In this twelfth episode of the Freezenet official podcast, “removing Safety For Your Safety”, we check out the news and reviews for the month of October.
Welcome to the public version of the twelfth episode of the Freezenet official podcast for October 2019. This episode is entitled “Removing Safety For Your Safety” because of efforts to undermine encryption under the guise of protecting public safety and security.
This month, we continue our coverage of the Canadian election by extending our analysis to all the other party platforms we didn’t cover in the previous month. We also discuss the implications of some of the controversies that also cropped up during the election. Finally, we cover the outcome of the election and what it could mean for digital rights moving forward in Canada.
In addition to this, we also cover the moves by different governments to dissuade Facebook from using encryption to protect user messages. Also, we touch on the hugely controversial US CASE Act.
From there, we cover the legal case that is continuing to keep the fight against FOSTA alive. Another topic we cover is the continuing fallout of the European Link Tax. We even talk about how some eagles just know how to rack up cell phone bills.
Also, we cover all the usual music and video game reviews.
This podcast is now publicly available via Patreon
What follows below is a transcript to this episode:
Removing safety for your safety
Hi, I’m your host, Drew Wilson. Welcome to the twelfth episode of the Freezenet official podcast for October, 2019. Here are your top 3 headlines:
The Top 3
Canada elects a Liberal minority. We look at our examination of the digital rights implications before and after the election.
Coming in at number 2: world governments continue to push for an end to Facebook encryption.
Finally, the US passes the CASE act creating a pseudo-legal court system for copyright infringement. The bill is now headed to the senate.
Of course, our top story revolves around the Canadian election and all of our coverage leading up to it. Last month, we discussed the Green Party platform. This month, we managed to get through every other major party’s platform to bring you an analysis. This started with the People’s Party of Canada. We found one section that discusses how the party will defend free speech. Unfortunately, nothing really relates to technology and digital rights when discussing specifics. Instead, it mostly talks about repealing anti-hate laws as well as puzzlingly repealing motions. Motions, of course, no longer hold once an election hits, so there’s no point in overturning motions in the first place. Otherwise, there is nothing in the platform that relates to digital rights and technology.
From there, we reviewed the platform for the Bloc. When doing so, we were pretty much given the day off. This is because we could not find a single thing in the platform relating to digital rights and technology.
After that, we reviewed the Liberal Party platform. A big theme in the platform we found is vagueness. Among the promises are a reduction in cell phone bills, universal high speed Internet, and a so-called digital charter that seemingly talks more about awareness of privacy issues rather than law enforcement. In addition, there is a promise to compel social media platforms to remove hate and terrorism from their site within 24 hours. This, of course, opens up questions about free speech because there is motivation to simply remove and ask questions later given the tight deadline. Additionally, they promised to open up the CBC platform to independent journalism. What that means specifically and who would be eligible to take part on the platform is unclear.
Other promises include a consumer advocate who would handle complaints about financial, automotive, and Internet related consumer issues. They also call for a ban on fully autonomous weapons systems and new taxes for tech giants.
On a side note, University Law professor, Michael Geist, made his own analysis of the party platform. In what wound up being one of the only platform analysis he made during the election, he concluded that the Liberal party had “lost their way” on digital issues.
After that, we got a chance to examine the NDP platform which has been available since at least the beginning of the election. Their platform called for a cap on Internet and cell phone bills to bring costs closer in line with other developed nations. Another major positive is increasing the transparency of various trade agreements. This, of course, would go a long way given how secret these so-called “trade” agreements are all the while blocking public input. After that, they called on increasing investment in the technology sector revolving around research and development. Then, they called for universal access to the Internet whether people live in rural or urban settings. This includes indigenous land reserves. Also, they called for investing in the arts and culture sector.
Additionally, they wanted to add Cancon requirements to large tech companies as well as add new taxes on them. They also called on reforming the tax code to allow artists to claim income tax averaging. Also, they want to increase RCMP enforcement of hate laws as they pertain to the online world. Another big announcement revolves around empowering the privacy commissioner to enforce privacy laws. This, of course, is a major gap in the legal system. This is just a sampling of the much larger platform as there are other elements to the platform relating to digital rights as well.
It wasn’t until the very end of the election that the Conservative party finally released their platform. With all the debates over, the party finally bothered to reveal that they had a plan at all outside of saying that everyone else is bad for the country. So, we did look through it to see what this last straggling platform had.
