ArtsWatch: Coming Soon? An iSpy Smart Phone?

EFF upset over Apple patent application's surveillance scenarios
August 30, 2010 -- 10:02 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On Aug. 23 the Electronic Frontier Foundation sounded an alarm over Apple's patent application "systems and methods for identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device." The application covers many scenarios in which a device would detect unauthorized use, triggering a notification that would be sent to a responsible party, such as a secondary contact for the owner or law enforcement. EFF dubs this "traitorware" due to its concerns that law enforcement could eventually demand information that can be gathered in the manners described, potentially turning smart phones into powerful surveillance devices for tracking the activities of their users. Various triggers that can be programmed to detect unauthorized use include monitoring GPS location, surreptitiously recording pictures, audio and Internet usage, and analyzing a user's face, voice, heartbeat, or the pattern of vibration recorded on the smart phone's accelerometer, which can be used to identify modes of transportation. Besides sending out a notification, the scenarios envision wide-ranging responses a device could be programmed to make, such as disabling itself or preventing an unauthorized user from having access to files saved in its memory. "This patent is downright creepy and invasive — certainly far more than would be needed to respond to the possible loss of a phone," EFF said.

Thomas Tauke, executive VP of public affairs, policy and communications for Verizon, defended his company's joint proposal with Google on Aug. 23 in a keynote address to the Technology Policy Institute's 2010 Aspen Forum. His position that the proposal would protect both an open Internet and Net neutrality was swiftly attacked by consumer advocates Free Press and Public Knowledge, which were in turn countered by a response from Verizon.

At a TPI Aspen Forum panel discussion later that morning, RIAA President Cary Sherman complained that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act does plenty to protect Internet service providers and YouTube, but "isn't working for content people at all. You cannot monitor all the infringements on the Internet. It's simply not possible. We don't have the ability to search all the places infringing content appears...," Sherman said.

In France, about a quarter million antipiracy leaflets were passed out to highway motorists on each of the last two weekends describing the new administrative agency HADOPI and how it will pursue a "three strikes" antipiracy program that can result in Internet accounts being suspended for up to a year. Additional awareness-building efforts are in the works for later this year.

On Aug. 19 IMS Research estimated that the number of Internet-connected devices worldwide could pass 5 billion by end of August. Due to machine-to-machine interaction, the firm expects the number of Internet-connected devices to grow fourfold over the next 10 years, outstripping the world's human population.

The Federal Communications Commission on Aug. 26 petitioned the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit the fleeting expletives case the court decided last month when it vacated the FCC's indecency policy as unconstitutionally vague. FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick said, "The three-judge panel's decision in July raised serious concerns about the commission's ability to protect children and families from indecent broadcast programming."

On Aug. 24 BMI announced it had filed an appeal to a decision made last month — in the DMX rate-setting case before the U.S. Circuit Court — to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. "Our writers and publishers should not be expected to lose more than half of their income from DMX based on the court's erroneous holdings, which substantially reduce the value of their creative efforts," said Del Bryant, BMI president/CEO.

Patent licensing authority MPEG LA announced on Aug. 26 that it will extend its policy of not charging for Internet video encoded using the H.264 standard for video that is delivered free to end users. The policy was previously scheduled to end after 2015 but MPEG LA has now committed to maintain it until the patents expire. Wider use of H.264 encoding could increase other types of payments, and observers expect this decision will make H.264 more competitive online compared to Adobe Flash.

On Aug. 23 PBS announced the launch of PBS Arts — a growing collection of virtual exhibitions meant to invigorate public engagement with artistic creativity and the performing arts. The site's dedicated music area features selections from "Austin City Limits" and the first episode of a Web-exclusive "Quick Hits" series featuring Italy's popular singer/songwriter/rapper Jovanotti.


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