Thursday, January 26, 2017

New CIA Director Mike Pompeo Sparks Privacy Concerns

New CIA Director Mike Pompeo Sparks Privacy Concerns

The U.S. Senate confirmed Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo to be the Director of the CIA late on Monday over concerns from several congressional Democrats, who warned that putting Pompeo at the head of the intelligence agency would threaten civil liberties.


In an impassioned floor speech, Sen. Bernie Sanders called it “vital to have a head of the CIA who will stand up for our constitution, stand up for privacy rights.” He continued, “Unfortunately, in my view, Mr. Pompeo is not that individual.”

As we said late last year, we have concerns that many of President Donald Trump’s nominees, including Pompeo, will undermine digital rights and civil liberties, and those concerns persist.

Specifically, Pompeo sponsored legislation that would have reinstated the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata—an invasive program that civil liberties and privacy advocates fought to curtail by enacting the USA FREEDOM Act.

We also noted troubling op-eds written by Pompeo. In one piece in late 2015, Pompeo criticized Republican presidential candidates who were supposedly “weak” on national security and intelligence collection. “Less intelligence capacity equals less safety,” he wrote.

In another op-ed a few weeks later, Pompeo criticized lawmakers for “blunting [the intelligence community’s] surveillance powers” and called for “a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.”

Critics on the Senate floor—including Sens. Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders—honed in on the latter op-ed, which also recommended restarting the metadata collection that was curtailed under USA FREEDOM Act and “combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.” Pompeo continued, “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”

While Pompeo’s defenders argued that an effective intelligence agency should be utilizing publicly available information posted to social media, Wyden—who fought for delay to give the Senate more time to consider Pompeo’s nomination—drew a sharp distinction between seeking out social media information related to a known intelligence target and creating the database Pompeo has envisioned.

“It is something else entirely to create a giant government database of everyone’s social media postings and to match that up with everyone’s phone records,” Wyden said, calling the idea “a vast database on innocent Americans.”

Wyden also criticized Pompeo for skirting questions from lawmakers about what kinds of information would end up in the database, including whether the database would include information held by data brokers, the third-party companies that build profiles of internet users. He criticized Pompeo for being unwilling to “articulate the boundaries of what is a very extreme proposal.”

EFF thanks all 32 Senators who voted against Pompeo and his expansive vision of government surveillance. We were especially pleased by the “no” vote from our new home-state Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

EFF and other civil liberties advocates will work hard to hold Pompeo accountable as CIA Director and block any attempts by him or anyone else to broaden the intrusive government surveillance powers that threaten our basic privacy rights.

Source: New CIA Director Mike Pompeo Sparks Privacy Concerns | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Greenspan the Undertaker and His Countless Victims

Greenspan the Undertaker and His Countless Victims

Greenspan the Undertaker and His Countless Victims

Emi and Glen Yamasaki were a smiling couple that waved at their neighbors in the Sun City Anthem neighborhood of Henderson. Other retirees who lived near them couldn’t believe the Yamasakis committed suicide by jumping from the top story of the Silverton Casino’s parking garage.

What neighbors didn’t know is the couple’s golden years were not so shiny. Having bought their home at the top of the market in 2005, they were likely underwater and were facing foreclosure and other money troubles. W.C. Varones’ “Greenspan’s Body Count” counts Mr. and Mrs. Yamasaki as victims 257 and 258.

“A decade after the peak of his diabolical, deliberately created housing bubble, the 21st century's most prolific serial killer is still killing,” writes Varones on his blog. “Less than a month after his most recent murder, Alan Greenspan has killed a married couple in Las Vegas.”

The Man Who Knew

Sebastian Mallaby describes Varones as a “vituperative blogger” in his book The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan. However, the blog, which likely undercounts “mortgage-related suicides,” provides prescience to Ayn Rand’s nickname for Greenspan, “The Undertaker” – joining other nicknames such as “the Maestro” and “the Greatest Central Banker Ever.”

Of Mallaby’s very readable account of his life, the Maestro himself called the book “not always positive, but accurate.” Mallaby believes his subject knew all about the bubbles the Fed was creating but didn’t act. But, of course, the market did act, harshly. It’s Mallaby’s view that Greenspan could have pricked these asset bubbles and somehow let the air out slowly, making it painless for everyone.

So why didn’t he? The “greatest central banker in history” insisted in hindsight that bubbles were impossible to detect until it was too late.

No doubt Murray Rothbard is somewhere laughing. Mallaby mentions Greenspan’s devotion to Ayn Rand, laissez-faire capitalism, and the gold standard often. But, as Rothbard wrote, “For Greenspan, laissez-faire is not a lodestar, a standard, and a guide by which to set one's course; instead, it is simply a curiosity kept in the closet, totally divorced from his concrete policy conclusions.”

The shy undertaker was not a swashbuckling Randian hero or libertarian firebrand, but a passive-aggressive political manipulator. However, those inside the Fed, like Alan Blinder, gushed as Greenspan was retiring, “Financial markets now view Chairman Greenspan’s infallibility more or less as the Chinese once viewed Chairman Mao’s” – an interesting and rather backhanded compliment from an economist who occasionally butted heads with his boss.

In either case, history would say otherwise. Other than New York, Greenspan never saw a bailout he didn’t support or a bubble he couldn’t create. After all, it kept both Wall Street and the political class happy – both here and abroad. The man who grew up without a father and with an overbearing, doting mother wanted to gain powerful people's’ approval. He hated confrontation.

If Greenspan was familiar with Austrian Business Cycle Theory, and he should have been, he’d have known crashes and recessions are needed to correct the malinvestments created by central bank monetary interference. To paper over crashes and bail out losers is to destroy precious capital by keeping it in the hands of those who waste it.

However, Greenspan was a Keynesian forecaster who, as Rothbard explains, had no interest in Austrian economics or economic theory at all. Murray, who had met Greenspan, admitted he didn’t understand how Greenspan rose to power. “He’s the least charismatic person I’ve ever seen,” Rothbard said. “He has the persuasiveness of a dead mackerel.”

Most libertarians are familiar with Greenspan’s 1966 article "Gold and Economic Freedom," an attack on fiat money and central banking. Years later, Congressman Ron Paul asked the Fed Chair to sign an original copy. As Greenspan signed, Paul asked him if he still believed what he wrote in that essay some 40 years before. “Greenspan – enigmatic as ever – responded that he ‘wouldn't change a single word,’" writes Michael Kosares.

