Cyber Ramblings - May 1, 2001

1 May 2001
Compiled by Kevin Smith

Copyright Case Goes Back to Court

The film industry and a hacker publication will head back to court this week in the DeCSS case, a legal dispute that could dictate whether it's legal to publish or link to certain materials online. A panel of appellate judges will decide whether to uphold a lower court ruling preventing online hacker magazine 2600 from linking to code that theoretically could be used to crack DVD security. Legal experts say the case could have wide-ranging ramifications for linking, publishing and copyright on the Internet. The case also is the first major test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (news - websites) (DMCA), an entertainment industry-backed law designed to extend copyright protections into the digital age.

Microsoft Hits Snag in Passport Licensing Agreement

For almost two years, Microsoft has been trying to sign up users for Passport, its secure online-wallet service. But, it seems to have hit an unusual hurdle: Legal technicalities in Microsoft’s licensing agreement could restrict residents of the state of Maryland from using the service. The problem comes from a clause in Passport's terms-of-use agreement, which states that if users want to sue Microsoft, they must consent to do so in King County, Wash., Microsoft's home turf.

But, Maryland's version of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) assigns jurisdiction for those cases to its state courts. The situation then gets muddied further by Microsoft’s terms of use, which go on to state that use of the Passport service is unauthorized in any jurisdiction that doesn’t agree to all provisions of the terms.

In other words, Microsoft's terms of use apparently prohibit Maryland residents from using Passport. And since the UCITA requires all Maryland residents to honor software agreements they've signed, they may be breaking the law if they do use Passport.

New England Youth Hacks Air Force Site

A 15-year-old Connecticut youth faces charges of hacking into a government computer system that tracks the positions of U.S. Air Force planes worldwide, according to government officials. Officials said the air control data, considered confidential in peacetime and secret in times of war, wasn't compromised and no one's safety was jeopardized. The teen, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile, was 13 when he allegedly hacked into the secure connection between the Air Mobility Command system at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Ill. and a U.S. Department of Transportation computer system at the Volpe Center in Cambridge, Mass. The hack occurred on March 28, 2000, officials said. The suspect faces criminal charges for the break-in from the Cambridge Juvenile Court, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, whose office is prosecuting the case.

US Joins Forces to Curb International Fraud

The United States and 12 other countries have joined forces to fight cross-border Internet fraud with the launch of a website that takes consumer complaints in four languages. The International Marketing Supervision Network (IMSN), a group of 13 industrialized nations, said that the site will take complaints about Internet fraud that originate outside the victim's home country and pass them on to the appropriate law enforcement officials in the participating countries. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission will host the site. The site will enable countries to work together to make the Internet safer for consumers across the globe.

FTC Fines Three Sites

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Thursday that three websites have agreed to pay $100,000 in fines to settle the first prosecutions under a year-old law designed to protect children's identities online.

The parent companies of; and settled charges that they illegally collected identifying information from children under the age of 13 on their sites. The FTC announced the settlement almost a year to the day after the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) went into effect. The cases were the first successful prosecutions under the law, which requires website operators to obtain the permission of parents before collecting private data on children.

NTL Confirms Talks With AOL

NTL, Britain's largest cable television company, confirmed Monday that it is talking with AOL Time Warner about "some potential joint activity." The confirmation followed a report in the financial Times that AOL, the world's largest media company, had approached NTL about a possible broadband distribution deal.

"We are constantly talking to a broad range of companies about a number of potential business agreements," NTL said. "While it is true that we are in the early stages of talks with AOL about some potential joint activity, apart from an outline term sheet nothing else has been agreed at this stage."

NTL serves 3.2 million residential customers and businesses and holds franchises for a total of 12 million households in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Congress Mulls Over Internet Sales Tax

U.S. Congress must soon decide whether to keep the Internet a largely tax-free shopping zone or pave the way for states to collect sales taxes on most online purchases. There is little doubt lawmakers will extend a moratorium expiring this October that bars taxes on Internet access and prohibits taxes that single out the Internet. The bigger question is: What can be done about sales taxes? While laws in 45 states say those taxes are owed, they rarely are collected. At stake are billions of dollars in revenue for state and local governments as well as tax fairness between traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers and their Internet and catalog competitors. Congress' General Accounting Office has estimated that uncollected sales taxes on Internet purchases could cost the states $12.5 billion in 2003. Remote sellers, meanwhile, say complying with thousands of different taxing jurisdictions would create a costly new burden--and could lead to imposition of more taxes in the future.