As promised, here’s the first installment of our closer review of the massive piece of job-killing Internet regulation that is the Stop Online Piracy Act. We’ll start with how it could impact Twitter, Tumblr, and the next innovative social network, cloud computing, or web hosting service that some smart kid is designing in her garage right now.
Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go: despite all the talk about this bill being directed only toward “rogue” foreign sites, there is no question that it targets US companies as well. The bill sets up a system to punish sites allegedly “dedicated to the theft of US property.” How do you get that label? Doesn’t take much: Some portion of your site (even a single page) must be directed toward the US, and either allegedly “engage in, enable or facilitate” infringement or allegedly be taking or have taken steps to “avoid confirming a high probability” of infringement.
If an IP rightsholder (vaguely defined – could be Justin Bieber worried about his publicity rights) thinks you meet the criteria and that it is in some way harmed, it can send a notice claiming as much to the payment processors (Visa, Mastercard, Paypal etc.) and ad services you rely on.
Once they get it, they have 5 days to choke off your financial support. Of course, the payment processors and ad networks won’t be able to fine-tune their response so that only the allegedly infringing portion of your site is affected, which means your whole site will be under assault. And, it makes no difference that no judge has found you guilty of anything or that the DMCA safe harbors would shelter your conduct if the matter ever went to court. Indeed, services that have been specifically found legal, like Rapidshare, could be economically strangled via SOPA. You can file a counter-notice, but you’ve only got 5 days to do it (good luck getting solid legal advice in time) and the payment processors and ad networks have no obligation to respect it in any event. That’s because there are vigilante provisions that grant them immunity for choking off a site if they have a “reasonable belief” that some portion of the site enables infringement.
At a minimum, this means that any service that hosts user generated content is going to be under enormous pressure to actively monitor and filter that content. That’s a huge burden, and worse for services that are just getting started – the YouTubes of tomorrow that are generating jobs today. And no matter what they do, we’re going to see a flurry of notices anyway – as we’ve learned from the DMCA takedown process, content owners are more than happy to send bogus complaints. What happened to Wikileaks via voluntary censorship will now be systematized and streamlined – as long as someone, somewhere, thinks they’ve got an IP right that’s being harmed.
In essence, Hollywood is tired of those pesky laws that help protect innovation, economic growth, and creativity rather than outmoded business models. So they are trying to rewrite the rules, regulate the Internet, and damn the consequences for the rest of us.
Watch this space for more analysis, but don’t wait to act. This bill cannot be fixed; it must be killed. The bill’s sponsors (and their corporate backers) want to push this thing through quickly, before ordinary citizens get wind of the harm it is going to cause. If you don’t want to let big media control the future of innovation and online expression, act now, and urge everyone you know to do the same.
As promised, here’s the first installment of our closer review of the massive piece of job-killing Internet regulation that is the Stop Online Piracy Act. We’ll start with how it could impact Twitter, Tumblr, and the next innovative social network, cloud computing, or web hosting service that some smart kid is designing in her garage right now.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has always intended to expand beyond the confines of airport terminals. Its agents have been conducting more and more surprise groping sessions for women, children and the elderly in locations that have nothing to do with aviation. It’s all part of TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, which drew additional scrutiny following an Oct. 18 blitz in Tennessee.
As part of a “statewide safety operation,” TSA employees fondled travelers at bus terminals in Nashville and Knoxville, hunting for “security threats.” Truckers were harassed at four Volunteer State highway locations between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. - prime time for terrorism, apparently.
Brian Gamble, a Florida firefighter, caught one of these intrusive VIPR operations on video after he got off a train in Savannah, Ga., earlier this year. “They had the scanners and everything there,” Mr. Gamble told The Washington Times. “They had them pull up their shirts, patted them down, wanded them. There were a couple ladies in our group getting searched. … It’s kinda ridiculous when you’re coming off a train - it doesn’t make any sense.”
Expect a lot more touching in the months ahead. “TSA conducted more than 8,000 VIPR operations in the past 12 months, including more than 3,700 operations in mass-transit and passenger-railroad venues,” boasted TSA Administrator John S. Pistole in June testimony before the Senate. His 2012 budget calls for expanding VIPR by 50 percent.
That means more searches, but it doesn’t mean more safety. As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted, “TSA had measured the progress of its VIPR program in terms of the number of VIPR operations conducted, but had not yet developed measures or targets to report on the effectiveness of the operations themselves.” That’s a nice way to say that TSA is acting for action’s sake.
By nature, the government bureaucratic leviathan constantly seeks to expand itself, regardless of need. It is the duty of elected leaders to keep this impulse in check. Sadly, however, aside from a handful of members, a timid Congress lets TSA go wild out of fear of being blamed should a Madrid-style attack happen on our shores.
The faith that this blue-gloved federal force would be able to detect and prevent a catastrophe from happening is misplaced. TSA has yet to catch a single terrorist. We don’t need obscene screening methods at airports, and we certainly don’t need them on our highways or bus stops. TSA needs to be wrestled under control.
Officials Use Ruse At Wolcott High To Clear Halls For Drug Search; Say There's An Intruder In Building, But It's Just A Drill
At Wolcott High School one morning this week, an urgent announcement crackled over the intercom: a threatening intruder was in the building and students were told to immediately take refuge in classrooms.
Doors were locked and police, with dogs, moved in. Students stayed huddled in classrooms where they were told to stay away from the windows.
But what sounded like a frightening situation was just a search for narcotics. Drug-sniffing dogs combed the school while students stayed in locked classrooms, believing that an attacker was roaming the halls.
Drug-free schools are an admirable goal but I wonder when we reached the point where the war on drugs justifies police searches under the ruse of a Virginia Tech-style attack.
What on earth could authorities in Wolcott be thinking?
School officials told me it was a routine lockdown drill, the kind that schools are required to do.
"We wanted to practice,'' said Superintendent of Schools Joseph McCary. "We said there was a lockdown with an intruder inside. Doors are locked, shades are drawn and the lights are turned off and students are told to move to a corner of the room."
"After 10 minutes we say this is a drill and at that point we started a search for drugs,'' McCary said. "We are providing a safe and secure nurturing environment."
No drugs turned up in the search. An email from the high school to parents explained the event, without mentioning the intruder story. It was described as a "lockdown intervention drill" where "two police dogs swept the hallway lockers, locker rooms and the student parking lot.''
Bringing in police dogs to search for drugs in student lockers, while not common, isn't the real outrage here. It's understandable why adults feel they must do something about drug abuse. It's the trickery and tactics that seem more suited to a police sting operation than a public school.
"I don't think the school administration and police department have any right to mislead these kids, under any circumstances, to conduct a public safety drill," said Carl Glendening, a parent of two high school students. "The kids are told there is an intruder and there is a lockdown and then they see cops coming in with dogs."
"Some kids were freaked out by it. The notion of Columbine was in the back of their minds,'' Glendening said. "We didn't think this through clearly."
"They are kids. They are students. They are not there to be used."
Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called it a "terrible policy. It will cause more trouble in the long run. Young people will learn not to trust the police."
"It's a terrible civics lesson."
While state law requires schools to have regular emergency drills, drug-sniffing-dog searches are up to the individual school district. Canton schools recently attracted attention for surprise drug searches using dogs.
"The whole issue of search and seizure, you have to have reasonable suspicion, such as if they have had other issues in where the administration feels there's a drug problem in the school,'' said Vincent Mustaro of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "This is one of those policies we consider optional."
School officials say it's not as if they think there's a drug problem in Wolcott. Bringing the dogs in "is precautionary," said school board Chairwoman Patricia Najarian, who added that she didn't see a problem with the fake intruder story.
"Maybe there's a few people who get nervous. When we say it's a surprise drill, it's a surprise drill,'' she said. "We have a very active group of citizens against substance abuse."
