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February 11 2014

RFID Tags Track Marijuana From Seed to Sale, in Colorado
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On New Years Day, Colorado became the first state to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. The new legislation has provoked a Denver-bound flood of "Ganjapreneurs" and kickstarted what is sure to be a very profitable pot tourism trade

Yet the business is far less hippie and far more button-down than it appears

The Colorado state government enforces the sale of marijuana with a set of regulations (500 pages in all) designed to shut out the black market. For one, it stipulates digital tracking of marijuana plants from seed to sale, using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology

The cannabis industry is generally eager to comply with even the most stringent government regulations, thereby proving the marijuana market can be both lucrative and legitimate. However, implementation problems have slowed the retail pot business's anticipated boom Read more...

More about Law, Features, Business, Retail, and Tech

January 20 2014

Top 15 Recipients of U.S. Patents in 2013
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IBM received 6,809 U.S. patents in 2013. That's an average of nearly 19 patents every day last year — more than any other company

Following IBM, which has dominated the top spot for 21 consecutive years, Samsung received the second-most patents, clocking in at 4,676

For the first time ever, Google and Apple, which ranked 11th and 13th, respectively, landed in the top 20 companies for U.S. patent rankings.

Statista's chart, below, shows the top 15 recipients of U.S. patents in 2013, according to IFI CLAIMS Patent Services

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Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments. Read more...

More about Law, Patents, Ibm, Tech, and Dev Design
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January 17 2014

The American History of Marijuana, Man
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On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state in the U.S. to allow the "retail sale" of marijuana" to adults 21 and older

Stores sold more than $5 million worth of pot in the first week alone. In anticipation, the Denver Post even hired a marijuana editor to exclusively cover the now-legal market.

But the American cannabis discussion is a long way from finished. The debate has an extensive — ahem, hazy — history in the country, dating all the way back to 1600s Virginia (#ColonialStyle)

Check out our full breakdown of weed in America — past, present and future — in the above video. You can also subscribe to Mashable on YouTube for more coverage and insight. Read more...

More about Video, Videos, Law, Crime, and Features

January 16 2014

Yes, Emoji Death Threats Are Admissible in Court
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When someone threatened Fletcher Babb's life via Instagram, he wondered whether he could report it to the authorities. The death threat wasn't written in English, after all. It came via emoji.

The penalties for threatening comments on social media, even in jest, are well documented. But threats delivered via emoticons are unexplored territory in cyberlaw. According to legal experts, however, there may be some circumstances under which a sinister assemblage of emojis would constitute harassment, even assault

At the time, freelance journalist Babb was investigating Instagram's widening black market, specifically, the sale of promethazine and codeine-laced cough syrup, a.k.a. "lean." Read more...

More about Social Media, Law, Crime, Features, and Cyberlaw

January 11 2014

Vining While Driving: The Deadly Trend Millions Are Watching
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Buckle up, crank the engine and … record a Vine video? Whether to yell at crazy drivers or poke fun at unknowing passersby, Vine users are filming a scary amount of footage while driving

And as the fastest growing app of 2013, more users are watching and filming their own Vine videos behind the wheel.

“For me, I get more ideas when I’m in my car,” says Alx James, who, at the time of writing, has the 11th most-followed Vine account. James’ Vine videos are mostly recordings inside his car; many he records while driving.

He’s not the only one. Many other top Viners are also taking to the streets Read more...

More about Safety, Social Media, Law, Features, and Cars

January 08 2014

Israel Votes Unanimously to Ban Revenge Porn
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Revenge porn is now a crime in Israel. The country's parliament, the Knesset, passed a new law on Monday, which criminalized the posting of nude videos of others online without their consent. This crime can carry a prison sentence of up to five years

Israel follows in the footsteps of New Jersey and California, the first two states in the U.S. to outlaw the lewd trend. In New Jersey, before "revenge porn" became a mainstream term, a 2003 invasion of privacy law prohibited the distribution of nude or sexual material without that person's content.

