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Tools for Civic Purposes

"Tools for Civic Purposes"

It's somewhat "old hat" to note that networked information technology creates tremendous potential for social and civic good. The corporate communications departments of leading technology companies roll out examples of this on a regular basis (I should know as I was part of these efforts...). What is interesting, though, is that the conversation of "technology for good" invariably uses the metaphor of "technology as tool" to make its case. To the extent there are more conversations about the socially beneficial uses of information technology, more conversations will displace the "cyberspace" metaphor to focus on networked information technology as tool.

Good Versus Bad Smart: Some Thoughts On Morozov's Op Ed

I have yet to sit down and read Evgeny Morozov’s new book, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism.  I certainly found his last book very thought provoking.  But I did get a chance to read an op ed Morozov recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal with the provocative title “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?”  The piece draws a distinction between mobile and other devices that are “good smart” and ones that are “bad smart.”  Good smart devices “leave us in complete control of the situation and seek to enhance our decision-making by providing more information.”  Morozov offers the example of a teapot that relays the state of the energy grid.  Whereas bad smart ones “make certain choices and behaviors impossible,” a theme Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, and others famously develop under the rubric of "code."

Innovation or Exploitation Wrap Up

Thanks to our speakers and everyone who came out last night for the Innovation or Exploitation event, highlighting problems the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) poses for security research, innovation, tinkering, academic research and libraries.  I learned a lot, including that much of what librarians do today -- like making court records and academic articles widely available and cataloging books -- requires "scraping" and da

Petition to Free the Cell Phone: Now is the Time

The Librarian of Congress recently decided in their triennial DMCA exemption rule-making process to remove the existing exemption that allowed individuals to unlock their own mobile phones to use on the compatible network of their choice. As a result of this decision, individuals no longer have clear immunity to unlock new phones - thereby putting them in potential legal jeopardy.

Why Breach of Contract Should Never Be A Crime

In the face of efforts to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), some buinesses have told lawmakers that the CFAA should be used to punish breach of contract where the breacher acted "for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain".  Such a proposal does not fix the ability of prosecutors to go after people for disregarding terms of service. 

Worse, the idea is unprecedented, dangerous and unacceptable.

To Code, Nudge, Or Notice, That Is The Question

I wrote a new essay entitled “Code, Nudge, or Notice?” that might interest CIS readers.  The essay compares side-by-side three ways that the government tries to influence citizen behavior short of making it illegal.  It uses contemporary examples, like the graphic warnings the FDA wants to put on cigarettes, to make the point that it sometimes hard to sort regulations into neat categories like “architecture,” “libertarian paternalism,” or “mandatory disclosure” (code, nudge, or notice).  Instead, I argue that regulators should focus on the more fundamental difference between helping people and hindering them.   Along the way, I make the point that all of forensics may be a kind of “code” that turns an ordinary location into a crime scene—sort of like putting a traffic camera up at an intersection only after someone runs the red light.  Thoughts warmly welcome.  Here is the abstract:

Trolls and Tribulations

Patent trolls — companies that assert patents as a business model instead of creating products — have been in the news lately. This is hardly surprising, given that troll lawsuits now make up the majority of new patent cases. And the litigation is only the tip of the iceberg: patent trolls send out hundreds of demand letters for each suit filed in court. At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we have been following this issue closely and are working hard to bring reform to fix the patent mess.

Have You Committed the Crime of Outsmarting?

The Hacker Manifesto lauds the world of the electron and the switch, where the talented are treated equally and the values of curiosity and exploration reign supreme. Yet studying computers, network security, and programming flaws can be a crime or civil offense. Just two examples: In Sony v. Hotz (2011), a case that eventually settled, Sony claimed that researchers who studied the way their own game consoles worked violated the CFAA.

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