But to read Mallaby, Greenspan was not so much an enigma as much as he was duplicitous. For instance, President Reagan was very interested in returning to a gold standard and mentioned it often. A Gold Commission was even formed. Meanwhile, Greenspan “feigned empathy with his adversaries and played skillfully for time, morphing from an ardent advocate of gold into its most devious opponent,” writes Mallaby.

The Two Exclusions

In the nearly 700 pages of text, two things are strangely not mentioned: the Enron Prize for Distinguished Public Service, which Greenspan accepted just a few days after Enron filed paperwork admitting to having fabricated its financial statements for five years, and his dissertation.

Greenspan’s mentor was Arthur Burns, who happened to chair Murray Rothbard’s dissertation at Columbia. The fruit of Rothbard’s work was the seminal Panic of 1819. Meanwhile, “Alan,” Princeton economist Burton Malkiel gushed, “is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known in my life,” but didn’t manage to file his dissertation until 1977 at New York University, where boyhood friend Bob Kavesh urged him to finish his Ph.D.

 

Jim McTague, a reporter for Barron's, secured a copy in 2008. As excited as McTague was to get his hands on it, there wasn’t much to it. It was merely a collection of articles totaling 180 pages. “Two chapters that had been published as articles in the American Statistical Association's annual proceedings contain several pages of algebraic equations that, frankly, made our head ache,” wrote McTague.

Paul Wachtel, an NYU economics professor who was on Greenspan's dissertation committee, defends Greenspan’s work, claiming, “the chapter written by Greenspan in 1959 on investment risk and stock prices anticipated by 10 years the Q ratio developed in 1969 by the late James Tobin,” who would become a Nobel laureate.

Mallaby sprinkles his narrative with anecdotes that make The Man Who Knew very fun to read for those of us who lived through the roller coaster Greenspan economy and appreciate political skullduggery รก la House of Cards. Although, with the way the author describes Alan and wife (finally) Andrea Mitchell, you’d think they were as glamorous as Brad and Angelina.

And who knew there was a “Manley Put” supporting stock market prices before there was the famous “Greenspan Put”? Perhaps ironically, the Manuel (“Manley”) H. Johnson Center For Political Economy at Troy University has one of the most free-market oriented economics programs in the country.

I had the occasion to meet Manley before a Troy football game and we traded stories about Rothbard. Johnson was a 38-year old vice chair at the Fed when Greenspan took over. He is described by Mallaby to have “shocking youthfulness” and “the courtly charm of a Southerner.” I can verify that he still does.

The idea that the Federal Reserve is somehow independent of the executive branch is quashed by the author. Greenspan, like his mentor Burns, was eager to do the President’s bidding. George W. Bush’s first meeting as President was with the Fed Chair. Greenspan made a trip to Arkansas to meet with President-elect Clinton.

The Man Who Bailed

Ultimately, Greenspan’s gift was timing. Janet Yellen, then the president of the San Francisco Fed, is quoted by Mallaby as saying on Greenspan’s last day in January 2006 that “it’s fitting for Chairman Greenspan to leave office with the economy in such solid shape.”

As it turned out, he left just in time: the bubble was a year away from popping and Ben Bernanke would step in to engineer the bailout of all bailouts, prolonging the fallout to this day. Meanwhile, Greenspan earned $250,000 by speaking to a “handful of Lehman’s hedge-fund clients,” just a week after leaving his Fed post. (Lehman would file for bankruptcy a year and a half later.) Then work began on his memoir, aptly entitled The Age of Turbulence, for which Greenspan was paid $8 million.

 

The man who knew is actually the man who bailed out: countries, companies, and finally himself. Ayn Rand always had her doubts about Greenspan, and would frequently ask her associates, "Do you think Alan might basically be a social climber?"

To this day, Greenspan is still in high demand as a keynote speaker. He is represented by the Washington Speakers Bureau which claims it is “Connecting You to the World’s Greatest Minds.” He is addressing the Private Equity International CFOs and COOs Forum this month.

Meanwhile, facing a retirement drowning in debt, Emi and Glen Yamasaki were 63 when they took their lives. The Maestro, Undertaker, or Greatest Central Banker Ever will reach the ripe old age of 91 in March, long outliving the victims of the bubble economy he created, and sadly reaping riches from his status and mythology.

Douglas French
Douglas French is an Associated Scholar at the Johnson Center at Troy University and adjunct professor at Georgia Military College. He is the author of three books: Early Speculative Bubbles and Increases in the Supply of Money, Walk Away, and The Failure of Common Knowledge.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Fear Materialized: Border Agents Demand Social Media Data from Americans

Fear Materialized: Border Agents Demand Social Media Data from Americans

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently filed complaints against U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for, in part, demanding social media information from Muslim American citizens returning home from traveling abroad. According to CAIR, CBP accessed public posts by demanding social media handles, and potentially accessed private posts by demanding cell phone passcodes and perusing social media apps. And border agents allegedly physically abused one man who refused to hand over his unlocked phone.

CBP recently began asking foreign visitors to the U.S. from Visa Waiver Countries for their social media identifiers. Last fall we filed our own comments opposing the policy, and joined two sets of coalition comments, one by the Center for Democracy & Technology and the other by the Brennan Center for Justice. Notably, CBP explained that it was only seeking publicly available social media data, “consistent with the privacy settings the applicant has set on the platforms.”

We raised concerns that the policy would be extended to cover Americans and private data. It appears our fears have come true far faster than we expected. Specifically, we wrote:
It would be a series of small steps for CBP to require all those seeking to enter the U.S.—both foreign visitors and U.S. citizens and residents returning home—to disclose their social media handles to investigate whether they might have become a threat to homeland security while abroad. Or CBP could subject both foreign visitors and U.S. persons to invasive device searches at ports of entry with the intent of easily accessing any and all cloud data; CBP could then access both public and private online data—not just social media content and contacts that may or may not be public (e.g., by perusing a smartphone’s Facebook app), but also other private communications and sensitive information such as health or financial status.
We believe that the CBP practices against U.S. citizens alleged by CAIR violate the Constitution. Searching through Americans’ social media data and personal devices intrudes upon both First and Fourth Amendment rights.

CBP’s 2009 policy on border searches of electronic devices is woefully out of date. It does not contemplate how accessing social media posts and other communications—whether public or private—creates chilling effects on freedom of speech, including the First Amendment right to speak anonymously, and the freedom of association.

