...I do not advocate entirely forsaking the conveniences and necessities of the Digital Age. We need them for work and play, and I love my iPhone as much as the next person. But we need to learn how to turn it all off if we are to reclaim the noble soul that humanity has heretofore held but which is now rapidly slipping away. This technology, any technology, must be our servant, not our master. Prometheus brought fire to Man to assist us in life, not as a replacement for it.
Digital Due Process: Protecting Americans' Privacy by Restoring Constitutional Limits to Government in ECPA
By Ryan Radia & Berin Szoka
Today a broad array of civil liberties groups, think tanks, and technology companies launched the Digital Due Process coalition. The coalition's mission is to educate lawmakers and the public about the need to update U.S. privacy laws to better safeguard individual information online and ensure that federal privacy statutes accurately reflect the realities of the digital age.
Over 20 organizations belong to the Digital Due Process coalition, including such odd bedfellows as AT&T, Google, Microsoft, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Progress & Freedom Foundation (where Berin works), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where Ryan works), the Internet Technology & Innovation Foundation, Citizens Against Government Waste, and Americans for Tax Reform. The full member list is available at the coalition's website.
Amidst the heated tech policy wars, it's not every day that such a diverse group of organizations comes together to endorse a unified set of core principles for legislative reform. Over two years in the making, the Digital Due Process coalition, spearheaded by the Center for Democracy & Technology, is a testament to the broad consensus that's emerged among business leaders, activists, and scholars regarding the inadequacies of the current legal regime intended to protect Americans' privacy from government snooping and the need for Congress to revisit decades-old privacy statutes. It also represents a revival of a bipartisan consensus on the need for reform reached back in 2000, when the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee voted 20-1 to approve very similar reforms (HR 5018).
Today, in the digital age, robust privacy laws are more important than ever. That's because U.S. courts have been unwilling to extend the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure to individual information stored with third parties such as cloud computing providers. Thus, while government authorities must get a search warrant based on probable cause before they can lawfully rifle through documents stored in your desk, basement, or safe deposit box, information you store on the cloud enjoys no Constitutional protection. (Some legal scholars argue this interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, referred to as the Third Party Doctrine, is outdated and deficient. See, for example, Jim Harper's excellent 2008 article in the American University Law Review.)
PFF Briefing 4/16: Super-Sizing the FTC & What It Means for the Internet, Media & Advertising
Please join us for this Progress & Freedom Foundation luncheon briefing on Friday, April 16, 12-2 pm in the Capitol Visitor Center, Room SVC 208/209 at E Capitol St NE & 1st St NE. I'll be moderating a discussion of the growing powers of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and what it might mean for consumers, advertisers, media creators, and the Internet.
As I've discussed here, here and here, financial reform legislation passed by the House (HR 4173) and now under debate in the Senate would give the FTC sweeping new powers to regulate not just Wall Street, but also unfair or deceptive trade practices across the economy. This could reshape regulation in a wide range of areas, such as privacy, cybersecurity, child safety, COPPA, and child nutrition, affecting media online as well as offline. Unfortunately, as Adam and I have noted, there seems to be a disconnect at the FTC between concerns over the future of struggling media creators and efforts to step up regulation on a number of fronts, especially privacy. The FTC has also asserted expanded authority to regulate "unfair" competition in its lawsuit against Intel, based solely on the FTC's Section 5 unfairness authority rather than traditional antitrust law. PFF has assembled a group of expert panelists--veteran FTC practitioners, scholars and insiders--to discuss these issues and more. Here's our panel:
Jack Calfee, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) & author of Fear of Persuasion: A New Perspective on Advertising and Regulation (1998)
Maureen Ohlhausen, Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, Consumer Protection Law and Competition Law practices, & 11-year FTC veteran
Jim Davidson, Chair of the Public Policy group, Polsinelli Shughart PC
PFF TechCast #1: Proposals to Have Government "Save Media"
PFF recently started a new "TechCast" podcast series and the topic for one of our first episodes was about the new series of essays that we have coming out about "The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media." In this series, we're examining proposals that would have the government play a greater role in sustaining struggling media enterprises, "saving journalism," or promoting more "public interest" content. We're concerned about the prospect of central planning for media or a "public option" for the press.
