Quotulatiousness

January 22, 2015

Rumours of privatization in Ontario’s liquor control monopoly?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

In the latest issue of Michael Pinkus Wine Review, Michael talks about the hints and portents (dealing with the Ontario government requires a certain amount of Kremlinological observation skills) that a tiny measure of privatization may be coming:

There’s a rumour in the wind that a certain amount of privatization is coming to Ontario (wouldn’t that be nice), but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about it just yet – no time line has been given and I am sure that ‘more study’ is necessary … and of course, if track record is any indication, this government will find some way to either screw it up or make it such a complicated piece of legislation that it’ll take years to get through all the red tape behind it. I once heard Jerry Agar, of NewsTalk 1010 fame, say (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘if you want something screwed up get government involved’; he’s a proponent of the private sector because they can do it more efficiently than government if only ‘the man’ would just get outta the way … I would have to agree with him here. So far the government has made a mess of our liquor system that even repressed, despotic and 3rd world countries have better access to alcohol then we do.

Sadly, I believe it might be too little too late for some of Ontario wineries who have suffered this long, but might not be around to see the light at the end of the tunnel (if and/or when it comes). Yes, this might be the end of the line for a number of our precious wineries and we only have ourselves to blame for their demise. They have been as vocal as any sector, crying for help, not necessarily a hand out (which the grape growers seem to get) as much as a hand up – basically they’ve been pleading with each government: “please give us access to (our own) market (at the very least) and we’ll show you what we can do”, all to no avail.

Why the pessimistic attitude? Let’s look at the facts. It takes some rather deep pockets to own a winery in Ontario, that or a good credit rating, because money is the number one thing required to open the doors. But making it is more of an uphill battles then in any other business I this province. Post-1993, when the majority of the wineries around today opened their doors, your cellar door is the only place you can sell your wine – sure you could tap into the LCBO and the restaurant market, but that’s it. And although recent federal regulations have been lifted regarding the selling and especially shipping of wine across the country, many provinces have yet to enact their own legislation governing the practice, hence leaving the entire topic, not to mention hundreds of wineries, in limbo, unable to tap the rest of the country as a market for fear of breaking the law. With so few avenues to sell home-grown wine the government has basically handcuffed the industry – let alone the number of asinine rules that govern the industry from within (more on that next time) – it has all been put in place it would seem, so that wineries are destined to fail; that they remain open is a testament to their resolve and passion.

January 19, 2015

Police body cameras won’t fix everything, but they clearly do help

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:30

At Marginal Revolution Alex Tabarrok looks at the first randomized controlled trial of body cameras for police officers:

The results were that police use of force reports halved on shifts when police wore cameras. In addition, the use of force during the entire treatment period (on shifts both using and not using cameras) was about half the rate as during pre-treatment periods. In other words, the camera wearing shifts appear to have caused police to change their behavior on all shifts in a way that reduced the use of force. A treatment that bleeds over to the control group is bad for experimental design but suggests that the effect was powerful in changing the norms of interaction. (By the way, the authors say that they can’t be certain whether the cameras primarily influenced the police or the citizens but the fact that the effect occurred even on non-camera shifts suggests that the effect is primarily driven by police behavior since the citizens would not have been particularly aware of the experiment, especially as there would have been relatively few repeat interactions for citizens.)

It is possible that the police shaded their reports down during the treatment period but complaints by citizens also fell dramatically during the treatment period from about 25-50 per year to just 3 per year.

Here’s a graph of use of force reports before and during the treatment period.

Police body cameras

US government to end seized-asset sharing with local police

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Washington Post, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich report on a very hopeful move by the federal government to end one of the programs that has fuelled police civil forfeiture efforts:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

H/T to Reason‘s Scott Shackford:

Big, huge news on the civil asset forfeiture front: Eric Holder is ordering an end to most of the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program. This is the program where the DOJ works with local law enforcement agencies for busts, and then the law enforcement agencies are permitted to keep 80 percent of the assets seized. It has been an incubator of the worst police abuses, as some agencies looked for any possible reason to take people’s property without ever actually accusing them with a crime.

