Australian government shelves metadata collection plan

The government has shelved a controversial plan to force Australian telecommunications companies, internet service providers and sites such as Facebook to collect metadata from Australian users and store it for two years.

The government had run out of time to push the plan through before the election, but, after a powerful parliamentary committee raised concerns about it, the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, confirmed more work was needed.

The government will not pursue a mandatory data retention regime at this time and will await further advice from the departments and relevant agencies and comprehensive consultation, he said in a statement.

As international debate rages about revelations in the Guardian regarding access by US and UK security agencies to the metadata of internet users, the joint intelligence and security committee report has urged any Australian government to exercise caution about plans to force metadata retention for potential use by security agencies — via

Edward Snowden Charged With Espionage By US Government

This isn’t a huge surprise, but the Washington Post is reporting that US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden charging him with espionage under the Espionage Act, along with theft and conversion of government property — and have asked Hong Kong authorities to detain him. Just this morning, we were discussing the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, prosecuting six different whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, twice the number of all other presidential administrations combined. Now we’re up to number seven apparently. Update: The complaint has been unsealed.

Did Snowden break the law? Possibly — but charging him with espionage is ridiculous, just as it has been ridiculous in many of these cases. Snowden wasn’t doing this to “aid the enemy” but to alert the American public to the things that the administration itself had been publicly misleading to downright untruthful about. His actions have kicked off an important discussion and debate over surveillance society and how far it has gone today. That’s not espionage. If he was doing espionage, he would have sold those secrets off to a foreign power and lived a nice life somewhere else. To charge him with espionage is insane — via

NSA can retain encrypted communications of Americans possibly indefinitely

The US National Security Agency (NSA) can retain communications of US citizens or residents potentially indefinitely if those communications are encrypted, according to a newly leaked secret government document.

The document describes the procedures used by the NSA to minimize data collection from US persons and is one of two documents published Thursday by UK-based newspaper The Guardian. The documents date from July 2009, were signed by US Attorney General Eric Holder and were approved by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the newspaper reported.

The documents state that the NSA is not allowed to intentionally target persons known to be located in the US, but describe several provisions under which the agency is allowed to retain, or share with other US agencies, communications of US persons that were acquired inadvertently. These include cases when the data is likely to contain foreign intelligence, information on criminal activity or is encrypted.

According to the document describing data collection minimisation procedures, foreign communications between a US person and a party located outside of the US that was collected during data acquisitions authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) can be retained for cryptanalytic, traffic analysis, or signal exploitation purposes.

The retention of such communications is permitted for a period sufficient to allow a thorough exploitation and to permit access to data reasonably believed to be or become relevant to current or future foreign intelligence requirements — via

GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world’s communications

Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.

The existence of the programme has been disclosed in documents shown to the Guardian by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his attempt to expose what he has called the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history.

It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight, Snowden told the Guardian. They [GCHQ] are worse than the US — via

Qantas toolbar to monitor your web activity

Qantas wants frequent flyers to install a toolbar on their web browser that records their internet searches and web browsing activity for marketing targeted and relevant products, services and offers.

The airline joins Flybuys, which launched a similar toolbar in November.

Flybuys’ policy states it does not collect search data about its users. But the policy of its partner, FreeCause, says it does collect the data — via

16 women freed in African baby factory

Nigerian police have raided a home and freed 16 pregnant young women who were allegedly being forced to have babies to be offered for sale for trafficking or other purposes, police say.

The expectant mothers were aged between 17 and 37.

Abia state police spokesman Geofrey Ogbonna told AFP the raid in the southern city of Aba was carried out on Tuesday and the proprietor, Hyacinth Ndudim Orikara, had been arrested.

The suspect is a serial human trafficker. He claims to be a medical doctor. I could recall that the same man was arrested in May 2011 and 32 teenage girls were rescued from his home, he said.

He said the girls confessed that they had been offered to sell their babies for between 25,000 and 30,000 naira (around $A216), depending on the sex of the baby — via

Law Change Allows Pets In NSW Apartments

Pet-owning apartment and townhouse residents will no longer be faced with choosing between their furry friends and their homes when new strata laws come into effect.

The NSW Fair Trading Minister, Anthony Roberts, confirmed in Parliament this week that default strata bylaws will be changed so that pets will be allowed, subject to reasonable approvals and conditions set by executive committees.

At present in NSW the model bylaws say pets are banned unless there is written approval, so this is a subtle but significant change in emphasis.

However, the model bylaws can be altered once a new building or townhouse complex has accepted them, and most do. It takes a 75 per cent vote of owners to change them — via

Google Opposes Russia’s SOPA as Blocking Legislation Passes First Hurdle

Russia has long struggled with its reputation as being soft on piracy.

Unauthorised websites offering all types of media are perceived as operating with impunity which has led to the country being chastised by foreign rights holders, particularly those from the United States.