Nor does the policy recognize the significant privacy invasions of accessing private social media data and other cloud content that is not publicly viewable. In claiming that its program of screening the social media accounts of Visa Waiver Program visitors does not bypass privacy settings, CBP is paying more heed to the rights of foreigners than American citizens.

Finally, the CBP policy does not address recent court decisions that limit the border search exception, which permits border agents to conduct “routine” searches without a warrant or individualized suspicion (contrary to the general Fourth Amendment rule requiring a warrant based on probable cause for government searches and seizures). These new legal rulings place greater Fourth Amendment restrictions on border searches of digital devices that contain highly personal information.

As we recently explained:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in U.S. v. Cotterman (2013) held that border agents needed to have reasonable suspicion—somewhere between no suspicion and probable cause—before they could conduct a “forensic” search, aided by sophisticated software, of the defendant’s laptop….

The Supreme Court held in Riley v. California (2014) that the police may not invoke another exception to the warrant requirement, the search-incident-to-arrest exception, to search a cell phone possessed by an arrestee—instead, the government needs a probable cause warrant. The Court stated, “Our holding, of course, is not that the information on a cell phone is immune from search; it is instead that a warrant is generally required before such a search, even when a cell phone is seized incident to arrest.”
Although Riley was not a border search case, the Riley rule should apply at the border, too. Thus, CBP agents should be required to obtain a probable cause warrant before searching a cell phone or similar digital device.

Both Riley and Cotterman recognized that the weighty privacy interests in digital devices are even weightier when law enforcement officials use these devices to search cloud content. A digital device is not an ordinary “effect” akin to a piece of luggage or wallet, but rather is a portal into an individual’s entire life, much of which is online.

The Ninth Circuit wrote:
With the ubiquity of cloud computing, the government’s reach into private data becomes even more problematic. In the “cloud,” a user’s data, including the same kind of highly sensitive data one would have in “papers” at home, is held on remote servers rather than on the device itself. The digital device is a conduit to retrieving information from the cloud, akin to the key to a safe deposit box. Notably, although the virtual “safe deposit box” does not itself cross the border, it may appear as a seamless part of the digital device when presented at the border.
And the Supreme Court wrote:
To further complicate the scope of the privacy interests at stake, the data a user views on many modern cell phones may not in fact be stored on the device itself. Treating a cell phone as a container whose contents may be searched incident to an arrest is a bit strained as an initial matter…. But the analogy crumbles entirely when a cell phone is used to access data located elsewhere, at the tap of a screen. That is what cell phones, with increasing frequency, are designed to do by taking advantage of “cloud computing.” Cloud computing is the capacity of Internet-connected devices to display data stored on remote servers rather than on the device itself. Cell phone users often may not know whether particular information is stored on the device or in the cloud, and it generally makes little difference.
The Riley Court went on to state:
The United States concedes that the search incident to arrest exception may not be stretched to cover a search of files accessed remotely—that is, a search of files stored in the cloud…. Such a search would be like finding a key in a suspect’s pocket and arguing that it allowed law enforcement to unlock and search a house.
Thus, the border search exception also should not be “stretched to cover” social media or other cloud data, particularly that which is protected by privacy settings and thus not publicly viewable. In other words, a border search of a traveler’s cloud content is not “routine” and thus should not be allowed in the absence of individualized suspicion. Indeed, border agents should heed the final words of the unanimous Riley decision: “get a warrant.”

We hope CBP will fully and fairly investigate CAIR’s grave allegations and provide a public explanation. We also urge the agency to change its outdated policy on border searches of electronic devices to comport with recent developments in case law. Americans should not fear having their entire digital lives unreasonably exposed to the scrutiny of the federal government simply because they travel abroad.

Source: Fear Materialized: Border Agents Demand Social Media Data from Americans | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A.N.A.L.O.G. – January/February 1982

A.N.A.L.O.G. – January/February 1982





Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Attorney General Nominee Sessions Backs Crypto Backdoors

Attorney General Nominee Sessions Backs Crypto Backdoors

As the presidential campaign was in full swing early last year, now-President Trump made his feelings on encryption clear. Commenting on the Apple-FBI fight in San Bernardino, Trump threatened to boycott Apple if they didn’t cooperate: “to think that Apple won't allow us to get into [the] cell phone,” Trump said in an interview. “Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up.”

For that reason, we were curious what Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would say about the role of encryption.

At his confirmation hearing, Sessions was largely non-committal. But in his written responses to questions posed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, however, he took a much clearer position:


Question: Do you agree with NSA Director Rogers, Secretary of Defense Carter, and other national security experts that strong encryption helps protect this country from cyberattack and is beneficial to the American people's’ digital security?

Response: Encryption serves many valuable and important purposes. It is also critical, however, that national security and criminal investigators be able to overcome encryption, under lawful authority, when necessary to the furtherance of national-security and criminal investigations.

Despite Sessions’ “on the one hand, on the other” phrasing, this answer is a clear endorsement of backdooring the security we all rely on. It’s simply not feasible for encryption to serve what Sessions concedes are its “many valuable and important purposes” and still be “overcome” when the government wants access to plaintext. As we saw last year with Sens. Burr and Feinstein’s draft Compliance with Court Orders Act, the only way to give the government this kind of access is to break the Internet and outlaw industry best practices, and even then it would only reach the minority of encryption products made in the USA.

As we’ve done for more than two decades, we will strongly oppose any legislative or regulatory proposal to force companies or other providers to give Sessions what he’s demanding: the ability to “overcome encryption.” Code is speech, and no law that mandates backdoors can be both effective and pass constitutional scrutiny. If Sessions follows through on his endorsement of “overcoming” encryption, we’ll see him in court.

Source: Attorney General Nominee Sessions Backs Crypto Backdoors | Electronic Frontier Foundation


Why All Protectionists Are Essentially Luddites

Why All Protectionists Are Essentially Luddites

Why All Protectionists Are Essentially Luddites

It’s well-known among people who bother to learn the facts that U.S. manufacturing output continues to rise despite the reality that the number of Americans employed in jobs classified as being in the manufacturing sector peaked in June 1977 and has fallen, with very few interruptions, ever since.



