December 13, 2001

Dmitry Sklyarov is off the hook, "until the conclusion of the case against Elcomsoft or for one year, whichever is longer."

See the Press Release from the U.S. Attorney's Office:
US Attorney (N. Dist. CA) Press Release -- On Dropping of Charges Against Dmitry Sklyarov (Dec. 13, 2001).

The United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California announced that Dmitry Sklyarov entered into an agreement this morning with the United States and admitted his conduct in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Whyte in San Jose Federal Court.
Under the agreement, Mr. Sklyarov agreed to cooperate with the United States in its ongoing prosecution of Mr. Sklyarov's former employer, Elcomsoft Co., Ltd. Mr. Skylarov will be required to appear at trial and testify truthfully, and he will be deposed in the matter. For its part, the United States agreed to defer prosecution of Mr. Sklyarov until the conclusion of the case against Elcomsoft or for one year, whichever is longer. Mr. Sklyarov will be permitted to return to Russia in the meantime, but will be subject to the Court's supervision, including regularly reporting by telephone to the Pretrial Services Department. Mr. Sklyarov will be prohibited from violating any laws during the year, including copyright laws. The United States agreed that, if Mr. Sklyarov successfully completes the obligations in the agreement, it will dismiss the charges pending against him at the end of the year or when the case against Elcomsoft is complete.

Part of the deal is that he has to testify in the civil case against his employer, but according to the EFF Press Release, he will most likely also testify on his employer's behalf.

See the EFF Media Release:
Sklyarov Freed (Dec. 13, 2001):

U.S. Federal Court Judge Ronald Whyte today signed a court agreement permitting Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov to return to his native land after a five-month enforced stay in the U.S. The agreement should eventually clear him of all charges brought against him for distributing software that permits electronic book owners to convert the Adobe e-book format so they can make use of e-books without access restrictions.
As part of the agreement, Sklyarov will testify for the government in the case that remains against Elcomsoft, Sklyarov's employer. He will likely testify on behalf of Elcomsoft as well.
"Dmitry programmed a format converter which has many legitimate uses, including enabling the blind to hear e-books," explained EFF Intellectual Property Attorney Robin Gross. "The idea that he faced prison for this is outrageous."
"There was a tremendous outpouring of grassroots support for Dmitry and against the current U.S. copyright law, and EFF is proud to have been part of such a successful effort," stated EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "I'm disappointed, however, that the government has decided to string this along instead of admitting its mistake in bringing these charges against Dmitry in the first place."

Looks like college radio stations may be the next in line to be Digital Millennium Copyright Act victims.

See the Salon article, Why college radio fears the DMCA, by By Mark L. Shahinian.

Under the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), radio stations around the country are supposed to pay thousands of dollars in annual fees to broadcast streaming audio over the Web. Managers of college and community stations say while their commercial counterparts may be able to pay the fees, their stations don't have the cash and will shut down their webcasts.
The 1998 law came up on Capitol Hill Thursday, as members of the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held an oversight hearing on how temporary copies stored on computers should be counted when calculating copyright fees.
The hearing, said congressional staffers, was an early skirmish in a battle to defang the DMCA and transfer power from record companies back to broadcasters.
Webcasting was once touted as an example of the Internet's leveling power -- it allows small local stations to reach Internet users all over the world. And college stations, which run tight budgets and eclectic playlists, fit the webcast bill perfectly. But record companies don't like webcasting, with its potential for copying and distributing unlimited digital copies of songs.
Under long-standing U.S. copyright law, broadcasters pay a coalition of songwriters' groups to air music over the Internet and the airwaves. But until the DMCA, performers and record companies did not have the rights to royalties when stations played their music. As part of the 1998 law, Congress allowed performers and record companies to start collecting fees on songs sent over the web, said Joel Willer, a mass communications professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. There are still no performer fees for regular airwave broadcasts.
But until now, the law has yet to be fully enforced. If it is, college radio on the Web will be in trouble.

December 12, 2001

Partisan politics are alive and well.

See the Wired article, Madcap Maneuvers Halt MS Hearing, by Declan McCullagh and Ben Polen.

Upset at what the Senate Finance committee was doing with a trade bill, the crafty Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) tried a procedural gambit that pulled the plug on all committee hearings. It was the political equivalent of Windows' blue screen of death.
Byrd is one of the Senate's crusty old men, elected to the Senate in 1958, and a wily parliamentarian. He's a former majority leader and even co-authored a two-volume history of the Senate, called The Senate 1789-1989.
He also, for the record, is the guy who objected to laptop computers on the Senate floor in 1997.
Byrd knew that a Senate rule prohibits committees from meeting for more than two hours while the main chamber is in session, but this is usually bypassed daily with unanimous consent. On Wednesday, Byrd refused to consent, which required committees to halt what they were doing after 11:30 a.m.
Leahy, who was just getting started in the Judiciary committee a block or two away, was visibly peeved. "This committee will be recessed because of a motion made on the Senate floor to stop hearings," he said.
A judiciary aide said afterward that the hearing won't be rescheduled until sometime next year.

December 11, 2001

Looks like oxygen isn't part of the deal when you surrender to the Northern Alliance.

