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The “splinternet” is already here

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in alibaba, Asia, Baidu, belgium, Brussels, censorship, chief executive officer, China, Column, corbis, Dragonfly, Eric Schmidt, eu commission, Facebook, firewall, Getty-Images, Google, great firewall, Information technology, Internet, internet access, Iran, Mark Zuckerberg, net neutrality, North Korea, online freedom, open Internet, photographer, russia, Saudi Arabia, search engines, South Korea, Sundar Pichai, Syria, Tencent, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States, Washington D.C., world wide web | 0 comments

There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Congress flaunts its ignorance in House hearing on net neutrality

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019 in Congress, Government, net neutrality, TC | 0 comments

It’s amazing, and yet should surprise no one, that this country’s elected representatives can be either so cynical or so ignorant that two decades into the net neutrality debate, the basics still elude them. Today’s hearing in the House saw members of Congress airing musty arguments and grandstanding generically as if they had just been informed of the internet this week.

The hearing today at the House Energy and Commerce committee was entitled “Preserving an Open Internet for Consumers, Small Businesses, and Free Speech.” Newly ascended Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who has been extremely outspoken on these issues for the last few years, gave an introduction that was unmistakably hostile to the present FCC and its replacement of 2015’s net neutrality rules.

The witnesses that would be examined for the next three hours represented both sides of the issue, and it must be said were earnest and well spoken. But the same could not be said for many of the Representatives who were ostensibly there to inform themselves about possible ways to create federal, bipartisan net neutrality legislation. (You can watch the full hearing here.)

The only thing they seemed to be able to agree on is that Congress ought to do something — but instead of figuring out what that something is, they decided to take the opportunity to repeat discredited talking points and alternately cajole and badger the witnesses.

Saying it over and over doesn’t make it any more true

All the old canards were trucked out as if they have not been addressed over and over for years.

The most frequent argument was that Title II, the statutory authority on which the 2015 rules were based (there’s a whole story there if you’re curious), is too old — it was first established in the 1934 Communications Act as a way to regulate interstate communications. Why, these lawmakers asked repeatedly, should we be using rules established in an era when the telegraph and telephone were how people communicated?

The obvious answer we’ve had for years is of course that we don’t; the rules have been updated over and over again to avoid their becoming out of date, though it’s entirely reasonable to suggest we do so again.

Nevertheless, Billy Long (R-MO) wasted everyone’s time with a poorly executed stunt where he had people identify huge photos of recent House Speakers and then brought up Thomas Rainey, the Speaker from 1934. “Even Speaker Rainey would admit that a bill he passed should not be governing this century’s internet,” he ventured. (It’s hard to say. Rainey fast-tracked the entire New Deal and then died in office a month after the Act was passed. He likely would have objected to being used as a prop in this fashion.)

A Representative Soto (R-FL) also made a particular point of how old the law was, suggesting it had last been updated in 1984. Amazingly, he seemed unaware or unwilling to mention the monumental and highly relevant total revisitation of the law that is the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Only Anna Eshoo (D-CA) seemed to perceive the absurdity of this argument. “A lot of references have been made to old laws. Title II has just been beaten to a pulp. You know what the oldest one is? The constitution. That’s got so much dust on it, maybe we should throw that one out too,” she joked.

But she had her knives out as well, calling out those present for their unconvincing sudden change of heart regarding how important the internet is to their constituents. Nearly everyone who spoke, it must be said, took 30 seconds to a minute of their allotted five to explain for the nth time how precious the internet and freedom of speech on it are.

“Everyone says that they love the internet, how important it is,” Eshoo said. “Where were so many people two years ago, when ripping privacy off the internet went through here like a bolt of lightning? Were you here, Michael? You weren’t here.”

She was referring to the reversal of the Broadband Privacy Rule just after the election, which was a rather nasty piece of work that seemed entirely motivated by industry interests and was widely decried by activists and constituents. It’s a valid question. Who can believe a legislator who says they care if they voted for that repeal? (It’s unclear which Michael she was calling out.)

Not so much a question as a comment…

A few sets of leading questions let the ISP witnesses (Joseph Franell, a very decent-seeming CEO of a rural telecom, and Michael Powell, a canny but likable head of a major trade group, NCTA) explain at length how they felt that edge providers like Google and Facebook were the real enemies who were limiting speech on the internet.

That is of course something we should be talking about, and in fact it is an ongoing international discussion. But in the context of a net neutrality debate, it’s a massive red herring.

