American Cloud Firms Suffer From Customers’ PRISM Fears

Fallout from the NSA PRISM revelations continues, and American cloud providers may be one of the groups paying the price. Jaikumar Vijayan writing for ComputerWorld reports on how European customers are reacting:

A Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) survey found that 10% of 207 officials at non-U.S. companies have canceled contracts with U.S. service providers following the revelation of the NSA spy program last month. The alliance, a non-profit organization with over 48,000 individual members, said the survey also found that 56% of non-U.S. respondents are now hesitant to work with any U.S.-based cloud service providers.

In the full survey, more than half of 456 representatives of companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia said they are less likely to use American cloud service providers because of concerns over U.S government access to their data.

Yesterday’s cnet story from Declan McCullagh about the federal government seeking user passwords from tech companies will further exacerbate the situation:

“I’ve certainly seen them ask for passwords,” said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We push back.”

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies “really heavily scrutinize” these requests, the person said. “There’s a lot of ‘over my dead body.'”

The companies’ zeal for protecting user privacy aside, customers are undoubtedly more concerned than ever about the security of the information they entrust to American firms.

In a Politico oped in March, Marvin and I warned of how American surveillance laws could lead to a situation in which American businesses suffer economic harm due to privacy concerns of their users:

Many foreign companies are converging toward a common argument for why they’re better than their American competitors. It’s not that the foreign-made technology is better, more resilient, or more ubiquitous, nor that the foreign companies are more innovative or better managed. They compare not their businessmen but their politicians. They argue simply that American laws undermine any American product — that these laws fail to protect privacy of personal or business information of all users. This argument works partly because consumers claim to “avoid doing business” with companies they don’t trust to protect their privacy.

While this business argument exaggerates the problems with American privacy law, it should still concern policymakers, who unwittingly help less innovative foreign companies compete by providing a germ of truth to foreign privacy concerns.

Sadly new developments continue to confirm these warnings. Our concerns aren’t meant to malign the motives of our intelligence agencies or  diminish their efforts to protect the security of the United States. On the contrary, the need for intelligence collection to safeguard the country from foreign threats is clear and justified. But the revelations of late are having a detrimental effect on American businesses, the full implications of which remain to be seen.  As members of Congress debate whether to impose limitations on the intelligence gathering capabilities of our national security agencies, they should carefully consider the harm befalling American businesses, and weigh that harm in their decision-making process.

WordPress Blogging With Google Glass–in Iceland

I am going on vacation in July this year and will be traveling around Iceland.

On this trip, I will be taking photos with Google Glass and automatically posting them from Glass to this WordPress site. I am sure you are wondering how that’s possible.

For my trip, my partners at Silica Labs decided to build the first WordPress integration for Google Glass. This will make it possible for me to directly blog from Glass to WordPress, sharing photos and text directly from the device to a blog. (Already, a Google Glass user can directly share to Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, thanks to apps developed by those companies.)

I think the Glass-Wordpress integration can help people tell the stories of their travels and journeys.

I am a huge fan of WordPress and of Google Glass, so I’m glad we have integrated the two. Silica Labs has been working with media companies like National Geographic, and Glass integration with WordPress should provide a useful tool.

I think the photos from Glass will be cool. I’ve been to Iceland before and took some of the best photos of my life there. It has volcanic ash beaches, interlocking bays, mountain ranges, and geothermal pools evoking an almost alien beauty. You feel like you’re in a movie about another planet or an ancient realm. Here, look:

iceland lunar

Fred Wilson: The Economic Case For Privacy

In June, venture capitalist Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures spoke with WSJ reporter Spencer Ante about mobile technology and other topics at SourceDigital2013.

At around the 3:30  mark, the conversation turns to privacy in the wake of the NSA surveillance scandal. Wilson says:

I would hope that the people who worry about business interests in our government are fighting with the people who are worried about national security interests and having a debate about this specific issue, because if Western Europeans stop using Dropbox because they’re afraid the US government is able to see everything they put in their Dropbox, they may start using a service that’s based in Iceland or Sweden or Germany or France or something like that. That’s going to be really bad for Dropbox. It wouldn’t surprise me that some of that will happen. How much of it is a bigger question, right? So many people are upset about this at some level, but the question is whether people will change their behavior.

