IT Matters

Technology policy insights

bitcoin & Litcoin

New York should ensure “BitLicenses” are a Step Forward for Innovation

On July 17, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) released a proposed regulatory framework for virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, that would require businesses that hold, transmit, or convert virtual currencies to everyday currencies to apply for “BitLicenses.” (For background on the BitLicensing framework, read this previous post.)

The following is a truncated version of the comments we filed with NYSDFS today:

It is important to note that while ITIF applauds the desire to bring regulatory certainty, transparency, and clarity to virtual currency businesses, the State of New York is likely the wrong entity to address these important policy issues. One of the challenges of global systems, such as virtual currencies or the Internet, is that they are subject to multiple jurisdictions by sovereign countries. Subnational governments, like states, should not compound the problem of multiple and varied laws between countries by creating their own additional rules and regulations. A better approach would be for states to either defer to the federal government or work in partnership with all states to create a single, national approach to policy.

However, if NYSDFS continues to pursue these regulations, … Read the rest

Taken by Tom Blackwell

The LEADS Act presents a path forward for cross-border digital searches

Last week, Senators Hatch, Coons and Heller introduced the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act which seeks to clarify the powers that warrants issued by the U.S. courts have on data stored abroad. The LEADS Act also focuses on reforming the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process, which are agreements designed for law enforcement agencies to receive and provide assistance to their counterparts in other countries. If enacted, this law could have both immediate effects on a current court case, and far-reaching effects on international agreements for cross-border access to data for law enforcement purposes.

Until now, the U.S. government has argued that it could use the powers granted to it under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to gain lawful access to data stored abroad if the company storing it had a presence on U.S. soil. The LEADS Act would clarify ECPA, stating specifically that the U.S. government cannot compel the disclosure of data from U.S. providers stored abroad if accessing that data violates the laws of the country where it is stored or if the data is not associated with a U.S. person—a citizen or … Read the rest

Bitcoin Keychain

“BitLicenses” Explained

In the past few years, virtual currencies, particularly Bitcoin, have jumped from an online experiment to a multi-billion dollar global phenomenon. Now, governments are starting to recognize these currencies, hoping to both legitimize and secure them with proposed regulations. On July 17, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) released a proposed regulatory framework for virtual currency that would require businesses that hold, transmit or convert virtual currencies to everyday currencies to apply for “BitLicenses.” This is one of the first proposed regulations on virtual currencies in the United States since the IRS proclaimed Bitcoin to be property subject to capital gains tax last March. While NYSDFS is still only seeking comments on these rules and nothing is final, I will attempt to break down the proposal as is and provide some initial thoughts on the implications for virtual currencies.

What is the purpose of the regulations?

NYSDFS announced these regulations as a result of public hearings it conducted in January 2014. NYSDFS hopes to use these rules to protect consumers, prevent money laundering, and improve cyber security for businesses that use virtual currencies. These regulations represent … Read the rest

"The Right to be Forgotten"

Another Problem with the “Right to be Forgotten”

History is riddled with examples where attempts to achieve one outcome actually led to the opposite result. In May, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Europeans have the “right to be forgotten,” the ability to request search engines to remove links from queries associated with their names if those results are irrelevant, inappropriate, or outdated. Just as Prohibition famously increased alcohol consumption, it would seem the “right to be forgotten,” while intended to increase online privacy, may actually have the opposite effect, both by cataloging shameful information and incentivizing individuals to publicize the very materials people want forgotten.

Since the decision, Google has scrambled to meet Europe’s demands by creating an online form to process removal requests and hiring new personnel to handle compliance. When individuals want information removed about themselves, they must submit verification of their identity, provide the URLs to be removed, and justify why they should be taken down. Google then verifies that the submitted information is accurate and meets the criteria for removal. Then, if the company decides to take the link down, it notifies the website where the content was posted of … Read the rest

Songwriter

Promoting Innovation and Competition in Music Licensing

As any musician or songwriter will tell you, music copyright law is a headache.

Today, ITIF filed comments with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to address the consent decrees of Performance Right Organizations (PROs) such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). These PROs manage licensing for public performance rights for compositions, the rights to play an artist’s music in a public place, or transmit it to the public via a medium, such as radio, television or the Internet. In 1941, the PROs settled a lawsuit brought by the DOJ with a consent decree designed to stop them from participating in anti-competitive behavior created by the accumulation of public performance rights held by their member songwriters and music publishers. We argue that DOJ should rework these decrees to assist in modernizing the way music copyrights are licensed in the digital age, keeping an eye on innovation, competition, transparency, and fairness.