Net neutrality is about moving bits around without interfering with them, not what businesses like social networks or search providers could or should do with those bits once they have them in their possession.

In the process of these digressions, the telecom CEO admitted that what his company does amounts to being a neutral, purely transmissive party — which is funny, considering the FCC makes the opposite assertion in its present rules.

Rep. Johnson (R-OH) rattled off a list of unsubstantiated assertions about the 2015 rules and told Tom Wheeler — who was the FCC Chairman who established those rules — to give a nonsensical yes or no answer and refused to allow him to respond to the “aspersions” he’d just entered into the record. Then he led Franell to say at length that there’s more competition in broadband now than ever, though Franell’s experience as a small rural provider for a few thousand people is hardly representative of the national state of things (being honest, he prefaced his response with this information).

Rep. Flores (R-TX) made a fool of himself by attempting to dispute Mozilla’s statement that it “would not exist today without net neutrality,” pointing out that Mozilla was founded at the turn of the century, and that the net neutrality rules didn’t come around until 2015. This might have been the most frustrating moment of the whole hearing, since it was all at once factually incorrect, ignorant or dismissive of basic context, clearly designed to discredit a witness there in good faith (Mozilla COO Denelle Dixon), and spoken at the end of his allotted time so no response was possible from Dixon.

Luckily Rep. Luján (D-NM) much later generously gave her some time to rebut Flores; she pointed out the obvious fact that 2015 was not the birth of net neutrality, but that the idea of it stretches back decades and fueled the creation and ongoing growth of the Mozilla organization.

Not exactly diamonds but not rough either

A handful of Representatives had specific questions relevant to the creation of future law, if not particularly inspiring ones. It seems clear we’re nowhere near a legislative solution; one congressman outright said there was no way Trump would sign anything from this Congress.

Congresswoman Matsui (D-CA) inquired about revisions of the Universal Service Fund, a critical budget component for FCC programs that defray the cost of, for example, expanding wireless into rural areas.

Luján questioned FCC Chairman Pai’s assertion that the existing rules would benefit his poorest constituents, saying that was simply not true and that forthcoming laws should be explicit about how they help these communities.

Vermont Democrat Welch pointed out what seemed to be a mismatch between promises that eliminating net neutrality would increase capital expenditure by ISPs and the actual numbers provided by those ISPs. Powell disputed some of these numbers, but the message was clear that economic analysis needs to be far more robust and that hanging a set of rules or laws on broad measures like capex is inadequate justification.

But these small pieces of honest inquiry or criticism produced only a smattering of useful information; the vast majority of the hearing was bloviation and repetition of arguments that have failed to convince anyone for years running. It’s important for us to see this sort of thing, however — it gives faces to the elected officials who bow to industry interests and outright question the need for consumer protections their constituents are calling for.

When you hear that hundreds of lawmakers voted against privacy rules or won’t support net neutrality principles, you often think: “who would do that?” Then you see a hearing like this and you understand: “Oh. That’s who.”

Source: The Tech Crunch

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FCC Chairman Pai celebrates Congress failing to bring back net neutrality

Posted by on Jan 2, 2019 in ajit pai, FCC, Government, net neutrality | 0 comments

As one Congress ends and another begins, many are looking forward to a rebalancing of power — especially in the House of Representatives, which Democrats handily retook in November. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is more pleased with what the House failed to do — namely, roll back his repeal of net neutrality rules.

To be fair, he does have reason to celebrate; no one likes to see their work undone. But a statement issued today tells a very selective message about congressional opposition to his master plan.

“I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed Internet regulation,” Pai said. The “heavy-handed” remark is the usual boilerplate in reference to 2015’s rules, which used what the current FCC calls “depression-era” regulations to exert control over internet providers. That aspersion doesn’t really make sense, as I’ve noted before.

And the “strong bipartisan majority” bears a bit of explanation as well. Indeed, the Democrats fell about 30 short of the votes they needed to put the Congressional Review Act into effect and undo the FCC’s order. But that was only after the Senate, by a similar “strong bipartisan majority,” as Pai would no doubt put it, voted for the rollback. No mention of that in his statement.

In fact the CRA was a long shot from the beginning, but as Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) told me shortly after the repeal, “it’s very important to try, and it’s important to get everybody in Congress on the record. We want every member of Congress to have to go on the record and say whether or not they agree with what the commission just did.”

Although there was no actual change to the rule, the forced votes of the CRA did succeed in exposing the stances of Senators and Representatives who had hitherto avoided the issue.

