Domain names can't defend themselves

secrecy, chilling effects, policy, legal

(cross-posted to Freedom To Tinker)

Today, the Kentucky Supreme Court handed down an opinion in the saga of Kentucky vs. 141 Domain Names (described a while back here on this blog). Here's the opinion.

This case is fascinating. A quick recap: Kentucky attempted a property seizure of 141 domain names allegedly involved in gambling on the theory that the domain names themselves constituted "gambling devices" under Kentucky law and were therefore illegal. The state held a forfeiture hearing where anyone with an interest in the "property" could show up to defend their interest in the property; otherwise, the State would order the registrars to transfer "ownership" of the domain names to Kentucky. No individual claiming that they own one of the domain names showed up. Litigation began when two industry associations (iMEGA and IGC) claimed to represent unnamed persons who owned these domain names (and another lawyer showed up during litigation claiming representation of one specific domain name).

The subsequent litigation gets a bit complicated; suffice it to say that the issue of standing was what got to the KY Supreme Court: could an association that claimed it represented an owner of a domain name affected in this action properly represent this owner in court without identifying that owner and that the owner was indeed the owner of an affected domain name?

The Kentucky Supreme Court said no, that there needs to be at least one identified individual owner that will suffer harm before the association can stand in stead, ruling,

Due to the incapacity of domain names to contest their own seizure and the inability of iMEGA and IGC to litigate on behalf of anonymous registrants, the Court of Appeals is reversed and its writ is vacated.

And on the issue of whether a piece of property can represent itself:

"An Internet domain name does not have an interest in itself any more than a piece of land is interested in its own use."

Anyway, it would seem that the options for next steps include, 1) identifying at least one owner that would suffer harm, then motion back up to the Supreme Court (given that merits had been argued at the Appeals level), or 2) decide that the anonymity of domain name ownership in this case is more important than the fight over this very weird seizure of domain names.

As a non-lawyer, I wonder if it's possible to represent an owner as a John Doe with an affidavit of ownership of an affected domain name submitted.

An Improvement to FlowingData's Choropleth Tutorial

elections, hacks, open source, education

Nathan Yau at FlowingData has a very cool tutorial that shows how to make a choropleth graph of county-level data in the U.S. The end result looks something like this:

Joe's 2009 Unemployment Choropleth (an image of the U.S. in shades of blue that highlight the rate of unemployment)


One problem with the tutorial as written is that it doesn't output an SVG file that will actually display. As other commenters noticed, the python xml parsing library BeautifulSoup was attempting to close two tags, <defs ... /> and <sodipodi:namedview ... />, that don't need closing. The comments suggest editing by hand... there must be a better way!

It turns out that the solution is easy. You can tell BeautifulSoup that certain tags are "self-closing". So, in the tutorial code, replace the line:

soup = BeautifulSoup(svg)


soup = BeautifulSoup(svg, 

and the resulting SVG will display just fine.

Privacy: It Used to Be Nobody's Business!

secrecy, chilling effects, privacy, policy, education
This is cross-posted at the Technology | Academics | Policy blog.

This post is intended for lay audiences; I can only hope I did a decent job.

Last Thursday was Data Privacy Day. In recognition of this international celebration, TAP invited guest bloggers to present some of the basics of data privacy --within policy issues, the law, and of course, as individuals. Today TAP is pleased to provide an overview of how information technology changes privacy in many ways, by Joseph Lorenzo Hall, ACCURATE Postdoctoral Research Associate UC Berkeley School of Information Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy.

Privacy is the kind of thing you don't know you have until it's gone.

One minute, you're living your life, happy as pie, and all of a sudden you feel like you've been violated. Sometimes this can be a false alarm; for example, when the pizza guy on the other end of the phone knows your address because you've ordered from Luigi's before. Other times, it can feel very personal; like someone has torn down the walls while you're in the shower.

Why all this talk about privacy?

You may not have noticed it, but last Thursday, January 28, was Data Privacy Day. Data Privacy Day is a day to celebrate our ability to keep some things to ourselves. In this post, I'd like to talk in layman's terms about privacy and how technology like the Internet affects privacy.

Privacy used to be a matter of "mind your own business". That is, before our globally-connected society could scarf down any and all news instantly, things were different. What was public was mostly a matter of what things people chose to make public. Many of our elder generations still feel this: wanting to know more about another person is not something to be proud of.

This day and age is quite different. Where things were normally private in the past, they are increasingly becoming public, by default. All those cameras that record you on the subway, at your favorite lunch spot, and in the parking garage? Your Facebook profile? The view of your home from the street? More than likely each of these views are public or can be with little effort.

A lot of this is a consequence of our increased technological capability. Cameras are cheap. Storage space for images, audio and video is even cheaper. The Internet ensures that anything that can be reduced to a computer file can be shared almost instantaneously with the rest of the world.

So what, you may be thinking? You have nothing to hide. Well, ask yourself if you're comfortable walking out on the street naked. It's not that we all have something to hide; it's that we feel more comfortable when we have control over what "leaks" out about us into the world.

