he talked about whether or not he could visit the doctor. Then I remembered where I was: the United States, land of trillion dollar wars and between 47 million and 58 million uninsured.

Regardless of insurance status, nearly 20 percent of Americans lack a regular source of health care, a "strong indication many Americans may not be receiving needed care", according to the CDC. Dr. Amy Bernstein, chief of the CDC's analytic studies branch at the Office of Analysis and Epidemiology (and director of the study) notes that "research shows having a usual source of care results in improved care."

One hundred thousand extra deaths per year. That's roughly one every five minutes, around the clock, 24/7/365 -- every year. Where are the Right to Lifers when you need them? From the National Right to Life mission statement:

The ultimate goal of the National Right to Life Committee is to restore legal protection to innocent human life.

In a logical world, the Right to Lifers would be blockading insurance companies as well as abortion providers.
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Whistleblower effectively gagged by FBI

In what his attorney is calling censorship, an FBI whistleblower is being severely limited on what he is allowed to share with an audience at an upcoming trade meeting.

Bassem Youssef, the highest ranking Arab-American FBI agent, is scheduled to speak to the ALA on January 12. After receiving a warning on January 3, Youssef decided, on the advice of his attorney, to no longer give the originally planned presentation on what he calls "critical failures within the FBI's counterterrorism program," said to undermine not only Americans' basic constitutional rights, but counterterrorism efforts as well. Instead, he will answer prepared questions from audience members.

The FBI, between its original clearance in October of 2007 and its recent warning, had become displeased with the contents of an ALA press release dated December 20, 2007, which detailed the planned speech.

Says attorney Stephen M. Kohn, "The FBI does not want the general public to know the contents of the censorship provisions it unconstitutionally demands that its agents follow."

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Youssef sued the FBI in 2003 alleging discrimination, career sabotage and retaliation, which internal investigations have at least partially substantiated. In the case of Youssef's speech to the American Library Assocation, the FBI stated that it sought to "balance the speech rights of employees with the need to protect classified and sensitive information."

The FBI, according to Youssef and Kohn, provided Youssef with a list of requirements, not previously published, by which he would be bound. "Although I understand the document contains no confidential information," says Kohn in a letter to the ALA, "the FBI does not want the general public to know the contents of the censorship provisions it unconstitutionally demands that its agents follow."
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Still M.I.A.: Millions of White House Emails

Remember how White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told us in April that she "wouldn't rule out" that the Bush administration may have lost 5 million emails? You know, the emails the White House doesn't want you to see? No? Here's your update:

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive (NSA) noticed the administration's "technical issue," and they sued to find out how and if the White House plans to recover them.

The White House, which is nothing if not predictable, has of course refused to answer any questions about the "lost" emails, which could contain information on everything from Valerie Plame to the U.S. Attorneys scandal to Hurricane Katrina. But a court order (PDF) issued Tuesday by D.C. District Court Judge John Facciola gives the administration five business days to answer four questions about whether and how the emails are backed-up. These are the questions the plaintiffs needed a court order to get the White House to answer (I am not making this up):

1. Are the back-ups catalogued, labeled or otherwise identified to indicate the period of time they cover?

2. Are the back-ups catalogued, labeled or otherwise identified to indicate the data contained therein?

3. Do the back-ups contain emails written and received between 2003-2005?

4. Do the back-ups contain the emails said to be missing that are the subject of this lawsuit?

To make this perfectly clear: the plaintiffs are still trying to find out whether the White House even has the emails. Meredith Fuchs, the NSA's General Counsel, told me she's doubtful that, even faced with a court order, the White House will provide full answers to their questions.

"I hope that we're going to learn something about what emails still exist and are recoverable, but I worry that they will continue to evade answering the questions," she says.

That seems fairly likely, since evasion works to the White House's benefit. If the backup tapes do not in fact contain the missing emails (Question 4), then every day that goes by means the emails are less recoverable. If they weren't backed-up, the emails would have to be dredged up from the depths of computer memory on individual workstations and servers or through other, unnamed "forensic means." And as anyone who has ever deleted an important file and tried to recover it knows, the more you use a computer after losing a file, the harder it is to recover. According to the court order, "[E]mails that might now be retrievable from email account folders or 'slack space' on individual workstations are increasingly likely to be deleted or overwritten with the passage of time." So if the White House is trying to keep damaging emails from prying eyes, the more it delays, the less likely it is that anyone will ever see them.