Nevertheless, some people – for example, the Economic Policy Institute’s Robert Scott – continue to insist that the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is largely due to increased American trade with non-Americans. Other studies find empirical evidence that labor-saving innovation rather than trade is overwhelmingly responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Were I forced to choose between these two alleged competing sources of manufacturing-job losses – trade versus labor-saving innovation – I’d go unhesitatingly with the latter. If trade were the main source of American manufacturing-job losses, it would be very difficult to explain the continuing rise in American manufacturing output. But I believe that asking “Are most American manufacturing-job losses due to trade or to labor-saving innovation?” misses the bigger, or a more fundamental, point – namely, the answer to this question doesn’t matter because trade and labor-saving innovation are, economically speaking, identical to each other.

Trade is Innovation

Trade by it’s very nature is labor-saving. I could bake my own bread with my own hands and my own pans in my own kitchen. But to do so would take more of my own time than is required for me to earn, by teaching economics, enough income to buy bread from a baker. My specializing in teaching economics and then trading for bread saves me some of my labor.

Or I could bake my own bread by using a fancy bread-making machine that sits on my kitchen counter. But I can’t make such a machine myself; I must trade for such a machine, as well as for the inputs – including the electricity – that it requires to produce yummy bread. So it might fairly be said that any bread that I produce in my own home with my incredible bread machine is the result of trade.

Either way – trade with a baker, or my use of the incredible bread machine – I get bread in exchange for less labor than I would have to use to supply myself with bread were I unable to trade with a baker or to use this machine.

What difference does it make if labor is saved by dealing directly with a machine or with another human being?

Recall David Friedman’s report of car production in Iowa (here as related by Steve Landsburg, with emphasis added by Don Boudreaux):
There are two technologies for producing automobiles in America. One is to manufacture them in Detroit, and the other is to grow them in Iowa. Everybody knows about the first technology; let me tell you about the second. First you plant seeds, which are the raw material from which automobiles are constructed. You wait a few months until wheat appears. Then you harvest the wheat, load it onto ships, and sail the ships eastward into the Pacific Ocean. After a few months, the ships reappear with Toyotas on them.

International trade is nothing but a form of technology. The fact that there is a place called Japan, with people and factories, is quite irrelevant to Americans’ well-being. To analyze trade policies, we might as well assume that Japan is a giant machine with mysterious inner workings that convert wheat into cars. Any policy designed to favor the first American technology over the second is a policy designed to favor American auto producers in Detroit over American auto producers in Iowa. A tax or a ban on “imported” automobiles is a tax or a ban on Iowa-grown automobiles. If you protect Detroit carmakers from competition, then you must damage Iowa farmers, because Iowa farmers are the competition.

The task of producing a given fleet of cars can be allocated between Detroit and Iowa in a variety of ways. A competitive price system selects that allocation that minimizes the total production cost. It would be unnecessarily expensive to manufacture all cars in Detroit, unnecessarily expensive to grow all cars in Iowa, and unnecessarily expensive to use the two production processes in anything other than the natural ratio that emerges as a result of competition.

That means that protection for Detroit does more than just transfer income from farmers to autoworkers. It also raises the total cost of providing Americans with a given number of automobiles. The efficiency loss comes with no offsetting gain; it impoverishes the nation as a whole.

There is much talk about improving the efficiency of American car manufacturing. When you have two ways to make a car, the road to efficiency is to use both in optimal proportions. The last thing you should want to do is to artificially hobble one of your production technologies. It is sheer superstition to think that an Iowa-grown Camry is any less “American” than a Detroit-built Taurus. Policies rooted in superstition do not frequently bear efficient fruit.

In 1817, David Ricardo—the first economist to think with the precision, though not the language, of pure mathematics—laid the foundation for all future thought about international trade. In the intervening 150 years his theory has been much elaborated but its foundations remain as firmly established as anything in economics.

Trade theory predicts first that if you protect American producers in one industry from foreign competition, then you must damage American producers in other industries. It predicts second that if you protect American producers in one industry from foreign competition, there must be a net loss in economic efficiency. Ordinarily, textbooks establish these propositions through graphs, equations, and intricate reasoning. The little story above that I learned from David Friedman makes the same propositions blindingly obvious with a single compelling metaphor. That is economics at its best."
To repeat an especially important insight: “International trade is nothing but a form of technology.” That is, trade – intranational and international – itself is an innovation. Finding specialists with whom we can profitably trade requires transportation and communication – both of which today are, as it happens, greatly facilitated by advanced machinery. Yet other, less obvious innovations are involved – for example, the supermarket. The organizational form of the supermarket lowers consumers’ costs of learning about and acquiring groceries. (Superstores, such as Walmart, lower those costs even further.) In international trade, the seemingly simple box that we know today as the shipping container is a labor-saving innovation that dramatically reduced the costs of ordinary men and women from around the globe to trade with each other. Ditto the giant, magnificent modern cargo ship.

Our ability to trade is enhanced by technological innovations. Thus, innovations help us to save labor both directly (as with an incredible bread machine on my kitchen counter) and indirect (as with the shipping container that better enables me to acquire goods assembled by workers who live thousands of miles distant from me).

The bottom-line is that trying to measure what proportion of some number of job losses is due to innovation and what proportion of those job losses is due to trade is rather pointless: from one valid perspective, all of the job losses are due to innovation; from another valid perspective, all of the job losses are due to trade. But from any perspective, the very fact that particular jobs are lost means that labor is saved.

Republished from Cafe Hayek.



Donald J. Boudreaux
Donald Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University, and a former FEE president.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Digital Archaeology Expedition #4 – Dell C600

Digital Archaeology Expedition #3 – Dell C600








This particular artifact was brought to me in the hope that I could make it operational once more. Even though at the time it was barely old enough to be considered “retro”, much less something worthy of archaeological consideration, there is something satisfying about reviving an old piece of hardware. In this particular case, the problem ended up being a dead LCD. Whatever other problems Dell’s may have, availability of service manuals and parts is not one of them. The screen was easy to obtain on eBay for not very much money and the manuals are available for free online from Dell. The repair was not very difficult and after the screen was replaced, it worked like a charm.



The Dell C600 has the following basic stats:



Chipset: Intel 440BX

CPU: Intel PIII Mobile

RAM: PC100 SDRAM (two user accessible SODIMM sockets

Graphics: ATI Mobility M3 (8 MB)

Network: 3Com 10/100 LAN

Modem: 56K V.90 Mini-PCI



Read more: http://www.megalextoria.com/wordpress/index.php/2017/01/23/digital-archaeology-expedition-3-dell-c600/

Friday, January 20, 2017

Electronic Gaming Monthly 2 – November 1995

Electronic Gaming Monthly 2 – November 1995




Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Original Jurassic Park and the Hubris of Central Planning

The Original Jurassic Park and the Hubris of Central Planning

The Original Jurassic Park and the Hubris of Central Planning

Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller Jurassic Park teaches us that no matter how advanced technology becomes, we will never be able to completely control nature.