The drug search is "something that is good to do periodically. It says we don't have drugs in the school,'' she said. "Either way it's a win-win. I know people get concerned … there seems to be an overreaction."
McCary, the Wolcott superintendent, said they want to teach students to take their safety seriously, so making them think it was real was essential. "If you say it's just a drill, would you move as quickly?"
He makes a point, except that we don't set fires to get students to take fire drills more seriously. There's also another issue. If you say something important to teenagers and you want them to trust you, it's better not to lie.
Supposed House version of the bill would hold websites legally liable for users' infringement, a group says
An upcoming version of U.S. legislation designed to combat copyright infringement on the Web may include provisions that hold online services such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube legally responsible for infringing material posted by users, according to one group opposed to the bill.
Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to introduce a new version of the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (the PROTECT IP Act or PIPA) this week. The bill could be similar to a version of the PROTECT IP Act approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, but could include new legal liabilities for websites and online services that host user-generated content, said Demand Progress, a liberal civil liberties group opposed to the legislation.
The Senate version of the bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring search engines and ISPs to stop sending traffic to websites accused of infringing copyright. The Senate bill would also allow copyright holders to seek court orders requiring payment processors and online ad networks to stop doing business with allegedly infringing websites.
If Demand Progress is correct about the House version of PROTECT IP, the bill would overturn parts of the 13-year-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act that protect websites and ISPs from copyright lawsuits for the infringing activity of their users. "Our allies on [Capitol] Hill say the bill's so bad that it could effectively destroy Youtube, Twitter, and other sites that rely on user-generated content by making the sites' owners legally responsible for everything their users post," the group said in an alert to members.
More than 30,000 U.S. residents sent messages to their lawmakers early Tuesday, Demand Progress said, after the group called on its members to ask their elected representatives to refuse to sponsor the House version of PROTECT IP. The House version is expected to be introduced this week by Representatives Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, and Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican.
Demand Progress will oppose the House bill if it looks like the Senate version, said David Segal, Demand Progress' executive director. "We ask even those lawmakers who are leaning towards supporting it to hold back for now, decline cosponsorship, and listen to opponents' concerns," he said in an email. "The Senate version of PROTECT IP will stifle free speech and innovation -- and all indications are that the House version will be even worse."
A spokeswoman for Goodlatte declined to comment on the legislation, referring questions to the House Judiciary Committee, where Smith is chairman. A spokeswoman for Smith didn't respond to a request for information about the bill.
Supporters of PROTECT IP say the bill would help shut down foreign websites that sell counterfeit, and sometimes dangerous, products. PROTECT IP would save U.S. jobs by shutting down online sales of counterfeit products, Steve Tepp, chief intellectual property counsel for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a blog post last month.
"Rogue sites ... flood the U.S. marketplace with dangerously defective products, attract more than 53 billion visits per year, and have total disregard for U.S. laws which are designed to protect consumer safety and intellectual property," Tepp wrote. "Consumers should be able to rely on trust and good faith in buying legitimate products online. Rogue sites and online criminals abuse this trust for their illicit gain."
Several other groups have raised concerns about PROTECT IP. On Monday, trade groups the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and NetCoalition sent a letter to Smith, Goodlatte and other House Judiciary Committee members, asking them to hold off on legislation and wait for more input from affected groups.
The three trade groups also sent a letter to other House members, asking them to consider potential "collateral damage" to the Internet before co-sponsoring PROTECT IP. The stakes are high, the letter said. "The technology industry is leading America out of the recession, and inadvertent damage to the tech sector could not happen at a worse time."
The impetus behind the Occupy Wall Street movement - a vague sense that the rich are getting ever richer while everyone else suffers - was confirmed by a recent report from the Social Security Administration showing that while total employment and average wages remained stagnant, the number of people earning $1 million or more grew by 18% from 2009 to 2010. Those figures give real substance to the "We are the 99%" slogan, yet Republicans continue to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that if anything those "job creators" deserve an even greater share of our national income. The Tea Party, meanwhile, has launched its own "53%" movement, inexplicably rallying the working class to the defense of the wealthy. The one group rarely heard from in this rancorous debate is the 1%, whose incomes and taxes are its focus. I am one of them, and here is my perspective, which may surprise you.
First let me note that I am not part of the yacht and private jet set, which represents an even smaller subset of incomes than mine. The threshold for inclusion in the top 1% of income earners in 2008, the most recent year for which published data is available from the IRS, was $380,354, enough for an extraordinary life but nowhere near enough for a harbor berth in St. Moritz. Nevertheless, I am - for now - comfortably ensconced in that demographic. Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan would save me roughly $400,000 a year in taxes, and President Obama's tax proposals would cost me more than $100,000, yet I support the latter and consider the former laughable.
Thus you can imagine my amazement this summer when I watched the Republicans in Congress push the United States to the brink of default - and the world to the brink of ruin - over whether to repeal a portion of the Bush tax cuts and raise my taxes by 3.5%. I know a lot of people with high incomes and even the conservatives among them were confused by that sequence of events. Here is a secret about rich people: we wouldn't have noticed a 3.5% tax increase. That is not only because there isn't a material difference between having $1 million and $965,000, which is obvious, but also because most of us don't actually know how much money we are going to make in a given year. Most income at that level is the result of profits rather than salary, whether it comes in the form of bonuses, stock options, partnership distributions, dividends or capital gains. Profits are unpredictable and they tend to vary wildly. At my own firm, the general rule of thumb is that if we are within 5% of our budget for the year, everyone is happy and no one complains. A variation of 3.5% is merely a random blip.
I was not amazed but disgusted when John Boehner and his crew tried to justify the extremity of their position by rebranding the wealthy as "job creators." While true in a very basic sense, it obscures the fact that jobs are a cost that is voluntarily incurred only as a result of demand. Hiring has no correlation at all to profits or to income - none. Let me keep more of my money without increasing customer demand and I will do just that - keep it. Perhaps I will spend a little more of it, though probably not, but even if I do it won't help the economy very much. Here is another secret of the well-to-do: we don't really buy much more stuff than everyone else. It may be more expensive stuff, sure, but I don't buy cars, or appliances, or furniture, or anything else more frequently than the average consumer. The things I do spend more money on are services such as travel, entertainment, restaurants and landscaping, none of which generate well-paying middle class jobs. There, in a nutshell, is the sad explanation of what has happened to the American economy over the last 25 years of "trickle down" economics.
That's why I was so pleased when the Occupy Wall Street protests began. I support them wholeheartedly, for several reasons. First, because I fervently believe in the exercise of first amendment rights, and I have been waiting for years for the American people to wake up from the torpor of the Bush years, when they were seemingly cowed into submission to corporate authoritarianism. Second, because I am dismayed by the thuggish tactics of the NYPD. I would have expected as much from Michael Chertoff or Dick Cheney, but not from the Bloomberg administration. Third, there is no question that the increasing income inequality in our society is a bad thing, in the short-term and the long-term, for both workers and for business. It is bad in every way and for everyone, with the sole exception of Wall Street itself. Fourth, I love the hysterical reaction it has provoked from arch-conservatives such as Eric Cantor and Glenn Beck. As George Orwell wrote in "Homage to Catalonia" about fighting fascists, I don't always need to know what I am fighting for when it is clear what I am fighting against. Fifth, and most important, it changed the national media narrative and sucked almost all of the energy out of the tempest that was the Tea Party.
It is the Tea Party's effort to recapture that energy, through the "We Are the 53%" movement, that has truly bewildered me. I have spent far more hours than I should have these last few weeks puzzling over the postings on that website, trying to understand who these people are and why they would possibly care about my taxes. I don't really have an answer to those questions, but I do have a few insights.
