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The Courts

It Will Soon Be Illegal To Punish US Customers Who Criticize Businesses Online (arstechnica.com) 50

An anonymous reader writes: Congress has passed a law protecting the right of U.S. consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies. The bipartisan Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed by unanimous consent in the US Senate, a Senate Commerce Committee announcement said. The bill, introduced in 2014, was already approved by the House of Representatives and now awaits President Obama's signature.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act -- full text available here -- voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews.

Crime

Lawyer Sues 20-Year-Old Student Who Gave a Bad Yelp Review, Loses Badly (arstechnica.com) 80

20-year-old Lan Cai was in a car crash this summer, after she was plowed into by a drunk driver and broke two bones in her lower back. She didn't know how to navigate her car insurance and prove damages, so she reached out for legal help. Things didn't go as one would have liked, initially, as ArsTechnica documents:The help she got, Cai said, was less than satisfactory. Lawyers from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm ignored her contacts, and at one point they came into her bedroom while Cai was sleeping in her underwear. "Seriously, it's super unprofessional!" she wrote on Facebook. (The firm maintains it was invited in by Cai's mother.) She also took to Yelp to warn others about her bad experience. The posts led to a threatening e-mail from Tuan Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen. Nguyen and his associates went ahead and filed that lawsuit, demanding the young woman pay up between $100,000 and $200,000 -- more than 100 times what she had in her bank account. Nguyen said he didn't feel bad at all about suing Cai. Cai didn't remove her review, though. Instead she fought back against the Khuu firm, all thanks to attorney Michael Fleming, who took her case pro bono. Fleming filed a motion arguing that, first and foremost, Cai's social media complaints were true. Second, she couldn't do much to damage the reputation of a firm that already had multiple poor reviews. He argued the lawsuit was a clear SLAPP (strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Ultimately, the judge agreed with Fleming, ordering the Khuu firm to pay $26,831.55 in attorneys' fees.
The Courts

French Man Sentenced To Two Years In Prison For Visiting Pro-ISIS Websites (theverge.com) 395

According to French media, a court in the department of Ardeche on Tuesday sentenced a 32-year-old man in France to two years in prison for repeatedly visiting pro-ISIS websites -- even though there was no indication he planned to stage a terrorist attack. Police raided his house and found the man's browsing history. They also found pro-ISIS images and execution videos on his phone, personal computer, and a USB stick, an ISIS flag wallpaper on his computer, and a computer password that was "13novembrehaha," referencing the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead. Slashdot reader future guy shares with us an excerpt from The Verge's report: In court, the man argued that he visited the sites out of curiosity. "I wanted to tell the difference between real Islam and the false Islam, now I understand," he said, according to FranceBleu. But the man reportedly admitted to not reading other news sites or international press, and family members told the court that his behavior had recently changed. He became irritated when discussing religion, they said, and began sporting a long beard with harem pants. A representative from the Ardeche court confirmed to The Verge that there was no indication that the man had any plans to launch an attack. In addition to the two-year prison sentence, he will have to pay a 30,000 euros (roughly $32,000) fine.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Exchange Ordered To Give IRS Years of Data On Millions of Users (gizmodo.com) 203

Last month, instead of asking for data relating to specific individuals suspected of a crime, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) demanded America's largest Bitcoin service, Coinbase, to provide the identities of all of the firm's U.S. customers who made transactions over a three year period because there is a chance they are avoiding paying taxes on their bitcoin reserves. On Wednesday, a federal judge authorized a summons requiring Coinbase to provide the IRS with those records. Gizmodo reports: Covering the identities and transaction histories of millions of customers, the request is believed to be the largest single attempt to identify tax evaders using virtual currency to date. As a so-called "John Doe" summons, the document targets a particular group or class of taxpayers -- rather than individuals -- the agency has a "reasonable basis" to believe may have broken the law. According to The New York Times, the IRS argued that two cases of tax evasion involving Coinbase combined with Bitcoin's "relatively high level of anonymity" serve as that basis. "There is no allegation in this suit that Coinbase has engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with its virtual currency exchange business," said the Justice Department on Wednesday. "Rather, the IRS uses John Doe summonses to obtain information about possible violations of internal revenue laws by individuals whose identities are unknown." In a statement, Coinbase vowed to fight the summons, which the company's head counsel has previously characterized as a "every, very broad" fishing expedition.
United States