Back in March, Marvin and I made a similar case in Politico, arguing that privacy is not only a civil liberties issue but also an economic issue. We also warned that policymakers are helping foreign competitors win customers from American companies:

Other nations exaggerate the flaws in our privacy laws to edge out American tech companies for both enterprise and personal users. Our lawmakers are doing them a favor by casting a black cloud of legal uncertainty over our own industry and refusing to fix the most obvious problems. Now is the time to act.

An article on Politico this morning suggests that the NSA scandal may be waking up Congress to this issue, possibly to a strong enough degree for action. If policymakers want to ensure American tech companies remain competitive, they’ll need to swiftly pass legislation to protect privacy.

Code.org Continues To Inspire

Last week, I received an update from Code.org, the group behind this well-known video, encouraging kids to learn to code:

According to Hadi Partovi, Code.org’s founder, the organization has done a lot of good in the four months since its launch:

Thanks to your sharing & tweeting, 3.5 million kids tried learning to code online, 12,000 schools asked our help to teach computer science, and 25,000 software engineers volunteered too!  We’ve connected thousands of schools with opportunities and helped set up hundreds of classes.

In a piece in The Atlantic from last year, Marvin described why it is so important for younger generations to learn this skill:

Thinking like a programmer is not only helpful to succeed in any technical career, it will also become integral to simply navigating our increasingly digital world. Code consists of languages that can be taught just as we already teach the “language” of math, the language of music, and the language of Spanish vocabulary and grammar. Students could decide whether or not they want to pursue greater fluency and expertise in coding (or Spanish), and (if nothing else) students would benefit from the distinct problem-solving framework of a coding mentality — which may be a more entrepreneurial mentality than memorizing the dates of famous battles in the Thirty Years War. It would help students to think critically — to analyze and solve problems.

Marvin argues that teaching programming in and out of the classroom can pay dividends far down the road, and ensure that America remains competitive in the global economy. Code.org is one of the organizations leading the way, and over 718,000 people have signed its petition, arguing that “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code.”

No doubt that number will continue to grow, as will the number of students who take a crack at developing this valuable skill set. Check out the site if you want to learn more.

Ammori and Meinrath Publish in Emory Int’l Law Review

Marvin and Sascha Meinrath, Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, published an article for the Emory International Law Review’s Symposium on “International Law and the Internet: Adapting Legal Framework In Response To Online Warfare and Revolutions Fueled By Social Media.” Their piece examines the recent conflicts over Internet freedom and how new technologies can foster a more open society, if we allow them to do so.

From the piece:

Which brings us to another conundrum in the battle between the Internet Freedom Fighters and the Cold Warriors—how do we empower free society while creating technological mechanisms to police malfeasance? The same “good” surveillance technologies are used regularly for such evil purposes, yet have been so impotent in actually stopping piracy in the first place.

Like any powerful tool, technology offers both tremendous boons for adept users and dramatic new pitfalls for an unsuspecting public. But the battles over SOPA and PIPA give us hope.

You can read their article here.

True Threats, Free Speech, and Government Trust: the case of Cameron D’Ambrosio

The Center for Rights, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, is running a campaign to raise awareness of a legal case in Boston that seems to disregard basic First Amendment protections. (The Center for Rights is the 501(c)3 sister of Fight for the Future.)

As usual, the defendant in a free speech case happens to be unsympathetic, and the speech is poor taste, but the First Amendment doesn’t let you throw unsympathetic kids in prison for poor taste.

From the facts recounted by the organization, a teenager named Cameron D’Ambrosio posted a rap song on Facebook that bragged he would be more famous than the Boston Marathon bombers and apparently criticized the White House. As a result of those lyrics, the kid has been in jail for a month and is facing 20 years in jail for “communicating a terrorist threat.”