Pai followed this questionable bit of crowing with a litany of vague reasons the new rules should be kept. The internet, he points out, “has remained free and open. Broadband speeds are up… Internet access is also expanding, and the digital divide is closing.”

The former claim is, as always, being tested by internet providers, who continue to inject ads, block or throttle services, and otherwise interfere until customers and watchdogs call them out.

But the latter claim in particular would be disputed by many, especially since the FCC’s own numbers tracking broadband deployment in the U.S. have been widely mocked as inaccurate and sourced uncritically from an industry with a vested interest in overstating its own accomplishments.

Furthermore, it’s entirely unclear whether Pai’s new rules have had any positive influence at all. Broadband investment has in fact not been affected, despite a $2 billion tax break given to cable companies and a number of other sweetheart deals. The most likely explanation for any positive effects is investment planned or made years ago, perhaps as far back as the Obama administration and the previous rules.

On top of that, the new rules are under such close scrutiny and face several legal challenges that the industry would be foolish to let them affect their policies in anything but short-term matters. As happened with the 2015 rules, these could be gone in a year or two, or — with the Senate bullish on real net neutrality rules and a flipped House — replaced with actual legislation.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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California Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Toughest Net Neutrality Law

Posted by on Sep 1, 2018 in California, Computers and the Internet, Federal Communications Commission, Law and Legislation, net neutrality | 0 comments

The bill is sure to set up a fight between broadband providers, like Verizon and AT&T, and consumer groups.
Source: New York Times

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FCC accused of ‘dereliction of duty’ in failing to dispel cyberattack ‘myth’

Posted by on Aug 14, 2018 in FCC, Government, net neutrality | 0 comments

Following the issuance of a report from the FCC’s Inspector General essentially saying the reports of cyberattacks on the agency were made up out of whole cloth, several lawmakers are demanding answers from Chairman Ajit Pai.

The report, published last week, reveals that the narrative of an attack against the FCC’s comment system — a narrative the agency has propped up for over a year — had no evidence to support it. The comment system, the record indicates, was simply overwhelmed by people hammering it after becoming aware of net neutrality issues and how they could make their voice heard.

Part of this long-lived mistake was, necessarily, making false statements to the public and Congress, since the latter repeatedly requested more information on the purported attacks. Although federal prosecutors declined to pursue this infraction, the members of Congress to whom Pai repeatedly told untruths have indicated they are not likely to forgive and forget.

Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) sent a letter (PDF) to Ajit Pai today admonishing him and his office for their failure. Pallone and Doyle particularly have been nipping at the chairman’s heels almost constantly since he took the job, so they have extra cause to be angered by his actions.

Given the significant media, public, and Congressional attention this alleged cyberattack received for over a year, it is hard to believe that the release of the IG’s Report was the first time that you and your staff realized that no cyberattack occurred. Such ignorance would signify a dereliction of your duty as the head of the FCC, particularly due to the severity of the allegations and the blatant lack of evidence.

It is troubling that you allowed the public myth created by the FCC to persist and your misrepresentations to remain uncorrected for over a year… To the extent that you were aware of the misrepresentations prior to the release of the Report and failed to correct them, such actions constitute a wanton disregard for Congress and the American public.

Chairman Pai does have a legitimate excuse to a certain extent in that the FCC’s Office of the Inspector General had requested that the agency keep quiet about its investigation while it was ongoing. So we may fairly say that Pai and his office may have in some ways had their hands tied.

But clearly I am not the only one who finds that inadequate justification for the FCC’s behavior. To cling to an explanation, with no evidence, provided by a person (the former chief information officer) apparently distrusted by Pai as a partisan and who left in October 2017 — to cling to it so completely and give no word at all that there was perhaps another explanation? It doesn’t make sense.

As the members of Congress write, it’s inconceivable that Pai and his office were unaware of the doubts regarding and material deficiencies of the cyberattack story. That would be a major failure of one kind. And if they were aware and didn’t say so under direct congressional inquiry, that’s a failure of another kind.

The letter asks for Pai to explain:

  • When his office first became aware that the events of last May were possibly not an attack
  • Why the FCC’s previous statements to the public and Congress have not been publicly amended
  • What exactly the Inspector General told Pai not to discuss or disclose during the investigation

The FCC is given two weeks (until August 28) to respond to these and other questions.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Net neutrality activists, not hackers, crashed the FCC’s comment system

Posted by on Aug 7, 2018 in FCC, Government, john oliver, net neutrality, Security, TC | 0 comments

An unprecedented flood of citizens concerned about net neutrality is what took down the FCC’s comment system last May, not a coordinated attack, a report from the agency’s Office of the Inspector General concluded. The report unambiguously describes the “voluminous viral traffic” resulting from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on the topic, along with some poor site design, as the cause of the system’s collapse.