At first, it seemed like a wonderful dream: a park where once-extinct prehistoric beasts would roam as astonished visitors watched in awe. This at least was the vision of the park’s owner, the starry-eyed John Hammond. When I read the novel I could not help but see similarities between Hammond’s world-view and that of socialist “central planners.” Like the socialist romantics of the early 20th century, Hammond believed he could mold the world according to his will. And, as with those quixotic collectivists, idealism blinded Hammond to the reality that the earth and its inhabitants are harder to control than he imagined.

Planned Chaos

Throughout the novel, John Hammond brushes off criticisms of his beloved park. When it’s pointed out to him that dinosaur behavior has never been observed and is thus unpredictable, he naively replies that running Jurassic Park will be as easy as running a zoo.

To this, Hammond’s interlocutor, the mathematician Ian Malcolm can only laugh. From the beginning, Malcolm believes that Jurassic Park is doomed to failure. As a proponent of chaos theory, he warns that Hammond could never account for all of the variables involved and the park would soon fall into utter disorder. “You’re going to have to shut the thing down,” he tells the incredulous Hammond.

Interestingly, Ludwig von Mises made essentially the same argument against socialism in the 1920’s and 30’s.  In his essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,” Mises demonstrated that even the most diligent central planners would not be able to develop anything like an ordered society. He wrote, “Every step that takes us away from private ownership of the means of production…also takes us away from rational economics.” A society that abolished private property would thereby abolish the means for economic calculation. A government charged with the control of the entire economic system would lack any non-arbitrary way to decide what to produce, who is to produce it, and who is to consume it.

Like the socialists of Mises’ day, Hammond and his colleagues at InGen thought they could create their own special order amidst a complex system. They believed they had foreseen every possible difficulty. But no amount of precautions could prevent the inevitable. They simply could not control the uncontrollable.

Lessons Learned

Yet even as the park is collapsing and people are dying, Hammond refuses to see his failure. Like the Soviet Communists looking at the death and despair around them, Hammond’s only defense is: “Nobody ever wanted this.” As with every central planner, he thinks his good intentions absolve him.

Only Malcolm understands the truth of the situation. In a very Mises-esque fashion, he criticizes the whole Jurassic Park project as an arrogant attempt to master nature: “You decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it. Yet you have made systems which require you to do it.”

In the same way, the socialists of the 20th century created systems which required them to control the lives of millions of people. To use Adam Smith’s astute analogy, they thought they could “arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard.” It was by conceiving of human beings as chess pieces, or as cogs in a mechanical system, that the socialists went astray. Much like Hammond who thought he could control “his” dinosaurs as though they were robots, the central planners of old felt they could mold human society according to their wills. And as with Hammond’s theme park, the ultimate result was chaos, destruction, and death.

Tyler Curtis
Tyler Curtis is working toward attaining a B.S. in Economics at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Micro – October 1983

Micro – October 1983









Source: Micro – October 1983



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Obama’s Legacy is Dismal but Forgettable

Obama’s Legacy is Dismal but Forgettable



Obama's Legacy is Dismal but Forgettable

President Obama gave his farewell speech last night, orating for more than 50 minutes.

As noted by the Washington Examiner, his remarks were “longer than the good-bye speeches of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined.”

But this wasn’t because he had a lengthy list of accomplishments.

Unless, of course, you count the bad things that happened. And there are three things on my list, if you want to know Obama’s legacy for domestic policy.


And those three things, combined with his other policies, produced dismal results.


In other words, Obama’s legacy will be failed statism.

Writing for the Orange County Register, Joel Kotkin is not impressed by Obama’s overall record.


Like a child star who reached his peak at age 15, Barack Obama could never fulfill the inflated expectations that accompanied his election. …The greatest accomplishment of the Obama presidency turned out to be his election as the first African American president. This should always be seen as a great step forward. Yet, the Obama presidency failed to accomplish the great things promised by his election: racial healing, a stronger economy, greater global influence and, perhaps most critically, the fundamental progressive “transformation” of American politics. …Eight years after his election, more Americans now consider race relations to be getting worse, and we are more ethnically divided than in any time in recent history. …if there was indeed a recovery, it was a modest one, marked by falling productivity and low levels of labor participation. We continue to see the decline of the middle class."
And Seth Lipsky writes in the New York Post that Obama’s economic legacy leaves a lot to be desired.


Obama’s is the only modern presidency that failed to show a single year of growth above 3 percent… Plus, the Obama economy failed to prosper even though the Federal Reserve had its pedal to the metal. Its quantitative easing, $2 trillion balance-sheet expansion and zero-interest-rate policy all produced zilch. …The recent declines in the unemployment rate are due less to the uptick in employed persons than to an increasing number of persons leaving the labor force
All these accusations are very relevant, and I would add another charge to the indictment.

Median household income has been stagnant during the Obama years. And the data for Obamanomics is especially grim when you compare recent years to what happened under Reagan.

Beyond Econ

By the way, the bad news isn’t limited to economic policy.

Here’s what Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner wrote about Obama’s cavalier treatment of the Bill of Rights.


The Bill of Rights is a barricade protecting Americans from their government. Part of President Obama’s legacy will be that he inflicted damage on that barricade, eroding freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms and the right to due process. Through his political arguments, executive actions and political leadership, Obama has taken some of the holes punched by previous presidents and made them broader or more permanent. This means that after Obama leaves office, people will be more easily silenced, killed or disarmed by their own government."
Tim extensively documents all these transgressions in his article. The entire thing is worth reading.

To be sure, there are people who defend Obama’s legacy.

From the left, Dylan Matthews wants readers of Vox to believe that Obama has been a memorable President. And he means that in a positive sense.


Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and that he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism. He got surprisingly tough reforms to Wall Street passed as well, not to mention a stimulus package that both blunted the recession and transformed education and energy policy."
A “towering figure”? That might be an accurate description of Woodrow Wilson, the despicable person who gave us both the income tax and the federal reserve.

