Death and Taxes are supposed to be the only universal constants you can depend on, but the Internet has long been a loophole many of us have enjoyed exploiting. If Rep. Bill Delahunt gets his way however, everything you buy online will soon be taxed at the same rates as their brick and mortar counterparts. Currently most Americans who buy from out-of-state vendors aren't required to pay sales taxes, but crushing government deficits could force legislators to take immediate action.
Normally we could write this off as one politician's pipe dream, but The National Conference of State Legislatures has voiced its approval of Delahunt's legislation, a law that could allow states to collect as much as $23 billion in new taxes. Not surprisingly, the Retail Industry Leaders Association also threw their voice behind the motion, a group made up of giants such as Wal-Mart & Home Depot.
The exact details of the proposed legislation haven't been made public yet, but we expect this issue to keep gaining momentum in the coming months. Perhaps they are hoping geeks don't vote?
A US Senate committee today approved an expansive cyber security bill that many fear could harm the Internet. The legislation can now move on to the Senate floor for a vote, where it will likely pass. Some have suggested the bill would allow the President to shut down parts of the Internet in the event of a terrorist attack. The so-called Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act is backed by several Senators, but Joseph Lieberman has been perhaps its staunchest supporter.
Backers of the legislation say that there is no provision for an "Internet kill-switch" as some have warned. Instead the bill only expands existing powers of the President to close "any facility or stations for wire communication" in case of war. The main purpose of the law would be to establish a centralized White House Office for Cyberspace Policy. Through this office, network operators could be ordered to implement emergency response plans in the event of attack. We suppose that could mean shutting something down, but the bill is unclear.
The vagueness of the bill is what concerns civil libertarians and security experts so much. It's true the bill would expand executive authority over communication infrastructure, but it is not entirely clear what is covered. There may not be a straight up "Internet kill-switch" in the bill, but we can't help but feel a little fretful about it. Where do you come down?
Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a Thursday press conference with the administration's intellectual property enforcement coordinator to outline the government's new strategy to protect the nation's copyright holders. In the speech, the VP did not, in any way, mince words. " But piracy is theft. Clean and simple. It's smash and grab. It ain't no different than smashing a window at Tiffany's and grabbing [merchandise]," said Biden.
The guidelines contain 33 recommendations. One major point is an intention to work with foreign governments to shut down infringing websites. As expected, Hollywood studios applaud the new list of recommendations. The movie and music industries contend that they are losing billions of dollars to piracy, though many have disputed the numbers. Biden also commented that ISPs should be cooperating with entertainment industry efforts to penalize users. He was likely referring to various plans for so-called "three strikes" rules that would result in users being disconnected after repeated accusations of infringement.
The document also discussed more conventional counterfeit product smuggling, but the online piracy talk stole the show. The tone was a little heavy-handed, but we should remember this is basically just a document of ideas. It's unclear what sort of enforcement activities may per pursued. Where do you come down on the issue?
Australians have traditionally had to deal with pretty oppressive prices and bandwidth caps, but the government is looking to break up the monopoly, and bring true broadband to the masses. The $43 billion national project includes the $11 billion it will cost to buy out Telstra, the current landline and copper network operator, as well as the additional funds needed to roll out a fiber network.
The deal is still subject to regulatory approval, but pending this our friends over in Australia can expect to see speeds of up to 100Mbps to the home, and perhaps ditch some of the stingy bandwidth caps that government sees as holding back innovation. It's normal to feel cheated when Comcast teases you with a 250GB cap, but imagine if you had to contend with 10-20GB caps for the same price your paying today.
If the deal goes through Telstra won't be competing for wired customers anymore, but rumor has it they have been promised an opportunity to bid on some pretty valuable wireless spectrum as a trade off.
It looks like the government might actually be keeping its word for a change, consider us impressed.
The U.S. government is taking Oracle to court for alleging overcharging several million of dollars, and perhaps as much as $10 million, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
At issue are what are called "GSA schedules," which are essentially contracts designed to provide discounts that are as good or even better than those given to the vendor's preferred customers.
"The whole idea of GSA schedule discounts is that the government, in the aggregate, is likely to be one of the largest purchasers of a company's products, and is entitled to take advantage of the discounts that its large buying power should command," the complaint states.