These organizations are a small part of the complex web that is the U.S. music licensing system, which includes mechanical licenses, synchronization licenses, and sound recording licenses that … Read the rest

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

The Expendables: Pirates vs. Action Heroes

Last week, the Expendables 3 was leaked online three weeks prior to the movie’s on-screen release date. It was downloaded close to 100,000 times in the first 12 hours and days later had already surpassed 500,000 downloads, making it the most pirated movie of the week.  Pre-release privacy costs films millions, while reducing creativity, stalling innovation, and harming free speech. While our beloved action heroes were unable to protect their movie from copyright infringement, the Internet community can adopt initiatives to reduce future leaks.

The Expendables III is not the first movie to be pirated before it was released in theaters. This type of leak has occurred for a variety of prominent movie releases, including Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, Disney’s the Avengers and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an incomplete work print copy of which appeared several weeks before the official theatrical release in 2009. Pre-release piracy hurts films because the people who are most interested in seeing the film are those most likely to pirate the pre-release, and therefore not pay to see it in theaters.

The Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that … Read the rest

U.S. Constitution

Key Principles for the ICANN Transition

Earlier this year, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its intention to relinquish oversight of key technical functions of the Internet. Towards this end, NTIA asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to take over the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). This process is currently underway.

As the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) told Congress in testimony earlier this year, the transition away from U.S. oversight creates unique risks and challenges for Internet governance, many of which we may not be able to anticipate today. Without the current oversight provided by the United States, ICANN will not be accountable to anyone and will only be motivated by the interests of those individuals who control the organization. This makes it incumbent on the NTIA, the ICANN leadership, and global Internet stakeholders to insist that a comprehensive set of principles for the responsible management of Internet resources be firmly embedded within ICANN before the transition is allowed to be completed.… Read the rest

Image taken by Bob Mical.

How FITARA Can Help Federal Agencies with Their IT Problem

In 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs was forced to scrap a multimillion-dollar computer system that was designed to streamline the agency’s costs. Ironically, the project cost taxpayers $265 million, and is one of many examples of federal IT projects which go massively over budget and under deliver. Part of the reason for these failures is the last time we made significant changes to how our government acquired its own IT was the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. This law was enacted the year before Google.com was registered as a domain name, back when Windows 95 was the new big thing. Almost two decades later, while innovation has continued to press forward, our government’s ability to efficiently acquire new IT has lagged miserably behind.

Luckily, a few lawmakers are trying to remedy that. In March 2013, Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Gerry Connelly (D-VA) introduced H.R. 1232, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to overhaul the federal government’s approach to acquiring IT. The bill seeks to designate clear responsibility and authority over federal IT investment, enhance the government’s ability to get good IT, strengthen the federal IT … Read the rest

Two ostriches

Meet the New “De-Identification Deniers”

In 1895, Lord Kelvin, the renowned physicist, declared “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible” and dismissed those who were pursuing such research. Had the scientific community heeded his words and those of other skeptics, the advancements in aviation that define our modern world would have sadly been held back. Yet, unfortunately some in the scientific community have not learned the lesson that betting against human ingenuity is a fool’s game. The most recent example of this comes from Arvind Narayanan and Ed Felten who in a recent paper declared that de-identification has never and will never work. (Their paper was intended as a rebuttal to a piece written by Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the former Ontario Privacy Commissioner, and me, which demonstrated that the claims made in the popular press about academic research on re-identification methods often overstate the findings or omit important details.)

The authors are making an incredible claim. They are not saying that de-identification sometimes fails (which is painfully obvious to even the casual observer), but rather that there is no such thing as anonymous data. Narayanan and Felten write, “there is no evidence that de-identification works … Read the rest

InternetTaxblog

Misinformation in the Internet Tax Freedom Act Debate

In 1998, Congress recognized that taxation could slow the growth of the Internet adoption and suppress the enormous potential of the digital economy and so it passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) to prohibit states from imposing new taxes on Internet access. After being renewed in 2001, 2004, and 2007, ITFA is once again set to expire and there is a lively debate over whether it should reauthorized and made permanent.

Unfortunately, not all participants in the debate are presenting the facts accurately. Michael Mazerov, a Senior Fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ State Fiscal Project, recently wrote a blog post opposing the extension, and one of his key assertions was that there are no differences in broadband subscription rates between states with and without taxes placed on Internet access. To back this dubious claim, Mazerov cites a 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

But there’s only one problem: the GAO didn’t say this.  In fact, when presenting its finding, the GAO states very clearly that their ability to properly analyze the problem was compromised by a lack of broadband pricing data. The only … Read the rest