Or Franklin Roosevelt, who doubled the size of the federal government and wanted radical collectivism. Or Lyndon Johnson, the big spender who gave us Medicare and Medicaid.

All of those presidents changed America in very substantial (and very bad) ways.

Obama, by contrast, wanted to “fundamentally transform” America but instead turned out to be an incremental statist. Sort of like Bush.

And I can’t help but laugh at the assertion that Obama got “tough reforms to Wall Street” Dodd-Frank was supported by Goldman-Sachs and the other big players!

Let’s get back to the Matthews’ article. His strongest praise is reserved for Obamacare.


He signed into law a comprehensive national health insurance bill, a goal that had eluded progressive presidents for a century. …it established, for the first time in history, that it was the responsibility of the United States government to provide health insurance to nearly all Americans, and it expanded Medicaid and offered hundreds of billions of dollars in insurance subsidies to fulfill that responsibility."
I’ll agree that this is Obama’s biggest left-wing accomplishment. I’ve even noted that it may be a long-term victory for the left even though Republicans now control the House and Senate in large part because of that law (and it may not even be that if GOPers get their act together and actually repeal the law).

But I hardly think it was a game-changing reform, even if it isn’t repealed. Government was already deeply enmeshed in the healthcare sector before Obama took office. Obamacare simply moved the needle a bit further in the wrong direction.

Again, that was a victory for the left, just as Bush’s Medicare expansion was a victory for the left. But it didn’t “fundamentally transform” anything.

And here’s his conclusion.


You can generally divide American presidents into two camps: the mildly good or bad but ultimately forgettable (Clinton, Carter, Taft, Harrison), and the hugely consequential for good or ill (FDR, Lincoln, Nixon, Andrew Johnson). Whether you love or hate his record, there’s no question Obama’s domestic and foreign achievements place him firmly in the latter camp."
I strongly suspect that Obama will wind up in the former camp. He was bad, but largely forgettable. At least if the metric is policy.

Let’s close with a couple of observation on the political side.

I’m amused, for instance, that Obama’s bitter that he couldn’t rally the nation behind has anti-gun ideology.


President Obama said his biggest policy disappointment as president was not passing gun control laws, according to an interview CNN aired… Obama was unable to convince Congress to pass legislation that would change those policies, including enhancing background checks and not selling firearms at gun shows and other venues."
And I’m also amused that he believes the American people would have reelected him if he was on the ballot.


Arguing that Americans still subscribe to his vision of progressive change, President Barack Obama asserted in an interview recently he could have succeeded in this year’s election if he was eligible to run."
To be sure, he may be right. He definitely has better political skills than Hillary Clinton, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge that he was better at campaigning rather than governing.

But his victories in 2008 and 2012 were against very weak Republican candidates. And it’s interesting that a hypothetical poll showed him and Trump in a statistical dead heat. Given Trump’s low approval rating, that doesn’t exactly translate into a vote of confidence for Obama.

More important, I shared some hypothetical polling data back in 2013 which showed that Reagan would have defeated Obama in a landslide.

Once again, that’s hardly a sign of Obama being a memorable or transformative President.

And I imagine Reagan would have an even bigger lead if there was a new version of the poll.

For what it’s worth, I think the most insightful analysis of Obama’s legacy comes from Philip Klein. He notes that Obama wanted Americans to believe in big government. But he failed. Miserably.


President Obama entered office in 2009 with the twin goals of expanding the role that government plays in the lives of individuals and businesses and proving to Americans that the government could be trusted to achieve big things. He was only half successful. …the gulf between his promises and the reality of what was implemented dramatically hardened public skepticism about government.

…As the Obama epoch wanes, trust in government has reached historic lows. A Pew poll last fall found that just 19 percent of Americans said they could trust the government to do the right thing most of the time — a lower percentage than during Watergate, Vietnam or the Iraq War. …Obama saw himself as the liberal answer to Reagan who could succeed where Clinton failed, putting an optimistic face on government expansion, passing historic legislation and getting Americans believing in government again. …Obama’s failure to repair the image of the federal government as a bungling institution — think of the DMV, just on a much bigger scale — will create enormous challenges for any Democratic successors trying to sell the public on the next wave of ambitious government programs."
This is spot on. I joked several years ago that the Libertarian Party should have named Obama “Man of the Year.”

But given how his bad policies have made people even more hostile to big government, he might deserve “Man of the Century.”


Reprinted from International Liberty

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.


This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Monday, January 16, 2017

GamePro – June 1997

GamePro – June 1997








Saturday, January 14, 2017

Neal Stephenson: A New Book and a Retrospective

Neal Stephenson: A New Book and a Retrospective

While weeding through my e-mail earlier today, including the dozen or so I seem to get from Barnes & Noble every day for the priveledge of being a "member", I noticed that one of them was advertising a new book by Neal Stephenson, my favorite author. If you don't know who Neal Stephenson is and have never read one of his books, you should really stop what you are doing and go read one, any one. If you like reading, are interested in things like cryptocurrency and interesting new technology like Steamit then he is definitely the author for you.

Neal Stephenson, in addition to being an author, has worked as an advisor for Blue Origin and as the Chief Futurist of Magic Leap among other things. Although he is primarily known as a science fiction writer, his books cover a wide range of subjects, including currency, cryptography, philosophy and the history of science among others. He even forshadowed cryptocurrency in his 1999 book Cryptonomicon and this was the first book of his I read (though it was not the first that he wrote).

The books (unless otherwise note, all summaries are from Wikipedia or Amazon):

1 - Cryptonomicron

I discovered Neal Stephenson and this book completely by random. I was out of town for a work related trip and I had forgotten to bring a book. I was in the local mall for lunch and stopped by the bookstore there (at that time it would have been a Walden Books or B Dalton) to look for one. I picked up Cryptonomicon because it was thick and the cover looked cool. The description sold me and it was a purchase I didn't regret.

Cryptonomicon is set in two different time periods. One group of characters are World War II-era Allied codebreakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park (U.K.), and disillusioned Axis military and intelligence figures. The second narrative is set in the late 1990s, with characters that are (in part) descendants of those of the earlier time period, who employ cryptologic, telecom and computer technology to build an underground data haven in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Their goal is to facilitate anonymous Internet banking using electronic money and (later) digital gold currency, with a long-term objective to distribute Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod (HEAP) media for instructing genocide-target populations on defensive warfare.