To begin with, a fair number of the posters there don't seem to understand the actual issues, or even the meaning of "53%," which is supposed to refer to the percentage of people in recent years who actually owed - and paid - federal income taxes. From their own descriptions of themselves as unemployed, underemployed, or struggling to raise families, it seems likely that many of these posters actually AREN'T part of that 53%, but rather, like most of the 47% they complain about, receive full refunds of their taxes each year, or perhaps even more thanks to the Republican-sponsored family tax credits. I suspect they think that because they work, and have taxes withheld, and file a tax return, they are different than the "47%" they decry as lazy layabouts. Of course they are not, but sadly they don't even realize it.
Next, ALL of the posters there seem quite proud of themselves. No doubt they should be, but they seem to have derived very different conclusions from their life experiences than I have from mine, which could read like an exaggerated version of one of their posts. My family is from one of the poorest counties in the country, in rural Appalachia. My grandfather was a coal miner who left school after 5th grade to help support his impoverished family. My grandmother wasn't allowed to attend high school because according to her parents women didn't need an education. I never knew my father. My mother and I subsisted on food stamps for several years. I got my first job at 13, working as a bus boy for $2 an hour, and I have never been unemployed in the 37 years since. I worked my way through college, which I paid for myself. When I started my career I worked 60+ hour weeks every week for nearly 15 years before that effort began to pay off. I employ nearly 20 people, I have no debts, and I have no doubt that I have earned every penny I have.
And yet, I am living proof of Elizabeth Warren's maxim that no one gets rich on their own. If not for the UMWA helping to secure a living wage for my grandfather, I would probably have had to leave school to help support my family, as he had done. If not for my grandmother's passionate belief in the value of the education she was denied I would never have aspired to go to college at all, and if not for my mother teaching me to love books, I would never have been able to succeed there. If not for my wife I would never have been inspired to work as hard as I did to see what I could become in life. How many smart, talented children don't have those positive influences? How many have exactly the opposite?
My good fortune did not end there. It was sheer luck, rather than moral virtue, that I never had the criminal record many of my less fortunate friends did when I was young. It was sheer luck that neither I nor any of my family members ever had a major illness, or accident, or disability, despite lacking health insurance much of the time. How different my life could easily have been! How different the lives of others still could be.
I understand too that but for food stamps, I would have gone hungry as a child, that but for public subsidies and federally guaranteed loans I could never have afforded college. I know that without the internet and airports, both of which were developed with federal taxes, I could not earn an income even close to what I make today. That all seems so obvious to me that I don't understand how anyone could question it, and those are just a few of the many reasons I am happy to pay my fair share of taxes, whatever that share maybe. Paying a lot of taxes just means you make a lot of money, and it is hard, frankly, to complain about that.
One last observation. Many of the 53% crowd seem quite proud of their Christian faith. I am not religious myself, but I am reasonably certain that Jesus would not respond to the poor and unemployed with shouts of "Get a job!" I vividly remember what it was like to be poor. To be concise, it sucked, and my heartfelt sympathies automatically go out to anyone who has to experience it, especially children who are blameless for their circumstances. Whenever I meet someone who has not been as lucky as I have been, I recognize how easily our roles could have been reversed by the random forces of fate. And despite my lack of religion, I instinctively think "There but for the grace of God go I." If only those who actually believe in God would think the same thing more often they might not be so eager to cut my taxes
Ten Years After the Patriot Act, a Look at Three of the Most Dangerous Provisions Affecting Ordinary Americans
Ten years ago today, in the name of protecting national security and guarding against terrorism, President George W. Bush signed into law some of the most sweeping changes to search and surveillance law in modern American history. Unfortunately known as the USA PATRIOT Act, many of its provisions incorporate decidedly unpatriotic principles barred by the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. Provisions of the PATRIOT Act have been used to target innocent Americans and are widely used in investigations that have nothing to do with national security.
Much of the PATRIOT Act was a wish list of changes to surveillance law that Congress had previously rejected because of civil liberties concerns. When reintroduced as the PATRIOT Act after September 11th, those changes -- and others -- passed with only limited congressional debate.
Just what sort of powers does the PATRIOT Act grant law enforcement when it comes to surveillance and sidestepping due process? Here are three provisions of the PATRIOT Act that were sold to the American public as necessary anti-terrorism measures, but are now used in ways that infringe on ordinary citizens’ rights:
1. SECTION 215 – “ANY TANGIBLE THING”
Under this provision, the FBI can obtain secret court orders for business records and other “tangible things” so long as the FBI says that the records are sought "for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must issue the order if the FBI so certifies, even when there are no facts to back it up. These “things” can include basically anything—driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, books, documents, Internet history, and more. Adding insult to injury, Section 215 orders come with a "gag " prohibiting the recipient from telling anyone, ever, that they received one.
As the New York Times reported, the government may now be using Section 215 orders to obtain “private information about people who have no link to a terrorism or espionage case.” The Justice Department has refused to disclose how they are interpreting the provision, but we do have some indication of how they are using Section 215. While not going into detail, Senator Mark Udall indicated the FBI believes it to allows them “unfettered” access to innocent Americans’ private data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records” in bulk form. The government’s use of these secret orders is sharply increasing -- from 21 orders in 2009 to 96 orders in 2010, an increase of over 400% -- and according to a brand new report from the Washington Post, 80% of those requests are for Internet records.
Today, EFF sued the Justice Department to turn over records related to the government’s secret interpretation and use of Section 215, regarding which Senator Ron Wyden, like Senator Udall, has offered ominous warnings: "When the American people find out about how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act,” said Wyden on the Senate floor in May, “they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.”
2. NATIONAL SECURITY LETTERS
Among the most used -- and outright frightening -- provisions in the PATRIOT Act are those that enhanced so-called National Security Letters (NSLs). The FBI can issue NSLs itself, without a court order, and demand a variety of records, from phone records to bank account information to Internet activity. As with 215 orders, recipients are gagged from revealing the orders to anyone.
While NSLs existed prior to 2001, they were infrequently used. The PATRIOT Act lowered the standard making it easier for the FBI to use NSLs to obtain the records of innocent people with no direct link to terrorists or spies, and their use skyrocketed. According to the ACLU’s report on PATRIOT Act abuses, there were 8,500 NSLs issued in 2000 but approximately 192,000 issued between 2003-2006. All of these NSL’s led to one terror conviction, and in that case, the NSL wasn’t even needed.
Not surprisingly, EFF FOIA requests have found abuse of their NSL authority: “mistakes” that led to getting information on the wrong people, ISPs handing over extra or wrong information, and dozens of “exigent letters” that “circumvented the law and violated FBI guidelines and policies.” EFF has successfully challenged the NSL gag orders in multiple cases as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but the overall scheme still survives to this day.
3. SNEAK AND PEEK WARRANTS
Section 213 of the PATRIOT Act normalized “sneak-and-peek” warrants. These allow law enforcement to raid a suspect’s house without notifying the recipient of the seizure for months. These orders usually don't authorize the government to actually seize any property — but that won't stop them from poking around your computers. Again, sneak-and-peek warrants could be used for any investigation, even if the crime was only a misdemeanor.
From 2006-2009, sneak-and-peek warrants were used a total of 1,755 times. Only fifteen of those cases—a microscopic 0.8%—involved terrorism. The rest were used in cases involving drugs or fraud.
These uses and abuses of the PATRIOT Act against ordinary Americans are only the tip of the iceberg. EFF has repeatedly documented how federal law enforcement agencies have abused our nation’s broken secrecy system to hide specific instances of illegal and unconstitutional conduct related to the PATRIOT Act. EFF’s Freedom of Information Act requests have painted a picture of “an [FBI] engaged in excessive illegal intelligence gathering.” After ten years, it’s crystal clear that the “emergency” measure sold as a necessary step in the fight against terrorism is being used routinely to violate the privacy of regular people in non-terrorism cases, threatening the Constitutional rights of every one of us. And after ten years, EFF is even more dedicated to fighting against PATRIOT overreach, both in Congress and the courts. Help us in that fight by becoming an EFF member, so that we can work together in making the next ten years better for civil liberties than the last.
