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  1. The former president chats with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at the annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. President Barack Obama, pictured in an October talk, spoke Thursday at the Dreamforce conference. No one was allowed to photograph or record the talk. As a former president of the United States, Barack Obama has stayed in a lot of presidential suites. Though the rooms are beautiful and spacious, he says, they also exemplify a couple of things: People don't need that much, and technology can overwhelm them. "Michelle once spent half an hour trying to figure out how to turn off an overhead light," Obama said Thursday, referring to the former first lady. The remark came during a talk with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at the company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. For Obama, the story about the light wasn't just a funny anecdote, but a broader picture of the challenges in our society today. "We're chasing after the wrong things," he said. A desire for higher status is fed in part by social media and technology. "My life isn't better being in a presidential suite," Obama said. "If I was in a Hampton Inn with a bed and a shower, that works just fine." Dreamforce attendees lined up hours before the 10:30 a.m. PT talk to get a glimpse of the former president in the sprawling Moscone North conference hall. Security guards and conference workers cheered people heading into the hall. The audience clapped when the big screen showed a woman wearing "I miss Obama" socks. The mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, London Breed and Libby Schaaf, respectively, were in the audience. For the appearance, Salesforce handed out strict guidelines. No one in the audience was allowed to take any pictures or record any audio or video. But unlike Michelle Obama's talk at Dreamforce in 2017, attendees were allowed to tweet and write about Thursday's conversation. Obama's presence at Dreamforce comes as the technology industry faces scrutiny and possible regulation for its business practices. During Obama's time as president, tech could almost do no wrong, but social media has been criticized over the past several years for its role in the spread of disinformation before and after the 2016 US presidential election. And the US Justice Department has launched investigations into companies like Google and Facebook and has considered breaking them up. Having "big disruptive" information technologies can sometimes be "dangerous," Obama said Thursday. "People don't know what's true and what's not and what to believe." Instead of uniting people, technology like social media is "splintering" them. "If you watch Fox News, you live in a different reality than if you read The New York Times," he said. "We're siloing ourselves off from each other in a way that's dangerous." This could have big implications for the younger generations, Obama said. He's worried about three things: climate change; the lack of a common culture and conversation; and "the rise of extreme inequality that is being turbocharged by globalization and technology." "It amplifies inequalities," Obama told Benioff. "So much of the political turmoil has to do with people feeling insecure." Source
  2. Former US president Barack Obama will jet into New Zealand later today with an extensive ban on media and publicity in place. One person who won't be shying away is Kim Dotcom, who has seized the opportunity to file an affidavit with the High Court. Dotcom suggests that the political motivations behind the Megaupload case mean that Obama should give evidence while he's in New Zealand. For more than six years since the raid on Megaupload, founder Kim Dotcom has insisted that the case against him, his co-defendants, and his company, was politically motivated. The serial entrepreneur states unequivocally that former president Barack Obama’s close ties to Hollywood were the driving force. Later today, Obama will touch down for a visit to New Zealand. In what appears to be a tightly managed affair, with heavy restrictions placed on the media and publicity, it seems clear that Obama wants to maintain control over his social and business engagements in the country. But of course, New Zealand is home to Kim Dotcom and as someone who feels wronged by the actions of the former administration, he is determined to use this opportunity to shine more light on Obama’s role in the downfall of his company. In a statement this morning, Dotcom reiterated his claims that attempts to have him extradited to the United States have no basis in law, chiefly due to the fact that the online dissemination of copyright-protected works by Megaupload’s users is not an extradition offense in New Zealand. But Dotcom also attacks the politics behind his case, arguing that the Obama administration was under pressure from Hollywood to do something about copyright enforcement or risk losing financial support. In connection with his case, Dotcom is currently suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars so while Obama is in town, Dotcom is demanding that the former president gives evidence. Dotcom’s case is laid out in a highly-detailed sworn affidavit dated March 19, 2018. The Megaupload founder explains that Hollywood has historically been a major benefactor of the Democrats so when seeking re-election for a further term, the Democrats were under