Technology makes taking control of your digital self cumbersome. For example, have you ever wondered how your web browser knows that you want to see stories from your 07307 zip code when you go to a news site? Well, that's because your web browser keeps a small piece of information, called a "cookie", from this news site in order for it to keep track of things you do when you visit them. Though that's a pretty tame example.

Online advertisers do something similar to build a profile of you. This includes your age, gender, location, and what you like to read, eat, buy, etc. How do you stop companies from doing this? You have to know how to turn off cookies in your browser. Even then, not accepting cookies will mean other sites who don't do these things can't remember you. My own cookie practices are too complex to go into here; suffice it to say that having total control over this kind of stuff is not easy! However, simply knowing that this is possible is often a large part of the battle.

Another hard-to-grasp aspect of how technology changes our sense of privacy is this: the internet has a hard time learning how to "forget". It used to be that pictures would fade, video would age and such. These days, it's not very hard to inadvertently cause something to last effectively forever. So, you posted that picture of the bad haircut you got on Facebook or Flickr? Don't be surprised if someone likes it so much that they save a copy. You'll forget about it until your daughter's wedding when the groom makes a joke about your family's fashion sense. The only way to anticipate these kinds of surprises is to think, each time you post something online, "How could my enemies/stalker/that-guy-who-is-suing-me use this against me?" Whether or not you have enemies and stalkers is of course not the point here. The idea is to pick something similar that you can use for a quick gut check.

Finally, the social component of how we deal with privacy can be the hardest one to navigate. I'm sure you have a friend that likes to take a lot pictures. Where do those pictures end up? How do you know that a fun picture taken on a Friday night won't end up on the internet? If you are the one that is the shutterbug, be conscious of this. Think about possible consequences of posting a particular picture or video.

This brings me to my last bit of advice: use features of websites like Facebook, MySpace and Flickr that allow you to only show certain things to your friends. If you ever have even the slightest reservation about posting something online, simply restrict it to your friends to make it not public. Of course, this means you have to be a bit careful about who you "friend" on these websites. We'll have to leave that discussion for another day.

Rebecca Mercuri's Dissertation

elections, reform, copyright, secrecy, privacy, research, policy

One of the godmothers of electronic voting is Rebecca Mercuri. Her PhD dissertation introduced the concept of the voter-verified paper audit trail. I've wanted to read a copy of this thesis for a while and recently had a renewed interest in it. I paid ProQuest $37 for a PDF of Rebecca's PhD thesis, because I couldn't find it using other search tools.

Well, after looking something up in her thesis, I found that U Penn posted it. Silly me. Here it is (7.5 MB):

Electronic Vote Tabluation Checks & Balances
Rebecca Mercuri

(Yes, this post is solely intended to get this document into the Google index!)

Incidentally, I noticed that if you go to the ProQuest Express Dissertation service:

and type in "electronic voting", Stefan Popoveniuc's dissertation is listed with a blue little "O" next to it as an "open dissertation". I remember doing this along with danah in our quest to Creative Commons-license our dissertations. And, what d'ya know? It allows free download of Popoveniuc and other open dissertations. (although one does have to give ProQuest some information... and I didn't check if Popoveniuc's dissertation is available online too.)

I suspect mine isn't in their database because of the Creative Commons issue. We'll see!

Open Government Workshop at CITP

open source, secrecy, privacy, politics, berkeley, friends, research, policy, usability, legal, princeton

Here at Princeton's CITP, we have a healthy interest in issues of open government and government transparency. With the release last week of the Open Government Directive by the Obama Administration, our normally gloomy winter may prove to be considerably brighter.

In addition to creating crazy-cool tools like Recap and FedThread, we?ve also been thinking deeply about the nature of open and transparent government, how system designers and architects can better create transparent systems and how to achieve sustainability in open government. Related to these questions are those of the effort?providing open access to primary legal materials?and how to best facilitate the tinkerers who work on projects of open government.

These are deep issues, so we thought it best to organize a workshop and gather people from a variety of perspectives to dig in.

If you?re interested, come to our workshop next month! While we didn?t consciously plan it this way, the last day of this workshop corresponds to the first 45-day deadline under the OGD.

Open Government: Defining, Designing, and Sustaining Transparency

January 21?22, 2010

Despite increasing interest in issues of open government and governmental transparency, the values of ?openness? and ?transparency? have been undertheorized. This workshop will bring together academics, government, advocates and tinkerers to examine a few critical issues in open and transparent government. How can we better conceptualize openness and transparency for government? Are there specific design and architectural needs and requirements placed upon systems by openness and transparency? How can openness and transparency best be sustained? How should we change the provision and access of primary legal materials? Finally, how do we best coordinate the supply of open government projects with the demand from tinkerers?

Anil Dash, Director of the AAAS? new Expert Labs, will deliver the keynote. The list of speakers is impressive and practically guaranteed to catalyze deep thinking.

The workshop is free and open to the public, although we ask that you RSVP to so that we be sure to have a name tag and lunch for you.

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