By Nate Anderson
Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website's online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.
It's the world envisioned by Rep. Lamar Hunt (R-TX) in today's introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives. This isn't some off-the-wall piece of legislation with no chance of passing, either; it's the House equivalent to the Senate's PROTECT IP Act, which would officially bring Internet censorship to the US as a matter of law.
Calling its plan a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property,” the new bill gives broad powers to private actors. Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.
The scheme is much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) "takedown notices," in which a copyright holder can demand some piece of content be removed from sites like YouTube with a letter. The content will be removed unless the person who posted the content objects; at that point, the copyright holder can decide if it wants to take the person to court over the issue.
Here, though, the stakes are higher. Rather than requesting the takedown of certain hosted material, intellectual property owners can go directly for the jugular: marketing and revenue for the entire site. So long as the intellectual property holders include some “specific facts” supporting their infringement claim, ad networks and payment processors will have five days to cut off contact with the website in question.
The scheme is largely targeted at foreign websites which do not recognize US law, and which therefore will often refuse to comply with takedown requests. But the potential for abuse—even inadvertent abuse—here is astonishing, given the terrifically outsized stick with which content owners can now beat on suspected infringers.
One thing private actors can't do under the new bill is actually block a site from the Internet, though it hardly matters, because the government has agreed to do it for them. The bill gives government lawyers the power to go to court and obtain an injunction against any foreign website based on a generally single-sided presentation to a judge. Once that happens, Internet providers have 5 days to “prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site.”
The government can also go after anyone who builds a tool designed for the "circumvention or bypassing" of the Internet block. Such tools already exist as a result of the US government's ongoing campaign to seize Internet domain names it believes host infringing content; they can redirect visitors who enter the site's address to its new location. The government has already asked Web browser makers like Mozilla to remove access to these sorts of tools. Mozilla refused, so the new bill just tries to ban such tools completely. (Pointing your computer's browser to a foreign DNS server in order to view a less-censored Internet still appears to be legal.)
Search engines, too, are affected, with the duty to prevent the site in question “from being served as a direct hypertext link.” Payment processors and ad networks would also have to cut off the site.
Finally, and for good measure, Internet service providers and payment processors get the green light to simply block access to sites on their own volition—no content owner notification even needed. So long as they believe the site is “dedicated to the theft of US property,” Internet providers and payment processors can't be sued.
The House bill is shockingly sympathetic to a narrow subsection of business interests. For instance, buried deep in the back of the >70-page document is a requirement that the US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator prepare a study for Congress. That study should analyze “notorious foreign infringers” and attempt to quantify the “significant harm inflicted by notorious foreign infringers.” (Talk about assuming your conclusions before you start.)
The report, which is specifically charged to give weight to the views of content owners, requests a set of specific policy recommendations that might “encourage foreign businesses to adopt industry norms to promote the protection of intellectual property globally.” Should the bill pass, the US government would be explicitly charged with promoting private “industry norms”—not actual laws or treaties—around the world.
In the request for the report, we can also see the IP maximalist lobby preparing for its next move: shutting off access to US capital markets and preventing companies from "offering stock for sale to the public" in the US.
Call it what it is
Not all censorship is bad—but we need to have an honest discussion about when and how to deploy it, rather than wrapping an unprecedented set of censorship tools in meaningless terms like "rogue site," or by calling a key section of the new bill the "E-PARASITE Act."
You don't have to support piracy—and we don't—to see the many problems with this new approach. Just today, the RIAA submitted to the US government a list of "notorious markets." As part of that list, the RIAA included "cyberlockers" like MegaUpload, which are "notorious services" that "thumb their noses at international laws, all while pocketing significant advertising revenues from trafficking in free, unlicensed copyrighted materials."
It's not hard to imagine how long it would take before such sites--which certainly do host plenty of user-uploaded infringing content--are targeted under the new law. Yet they have a host of legal uses, and cyberlockers like RapidShare have been declared legal by both US and European courts.
Not surprisingly, the new bill is getting pushback from groups like NetCoalition, which counts Google, Yahoo, and small ISPs among its members. "As leading brands of the Internet, we strongly oppose offshore 'rogue' websites and share policymakers' goal of combating online infringement of copyrights and trademarks," said executive director Markham Erickson in a statement.
"However, we do not believe that the solution lies in regulating the Internet and comprising its stability and security. We do not believe that it is worth overturning a decade of settled law that has formed the legal foundation for all social media. And finally, we do not believe that it is worth restricting free speech or providing comfort to totalitarian regimes that seek to control and restrict the Internet freedoms of their own citizens."
Dozens of law professors have also claimed the original PROTECT IP Act, which contains most of the same ideas, is unconstitutional. But the drumbeat for some sort of censorship is growing louder.
Occupy Oakland: video shows police officer throwing "flash grenade" into crowd trying to help injured protester
Footage from the Occupy Oakland protest, October 25th, 2011. After protesters ran to the aid of a badly-injured person, Oakland Police deliberately lobbed a flash grenade into the crowd. Whatever you think of the Occupy movement, police behavior of this kind is criminal and should be prosecuted.
I'm told that the protester injured in this video was Scott Olsen, a US military veteran in Veterans For Peace. Video which shows him after the attack is here. He is reported to be in intensive care, with serious head injuries.
Veteran For Peace member Scott Olsen, a Marine Corps veteran twice deployed to Iraq, is in hospital now in stable but serious condition with a fractured skull, struck by a police projectile fired into a crowd in downtown Oakland, California in the early morning hours of today.It's important to note that police from many districts throughout the Bay Area and Northern California were involved, not just Oakland PD. But thanks, police at Occupy Oakland—whoever you are!—for finding a unique way to thank American combat veterans for their service to our country.
By Cory Doctorow
Back in 2008, I bought one of 686's belt buckles, which has a clever set of snowboard-binding-adjusting tools built into it, including a small flathead and Philips head screwdriver tips on the buckle's tongues, as well as a socket wrench-head built into the tip-keeper.
At the time, I wasn't sure whether it would survive airport security, but it has -- with flying colors. I've taken that belt buckle on hundreds of flights, almost all originating in the UK, where I live, through dozens of countries. At one point early on in 2008 or 2009, I even called the consumer advice lines for the TSA and the UK Department for Transport and confirmed that these were allowed. I was even allowed to keep the belt in Hong Kong airport, where they took away my eyeglass screwdriver. A week ago, I flew with the belt from Heathrow Terminal 4 on a Delta flight to NYC.
But I've just had it confiscated by security staff at Gatwick North Terminal. The guard who confiscated it had this explanation for why the belt buckle was being confiscated here when all the other UK airports I'd flown out of it with had let me keep it: "I stick to what they've told me. I'm not going to speak to you anymore. Not if you're going to publish it. I'm not speaking to you."
At that point, a supervisor, Pete Sutherland, the security leader for Gatwick North, gave me a copy of Dangerous and restricted items: what you cannot take on board a flight, which lists, under "work tools," "screwdrivers."
So there you have it, in black and white. Arguably, of course, a miniature screwdriver that's attached to a belt-buckle isn't a "work tool" (no builder in a white van shows up at your house to do repairs with his belt buckle). The security staff who took my buckle away to the lost property office (the other options being to throw it out, or buy another suitcase for it and check it in with British Airways) had a variety of explanations for why Gatwick enforces this rule when no one else has, and why the rule makes sense in the first place, but they all boiled down to "I don't make the rules, I follow them."
One thing all the staff agreed on, though: Allen keys are allowed.
Right then, that's UK aviation security sorted.