More about Israel, Law, Porn, Us World, and World

January 01 2014

The Need to Be Open: U.S. Laws Are Killing the Future of Robotics
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The next step in transformative technology is already here, and the United States runs the risk of getting left behind.

The amount of robotics inventions is steadily on the rise, and the U.S. military is already in on the action. A few years ago, Air Force drones surpassed 1 million combat hours. Hobbyists are using platforms like Arduino to build their own robots, and they're building them by the thousands. Tesla recently announced its intention to develop and market driverless cars by 2018. Last year, Chris Anderson quit his job as the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine to found and run a robotics company. Read more...

More about United States, Law, Tech, Robots, and Robotics

December 31 2013

9 Changes to Expect at Midnight on Jan. 1
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If you're a Netflix-loving, drone-fearing marijuana enthusiast teenager who loves incandescent light bulbs, heads up: Your life is going to change pretty drastically come Wednesday.

New laws are going into effect in cities and states across the U.S. with the coming new year, altering the way civilians, businesses and, in some cases, entire industries operate on a day-to-day basis. And legislation isn't the only thing making changes, either — companies like Netflix are using the upcoming calendar year as a jumping-off point to tweak their offerings.

More about Law, Features, New Year, Us World, and Politics

December 06 2013

7 Landmark Tech Laws Passed in 2013
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While 2013 will be remembered as the year of the NSA leaks, privacy was already a hot topic for lawmakers around the country before Edward Snowden exposed top-secret surveillance programs.

U.S. states like Montana, Maine and Texas have all passed laws extending constitutional protections for various types of data. Most did it before Snowden's revelations put digital privacy at the forefront of American's public discourse.

However, despite progress in certain states and international outrage over the NSA scandal, federal legislators haven't followed suit. In fact, perhaps the biggest news of the year is that Congress has been unable to pass any privacy-protecting legislations Read more...

More about Law, Tech, Tech Policy, Us World, and Politics

December 03 2013

House Votes to Extend Law Banning 3D-Printed Guns for 10 Years
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Legislators want 3D-printed guns made entirely of plastic to be illegal in the U.S. for another 10 years. The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act, a 1988 law banning any weapon that can evade metal detectors.

Lawmakers pushed to extend the law, which was slated to expire on Dec. 9, amid fears that 3D printing would give criminals an unprecedented chance to smuggle a functioning weapon into a secure building. Availability of 3D printers and designs for 3D-printed guns, like the infamous Liberator, is rapidly increasing as the technology becomes mainstream. Read more...

More about Law, Legislation, 3d Printing, Us World, and Politics

September 18 2013

Your Facebook 'Like' Is Now Protected by the U.S. Constitution
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Clicking "Like" on a Facebook post or page is now a form of speech protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, according to an opinion issued on Wednesday by a federal appeals court, which overturned a previous ruling to the contrary.

The decision (.PDF) to consider a Facebook "Like" as protected speech may set a precedent of how courts apply freedom of speech rules to users' online activities

For the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va,, Liking a candidate on Facebook should have the same protections as real-life actions that show political support. Read more...

More about Facebook, Law, Freedom Of Speech, Facebook Like, and First Amendment

August 22 2013

14 Illegal Things You're Doing on the Internet
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We've all done it. One day it's pirating an album, the next day it's streaming movies from a sketchy site. Of course, we know all these things are illegal

But what about the other illicit activity you're engaging in online? Some may not be as obvious as you'd think.

Criminal activity may be as simple as installing an ad blocker or hopping on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Though they may seem banal, some things we do every single day are technically counted illegal in the court of law

Even if the likelihood of getting caught is slim for some activities, practice caution in the future. Take a look at our gallery above and think twice the next time you download a random image from a Google search. Read more...

More about Internet, Lists, Social Media, Law, and Crime

March 22 2013

Microsoft: We Give Your Info To The Cops 82% Of The Time

For the first time, Microsoft has released information on its level of cooperation with law enforcement requests for information about users of its online services. And, as the company oh-so-delicately puts it, "18% of law enforcement requests to Microsoft resulted in the disclosure of no customer data."