Judge Facciola appears to recognize that time is of the essence. Thus the court order. But Anne Weismann, CREW's Chief Counsel, says that the White House has lots of ways to buy more time. If the White House gives incomplete or vague answers to questions that Weismann characterized as "pretty straightforward," "not burdensome," and "discrete" the plaintiffs would have to push the court to find the White House did not sufficiently answer the questions.

"If we have to go down that road it uses up time and that really seems to be the goal on the administration's side—to use up the clock. Judge Facciola recognized that time is running out, but it's very sad that we're talking about the possibility that the White House may not comply with a court order. How have we gotten to that point?"

Both the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight Committee have taken an interest in the missing emails, but CREW and the NSA would like to see Congress do more. Weismann said her group is doing its best, but Congress is simply better-positioned to hold the administration to account for its record-keeping failings. Weismann said that Congress could subpoena documents that might break the story wide open.

"There were documents created that reflect all this information," she said. According to Weismann, when the missing email problem was first discovered, the federal Office of Administration developed an action plan to recover the missing data from backup tapes. But Weismann said that she's been told the plan was never implemented. CREW used a Freedom of Information request to try to obtain the documents relating to the plan, but the administration has so far refused to release the documents. "It does seem that Congress has some tools that they could more effectively use, like subpoenas," Weismann said. "It would be a first step in the evidentiary proof that this White House has blatantly disregarded its record keeping obligations. That might be something that Congress might want to get and they might have more success than we've had so far."

(The House Oversight Committee has not yet returned a call seeking comment.)

The next step for the plaintiffs depends on how the White House responds. If it turns out that the emails are on backup tapes, then CREW and the NSA will ask the judge to ask the National Archivist to ask the Attorney General to force the White House to have them restored. If the Attorney General then does nothing, they could ask Congress to force the issue. The plaintiffs will also ask the judge to force the White House to install an appropriate record-keeping system so similar problems won't happen again.

If the emails are not on the backup tapes, that could lead to an even bigger legal standoff. "If they deleted the backups knowing that they were the only remaining copies of these missing emails, that raises all sorts of questions about criminal misconduct," Weismann said. But criminal misconduct aside, the plaintiffs would then pursue obtaining the emails from other sources, like individual computers and email accounts. It's unclear whether the court would permit that.

In the middle-to-long-term, CREW and the NSA would also like to see Congress amend the Presidential Records Act. As currently interpreted by the courts, the act does not give groups like the NSA cause of action to sue to force the White House to obey record keeping laws. Neither does current law give the National Archivist jurisdiction to monitor presidential record-keeping, as it does for federal records. So the current lawsuit is entirely under the auspices of the Federal Records Act.

Interestingly, the NSA and CREW were only able to bring their lawsuit because of the Bush administration's haphazard record keeping. It's only proceeding because the Bush administration doesn't have a system that divides presidential and federal records. (Presidential records are produced by bodies like the National Security Council that simply advise the president. Federal records are produced by bodies that have functions beyond giving advice, They are governed by a different statute.) The Clinton administration had a system that sorted emails automatically and stored them in a secure, searchable archive, but the Bush administration discarded that system when it came into office. As far as anyone outside the White House knows, that system was never replaced, so federal and presidential records were commingled. (The Clinton system wasn't perfect—some of the Vice-President's records went missing, which led to a mini-scandal and a report from the Government Accountability Office that stressed the importance of good record keeping.)

So when 5 million (or as many as 10 million, according to Weismann) emails went missing, they included many federal records. That is what made it possible for NSA and CREW to bring their suit. If the Bush administration had kept the two types of records separate, and the only missing emails were presidential records, the plaintiffs suit would probably have been dismissed out of hand. But it remains to be seen whether this story will get the coverage it deserves. Anne Weismann told me she worries the issues involved are too complex.

"Ultimately, the story is a huge scandal, but in order to get there the public has to understand a lot of technical and legal things, and I think the White House has been lucky that this hasn't taken off yet in the way it should because it's complicated."

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