First Amendment Would Protect Rapping this Song Lyric

I haven’t had a chance to review all the material out there, but everything I’ve read suggests that the First Amendment protects this kind of speech and the kid shouldn’t be sitting in a jail cell.

According to Fight for the Future, the rap line was fairly harmless: “Fuck a Boston bominb wait till u see the shit I do, I’ma be famous rapping.” Some media reports apparently left off the word “rapping,” suggesting that he wanted to become “famous” through his own bombings.

If he said he’d be famous rapping, there is no way that’s a threat, even if it’s a tasteless comparison.

If the rap song suggested he’d become famous bombing stuff, I am not totally sure how that is a threat and not the standard stuff of rap songs. I know that gun violence doesn’t trigger the same angst as bomb-violence (even if there’s more gun violence), but rappers say tasteless violent things all the time–we all know the expression “bust a cap in his ass” for a reason, and that reason is excellent rap music. We all know Eminem raps about killing an ex wife named Kim, and has an ex wife named Kim… Rap music is full of references to violence and slaying rival sucker MCs, usually with guns, only sometimes with bombs apparently.

In light of the obvious context, the legal analysis would probably begin and end with the Supreme Court case of Watts v. United States. That case stands for the principle that political speech is protected but a “true threat” is not.  In Watts, a Vietnam protestor said that if he were drafted to fight in the war, and made to carry a rifle, “the first man I want to get in my sights is L. B. J.” That was ruled protected political speech because it wasn’t a “true threat.” The analysis turns largely on the notion that a reasonable listener would not consider it a true threat of violence.

We do not believe that the kind of political hyperbole indulged in by petitioner fits within that statutory term. For we must interpret the language Congress chose “against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The language of the political arena, like the language used in labor disputes, is often vituperative, abusive, and inexact. We agree with petitioner that his only offense here was “a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the President.” Taken in context, and regarding the expressly conditional nature of the statement and the reaction of the listeners, we do not see how it could be interpreted otherwise.

The rap song here appears to also be general political (or cultural or counter-cultural) speech and not a true threat of violence.

Government Trust At Stake

I emailed a few First Amendment scholars to see what they thought of the facts of the case. One told me she was troubled and asked how she could help. The other said, effectively, that “the government must know something we do not,” and is otherwise acting “insane,” though perhaps not for the first time. Around the same time I received the email from the second scholar (the one who assumed the government “knew something”), I read an email from a friend explaining that he had been on a grand jury and the jury would indict often based on the idea that the prosecution “must know” something they couldn’t tell the jury.  And these two bits of information reminded me of what several people told me in the run-up to the Iraq War, when there was some doubt we would find weapons of mass destruction based on the available evidence. People would say, “the government must know something they’re not sharing with us.” In short, just trust the government.

I am not so sure American citizens are going to continue “just trusting” their government without evidence in light of recent history, but “government distrust” is generally considered a core principle of the First Amendment in cases such as this one.

If the prosecution has evidence of a planned bombing, beyond an apparently misinterpreted lyric, the prosecution should make that as public as possible.

Despite the alarm after the terrible bombing, this completely unrelated kid has been in jail for over a month and faces 20 years in prison apparently for what the Supreme Court would call a very “crude” and “offensive” expression, not what seems to be a true threat.

Note: I am on the Board of Directors of the Center for Rights.

How Local Communities Can Become More “Fiber-Friendly”

Yesterday, the Fiber To The Home Council (FTTH Council) issued a report describing how communities can take steps to make fiber-to-the-home for their residents a reality. While most of today’s broadband providers house fiber connections in only parts of their networks, fiber-to-the-home providers bring those rapid connection speeds all the way to your front door.

The report’s recommendations include easing regulatory burdens on fiber providers and speeding up permit reviews and other bureaucratic processes, making existing infrastructure that can be used for fiber deployment (like utility poles and public rights-of-way) available to providers on fair terms, and ensuring that community-wide infrastructure is adequately maintained for use by providers. The report emphasizes that while deployment of fiber-to-the-home is a costly undertaking, these steps can give communities hoping for that deployment an edge in attracting providers to their areas.

You can read the full report here.

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