Regulatory Shorts – July 2016

Scale_of_justice_2_newThere are some interesting things happening in courts lately that will be of concern to ISPs.

ISPs Might be Liable for Customer Piracy. In two court decisions, courts have said that ISPs can be held responsible by piracy committed by ISP customers. In the Alexandria, VA district court a jury found Cox Communications liable of copyright infringement from a lawsuit brought by BMG, the music publisher. BMG had argued that Cox should have disconnected customers who violate copyrights. There was a similar ruling in Manhattan district court against RCN, also brought by BMG. Both companies are currently vigorously fighting the rulings. This kind of ruling could have a chilling impact on ISPs. Net neutrality rules would make it hard, and maybe illegal, to block sites like BitTorrent. And yet ISPs might somehow be liable for what customers do on piracy sites.

Internet Firms Not Necessarily Liable for False Information. On May 16 the FCC handed down a narrow victory to Spokeo.com. The company had been sued by a Virginia resident who said that the site contained errors about his age, education, employment, and marital status. The court said that the plaintiff could not sue without having proven any real damage from the bad information.

The case was watched closely by Facebook, Google, and other internet firms that are worried about a negative impact from having inaccurate data. The court ruling seems to make it unlikely that class action suits could be brought against internet companies, but it did open the door to individual suits when real damage could be claimed.

Fourth Amendment Does Not Protect Home Computers. The federal district court in Virginia ruled that a criminal defendant had no ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ for information stored on his home computer. The particular case came out of an FBI sting of Playpen – a TOR site on the dark web used to host child pornography. It’s a complicated and unprecedented case where the FBI seized the server and continued to operate the site, and to eventually arrest numerous users.

But the ruling is a bit troublesome because it implies that police have the power to remotely access the files on somebody’s computer without a warrant. That runs contrary to recent rulings about the security of information on a cell phone. Police have searched computers before of people who have been charged with crimes, but the ability to search the computers of people who have not been accused of any crime without a warrant is scary. I expect this to be appealed.

FBI says Location of Surveillance Cameras Must be Kept Secret. The FBI was successful in getting a judge to block Seattle City Light from divulging the location of FBI security cameras. City Light is part of the city government and would normally be required to respond to requests for information like this from the public.

One thing the court process revealed is that the majority of police surveillance cameras are installed without a warrant, which raises the issue of violating the Fourth Amendment. The judge in this case did say that he thought the FBI needed warrants to install cameras.

Europe Proposes Requiring an Online ID. Officials in the European Commission have suggested that European citizens be required to use a government issued ID when online. The purpose of this is supposedly to provide a trustworthy environment online for merchants and people to be able to know who they are dealing with.

The White House had proposed a similar voluntary system a few years ago in response to cyberbullying and other online issues. They suggested that if people adopted a verified and trustworthy identity online that they could be safer by only dealing with others who did the same. There are still a few states considering trials of the idea. But that proposal was very far away from being the mandatory requirements suggested in Europe.

The Best Explanation of Network Neutrality Yet. And finally, Stephen Colbert discusses net neutrality while on a roller coaster.

 

 

 

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