In response, Russia has delivered a draft bill detailing the most draconian anti-piracy legislation seen since the demise of the Stop Online Piracy Act. The proposed law is so tough it’s no surprise that critics are labelling it Russia’s SOPA.

One of the main concerns is how the law places site owners in a vulnerable position should copyright-infringing material be found on their services.

The draft envisions copyright holders filing lawsuits against sites carrying infringing content. Site owners are then expected to remove unauthorised content or links to the same within 72 hours. Failure to do so would result in the entire site being blocked by Internet service providers pending the outcome of a court hearing — via

Australia gets deluge of data from PRISM, claims Fairfax

For those of you wondering just how much access the Australian Government has access to from the US Government’s controversial PRISM spying program (you know, the one which allows the National Security Agency access into the servers of US-based technology giants such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and so on)? Wonder no more. According to The Age, it’s bucketloads — enough that the Government has had to build a new data centre to contain it. The newspaper reports:

Australian intelligence agencies are receiving huge volumes of immensely valuable information from the United States including through the controversial PRISM program, Fairfax Media can reveal. The data deluge has required the Australian government to build a state-of-the-art secret data storage facility just outside Canberra.

The news has prompted Greens Communications Spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, to accuse the Australian Government of being actively complicit in the US surveillance of Australian citizens through their own email and social network accounts. Ludlam tells us in a media release issued late last night:

The Australian Government has denied any knowledge of the NSA’s widespread online surveillance of people around the world since it was revealed by Edward Snowden. It is now clear that the ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ routine is a sham, Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said. The Australian Government was aware of the spying, and collaborating to circumvent due process through receipt of vast amounts of surveillance material from the United States.

Next week I will move an Order for the production of documents in the Senate to finally get some disclosure from our Government. This will be a test for the opposition as well; it is essential they support this motion. On 7 June I put a series of questions to the Attorney General on Australian involvement in PRISM.

While the National Security Inquiry looks at the Government’s proposed data retention scheme, the Government is already up to its neck in spying on the communications of law-abiding Australian citizens. Next week I am introducing a Bill into the Senate to strengthen regulation of data collection on Australians, returning normal warrant procedures to law enforcement agencies accessing peoples’ private communications data.

But while the Greens fight hard to defend people’s privacy and civil liberties from increasingly audacious Australian Government agencies, the Government leaves the nation wide open to spying by the United States. The Government must reveal the extent of its complicity in this unprecedented intrusion

— via

Attorney-General rejects metadata warrants

Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has made the extraordinary declaration that Australian law enforcement in Australia would grind to a halt if police officers and other law enforcement agents were forced to apply for a warrant every time they wanted to access Australians’ telecommunications data.

Last week Budget Estimates hearing sessions conducted in Canberra heard that the Australian Federal Police had made 43,362 internal requests for so-called metadata (data pertaining to the numbers, email addresses time, length and date involved in phone calls or emails, but not the content) over the past financial year. No warrant is required for these requests.

The revelations, combined with historical data tracking law enforcement and other Federal Government agency use of metadata without warrants and the revelations over the past week thatthe US-based National Security Agency has gained backdoor access into the data servers of major technology companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, has spurred calls by Australian political groups for a ban on warrant-less interception of Australian telecommunications data.

For example, the Australian Greens this week noted that it would next week introduce legislation to strengthen regulation of data collection on Australians, returning “normal warrant procedures” to law enforcement agencies accessing peoples’ private data.

This is the first step to winding back the kind of surveillance overreach revealed by the PRISM whistleblower, Greens communications spokesperson and Senator Scott Ludlam said in a statement. Law enforcement agencies – not including ASIO — made 293,501 requests for telecommunications data in 2011-12, without a warrant or any judicial oversight. Under the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act, that’s entirely legal.

Vast amounts of private data are being accessed — including the precise location of everyone who carries a smartphone — without any recourse to the courts.  A law enforcement agency simply fills out a very basic form. My bill will return to the system where they will need a warrant — via

UK ISPs Secretly Start Blocking Torrent Site Proxies

Following High Court orders, six UK ISPs are required to block subscriber access to several of the world’s largest torrent sites.

The blocking orders are intended to deter online piracy and were requested by the music industry group BPI on behalf of a variety of major labels. Thus far they’ve managed to block access to The Pirate Bay,, H33T and Fenopy, and preparations are being made to add many others.

The effectiveness of these initial measures has been called into doubt, as they are relatively easy to bypass. For example, in response to the blockades hundreds of proxy sites popped up, allowing subscribers to reach the prohibited sites via a detour.

However, as of this week these proxies are also covered by the same blocklist they aim to circumvent, without a new court ruling — via

Revealed: internet surveillance rates

Federal police are obtaining Australians’ phone and internet records without warrants nearly 1000 times a week, it has emerged as controversy rages over a vast US surveillance program.

Revelations in a recent Senate estimates hearing include efforts by the Australian Federal Police to access Facebook and Google data of the kind gathered under the US National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.