Trump Will Get Power To Send Unblockable Mass Text Messages To All Americans (nymag.com) 549

President-elect Donald Trump will have access to a system which can send unblockable texts to every phone in the United States once he becomes the president. From a report on NYMag: These 90-character messages, known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (or WEAs), are part of a program put in place after Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act, in 2006. WEAs allow for targeted messages to be sent to every cell phone getting a signal from certain geographically relevant cell towers (or, in a national emergency, all of them). While it'd be a true nightmare to get screeching alerts from your phone that "Loser Senate Democrats still won't confirm great man Peter Thiel to Supreme Court. Sad!", there are some checks and balances on this. While President-elect Trump hasn't shown much impulse control when it comes to his favorite mass-messaging service, Twitter, the process for issuing a WEA isn't as simple as typing out a 90-character alert from a presidential smartphone and hitting "Send." All WEAs must be issued through FEMA's Integrated Public Alert Warning System, meaning that an emergency alert from the president still has at least one layer to pass through before being issued. While FEMA is under control of the executive branch (the head of FEMA is selected by the president, and reports to the Department of Homeland Security), the agency would have a vested interest in not seeing their alert system bent toward, uh, non-emergency ends.
Communications

The UK Is About to Legalize Mass Surveillance [Update] (vice.com) 394

From a report on Motherboard: On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office. The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months. Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications. "The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight," a statement from the Home Office reads. Much of the Act gives stronger legal footing to the UK's various bulk powers, including "bulk interception," which is, in general terms, the collection of internet and phone communications en masse. In June 2013, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian revealed that the GCHQ taps fibre-optic undersea cables in order to intercept emails, internet histories, calls, and a wealth of other data. Update: "Snooper's charter" bill has become the law. The home secretary said:"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. "The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."
Businesses

Uber Drivers Demand Higher Pay in Nationwide Protest (cnet.com) 304

Uber drivers will join forces with fast food, home care and airport workers in a nationwide protest on Tuesday. Their demand: higher pay. From a report on CNET: Calling it the "Day of Disruption," drivers for the ride-hailing company in two dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, will march at airports and in shopping areas carrying signs that read, "Your Uber Driver is Arriving Striking." The protest underscores the dilemma Uber faces as it balances the needs of its drivers with its business. Valued at $68 billion, Uber is the highest-valued venture-backed company worldwide. But as it has cut the cost of rides to compete with traditional taxi services, Uber reportedly has experienced trouble turning a profit. Unlike many other workers involved in Tuesday's protests, Uber drivers are not members of a union. In fact, Uber doesn't even classify its drivers as employees. Instead the company considers drivers independent contractors. This classification means the company isn't responsible for many costs, including health insurance, paid sick days, gas, car maintenance and much more. However, Uber still sets drivers' rates and the commission it pays itself, which ranges between 20 percent and 30 percent. "I'd like a fair day's pay for my hard work," Adam Shahim, a 40-year-old driver from Pittsburgh, California, said in a statement. "So I'm joining with the fast-food, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers who are leading the way and showing the country how to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the few at the top."
Education

Schools Funded By Gates and Zuckerberg Ordered Closed In Uganda (cnn.com) 89

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are two investors in Bridge International Academies. But in Uganda, the group's 63 schools have been "ordered to shut down in a matter of weeks, leaving the lives of thousands of pupils in limbo." An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Uganda's High Court has described the Bridge International Academies...as unsanitary and unqualified, and has ordered it to close its doors in December because it ignored Uganda's national standards and put the "life and safety" of its 12,000 young students on the line. The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren't qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved.
Bridge's Uganda director denies the allegations, says the government hasn't even granted them an audience, and "suggested that the opposition against BIA was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools," according to CNN. Their reporter also found two educator advocates who complained that Bridge's schools were actually a privatized, profit-making entity targeting the poor. There's strong arguments on both sides, but it's all raising a lot of questions about how technology should be used in school programs, as well as how they should be funded.
Security