Robby Soave says “Attorney General Eric Holder just made the best call of his political career” and lists just a few of the cases Reason has publicized over the years.

January 17, 2015

Still nothing to see here, folks, just move along now…

Filed under: Europe, Law, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren expresses his surprise at the news of police raids in Europe:

“Two die in Belgian anti-terror raid.” … The headline is from the BBC website, yesterday, but these keywords could be found in breaking-news headlines all across Europe. (I checked.)

Gentle reader must have been wondering, who is it this time? The Buddhists, perhaps? (Mahayana or Theravada?) Jains? Angry rampaging Hindu swamis? Prim Confucians? Taoist anarchists? What about the Zoroastrians, we haven’t heard from them in a while. But it might be the Lutherans, no? Or the Presbyterians? Pentecostals more likely, or Fundamentalist Christians from Allah-bama. Hey wait, Belgium used to be a Catholic country, perhaps they were Latin Mass traditionalists? SSPiXies? Dominican monks? Third Order Franciscans? On the other hand, Secular Humanists would be statistically more likely. Wiccans? Druids? Nudists? Maybe we should bet long-shot on Animists of some sort, from the former Belgian Congo. Or from New Guinea: could be, you never know these days.

Well, the answer caught everyone by surprise. Turned out they were Muslims.

As some wag in Washington recently responded, to another “religion of peace” muttering from on high: “How odd that so many are killing for it.”

A correspondent in Alexandria-by-Egypt reminds of Christians slaughtered and churches trashed in his town not so long ago, after rumours circulated that a Coptic priest had said, “Islam is a violent religion.” Turned out he hadn’t said that. But whatever it was, he won’t be saying it again.

The media have thoughtfully spared us from reports of demonstrations in the Muslim world in support of recent actions in Paris, which involved the “execution” of several French cartoonists who had drawn vile, blasphemous pictures of their Prophet Jesus, and his Mother Mary. Also, of the Prophet Muhammad. The media don’t want to abet prejudice against any particular religious community; and Islam is quite particular.

Pat Condell – Nothing to do with Islam

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Jan 2015

The death rattle of a dhimmi society.

January 15, 2015

Why the EFF can’t do an iPhone version of their mobile app

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s Corynne McSherry had to break the sad news to Apple iPhone users that due to Apple’s incredibly restrictive developer rules, the EFF cannot produce an iPhone version of their mobile app:

As we have been saying for years now, the [Apple] Developer Agreement is bad for developers and users alike. Here are a few of the terms that we are worried about:

Ban on Public Statements: Section 10.4 prohibits developers from making any “public statements” about the terms of the Agreement. This is particularly strange, since the Agreement itself is not “Apple Confidential Information” as defined in Section 10.1. So the terms are not confidential, but developers are contractually forbidden from speaking “publicly” about them.

Ban on Reverse Engineering: Section 2.6 prohibits any reverse engineering (including the kinds of reverse engineering for interoperability that courts have recognized as a fair use under copyright law), as well as anything that would “enable others” to reverse engineer, the software development kit (SDK) or iPhone OS.

App Store Only: Section 7.3 makes it clear that any applications developed using Apple’s SDK may only be publicly distributed through the App Store, and that Apple can reject an app for any reason, even if it meets all the formal requirements disclosed by Apple. So if you use the SDK and your app is rejected by Apple, you’re prohibited from distributing it through competing app stores like Cydia.

No Tinkering with Any Apple Products: Section 3.2(e) is the “ban on jailbreaking” provision that appears to prohibit developers from tinkering with any Apple software or technology, not just the iPhone, or “enabling others to do so.”

Apple Owns Your Security: Section 6.1 explains that Apple has to approve any bug fixes or security releases. If Apple does not approve such updates very quickly, this requirement could put many people in jeopardy.