Oracle is accused of working on the sly to find ways around the GSA restrictions so that commercial customers get even deeper discounts. According to the complaint, it's the taxpayers who ultimately pay the price for Oracle's alleged misdeeds.
Are you under the impression that federal data is pretty much secure? Think again, suggests a new survey by MeriTalk in which it was discovered that employees at many U.S. government agencies are using insecure methods to transfer data. MeriTalk pinged some 200 federal IT and information security professionals and here's what they found:
66 percent use physical media (tapes, CDs, DVDs, USB drives, etc)
60 percent use File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
52 percent email work files through personal email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo, etc)
According to the survey's authors, sending unencrypted data over FTP or personal email, or putting it on physical media presents an alarming problem for data security. Taher Elgamal, CSO at Axway and inventor of the Elgamal Cryptosystem agrees.
"What surprise me is [the results] don't surprise me at all," Elgamal said. "The vast majority of people are actually good people. An employee, if you tell them to do something, is just going to get it done. If you don't provide them the right tools, they're still going to get it done."
The survey also found that about 71 percent of respondents admitted to being concerned with the security of file transfers in the U.S. government, but more than half said they don't actively monitor FTP use.
Sources are reporting today that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are wrangling over which one of them should lead a preliminary antitrust investigation of Apple. The action was spurred by Apple's new developer agreement which forces app designers to use only Apple programming tools. The inquiry may be launched in a matter of days, and will seek to determine if the policy damages competition in the mobile app space.
Apple's claim has been that adding a layer of abstraction (i.e. a third-party compiler) results in poorer quality apps; thus requiring specific developer tools is a quality control mechanism. Those on the other side, however, claim that Apple is seeking to force developers to choose Apple's platform instead of porting their code to multiple platforms. The worry is that independent developers won't have the resources to rewrite code for multiple platforms, so they will choose Apple's larger and more lucrative app store be default.
The possible inquiry does not mean anything is about to change. The preliminary analysis will determine if a full investigation is required. Do you think Apple is a fault here? How much control should they be allowed to exercise over their platform?
Specifically, the correspondence encourages Facebook to exercise caution in the use of the new universal 'Like' button. The Senators are concerned that its use as a marketing tool could endanger personal information. Facebook responded immediately saying, " We've developed powerful tools to give our users control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom."
Facebook has a sordid history of forcing users to opt out of major privacy changes, so it may be a good thing someone in the government is taking notice. Older and less tech savvy individuals often have trouble interpreting Facebook's "powerful tools" for modifying privacy settings. Do you think someone needs to keep Facebook in line, or do you still have trust in them?
The US Department of justice has dropped its case attempting to force Yahoo to hand over private email without a warrant. The DOJ files a two page brief with the court canceling its request for access to Yahoo subscribers' email. The action taken by the DOJ ruffled a lot of feathers including the EFF and Google, who filed their displeasure with the court just recently.
The nature of the crimes being investigated was never disclosed, and that likely had something to do with the governments eventual decision to pull out. Though, the media attention in the last week probably helped as well. The EFF is claiming that the Justice Department dropped the case mainly because they did not want to fight the civil liberties group in court.
Yahoo isn't offering much background, but seems positive saying, "We are pleased with the decision and we continue to be committed to protecting the privacy of users." This decision does not rule out the possibility the government could make another attempt to access email without a warrant in the future, but these accounts are likely safe. How does this make you feel about the privacy of email?
In a statement today the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) officially came out in support of Yahoo and their attempt to block a government request for access to a private email account. The sticking point here is that the government is seeking access based on probable cause and does not have a warrant. The nature of the case is unknown as all details are sealed.
The case being made by federal investigators is that since the individual has accessed the email, it is no longer "electronic storage" as defined by the Stored Communications Act (SCA), and therefore no warrant is required. This position does not have legal precedence, and strikes us as a bit nutty. Yahoo is in the process of challenging the government request citing the SCA and Fourth Amendment. The EFF court brief is expected to be of help in the case.
"The government is trying to evade federal privacy law and the Constitution," said EFF Attorney Kevin Bankston. The EFF is also pushing for government action to clarify privacy rights when it comes to technology. The EFF's brief was also signed by Google, NetCoalition, and the Distributed Computing Industry Association among others. If Yahoo is unsuccessful in their defense, this could have serious privacy ramifications for personal data storage.