The platform promises that they would, well, look in to copyright. The platform then says that they promise to push intellectual property in trade agreements even though that ship has already sailed even before the last Conservative government was in power. They then promised that they would invest money into various media outlets. After that, they started just stealing promises from the NDP where they promised to expand rural broadband. They also said they would invest in backbone Internet infrastructure.
After that, they promised to establish new laws that say cyberbullying crimes would legally be considered occurring in Canada when bullies come from other countries. They then promised to increase privacy by requiring companies to obtain a users consent, something that is already the law of the land in Canada. One promise that does appear substantial is that they promised to create binding security standards for security within the private sector. This over top of creating penalties for non-compliance.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives also promised to create a CETA and CPTPP “accelerator” which would increase the speed of implementing these so-called “trade” agreements. The practical implications of implementing these trade agreements, of course, is that they would implement mass Internet censorship, criminal penalties for circumventing a DRM, having DRM override all Fair Dealing laws, implementation of the failed three strikes copyright law, and demanding border security seize cell phones at the border to scan them for anything deemed copyright infringing to name a few provisions within those agreements.
On a final note, to make things uniform, they also vowed to tack on a new 3% tax on tech giants as well.
With all the platforms finally analyzed, we went ahead and ranked them from best to worst. The rankings wound up being the Green Party taking the top spot, NDP in second, Liberal party being a distant third, People’s Party of Canada taking fourth, the Bloc finishing fifth, and the Conservative being ranked dead last. In the process, we rounded up many of the points they made and provided a quick reference list.
While we couldn’t analyze the French leaders debate, we did analyze the final English debate. The final analysis showed that there was almost no digital rights or technology issues worth discussing. Weirdly enough, the only mention was from Yves-Francois Blanchet of the Bloc who suggested that tech giants are stealing from Canadians while discussing fiscal responsibility. No specifics were to be found, so it left a lot of room for interpretation at the time.
It wasn’t until the final French debate where there was actually substance on these issues. For one, all parties agreed that more needs to be done to protect Canadian privacy. Many parties also agreed that there needs to be an additional 3% tax on web giants. A few parties also warmed to the idea of implementing European style privacy laws as seen with the General Data Protection Regulation as well. Cell phone and Internet costs did make an appearance. The NDP, naturally, seized on the opportunity to talk about how their plan incorporates a cap on cell phone and Internet bills. In all, if you wanted a debate that actually had substance, it wound up being the final French leaders debate being the debate to watch.
While it requires a fair bit of effort to pull digital rights issues out of the election, it didn’t stop digital rights from popping up during the election. In fact, the big story that came out during the election cycle wound up being about copyright. This is thanks to Canadian broadcaster, the CBC, suing the Conservative Party of Canada for copyright infringement.
At issue was an ad and a series of tweets. Freezenet was able to examine the ad itself in spite of it being taken down. The ad features multiple journalists from multiple outlets making opinions and analysis of government actions. The clips were short and very to the point. Yet, CBC was the only broadcaster to cry foul over the video and used it as one of the basis for the lawsuit. The CBC argued that the clips harm the perceived political neutrality of their reporters.
The other Tweets the CBC took issue with were clips tweeted by the party from the national debates. There are multiple tweets that were published, but the longest clip we found in the legal complaint revolved around one that was 42 seconds long. Freezenet found a copy of the full debate on YouTube and it wound up being roughly 2 hours long. Using math, that works out to being 120 minutes long or 7200 seconds. With that figured out, we determined that the longest clip wound up being 0.583% of the entire political debate. CBC is seemingly arguing that this is a substantial portion of the debate. They argued that the party could link to the unedited full version of the debate on their platform instead of using the small clip.
The Conservative party responded to the lawsuit, saying they would defend themselves in court. They also said that the use is fair dealing.
With many questioning the legal merits of the lawsuit including Michael Geist, it seems that Conservatives were gifted with a huge opportunity to put forth reasonable ideas on reforming copyright laws so these shenanigans wouldn’t happen again. Unfortunately, Conservative outlets decided to turn this into a political debate and, without a shred of self-awareness, accused the CBC of political bias. Long story short, it ended up being a rather partisan disaster between the two political camps more than anything else.