See the New York Times article Witnesses Recount Taliban Dying While Held Captive by Carlotta Gall.

Dozens of Taliban prisoners died after surrendering to Northern Alliance forces, asphyxiated in the shipping containers used to transport them to prison, witnesses say.
The deaths occurred as the prisoners, many of them foreign fighters for the Taliban, were brought from the town of Kunduz to the prison here, a journey that took two or three days for some.
Colonel General Jurabek, the Northern Alliance commander in charge of some 3,000 prisoners being held here, said Saturday that 43 prisoners had died in half a dozen containers on the way, either from injuries or asphyxiation. Three others died from their wounds after arrival, and had been given a Muslim burial at the town of Dasht-i-Laili, he said.
But the number of deaths may be much higher. Several Pakistani prisoners interviewed in the prison have said that dozens of people died in their containers during the journey here. Omar, a pale and slight youth, who clutched a blanket round his head and shoulders, said through the bars of his prison wing that all but seven people in his container had died from lack of air. He estimated that more than 100 had died. Another Pakistani said 13 had died in his container and that the survivors had taken turns to breathe through a hole in the metal wall.
One prisoner, Ibrahim, a 30-year- old Pakistani mechanic interviewed in the presence of General Jurabek, said he thought some 35 people had died in his container en route from Kunduz. "No oxygen, no oxygen," he said urgently in English. The general corrected him and said only five or six had died.

December 09, 2001

Now Larry Ellison denies having ever advocated National ID cards. See the NetworkWorldFusion story:
Oracle’s Ellison 'debunks' Web services.

Ellison also claimed that he was misunderstood when he called for the creation of a national ID card system in the U.S., which he made soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. ...
"Everyone thinks I called for a national ID card," he said. "I believe we should not have national ID cards. We should have a set of standards around IDs."

I suspect this misunderstanding may have been seeded by Ellison's own October 18th editorial for the Wall Street Journal, misleadingly entitled,
Smart Cards: Digital IDs can help prevent terrorism:

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, our country has been thrust into a debate over how to root out terrorists while also maintaining our civil liberties. One of the suggestions proposed, though not yet fully debated, is that of national identification cards.
Many Americans instinctively fear that a national ID card would sacrifice basic freedoms and compromise personal privacy. On the face of it, issuing ID cards does seem a significant step. Trusting government to maintain a database with our names, addresses, places of work, amounts and sources of income, assets, purchases, travel destinations, and more, seems a huge leap of faith.
But we should remember that these databases already exist, and that we willingly helped in their creation. For years, companies like American Express and Visa have been issuing cards and building up information on millions of Americans. The databases they maintain are searched and sold on a daily basis.
We should remember, too, that the government already tracks things--lots of things. Federal, state and local agencies issue Social Security cards, driver's licenses, pilot's licenses, passports and visas. They maintain thousands of databases to keep track of everyone from taxpayers and voters to suspected terrorists.
And so the question is not whether the government should issue ID cards and maintain databases; they already do. The question is whether the ones we have can be made more effective, especially when it comes to finding criminals...
The government could phase in digital ID cards to replace existing Social Security cards and driver's licenses. These new IDs should be based on a uniform standard such as credit card technology, which is harder to counterfeit than existing government IDs, or on smart-card technology, which is better but more expensive.
There is no need to compel any American to have a digital ID. Some Americans may choose to apply for a digital ID card to speed the airport security check-in process. Some states might use digital IDs for their next generation of driver's licenses. Companies might want to replace their current hodgepodge of IDs with the new system. In fact, a voluntary system of standardized IDs issued by government agencies and private companies could prove more effective than a mandatory system.

Here's a San Jose Mercury News article containing direct quotes from Ellison himself regarding his National ID card proposal that may have also led to the confusion:
ID card idea attracts high level support.

Under Ellison's plan, the government would create a national identification card. The card would contain basic information about the holder, including Social Security number, and would be linked to a federal database containing detailed personal data, including digital records of the person's thumbprint, palm print, face or eyes.
Passengers would show the card at airports, Ellison said, and would have their thumbs scanned by a digital reader to verify identity before boarding a plane.
The cards also would be instantly checked against a new national database. That database would base would link existing criminal and immigration data to screen out potential terrorists.
Ellison unveiled the idea three weeks ago in an interview with a Bay Area TV station. In it, he offered to donate the software. His company, Oracle, based in Redwood City, is the world's leading maker of database software. He is among the world's richest men, with a fortune estimated at $15 billion.
Since then, Ellison has offered more details.
The cards would be voluntary for all U.S. citizens, he said Tuesday. Any American without a card still could board a plane, but only after undergoing a more rigorous search.
``I think 99.99 percent of Americans will want these ID cards,'' Ellison said. ``Wouldn't you feel better if everyone who walked into an airport showed their ID card and put their thumb in the scanner and you knew they were who they said they were?''
The cards would be mandatory, however, for foreign visitors, including students on visas and non-citizens living and working in the United States who now carry ``green cards,'' he said. Ellison has not offered specifics on how the estimated 8 million illegal immigrants in the United States might be affected.