Here’s the critical part:

The May 7-8, 2016 degradation of the FCC’s ECFS was not, as reported to the public and to Congress, the result of a DDoS attack. At best, the published reports were the result of a rush to judgment and the failure to conduct analyses needed to identify the true cause of the disruption to system availability. Rather than engaging in a concerted effort to understand better the systematic reasons for the incident, certain managers and staff at the Commission mischaracterized the event to the Office of the Chairman as resulting from a criminal act, rather than apparent shortcomings in the system.

Although FCC leadership preemptively responded to the report yesterday, the report itself was not published until today. The OIG sent it to TechCrunch this morning, and you can find the full document here.

The approximately 25 pages of analysis (and 75 more of related documents, some of which are already public) relate specifically to the “Event” of May 7-8 last year and its characterization by the office of the Chief Information Officer, at the time David Bray. The investigation was started on June 21, 2017. The subsequent handling of the event under public and Congressional inquiry is not included in the scope of this investigation.

As the report notes, Bray shortly after the event issued a press release describing the system’s failure as “multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks.” A variation on this was the line going forward, even well after Bray left in October 2017.

However, internal email conversations and analysis of the traffic logs reveal that this characterization of the event was severely mistaken.

Here it ought to be said that in the chaos of the moment and with incomplete time and information, an accurate diagnosis of a major systematic failure is generally going to be an educated guess at first — so we mustn’t judge Bray and his office too harshly for its mistake, at least in the immediate aftermath.

But what becomes clear from the OIG’s investigation is that the DDoS narrative first advanced by Bray is not backed up by the evidence. Their own analysis of the logs clearly shows that the spikes in traffic correlate directly with activity from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, which that evening and the following morning posted tweets and videos that garnered an immense amount of traffic and directed it at the FCC’s comment system.

Chart showing traffic spikes correlating with John Oliver (JO) related events.

“These spikes in traffic are singular rather than sustained, that is, the unique IP addresses that visited the FCC domain and ECFS did not do so over a sustained period of time, at regular intervals (as would be expected during a DDoS),” the report explains in the caption for the graph above.

“The traffic observed during the incident was a combination of “flash crowd” activity and increased traffic volume resulting from [redacted] site design issues,” reads the report. I’ve asked for more detail on these design issues and how they contributed to the system’s failure.

Interestingly, it appears some at the FCC were aware that Oliver was planning a segment on net neutrality for that time period, but no one thought to brace for it. According to a colleague interviewed for the report, “Bray was furious that he had not been informed about the John Oliver episode.”

Email excerpts from the time of the event, collected by the FCC’s OIG.

In fact, however, even confronted with the fact that Oliver’s segment was likely directly driving traffic, Bray suggested that “trolls” and 4chan were the more likely culprit.

We’re 99.9% confident this was external folks deliberately trying to tie-up the server to prevent others from commenting and/or create a spectacle.

Jon Oliver invited the “trolls” – to include 4Chan (which is a group affiliated with Anonymous and the hacking community).

His video triggered the trolls. Normal folks cannot manually file a comment in less than a millisecond over and over and over again, so this was definitely high traffic targeting ECFS to make it appear unresponsive to others.

All this, and the description put in the press release and some subsequent communications, is “not accurate,” as the OIG put it.

As a result, “we determined the FCC, relying on Bray’s explanation of the events, misrepresented facts and provided misleading responses to Congressional inquiries related to this incident.”

It’s worth noting that this has already been looked at by federal prosecutors:

Because of the possible criminal ramifications associated with false statements to Congress, FCC OIG formally referred this matter to the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia…On June 7, 2018, after reviewing additional information and interviews, USAO-DC declined prosecution.”

In a way, as Chairman Ajit Pai wrote yesterday, this does somewhat exonerate his office for its year-long campaign of stalling, half-truths, and outright refusals to answer questions. If they took Bray’s characterization as gospel, they had to stick to that analysis. Furthermore, with an investigation ongoing, what they could and couldn’t say was likely limited at the request of the OIG.

But that’s only a partial pardon. In the year and change since the event there has been ample time for reflection and revisiting of the data. Bray left in October; why did the new CIO not use the occasion to take a fresh look at a report that was plainly doubted by many in the agency?

