Why free media standards are important

Do you trust your newspaper? How about the news on TV?  Maybe you prefer getting your fix for what’s happening around you online. In other words, do you trust the media?

If your answer is no, you’re not alone. According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 60% of Americans have little to no trust of the mass media in terms of accuracy and fairness in reporting. The U.K. also has a similar problem when it comes to trust of the media. When looking at the world, a great number of countries are dissatisfied with their local media or media in some way.

Some more insights can be found here. The big question at this point is how to improve the media? What’s the starting point?

To understand what I’m going to be arguing, we need to take a look at some history. In the middle ages in Europe, books were rather expensive. Only the clergy and wealthy were able to afford to obtain books and read them; after all, copying was an expensive process and they had to know Latin.

Enter Gutenberg and his printing press. When the cost of book making went down as a result of what he accomplished, the demand for books in local languages and education increased. Though Gutenberg was not the first to make such machine, it did have an impact.

This meant that printing became cheaper, and so did publication.

The reason I went back to the 1400’s is rather simple; in order for alternative media to become better than traditional venues, they need to stop relying on proprietary software. Virtually everywhere one looks for rich content, they will run into software that isn’t liberated.

Popular outlets utilize YouTube and other sites to get their message out to their respective audiences, but are they liberated from corporate influence, or are they shackled without realizing it? Even Russia’s RT relies on Adobe Flash for their 24/7 streaming video channel.

Most corporate media sites that provide streaming video use the same technology, and are paying for it with licensing costs. Those who own their own digital printing press are able to control their message, but they don’t truly own it if they have to use proprietary technology in order to broadcast their message.

So why worry about this anyway? Just ask the likes of Ernie Ball and others. The Business Software Alliance has overstepped their bounds before, and will continue to do so.

With the arcane way that licenses have to be archived and tracked (with receipts no less), perhaps it’s time to move away from proprietary media standards and move towards free standards.  Here are some examples:

  • Instead of using MP3 for streaming audio/podcasting, why not use OGG instead?
  • For video, there’s WebM instead of the other formats.
  • Instead of Skype, why not look into WebRTC?
  • Instead of relying on YouTube or other websites that could censor your video at any time, why not look into MediaGoblin and build your own media server?

By relying on free media standards instead of proprietary standards, you’re not only freeing yourself from licensing costs. You’re also freeing yourself from the control of major corporations. If you don’t truly own your digital printing press, then your speech isn’t truly free.

Obama to announce legislation to end NSA’s bulk data collection

The Obama administration has plans to detail a legislative proposal that could curb the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of bulk phone-call records of private citizens. The proposal follows President Obama’s promise to “end the [bulk phone-record collection] program as it currently exists” during a speech on NSA reforms in January.

As part of the proposal, “the bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order,” the New York Times reports.

The NSA, at present, retains phone data for as long as five years. President Obama aims to renew that program for “at least one more 90-day cycle,” but as part of the program developed by the administration, it will be replaced with the new scheme soon afterwards.

Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union told the Times, “We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of call records should end.” He added, “As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”

Under the new plan, the NSA won’t be able to collect and store all call data. Instead, it would be required to get orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain call data on specific phone numbers, after a judge agrees those numbers are linked to terrorism.

Obama is likely to announce the changes to the Section 215 program this Friday. It is worth mentioning here that the court order that originally authorized the program also expires at the same time.

Zach Galifianakis Gets Notorious with President Barack Obama!

Zach Galifianakis is clearly playing on the edge with his guests on Between the Ferns spoof chat show. And guess who came on the show, trying to ‘plug a message’? Well, it was none other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Wondering if Barack Obama could escape the missiles of provocative comments shot his way? Trust the President – he gave back as much as he got! Between ‘Really?’ ‘I don’t want to answer that question’ ‘You think so’, he tried shutting up Zach by calling him overweight, telling him that the Hangover series was ‘carried’ by Zach’s rival, Bradley Cooper and admitted with a straight face that he was surprised to know that people actually watch this show.

When asked what he had come to plug, Obama instantly added, “I wouldn’t be here with you today if I didn’t have something to plug.” Introducing healthcare.gov, he said the gen next feels they are invincible and they all should sign up for the health insurance.

