Monthly Archives: February 2012

Stratfor Leak

Wikileaks has released a series of documents allegedly originating from the Stratfor an intelligence agency. According to wikileaks the documents are supposed to reveal practices of corruption and bribery used by the company. Most of the documents haven’t been leaked yet, but it will be significant. How Stratfor will be affected will become more apparent in the next while, just as important is the impact it will have on their informants, government employees and people high up who give stratfor the information. While the impact remains to be seen I have been enjoying one of the leaked documents: “The Stratfor Glossary of Useful, Baffling and Strange Intelligence Terms” a primer on terms used within Stratfor. I want to share some of the more amusing terms, from here on out it will be snippets of the document:

Background Check: Check of history of someone to determine reliability. Usually meaningless. A perfect credit rating does not mean you aren’t devious scum. Does run up the client’s bill and makes it appear that you are busy.

Backgrounder: General analysis that gives the customer better situational awareness. The customer never actually reads the Backgrounder. Its primary use is as cover when the customer screws something up. Backgrounders are the basic intelligence tool for shifting blame to the customer.

Barium Meal: When there is a leak, feed bits of radioactive (traceable, false) information to suspects. See which bit leaks. You will know who leaked it. The leaker will know you know. Livens up a dull day like nothing else we’ve ever seen. Bring the kids.

Board: When an op gets so badly blown that pretending everything is fine will no longer work, you get a Board. A Board consists of 3 or more WOGs whose job it is to make sure that only you are blamed for what happened. Pulling a board is bad. At Stratfor, it involves talking to David, George or Don. If all three at the same time, very bad. Time to consider an exciting career in the food service industry.

Brief the Times: When the Briefer has obtained zero valuable intelligence from analysis, he finds something in the inside of the morning paper, powers up a view graph, and “Briefs the Times.” Customers are frequently impressed. It’s a hoot.

Businessman: A source that does what he does for money. Businessmen will sell out to the highest bidder so are considered temporary employees. You must find a way to make them scared shitless of you. A high SS quotient is the foundation of a warm, lasting relationship with a Businessman.

CIA Appetite/Botswana budget: A customer with limited resources asking for enormous amounts of intelligence. Defines most of Stratfor’s customers.

Coerced source: Someone who is a source because you have him by the balls. The most rare and prized variety of source. The key here is to make sure that the source thinks that working for you makes more sense than shooting you. Keep an extremely close eye on changing moods.

Contractor: A source that has been placed under contract by the intelligence organization. The contract spells out what he gets, when he gets it, what he must deliver, and where he will find various parts of his body if he jerks you around. The contractor can work for $50 a month or $5 million a year.

Cutout:  To facilitate security and deniability, many ops use cut-outs. These are individuals who manage sources. Ideally, they do not know the organization they are working for. They know only the person they report to—someone who can disappear without a trace if need be, leaving the cut-out hosed. Very nasty thing to do to your own people. That’s why you use contractors. If you are using your own person, make sure that he can disengage without a trace. And make sure he isn’t in love with one of his sources—literally.

Barry Spookman

Barry Spookman a prominent lawyer known in Canadian intellectual property legal sectors has written an article in the Financial Post regarding the current backlash against C-11. He strongly condemns the current opposition to C-11 as coming from political opportunism and misinformation. Downplaying the DRM provisions of the bill and proposed amendments by the Canadian Independent Music Association that would put C-11 in the same domain as SOPA. But he also says the bill is tremendously progressive, allowing for Canadians to create mash-ups and time-shift. In a sense this is true, although I have argued that it is meaningless to have these provisions if it is illegal to bypass DRM.

Somewhat predictably Barry Spookman is also a registered lobbyist for Canadian Recording Industry Association (now Music Canada), the Motion Pictures Association – Canada, and Canadian Publishers Council. Michael Geist has an extensive retort to this opinion piece and he deconstructs the logic of the bill quite well. Barry Spookman spoke to a parliament committee about the now dead bill C-32 during December 2010 and his views he expresses sound remarkably different from now. It becomes clear that the his views of the bill have evolved or at least changed for his audience since he has written the Op-Ed.