The revelations draw Australia into the furious global debate about secret surveillance, which has erupted since US whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked sensitive details of the NSA’s spying program — via

Former US Prosecutor Sues Obama and NSA over PRISM Scandal

Over the past days the PRISM scandal has dominated the news. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald pushed out leak after leak, revealing how millions of people around the world are being monitored by US intelligence agencies.

The revelations turned online privacy into a worldwide mainstream discussion. Privacy activists shouted we told you so, Orwell quotes were rife, and Kim Dotcom warmed up the public for his PRISM-proof email service.

Following the leaks the NSA and the US Government have been heavily criticized for their disregard of people’s privacy, and perhaps not totally unexpectedly this weekend the first legal action was filed.

TorrentFreak just obtained a copy of a complaint submitted at a federal court in Columbia, targeting President Obama, the NSA, Eric Holder and Verizon who all played a role in the mass surveillance scheme.

The class action lawsuit was filed by Larry Klayman, a former US prosecutor under the Reagan administration, together with the parents of the killed Navy SEAL Team VI member Michael Strange.

The plaintiffs accuse the PRISM participants of violating their constitutional rights, reasonable expectation of privacy, free speech and association, right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, among other illegal and criminal acts. Both Klayman and the Navy Seal parents demand compensation for the damage they suffered — via

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong, he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations — the NSA — via

Boundless Informant: the NSA’s secret tool to track global surveillance data

The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.

The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA data mining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.

The focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorising the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, What type of coverage do we have on country X in near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure — via

Tech giants condemn US spying program PRISM, deny giving authorities back door

Some of the world’s biggest internet giants have condemned online spying and the PRISM surveillance program run by the US’s National Security Agency (NSA).

This week, The Guardian newspaper revealed details of the PRISM program, while The Washingston Post claimed federal authorities have access to the central servers of many technology companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, AOL, Skype (Microsoft), PalTalk and YouTube (Google).

In a number of similarly worded statements the technology companies responded denying US government agencies had direct access to its servers and data.

The bosses of Google and Facebook denied having ever heard of the PRISM program before the Washington Post report — via

US secretly tapping into web giants’ servers: report

US intelligence agencies are accessing the servers of nine Internet giants as part of a secret data mining program likely to fuel fresh debate about government surveillance, it was reported Thursday.

The Washington Post reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI had direct access to servers which allowed them to track an individual’s web presence via audio, video, photographs, emails and connection logs.

Some of the biggest firms in Silicon Valley were involved in the program, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple, PalTalk, AOL, Skype and YouTube, reports said.

The newspaper cited details of a briefing on the top secret program — known as PRISM — intended for analysts at the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate in April — via

Australia’s de-facto Internet filter may block 250k sites

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), has told a hearing of the Australian Parliament’s Senate Estimates committee that its attempt to block access to the IP address of one investment scam site could have blocked 250,000 sites in total.

In its opening statement to the committee (Crikey has a copy here), ASIC said that in addition to the blocking of an IP address that took out 1,200 sites hosted at the same address, a similar request in March blocked 250,000 sites. In its defence, the commission said most of the URLs hosted at the target IP appear to contain no substantive content and that fewer than 1,000 active sites had been affected (El Reg presumes that the remaining 249,000 were parked domains) — via

Australia, your lack of cyber transparency disturbs me

Australia’s security agencies are amongst the most secretive on the planet, far more so than their counterparts in the US and UK.

Why is this?

Four Corners journalist Andrew Fowler was told that it’s down to Australia’s junior relationship with its historical allies, the UK and then the US.

“We, the Australians, look after other people’s secrets, and so we have to prove we are more able to look after their secrets than anybody else … It’s a way of explaining in some way this rather, I suppose you could say, closed shop,” he told the BCC World Service program World Have Your Say (MP3).

Whether the explanation Fowler was given is true or not, this culture of extreme secrecy leads to an information vacuum.

Is China trying to hack Australian government agencies? Yes, of course. Everyone is hacking everyone else. That’s how espionage is done these days. But how successful were they? Who knows. Does the government have a valid case for more surveillance? Again, who knows.

Without hard facts, critics and supporters alike are free to assume the worst — either that incompetent security services are riddled with hacks while pursuing a massive power grab, or that Chinese hackers will bring the country to its knees unless we immediately lock down the internet and log everything. The truth is presumably somewhere in the middle, but without facts, a nuanced debate is impossible.

And without facts, we’re free to judge the government’s credibility by the hand-waving cyber language they use. I’ve already given my opinion on all this cybering and the cyberthreat beat-up, but things reached a new low this week with the coining of cybercrisis.

While the government continues to play secret squirrel, the infosec industry is getting into transparency — via

Singapore imposes stricter regulation on news websites

News websites reporting on Singapore will be operating under individual licences from the first of June.