The CIO’s office, as the report notes, never actually issued a substantive report showing that its DDoS narrative was true. And shortly after the event, it was, as one staffer put it, “common knowledge” that the analysis was flawed. This knowledge was arrived at through “further research” after the fact — but then it turned out no “further research” was conducted.

What kind of operation is this? Why was FCC leadership not foaming at the mouth asking for better information? The Chairman was under fire from all sides — no one bought the story he was selling — why not walk over to the CIO’s office, now rid of its Obama administration–tainted head (Pai mentioned this association twice in his statement yesterday), and demand answers?

Pai denies that he or his office was aware of these shortcomings and opted not to rectify them because they were advantageous to his plan to reverse 2015’s net neutrality rules. But how could such a demonstrably shoddy and undocumented analysis persist for so long, under such close scrutiny? This wasn’t a minor technical glitch unworthy of leadership’s attention. It was national news.

The optics of a confusing and incomplete DDoS report aren’t good. But the report, if it was wrong, as everyone seemed to consider it even day-of, could always be disavowed and its author blamed on Obama.

What’s worse are the optics of a wave of public opposition to a controversial proposal, so strong that it literally took down the system created — and recently upgraded! — to handle that kind of feedback. This narrative, of a flood of pro-net-neutrality commenters so large that not only did it break the system, but many of their comments were arguably unable to be posted and (notionally) included in the FCC’s analysis — that, my friends, is a bad look.

Although this investigation has concluded, another by the Government Accountability Office is ongoing and may have a wider scope. If not, however, it seems unthinkable that the FCC and its current leadership can walk away from this unscathed. Ultimately this entire debacle took place under Ajit Pai’s watch, and his handling of it is at best dubious. Citizens and no doubt elected officials are almost certain to ask hard questions — and this time, the Chairman might actually have to answer them.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Net neutrality makes comeback in California; lawmakers agree to strict rules

Posted by on Jul 5, 2018 in California, net neutrality, Policy | 0 comments

Enlarge / California State Capitol building in Sacramento. (credit: Getty Images | joe chan photography)

A California net neutrality bill that could impose the toughest rules in the country is being resurrected.

The bill was approved in its strongest form by the California Senate, but it was then gutted by the State Assembly’s Communications Committee, which approved the bill only after eliminating provisions opposed by AT&T and cable lobbyists. Bill author Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has been negotiating with Communications Committee Chairman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and other lawmakers since then, and he announced the results today.

Wiener said the agreement with Santiago and other lawmakers resulted in “legislation implementing the strongest net neutrality protections in the nation.”

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Source: Ars Technica

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European and Indian regulators team up to defend net neutrality

Posted by on Jun 15, 2018 in Europe, Government, net neutrality, Policy | 0 comments

Representatives of Europe’s BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) and India’s TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) met up yesterday to sign a joint statement to promote an open internet.

This short document describes a set of rules to guarantee net neutrality. Those are some basic rules, such as equal treatment of internet traffic, a case-by-case assessment of zero-rating practices and more.

Both the European Union and India have implemented regulation to ensure net neutrality already. But they now want to go further and work together on the same set of rules. Net neutrality is always evolving and rules need to be updated regularly. This collaboration should contribute to a unification of net neutrality.

Even more important than the statement itself, the timing of this announcement is interesting. The FCC officially repealed net neutrality in the U.S. on Monday. While other regulators can’t do anything about what’s happening in the U.S., they can make sure net neutrality remains intact in their own country.

There’s a risk that the FCC decision triggers a domino effect. Telecom companies in other countries could lobby regulators to end net neutrality (the U.S. has done it, so why not us?).

As ARCEP president Sébastien Soriano told me a few months ago, it’s time to show that there’s another way. And the best way to do it is by forming a group of countries and regulators who share the same principles. With India and the European Union, a good chunk of the world population is now clearly defending net neutrality.

Other countries could now join this alliance and prove that net neutrality is important for innovation, competition and end customers.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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FCC has a redaction party with emails relating to mystery attack on comment system

Posted by on Jun 5, 2018 in FCC, Government, Hack, net neutrality, Policy | 0 comments

You may remember the FCC explaining that in both 2014 and 2017, its comment system was briefly taken down by a denial of service attack. At least, so it says — but newly released emails show that the 2014 case was essentially fabricated, and the agency has so aggressively redacted documents relating to the 2017 incident that one suspects they’re hiding more than ordinary privileged information.