2 - The Baroque Cycle

 

 

I was fortunate in that shortly after I read Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver, the first volume in the Baroque Cycle was released. Neal Stephenson writes lengthy novels but isn't that prolific in terms of number of books. It's usually several years between releases. I think of the Baroque Cycle as a trilogy because it was originally released in three volumes but it's really eight books.

It was published in three volumes containing 8 books in 2003 and 2004. The story follows the adventures of a sizeable cast of characters living amidst some of the central events of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America. Despite featuring a literary treatment consistent with historical fiction, Stephenson has characterized the work as science fiction, because of the presence of some anomalous occurrences and the work's particular emphasis on themes relating to science and technology. The sciences of cryptology and numismatics feature heavily in the series, as they do in some of Stephenson's other works.

3 - Snow Crash

After finishing the Baroque Cycle, I started actively seeking out more of Stephenson's work as he had written several books before Cryptonomicon. I started with Snow Crash which is really the book that made him famous initially and gave him the reputation as a science fiction author.

Like many of Stephenson's other novels it covers history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, memetics and philosophy.

The book presents the Sumerian language as the firmware programming language for the brainstem, which is supposedly functioning as the BIOS for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus, similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter-program which he called a nam-shub that caused all of humanity to speak different languages as a protection against Asherah (a re-interpretation of the ancient Near Eastern story of the Tower of Babel).

The story begins in Los Angeles in the 21st century, no longer part of the United States. The federal government of the United States has ceded most of its power and territory to private organizations and entrepreneurs. Franchising, individual sovereignty, and private vehicles reign supreme over the landscape. Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts while private security guards preserve the peace in sovereign, gated housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds where they transact tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the dynamic society around them.

Hiro Protagonist is a hacker and pizza delivery driver for the mafia. He meets Y.T. (short for Yours Truly), a young skateboard Kourier (courier), during a failed attempt to make a delivery on time. Y.T. completes the delivery on his behalf and they strike up a partnership, gathering intel and selling it to the CIC, the for-profit organization that evolved from the CIA's merger with the Library of Congress. Within the Metaverse, Hiro is offered a datafile named Snow Crash by a man named Raven who hints that it is a form of narcotic. Hiro's friend and fellow hacker Da5id views a bitmap image contained in the file which causes his computer to crash and Da5id to suffer brain damage in the real world. Hiro meets his ex-girlfriend Juanita Marquez, who gives him a database containing a large amount of research, positing connections between the virus, ancient Sumerian culture and the legend of Tower of Babel. Juanita advises him to be careful and disappears.

4 - The Diamond Age

This one is kind of, sort of an indirect sequel to Snow Crash, set 80-100 years later so it was the next logical choice for me.

The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.

Set in twenty-first century Shanghai, it is the story of what happens when a state-of-the-art interactive device falls in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. Her life—and the entire future of humanity—is about to be decoded and reprogrammed...

5 - Zodiac

Continuing in reverse chronological order, Zodiac was Stephenson's 2nd novel. I didn't think his first two novels were as good as the rest but they are still very good and worth reading.

Meet Sangamon Taylor, a New Age Sam Spade who sports a wet suit instead of a trench coat and prefers Jolt from the can to Scotch on the rocks. He knows about chemical sludge the way he knows about evil—all too intimately. And the toxic trail he follows leads to some high and foul places. Before long Taylor’s house is bombed, his every move followed, he’s adopted by reservation Indians, moves onto the FBI’s most wanted list, makes up with his girlfriend, and plays a starring role in the near-assassination of a presidential candidate. Closing the case with the aid of his burnout roommate, his tofu-eating comrades, three major networks, and a range of unconventional weaponry, Sangamon Taylor pulls off the most startling caper in Boston Harbor since the Tea Party.

6 - The Big U

His first novel...

The story chronicles the disillusionment of a number of young intellectuals as they encounter the realities of the higher education establishment parodied in the story. Over time their lives and sanity disintegrate in different ways through a series of escalating events that culminates with a full-scale civil war raging on the campus of American Megaversity.

7 - Anathem

At this point, I had exhausted all of Stephenson's novels and actually had to wait for him to release another. Anathem was next and again, I was not disappointed.

In this follow-up to his historical Baroque Cycle, Stephenson conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world.

8 - Reamde

Another long wait and then Reamde comes along. This one is more of a straightforward technothriller but still very good.

The story, set in the present day, centers on the plight of a hostage and the ensuing efforts of family and new acquaintances, many of them associated with a fictional MMORPG, to rescue her as her various captors drag her about the globe. Topics covered range from online activities including gold farming and social networking to the criminal methods of the Russian mafia and Islamic terrorists.

9 - Seveneves

This is his most recent novel and was a little bit of a disappointment for me. Don't get me wrong, it was still good but a bit depressing...

This science-fueled saga spans millennia, but make no mistake: The heart of this story is its all-too-human heroes and how their choices, good and ill, forge the future of our species. Seveneves launches into action with the disintegration of the moon. Initially considered only a cosmetic, not cosmic, change to the skies, the moon’s breakup is soon identified as the spawning ground of a meteor shower dubbed the Hard Rain that will bombard Earth for thousands of years, extinguishing all life from the surface of the planet. Now humanity has only two years to get off-world and into the Cloud Ark, a swarm of small, hastily built spaceships that will house millions of Earth species (recorded as digital DNA) and hundreds of people until they can return home again. But who goes, and who stays? And once the lucky few have joined the Cloud Ark, how will the remaining seeds of humankind survive not only the perils of day-to-day of life in space but also the lethal quicksand of internal politics? Slingshot pacing propels the reader through the intricacies of orbit liberation points, the physics of moving chains, and bot swarms, leaving an intellectual afterglow and a restless need to know more. An epic story of humanity and survival that is ultimately optimistic, Seveneves will keep you thinking long past the final page.

---

I've left off a few, including the two he wrote with J. Frederick George (Interface and The Cobweb), the collaborative Mongoliad and various short fiction and non-fiction but this post is already way too long. All of it is well worth reading.

And then there's the reason I posted this to begin with... Neal Stephenson has a new book forthcoming in June, this one written with Nicole Galland. I will leave you with the description from Amazon:

From bestselling author Neal Stephenson and critically acclaimed historical and contemporary commercial novelist Nicole Galland comes a captivating and complex near-future thriller combining history, science, magic, mystery, intrigue, and adventure that questions the very foundations of the modern world.