The government Media Development Authority (MDA) says the new scheme will place such news sites on what’s termed a more consistent regulatory framework.

The licence requires online news sites to remove disapproved-of content within 24 hours of notification.

If in breach, the news sites risk losing a $AU40,000 bond — via

Legal recognition for those who don’t identify as either M or F

People who do not identify as male or female have achieved formal legal recognition in Australia for the first time, after the NSW Court of Appeal overturned a ruling that everyone must be listed as a man or a woman with the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages.

In a landmark decision with major implications for thousands of intersex, androgynous and neuter people across the country, the court on Friday upheld an appeal by Sydney activist Norrie against a decision by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal that people must be officially registered as M or F — via

National security matter: Third agency caught unilaterally blocking web sites

The Federal Government has acknowledged that a third agency, beyond ASIC and the Australian Federal Police, has been using the Telecommunications Act to unilaterally block certain websites, with bureaucrats refusing to disclose which agency was involved, apart from stating that the issue was a national security matter.

In Budget Estimates hearings last night in Canberra, broadband department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi revealed under questioning by Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam that a third agency, “in the Attorney-General’s portfolio” was also using the notices to order websites blocked.

However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy interjected in the questioning and refused to answer further questions about which specific agency or department was involved, requesting that Ludlam pose his questions on the issue to the Attorney-General’s Department directly.

In a separate hearing this morning, Ludlam posed similar questions to the AFP about the issue, at a hearing attended by bureaucrats from the Attorney-General’s Department, such as departmental secretary Roger Wilkins. There’s one other agency also using it, Ludlam said. The full video is available online. Could someone at the table illuminate me as to who that is?

Wilkins replied: We don’t comment on national security matters, Senator. Ludlam replied that he hadn’t asked whether the website blocking was a national security matter. It is a national security matter; we’re not commenting on it, Wilkins added.

The comment is likely to raise fears that spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was the agency involved in the blocking activity, as it falls under the purview of the Attorney-General’s Department. However there are also a large number of other agencies under that portfolio; listed here on the website of the department — via

Australia’s de-facto net filter has zero regulation

A couple of weeks back, Australia’s Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) made a mistake: by trying to take down a Website promoting an investment scam, it accidentally blocked 1,200 sites using the same IP address as the scammer.

ASIC was able to attempt the take down thanks to a Section 313 Notice, a legislative instrument that instructs telcos and ISPs to block sites that break Australian laws.

It has now emerged that there is little or no oversight or transparency in how such notices are issued, who’s allowed to request one or when they’re permitted to make such requests. That means, as a Senate Estimates hearing was told, that nobody really knows exactly how many agencies might have the right to use the notices to, as Greens Senator Scott Ludlam put it, knock a site off the Internet.

A Section 313 notice refers to this section of the Telecommunications Act. The act requires carriers to try and prevent their networks being used to commit offenses, and requires them to assist an undefined list of officers and authorities of the Commonwealth, states and territories in preventing crimes using their networks.

Unfortunately, when the legislation was framed, the legislators had in mind telephones and fax machines, not the Internet. Its application to the Internet was the brainchild of Senator Stephen Conroy, as a way to implement the Interpol worst of the worst Internet blacklist (which mainly concerns child pornography) without having to pass new legislation — via

Contributor Sues Newsvine For Failing To Share Ad Revenue

A Web user who contributed to’s citizen journalism site Newsvine has sued the company for allegedly depriving her of money she earned through a revenue share program.

Kathleen Wilkes of Wisconsin says in her lawsuit that she earned around $180 from Newsvine’s prior business model, which paid users 90% of ad revenue associated with material they posted to the site. Wilkes says she requested payment in February, but that the company refused to pay her.

Newsvine quietly revised its revenue-sharing program late last year, and as part of that shift, required contributors to claim any proceeds they were owed by the end of the year, Wilkes alleges. Newsvine informed users about the change by posting an article to its home page, according to the complaint.

But Wilkes says that like many other users, she never saw that article, which ran in November and carried the headline Newsvine Now Supports Google AdSense. She also says the company buried the most critical information at the end of the article. The last two sentences of the article said that November was the last month that users would receive 90% of ad revenue. Newsviners must cash out — or donate — their earnings Monday, December 31st, the article ended — via

PETA Rattles Its Sabres

PETA has filed a petition in NY Superior Court demanding that the Huffington Post release names of anonymous commenters to an article I wrote about their killing, an article that has already received nearly a quarter of a million likes, has been shared roughly 85,000 times and has generated 5,000 comments.