Which, of course, means that Microsoft did hand out customer data 82% of the time. Feeling relieved yet?

According to information released by Microsoft today, the company received a total of 75,378 requests for information from law enforcement in 2012. 70,665 were for user accounts associated with services such as Hotmail, Outlook.com, SkyDrive and Xbox Live, with the remaining 4,713 requests about Skype user accounts.

Microsoft broke out the Skype data, it said, because Skype is a Luxembourg-based division and therefore subject to separate privacy laws in that nation and the European Union.

By The Numbers

Combined, the requests for information affected 137,424 accounts, most of it for information about an account holder's name, email, gender, or address information. 137,424 revealed accounts sounds like a lot, but according to Microsoft that's a mere fraction of the total accounts it manages.

"To give you a sense of proportion, we estimate that less than two one-hundredths of one percent (or 0.02 percent, to put it another way) were potentially affected by law enforcement requests," wrote Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith.

In only 2.2% of the cases did Microsoft provide content data to law enforcement - and none of that was Skype content, since Microsoft does not archive Skype data. "Content data," Microsoft explains, is "what our customers create, communicate and store" using Microsoft services - i.e., documents, photos and email.

On the other hand, Microsoft supplied "non-content data" in a full 80% of cases. Such data can include the email address, name, and IP address associated with a particular Microsoft account.

A vast majority of the 1,558 instances where Microsoft did supply user content happened in the United States, where Microsoft supplied content data 1,544 times in 2012. Brazil received data seven times, Ireland five times, and New Zealand and Canada each getting user data once.

You might expect that the U.S. would be the top requester of all the nations in Microsoft's report for customer information, but in actuality, counting requests for account information and content, it was Turkey that took the top spot for most law enforcement requests complied with in 2012.

The top five nations that Microsoft complied with law enforcement requests were:

  1. Turkey (8,997)
  2. United States (8,740)
  3. France (7,377)
  4. Germany (7,088)
  5. United Kingdom (7,057)

Microsoft's report also broke down when requests for data were rejected, either because there was no customer information to be found or the requests did not meet legal requirements.

Check out the report information (in PDF and Excel format) for yourself to see how much your home country's authorities interacted with Microsoft.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Tags: law

August 07 2012

February 09 2012

Twitter Joke Trial: Judges Don’t Get Social Media, Says Stephen Fry

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TV personality, activist, and social media comedian Stephen Fry has taken sides in the Paul Chambers “Twitter Joke Trial,” saying that British judges fundamentally don’t understand how Twitter works.

Fry’s stance is more interesting for the larger question it raises about the rising role of social media and the generation gap between users of social networks and those asked to adjudicate them.

Chambers was arrested for a tweet he sent about Robin Hood Airport in England in January 2010. The airport suffered repeated service delays and disruptions due to cold weather, prompting Chambers to tweet:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

Chambers was later convicted for sending a “message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” under the Communications Act 2003, causing him to lose his job, gain a criminal record and a mountain of fees and legal costs. Chambers lost several appeals and is awaiting his latest appeal, due this month.

Fry has publicly stood behind Chambers saying the verdict was unfair and even helping Chambers with his continuing legal costs. The real problem, according to Fry, is that British Judges are simply too out of touch with modern social tools such as Twitter. This is what Fry said in a recent interview:

“It was so clearly a joke, so clearly just a frustrated person going “Oh, damn.” It’s like me saying “I’ll kill my wife if she’s late again.” It’s that. It’s as simple that. And I’m afraid there’s a generation of judges and a generation of people at the Crown Prosecution Service that just don’t get Twitter, that just don’t get social media, who don’t understand that it’s part of a conversation.”

Saying you’re going to blow up an airport is clearly not a good idea, even if in jest, but the court’s reaction has been labelled unfair and disproportionate to the “crime” committed.