Of course, the Conservative party wasn’t always on the more innocent sounding sides of controversy during the election cycle. The party itself caught controversy from a privacy standpoint. University law professor, Michael Geist, received a targeted mailer from the party. The mailer itself presumed that the professor and the family were Jewish. As a result, the mailer pushed the idea that they’re the only ones that stand with Israel. Geist says he has no idea why he got such a mailer in the first place, but it did suggest that big data was at work, collecting personal information on Canadians and targeting them with ads. Since this is a political party, they are not subject to the same privacy laws as private companies. Additionally, they are not subject to any Freedom of Information requests either, so he’ll never know why the party thinks he’s Jewish. BC, of course, is much tougher with privacy laws on this front.
After that, on the Friday before election day, the president of the Canadian Internet Registry Authority (CIRA) had some comments on encryption. In an opinion piece published in Macleans, Byron Holland made a number of observations that has occurred over the last year or so – many events we wound up covering here on Freezenet. In the end, he rightfully pointed out that the various parties have not made any clear stances on encryption. Specifically, whether or not they would support Canadian privacy or back other governments pushing to implement backdoors on encryption. While published at the 11th hour, the comments are worth the read.
On the lead-up to election day, we posted our thoughts on the election cycle. We ended up concluding that the cycle was a bit disappointing since a number of issues were simply not discussed. This includes what role social media plays with regard to so-called fake news. Which parties are interested in adding more regulations while which parties are more interested in just letting free speech be free speech? Are any regulations coming forward with loot boxes? Should the privacy commissioner have the power to directly fine companies for privacy violations? What about encryption? Should Canada follow suit in demanding back doors or should Canada be a hub of innovation where privacy is respected? Plenty of issues that saw little to no debate whatsoever.
Well, on the day after the election, Canadians wound up with a minority government situation. With what all happened during the election, this is probably one of the better results we could have hoped for. In short, if there are bad laws to be passed, it would require the cooperation of at least one other party. Even then, the deadline will be short given how long minority governments tend to last. So, it’s possible that the worst possible legislation could effectively be put on hold for the time being.
That wound up being our lengthy coverage of the Canadian election.
Now, turning to our second big story of the month, the big government push to end Facebook encryption continues.
This month, we saw Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, say that Facebook protecting their users privacy is a “dream come true for predators and child pornographers.” Wray argued that if Facebook encrypted their users messages, then “We’re going to lose the ability to find the bad guys.”
Shortly after, the Trump administration, through Attorney General William Barr, signed a joint letter with the UK and Australian governments demanding Facebook end its effort to protect their users messages through encryption. The open letter says, in part, that Facebook should not “proceed with its plan to implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services without ensuring that there is no reduction to user safety and without including a means for lawful access to the content of communications to protect our citizens”
Facebook responded to he letter with comments of their own:
“We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world,” the company wrote in a statement shared with USA TODAY. “End-to-end encryption already protects the messages of over a billion people every day… We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”
In response to the government joint letter, more than 100 rights organizations swiftly responded. The organizations signed a joint letter to encourage Facebook to continue its effort to protect its users. Signatories include Access Now, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bits of Freedom, Canadian Internet Registration Authority, Electronic Frontier Finland, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Frontier Australia, Internet Society UK England Chapter, InternetNZ, Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet, Latin-American Privacy Association, LGBT Technology Partnership, Open Media, the Open Rights Group, Reporters Without Borders, Simply Secure, the South Pacific Computer Society, and the TOR Project to name a few. The letter itself reads, in part:
“We have seen requests from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australian governments asking you to suspend these plans “until [Facebook] can guarantee the added privacy does not reduce public safety”. We believe they have this entirely backwards: each day that platforms do not support strong end-to-end security is another day that this data can be breached, mishandled, or otherwise obtained by powerful entities or rogue actors to exploit it.
Given the remarkable reach of Facebook’s messaging services, ensuring default end-to-end security will provide a substantial boon to worldwide communications freedom, to public safety, and to democratic values, and we urge you to proceed with your plans to encrypt messaging through Facebook products and services. We encourage you to resist calls to create so-called “backdoors” or “exceptional access” to the content of users’ messages, which will fundamentally weaken encryption and the privacy and security of all users.”