Kill Your App Any Time: Section 8 makes it clear that Apple can “revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time.” Steve Jobs once confirmed that Apple can remotely disable apps, even after they have been installed by users. This contract provision would appear to allow that.

We have some other concerns as well, but these top the list.

January 14, 2015

British PM’s latest technological brain fart

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:43

Cory Doctorow explains why David Cameron’s proposals are not just dumb, but doubleplus-dumb:

What David Cameron thinks he’s saying is, “We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back-doors into their tools for us.” There are enormous problems with this: there’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your Whatsapp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (like those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the hacking scandal — and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years), and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They — and not just the security services — will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications. That includes things like the pictures of your kids in your bath that you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to your co-workers.

But this is just for starters. David Cameron doesn’t understand technology very well, so he doesn’t actually know what he’s asking for.

For David Cameron’s proposal to work, he will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of his jurisdiction. The very best in secure communications are already free/open source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available, and thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a very high degree of confidence, that the software you’ve downloaded hasn’t been tampered with.

[…]

This, then, is what David Cameron is proposing:

* All Britons’ communications must be easy for criminals, voyeurs and foreign spies to intercept

* Any firms within reach of the UK government must be banned from producing secure software

* All major code repositories, such as Github and Sourceforge, must be blocked

* Search engines must not answer queries about web-pages that carry secure software

* Virtually all academic security work in the UK must cease — security research must only take place in proprietary research environments where there is no onus to publish one’s findings, such as industry R&D and the security services

* All packets in and out of the country, and within the country, must be subject to Chinese-style deep-packet inspection and any packets that appear to originate from secure software must be dropped

* Existing walled gardens (like Ios and games consoles) must be ordered to ban their users from installing secure software

* Anyone visiting the country from abroad must have their smartphones held at the border until they leave

* Proprietary operating system vendors (Microsoft and Apple) must be ordered to redesign their operating systems as walled gardens that only allow users to run software from an app store, which will not sell or give secure software to Britons

* Free/open source operating systems — that power the energy, banking, ecommerce, and infrastructure sectors — must be banned outright

David Cameron will say that he doesn’t want to do any of this. He’ll say that he can implement weaker versions of it — say, only blocking some “notorious” sites that carry secure software. But anything less than the programme above will have no material effect on the ability of criminals to carry on perfectly secret conversations that “we cannot read”. If any commodity PC or jailbroken phone can run any of the world’s most popular communications applications, then “bad guys” will just use them. Jailbreaking an OS isn’t hard. Downloading an app isn’t hard. Stopping people from running code they want to run is — and what’s more, it puts the whole nation — individuals and industry — in terrible jeopardy.

January 13, 2015

The mess over the new copyright rules was avoidable

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:47

Michael Geist says that the fiasco with the new Canadian copyright notice scheme was not necessary and that the minister should have paid closer attention:

Last week I posted on how Rightscorp, a U.S.-based anti-piracy company, was using Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system to require Internet providers to send threats and misstatements of Canadian law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations. Many Canadians may be frightened into a settlement payment since they will be unaware that some of the legal information in the notice is inaccurate and that Rightscorp and BMG do not know who they are.

The revelations attracted considerable attention (I covered the issue in my weekly technology law column – Toronto Star version, homepage version), with NDP Industry Critic Peggy Nash calling on the government to close the loophole that permits false threats. Nash noted that “Canadians are receiving notices threatening them with fines thirty times higher than the law allows for allegedly downloading copyrighted material. The Conservatives are letting these companies send false legal information to Canadians in order to scare them into paying settlements for movies or music no one has even proved they’ve actually downloaded.”

With the notices escalating as a political issue, Jake Enright, Industry Minister James Moore’s spokesman, said on Friday the government would take action. Enright said that “these notices are misleading and companies cannot use them to demand money from Canadians”, adding that government officials would be contacting ISPs and rights holders to stop the practice.