Fry’s interview, appearing on the BBC’s Newsbeat, addresses problems beyond just Chambers’ appeal. Similar questions were raised during the SOPA and PIPA debates when legislators and members of the government admitted ignorance at the nitty gritty of the bills they were trying to pass.

Fry’s allegations are even more topical now that the U.K. Supreme Court has joined Twitter (@UKSupremeCourt) this past month, joining the Judiciary of England and Wales at @judiciaryuk.

Should judges and authorities go through social media training or has Fry overstepped his mark? Let us know in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Beinecke Library

More About: law, Social Media, Twitter


January 27 2012

Relax: Twitter’s New Censorship Policy Is Actually Good for Activists


Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Twitter’s announcement that it can now censor tweets on a country-by-country basis. The move has prompted a growing number of users to organize under the hashtag #TwitterBlackout and pledge to boycott the service on January 28 by refusing to tweet. But these users are misguided — Twitter’s new policy is actually good for activists.

For a number of reasons, Twitter’s new policy is a win for freedom of speech advocates. The first thing to keep in mind is that Twitter’s guidelines have long said that, “International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.” According to last year’s official blog post on censorship, Twitter did already sometimes take down tweets that were deemed “illegal.”

Most or all of those removed tweets so far have, it seems, been related copyright violation takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the U.S. The takeaway here, though, is that Twitter’s rules have always allowed them to remove illegal content at the request of governments, and they never said they wouldn’t. So what has changed? Technology and transparency.

The new censorship technology announced by Twitter allows the company to block tweets or users on a country-by-country basis. Previously, blocking tweets had to be done globally, meaning if an oppressive regime asked Twitter to remove a tweet or block a user, it had to be done for everyone in the world. Now, Twitter can remove that tweet in that country, but allow the world to see it.

But wouldn’t it be better for activists if Twitter just refused to comply with requests from oppressive regimes? Actually, no.

If a government asks Twitter to remove an offending tweet, the company essentially has two options: Comply and block that single tweet or user in that country (while still allowing the rest of the world to see), or refuse and risk the government itself blocking Twitter for everyone in that country. So which seems better for activists? I’ll pick the former any day — it still allows activists to speak to the world at large and draw attention to their treatment. That’s something Reuters’ Anthony DeRosa posits could be more powerful.

Further, because Twitter has promised to increase their transparency about takedown requests, it should become easier for activists to monitor which countries are censoring their citizens. As NPR’s Andy Carvin noted on Twitter, every social media platform faces these same sorts of requests. Twitter is just being more transparent about how they deal with them.

But what about Twitter as an organizing tool? Surely this will make it impossible for protesters to use online tools like Twitter to organize, as they did during so many uprisings and political movements in 2011. There are two reasons to be hopeful that Twitter’s censorship policy will not have an appreciable impact on the ability of people to organize locally using Twitter.

First, Twitter’s technology appears to be easy to circumvent. And further, Twitter appears to clearly be telling users how to get around its censors.

Second, activists are smart. They always have been. Last year in Libya, for example, opposition leaders reportedly used coded messages on dating sites to avoid detection by secret police. A Twitter spokesperson has indicated that the company will only block tweets or users “in the face of a valid and applicable legal order.” In other words: Twitter won’t just block a user any time a government asks, so activists should still be able to communicate on the network, assuming their tweets don’t run afoul of local laws.

At face value, when a company announces plans to censor its users at the behest of governments, it is alarming. But when you dig down into what Twitter announced, it is actually a win for freedom of speech and a long-term benefit for anyone who fights for openness and democracy.

More About: censorship, features, law, Opinion, Social Media, Twitter


January 18 2012

Is There a SOPA Alternative Both Sides Can Live With?


The Internet giants have weighed in and the message is clear: SOPA is bad. Yet so is Internet piracy. Is there a SOPA alternative that could reconcile the two?