Edward Snowden Loses Norway Safe Passage Case (bbc.com) 70

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Edward Snowden's bid to guarantee that he would not be extradited to the U.S. if he visited Norway has been rejected by the Norwegian supreme court. The former spy contractor filed the lawsuit in April, attempting to secure safe passage to Norway to pick up a free speech award. It had already been rejected by Oslo District court and an appeals court. Mr Snowden's lawyers have previously said if he were extradited to the U.S., it would be "a foregone conclusion" that he would be convicted and jailed. Mr Snowden has been living in Russia, out of reach of the U.S. authorities, since the leaks in 2013. He had hoped to travel to Oslo to receive the Ossietzky Prize, for "outstanding efforts for freedom of expression." The award was due to be presented earlier this month. But the Norwegian Supreme Court said it could not rule on the legality of any move to extradite Mr Snowden as the U.S. had so far made no such request.
Businesses

Iceland is Suing a Supermarket That's Using Its Name (cnn.com) 102

In a case which could puzzle copyright, trademark, and intellectual property offices, Iceland (the country) is not happy with a Britain supermarket chain, which is also called Iceland. From a CNN report:On Friday, Iceland, the country, took legal action against Iceland (the retailer), saying its enforcement of a trademark has prevented local firms from marketing their products using the name. Iceland Foods holds a Europe-wide trademark for the name Iceland, which it has been trading under for 46 years. "Iceland Foods has aggressively pursued and won multiple cases against Icelandic companies which use 'ICELAND' in their representation or as part of their trademark, even in cases when the products and services do not compete," the government said in a statement. The Icelandic government is now asking the European Union Intellectual Property Office to invalidate the trademark.
EU

Uber Is About to Face a Landmark Battle in Europe (fortune.com) 106

In a case which could affect other app-based startups, Uber will seek to convince Europe's top court next week that it is a digital service, not a transport company. The outcome could determine whether app-based startups should be exempt from strict laws meant for regular companies. From a report on Fortune:The European Commission is trying to boost e-commerce, a sector where the EU lags behind Asia and the United States, to drive economic growth and create jobs. The U.S. taxi app, which launched in Europe five years ago, has faced fierce opposition from regular taxi companies and some local authorities, who fear it creates unfair competition because it is not bound by strict local licensing and safety rules. Supporters however say rigid regulatory obligations protect incumbents and hinder the entry of digital startups which offer looser work arrangements to workers in the 28-country European Union looking for more flexibility, albeit without basic rights.
Piracy

$1 Billion Getty Images Public Domain Photograph Dispute is Over (torrentfreak.com) 99

Earlier this year, photographer Carol Highsmith received a $120 settlement demand from Getty Images after she used one of her own public domain images on her website (which is she had donated to the Library of Congress and made available to the public to reproduce and display for free). Highsmith responded with a $1bn lawsuit but after a few short months, as TorrentFreak reports, the case is all over, with neither side a clear winner. From the report: To begin, on October 28, US District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed each of Carol Highsmith's federal copyright claims. "Defendants Getty Images (US), Inc., License Compliance Services, Inc., Alamy, including that Inc., and Alamy Ltd. collectively moved to dismiss all claims of plaintiffs Carol Highsmith and This is America!, Inc. under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act,... the Lanham Act,... New York General Business Law,... and New York common law of unfair competition," the Judge wrote. "Upon consideration, the Court grants defendants' motions,â he added. With the federal claims gone, three state law claims were including that Getty charged licensing fees for images when it shouldn't have and collected settlements from alleged infringers when it had no right. However, these claims have now also been dismissed, along with the rest of the case. "It is hereby stipulated and agreed, by and among the parties, that this action shall be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(a)(l)(A)(ii) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, each party to bear its own costs and fees," the Judge wrote in his dismissal. Since the case was dismissed with prejudice, it is done and cannot be brought back to court.
United Kingdom

Police in UK Warn About Dating Apps After Serial Killer Conviction (betanews.com) 40