The steady militarization of the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith discusses some of the ways the police have changed over the last few decades:

… being a police officer isn’t really all that dangerous — check the statistics, yourself. Being a fireman is more dangerous. Being a miner is more dangerous. Being a deep-sea salvage diver is hell of a lot more dangerous. Nor are these particularly dangerous times. When I was a young reserve officer in the wild and wooly early 1970s, more cops were injured or killed in California alone than in the entire nation now. That fact sparked many changes in policy, including choice of weapons, from revolver to semiautomatic, the design of holsters, and the angle at which the car should be parked during a routine traffic stop.

All that was in the 60s, and, for a while, the police did acquire a more human face. But then, something went wrong. Several things went really wrong, and it left us stuck in the mess we’re in today.

To begin with there were police unions and lawyers who rode along with them like pilot fish. RICO allowed them to loot the countryside freely. There is nothing in a free society that we could have done, or can, directly, about this. But it has come to mean that no officer will ever have to face the music for whatever criminal act he may have committed, unless he has political enemies somewhere inside the structure.

Second, there were matters of accoutrement. Mace and revolver speed-loaders were the big news of my time, rapidly followed by CS gas and semiautomatic pistols, mostly Glocks in .40 caliber, while four-shot pump shotguns evolved into eight-shooters on the dashboard. Wooden nightsticks became nylon PR-24s and engendered a whole new martial art. Finally there was Kevlar body armor, and the Taser. Ammunition changed, as well. The Blue Knight’s equippage was nearly complete.

All the while, the courts were depriving ordinary citizens of more and more rights and protections until the attacks on 9/11 swept what was left from the board. The police could now go anywhere, do anything — including locking people up on suspicion — without punishment for it.

At the same time, the cops have gone insane, shooting people’s dogs, smashing in, beating up, and murdering innocent individuals, including little old ladies, and their pet kittens without even having to apologize about it. I’d cite some typical examples, but they happen every day and you can find them all too easily for yourself. You can’t blame people for hating the police, they have good reason. I’ve deliberately avoided learning much about Ferguson — what little information I have would indicate that the cop behaved properly — but you can’t blame the public, The police have brought this on themselves.

January 12, 2015

If you’ve used the term “Streisand Effect”, you need to pay royalties now…

Filed under: Humour, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick isn’t asking for a lot, he just wants to ensure that his intellectual property is respected … in a way that ensures that his kids won’t starve in the street:

I have to admit that I had no idea that it had been 10 years since I coined the term “The Streisand Effect” until the SkepticHistory Twitter feed called my attention to it earlier this week. I had thought about saving this for the weekend “this week in history” post, but it seems worth delving into today — especially with folks like the thieves at Gawker Media putting up a whole story about it and stealing all the attention and whatnot.

So, yeah, ten years ago this week, I coined “the Streisand Effect,” which was actually on a story about how the Marco Beach Ocean Resort was all offended by the fact that Urinal.net (a site that, yes, still exists and is still being updated) had posted a photo of a urinal from the resort, and the resort insisted that it was illegal to use its name. As we pointed out, this stupid takedown request would only draw more attention, and then we wrote:

    How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don’t like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let’s call it the Streisand Effect.

That last link then went back to a 2003 story about how Barbra Streisand had sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for photographing her house from a helicopter. Adelman had been photographing the entire California coastline, hoping to use it to document coastal erosion, and posted all the photographs online. Streisand got upset that her coastal home was shown, and sued. But, of course, before this, no one knew (or cared) that it was Streisand’s home. The image had been viewed six times (including twice by Streisand’s lawyers), but following the news of the lawsuit, hundreds of thousands of people went to see the photo. It was a story that stuck with me, and seemed to be repeated every few months in some form or another. So when I saw that Urinal.net threat, I just jokingly said we should call such things “The Streisand Effect.”