Obama had said in an earlier interview that if he had a son, he would not let him play football. Zach tried to suggest that he was a nerd for not loving the game, to which Obama lashed back by saying, “Do you think a woman like Michelle will marry a nerd?” When Zach asked can he ask Michelle, Obama say no way!

The show ends with the revelation of the secret location of Between the Ferns. Watch the hilarious clip…

[funnyordie id=”18e820ec3f”]

The two argued over their birth certificates, which ended by Zach stating, “If I were president, I would make same-sex divorce illegal and then see how bad they want it.” Obama instantly quipped, “I think that’s why you are not president.”

The curious case of RT in the United States of America

In the recent weeks regarding the controversy of the situation in the Ukraine, we have seen various arguments on whether Putin’s actions were good or bad. The beauty of the Internet and alternative media is that an actual conversation can take place.  However, there is an issue with blind trust regarding alternative venues, and it’s time that we start paying attention.

Recently, Liz Wahl decided to publicly quit her job as an anchor for RT, a 24/7 TV channel funded by the Russian Government. One of the reasons that RT has gained popularity was due to coverage of certain topics that other venues either ridiculed or ignored in their entirety. When one examines the past of RT, one shouldn’t be surprised as to why Wahl decided to walk away from the network.

For starters, it’s state funded. Any venue that is funded by any government is not truly independent, especially when coverage of events is skewed in favor of said government. Some controversy is allowed for RT so long as it doesn’t involve the Russian government.

Even Adam Kokesh walked away from the network, and this quote from his Adam Vs the Man website may give some insight as to why:

So RT America picked up ADAM VS THE MAN as a TV show on national cable for 30 minutes, weeknights. While some were shocked that a state-funded media outlet would hire a libertarian, if you understand RT to be the Russian government poking the American government in the eye, it makes perfect sense and Adam was happy to be a part of that effort. Unfortunately, after four successful months in which the show quickly came to regularly outperform other similar shows on the network, they decided to part ways and Adam decided to strike out on his own.

Just because some controversial topics are discussed does not mean one should trust one media entity over another.  Truly independent media, venues that are not backed by corporations or governments, are needed more than ever. Independent Media Centers can help fulfill general coverage in an independent way, sites such as this one and 2600 can help in terms of different perspectives on computers and technology, and other sites can be utilized for alternative perspectives on just about any topic.

Just be aware that there will always be a slant no matter which venue it is and that objectivity does not truly exist, for we are all human.

Should Obama administration murder American citizen with drone strike?

There is a reason we have courts and constitutional protection that one will get a fair trial before being punished for the crime he/she may or may not have done. Killing a suspect without giving fair trail is taking away his/her constitutional rights.

The US government is now going through similar struggle – whether to use lethal drone strike to murder a US citizen located in an unidentified country which won’t co-operate with American Empire.

According to an AP report CIA has identified the ‘suspect’ but is waiting for an approval from the Justice Department before taking him down. The Pentagon, as expected, has already given the permission to murder the suspect instead of bringing him back home and try him here.

Last time a US citizen was murdered by a drone strike was Anwar al-Awlaki.

Should the US government start using drones to ‘murder’ US citizens without giving them fair trails?

OEM “Kill-switch” anti theft bill proposed by California State

As more and more persons become owners of smart phones, thieves have found an ever increasing number of targets to prey on. Theft of cellphones is at an all time high in major urban centers across the US and many other countries, and the Californian government has decided to take a stance against it. With cellphones taking a more prominent roll in our lives, we all store sensitive information on our devices, and this is what the bill proposes to address.

Mark Leno, a state senator, is one of the main proponents of this bill and he released this official statement regarding the matter: “With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available. Today we are officially stepping in and requiring the cellphone industry to take the necessary steps to curb violent smartphone thefts and protect the safety of the very consumers they rely upon to support their businesses.”

