Hello, 911? I’d like to report an emergency.

Fahrenheit 451 logoA variety of images flashed through my mind when I read this May 25 report from the UK:

Five Undercover Police Cars Sent To Arrest Single Alleged Movie Pirate

Police assisted by the Federation Against Copyright Theft showed up in large numbers to arrest an alleged movie pirate in the UK this week. Armed with an emergency search warrant issued out of hours by a judge, five undercover police vehicles containing detectives and FACT officers were deployed to arrest a 24-year-old said to have recorded the movie Fast and Furious 6.

Five undercover cars containing 10 police officers and officers from the Federation Against Copyright Theft arrived at a property in the West Midlands at 07:30 Thursday morning. The person they were looking for no longer lived at the address but in the space of 15 minutes three cars, four detectives and two FACT officers had made it to the correct location. Armed with an emergency search warrant issued out of hours by a judge, police and FACT officers entered the suspect’s home.

Ten police officers and five police cars? On a mission to rescue a pirated movie? Isn’t that a rip-off of Alice’s Restaurant?

I want to tell you about the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where this happened here. They got three stop signs, two police officers, and one police car, but when we got to the Scene of the Crime there was five police officers and three police cars, being the biggest crime of the last fifty years, and everybody wanted to get in the newspaper story about it.

Then, again, the thought of a squad of police officers popping out of their cars, scampering around the wrong address, tipping their hats (this is Britain, after all), and scurrying off to a different house is a clear homage to the Keystone Kops.

Neither Arlo Guthrie nor Mack Sennett, though, capture what’s truly chilling about this story. You would think that an emergency after-hours order to deploy a platoon of scarce public-safety resources would be tied to a life-and-death situation: Terrorism. Hostages. Desperate criminals with explosives and assault weapons running rampant through a shopping mall or metro station. Sadly, the UK is not unfamiliar with such crises, including the brutal murder by extremists of British soldier Lee Rigby in London only one day earlier.

But no, this was a different kind of emergency. Her Majesty’s Police were dispatched not to protect the public from bombs or bullets but from an unauthorized copy of a movie.

Let that sink in. An unauthorized copy of a movie. A movie.

And so the most appropriate mental image here comes from Fahrenheit 451. In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian future, it’s illegal to possess books. When a suspected violation is reported, firemen speed off in a kerosene-spraying firetruck to destroy the house claimed to contain the books as well as any recalcitrant occupants.

In the U.S., the Copyright Police are already asking for the right to destroy suspect computers, networks, and data without the time-consuming and expensive requirement of first proving guilt. There’s no mention of arson, but perhaps they just haven’t yet read Bradbury.


On our wonderfully undemocratic Constitution

ben-franklin-on-liberty-and-security-05182009Since the Boston Marathon bombings, we’ve seen a succession of polls quantifying the public’s willingness to trade freedom for security. Depending on what reports you read, our neighbors would accept everything from ubiquitous government surveillance to torture if it meant avoiding the next attack.

Thanks to the foresight of the Founders, though, our civil rights don’t depend on simple majority votes. They’re embedded in the Constitution, codified with phrases like “Congress shall make no law” and “no person shall be held” and “the accused shall enjoy the right”. Escape clauses along the lines of “as long as Congress thinks it’s a good idea” or “unless a poll says the public feels otherwise” are conspicuously absent.

To the authors of our liberties, “witch hunt” was not a metaphor. They knew what fear could do to an otherwise rational community and designed what they hoped would be a terror-resistant superstructure for a free nation. Like Ulysses bound to the mast, they constrained themselves and their posterity from easily succumbing to the siren call of a risk-free life watched over by an all-powerful State.

And the sirens are out in full force. Michael Bloomberg says, “Our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution have to change.” Circuit Judge Richard Posner predicted, “The Court can and doubtless will adjust the balance between privacy and security to reflect the increase in long-run threats to the lives of Americans.” These voices provide the rationalization for the FBI as it rewrites the Fifth Amendment and soften us up for the revelation of routine government monitoring of all phone calls. We’ve lost sight of what MIT’s Jeff Schiller told Wired a full two years before the attacks of 9/11:

Police work is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Where it’s easy we call it a police state.

Rather than Bloomberg and Posner, let us listen instead to people like security expert Bruce Schneier:

Terrorism isn’t primarily a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the deaths of innocents and destruction of property as accomplices. When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed.