Mark Wilson, writing for BetaNews: Police are warning people who use dating sites and dating apps to take extra precautions to ensure their safety. The advice comes after serial killer Stephen Port who contacted his victims through apps such as Grindr and Gaydar. While people making use of dating services have always been warned to take safety precautions, police are concerned that sexual predators are increasingly using such sites and apps as a way of finding potential victims. The UK's National Crime Agency has noticed an alarming increase in the number of people reporting cases of rape after meeting someone through a dating site or app. In 2009 the number was just 33, while in 2014 it had jumped to 184. Clearly things such changes to the reporting of sexual assault need to be factored in, as do considerations such as whether the number of reported incidents represents an increase in actual incidents in real terms.
Privacy

Snowden Can Be Asked To Testify In Person In Germany NSA Probe (arstechnica.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Whistleblower Edward Snowden can be asked to give evidence in person by a German committee probing the NSA's spying activities, the country's Federal Court of Justice has ruled. Germany's government has been told that it should make suitable arrangements for that to happen. It has been refusing to invite Snowden to give evidence personally since it would need to guarantee that he would not be handed over to the U.S. -- a promise the German authorities say would risk damaging the political relations between the two countries. Instead, it has called for him to give evidence via a video link, or for German officials to interview him in Moscow, both of which Snowden turned down. Following a formal complaint by the greens and left-wing politicians, Germany's Federal Court of Justice has ruled that the German government must provide the necessary guarantees that would allow Snowden to give evidence in person, or explain why it will not do so. Snowden's lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung that the German government might refuse to provide guarantees, and officially admit that it regards cooperating with the U.S. on intelligence matters in the future as more important than getting to the bottom of past surveillance. In that case, an appeal could be made to Germany's constitutional court, according to an article in Der Spiegel, which would decide whether the German government was allowed to make that trade-off. The committee of inquiry is examining to what extent German citizens and politicians were spied on by the NSA and its so-called Five Eyes partners -- notably GCHQ -- and whether German politicians and intelligence agencies knew about this activity.
Businesses

Samsung and Panasonic Accused Over Supply Chain Labour Abuses in Malaysia (theguardian.com) 50

Samsung and Panasonic, two of the world's leading electronics brands, are facing allegations that workers in their supply chains are being duped, exploited and underpaid in Malaysia. From a report on The Guardian: The two companies have launched investigations into allegations of abuse made by Nepalese workers after a Guardian investigation raised multiple concerns about their treatment. The men said they had been deceived about pay, had their passports confiscated and had been told that they must pay large fines if they wanted to return to Nepal before the end of their contract. They also claimed they were forced to work for up to 14 hours on their feet without adequate rest, and with restricted toilet breaks, in an attempt to settle recruitment fees of up to pound 1,000 -- they said they had to pay this money to secure their jobs. They said they felt "cheated" and trapped in their factory jobs making or assembling components for household electrical goods sold on the global market. "My heart is aching," said one young man who works in a factory making Samsung microwaves. "I was not given the job I was promised. I am doing very difficult work. I haven't got the salary they said I would get."
Privacy

President Obama Says He Can't Pardon Snowden (arstechnica.com) 534

Joe Mullin, writing for Ars Technica:A campaign to pardon NSA leaker Edward Snowden, launched in combination with a fawning Oliver Stone film about him, hasn't made any headway. The request spurred the entire membership of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, 13 Republicans and nine Democrats, to send a letter to President Barack Obama urging against a pardon. "He is a criminal," they stated flatly. Obama weighed in on the matter on Friday. During his European tour, he was interviewed by Der Spiegel -- the largest newspaper in Germany, a country where Snowden is particularly popular. After discussing a wide range of issues, he was asked: Are you going to pardon Edward Snowden? Obama replied: "I can't pardon somebody who hasn't gone before a court and presented themselves, so that's not something that I would comment on at this point." He continued: I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system. At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I've tried to suggest -- both to the American people, but also to the world -- is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security.
Google

Is Google's AI-Driven Image-Resizing Algorithm Dishonest? (thestack.com) 79

The Stack reports on Google's "new research into upscaling low-resolution images using machine learning to 'fill in' the missing details," arguing this is "a questionable stance...continuing to propagate the idea that images contain some kind of abstract 'DNA', and that there might be some reliable photographic equivalent of polymerase chain reaction which could find deeper truth in low-res images than either the money spent on the equipment or the age of the equipment will allow." An anonymous reader summarizes their report: Rapid and Accurate Image Super Resolution (RAISR) uses low and high resolution versions of photos in a standard image set to establish templated paths for upward scaling... This effectively uses historical logic, instead of pixel interpolation, to infer what the image would look like if it had been taken at a higher resolution.