I believe the purpose is to intimidate critics into silence. This is not the first time PETA has tried to do so. Many animal lovers who have publicly condemned PETA for their killing have received a letter from the PETA legal department. However, because a lawsuit would, among other things, allow for: subpoenas of PETA employees past and present; information as to where the PETA mobile van picked up animals, who it picked them up from, what they were told, who put them to death, when they were put to death, and where the bodies were discarded; the names of people and groups they’ve acquired animals from and what was said or not said to them; as well as records for all animals taken in and killed; and because a lawsuit would open PETA up to a counter-claim for chilling speech—a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation designed to silence, intimidate, or punish those who use public forums to right some wrong — I believe it is unlikely that PETA would ever follow-through with these threats — via

IRS sued for seizing 60 million medical records

A healthcare provider has sued the Internal Revenue Service and 15 of its agents, charging they wrongfully seized 60 million medical records from 10 million Americans.

The name of the provider is not yet known, United Press International said. But Courthouse News Service said the suit claims the agency violated the Fourth Amendment in 2011, when agents executed a search warrant for financial data on one employee — and that led to the seizure of information on 10 million, including state judges.

The search warrant did not specify that the IRS could take medical information, UPI said. And information technology officials warned the IRS about the potential to violate medical privacy laws before agents executed the warrant, the complaint said, as reported by UPI.

Despite knowing that these medical records were not within the scope of the warrant, defendants threatened to ‘rip’ the servers containing the medical data out of the building if IT personnel would not voluntarily hand them over, the complaint states, UPI reported.

The suit also says IRS agents seized workers’ phones and telephone data — more violations of the warrant, UPI reported — via

Lesbian bed ban sparks threats and abuse

The owners of a guesthouse who refused to let a lesbian couple share a bed are standing firm despite threats.

Karen and Michael Ruskin, of Pilgrim Planet Lodge, in central Whangarei, say they have received death threats and verbal abuse over their stance on homosexuality.

But they say they will not have their beliefs silenced, even if it puts their business at risk.

Lesbian couple Jane Collison, 30, and Paula Knight, 45, decided not to stay at the lodge on May 7 after being told they could only have a room with single beds.

They had booked online a room with a king-sized bed but Mrs Ruskin said that when the couple arrived they were told the lodge’s policy was for same-sex couples to be put into a room with two king-single beds.

The engaged couple decided not to stay but could not find other accommodation until they got to Waipu.

Mrs Ruskin said she was sorry for the couple’s inconvenience but was standing firm on her morals and the sanctity of her home — via

Teenage chemistry enthusiast won’t be charged with felony, will go to space camp

Kiera Wilmot — the Florida 16-year-old who created a small explosion just outside her school before classes started by mixing cleaning solution and tin foil (she was just curious, nobody was harmed) — will not be charged with a felony, after all. Florida State Attorneys dropped the charges against Wilmot yesterday. After her case garnered national attention, she ended up with a lawyer who has defended her mostly for free. There’s no word yet on whether she’ll be allowed to return to the school that expelled her and pressed charges in the first place.

In the meantime, the Internet has created a nice happy ending here. Homer Hickam — the writer and former NASA engineer whose memoir is the basis of the movie October Sky — started a Crowdtilt campaign to send Wilmot and her twin sister Kayla to the Advanced Space Academy program at the US Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The cost of space camp can run upwards of $1200. Hickam paid for Kiera Wilmot to go and the Crowdtilt campaign raised the other $1200 for her sister, plus extra money for their travel expenses. The campaign hit its $2500 goal in just two days and is now up to $2920. Hickam says the extra money is going to the girls’ mother — via

Reckless Oz regulator runs roughshod over rights

…if Section 313 sounds wide ranging, that’s because it is, and its use by ASIC is rather different.

ASIC has warned consumers about the activities of a cold-calling investment scam using the name ‘Global Capital Wealth’ … The scammers offer consumers opportunities to invest in a managed share trading fund, it wrote in a media release dated 22 March.

The scammers operate websites at and, which purport to provide share trading services. ASIC has already blocked access to these websites.

ASIC’s concern is that the scammers, via their websites, promotional material, and cold calling, appear to be fraudulently using the Australian business number (ABN), Australian company number (ACN), and Australian financial services (AFS) licence number of Global Capital Resources Pty Ltd, a licensed financial services business with no connections to Global Capital Wealth.

Life and limb are not under threat here, nor are young children being abused. The only risk is about money — and, even then, the only people at risk are those too greedy or too stupid to realise that the deals being offered are too good to be true. That’s quite a bit of scope creep — especially since ASIC only has concern about what the sites appear to do.

ASIC made the mistake of requesting that access be blocked to the sites’ internet protocol (IP) address. More than 1,200 other sites used the same address — a common situation with commodity-grade shared internet hosting. That ASIC didn’t know this demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of how the internet works. It’s like putting road blocks around an entire suburb because one shop is selling dodgy merchandise. And the problem was compounded by not providing an explanatory web page — via

Interpol filter scope creep: ASIC ordering unilateral website blocks

The Federal Government has confirmed its financial regulator has started requiring Australian Internet service providers to block websites suspected of providing fraudulent financial opportunities, in a move which appears to also open the door for other government agencies to unilaterally block sites they deem questionable in their own portfolios.

