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6 Lessons From Microsoft v Cryptome

February 27, 2010

Yesterday I had a muted response to the contents of Microsoft Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, the leaked document at the centre of this week’s 24-hour shutdown of Cryptome.org. The fact that the documents were censored, albeit ineffectively, has made them more notorious than they rightly deserve. The documents stated the predictable capabilities of system administrators and explained how law enforcement can utilize this data when required by subpoena, court order, or warrant. They did not reveal that they provide government with carte blanche access, although it is troubling to see that there is a back-end administrative system built specifically for law enforcement considering there are reasons to suspect the requirements of law will not always be met. I am sure I am not alone with my concern that there could be constant “snooping” by individuals who are not legally authorized, or that legal authorization can come too readily, and that a victim would never know.

We can put that aside, for now, because vague concern is not necessary for this story. Instead we can look at the lessons from this particular case, which is not a story about a document; it is a story about abuse of power and the fight for Internet freedom.

John Young started Cryptome.org in 1996 to “publish documents the government doesn’t want published — that’s its only purpose,” he told The Alex Jones Show on Friday. He reported Cryptome has collected about 54,000 files. “They’re all based on [the idea of] reducing the amount of secrecy by government and, through government, the secrecy of corporations who do work with government.” Hence in 2008 they posted the “Microsoft Spy guide” which they hosted for more than a year before the hammer dropped on them this week and Microsoft brought a suit against Network Solutions,.

The things I have gleaned from this case, of which each will require further investigation, are as follows.

1. Microsoft abused Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and isn’t alone in this practice

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (2000) was used by Microsoft as a “bluff” to coerce Cryptome into taking it down. The fact they immediately backed down shows they had no authority to use DMCA. It was just a tactic, and, in this case, it failed. But the attempt is quite revealing. By using DMCA commercial firms can confront internet service providers with threat of law suit. “All they need to do is send an e-mail,” Young said. “I was hoping they would take me to court,” he told Jones. Individuals who lack this sort of intestinal fortitude could be silenced by law suits.

2. Network Solutions exceeded its authority as a domain manager

Network Solutions was providing Crpytome with hosting, and separately, provided domain registration. Not only did they halt his hosting service, as is their policy with a DMCA claim, but they took advantage of their system to prevent Young from transferring the domain to another provider, which exceeds their authority considering their role is to manage domain names, not act like they own them. Jones claimed that this was actionable damages and that Young should take them to court.

3. Major corporations have secret policies with government

Cryptome.org has a list of what they term “spy guides” from many companies including Skype, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and others. Very few of the major companies admit their compliance with government agencies, and Young views this as a troubling lack of transparency. This is the point made in yesterdays report at Wired.com – if the relationships were public then there wouldn’t be a controversy about them, unless, of course, there’s something controversial about the relationships themselves.

4. Protection is just Justification for Spying

John Young said, “The government has admitted that they spy on social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter… What they won’t tell us is what are they doing with the data? The key to all this is they always justify this by saying we’re trying to fight the criminals and the terrorist. Thing is, they over reach. They use it just as an open gambit, and they expand it to watch people who are not criminals, who are not terrorists… They always argue that ‘we’re doing this to protect the public.'”

5. “The Internet is A Gigantic Spy Machine,” and Spying is big business

Young portrayed an Internet whose primary function is to track the citizenry, and the organs of control are themselves quite lucrative to their operators. He said, “Since [Sept. 11] Spying on Americans has become very big business and corporations now are doing it covertly – Microsoft among them … All the giant people (businesses) online are now assisting government to spy on citizens through their customer data.”

6. This reinforces the need for a journalism haven

This incident demonstrates the need for an information freedom haven, as brought forward by WikiLeaks founders and placed on the table of the Icelandic Parliament this month. February closes with a stark demonstration of the vulnerabilities of publishers who are based on American commercial platforms. Young made mention of this. “Iceland is about to set up a regime, we hope, where freedom of information will finally come into its own,and people will be able to publish more in Iceland that they will not that they will not even in freedom-loving America.”‘

Yet, a journalism haven, a country with constitutionally defended server farms, will do nothing to protect users of American-based social media websites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, which operate within the jurisdiction of American law.

Other avenues of inquiry appeared when Alex Jones claimed the following on yesterday’s PrisonPlanet.tv vodcast:

“Four or five months ago a secret UN treaty on copy right came out, it’s basically an expansion of this (DMCA). Italy is saying you have to have a license to post video, to be a blogger. We’ve got Australia is saying we want Chinese-style net censorship. Anyone complains, then your website is put on a list that’s banned in Australia. We have Time Magazine, Newsweek, The New  York Times calling for a ‘ Kinder, gentler,’ ‘Gate keeper internet.’ We have Cybersecurity openly taking over the entire grid, the physical transfer lines of the web. They’re definitely coming against the web right now.”

“That’s right,” Young agreed, adding, “It’s a world-wide initiative. Its not just government, it is these commercial firms who also are working with government to control freedom of speech.”

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