The oldest game … as a video game

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Elizabeth Nolan Brown on an interesting video game in development:

First, choose your city: Toronto, Vancouver, or Montréal. Next, decide whether avatar Andrea (Andréa, if you chose Montreal) will work on the streets, in a massage parlor, or as an escort. Then try to get screwed literally without being figuratively fucked by the cops—an ultimately no-win situation when it comes to The Oldest Game. Developed by a team of Canadian academics, the project is meant to highlight how the country’s new prostitution law, C-36, makes life more difficult and dangerous for Canadian sex workers.

The law, which took effect in December 2014, “continues to criminalize various aspects of sex work, often removing safeguards and strategies that place sex workers in dangerous situation, placing at risk the very vulnerable people the bill ostensibly exists to protect,” note the game’s creators.

    Through various encounters with clients, colleagues and law enforcement in three difference Canadian cities, players will experience how the legislation changes the way sex workers live and work, and play through the additional challenges sex workers will face when trying to remain safe.

Sandra Gabriele, a Concordia communications professor and one of the project’s co-leads, is interested in using games as a form of journalism.

Published on 10 Dec 2014

On December 6th 2014 (the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada), Bill C-36 officially came into force. Replacing Canada’s previous laws on sex work, which were struck down as unconstitutional on On December 20th, 2013, the new bill have drawn a great deal of criticism for placing sex workers at even greater risk than they faced under the old legislation. The Oldest Game, a newsgame about sex work developed at Concordia University in Montreal QC, demonstrates how Bill C-36 will impact the lives of sex workers in Canada. Developed by Lisa Lynch, Sandra Gabriele, Amanda Feder, Martin Desrosiers, Stephanie Goddard, Ben Spencer, Esther Splett and Natalie Zina Walschots. Follow is on Twitter at @The OldestGame and visit our website, http://www.theoldestgame.com !

January 8, 2015

Copyright is to culture what salt is to snails

Filed under: Business, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mike Masnick included a fascinating chart in this story:

New books by decade at Amazon

What it shows is that while new books are available for sale, they quickly go out of print and are basically not available — until you get down to 1923, at which point the works are in the public domain. Think of all those works that are no longer available to buy in that major gap in the middle. Heald has since updated that research to show how serious a problem this is — and demonstrating how the arguments against letting these works into the public domain make no sense. He demolishes the arguments made by some that a public domain will be either “under” or “over” exploited (yes, both arguments are made), as neither makes much sense.

It appears that copyright is doing similar damage in Europe. At the latest Chaos Communications Congress in Germany, Julia Reda, the European Parliament member from the Pirate Party gave a talk on the state of copyright law today (you can see the video here and included a similar graphic concerning books available in Europe:

The 20th century black hole

January 7, 2015

Cory Doctorow on the dangers of legally restricting technologies

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Wired, Cory Doctorow explains why bad legal precedents from more than a decade ago are making us more vulnerable rather than safer:

We live in a world made of computers. Your car is a computer that drives down the freeway at 60 mph with you strapped inside. If you live or work in a modern building, computers regulate its temperature and respiration. And we’re not just putting our bodies inside computers — we’re also putting computers inside our bodies. I recently exchanged words in an airport lounge with a late arrival who wanted to use the sole electrical plug, which I had beat him to, fair and square. “I need to charge my laptop,” I said. “I need to charge my leg,” he said, rolling up his pants to show me his robotic prosthesis. I surrendered the plug.

You and I and everyone who grew up with earbuds? There’s a day in our future when we’ll have hearing aids, and chances are they won’t be retro-hipster beige transistorized analog devices: They’ll be computers in our heads.

And that’s why the current regulatory paradigm for computers, inherited from the 16-year-old stupidity that is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, needs to change. As things stand, the law requires that computing devices be designed to sometimes disobey their owners, so that their owners won’t do something undesirable. To make this work, we also have to criminalize anything that might help owners change their computers to let the machines do that supposedly undesirable thing.