When Melisande Stokes, an expert in linguistics and languages, accidentally meets military intelligence operator Tristan Lyons in a hallway at Harvard University, it is the beginning of a chain of events that will alter their lives and human history itself. The young man from a shadowy government entity approaches Mel, a low-level faculty member, with an incredible offer. The only condition: she must sign a nondisclosure agreement in return for the rather large sum of money.

Tristan needs Mel to translate some very old documents, which, if authentic, are earth-shattering. They prove that magic actually existed and was practiced for centuries. But the arrival of the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment weakened its power and endangered its practitioners. Magic stopped working altogether in 1851, at the time of the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace—the world’s fair celebrating the rise of industrial technology and commerce. Something about the modern world "jams" the "frequencies" used by magic, and it’s up to Tristan to find out why.

And so the Department of Diachronic Operations—D.O.D.O. —gets cracking on its real mission: to develop a device that can bring magic back, and send Diachronic Operatives back in time to keep it alive . . . and meddle with a little history at the same time. But while Tristan and his expanding operation master the science and build the technology, they overlook the mercurial—and treacherous—nature of the human heart.

Written with the genius, complexity, and innovation that characterize all of Neal Stephenson’s work and steeped with the down-to-earth warmth and humor of Nicole Galland’s storytelling style, this exciting and vividly realized work of science fiction will make you believe in the impossible, and take you to places—and times—beyond imagining.


Originally published at: https://steemit.com/books/@darth-azrael/neal-stephenson-a-new-book-and-a-retrospective

Friday, January 13, 2017

Government Pressure Shutters Backpage’s Adult Services Section

Government Pressure Shutters Backpage’s Adult Services Section

Succumbing to years of government pressure, the online classified ads website Backpage.com has shut down its adult services section. Just like Craigslist before it, Backpage faced the difficult choice of censoring an entire forum for online speech rather than continue to endure the costly onslaught of state and federal government efforts seeking to hold it responsible for the illegal activity of some of its users.

The announcement came on the eve of a hearing by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). The hearing was the backdrop for the release of a committee report [PDF] alleging [PDF] that Backpage knew that its website was being used to post ads for illegal prostitution and child sex trafficking, and directly edited such ads to make their illegality less conspicuous or flagged for the posters how to do so themselves.

While acknowledging the horrific nature of sex trafficking, EFF has participated in several cases to remind courts about the importance of preserving strong legal protection under the First Amendment and Section 230 (47 U.S.C. § 230) for Internet intermediaries.

For example, we were counsel for the Internet Archive in two cases in which Backpage was co-plaintiff, one in Washington state and the other in New Jersey, challenging state laws that sought to hold online companies responsible for hosting third-party ads for illegal sexual transactions. We successfully argued that the laws were invalid under the First Amendment and Section 230.

Section 230 is the two-decade old statute passed by Congress to promote online free speech and innovation by immunizing (with certain exceptions) Internet intermediaries from liability for illegal content created or posted by their users. Section 230 immunity holds as long as the companies did not themselves create the illegal content, while editing user-generated content is permitted by Section 230 as long as the editing itself does not make the content illegal.

We’ve also filed amicus briefs in support of strong legal protections for Internet intermediaries. We filed an amicus brief in an emotionally tough Massachusetts case against Backpage brought by young women trafficked for sex as minors via the website. The court rightly dismissed the case, largely adopting our Section 230 arguments.

Much of Backpage’s fights have hinged on defending fundamental First Amendment rights online. We submitted an amicus brief in a case where Backpage successfully challenged the “campaign of suffocation” by an Illinois sheriff who had illegally coerced major credit card companies to stop doing business with Backpage. Recently, we submitted an amicus brief in a case where Backpage is challenging some of the subpoenas issued by PSI, arguing that the committee’s inquiry into Backpage’s ad moderating practices amounts to improper government interference into core editorial functions protected by the First Amendment—something we also argued Sen. Thune did in relation to Facebook’s “trending” news stories.

During the PSI hearing, senators expressed their disdain for Backpage’s reliance on Section 230 and the First Amendment. Chairman Rob Portman (R-OH) said that Backpage’s invocation of Section 230 is a “fraud on courts, on victims, and on the public.” Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO) exclaimed, “This investigation is not about curbing First Amendment rights. Give me a break!” And Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) said that Backpage has “the audacity to hide behind the First Amendment."

EFF and other civil liberties organizations are all too familiar with the fact that First Amendment rights are often championed by those accused of disseminating unpopular or harmful speech. And when First Amendment rights are weakened for one unsavory person or entity, First Amendment rights become weakened for everyone.

Most disturbing during the hearing, Chairman Portman said that the committee will explore “legislative remedies” to address the problem of online sex trafficking. This surely means a weakening of Section 230 protection for Internet intermediaries, which EFF strongly opposes. Congress already passed the SAVE Act in 2015, which amended the federal criminal statute on sex trafficking to include anyone involved in advertising sex trafficking. This amendment was specifically meant to target online platforms that host ads posted by third parties, and strip those platforms of Section 230 protection since the statute does not provide immunity against federal criminal charges.

Any changes to Section 230 itself, to make it easier to impose liability on companies for user-generated content, would be devastating to the web as we know it—as a thriving online metropolis of free speech and innovation. As my colleague Matt Zimmerman wrote back in 2010 when Craigslist shuttered its adult services section, Section 230 “is not some clever loophole” but rather “a conscious policy decision by Congress to protect individuals and companies who would otherwise be vulnerable targets to litigants who want to silence speech to which they object.”

Matt further explained:
This clear protection plays an essential role in how the Internet functions today, protecting every interactive website operator—from Facebook to Craigslist to the average solo blog operator—from potentially crippling legal bills and liability stemming from comments or other material posted to websites by third parties. Moreover, if they were obligated to pre-screen their users’ content, wide swaths of First Amendment-protected speech would inevitably be sacrificed as website operators, suddenly transformed into conservative content reviewers, permitted only the speech that they could be sure would not trigger lawsuits.
So while Backpage’s announcement suggests that the company’s opponents have at least temporarily won the battle against the adult services section of the website (because Backpage has vowed to continue its legal battles), EFF will continue to try to win the war to ensure that both the First Amendment and Section 230 remain strong protectors of Internet intermediaries—the online innovators who enable the rest of us to communicate, engage in commerce, and generally be active participants in our democratic and diverse society like never before.

Source: Government Pressure Shutters Backpage's Adult Services Section | Electronic Frontier Foundation