In three years, I've used my belt buckle's screwdrivers dozens of times -- always in some moment of traveller's extremis, when something really important was really broken. They've been figurative lifesavers, and I think if I had them long enough, they'd have been literal ones. Meanwhile, if I really, really wanted to take apart a plane, I'd use a spoon or some other bit of metal.
The lady at the store where I bought the replacement belt was sympathetic: "They took my tweezers but they sell them next door in the Boots."
Hawala (also known as hundi) is an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honor of a huge network of money brokers, which are primarily located in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and South Asia. It is basically a parallel or alternative remittance system that exists or operates outside of, or parallel to traditional banking or financial channels.
Hawala has its origins in classical Islamic law and is mentioned in texts of Islamic jurisprudence as early as the 8th century. Hawala itself later influenced the development of the agency in common law and in civil laws such as the aval in French law and the avallo in Italian law. The words aval and avallo were themselves derived from hawala. The transfer of debt, which was "not permissible under Roman law but became widely practiced in medieval Europe, especially in commercial transactions", was due to the large extent of the "trade conducted by the Italian cities with the Muslim world in the Middle Ages". The agency was also "an institution unknown to Roman law" as no "individual could conclude a binding contract on behalf of another as his agent". In Roman law, the "contractor himself was considered the party to the contract and it took a second contract between the person who acted on behalf of a principal and the latter in order to transfer the rights and the obligations deriving from the contract to him". On the other hand, Islamic law and the later common law "had no difficulty in accepting agency as one of its institutions in the field of contracts and of obligations in general".
Hawala is believed to have arisen in the financing of long-distance trade around the emerging capital trade centers in the early medieval period. In South Asia, it appears to have developed into a fully-fledged money market instrument, which was only gradually replaced by the instruments of the formal banking system in the first half of the 20th century. Today, hawala is probably used mostly for migrant workers' remittances to their countries of origin.
How hawala works
In the most basic variant of the hawala system, money is transferred via a network of hawala brokers, or hawaladars. It is the transfer of money without actually moving it. In fact, a successful definition of the hawala system that is used is: 'money transfer without money movement'. A customer approaches a hawala broker in one city and gives a sum of money to be transferred to a recipient in another, usually foreign, city. The hawala broker calls another hawala broker in the recipient's city, gives disposition instructions of the funds (usually minus a small commission), and promises to settle the debt at a later date.
The unique feature of the system is that no promissory instruments are exchanged between the hawala brokers; the transaction takes place entirely on the honor system. As the system does not depend on the legal enforceability of claims, it can operate even in the absence of a legal and juridical environment. Trust and extensive use of connections, such as family relations and regional affiliations, are the components that distinguish it from other remittance systems. Informal records are produced of individual transactions, and a running tally of the amount owed by one broker to another is kept. Settlements of debts between hawala brokers can take a variety of forms[further explanation needed], and need not take the form of direct cash transactions.
In addition to commissions, hawala brokers often earn their profits through bypassing official exchange rates. Generally, the funds enter the system in the source country's currency and leave the system in the recipient country's currency. As settlements often take place without any foreign exchange transactions, they can be made at other than official exchange rates.
Hawala is attractive to customers because it provides a fast and convenient transfer of funds, usually with a far lower commission than that charged by banks. Its advantages are most pronounced when the receiving country applies distortive exchange rate regulations (as has been the case for many typical receiving countries such as Pakistan or Egypt) or when the banking system in the receiving country is less complex (e.g. due to differences in legal environment in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia). Moreover, in some parts of the world it is the only option for legitimate funds transfers, and has even been used by aid organizations in areas where it is the best-functioning institution.
Furthermore, the transfers are usually informal and not effectively regulated by governments, which is a major advantage to customers with tax, currency control, immigration, or other concerns. In some countries however, hawalas are actually regulated by local governments and hawaladars are licensed to perform their money brokering services.
On a similar note, hundis referred to legal financial instruments evolved on the Indian sub-continent. These were used in trade and credit transactions; they were used as remittance instruments for the purpose of transfer of funds from one place to another. In the era of bygone kings and the British Raj these Hundis served as Travellers Cheques. They were also used as credit instruments for borrowing and as bills of exchange for trade transactions.
Technically, a Hundi is an unconditional order in writing made by a person directing another to pay a certain sum of money to a person named in the order. Being a part of an informal system, hundis now have no legal status and were not covered under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. They were mostly used as cheques by indigenous bankers.
The word angadia means courier (in Hindi) but it is also used for people who act as Hawaladars within the country (India). These people mostly act as a parallel banking system for businessmen. They charge a commission of around 0.2-0.5% per transaction from transferring money from one city to another.
Horn of Africa
According to the CIA, with the dissolution of Somalia's formal banking system, many informal money transfer operators have arisen to fill the void. It estimates that such hawaladars are now responsible for the transfer of up to $1.6 billion per year in remittances to the country, most coming from working Somalis in the diaspora. Such funds have in turn had a stimulating effect on local business activity.
Hawala after September 11, 2001
See also: Terrorist financing
Hawala has been made illegal in some U.S. states and other countries as it is seen to be a form of money laundering and can be used to move wealth anonymously. It continues, however, to be a legal and effective system in many countries across the globe.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the American government suspected that some hawala brokers may have helped terrorist organizations to transfer money to fund their activities. The 9/11 Commission Report has since confirmed that the bulk of the funds used to finance the assault were not sent through the hawala system, but rather by inter-bank wire transfer to a SunTrust Bank in Florida, where two of the conspirators had opened a personal account. However as a result of intense pressure from the U.S. authorities, widespread efforts are currently being made to introduce systematic anti-money laundering initiatives on a global scale, to better curb the activities of the financiers of terrorism and those engaged in laundering the profits of drug smuggling.
Whether these initiatives will have the desired effect of curbing such activities has yet to be seen; although a number of hawala networks have been closed down and a number of hawaladars have been successfully prosecuted for money laundering, there is little sign that these actions have brought the authorities any closer to identifying and arresting a significant number of terrorists or drug smugglers. Experts emphasize, though, that the overwhelming majority of those who use these informal networks are doing so for legitimate purposes.
In November 2001, the Bush administration froze the assets of Al-Barakat, a Somali remittance hawala company used primarily by the large Somali diaspora. Many of its agents in several countries were initially arrested, though later freed after no concrete evidence against them was found. In August 2006 the last Al-Barakat representatives were taken off the U.S. terror list, though some assets remain frozen. In October 2009, the Swedish branch of Al-Barakat was removed from the United Nations' list of terrorist organizations; the company had been on the list for the past eight years, and had had its bank account funds frozen. According to the Swedish Public Radio broadcaster SR, the UN did not explain why it had elected to remove Al-Barakat from its terror list. However, it has been suggested that the recent change in the European Union's position regarding the many organizations "that have been too easily included in the UN terror list" might have influenced the UN's position. Al-Barakat is now able again to access its bank account funds.
Media has been speculating that Somali pirates use the hawala system to move funds internationally, for example into neighboring Kenya, where corruption is high and these transactions are neither taxed nor recorded.
The 2010 court case United States v. Banki dealt with the question of whether hawala transactions violated the current U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran.
In January 2010, the Kabul office of New Ansari Exchange, Afghanistan's largest hawala money transfer business, was shuttered following a raid by the Sensitive Investigative Unit, the country's national anti-graft task force vetted and trained by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), allegedly because this company could be involved in laundering profits from the illicit opium trade and moving the cash earned by Taliban through extortion and drug trafficking. Thousands of records were seized to dig into the movement of billions of dollars in and out of Afghanistan. There were links between the money transfers by this company and political and business figures in the country, including relatives of President Hamid Karzai. In August 2010, Karzai took control of the taskforce that staged the raid, and another US-advised anti-corruption group, the Major Crimes Task Force. He ordered a commission to review scores of past and current anti-corruption inquests. Senior US military and civilian officials viewed Karzai's move as an effort to protect those close to him and, in the process, to quash the investigation into New Ansari.