pressure from the movie companies to make an example of Megaupload and Dotcom. Dotcom notes that while he was based in Hong Kong, extradition to the US would be challenging. So, with Dotcom seeking residence in New Zealand, a plot was hatched to allow him into the country, despite the New Zealand government knowing that a criminal prosecution lay in wait for him. Dotcom says that by doing a favor for Hollywood, it could mean that New Zealand became a favored destination for US filmmakers. “The interests of the United States and New Zealand were therefore perfectly aligned. I provided the perfect opportunity for New Zealand to facilitate the United States’ show of force on copyright enforcement,” Dotcom writes. Citing documents obtained from Open Secrets, Dotcom shows how the Democrats took an 81% share of more than $46m donated to political parties in the US during the 2008 election cycle. In the 2010 cycle, 76% of more than $24m went to the Democrats and in 2012, they scooped up 78% of more than $56m. Dotcom then recalls the attempts at passing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would have shifted the enforcement of copyright onto ISPs, assisting Hollywood greatly. Ultimately, Congressional support for the proposed legislation was withdrawn and Dotcom recalls this was followed by a public threat from the MPAA to withdraw campaign contributions on which the Democrats were especially reliant. “The message to the White House was plain: do not expect funding if you do not advance the MPAA’s legislative agenda. On 20 January 2012, the day after this statement, I was arrested,” Dotcom notes. Describing Megaupload as a highly profitable and innovative platform that highlighted copyright owners’ failure to keep up with the way in which content is now consumed, Dotcom says it made the perfect target for the Democrats. Convinced the party was at the root of his prosecution, he utilized his connections in Hong Kong to contact Thomas Hart, a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C. with strong connections to the Democrats and the White House. Dotcom said a telephone call between him and Mr Hart revealed that then Vice President Joe Biden was at the center of Dotcom’s prosecution but that Obama was dissatisfied with the way things had been handled. “Biden did admit to have… you know, kind of started it, you know, along with support from others but it was Biden’s decision…,” Hart allegedly said. “What he [President Obama] expressed to me was a growing concern about the matter. He indicated an awareness of that it had not gone well, that it was more complicated than he thought, that he will turn his attention to it more prominently after November.” Dotcom says that Obama was “questioning the whole thing,” a suggestion that he may not have been fully committed to the continuing prosecution. The affidavit then lists a whole series of meetings in 2011, documented in the White House visitor logs. They include meetings with then United States Attorney Neil McBride, various representatives from Hollywood, MPAA chief Chris Dodd, Mike Ellis of the MPA (who was based in Hong Kong and had met with New Zealand’s then Minister of Justice, Simon Power) and the Obama administration. In summary, Dotcom suggests there was a highly organized scheme against him, hatched between Hollywood and the Obama administration, that had the provision of funds to win re-election at its heart. From there, an intertwined agreement was reached at the highest levels of both the US and New Zealand governments where the former would benefit through tax concessions to Hollywood (and a sweetening of relations between the countries) and the latter would benefit financially through investment. All New Zealand had to do was let Dotcom in for a while and then hand him over to the United States for prosecution. And New Zealand definitely knew that Dotcom was wanted by the US. Emails obtained by Dotcom concerning his residency application show that clearly. “Kim DOTCOM is not of security concern but is likely to soon become the subject of a joint FBI / NZ Police criminal investigation. We have passed this over to NZ Police,” one of the emails reads. Another, well over a year before the raid, also shows the level of knowledge. Bad but wealthy, so we have plans for him… With “political pressure” to grant Dotcom’s application in place, Immigration New Zealand finally gave the Megaupload founder the thumbs-up on November 1, 2010. Dotcom believes that New Zealand was concerned he may have walked away from his application. “This would have been of grave concern to the Government, which, at that time, was in negotiations with Hollywood lobby,” his affidavit reads. “The last thing they would have needed at that delicate stage of the negotiations was for me to walk away from New Zealand and return to Hong Kong, where extradition would be more difficult. I believe that this concern is what prompted the ‘political pressure’ that led to my application finally being granted despite the presence of factors that would have caused anyone else’s application to have been rejected.” Dotcom says that after being granted residency, there were signs things weren’t going to plan for him. The entrepreneur applied to buy his now-famous former mansion for NZ$37m, an application that was initially approved. However, after being passed to Simon Power, the application was denied. “It would appear that, although my character was apparently good enough for me to be granted