This approach to controlling digital devices was annoying back in, say, 1995, when we got the DVD player that prevented us from skipping ads or playing an out-of-region disc. But it will be intolerable and deadly dangerous when our 3-D printers, self-driving cars, smart houses, and even parts of our bodies are designed with the same restrictions. Because those restrictions would change the fundamental nature of computers. Speaking in my capacity as a dystopian science fiction writer: This scares the hell out of me.

January 5, 2015

Britain’s social media police … are really the police

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Bloodworth on the attempt by British police forces to extend their role beyond actual crime prevention to virtual crime detection:

At some point saying “offensive” things online stopped being a social faux pas and became a potentially criminal act.

Dare to be rude about the wrong person or group and, in a bad parody of Erich Honecker’s East Germany, you could hear the knock on the door in the middle of the night and be dragged off to some dreary police cell for questioning.

I exaggerate of course, but not much: around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online, with around 20 people a day being looked into by the forces of the law, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The overused Orwellian cliché has finally become the reality: Big Brother in the form of an overzealous and under regulated police force really is watching you. As Police Scotland terrifyingly informed us this week, “Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media and any offensive comments will be investigated.”

January 4, 2015

The MPAA may have found the super-enforcement tool they think they need

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

Russell Brandom explains why a slight change of wording in a recent court case may have handed the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) exactly the kind of power they’ve been demanding to crack down on piracy and “infringement”:

Hollywood’s war on piracy has reached a strange impasse. While the MPAA and others have launched lawsuits against US-based infringers, reaching offshore torrent sites like Isohunt and The Pirate Bay is still a slow process, and whenever a site is taken down, others quickly pop up to fill its place. As a result, the MPAA has consistently pushed for the power to block infringing sites from the internet: first by pushing for new laws like SOPA in 2011, then through a series of novel legal tactics. The fight has pitted them against some of the most powerful companies on the web, and drawn them into a long, secret battle with Google.

But leaked documents show that Hollywood has a new secret weapon in the fight, a little-known legal venue that’s poised to take on new powers over the digital realm. It’s called the International Trade Commission, a quasi-judicial agency that regulates imported goods as they enter the country. Traditionally, that means physical goods — if you want to ship in a boatload of fake iPhones, the ITC is the agency that will stop you — but the ITC recently gave itself the power to rule on data as it crosses US borders, as a result of a complex 3D printing case. If the ruling holds, it could have huge implications for the way data moves across the global web, and give the MPAA the site-blocking powers it’s been grasping at for years.

The heart of the case is a company called ClearCorrect, which 3D prints clear plastic braces custom-designed for each patient’s teeth. Much of the technology involved in the process is already under patent, but ClearCorrect has gotten around those patents by farming out its intricate computer modeling to an office in Pakistan. That modeling violates a number of US patents — and if ClearCorrect were shipping back the resulting braces in a box, it would be a simple case: the goods would be contraband, to be stopped at the border. But instead, ClearCorrect is only transmitting digital models from Pakistan and printing out the braces in local offices in Texas. The only thing coming in from Pakistan is raw modeling data. So what’s a trade commission to do?

In April of last year, the ITC arrived at an answer with huge repercussions: stop the data at the border. The ITC is only supposed to rule on “articles,” which has usually been taken to mean physical goods, but last year’s ruling took it to include data too. That gives the ITC the power to stop ClearCorrect’s contraband braces data at the border, but it could have far greater implications. If a web service like Gmail or Facebook ends up on the wrong side of a patent dispute, the court could potentially forbid the service from transmitting data into the US until the dispute is resolved — making the cost of a losing a court battle astronomically higher. It would also require powerful new tools for monitoring data as it crosses national borders, a fundamental break from the international structure of the web. Aware of the huge issues at stake, the ITC stayed the ruling until the Federal Circuit weighs in later this year — but already, legal groups are reeling from the possible consequences.

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