The reality is, that any progressive part of the bill was vehemently opposed by him and less progressive measures. In the op-ed he is enthusiastic about the progressive provisions allowing for mash-ups, this becomes remarkably different listening to his testimony

The bill also contains a new exception that would let individuals take existing content and use it to create user-generated content. The intent is to permit an individual to use content to make a home video or create a mashup of video clips. This is an exception that to my knowledge does not exist anywhere else in the world… They could also create collective works or compilations of works, such as the best of a TV series or their favourite iPod playlist, and post those on the Internet, and they can do a lot more. The result is that the author loses significant control over the uses of his or her work, a fundamental copyright concept.

Mr. Sookman wrote this during his op-ed again in praise of the : “The bill also proposes new exceptions for broadcasters and to support learning and education”. During the testimony he says about the education provisions in C-32

It would affect the market and it would unreasonably prejudice the interests of the authors. The UGC provision as well is not a special case. It applies very extensively. It would undermine the market

Finally Mr. Sookman’s enlightening words on statutory damages:

in relation to statutory damages, you raise a really good point about the interrelationship between statutory damages and behaviour. What this bill does with respect to statutory damages is tell people they can copy as much as they want onto their computer or onto their iPod. It doesn’t matter how many times, because the most they’re going to be liable for is $5,000. Once you’re copying, why not copy as much as possible?

The maximum penalty for sexual assault in Canada is $5000, somehow pirating songs is more important than this.

I’m afraid that as an advocate of C-11 Sookman does not support progressive measures only the passage of the bill. If the SOPA like provisions get passed all the better, he will not mind. If they happen not to be passed, it’s still progress. Mr. Sookman has a right to his own opinion and write it, but he should not flagrantly disregard things he has already said.

Balanced Copyright

To dissect an old problem lets being with an old analogy. If a Canadian were to buy a car, that car would be there’s. They would be allowed to do whatever they wished with the car and modify the car in any way they would have liked. The argument goes that this should apply to every kind of property; if it applies to a car, it should apply to a CD.

This kind of argument relies on the assumption that their is very little difference between physical property and intellectual property. Intellectual property exists to protect ideas or content that can easily copied, a CD falls under intellectual property because it can be easily copied. The car does not need that kind of protection because if I buy a Toyota, I will not replicate another Toyota from that purchased Toyota. If I use that Toyota car and copy it’s design and manufacture a counterfeit via mass production, that would be a concern of intellectual property. But of course this is much harder than burning a CD from a friend.

The protection of intellectual property is ultimately an economic matter. Intellectual property exists to create economic incentive to create ideas and those ideas are protected by the government because it will allow the advancement of society. Economic incentive is not always the reason for creation, but certainly it is a major part of it. Any economist could point out examples of profit motive driving innovations. For instance the diseases get the most research are those which offer the greatest promise of profit. Movies only get made if their budget is justified by their expected returns.

The best kind of intellectual property laws then are those that prevent stagnation of society. This is the best rationalization from a social and a economic point of view. Intellectual property is rarely treated in this way because those who have the greatest say in the making of laws governing intellectual property, do not want to same thing out of intellectual property laws that consumers do. They want to create intellectual property laws that will allow the the maximum profits. The entertainment industry does not have our interest in heart.

What rights is given to a person who purchases a CD, and by extension digital music and movies? That’s what’s up for debate. I suggest three basic rights.

1. Replication for personal purposes: The content can be replicated in order to back-up it or be consumed. Companies obviously don’t want a person to be able to replicate content because the more limited you can make something, the more  power you have over consuming it. If a consumer has to purchase the same game for both his PC and PS3. Why wouldn’t the companies want to prevent this.

