Technology and I.P.

  • February 2, 2011
    In mid-January news reports surfaced that the U.S. Department of Justice was considering an antitrust lawsuit against Internet advertising giant Google over its plan to purchase an online travel information service. Bloomberg reported that DOJ was rankled over Google's planned acquisition of ITA Software, which provides online flight and ticket information.

    Citing a report by The Wall Street Journal, PCWorld reports that it appears that Google is now working to save its plan to capture ITA by hashing out an "agreement that could head off a court challenge." According to WSJ, PCWorld reports, the proposal would have "Google agree to form a compulsory licensing that would prevent it from withholding ITA's data from competitors. But the details of such an agreement are complex because of the fast-changing nature of the sector."

    PCWorld notes, "ITA is the dominant software player in the online air-travel industry, booking nearly two-thirds of web-based flight bookings, so getting the green light would put Google in a powerful position within yet another online sector."

    Pamela Jones, a former member of the Federal Trade Commission told Bloomberg that the planned merger "is uncompetitive and should be challenged. It's a dominant firm expanding in an adjacent market acquiring ITA, and the effect would be to dominate flight search."

  • January 21, 2011
    Verizon, apparently bent on challenging any amount of government regulation of the Internet, is aiming its resources at the Federal Communications Commission's recent regulations intended to keep service providers from blocking content in cyberspace.

    In a lawsuit lodged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Verizon is arguing that the FCC regulations, widely considered a compromise, between groups who advocate for the greatest possible access to Internet content and business interests, such as Verizon, are onerous.

    Michael Glover, a Verizon senior vice president, issued a statement saying, "We are deeply concerned by the F.C.C.'s assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the Internet itself. We believe this assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress, and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors and consumers."

    Free Press a public interest group that promotes "universal access to communications," blasted Verizon's lawsuit.

    Aparna Sridhar, the group's policy counsel, said in a statement:

    Verizon's decision demonstrates that even the most weak and watered-down rules aren't enough to appease giant phone companies. It's ironic that Verizon is unhappy with rules that were written to placate it, and it's now clear that it will settle for nothing less than total deregulation and a toothless FCC in the relentless pursuit of profit.

    In a guest post for ACSblog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Abigail Phillips examined the FCC's regulatory proposal on net neutrality, writing that according to FCC statements, the new rules "appear to be riddled with loopholes and exemptions, to the point where the FCC's declaration that the order represents bright-line rules and a framework for predictability is hard to reconcile."

  • January 13, 2011
    The U.S. Justice Department may be preparing a legal action against Google's plan to extend its tentacles further into the travel business.

    Bloomberg reports that DOJ is "preparing for a possible antitrust lawsuit" to prevent the Internet advertising giant from acquiring ITA Software Inc., which "provides online airline flight and ticket information."

    Several software and online travel companies, such as Expedia and Travelocity are opposing Google's expansion plans. Pamela Jones, a former member of the Federal Trade Commission Pamela Jones told Bloomberg that she believes Google's ambitions do rankle federal law.

    "I believe the Google-ITA deal is uncompetitive and should be challenged," Jones said. "It's a dominant firm expanding in an adjacent market acquiring ITA, and the effect would be to dominate flight search."

    Bloomberg notes the speed with which Google, the mega-advertising cyberspace business, is seeking to expand its empire, by "spending about $1.6 billion on more than 20 companies in the first nine months of last year, according to regulatory filings."

    The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a public interest group, also lauded the report that DOJ may be moving forward with a legal challenge to Google's plan.

    Steve Pociask, president of the group, said, "Google's acquisition of ITA would give it dominant control of online travel search, which would lead to less choice and higher prices for consumers."


  • December 21, 2010

    The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 today to pass new net neutrality rules intended to block broadband companies from interfering with their customers' Internet access, The Associated Press reports.

    The new rules - a compromise measure following years of debate - "require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks" but give broadband providers the flexibility to manage data as long as they publicly disclose their practices, according to AP.

    "The measure pleased few, and raised howls of outrage from those who say the measure will stifle broadband investment and those who say the measure doesn't do enough to keep online innovation thriving," Wired reports.

    Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative, told Wired, "Despite promising to fulfill President Obama's campaign promise of enacting network neutrality rules to protect an open Internet, the FCC has instead prioritized the profits of corporations like AT&T over those of the general public, Internet entrepreneurs, and local businesses across the country."

    And The Blog of Legal Times reports that even members of the FCC predict "legal challenges are all but certain."

    Sen. Al Franken called net neutrality "the most important free speech issue of our time," in a column in The Huffington Post yesterday anticipating today's FCC vote.

    "If they approve it as is, I'll be outraged. And you should be, too," he writes. He continues:

    Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn't nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

    It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet -- but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called "paid prioritization" (the creation of a "fast lane" for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.

    It sure is -- but that's exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.

    The Yale Law and Policy Review's online companion Inter Alia, has released a symposium on net neutrality rules, which includes a piece by George Washington University law professor Dawn Nunziato on First Amendment considerations and Harvard Law and computer science professor Jonathan Zittrain on rethinking net neutrality in diplomacy terms. Click here to read the collection of articles.

  • November 15, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Melanie Sloan, executive director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Sloan participated in a recent ACS panel discussion on national security, government transparency, and the First Amendment. Her guest blog is adapted from comments she gave during the event. Video of the event is available here.
    In 2007, an archivist digging through a batch of military papers discovered a handwritten note by Abraham Lincoln exhorting his generals to pursue Robert E. Lee's army after the battle of Gettysburg, underscoring one of the great missed opportunities for an early end to the Civil War.

    The note says ''the rebellion will be over'' if only ''Gen. Meade can complete his work.'' Lincoln says he wants the ''substantial destruction of Lee's army.''

    A week after Lincoln's note, the Confederate army slipped across the Potomac River into Virginia and the war continued for two more years.

    Though Gen. George Meade led the Northern troops in the battle at Gettysburg that marked the turning point of the war, he has always been faulted for not closing in and destroying Lee's army.

    Historians said the letter reinforced the idea that Lincoln desperately sought to turn Gettysburg into a decisive victory that would have stopped the bloodshed.

    Although General Meade had communicated the notes contents to others at the time, finding the original document pinned down what Lincoln was thinking and provided validation.

    The discovery of this letter was widely publicized, its contents were analyzed and dissected and scholars reconsidered an important period in our nation's history through the prism of this significant new information.

    In 2006, thanks to a tip, the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) discovered that millions of emails had gone missing from White House servers during the Bush administration. Though the White House initially denied this, it turned out to be true. Emails from numerous White House components, including the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President went missing from the period of the beginning of the war with Iraq, from October 2003 through March 2005. Some of those documents might have provided insight into the administration's rationale for that war and some of those documents might have shed light on the administration's decision to leak Valerie Plame Wilson's covert identity to the press.