The hawala system is in Afghanistan also instrumental in providing financial services for the delivery of emergency relief and humanitarian and developmental aid for the majority of international and domestic NGOs, donor organizations, and development aid agencies.
On September 1, 2010, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued an advisory on "Informal Value Transfer Systems".
By Mark Arsenault
On a whim two years ago, performance artist Jonathan Doyle paraded around the bustling peak of New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock in a $40 Bigfoot costume from iParty.
He thought his deadpan video interviews with hikers describing their Bigfoot sightings would be worth a few chuckles on YouTube, and might boost the profile of his other artwork.
But the staff at Monadnock State Park found the Yeti act abominable. When Doyle returned with friends to shoot a sequel, the park manger quashed the production and ordered Doyle off the mountain, insisting he needed a state permit to film a movie in the park.
Bigfoot stepped up with a lawsuit, alleging that the park’s permit regulations are unconstitutional.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court next month will hear Doyle’s complaint. Though many elements of the dispute border on the absurd, the case raises some serious free speech issues.
“What this suit is about for us is preserving the right of the little guy to express himself artistically,’’ said Barbara Keshen, a lawyer with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Foundation, which is representing Doyle.
Doyle, of Keene, is seeking the right to return to Monadnock with his costume and camera, and to have the court declare that the state cannot regulate his small-scale speech.
By pushing his complaint to the Granite State’s highest court, “I am maintaining the integrity of being real, enjoying day-to-day things, and having fun with your friends,’’ Doyle said in an interview. “If I let that go, I’ve given up a significant right to the state.’’
The 31-year-old Doyle falls under the catchall euphemism of a free spirit: He’s an artist, writer, and day laborer who sells art and designs commercial logos, while he makes a living drilling wells and building fences. On his “Legends of Monadnock’’ blog, Doyle interprets the proverbs of William Blake. Last winter he packed up and went to St. Thomas to work as a waiter.
“Jon is indeed a contemporary renaissance man,’’ said his friend and fellow artist, Alex Gutterman, who met Doyle several years ago when they studied Aikido together. “He’s kind of a futurist, very interested in developing technologies and how they impact human consciousness, as well as the arts. He’s interested in the sciences, and in spiritual inquiry. And of course he has the normal interests of a young man, such as wine, women, and song.’’
In Doyle’s free speech case, few facts are in dispute.
He hiked the mountain on a sunny September day in 2009, donned the Bigfoot costume at the summit, and hammed it up for some photographs. Still in costume, he interviewed hikers and filmed their tongue-in-cheek responses. Doyle posted the video on the Internet. He said he was tickled by the feedback.
He recruited a few friends for a sequel and drafted a press release to publicize it.
The Keene Sentinel picked up the story.
On Sept. 19, Doyle and his friends gathered to film a skit in a clearing next to a less-used Monadnock trail, partway up the mountain. That was when the park manager gave Bigfoot the boot, because Doyle had not sought a “special use permit,’’ required for events that “go beyond routine recreational activities,’’ according to court filings.
The permit requirement is at the heart of the legal case.
In its Supreme Court brief, the state argues that the permit requirements are reasonable to help the park staff manage competing uses on one of the most-climbed mountains in the world.
The permit regulations are for “mitigating the impacts of commercial events’’ in state parks, and “protecting visitors from unwelcome or unwarranted interference, annoyance, or danger,’’ among other considerations, the state wrote in its brief.
The problem, from Doyle’s perspective, is that permits cost $100, there is a 30-day waiting period, and anyone who wants a permit must post a $2 million insurance bond to protect against injuries and damage, adding several hundred dollars to the cost, according to filings.
That’s too much cash and red tape for a few friends out on a lark with a consumer video camera, Doyle argues.
“It may be a reasonable requirement if Steven Spielberg wanted to film a movie on Mount Monadnock, but it is not reasonable for someone in our plaintiff’s shoes,’’ said Keshen.
Last spring, a lower court sided with the state, ruling that the regulations are constitutional.
Doyle appealed to the high court.
He still has the Bigfoot costume, and hopes to return to the park to film in it. In the meantime, he has numerous art projects in development, and continues to engage in public performances.
Last year, Doyle created an elaborate, brilliant-white angel costume with feathered wings, a melancholy Venetian mask, and a gold crown.
He wore the costume into St. James Episcopal Church in Keene - smack in the middle of Sunday services - spread his wings, and stood stump-still in the back of the church.
“The preacher, he just sort of grabbed it right away and started to work with it,’’ said Doyle. “It was just so shocking. He just started to talk about certain concepts in the Bible and the mystery of God and how God is found in very strange ways and mysterious places.’’
Doyle leaves the point of the performance, like his Bigfoot adventures, for the viewer to interpret.
The priest celebrating at St. James that day was the Rev. Norman MacLeod, now the rector at a church in Vermont. He said in a phone interview that he remembers seeing the angel that day in Keene, though he never knew who was in the costume.
“I have no idea what his intentions were,’’ said MacLeod, who did not alter the service in response to Doyle. “Was it a statement of faith? A way of mocking faith? Was it art?’’ He chuckled. “I don’t know. I wasn’t offended. I was kind of intrigued.’’
Doyle plans next month to sail to St. Thomas to wait tables again for four to five months. The money is pretty good, he said, for a guy who’s used to not having much of it.
“It’s hard to have a quality job in this life if you’re transient and creative and spontaneous,’’ said Doyle. “To make my own plans work and for everything to be by my own rules, it seems I have to do it this way.’’
The state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Doyle’s case on Nov. 10.
by Andy Coghlan and Debora MacKenzie
AS PROTESTS against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters' worst fears. An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.
The study's assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.
The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York's Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere (see photo). But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world's transnational corporations (TNCs).
"Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it's conspiracy theories or free-market," says James Glattfelder. "Our analysis is reality-based."
Previous studies have found that a few TNCs own large chunks of the world's economy, but they included only a limited number of companies and omitted indirect ownerships, so could not say how this affected the global economy - whether it made it more or less stable, for instance.
The Zurich team can. From Orbis 2007, a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide, they pulled out all 43,060 TNCs and the share ownerships linking them. Then they constructed a model of which companies controlled others through shareholding networks, coupled with each company's operating revenues, to map the structure of economic power.
The work, to be published in PloS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What's more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world's large blue chip and manufacturing firms - the "real" economy - representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.
When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a "super-entity" of 147 even more tightly knit companies - all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity - that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. "In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network," says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.
John Driffill of the University of London, a macroeconomics expert, says the value of the analysis is not just to see if a small number of people controls the global economy, but rather its insights into economic stability.
Concentration of power is not good or bad in itself, says the Zurich team, but the core's tight interconnections could be. As the world learned in 2008, such networks are unstable. "If one [company] suffers distress," says Glattfelder, "this propagates."
"It's disconcerting to see how connected things really are," agrees George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, a complex systems expert who has advised Deutsche Bank.
Yaneer Bar-Yam, head of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), warns that the analysis assumes ownership equates to control, which is not always true. Most company shares are held by fund managers who may or may not control what the companies they part-own actually do. The impact of this on the system's behaviour, he says, requires more analysis.
Crucially, by identifying the architecture of global economic power, the analysis could help make it more stable. By finding the vulnerable aspects of the system, economists can suggest measures to prevent future collapses spreading through the entire economy. Glattfelder says we may need global anti-trust rules, which now exist only at national level, to limit over-connection among TNCs. Bar-Yam says the analysis suggests one possible solution: firms should be taxed for excess interconnectivity to discourage this risk.
One thing won't chime with some of the protesters' claims: the super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world. "Such structures are common in nature," says Sugihara.
