Category Archives: Law: Internet Law

My New Paper May Make Some of My Friends Angry

Building Privacy into the Infrastructure: Towards a New Identity Management Architecture comes to what I fear some of my friends in the privacy community will find to be an unacceptable conclusion.

I’ll be presenting it at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference in Washington next week. Hopefully, since many attendees are in fact friends, they won’t bring brickbats.

Posted in Cryptography, Econ & Money, Law: Internet Law, Law: Privacy, Surveillance, Talks & Conferences | Leave a comment

Microsoft Sues to Kill or Reduce ECPA Gag Orders

Microsoft filed suit today seeking a judicial declaration that 18 U.S.C. § 2705(b) violates its First Amendment Rights, and the Fourth Amendment rights of the subjects of the orders.

I think this lawsuit is a Big Deal, and Microsoft has the right of it on moral grounds. On legal grounds it has a good arguable case, although the law is not so clear that I can call it a slam dunk. This excellent article by Steve Lohr in the NYT gives the outline, and quotes a soi-disant expert.

Perhaps the most interesting, if disturbing, fact is this one:

From September 2014 to March 2016, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands in the United States for customer information or data. Nearly half — 2,576 — were accompanied by secrecy orders.

And of those secrecy orders, more than two-thirds contained no fixed end date. I.e. unless Microsoft were to go to court later to challenge them in individual proceedings, they orders would on their own terms last forever.

The text of Microsoft’s complaint is worth reading as it is very well done. Here’s the first paragraph:

Microsoft brings this case because its customers have a right to know when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails, and because Microsoft has a right to tell them. Yet the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) allows courts to order Microsoft to keep its customers in the dark when the government seeks their email content or other private information, based solely on a “reason to believe” that disclosure might hinder an investigation. Nothing in the statute requires that the “reason to believe” be grounded in the facts of the particular investigation, and the statute contains no limit on the length of time such secrecy orders may be kept in place. 18 U.S.C. § 2705(b). Consequently, as Microsoft’s customers increasingly store their most private and sensitive information in the cloud, the government increasingly seeks (and obtains) secrecy orders under Section 2705(b). This statute violates both the Fourth Amendment, which affords people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property, and the First Amendment, which enshrines Microsoft’s rights to talk to its customers and to discuss how the government conducts its investigations—subject only to restraints narrowly tailored to serve compelling government interests. People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud. Microsoft therefore asks the Court to declare that Section 2705(b) is unconstitutional on its face.

Update: For an argument that courts will deny Microsoft’s facial challenge on the grounds that the claims can only be asserted ‘as applied’ — very much an emphasis of recent Supreme Court decisions disfavoring as facial challenges to statutes, see Jennifer Daskal at Just Security, A New Lawsuit from Microsoft: No More Gag Orders!. It’s more pessimistic than I would be, but not implausible.

Update2: Microsoft’s statement.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law: Constitutional Law, Law: Free Speech, Law: Internet Law, The Media | Leave a comment


The HTTP 451 Error Code for Censorship Is Now an Internet Standard.

I believe this action of the IETF is consistent with the claims I made in my article Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace, 116 Harv. L. Rev. 749 (2003).

Posted in Law: Internet Law, Writings | Leave a comment

From Anonymity to Identification

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Self-Regulation and Regulation is out, and it includes an article of mine, From Anonymity to Identification. The article is adapted from a talk I gave in Heidelberg last December. I’m in good company: other authors in this issue are Markus Beckedahl, Jeanette Hofmann, Marianne Kneuer, Milton L. Mueller, Ekkehart Reimer, William Binney, Kai Cornelius, Myriam Dunn Cavelt, Sebastian Harnisch and Wolf J. Schünemann.

The full text of this open-access journal is available online, including a .pdf of From Anonymity to Identification. As Larry Solum likes to say, download it while it’s hot.