2. Free use: The content can be used in any way they choose. This includes showing the content to friends. Entertainment companies don’t want this because they want to charge for each new way something is consumed.  Another profit maximization scheme.

3. Right to modify or use in new material of non-commercial nature:  Culture is a combination of new and old ideas, it stagnates culture if these ideas can’t be reused.

4. The right to resell that media: You can sell a car, then you can sell a CD. Why is it that songs can’t be treated the same as commodities? It’s absurd to treat them any differently.

5. The right to own that product indefinitely. Once it’s bought, it belongs to you forever.

DRM can prevent all of these rights and it is in the companies interest to use DRM to prevent these rights because they prevent profit maximization. When a law is passed that prevents circumvention of DRM it essentially negates these rights.

The justification of DRM has always been it prevents piracy but it does much more then that. DRM allows companies to impose business schemes that otherwise not be feasible. Assume for a second that we can assume the lock on the IPhone as a kind of DRM lock. It allows for the IPhone to be locked to a certain network. By restricting this behavior, it allows for anti-competitive behavior and removes the choice from the consumer. DRM is not preventing piracy of the IPhone, it exists for Apple to make money. As a result Apple also has control over the kinds of apps that go on the IPhone, preventing certain applications from being used(the grooveshark application for instance). Even after you have bought the Iphone Apple is telling you how to use it.

DRM is not always fair to the consumer nor is it beneficial to anyone other than the people wanting these laws. DRM is trivial to get around if you have the expertise. One movie free of DRM is all that is needed for an item to be pirated. Only legitimate use is prevented.

ACTA and The Internet

The latest attempt at censoring the internet has now met with fierce resistance from Europe. Widespread protests have already been seen in Poland and on February 11th a Europe wide protest against ACTA is expected. ACTA began it’s existence in the secrecy of backroom meetings, it was only during a leaked version of the agreement that ACTA came into public sight. Many have been of the opinion that ACTA has largely been partly a result of lobbying by the entertainment industry and the final version of the already signed treaty has received a great reception from the MPAA. Something must be wrong then.

I’m not entirely against ACTA, some of it’s ideas are legitimate and maybe necessary in the global market place. But it’s bad parts would be terrible for the internet and the treaty has far to many potential consequences. Issues have been brought up about it limiting the ability of third world countries to manufacture generic drugs, unfair criminal proceeding’s against unintentional copyright infringers are a potential consequences of this bill. These are very concerning but this article is going to limit it’s scope and try determine it’s potential impact on the internet.

The digital provisions are draconian, it makes circumventing DRM illegal and tools which help circumvent these measures as illegal. Unlocking your I-Phone is illegal under these measures. Much like bill C-11 it will limit the ability to consume content. DVD’s use DRM, games use DRM, computer programs use DRM. And open-source programs would find themselves incredibly limited by this measure. VLC might even be illegal under these provisions.

When the first copy of ACTA was leaked, it was widely speculated that it would require the signer’s to implement some sort of three strike rule, which forces ISP’s to disconnect alleged infingers from the internet. In the final version of the treaty this policy was no where to be found.  That doesn’t mean,  it will not return in some other form though. ACTA creates a  committee which is free to pass more amendments, the treaty does not limit what those amendments would require. The three strikes law could still be implemented at another date, this is what makes the treaty so concerning, once the treaty is passed it can continue to pass more amendments. It would act as a body to press countries into laws that they might not agree with. Anti-piracy measures would almost guaranteed become more draconian in Canada. Just because the document does not explicitly mention internet piracy does not mean it is not one of the biggest reasons for passing ACTA.

The European Commission’s says “ACTA ensures people everywhere can continue to share non-pirated material and information on the web”. What is concerning is what that will mean for ‘pirated-material’. Free-flow of information is not possible if your blocking it, especially when that information is blocked by a treaty that’s been created with little transparency and approved by heavily lobbied bureaucrats.