After that, the UK government decided to ratchet up pressure by summoning senior Facebook representative, Nick Clegg. The move to summon Clegg to a UK parliamentary committee is being described by some as “extraordinary”. Committee chair, Norman Lam, said “We have decided to proceed with the evidence session on the encryption issue and will be asking Nick Clegg to give evidence along with a minister. This is obviously a highly significant decision by them (Facebook).
“It is important that there be parliamentary scrutiny, not just in this country but other countries are having this debate as well. We decided to call him as we want to understand how they (Facebook) will balance the competing interests between privacy, security and law enforcement.”
The issue continued to dominate headlines when Edward Snowden weighed in on the debate. In an opinion piece published by The Guardian, Snowden writes, in part, “in the midst of the greatest computer security crisis in history, the US government, along with the governments of the UK and Australia, is attempting to undermine the only method that currently exists for reliably protecting the world’s information: encryption. Should they succeed in their quest to undermine encryption, our public infrastructure and private lives will be rendered permanently unsafe.”
After the op-ed, Germany announced that they would join the US, UK, and Australia to pressure Facebook to abandon it’s effort to protect its users.
Turning things back to the US, America is in the process of passing a controversial new copyright law. Known as the CASE Act, the legislation would create a new copyright court for cases that involve damages of $30,000 or less. The court itself would be an opt-out system, though details of how to opt-out remain unclear. Regardless, the court is being described as a system that would move copyright infringement cases quickly. As we noted last month, the legislation is being blasted by digital rights organizations like the EFF. Now, the proposed law, which is viewed by some as a copyright trolls dream come true, is moving ahead in government. The US Congress has voted to pass the CASE Act 410 to 6. As a result, the legislation now moves to the Senate. Digital rights organizations say that it is not too late to put a stop to all of this. They are urging Americans to contact their senator to ask them to vote against the law.
It’s been another wild ride here on Freezenet. Here’s some of the other stories making news this month.
Other Stories Making News
The fight to stop another piece of controversial American legislation is still not over. FOSTA, a law that was blamed for the closures of a number of American dating websites, is going to be heard in court. Plaintiffs in the legal battle include the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, the Internet Archive, and Human Rights Watch. They argue that the law violates the First Amendment. They say it is because it criminalizes online free speech related to sex work. They also say that it removes certain protections from online intermediaries. A court hearing ultimately took place and the law is currently being fought in the courts.
Repercussions are being felt from the European link tax. The tax requires aggregator sites like Google and Facebook to pay money for the privilege of posting a link or posting a snippet of a news article. Google warned everyone, including publishers, that if they are being required to pay money for hosting links or snippets, they would simply delete both. Now, Google is carrying through with those warnings by deleting the links and snippets. Google then gave European publishers the option to opt back in and waive the fees. The move, of course, is perfectly legal under the law. That, of course, didn’t stop publishers from crying foul. They described the move as “blackmail”.
Shortly after, French and German publishers joined forces to fight back against Google following the law. They then announced that they would sue Google for anti-trust violations. They contend that Google following the law is an abuse of power and will try and use the courts to remedy the situation.
French politicians also joined in. They said that Google following the law is “unacceptable”. The French Digital Secretary went further and said that Google following the law is “disrespectful of the spirit of the European directive and the French law.” Of course, how Google is violating the law is unclear at this stage given that they are not obligated to host links and snippets, just pay money if they do.
Speaking of Google, the Court of Justice of the EU made an important ruling on the Right to Be Forgotten law. The court was deciding whether or not Google must delete references to pages globally, or if it can simply comply with the law within the country the complaint was filed. Citing the fact that numerous third states do not recognize Europe’s Right to Be Forgotten laws, the court ruled that the takedown orders will only be applied to the country the complaint was filed in and not globally. The decision is being described as a major win for free speech.
EA Sports has suffered from a major data leak. The personal information of FIFA 20 players have been exposed. Essentially, when a player registered, they were presented with the personal details of another player instead of their own. EA Sports since took down the page, saying that they are investigating this serious matter.
Finally, the push to stop Mozilla’s DNS over HTTPS encryption (or DoH encryption) got a little less secret. A leaked slideshow, destined for lobbying government, showed not only how government was being lobbied to stop the encryption initiative, but also who is behind it. The slideshow itself originates from Comcast, one of the big US ISPs in the country. Some suggest that the reason why ISPs would try and lobby the government to stop DoH encryption is because it would hinder their abilities to track their users and send them targeted advertising after. At any rate, it shows that there is an effort by corporate interests to stop DoH encryption in the first place.
