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‘Let’s take the Internet out of the control of terrestrial entities’

Normally I’m not a fan of hackers. But this one I think I like.

Here’s why: A German hacker group calling itself the Chaos Computer Club has come up with a plan to launch its own satellites into space to make sure the Internet remains open and available to all. They believe if the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, passes here in the United States, the legislation could lead to Internet censorship.

I’ve reported about SOPA, the “dreamworks” of Congress, in several previous Surfin’ Safari columns. This legislation is fraught with warning bells.

If Congress is to be believed, SOPA would protect against copyright infringement. Huge pressure is being applied on certain members of Congress by Hollywood, the music industry and others to get the bill passed. But Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia say it would lead to Internet censorship.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chief sponsor of SOPA, said

“It’s a vocal minority,” Smith continued. “Because they’re strident doesn’t mean they’re either legitimate or large in number. One, they need to read the language. Show me the language. There’s nothing they can point to that does what they say it does do. I think their fears are unfounded.”

Andrew Couts of Digital Trends writes, “There are so many things just factually wrong about Rep. Smith’s statement that it’s hard to know where to begin. So let’s just take his asinine dismissal from the top, shall we?”

OK, back to the Chaos Computer Club. They’ve come up with a plan – the Hackerspace Global Grid (HGG) – to circumvent SOPA if it is enacted, and take the Internet beyond the reach of censors by putting their own communication satellites into orbit.

Hacker activist Nick Farr said the increasing threat of Internet censorship has motivated the project: “The first goal is an uncensorable Internet in space. Let’s take the Internet out of the control of terrestrial entities. … Hackers are about open information. We believe communication is a human right.”

Is it technically and financially feasible? Read more to find out.

Internet watchdog Seton Motley issues warning

Seton Motley of Less Government.com reports that following President Obama’s UN-ing of America with his Federal Communications Commission’s December 2010 illegal Network Neutrality Internet power grab, we are now faced with an additional threat from the International Telecommunications Union, or ITU.

ITU is a wing of the United Nations, which will convene next December to renegotiate the 24-year-old treaty that deals with international oversight of the Internet.

“Lest we forget: Time and time and time again all over the world, when people’s Internet access is blocked, it is governments – China, Syria, Iran, North Korea, members of the United Nations – doing the blocking,” Motley cautions.

“These are governments that will now be voting to give themselves greater international Internet authority, including – especially – over us. Behold the (standard-issue) U.N. anti-America card,” he concludes.

Twitter is right to resist

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, sees a growing number of calls for Twitter to ban certain accounts of alleged terrorists.

In a Dec. 14 article in the New York Times, anonymous U.S. officials claimed they “may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close” a Twitter account associated with the militant Somali group Al-Shabaab.

A week later, the London Telegraph reported that Sen. Joe Lieberman contacted Twitter to remove two “propaganda” accounts allegedly run by the Taliban.

More recently, an Israeli law firm threatened to sue Twitter if they did not remove accounts run by Hezbollah.

EFF says Twitter is right to resist: “If the U.S. were to pressure Twitter to censor tweets by organizations it opposes, even those on the terrorist lists, it would join the ranks of countries like India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Syria, Uzbekistan, all of which have censored online speech in the name of ‘national security.’ And it would be even worse if Twitter were to undertake its own censorship regime, which would have to be based upon its own investigations or relying on the investigations of others that certain account holders were, in fact, terrorists.”

EFF lists calls for Twitter to censor its site and possible causes of action: private lawyers, congressional bullying, the executive branch, the Streisand effect.

AP losing privileged place as election reporter?

Could Google challenge the Associated Press in providing state and national election results in the U.S.?

That’s a question the Poynter Institute examines in a report issued after Iowa’s caucuses last week that showed Google coming in ahead of the venerable Associated Press with accurate voting results.

Poynter asks: “Whom do we trust more to give us early, reliable information on voting: a nonprofit journalism outfit or a private corporation that makes its money selling ads? And once all those votes are counted, to whom does that information belong?”

Anecdotally, the journalism school points to WNYC’s John Keefe as an example. Keefe used Google’s election results for his map tracking the results of Iowa’s GOP caucus for three reasons: “Google’s data were easier to deal with than the files provided by the Associated Press; He could share what he built; It was free; and on Tuesday night, he also learned that Google was faster.”

“If it could be repeated, it would be the democratizing of our real-time election results, really,” Keefe said.

Read the entire report.

Nostalgia of a social media kind

Timehop includes your Facebook status updates, photos you updated, photos you were tagged in, as well as Twitter and Instagram posts from the past 365 days. It’s a resurgence of products that play into social media nostalgia. Timehop co-founder Jonathan Wegener said in a published report that he hopes “the start-up will one day be the ‘ultimate’ way people experience their content history online, despite the tight constraint of only showing anniversary content – which Wegener likens to Twitter’s 140 characters.”

Speaking of nostalgia, how about a Steve Jobs action figure doll? Really. The 12-inch collectible bears a lifelike likeness to the Apple founder – down to the pores on its forehead and the veins on its hands.

Apple will soon be setting up shop on floorspace at select Target department stores in a test to see how well the store within a store fares with customers.

According to a report in AppleInsider, “Apple currently operates a ‘store within a store’ at over 600 Best Buy locations with Apple Shops, some of which feature staffing by Apple Solution Consultants. Best Buy has over 1,000 total stores in the U.S.”

Stratfor still recovering from hacking hell

Stratfor is still trying to straighten out the mess made when its data system was hacked last month. View this video of VP of Intelligence Fred Burton, who references false and misleading communications that have circulated within recent days. Specifically, a fraudulent email that appears to come from George.Friedman@Stratfor.com.

“While Stratfor works to reestablish its data systems and web presence, we ask everyone to please look for official communications, such as this one, and to monitor the Stratfor Facebook page and Twitter feed for company-approved communications.”

To date, Stratfor has not yet restored its website following the breach.

Google violated own policy, paid bloggers for favorable posts

Google and its marketing firm Unruly paid bloggers to write posts about Chrome. Problem is, that violated Google’s own policy.

According to SEO Book (via Tech Crunch), the action “wouldn’t have been a problem if the posters had followed their own policy by including a ‘no-follow’ tag in the link, which helps ensure that search results are not manipulated in favor of paid content.”

For its part, Google blamed the paid link policy violation on Unruly, which then turned around and blamed Sponsored Blogger.

Can the government force you to unlock an encrypted laptop?

It seems like an open and shut case. Federal prosecutors want a judge to order a woman to provide the password to decrypt her laptop. The computer was seized by the government, which had a search warrant. But the woman is fighting it, saying that the order violates her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The laptop was seized with a court warrant in a financial fraud investigation.

Digital rights groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are watching this case closely to see how the federal court rules in this first of a kind argument. What do you think should happen?

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