Berin Szoka and I recently sat down with PFF's press director Mike Wendy to chat about our concerns in this brief 5-minute podast:
The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media, Part 2: Broadcast Spectrum Fees for Public Media
As mentioned last week, in a new series of essays, PFF scholars will be examining proposals that would have the government play a greater role in sustaining struggling media enterprises, "saving journalism," or promoting more "public interest" content. With many traditional media operators struggling, and questions being raised about how journalism in particular will be supported in the future, Washington policymakers are currently considering what role government can and should play in helping media providers reinvent themselves in the face of tumultuous technological change wrought by the Digital Revolution. We will be releasing 6 or 7 essays on this topic leading up to our big filing in the FCC's "Future of Media" proceeding (deadline is May 7th). And here's a podcast Berin Szoka and I did providing an overview of the series.
In the first installment of the series, Berin and I critiqued an old idea that's suddenly gained new currency: taxing media devices or distribution systems to fund media content. In the second installment, "The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media, Part 2: Broadcast Spectrum Taxes to Subsidize Public Media," I discuss proposals to impose a tax on broadcast spectrum licenses to funnel money to public media projects or other "public interest" content or objectives.Such a tax would be fundamentally unfair to broadcasters, who are struggling for their very survival in the midst of unprecedented marketplace turmoil. Moreover, such a tax is unnecessary in light of the many other sources of "public interest" programming available today. Finally, even if the government creates or subsidizes wonderful, civic- and culturally-enriching content, there's no way to force people to consume it. Nor should government force such media choices upon the public. There's no good reason for government to be socially-engineering media choices through taxes.
Business Insider Attacks James Cameron for "Whining" That Piracy Undermines the Risky Studio Investments That Enabled Cameron's Films To Enrich Millions of Lives
When you read a "business magazine" edited by persons with at least a GRE-level grasp of modern economics, you will not encounter headlines like "Walmart Whines That It Would Be Richer If Poor People Didn't Shoplift," or "DirectTV Whines That Signal Theft Keeps 'The NFL Sunday Ticket' from Raking In More Cash," or even "Capitalist Stooge Steve Jobs Whines That iPod Counterfeiting Keeps Him from Becoming Even Richer."
Predictably, real business magazines and journalists don't publish such quasi-Marxist drool because it is so vacuous. As economist Joseph Schumpeter famously argued, profits enrich particularly thoughtful, creative capitalists because market economies drive producers to innovate. Instead of engaging in a Punch-and-Judy battle to "perfect" competition against non-innovative producers of fungible goods, smart producers can make risky investments in order to innovate and differentiate their products so they can--if consumers really love their work--earn significant profits, (some of which must be re-invested in the next round of risky innovation).
Consequently, real business journalists know that stealing from today's "rich" innovators merely punishes and deters the risky, costly innovation that drives the American economy and creates American jobs. Competent "business magazines" thus reject the economics of dictator Robert Mugabe: they do not smirk and sneer that whenever capitalists innovate successfully and get "rich," then they should not "whine" if others steal from the investors who made the risky investments that let them get rich by innovating.
But Business Insider is not a real business magazine. It has seemingly embraced "Mugabenomics." It appears that Business Insider would thus condemn Steve Jobs if he "whines" about the counterfeiting or shoplifting of iPods. Surely Jobs is now rich enough that stealing from Apple is OK with Business Insider--even though, from the perspective of Apple's investors, the vast sums paid to Jobs are a cost of doing business that reduces their potential profits and their ability to re-invest in more new innovations.