Quite a lot happening here on Freezenet, so lets switch gears and take a look at entertainment.
Video Game Reviews
Before we get to the video game reviews, we’d like to point out that we posted a first impression video of the Steam game, Half-Life 2: Lost Coast. This video shows what our first 10 minutes of playing this expansion of the game was like. It’s, of course, a follow-up to our Half-Life 2 first impression video. It’s available on Freezenet and Youtube. A link will be posted in the transcript as well.
Now, here are the video games we’ve reviewed this month:
First up, we tried River Raid for the Atari 5200. An overall improvement over to the Atari 2600 version. Better land generation, graphics, and more enemies. So, this game gets a great 84%.
From there, we tried Zaxxon for the Atari 5200. While this game sports an isometric perspective, the game itself winds up being a bit primitive even for a game of its time. Steep learning curve, and simplistic enemies means this game got a barely passable 50%.
After that, we tried Keystone Kapers for the Atari 5200. A good overall level design, but you only get one level to play with. Increasing obstacles does add some spice to the overall game, though. So, this game gets a very respectable 74%.
Finally, we played Bounty Bob Strikes Back! for the Atari 5200. A game that has largely stayed the same since its prequel. An interesting lift system, but by the time this game was released, it seems quite dated. This bland game wound up with an overall 64%.
As for music we’ve listened to this month, we’ve got…
Picks of the Month
And in other news…
It seemed like such a brilliant idea for scientific research. Scientists from the Siberian Environmental Centre wanted to track the migratory patterns of eagles. So, they attached a GPS tracker powered by a miniature solar panel to the birds. The final piece of the puzzle is a mobile card. The GPS coordinates would be sent to the researchers cell phone 12 times a day. Of course, cell service isn’t necessarily available everywhere, so whenever the eagle flew out of cell service, the equipment would store the GPS coordinates and send it once the card is back in range of a tower. Over the summer, the eagle flew to western Kazakhstan and to several other countries. Eventually, the eagle came back into cell service range in a garbage dump in Iran. Scientists were then getting hundreds of text messages from backlogged GPS coordinates. That, in and of itself, wasn’t a problem. The problem they realized in retrospect was something called “roaming charges”. As a result, the scientists were being charged about 85 British pounds per day, or about $142.65 Canadian per day. When you consider how many birds were outfitted with this technology, well, lets just say it nearly bankrupted the program. They wound up turning to crowdfunding to try and absorb some of the financial impact of all of this.
… and you thought your cell phone bills were bad.
A woman in Alabama purchased some meth from her drug dealer. After bringing the meth home, she began to get worried that her meth was tainted with another drug. So, she decided to get her meth tested. Naturally, she called the police. After police arrived, she happily pulled the bag of meth out so that she could get it tested. The obvious thing ensued. She was arrested and charged with possession. Hey, doesn’t hurt to ask, right?
Gene Levoff, one of Apple’s top lawyer, was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring Apple employees weren’t engaged with insider trading. Naturally, since you are hearing this story in this section, you can probably guess where this is heading. Levoff was ultimately indicted for, what else, insider trading at Apple. The now former Apple lawyer faces a maximum of 20 years in prison in addition to fines for each charge if convicted. You had one job.
Before we close out this month’s episode, we got a minor announcement to make. Absolutely nothing has changed on the website as far as you are concerned. This may sound like an odd announcement to make, but that is exactly the point. Nothing has changed. We have been busy doing a bunch of back-end upgrading which did result in brief downtime on the web forums. The forums are back up again. We are hoping that these upgrades will enable us to move forward with other projects we have planned for the website, so, stay tuned for more.
Also, huge shoutout to Nolan for providing mixing and recording services. We really do appreciate all the hard work he puts into these.
If you’d like to get your hands on some behind the scenes stuff, exclusive content, and early access material, you can check out our Patreon page at Patreon.com/freezenet. Through this, you can help make Freezenet just that much better all the while getting some pretty cool stuff in the process. That’s Patreon.com/freezenet!
…and that’s this months episode for October, 2019, I’m Drew Wilson for Freezenet. Be sure to check out our website at freezenet.ca for all the latest in news and reviews. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @freezenetca. Thank you for listening and see you next month.