Welcome to the copyright rabbit hole, where we don’t let things like trials get in the way of verdicts

With the shutdown of MegaUpload, the FBI has established itself as Hollywood’s private police force. The MPAA has now given the FBI its next set of targets, in particular these 5:

  • Wupload
  • Depositfiles
  • Fileserve
  • MediaFire
  • PutLocker

Now, back in the day when the legal system still used due process — formal charges, trials, defense attorneys, arguments, objections, judges, juries (you know, the stuff they do on Law and Order) — we might have expected a court presentation with the details on exactly how and when these companies broke the law. And then we’d hear and evaluate the counterarguments from the accused. But today, we learn of the accusations from Paramount Pictures’ vice president of worldwide content protection speaking at a Columbia University copyright conference. The evidence is the infographic at the right. As you can clearly see, the red circle with the diagonal slash proves that these 5 “rogue cyberlockers” are in the same category as MegaUpload, which we already know is guilty because…well, just because. And look at how guilty they are: 41 billion illegal page views per year! (Yes, they left out the “illegal” part, but that’s probably just a typo, and a minor detail in any event.)

In our post-due process world, these legal disputes take place in the Court of CNet, which is where defendant MediaFire made the opening statement of their case:

MediaFire is not operated by an outlaw gang; we are in fact a group of reputable entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds who have a history of building innovative and valuable websites and technologies. Over the last several years, we have been focused on releasing numerous updates to MediaFire’s professional and business services. For example, just in the last month we launched our document viewing system and rebuilt our image system – not the kind of features that incentivize illegal activity.

Without an infographic of their own, it’s hard to see how MediaFire can prevail, but perhaps they’ll produce one at a later stage of the proceedings. Or perhaps true due process will re-emerge at some point and we’ll have an actual trial in a real court.

Or, perhaps, as Kim Dotcom and MegaUpload have learned about the rabbit hole we’ve entered, the Queen of Hearts had it exactly right: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”


Wikipedia dumps GoDaddy. There’s still an elephant in the room, but it’s not the one shot by GoDaddy’s founder.

On Friday, Wikipedia announced that their migration from GoDaddy has been completed. All DNS registrations for the Wikimedia Foundation have been moved to MarkMonitor.

The Wikipedia/GoDaddy schism goes back to a Tweet from Jimmy Wales in December:

I am proud to announce that the Wikipedia domain names will move away from GoDaddy. Their position on sopa is unacceptable to us.

At the time, GoDaddy was an avid supporter of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which eventually crashed and burned — along with its equally ill-begotten cousin PIPA — after an unprecedented outpouring of pressure from the Internet community. GoDaddy’s newly installed management eventually changed its pro-SOPA policy to one of tepid neutrality, although it was too late to prevent “Dump GoDaddy Day” on December 29.

But GoDaddy’s malevolence goes deeper than its on-again, off-again, maybe-on-again position on one or another piece of badly written legislation. The elephant in the room — as-yet un-shot — is GoDaddy’s aggressive collaboration with the US Government’s policy of seizing DNS names without benefit of court order. Even such flagrant mistakes as branding 84,000 innocent Web sites as child pornographers or the unjustified and unauthorized year-long hostage-taking of dajaz1.com haven’t deterred federal agencies from their extra-legal pandering to the MPAA and RIAA. Just last month, GoDaddy shut down JotForm.com with no explanation and no court order, simply on request from the Secret Service. This was apparently yet another mistake, since the action was reversed after a day or so. The interruption remains unexplained even now. As Joe Stanganelli observed:

GoDaddy does not wait for due process. It apparently does whatever law enforcement agencies ask it to do. If you’re a law enforcement agency, why bother to get a court order when you’re dealing with fully complicit host providers?

That is, by setting itself up as a Cyberspace cat’s-paw, GoDaddy encourages federal agencies to over-reach. While the government must follow the U.S. Constitution, with its annoying guarantees of due process and free speech, GoDaddy’s terms of service provide a much more flexible approach:

Go Daddy reserves the right to terminate Your access to the Services at any time, without notice, for any reason whatsoever.

This should come as a surprise to no one. About a year ago, GoDaddy’s General Counsel, Christine Jones, boasted to the Senate Judiciary Committee about her company’s vigilante approach to interpreting and enforcing the law:

You do not have to go to court to get an order. We will just fix it for you … We just work on it, and we fix it for people. Do not go waste your money on a lawyer and file a lawsuit, for the love of God. Just pick up the phone and call us. … Our position is if there is any offending content, the whole website comes down. … It is either all or nothing, because we do not want that crap about, Are you 50/50? Are you 80/20? Are you really engaged in illegal activity? Are you really not? No. We want it to be black and white. Either you are or you are not. If you fix it, press on. But until you fix it, you are all gone.

With a policy like that, why care about crap like their position on SOPA?