Newcomers to any network connect preferentially to highly connected members. TNCs buy shares in each other for business reasons, not for world domination. If connectedness clusters, so does wealth, says Dan Braha of NECSI: in similar models, money flows towards the most highly connected members. The Zurich study, says Sugihara, "is strong evidence that simple rules governing TNCs give rise spontaneously to highly connected groups". Or as Braha puts it: "The Occupy Wall Street claim that 1 per cent of people have most of the wealth reflects a logical phase of the self-organising economy."
So, the super-entity may not result from conspiracy. The real question, says the Zurich team, is whether it can exert concerted political power. Driffill feels 147 is too many to sustain collusion. Braha suspects they will compete in the market but act together on common interests. Resisting changes to the network structure may be one such common interest.
The top 50 of the 147 superconnected companies1. Barclays plc
2. Capital Group Companies Inc
3. FMR Corporation
5. State Street Corporation
6. JP Morgan Chase & Co
7. Legal & General Group plc
8. Vanguard Group Inc
9. UBS AG
10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc
11. Wellington Management Co LLP
12. Deutsche Bank AG
13. Franklin Resources Inc
14. Credit Suisse Group
15. Walton Enterprises LLC
16. Bank of New York Mellon Corp
18. Goldman Sachs Group Inc
19. T Rowe Price Group Inc
20. Legg Mason Inc
21. Morgan Stanley
22. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc
23. Northern Trust Corporation
24. Société Générale
25. Bank of America Corporation
26. Lloyds TSB Group plc
27. Invesco plc
28. Allianz SE 29. TIAA
30. Old Mutual Public Limited Company
31. Aviva plc
32. Schroders plc
33. Dodge & Cox
34. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc*
35. Sun Life Financial Inc
36. Standard Life plc
38. Nomura Holdings Inc
39. The Depository Trust Company
40. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
41. ING Groep NV
42. Brandes Investment Partners LP
43. Unicredito Italiano SPA
44. Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan
45. Vereniging Aegon
46. BNP Paribas
47. Affiliated Managers Group Inc
48. Resona Holdings Inc
49. Capital Group International Inc
50. China Petrochemical Group Company
* Lehman still existed in the 2007 dataset used
On the night of October 20, 2010, Angel Enrique and Jesus Antonio were in bed in their small, two-bedroom apartment in the Clairmont complex in Nashville. The doors and windows were all shut and locked. Suddenly there was a loud banging at the door and voices shouting "Police!" and "Policia!" When no one answered, the agents tried to force the door open. Scared, Jesus hid in a closet. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents began hitting objects against the bedroom windows, trying to break in. Without a search warrant and without consent, the ICE agents eventually knocked in the front door and shattered a window, shouting racial slurs and storming into the bedrooms, holding guns to their heads. When asked if they had a warrant, one agent reportedly said, "We don't need a warrant, we're ICE," and, gesturing to his genitals, "the warrant is coming out of my balls."
The Fourth Amendment strictly prohibits warrantless intrusions into private homes and the Constitution's protections apply to both citizens and non-citizens alike. In the absence of a judicially authorized warrant, there must be voluntary and knowing consent; ICE officers forcing themselves into someone's home does not constitute consent.
The ACLU and ACLU of Tennessee this week filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of fifteen residents of the apartment complex who were subjected to this large-scale, warrantless raid by ICE agents and Metro Nashville police officers.
Among the plaintiffs are U.S. citizens, including a child detained and interrogated while playing soccer on the playground simply because of the color of his skin. Looking Latino and speaking Spanish is not enough to justify probable cause for questioning and arresting a person. Another plaintiff was carted away in handcuffs in front of his frightened and crying children.
Unfortunately, the Clairmont raid is not an isolated incident. As the Department of Homeland Security and its enforcement arm, ICE, expand their aggressive immigration enforcement policies, all too often the constitutional rights afforded to everyone living in the United States are violated. Even as ICE carries out its mission, it must act in accordance with the law and in a manner that is humane.
By Charlie Stross
"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson wrote that bon mot, and if he never wrote another word, that insight would be sufficient to guarantee him immortality.
Which got me wondering whether the future that is already here might include a class for whom space travel is not merely an interesting idea, but one that is affordable.
The discussion on the cultural and sociological attachment issues of the ideology of space colonization has raised some fascinating points about its origins among folks who were avid readers of a particular type of SF from the 1930s through 1960s, and how the idea of space colonization appeals to people who want to not have to live close to folks who are poor and non-white. From the crude racism of John W. Campbell through the effusions of the libertarian and objectivist fifth columns, American SF has been a safe haven for the predecessors of today's Tea Partiers; meanwhile, British SF has thrown up the corresponding phenomenon of the cosy catastrophe plot, wherein some mysterious disaster sweeps the world clean of annoying foreigners, lower class oiks, and anyone else with whom our author's protagonists do not sympathize. An ongoing unease about the Other thus pervades the literature that informed the views of many of the space cadets during their formative years.
A secondary issue that emerged from that discussion was that, barring miraculous discoveries (of the order of limitless free energy, or some form of reactionless propulsion) getting from Earth's surface into orbit (not to mention colonizing the solar system or going beyond) is almost certainly always going to be beyond the reach of poor folks. Either it's going to be a preoccupation of the elite, or it's going to have to rely on us establishing a civilization that is much, much wealthier than the one we currently live in (without wrecking our biosphere, but that's another issue entirely).
It occurs to me that there exists, today, a chunk of the future populated by exotic strangers who can afford to Live The Dream, should they so desire.
The Occupy movement has tapped a wellspring of political discontent around the world; their slogan, "We are the 99%", refers to the fact that 38% of the total wealth in the US is controlled by just 1% of the population. (My only quibble with this factoid is that it isn't even the top 1%; it's the top 0.5% — the second half-percentile (99%-99.5% of the way up the income ladder) are certainly very well off, but they barely make the cut for the real Masters of the Universe: such is the nature of an exponential distribution.)
Let's talk about the top 0.5%. Here is an investment manager's view of the top 1% and their upper echelon. The top 0.5% have a minimum income of $0.5M/year if they're working, and assets close to $2M if retired. Mostly they make earn over a million a year: strikethrough deliberately added, because they are typically workers in the financial sector, CEOs in public corporations, or the odd lottery-winning anomaly (one of the first hundred hires at a successful IT company like Microsoft or Google or Apple).
These folks aren't going to go and colonize Mars (except for Elon Musk). If they feel uneasy about living cheek by jowl with poor folks, they're more likely to go live in a gated community and employ bodyguards. They might shell out for a holiday in space, but for the most part that's the limit of their engagement. But that's okay, because this essay isn't about space colonization. It's about the cultural assumptions we're likely to see emerging in a society that is rich enough to do that thing.
How does being one of the 1% affect people?
A valuable conceptual tool for reasoning about wealth from the outside (I assume that you, like me, are part of the 99%) is the law of diminishing marginal utility.
Loosely put: if you are homeless and destitute in the USA and somebody hands you a $100 bill, that money can change your life. It's enough to feed you for a couple of weeks to a month, to get you a new set of clothes, to buy time in a net cafe to search for a job online, to find shelter for a handful of nights during terrible weather.
But if you're Warren Buffett and you spot a $100 bill lying on the ground while you're out for your constitutional, it's barely worth the time it takes to stoop to pick it up; the annual income of the fund Mr Buffett administers can be approximated to $1Bn, which works out at $31.70 per second. Of course, being Warren Buffett, I'd expect him to pick up the banknote; he didn't get to be where he is today by ignoring free money. But it's hardly going to change his life.
The diminishing marginal utility law dictates that the more money we have, the less utility we get from any additional incremental gain. And this bites the top 1% very hard indeed.
Examine the world around us from the point of view of someone with a net income of $5M/year ...