The news came tonight in a statement issued by the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, following a controversial event in April which saw some 1,200 websites wrongfully blocked by several of Australia’s major Internet service providers.

On 12 April, Melbourne publication the Melbourne Times Weekly reported that more than 1,200 websites, including one belonging to independent learning organisation Melbourne Free University, might have been blocked by the Australian Government. At the time, Melbourne Free University was reportedly told by its ISP, Exetel, that the IP address hosting its website had been blocked by Australian authorities. The block lasted from 4 April until 12 April.

Subsequently, the US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a media release linking the issue to the Labor Federal Government’s various Internet filtering initiatives, especially the voluntary filtering scheme currently implemented by a number of major ISPs including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — via

Amazon staff go on strike in Germany

Amazon employees in Germany have staged their first ever strikes, in a dispute over pay and benefits with the vast US online retailer.

Employees at two huge distribution warehouses, in Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig, launched the one-day strike, the giant services sector union Ver.di said.

Ver.di is demanding that Amazon’s 9,000 workers in Germany be paid according to a wage deal in place for the retail and mail-order industries. The head of Amazon Germany, Ralf Kleber, rejected these demands, arguing that the retailer’s staff were working in the logistics business, packing and dispatching parcels, rather than in the retail and mail-order sector.

Bad Hersfeld has a workforce of more than 3,000, while the Leipzig site employs around 2,000 people.

Amazon says it pays an hourly wage of €9.30 (£8) to employees in their first year, rising to €10 after that. Ver.di is demanding the minimum hourly retail wage of €10.66 for Leipzig; in Bad Hersfeld, the union wants staff to be paid the agreed sector rate, of just over €12 per hour, compared with the €9.83 Amazon currently offers — via

Jail Terms For Unlocking Cellphones Shows The True Black Heart Of The Copyright Monopoly

There is a weak copyright monopoly reform bill happening in the United States Congress at the moment.

This bill is not about the copyright monopoly at all, and at the same time, about everything that the monopoly actually is. It is the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013.

The bill, which was presented to the US Congress three days ago, makes it legal to unlock devices such as phones that you own, and do what you like with them. Let’s take that again, because it is jaw-dropping: the bill reforms the copyright monopoly to make it legal to tinker with objects that you own. It has nothing to do with BitTorrent, MKVs, streaming, or what we normally associate with the activity of sharing culture outside of the copyright monopoly distributions.

The bill is about your ability to take your phone to a different wireless operator. Your own phone, that you bought and paid for. Your legal ability to bring your own property wherever you like, without breaching criminal law and risking jail. How on Odin’s green Earth did this come to have to do with the copyright monopoly?

Few contemporary discussions put the spotlight like this one on how the copyright monopoly is not about rewarding artists, but is a political war on property — on our ability to own the things we paid for. (I won’t say bought, as that implies we actually own them.) The copyright monopoly is dividing the population into a corporate class who gets to control what objects may be used for what purpose, and a subservient consumer class that don’t get to buy or own anything — they just get to think they own things that can only be used in a predefined way, for a steep, monopolised, fixed price, or risk having the police sent after them — via

Worst File-Sharing Pirates Spend 300% More on Content Than Honest Consumers

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has just published a study into the state of online copyright infringement in the UK, with some very interesting conclusions. The researchers found that 10% of the country’;s most prolific infringers are responsible for almost 80% of all infringements carried out online, but with a bonus. These plus an additional 10% of infringers spend 300% more than ‘honest’ consumers who don’t infringe copyright at all — via

Game of Thrones Controversy Ambassador Was Copyright Lawyer

During the past few weeks the US Ambassador to Australia has courted controversy with his opinions of those who download Game of Thrones without paying. Now it’s been revealed that he has more than just a passing interesting in copyright infringement.

Last month US Ambassador Jeffrey L Bleich kicked up a storm when he jumped aboard the Game of Thrones downloading controversy. He singled-out citizens in Australia and appealed to them to stop stealing the show.

Then just a few days later Bleich was back, responding to criticisms from people who felt that an ambassador should have better things to do than worry about a bit of downloading.

Actually, given the overwhelming response to the topic, maybe I haven’t talked about internet piracy enough, he said at the start of a second lengthy Facebook posting on the issue.

Now, thanks to, we have a clearer idea why Bleich might have such a keen interest in the issue of illegal downloading — via

Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government?

The real capabilities and behaviour of the US surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the US government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. But a seemingly spontaneous admission this week by a former FBI counter-terrorism agent provides a rather startling acknowledgement of just how vast and invasive these surveillance activities are.

Over the past couple days, cable news tabloid shows such as CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett have been excitingly focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As part of their relentless stream of leaks uncritically disseminated by our Adversarial Press Corps, anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way.

On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

CLEMENTE: No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

BURNETT: So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

CLEMENTE: No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.