residence in November 2010, in July 2011 it was not considered good enough for me to buy property in New Zealand,” Dotcom notes. “The Honourable Mr Power clearly did not want me purchasing $37 million of real estate, presumably because he knew that the United States was going to seek forfeiture of my assets and he did not want what was then the most expensive property in New Zealand being forfeited to the United States government.” Of course, Dotcom concludes by highlighting the unlawful spying by New Zealand’s GCSB spy agency and the disproportionate use of force displayed by the police when they raided him in 2010 using dozens of armed officers. This, combined with all of the above, means that questions about his case must now be answered at the highest levels. With Obama in town, there’s no time like the present. “As the evidence above demonstrates, this improper purpose which was then embraced by the New Zealand authorities, originated in the White House under the Obama administration. It is therefore necessary to examine Mr Obama in this proceeding,” Dotcom concludes. Press blackouts aside, it appears that Obama has rather a lot of golf lined up for the coming days. Whether he’ll have any time to answer Dotcom’s questions is one thing but whether he’ll even be asked to is perhaps the most important point of all. The full affidavit and masses of supporting evidence can be found here. Source
  3. Netflix is said to be in advanced negotiations with former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle to produce a series of high-profile shows for the streaming service, with Apple said to be waiting in line if a deal between the two parties falls through. The New York Times reports that Netflix is offering to pay the Obamas to produce the exclusive content, according to people familiar with the discussions, although it's unclear how much is on the table given the couple's lack of experience in the media business. However, rather than use the shows to respond to President Trump or conservative critics, Obama is reportedly interested in treating them as a platform for topics that dominated his presidency, such as health care, voting rights, immigration, foreign policy, and climate change. Another program could feature Mrs. Obama on topics, like nutrition, that she championed in the White House. The former president and first lady could also lend their brand — and their endorsement — to documentaries or fictional programming on Netflix that align with their beliefs and values. Several people familiar with the Netflix discussions said that executives from Apple and Amazon, which have their own streaming services, have also expressed interest in talking with Mr. Obama about content deals. The New York Times notes that Obama retains close ties to Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer. Sarandos is married to Nicole A. Avant, an activist who served as Obama's ambassador to the Bahamas. Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, was also close to Obama while he was president and an attendee at state dinners, according to the report. Apple has been comparatively slow at securing original content for its television offering, but the company now has at least 10 television shows in the early stages of development, including an untitled morning show drama starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon and an "Amazing Stories" reboot from Steven Spielberg. Other shows on the tech giant's books include an untitled space drama from Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore, a series written by "La La Land" creator Damien Chazelle, a Kristen Wiig comedy series, See, an epic world-building drama, Home, a docuseries focusing on incredible homes, and "Little America," an anthology series from "The Big Sick" creators Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Macrumors.com
  4. Phone data will now be stored with Telecommunications carriers rather than with the national security agency. The Obama administration is set to propose legislation that will end the bulk collection of phone data by the National Security Agency, according to a newspaper report. Under the proposed legislation, the NSA will stop collecting telephone metadata in bulk from telecommunications carriers, and the records will stay in the hands of the phone companies, the New York Times reported Monday. The NSA will also be able to obtain specific records from the carriers only with permission from a judge using a new type of court order. The proposed legislation will also let the government pursue phone calls that are two-steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist group, instead of the three hops previously authorized, according to the report. The NSA's collection of phone metadata has been at the center of controversy after its former contractor Edward Snowden disclosed in June last year that the agency was collecting bulk phone records of Verizon customers in the U.S. The government admitted that a program existed for the collection of such data in bulk from carriers under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. In January, Obama promised to reform the bulk phone records collection program, with the goal being a new program that doesn't include the NSA's holding on to the records. He wanted members of his administration to propose a new program by late March, when the phone records program would come up for reauthorization. The government asked industry in February for information on whether commercially available services can provide a viable alternative to the government holding bulk phone records for the NSA program. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it was investigating alternative approaches "without the government holding the metadata, while maintaining the current capabilities of that system and the existing protections for U.S. persons." Under the proposed legislation, phone companies will not be required to hold data for the five-year period that NSA now holds it. The companies will instead hold the records for 18 months as required by current federal regulations, thus avoiding a burden on carriers, the newspaper reported. The administration proposal will join other legislation under consideration by Congress, including a proposal from the House Intelligence Committee. The committee bill would have the court authorize the program, but allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without previous judicial approval, the newspaper said, quoting people familiar with the draft proposal. The House Intelligence Committee bill is expected to be unveiled Tuesday, according to reports. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will be asked to renew the program in its current form for at least another 90 days, according to the New York Times report. The extension is likely to be necessary as it would not be possible to have a new plan in place by the end of this month. Source
  5. Published time: January 20, 2014 22:58 The overwhelming majority of Americans said that President Obama’s recent speech regarding changes to the National Security Agency had little to no effect on their opinion on the surveillance programs, according to a poll released Monday. In a highly anticipated speech last Friday, Obama said that the NSA would continue to collect metadata on millions of Americans, but the agency would need a judge’s approval and would also have to turn the information over to a third party instead of storing it in the NSA’s databases. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and USA Today has found that Obama’s speech, which came after an intelligence review board recommended the NSA discontinue the collection of phone metadata immediately, did little to change their opinion. Of the 1,504 adults polled between January 15 and 19, half said they had heard nothing about the President’s proposed changes and another 41 percent said they only heard “a little bit.” A mere eight percent said they heard a lot about potential changes. Researchers also found that fewer US citizens are in favor of the agency’s mass surveillance than when Edward Snowden first leaked classified documents in June of last year. In July, just weeks after the first Snowden documents were published by the Guardian and the Washington Post, 50 percent of Americans said they were in favor of the measures, believing they were necessary to fight terrorism. Now, though, 40 percent approve of the far-reaching programs and 53 percent disapprove. The NSA review board previously suggested in December that the intelligence agency turn over the phone metadata to a phone company or other third party to reduce the risk of government abuse. It also recommended that the NSA be required to seek approval from a judge in order to sift through that information. Obama said Friday that those suggestions will be the new basis for his NSA reforms. But nearly half of the citizens polled, 48 percent, say there are still not sufficient safeguards on what internet and phone data the government is permitted to collect. Even fewer, just 41 percent, said that there are adequate limits on the data collection as a whole. Support for the NSA program was clearer when researchers examined party lines. In June 2013 45 percent of Republicans approved of the surveillance while 51 percent disapproved. Seven months later, 37 percent approved and 56 percent disapproved. Democrats, perhaps out of loyalty to the Obama administration, said in June that they approved of the NSA by 58 percent, with only 38 percent speaking against the policies. By January, the number who approve had fallen to 46 percent while the number who disapproved jumped to 48 percent. “Among those that did hear about the proposals, large majorities of Republicans (86%) and independents (78%) say these changes will not make much difference when it comes to protecting people’s privacy,” the Pew Research Center wrote Monday. “Among Democrats who have heard of the changes, 56% say they won’t make much difference.” http://rt.com/usa/obama-nsa-speech-trust-doubt-917 :)
  6. International ban could make it difficult to change US law for the better. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty pushed by the Obama administration could complicate efforts to loosen restrictions on jailbreaking and unlocking smartphones, tablets, or other consumer electronics. A working draft of the treaty published by WikiLeaks prohibits the manufacturing or distribution of devices or services "for the purpose of circumvention of any effective technological measure." It goes on to prohibit devices and services that "have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent any effective technological measure, or are primarily designed, produced, or performed for the purpose of the circumvention of any effective technological measure." Derek Khanna, a Yale Law Fellow who submitted a White House petition that led to the Obama administration publicly supporting the end of a ban on unlocking, wrote in Slate that "while the White House was publicly proclaiming its support of cellphone unlocking, it was secretly negotiating a treaty that would ban it." The treaty text never specifically mentions jailbreaking or unlocking, but the lack of an exemption to the ban on circumventing technological measures has Khanna worried. "The treaty as proposed would stop all methods of circumvention," Khanna wrote in an e-mail to Ars. "The key is that there must be an exemption to allow for unlocking. In the draft text, there is no exemption for unlocking." Canada submitted an amendment that could be interpreted to exempt unlocking and jailbreaking. For example, Canada's amendment would allow "circumvention of a technological measure on a radio apparatus for the sole purpose of gaining or facilitating access to a telecommunication service by means of the radio apparatus." The treaty is still being negotiated, although 151 Democratic US representatives have come out against Obama's "use of outdated 'Fast Track' procedures that usurp Congress’s authority over trade matters." Twenty-two House Republicans similarly opposed Obama's use of Fast Track authority that lets him "sign trade agreements before Congress has an opportunity to vote on them." Besides the US and Canada, the treaty negotiations include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and Mexico. Congress still has a voice The actual impact TPP would have on US consumers isn't entirely straightforward, in part because the TPP mirrors existing US law. "The US has proposed this whole set of laws around DRM based on our existing DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act]," and it's trying to export them to the rest of the world with the treaty, Sherwin Siy, VP of legal affairs at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars. TPP itself is "consistent with our law today," he said. The treaty wouldn't make it impossible for the US to reform its laws, but it could make it difficult, Siy said. Unlocking a phone removes restrictions placed on it by carriers, allowing a consumer to hook it up to any other carrier's network provided it is compatible. It is illegal for a consumer to unlock a phone today because the Librarian of Congress did not provide an exemption for unlocking under the DMCA. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is urging carriers to let consumers unlock phones once they've completed their contracts and has threatened to issue regulations if they refuse. Jailbreaking is different. It frees a device from restrictions imposed by the manufacturer. For instance, jailbreaking an Apple iPhone or iPad makes it possible to install any application that can work with the device instead of just those Apple has approved for inclusion in its App Store. Under our strange set of laws, jailbreaking a smartphone is legal under the DMCA, but jailbreaking a tablet is not. According to Siy, the treaty shouldn't affect Wheeler's attempt to loosen restrictions around unlocking or a bill that would bring back the expired DMCA exemption for unlocking cell phones. But it might make it difficult for Congress to pass legislation such as the "Unlocking Technology Act of 2013," which offers a more broad and permanent fix. Instead of providing a temporary exemption, that bill "Amends the prohibition under federal copyright law on the circumvention of a technological measure that controls access to a copyright-protected work to require that such prohibition apply only to circumventions carried out in order to infringe or facilitate infringement of a protected work." In other words, the bill lets consumers do what they wish with their devices as long as they're not also infringing someone's copyright. Congress could still pass the law, but it would be complicated. "If they do that and pass a permanent cell phone exemption, someone can say, 'hey isn't this in violation of the TPP?'" Siy noted. The answer would be "yes," but the outcome would "depend on what our trading partners in this agreement can and want to do about that." Such a matter could go to the World Trade Organization. But ultimately, Congress could do what it wants. "Congress isn't prevented from doing their jobs," Siy said. "There's no way you can have one of these agreements overturn US law. No one is going to be able to take anyone to court for something that is A-OK under a law passed by Congress even if they contradict an international agreement." In a blog post, Siy lamented that "so many of the major events in copyright law of the last two years have failed to alter the course of the administration in its push for increasingly outdated policies. "Between February of 2011 and November of 2013, we’ve seen the unprecedented grassroots opposition to copyright enforcement expansion in SOPA; a similar international outcry against IP trade agreements in ACTA; and a groundswell of outrage that copyright law would prevent people from doing something as basic (and as unrelated to copyright’s purpose) as unlocking their cell phones... Congress and the White House both agree with the hundreds of thousands of Americans that cell phone unlocking shouldn’t be barred by copyright law, yet the language proposed by USTR [uS Trade Representative] would be used as an excuse to prevent conclusive solution to the problem." A White House spokesperson did not answer a request for comment. Source: Ars Technica
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