Here’s the abstract for “From Anonymity to Identification”:

This article examines whether anonymity online has a future. In the early days of the Internet, strong cryptography, anonymous remailers, and a relative lack of surveillance created an environment conducive to anonymous communication. Today, the outlook for online anonymity is poor. Several forces combine against it: ideologies that hold that anonymity is dangerous, or that identifying evil-doers is more important than ensuring a safe mechanism for unpopular speech; the profitability of identification in commerce; government surveillance; the influence of intellectual property interests and in requiring hardware and other tools that enforce identification; and the law at both national and supranational levels. As a result of these forces, online anonymity is now much more difficult than previously, and looks to become less and less possible. Nevertheless, the ability to speak truly freely remains an important ‘safety valve’ technology for the oppressed, for dissidents, and for whistle-blowers. The article argues that as data collection online merges with data collection offline, the ability to speak anonymously online will only become more valuable. Technical changes will be required if online anonymity is to remain possible. Whether these changes are possible depends on whether the public comes to appreciate and value the option of anonymous speech while it is still possible to engineer mechanisms to permit it.

Posted in Law: Internet Law, Surveillance, Writings | Leave a comment

Looking for a Good Student Note Topic?

I think this qualifies: FTDI Removes Driver From Windows Update That Bricked Cloned Chips (via Slashdot).

As Ars Technica explains:

Hardware hackers building interactive gadgets based on the Arduino microcontrollers are finding that a recent driver update that Microsoft deployed over Windows Update has bricked some of their hardware, leaving it inaccessible to most software both on Windows and Linux. This came to us via hardware hacking site Hack A Day.

The latest version of FTDI’s driver, released in August, contains some new language in its EULA and a feature that has caught people off-guard: it reprograms counterfeit chips rendering them largely unusable, and its license notes that:

Use of the Software as a driver for, or installation of the Software onto, a component that is not a Genuine FTDI Component, including without limitation counterfeit components, MAY IRRETRIEVABLY DAMAGE THAT COMPONENT

The license is tucked away inside the driver files; normally nobody would ever see this unless they were explicitly looking for it.

The result of this is that well-meaning hardware developers updated their systems through Windows Update and then found that the serial controllers they used stopped working. Worse, it’s not simply that the drivers refuse to work with the chips; the chips also stopped working with Linux systems. This has happened even to developers who thought that they had bought legitimate FTDI parts.

Nice four-hander here: the rights of the end-user, the rights and duties of the vendor, the rights and liabilities of the legitimate parts maker, and the potential liabilities of Microsoft for serving up the malware-to-counterfeits via Windows Update.

Heck, it could be an article.

Update (10/28/14): Good semi-technical background info on this at Errata Security: The deal with the FTDI driver scandal.

Posted in Law: Internet Law, Student Note Topics, Sufficiently Advanced Technology | Leave a comment

Anonymity is Hard: Harvard Bomb Hoax Investigation Surmounts Tor + Guerilla Mail

According to the affidavit from FBI Special Agent Thomas M. Dalton, the person who sent a fake bomb threat to cause Harvard to evacuate several buildings during exams used a throwaway email address from Guerrilla Mail, which he contacted via Tor. The FBI caught him anyway because the sender of the bomb threat accessed Tor via the Harvard wireless network.

The Guerrilla Mail FAQ says that “Logs are deleted after 24 hours,” but the FBI apparently got there inside that window. Presumably using the Guerrilla Mail logs, the FBI determined that the sender of the emails used Tor, an anonymization tool, to connect to Guerrilla Mail. Although the affidavit doesn’t spell any of this out, Harvard’s logs allowed it to figure out who had been using their wireless network to connect to Tor. They then somehow — correlating who among the limited pool of Tor-users with the people who had exams in the buildings evacuated due to the bomb threat? — fingered a suspect (or suspects?). I’d love to know how many people were in the intersection of those two sets. When confronted by the FBI a Harvard undergrad who confessed. One has to wonder, though, if there would have been sufficient evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt without that confession. After all, there are other ways to contact Tor.

Tor is widely considered to be the best tool available for online anonymity, so this serves as a cautionary lesson on how difficult it is to be anonymous on line.

The text of the affidavit is below:
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Posted in Law: Internet Law | 1 Comment

UMiami’s Holiday Wishes

Online here if you don’t see it below.

Your university tuition dollar at work.

Stop here if that filled you with holiday cheer.

Continue on if you want some Grinch.
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Posted in Law: Internet Law, U.Miami | Leave a comment