All of that stuff — meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant — is being captured as we speak — via

Anti-Abuse Ad Uses Lenticular Printing to Show Alternate Photo to Kids

This is a clever awareness campaign by the Mexican organisation Save the Children, which showed the cycle of abuse through powerful, hard-to-stomach photos of children growing into future abusers. The ads were meant to illustrate the statistic that 70 percent of abused children turn into abusing adults.

Spanish organisation the ANAR Foundation (Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk) recently released a campaign that makes similarly powerful use of photography, only they’re taking advantage of the process of lenticular printing to send an offer of help to abused children without alerting their abusers, even if they’re walking together — via

UK.Gov passes Instagram Act: All your pics belong to everyone now

Have you ever uploaded a photo to Facebook, Instagram or Flickr?

If so, you’ll probably want to read this, because the rules on who can exploit your work have now changed radically, overnight.

Amateur and professional illustrators and photographers alike will find themselves ensnared by the changes, the result of lobbying by Silicon Valley and radical bureaucrats and academics. The changes are enacted in the sprawling Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which received Royal Assent last week, and it marks a huge shift in power away from citizens and towards large US corporations.

How so? Previously, and in most of the world today, ownership of your creation is automatic, and legally considered to be an individual’s property. That’s enshrined in the Berne Convention and other international treaties, where it’s considered to be a basic human right. What this means in practice is that you can go after somebody who exploits it without your permission – even if pursuing them is cumbersome and expensive.

The UK coalition government’s new law reverses this human right. When last year Instagram attempted to do something similar, it met a furious backlash. But the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act has sailed through without most amateurs or semi-professionals even realising the consequences — via

Mozilla: government spyware disguising itself as Firefox

Mozilla has called on a commercial spyware company to stop masquerading as its Firefox browser to avoid detection on people’s computers.

The action comes after a report from human rights group Citizen Lab claimed that Gamma International, a controversial surveillance software company, was using Firefox as a mask to hide its FinSpy software, which is used by governments to snoop on citizens.

British-based Gamma disguises its surveillance tool — which can be installed covertly, and then access key-strokes, activate webcams and record Skype calls — as Firefox so that users don’t delete it, Mozilla said.

We’ve sent Gamma a cease and desist letter today demanding that these illegal practices stop immediately, Mozilla said in a blog.

We cannot abide a software company using our name to disguise online surveillance tools that can be — and in several cases actually have been — used by Gamma’s customers to violate citizens’ human rights and online privacy.

Mozilla stressed that the two software packages remained separate and that FinSpy did not affect Firefox itself or the way the browser operated. Gamma’s software is entirely separate, and only uses our brand and trademarks to lie and mislead as one of its methods for avoiding detection and deletion, Mozilla said — via

Analysis: Illegals and the erosion of empathy

Repetition of a simple phrase like illegal boats influences the way you think about a subject even if it’s wrong, former political advisor and author Don Watson says.

Politicians from both Labor and the Coalition have referred to asylum seekers as illegals before.

Every time illegal is used in reference to asylum seekers, refugee advocates, lawyers, immigration experts and academics are quick to dispute it, pointing out that it is legal to seek asylum. Even the Refugee Council of Australia and the UN said it’s wrong to use the word illegal to describe asylum seekers.

The confusion centres around the interpretation — or misinterpretation — of Article 31 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

However, once the discussion reaches the level of conventions, articles and legal nuances, the most simplistic message — illegals are coming to Australian shores — is already in the memory of the public.

According to Don Watson, former political speechwriter and advisor, and author of several books including Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, politicians continue to use a word they know is incorrect — propelling much disinformation — to drill the message into people’s minds.

Mr Watson says repeated use of a simple message controls the way people think about a subject, he told SBS — via

Google says content removal requests are way up in Russia, Brazil

From July to December of 2012, Google received a record number of content removal requests, both from the United States government and countries such as Russia and Brazil.

In a transparency report issued today, Google’s legal director, Susan Infantino, noted that 2,285 government requests were issued in the second half of last year, up steeply from 1,811 requests in the six months prior. This is the seventh transparency report released by Google, Infantino added.

As we’ve gathered and released more data over time, it’s become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown, Infantino wrote in the report. In more places than ever, we’ve been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services. In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates — via

Nick Clegg: Snooper’s Charter isn’t going to happen

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has strongly rejected Home Office plans to massively ramp up surveillance of Brits’ internet activity in a very public rebuttal of Theresa May’s proposals this morning.

The ‘Snooper’s Charter’ isn’t going to happen — the idea that there would be a record kept of all your online activity, Clegg told listeners on his weekly LBC radio show. It won’t happen while Lib Dems are in government. Of course we need to support the police, they have significant powers already which I support them in using.

He added:

This idea of a ‘Snooper’s Charter’ — I think it isn’t workable or proportionate, before repeating it isn’t going to happen — via

France approves same-sex marriage

France has become the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage, pushing through François Hollande’s flagship social change after months of street protests, political slanging matches and a rise in homophobic attacks.