Food is essentially free; you can afford to spend $1000 per meal, three meals a day, in the most expensive restaurants in London or Tokyo or Manhattan, and not make a dent in your income. (Oddly, even the hyper-rich don't typically spend $1000 on lunch every day: a more realistic expectation might be to dine out expensively twice a week, for $100K/year, and have the best of everything in-house the rest of the time, with a live-in chef, for another $100K/year.)
Clothing is essentially free; want a different $5000 suit for every day of the week? That's going to set you back only $35K! Spouse wants a dozen designer evening gowns a year? That's still going to be on the low side of $200K.
Housing is essentially free; $1000/day will rent you a penthouse suite in a five star hotel in Manhattan, while your mortgageable income will let you buy a palace in the $5-20M range. (There are places where you may need to spend more than $20M to buy a house; but not many of them.)
You don't have to do housework, interior decorating, cooking, driving, DIY home improvements, flight booking, or shopping (unless you want to). People can be hired to do any of the above for rates ranging from $15K to $100K per year, depending on the complexity of the job. And you earn $100K per week.
Travel: you have a car, or cars. Any cars you like. And a driver and a mechanic, either full-time employees or time-shared via an agency or a very exclusive garage. When you fly, you either go first class via the express security lane, or (airports are tedious) your driver takes you straight to the steps of the biz jet you hired. You are probably not rich enough to own a jet of your own, without making sacrifices elsewhere, but you can certainly afford to hire one once or twice a week.
Education: you, and/or your children, can afford any education you like, without having to go into debt to fund it. Even if the kids aren't that bright, you can afford to hire tutors to push them in just the right direction. And the high end universities where the children of the rich go to learn how their social class networks usually look kindly on a donation in six digits to their trust.
Law: you can afford the best defense lawyers, period, and meet any reasonable bail conditions. There's no guarantee that you can't be prosecuted and imprisoned if you break the law — especially if you commit high crimes against the 0.5% (Bernie Madoff springs to mind) — but the system can be bent, if not broken, on your behalf.
(Do you notice a pattern developing here? We're climbing Maslow's hierarchy of needs.)
There are some things that having an income of $5M/year, or even $5Bn/year, can't buy you.
First on the list is health.
Take Steve Jobs: billionaire (deceased). In '07-08, he allegedly kept a Gulfstream jet and a flight crew on standby, 24 hours a day, for three months, while waiting for a transplant liver matching his tissue type to become available. You and I certainly can't afford to do that. He also paid to have his genome, and that of his cancer, sequenced: a cool $100K (although that's due to drop to $1K in another few years). Despite having essentially unlimited funds available, money couldn't save him. Medicine and healthcare is one of the areas where, above and beyond a certain threshold, money makes zero difference to your prognosis. We're all going to die sooner or later; what kills us will be a condition for which there is no available treatment, and the only way money could help with that would be if you knew to throw a billion dollars at the problem several years before it happened.
More subtly, there's collective security. As Lemony Snicket put it, "Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending." Your personal income of $5M/year, even if you devoted it entirely to Good Deeds, is insufficient leverage to deflect widespread public outrage at the class of people (half a million of them) with income in that bracket. At best, you might get let off the tumbril for good behaviour.
There are other forms of collective security, too. Threats of invasion by dastardly foreign dictators; security against crimes committed by the lumpenproletariat: environmental collapse: pandemics. In the final analysis, in each of these cases you're in the same lifeboat as everyone else in your civilization. You might be the richest Tyrannosaur on the block, but when the dinosaur killer comes, you're going to be just another dead Rex.
Next up, there's the impossible dream. If you want something that doesn't exist, you can pay people to make it for you ... up to a point. If what you want is a Boron-11 fusion reactor, and your name isn't Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you may have a creditworthiness problem. Elon Musk has famously said he wants to retire on Mars; with only $200M, he's having to build his own space program and fund it with commercial launches in order to get there. The problem we face is that most of the low-hanging fruits to which we might aspire have been plucked; anything radically different is likely to be highly path-dependent, and iterating through all the intermediate steps is phenomenally expensive (even by the standards of the 1%).
Finally, there's the point (unpleasant to contemplate for some) that income inequality can't increase beyond the level it has already reached today without massive and unpleasant social consequences, some of which may be non-obvious side-effects of the drive towards a security state strong enough to protect the elite. By some estimates, 20-25% of the labour employed in the USA today is guard labour, work devoted to preventing the poor from expropriating the rich. Widespread application of anti-terrorism statutes to criminal enforcement suggests to me that the War on Terror has proven its utility as a useful pretext for expansion of the guard labour state; in light of which, reversal of Griswold v. Connecticut would pave the way for the deployment of ubiquitous surveillance techniques. (Which suggests a possible reason why the moneyed-elite faction of the Republican party are willing to tolerate the demands of the abortion-and-contraception-hating religious wing of the party.)
Anyway, let me get to the point ...
Let us postulate that over the next century we manage to get past the crises that beset us. Let me postulate that we and our descendants mitigate climate change, find substitutable alternatives for fossil fuels as energy sources, invent qualitatively better systems of economic and political governance that increase the overall wealth of our society and reduce income inequality at the same time.
In this happy shiny future, the third world no longer exists — it has developed fully, and is as healthy and wealthy as everywhere else. Let us throw in vast progress in medical sciences, such that the collection of diseases we call "cancer" become manageable nuisances, and coronary heart disease, autoimmune disorders, dementias, and a whole bunch of other conditions become essentially curable and affordably so for all. Let's throw in some reduction in total human population — not by violence, but by natural attrition and reduction in total fertility. We probably also need progress in robotic control systems to the point where many current "unskilled" jobs can be automated, and a major cultural shift away from the "work for pay" paradigm (which is so pervasive as to be unquestioned today) so that even if we can't find useful work for people to do, they don't feel excluded and they have a sufficient share of the wealth to be comfortable.
This isn't going to be a world that feels rich, any more than today's middle class EU or USA feels wealthy, until you compare the average standard of living to that of previous centuries. We evaluate our status by referring to our neighbours; if none of our neighbours are starving and homeless, starvation and homelessness drop out of the attributes we measure ourselves against. If everyone has a cornucopia machine, then mere possession of physical property (that isn't hand made or bespoke or of historic interest) stops being a status signifier. If we have flexible humanoid robot servants then employing a cook or a gardener stops being a status signifier. And so on. By the standards of 1811, or 1911, we're almost all extremely rich: we don't get polio or smallpox, we don't have to go hungry or sleep 12 to a room, we have running water and indoor heating and lighting, and many of us own our own private automobiles.
In such a post-developed world, we can reasonably say that the normal and average standard of living should approximate that of today's 1%: everyone has not merely the bare necessities (which today too many people do not) but a level of provision for basic needs that approximates to today's wild luxury, and which should encompass the cost of trips into low earth orbit at equivalent cost to a trans-Pacific business class ticket today.
What would drive people in such a society? Because unlike today's 1%, they're not running to stay one step ahead of the herd.
It's not going to be fear of starvation or homelessness; fixing those problems was implicitly part of the background. Indeed, we can probably ignore the bottom of Maslow's pyramid of needs. What we're left looking at is the top half, the stuff money has difficulty buying: esteem, self-actualization, love, respect, creativity. (Also their dark siblings: jealousy, self-abnegation, hate, contempt, conformism. Which are mostly defined by contrast, so we're unlikely to ever be free of them.)
More subtly, we can probably anticipate a pervasive spread of WEIRD socialization — (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic); the typical citizen won't be ethnically Western, but the rest of the package looks likely to apply, and the relatively homogeneous traits of the 1% around the world today suggest convergence at the base of the pyramid tomorrow.
This is similar to the population from which today's space cadets are drawn, with three added twists: it's rich, comfortable, and only minority-western. Is it a population from which it is reasonable to expect a viable space colonization movement to grow?