It's notable that neither their initial paper nor the supplementary examples feature human faces. It could be argued that using AI-driven techniques to reconstruct images raises some questions about whether upscaled, machine-driven digital enhancements are a legal risk, compared to the far greater expense of upgrading low-res CCTV networks with the necessary resolution, bandwidth and storage to obtain good quality video evidence.

The article points out that "faith in the fidelity of these 'enhanced' images routinely convicts defendants."
Government

Privacy Group Sues The FBI, Demanding Details About Biometric Database Sharing (onthewire.io) 16

Trailrunner7 writes: A major privacy group has filed a lawsuit against the FBI to force the bureau to release all relevant documents about its plan to share a huge amount of biometric information with the Department of Defense. The lawsuit filed by EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) concerns the FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which comprises fingerprint, iris scan, and facial recognition data, and the bureau has been using it for several years... EPIC's lawsuit asks that the FBI be forced to release records about the plan to share NGI data with the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act. EPIC filed a FOIA request about the plan last year and though the FBI said it has located 35 pages of records that are responsive to the request, it hasn't released any of those records.
Piracy

Major Cyberlocker EX.UA To Shut Down Amid Police Crackdown (torrentfreak.com) 12

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Earlier this week, news broke that following a complaint from the MPAA, local piracy giant FS.to was raided by police, with more than 60 servers seized and 19 people arrested. That investigation is still ongoing but now an even bigger target has folded in its wake. Founded in 2009, EX.UA is Ukraine's largest cyberlocker and one of the largest sites in the country, period. With millions of visitors each day the site is a much-loved resource but very shortly the platform will close its doors for good. In an announcement to users, EX.UA's owners said that it was time to throw in the towel after 12 months of trouble for the site and potential legal trouble ahead. "Over the past year EX.UA has had a chance to feel the direct threats, blackmail (including at the international level), and DDOS attacks. These actions jeopardize the personal information and personal files stored by users on the service," the site announced. EX.UA's operators say they have always tried to operate with respect for the laws of Ukraine, including dealing with takedowns quickly. However, the site does not approve of the system of distribution and rights management in place in the country and says it was one of the site's goals to raise this issue in Ukrainian society. Just recently, Ukraine passed a law which will allow copyright holders to block allegedly infringing sites without obtaining a court order. This, EX.UA says, is a sign of "uncivilized lobbying" and will only result in less respect for copyright. Faced with a change in the law and a desire to respect it, EX.UA's operators say that they will shut down the site. Users have just under two weeks to save their files.
Bitcoin

IRS Demands Identities of All US Coinbase Traders Over Three Year Period (vice.com) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In bitcoin-related investigations, authorities will often follow the digital trail of an illegal transaction or suspicious user back to a specific account at a bitcoin trading company. From here, investigators will likely subpoena the company for records about that particular user, so they can then properly identify the person suspected of a crime. The Internal Revenue Service, however, has taken a different approach. Instead of asking for data relating to specific individuals suspected of a crime, it has demanded bitcoin trading site Coinbase to provide the identities of all of the firm's U.S. customers who made transactions over a three year period, because there is a chance they are avoiding paying taxes on their bitcoin reserves. Coinbase has a total of millions of customers. According to court filings, which were first flagged by financial blogger Zerohedge on Twitter, the IRS has launched an investigation to determine the correct amount of tax that those who use virtual currencies such as bitcoin are obligated to pay. But according to the documents, the IRS is asking for the identities of any U.S. Coinbase customer who transferred crypto-currency with the service between 2013 and 2015. "The John Does whose identities are sought by the summons are United States persons who, at any time during the period January 1, 2013, through December 31, 2015, conducted transactions in a convertible virtual currency," reads a memorandum written by Department of Justice attorneys and filed on Thursday, November 17.

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