After 331 votes for and 225 votes against, there were chants of “Equality. Equality.” in the French assembly, where the Socialists have an absolute majority. But thousands of riot police and water cannons were in place near the parliament building in Paris in advance of planned demonstrations against the law.

The right to marriage and adoption for everyone regardless of sexual orientation has proved bitterly divisive in France, triggering the biggest conservative and rightwing street protests in 30 years. Recent weeks have seen more than 200 arrests as police teargassed late-night demonstrators near parliament. More than 172 hours of heated debate in the assembly and the senate meant the bill was one of the most debated in recent history, with furious clashes and a near fist-fight between politicians — via

Finnish Websites Go Dark to Support a Fair Copyright Law

Since last year the Finnish public had the option to suggest what laws they want to live under.

A recent modification of the national Constitution allows for citizens to make legislative proposals for the Parliament to vote on, providing it gets 50,000 supporters within 6 months.

One of the proposals that has submitted since calls for a fairer copyright law.

Termed To Make Sense of the Copyright Act, the proposal wants to reduce penalties for copyright infringement, increase fair use, and ease the ability for people to make copies of items they already own (for format shifting, or backups) — via

Vandals correct Liberal Party boats billboard

Vandals correct Liberal Party boats billboard

Vandals have defaced corrected a Liberal Party billboard in Perth just hours after it was unveiled by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

The billboard claimed more than 600 illegal asylum seeker boats have arrived in Australia since the Labor Party won government.

The number has since been whited out and replaced with a zero.

Also spray-painted on the billboard were the words: No crime to seek asylum.

The sign has subsequently been replaced — via

Excite Mobile found guilty of outrageous customer deception

South Australian mobile phone provider Excite Mobile has been found guilty of false, misleading and unconscionable conduct by the Federal Court after the ACCC took action against the company for faking a debt collection agency, creating a fictional complaints body, and misrepresenting scope of mobile coverage.

The Federal Court ruled Excite acted unconscionably in getting customers onto a 24 month phone contract, and used “undue coercion” when sending fake debt collection letters to 1074 customers, according to a statement by the competition watchdog.

The phone number included on the fake debt collection letters was answered by Excite Mobile staff.

The ACCC said the company had falsely stated on the letters that a court would make the customers pay 20 percent of the debt for failing to pay on time, and would order the repossession of all valuable assets owned by the customer, including children’s toys, to force late-paying customers to hand over the owed amount.

Excite Mobile directors Obie Brown and David Samuel were also found to have created a fake complaints company, called Telecommunications Industry Complaints, to deceive customers into believing their complaints were being handled externally and independently.

Additionally, the company told customers mobile service was available at their premises when it wasn’t, including in indigenous communities — via

Lesley Kemp faces libel suit over Twitter comments

A woman who complained about an unpaid £146 invoice is facing a libel battle that could cost her more than £100,000.

Lesley Kemp, 55, took to Twitter claiming that a company based in the Middle East had failed to pay her promptly for transcription work.

Now the firm is suing Mrs Kemp, of Milton Keynes, for defamation, claiming up to £50,000 in damages and a further £70,000 in costs.

The company, Resolution Productions, based in Qatar, has yet to comment — via

Small blogs to be exempt under press regulation plans

Blogs with a turnover of less than £2m and those with fewer than 10 employees will not be subject to new press regulation, the government says.

The amendments — to go before MPs on Monday — also exempt small firms for whom news is not their core business.

A press watchdog is to be established in England and Wales by royal charter and backed by legislation following the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.

The government said the amendments clarify the position — via

French spies do a Barbara Streisand over secret nuke radio base

A Wiki page about a French military base has gone viral after Gallic spooks tried to censor it.

French internal spies at the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur called in a volunteer Wiki editor to their Paris office and ordered him to spike an entry about the Station hertzienne militaire de Pierre-sur-Haute, a military radio base in central France.

The volunteer, named in the French media (en Francais) as Pierre-Carl Langlais, a 30-year-old curator at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, quickly agreed to their demands even though he did not write the original entry.

However, despite his warnings on a discussion thread that anyone who reposted it would be engaging in criminality, the page was quickly uploaded again by another Wikimedia volunteer before being translated into several languages.

The page, which apparently contains very little (or nothing) in the way of sensitive information, had been almost unvisited up to that point.

Following its reinstatement by enraged French Wiki users the page received 120,000 views over the weekend of 6/7 April, according to some reports — via

Majority of deprivation of liberty cases unreported, says report

Limits placed on the freedom of people with dementia or brain injuries are not being properly recorded, according to a healthcare regulator.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said almost two-thirds of applications to restrict a person’s liberty were not reported to it, as required by law.

The CQC said it could signal a lack of understanding or compliance with the Mental Capacity Act.

In some cases, patients had their freedom removed for months at a time — via