Leno is proposing that OEMs insert a special security feature that allows owners to wipe devices upon realization of theft or misplacement of the device. The bill is pushing for the implementation of such a feature by January 1st 2015, and seeks a fine of up to $2,500 for each device that is shipped without said software in California. Although the push is being made the State of California, such a bill would require the implementation of the software on all phones across the country because it wouldn’t be practical to sell a Californian version of a device.

The implementation of Google’s ‘Android Device Manager‘ and Apple’s ‘Activation Lock’ are great steps, but there is a desire for more to be done. There is a desire for faster and simpler ways to protect our identities from those who seek exploitation. While there is much to be discussed and determined before such a bill is passed, I welcome the initiative and hope that it helps to make device owners like ourselves feel a lot safer with our prized possessions. Anything that serves as a deterrent for a would-be criminal is a huge plus in my book and it should be in yours too.

Sources: New York Times

Schmidt claims he was unaware of NSA activities

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has made a shocking revelation that he was completely unaware of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) snooping on the company’s data centers.

Schmidt also claimed that the data tapping “literally outraged” him and other members of Google and they had complained to the US government “at great length” over the intrusion.

Schmidt told the Guardian, “I have the necessary clearances to have been told, as do other executives in the company, but none of us were briefed.

“Had we been briefed, we probably couldn’t have acted on it, because we’d have known about it. I’ve declined briefings [from the US government] about this because I don’t want to be constrained.”

In order to prevent further spying, Google has taken steps to encrypt all or most internal traffic.

When asked about Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who exposed the documents revealing the US’ mass surveillance operations on global citizens and leader alike, Schmidt said: “Had this information not come to light, we would not have been able to [stop the NSA spying]. I can understand the position he felt.”

But he was equivocal on the question of whether Snowden should be pardoned or jailed. “I don’t think it’s so obvious one way or the other,” he said.

In November last year, Schmidt lashed out at the NSA over claims that it spied on the company’s data centers. The infiltration of the data centers was “not OK”, according to Schmidt.

Richard Stallman meets AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal

The newly elected government of Delhi is all set to switch to free software for computing, starting from the educational institutions in the first phase.

Arvind Kejriwal, the new ‘anti-corruption’ chief minister of India’s capital, recently met free software advocate Richard Stallman and Joseph C Mathew, the former IT advisor to Kerala government, according to a television report.

Stallman also met Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia.

“It’s the general idea that the state and especially schools should move to free software,” Stallman told television channel Mathrubhumi.

This new initiative comes after Kejriwal’s announcement that monopolies will not be allowed in the retail industry. Stallman said that he shared the philosophy of Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), according to the report.

The government’s move could be a setback for companies like Microsoft which focus heavily on educational institutions with their proprietary software. Microsoft has tied up with the AICTE and other schools for its software in educational institutions.

Kerala has already abandoned Windows in favour of free software like Linux in all government establishments.

There is a commendable increase in open source adoption within India’s education system over the last few years. Kerala pioneered open source in schools with its famous IT@Schools project in 2001. Since then, other states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam and West Bengal have been including open source in their school education initiatives.

“Governmental agencies must exclusively use free software. The state has a responsibility to maintain control over their computing and it is impractical with proprietary software, especially those by foreign companies,” Stallman said while delivering a lecture on A Free Digital Society organised by Kerala Union of Working Journalists ( KUWJ) and Society for Promotion of Alternate Computing and Employment (SPACE).

Talking about the education sector, he added, “Educational institutions should also take initiatives to propagate free software and use it exclusively. A proprietary software is an agent of withholding knowledge. It should be used only to teach reverse engineering, an area with growing demand.”

Obama calls for changes to NSA’s surveillance program

Speaking about the NSA and intelligence agencies surveillance techniques Friday, President Barack Obama announced new limitations on how the National Security Agency (NSA) can access and use the information it collects on Americans. These changes form part of his first reforms since former intelligence worker Edward Snowden leaked details of NSA’s massive spying programme last year.

In his highly anticipated speech, Obama promised to add new privacy safeguards seeking to strike a balance between the need to protect American lives and maintain public trust.

“We have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals—and our Constitution—require,” Obama said at the Justice Department.