As a very quick recap: Shortly after the comment period opened for both net neutrality and the rollback of net neutrality there was a rush of activity that rendered the filing system unusable for a period of hours. This was corrected soon afterwards and the capacity of the system increased to cope with the increased traffic.

A report from Gizmodo based on more than 1,300 pages of emails obtained by watchdog group American Oversight shows that David Bray, the FCC’s chief information officer for a period encompassing both events, appears to have advanced the DDoS narrative with no real evidence or official support.

The 2014 event was not called an attack until much later, when Bray told reporters following the 2017 event that it was. “At the time the Chairman [i.e. Tom Wheeler] did not want to say there was a DDoS attack out of concern of copycats,” Bray wrote to a reporter at Federal News Radio. “So we accepted the punches that it somehow crashed because of volume even though actual comment volume wasn’t an issue.”

Gigi Sohn, who was Wheeler’s counsel at the time, put down this idea: “That’s just flat out false,” she told Gizmodo. “We didn’t want to say it because Bray had no hard proof that it was a DDoS attack. Just like the second time.”

And it is the second time that is most suspicious. Differing on the preferred nomenclature for a four-year-old suspicious cyber event would not be particularly damning, but Bray’s narrative of a DDoS is hard to justify with the facts we do know.

In a blog post written in response to the report, Bray explained regarding the 2017 outage:

Whether the correct phrase is denial of service or “bot swarm” or “something hammering the Application Programming Interface” (API) of the commenting system — the fact is something odd was happening in May 2017.

Bray’s analysis appears sincere, but the data he volunteers is highly circumstantial: large amounts of API requests that don’t match comment counts, for instance, or bunches of RSS requests that tie up the servers. Could it have been a malicious actor doing this? It’s possible. Could it have been bad code hammering the servers with repeated or malformed requests? Also totally possible. The FCC’s justification for calling it an attack seems to be nothing more than a hunch.

Later the FCC, via then-CIO Bray, would categorize the event as a “non-traditional DDoS attack” flooding the API interface. But beyond that it has produced so little information of any import that Congress has had to re-issue its questions in stronger words.

No official documentation of either supposed attack has appeared, nor has the FCC released any data on it, even a year later and long after the comment period has closed, improvements to the system have been made and the CIO who evaded senators’ questions departed.

But most suspicious is the extent to which the FCC redacted documents relating to the 2017 event. Having read through the trove of emails, Gizmodo concludes that “every internal conversation about the 2017 incident between FCC employees” has been redacted. Every one!

The FCC stated before that the “ongoing nature” of the threats to its systems meant it would “undermine our system’s security” to provide any details on the improvements it had made to mitigate future attacks. And Bray wrote in his post that there was no “full blown report” because the team was focused on getting the system up and running again. But there is also an FCC statement saying that “our analysis reveals” that a DDoS was the cause.

What analysis? If it’s not a “significant cyber incident,” as the FBI determined, why the secrecy? If there’s no report or significant analysis from the day — wrong or right in retrospect — what is sensitive about the emails that they have to be redacted en masse? Bray himself wrote more technical details into his post than the FCC has offered in the year since the event — was this information sent to reporters at the time? Was it redacted? Why? So little about this whole information play makes no sense.

One reasonable explanation (and just speculation, I should add) would be that the data do not support the idea of an attack, and internal discussions are an unflattering portrait of an agency doing spin work. The commitment to transparency that FCC Chairman Pai so frequently invokes is conspicuously absent in this specific case, and one has to wonder why.

The ongoing refusal to officially document or discuss what all seem to agree was an important event, whether it’s a DDoS or something else, is making the FCC look bad to just about everyone. No amount of redaction can change that.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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California Senate defies FCC, approves net neutrality law

Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Biz & IT, California, FCC, net neutrality, Policy | 0 comments

Enlarge / California State Capitol building in Sacramento. (credit: Getty Images | joe chan photography)

The California State Senate yesterday approved a bill to impose net neutrality restrictions on Internet service providers, challenging the Federal Communications Commission attempt to preempt such rules.

The FCC’s repeal of its own net neutrality rules included a provision to preempt state and municipal governments from enforcing similar rules at the local level. But the governors of Montana and New York have signed executive orders to enforce net neutrality, and several states are considering net neutrality legislation.

The FCC is already being sued by 21 states and the District of Columbia, which are trying to reverse the net neutrality repeal and the preemption of state laws. Attempts to enforce net neutrality rules at the state or local level could end up being challenged in separate lawsuits.

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Source: Ars Technica

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