There are a variety of ways, including new or updated laws and technological solutions to address the issue. None may be perfect, but with the future of SOPA and Senate counterpart PIPA in doubt, both sides may have to soon abandon their heated opposition and work out some sort of solution.

After all, a symbiotic relationship exists between companies such as Google and the entertainment industry — these days, neither can grow without the other.

The first step is dialogue between the two sides. In the days leading up to Wednesday’s protest, both sides have ratcheted up the rhetoric. “Why is it that when Republicans and Democrats need to solve the budget and the deficit, there’s deadlock, but when Hollywood lobbyists pay them $94 million to write legislation, people from both sides of the aisle line up to co-sponsor it?” Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian asked on CNBC on Tuesday. (See video below.)

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page took Reddit and others to task for their “cyber tantrum” and asked why they hadn’t taken similar dramatic measures to protest, say, Chinese oppression.

Hopefully, when the war of words dies down, the entertainment industry and Reddit and co. will be able to reach a consensus on some sort of solution. Some ideas:



Alternative Legislation


Google has already proposed OPEN as an alternative to SOPA/PIPA, and Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, says OPEN is a “good start.” The OPEN House and Senate bills would use the International Trade Commission, rather than the Justice Dept. and the courts to go after foreign-based Internet pirates.

While techies are OK with OPEN, the entertainment industry is not, since making a case before the ITC could be prohibitively expensive.

However, some creative legal solutions might also address the issue. Daliah Saper, principal attorney at Saper Law Offices in Chicago, for instance, proposes a law that would require proprietors of a website to display contact information on their site. “Make it easy for an individual content owner to contact that site,” Saper says. If that’s not possible, “That should be grounds for shutting a site down.”



A Governing International Body


Another idea is to create an international organization that has jurisdiction over copyright protection, the way ICANN oversees issues related to Internet domain names. The analogy is imperfect since you have to go through ICANN to get a domain name while there’s no governing body that has to approve (or disapprove) of your planned piracy activities.

However, Alex Floum, an attorney with The Williams Firm, says countries can work together to create “Intellectual Property Treaties” that would require each of the participants to go after copyright violators in their own countries. “Foreign countries would agree to prosecute copyright infringement,” he says.

Of course, the problem is, even if such a body were created there would still be outlier countries that didn’t participate. Aaron Kelly, an attorney with The Kelly Law Firm in Tempe, Ariz., says that an ICANN-like copyright group would do little to thwart piracy from Somalia, Senegal or Malta, for instance.


Better Technology


Not surprisingly, this is the tech industry’s favorite solution to the problem. Reddit’s Martin, for instance, charges that SOPA is a flawed solution because techies had no input on the bill. “It’s been drafted by people who barely have a working knowledge of tech and are even proud of it.” Martin says that he doesn’t have a specific technical solution to the problem in mind, but, if the lawmakers worked with the tech industry, the two could likely find something.

Alex Fowler, global privacy and public policy lead at Mozilla, offers the following suggestion: “As an organization dedicated to making things to better the web, there may be consumer safety tools facilitated by browsers, apps and open web software that could help alert people to potential harms associated with accessing sites known to be selling pirated goods and content,” he says.

“Mozilla believes that instead of alienating Internet companies and startups on this issue, the entertainment industry should be partnering with us to explore new and innovative technology solutions that work with the open Web.”

In Martin’s view, the entertainment’s piracy issues are based on its own resistance to technology. Since the industry had no financial interest in creating new digital distribution platforms, such technical solutions came from outsiders like Netflix and Apple. “We’re the ones who can help the content producers to make this transition,” Martin says.

Kelly agrees and cites iTunes’s success in convincing the average user to pay for music rather than pirating it. “Make the opportunity cost of trying to pirate greater than buying the damn thing,” Kelly says. “It’s the fault of the media companies that we have such a crappy selection on Netflix.”


Images courtesy of iStockphoto, AnthiaCumming, cristianl and loops7, respectively

More About: law, mozilla, reddit, SOPA


January 17 2012

January 12 2012

January 05 2012

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