He said intelligence agencies would be required to obtain permission from a secret court before tapping into a vast storehouse of telephone data, and will ultimately move that data out of the government’s direct control. He will also limit the NSA’s ability to throw a net well beyond the data of an individual target and collect unlimited numbers.

All in all, the changes proposed by Obama center around the NSA’s vast collection of records of Americans’ phone calls and not its spying on Internet communications.

“The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected,” Obama added, “even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.”

Let’s wait and see how these changes will be enacted provided Congress will be required to pass legal reforms in several cases, and departments themselves will need to make changes under his direction in others.

US kills net neutrality, will it curb innovation?

Today, the court has struck down rules imposed by the Federal Communications Commission regarding Net Neutrality. The court argued that the FCC didn’t have the regulatory ability to treat ISP’s as common carriers, for they weren’t telephone companies.

Gigaom has more details on the ruling as well as listing winners and losers.

Speaking of winners and losers, the biggest losers in this is the consumer, and not just because of the ruling. The idea of throttling Internet traffic to prevent competition irks my Libertarian side quite a bit.

Unfortunately, there are those who prefer not to have competition or a market that’s truly free, but crony capitalism instead. So what could potentially happen with this ruling?

For starters, companies like Netflix may have to pay companies more just to be able to have their streaming service operate at an optimal level. Comcast won’t be able to discriminate against traffic due to an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission when it purchased NBC-Universal until at least 2017.

Companies such as Vonage may have more trouble competing with traditional phone companies as well as mobile providers due to throttling of data speed.  Even with deep pockets, paying to make sure a particular service plays nice on a given ISP’s network will inevitably cause the price of said service to rise.

Though the FCC would be able to change the rules in order to be able to enforce Net Neutrality, there is a question of whether or not it will do so.  At the moment, the regulatory agency appears to be taking a wait and see approach, though an appeal is possible.

I prefer free markets, as in ones that are truly free where competition can thrive. Like having a jogging buddy, it makes things more pleasant in terms of innovation. However, I’m noticing a trend in overly relying on politicians and bureaucrats.

Given the revelations of one Edward Snowden, I ask if such a move is prudent at this point. After all, advocacy groups are relying on the same bureaucrats who have been involved in blatantly violating the first, fourth, and fifth amendment rights in the United States in the name of “national security.”

Is it wise to look to these same people to keep Net Neutrality intact? The EFF was hesitant over the FCC attempting to impose such rules in the first place, because of the history of civil liberties violations.

Rebecca Jeschke, the Media Relations Director of EFF, said via e-mail:

EFF is not surprised at the court’s decision. There was much of value in the FCC’s Open Internet Principles, and we still think those principles are a good starting point for conversation. But we were deeply concerned that the FCC was attempting to claim broad authority to regulate the Internet.  No government agency should have that authority, so we are glad this decision clarifies that.  As we look towards the future, Internet users need to have a pragmatic and open discussion about ways to promote and defend a neutral Internet. In the meantime, ISPs must comply with their transparency obligations so that customers can see if their Internet providers are giving them the non-discriminatory service they expect and deserve.

So what’s the solution? All that I ask is that you look in the mirror, for you are it.

Yes, there are people who meet behind closed doors and try to slice up the world for not just money, but control of particular markets. These same people feel a sense of power in doing so.

In the words of former CIA agent Robert Steele, “They only have power if you let them.”

After all, did the DeCSS court case involving 2600 Magazine stop individuals from being able to watch legally purchased DVD’s on their Linux-based systems?  Absolutely not!

Encouraging the use of Tor with VPN’s may be a step in the right direction. If an ISP has no idea what you’re doing, it makes it harder for them to throttle your usage.

The more people are on Tor, the faster it will get.

There’s also the possibility of creating grassroots ISP’s that could rival Google Fiber in terms of speed, but here’s the kicker; people have to be willing to go through with the idea.

The part of the equation that has been missing for a long time is the idea of people caring enough about each other to ensure that concepts such as Net Neutrality not only survive, but thrive.

Rules can be made over and over again. Unfortunately, rules have a tendency to change depending on who is in any given office.

That’s why it takes more than just “voting the bums out” to make the necessary changes for technological innovation.  The solution must start with you, the individual.