Free Press & Public Knowledge Try to Invent Regulatory Crisis over Sprint Short Codes
John Schwartz of The New York Times called me two weeks ago and asked for comment about a potential controversy involving mobile phone provider Sprint and the charitable organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The facts were pretty sketchy at the time, but Schwartz told me that CRS was accusing Sprint of blocking Mobile Commons, the company that connects CRS and 100 other nonprofit organizations with text messaging networks, from getting a short code to create a charitable mobile donation program in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. Here's the basic background that appeared in Schwartz's March 24th article, "Catholic Charity and Sprint Tangle Over Texting":
[CRS] wanted to try a twist on the technology: when people sent a text message to donate, they got a reply offering to connect them via phone to the charity's call center. The group hoped that the calls could build a stronger bond with donors, and garner larger contributions as well. But just three days into the effort after the Jan. 12 earthquake, the charity got word that Sprint Nextel was demanding that the "text-to-call" effort be shut down. The charity had 40 days to abandon the feature or lose access to millions of Sprint customers. Sprint's original motivations are murky; it said that an intermediary company had failed to properly fill out a form to verify that it was dealing with a legitimate charity.
It didn't take long for the regulatory activists at Free Press and Public Knowledge to pounce and claim the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had to intervene to save our souls from the nefarious scum at Sprint. After all, you do know that Sprint hates Haitians, right? The company obviously wanted to see Haitians starve and not receive any support from charitable organizations.
No, seriously, come on! How asinine is this storyline?!
Short but very important essay here from Santa Clara University Law School Prof. Eric Goldman about calls to alter Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) to address concerns about online harassment. Generally speaking, Sec. 230 immunizes online intermediaries from punishing liability for the content that travels over their networks / services. Specifically, Sec. 230 stipulates that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." In other words: Don't shoot the messenger!
As we've noted here before, it is probably not an overstatement to think of Sec. 230 as the very cornerstone of Internet Freedom, since it makes possible an online "utopia for utopias," to borrow a phrase from our favorite modern political philosopher, the late Robert Nozick. Without Sec. 230, intermediaries would likely be forced to shut down many avenues of communication and would have to become deputized conduct and morality police for every cyber-street corner.
Goldman, America's leading expert on Sec. 230-related jurisprudence, correctly notes that, "Frequently, § 230's critics do not attack the immunization generally, but instead advocate a new limited exception for their pet concern." He's got that right. Indeed, we are increasingly hearing calls from numerous quarters these days to "tweak 230" for one pet concern after another. We've illustrated some of those concerns in this exhibit.
Steve Forbes on Free Press & Coming "Chavez-Style Media Crackdown"
Steve Forbes has an entertaining essay out today about the agenda of Free Press and its founder, the Marxist media scholar Robert McChesney. Forbes notes that McChesney has expressed a great deal of sympathy for the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and has even defended some of his tactics to control the press. This leads to his fear that McChesney and Free Press will convince the Obama Administration to use similar tactics here in the U.S.:
Once the federal government starts subsidizing our own free press, how long until the feds start revoking broadcast licenses of government opponents and bringing pesky reporters up on charges of say, "corruption" or "subversion"? According to McChesney and the Free Press folks, it apparently can't happen soon enough.
To be fair, I haven't heard anyone from Free Press defending Hugo Chavez or his tactics. But I do wonder why the organization continues to associate itself with such a radioactive figure like Mr. McChesney. After all, Forbes isn't making up anything about McChesney, who is an outspoken, and self-described, Marxist media theorist. McChesney really has expressed sympathy for Chavez and said that, "If [Venezuelan broadcaster] RCTV were broadcasting in the United States, its license would have been revoked years ago. In fact its owners would likely have been tried for criminal offenses, including treason." Far more troubling are Mr. McChesney's views regarding how to reform media going forward, which I've documented in past essays in more detail. (See, "Free Press, Robert McChesney & the "Struggle" for Media," "What the Media Reformistas Really Want," and "Socializing Media in Order to Save It,.") One need look no further than this lengthy interview with McChesney that appeared in an online newsletter called "The Bullet" produced by the Canada-based "Socialist Project."
The whole thing is quite troubling to read, but here are a couple of jaw-droppers that make it clear just how radical Mr. McChesney's worldview and agenda are: