ACM Washington Update Vol. 9.1 (January 31, 2005)


[1] Cameron Wilson Begins as ACM Policy Office Director
[2] Numerous Briefs Filed in MGM v. Grokster Case
[3] New Legislation on National Standards for Driver’s Licenses
[4] PITAC Approves Report on Federal Cybersecurity R&D
[5] White House Names New Homeland Security Director
[6] Upcoming Events
[7] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available here.]
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Congress Puts Spyware on Hit List

“The powerful House Commerce Committee on Wednesday made anti-spyware legislation a top priority, with members hoping to vote it out of committee in the next two to three weeks.

“This is on the fast track, and we hope to be marking this bill up in the very near future,” said committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas).

The committee devoted its first hearing of the new session to exploring anti-spyware bill HR29, or the Spy Act. The bill is expected to garner wide support in the House because it’s basically a reintroduction of the former HR2929, which passed the House by a 399-1 vote in the last session […]”

SOURCE: Wired News

Note: Also see the committee’s news release regarding spyware, here.

U.S. Asks High Court to Curb File Swapping

“The government’s top lawyer has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling that allowed the makers of online song- and movie-swapping software to stay in business.

The legal brief, filed late yesterday by Acting Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, supports the entertainment industry’s bid to shut down song-swapping networks such as Kazaa and Grokster by suing them for copyright infringement.

On March 29, the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in MGM Studios Inc. v. Grokster Ltd., the biggest test of the legality of online file swapping. Lower courts have twice rejected entertainment-industry arguments, ruling that Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks Inc. — operators of two song-swapping systems akin to the more popular Kazaa — do not violate copyright law even though people use them for illegal downloads of songs, movies and other copyrighted works […]”

SOURCE: Wash. Post

Note: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a good web page regarding MGM v. Grokster, including copies of all the briefs related to the case.

Tech Firms to Seek Legal Protection From Pirating

“Several large technology corporations will urge the U.S. Supreme Court today to continue to shield businesses and innovators from legal responsibility if their products or services are used by consumers for illegal acts.

The companies, including industry giants Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Google, America Online Inc. and Apple Computer Inc., will argue in court filings that the innovations that have helped fuel U.S. economic growth could grind to a halt if protections from liability were stripped away.

[…] The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments March 29 in a suit brought by the motion picture and recording industries against Grokster, one of the leading “peer-to-peer” filing-sharing services […]”

SOURCE: Wash. Post

Note: The CDT (et al.) brief mentioned in the article is available (PDF) here.

Powell to Resign FCC Chairmanship

“Michael K. Powell will step down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission after nearly four often-rocky years as the government’s top media and telecommunications regulator, the agency has confirmed.

Powell, 41, the son of outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, informed his bureau heads this morning of his decision, which he said was not spurred by another job offer, according to an FCC source who asked not to be identified. The chairman’s exit likely will come within three months, said the source. The announcement is expected to come at around noon today […]”

SOURCE: Wash. Post

State bill could cripple P2P

“A bill introduced in California’s Legislature last week has raised the possibility of jail time for developers of file-swapping software who don’t stop trades of copyrighted movies and songs online.

The proposal, introduced by Los Angeles Sen. Kevin Murray, takes direct aim at companies that distribute software such as Kazaa, eDonkey or Morpheus. If passed and signed into law, it could expose file-swapping software developers to fines of up to $2,500 per charge, or a year in jail, if they don’t take “reasonable care” in preventing the use of their software to swap copyrighted music or movies–or child pornography.

[…] Peer-to-peer software companies and their allies immediately criticized the bill as a danger to technological innovation, and as potentially unconstitutional […]”


Note: Ed Felten has more on the potential ramifications of the bill here.

One Last Election Lesson

“The November election may feel like ancient history, but it is still going on in North Carolina. The state has been unable to swear in an agriculture commissioner because a single malfunctioning electronic voting machine lost more ballots than the number of votes that separate the two candidates. The State Board of Elections, the candidates and the public are sharply divided on how to proceed. The mess North Carolina finds itself in is a cautionary tale about the perils of relying on electronic voting that does not produce a paper record.

When the returns came in for the agriculture commissioner race, two things were clear: the Republican, Steve Troxler, and the Democrat, Britt Cobb, were just 2,287 votes apart, and a voting machine in Carteret County had lost 4,438 votes. The machine had mistakenly been set to keep roughly 3,000 votes in its memory, which was not enough. And in a spectacularly poor design decision, it was programmed to let people keep “voting” even when their votes were not being saved.

[…] North Carolina’s plight underscores a basic point about elections: because there are often problems, there must be a mechanism for a recount. If the Carteret County voting machine had produced a voter-verified paper record each time a vote was cast, these paper records could have been be counted and the matter would be resolved. But electronic voting machines that do not produce paper records make recounts impossible […]”


Note: ACM issued a statement in 2004 calling for, among other things, improved reliability, security, and verifiability of public elections.

Sen. Hatch to chair new intellectual property subcommittee

Senator Orrin Hatch will be the chair of a new intellectual property subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to National Journal’s Technology Daily [subscription req’d].

As chair of the full Judiciary Committee in the 108th Congress, Hatch sponsored the controversial “Induce Act,” which ultimately failed to win approval.

USACM was very involved in the Induce Act debate, writing to Senator Hatch to express reservations about the legislation and joining a broad coalition that voiced concerns regarding the U.S. Copyright Office’s input on the act’s secondary liability language.

Ridge wants fingerprints in passports

“The United States should issue passports that include a full set of the bearer’s fingerprints, Tom Ridge, the departing secretary of homeland security, said Wednesday. Mr. Ridge said the change would induce foreign governments to do the same on the passports they issue.

Privacy advocates promised to fight the Ridge suggestion, in part because it would deliver the prints of American travelers to foreign governments, and the State Department has been cool to it as well.

[…] At the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group here, Marc Rotenberg, the president, said that providing foreign governments with the fingerprints of each American visitor would “make it easier for those foreign governments to conduct their own investigations of U.S. citizens in that foreign country.”