Welcome to the December 12, 2014 Media Law Roundup — a survey of the week’s developing media news.
On December 9, 2014, Blackphone announced its plans to open an app store focused on user-privacy applications. Blackphone is a super-secure smartphone that was jointly developed by PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), Geeksphone (a Spanish smartphone company), and Silent Circle (an encrypted communications service) after the 2013 Edward Snowden disclosures. “Blackphone is a journey built upon privacy, control, and security, wrapped in a high-end smartphone built by a very innovative all-star team of cryptographers, security, and mobile innovators,” said Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke. The new Blackphone app store, Silent Space, features Silent Suite and other applications focused solely on privacy. This Blackphone update will also introduce “Spaces,” which will allow users to “create separate areas on the device for data.” To access Blackphone’s suite of privacy apps, one will need to own a Blackphone, the total value of which is over $1500.
The United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IBT) ruled on December 5, 2014 that the country’s mass surveillance laws do not violate human rights. The lawsuit against the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was brought by a collective group of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Privacy International, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The organizations argued that the surveillance program Tempora, the existence of which was revealed by Edward Snowden, monitored their communications and potentially shared the retrieved information with other intelligence agencies. The human rights groups decried these actions as being in defiance of UK legal system protections. The IBT concluded, however, that: “Save in one possible (and to date hypothetical) respect, we have ruled that the current regime, both in relation to Prism and Upstream…when conducted in accordance with the requirements which we have considered, is lawful and human rights compliant.” The IBT’s findings stood in stark contrast with those of the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, who released a 120-page report three days after the IBT ruling. “In connection with the debate on the practices of intelligence and security services prompted by Edward Snowden’s revelations,” writes Muižnieks, “it is becoming increasingly clear that secret, massive and indiscriminate surveillance programs are not in conformity with European human rights law and cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or other important threats to national security.”
File-sharing site The Pirate Bay was taken down on December 10, 2014 after a raid on its headquarters in Sweden. The raid came roughly a month after The Pirate Bay co-founder Hans Fredrik Lennart Neij, the final founder who remained outside of police custody, was arrested in Thailand. Paul Pintér, police national coordinator for IP enforcement, said that the takedown was “in connection with violations of copyright law.” Days before the raid took place, Google removed The Pirate Bay-related applications from its Google Play Store. On December 13, 2014, The Pirate Bay was resurrected by isoHunt, a competing torrent website. Though isoHunt describes its The Pirate Bay copy (dubbed The Old Pirate Bay) as an archive and search site, all links to old The Pirate Bay material are active, and new content is being added to the site. “We, the Isohunt.to team, copied the base of the PirateBay in order to save it to the generations of users. Nothing will be forgotten.”
Turkey Arrests Journalists
On December 14, 2014, the Turkish government arrested twenty-three journalists that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed were part of a coup plot. The raids took place across thirteen Turkish provinces and included a raid on the offices of Zaman, one of Turkey’s most popular newspapers. The arrest of Ekrem Dumanh, Zaman’s editor-in-chief, was broadcast live. President Erodogan announced the arrests as part of a crackdown against a supposed “parallel organization” run by former ally Fethullah Gülen. Television staff members and law enforcement officers were also among those arrested in the raids. The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on the day of the raids: “This is the day of the test. Everyone will be held accountable for what they have done, and for their attitude toward democracy in this country.” The European Union made its views known in a statement issued the same evening, saying, “The police raids and arrests of a number of journalists and media representatives in Turkey today are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy.” Turkey has been seeking accession to the European Union since 2005.
Yann LeCun, director of the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) lab, wants to create a Facebook digital assistant that would keep people from posting drunken photos on the social media site. LeCun explained that the digital assistant would scan uploaded photos and tell profile owners, “Uh, this is being posted publicly. Are you sure you want your boss and mother to see this?”. A researcher based at New York University, LeCun studies deep-learning in machines. LeCun’s long-term goal for the digital assistant is to “have a single point of contact to mediate your interaction but also to protect your private information.” The BBC’s report on Facebook’s digital assistant plans references the controversial nature of AI advancements, noting that privacy advocates will likely demand the services to be opt-in instead of default.
On December 11, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that warrantless searches of arrested suspects’ cell phones are constitutional, provided that certain guidelines are followed. The ruling passed by margin of 4-3, and stipulates that police must keep record of any searches made and that any searches must be “directly related to the circumstances of a person’s arrest.” The ruling was prompted by the case of one Kevin Fearon, whose conviction for armed robbery in 2008 was brought about due to incriminating evidence on his cell phone. Police found a photo of a gun, along with the phrase “we did it.”
Google News Is Leaving Spain
In November 2014, Spain passed amendments to its copyright law that would require publishers to charge Google for aggregating snippets of content. The amendments make the right to compensation inalienable, which means that publishers cannot negotiate with Google (and other aggregators) to waive fees. In response to these changes, Google announced on December 10, 2014 that it would be shuttering Google News in Spain on December 16, before the amendments come into effect in the new year. Google News does not show any advertising alongside its aggregated snippets, and the services generates no direct revenue. Richard Gingras, head of Google News, explained that paying fees to publishers for snippets is “simply not sustainable.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the amendments when they were first announced, saying that they would result in internet censorship. Now that Google News has announced its intention to leave Spain and remove Spanish publications from general Google search results, the Spanish Newspaper Publishers’ Association (AEDE) is calling on the government to help keep Google News in Spain. “Given the dominant position of Google (which in Spain controls almost all of the searches in the market and is an authentic gateway to the internet), AEDE requires the intervention of Spanish and community authorities, and competition authorities, to effectively protect the rights of citizens and companies.”
Drivers in Iowa will soon have the option to carry a virtual driver’s license via a smartphone application. The Iowa Department of Transportation announced on December 9, 2014, that it was in the process of developing a digital driver’s license. The optional digital license would come with a traditional driver’s license and could be used in place of the physical ID during traffic stops or other transactions. The digital license would also come with a rotating headshot that is being compared to the moving photographs in the Harry Potter films. “We’ve had a lot of interest in this,” said Iowa Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino. “It creates quite a buzz.” Trombino said that the digital driver’s license would come at no additional cost to the driver. CNET raised concerns over privacy surrounding the digital license, pointing out that once police are in possession of a phone, they may use the opportunity to see what other data is on your device. Andrea Henry, director of strategic communications for the Iowa DOT, acknowledge the privacy issue and stated that the department is discussing additional forms of technology to “reassure citizens,” such as a scanning device for officers or an app that would lock the phone outside of the license app.