ExpressVNP and EFF unite to stand against Rule 41 amendments

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Imagine a world where a government could hack thousands of computers with a single warrant, computers possibly located anywhere in the world. Sound scary? Well, it could be about to happen. Which is why ExpressVNP is standing with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in urging the U.S. Congress to adopt legislation blocking the amendment of Rule 41.

What is Rule 41?

Rule 41 governs how federal judges grant warrants to law enforcement agencies conducting searches and seizures. Currently, the law is set up so that police or FBI looking to initiate a search must gain a warrant from a judge in the jurisdiction where the search is to take place.

The Department of Justice has proposed relaxing the jurisdiction rule under the following conditions:

  • If someone disguises the location of his computer through “technological means” (i.e. Tor or a VPN service)
  • If the investigation involves a botnet that has infected computers in more than five federal judicial districts

Why These Rule 41 Amendments Are Bad

The adjustments could pave the way for some dangerous legal practices. The first is forum shopping; wherein law enforcement seeks out a federal judge who they think might be more receptive to prosecution in a given case. It is generally frowned up in the legal profession, but that does not stop people — including federal law enforcement — from trying. Allowing investigators to choose from any federal jurisdiction in the country would make it easier than ever.

Also worrisome is the idea of giving law enforcement special dispensation when dealing with people who are concealing their computer’s location. It means that those concerned with Internet privacy could be unfairly impacted, as any precautions they take to protect their digital footprint would give the government justification to use different means to obtain a warrant.

Finally, judges would suddenly have the ability to write warrants authorizing government intrusion into hundreds or even thousands of computers. Some of these computers could be located outside U.S. borders. However, a beefed-up Rule 41 would overlook any local protections these computers might enjoy in favor of enforcing U.S. interests.

You Can Help Stop the Changes

Sign EFF’s petition! Lawmakers need to know that people want them to act. Make your voice heard and spread the news to your friends.

Have thoughts you want to share? Reply in the comments below!

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If the debate over digital privacy were a TV show, this is what it would look like

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It’s no secret that the fight for digital privacy has taken some dramatic turns — just look at the life history of Edward Snowden. His monumental act of whistleblowing sparked a journey that stretched across continents and drew the attention of numerous heads of state.

All that intrigue has made Snowden’s story perfect for adaption. Laura Poitras won an Oscar when she made the Oscar-winning documentary Citizen Four, and later this year Open Road Films will release Snowden, a feature film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the titular role. Now Daniel Radcliffe is adding himself to the mix. The British actor will be playing Edward Snowden in Privacy, an Off Broadway production hosted by the same theater that put on Tony sensation Hamilton.

ExpressVNP is pretty excited by all the attention creatives are giving Edward Snowden. His revelations had a huge impact on how we think about everything about government to gadgetry, so why not the arts as well?

Still, there’s a bigger story out there, and while film and theater are fine for two hours of entertainment, television is king in terms of binge-worthy streamability and intricate plot lines. To that end, ExpressVNP has done Hollywood the favor of casting a hypothetical epic series following the struggle over digital privacy. Think Game of Thrones meets House of Cards, with a little bit of Silicon Valley for good measure.

Prologue

combination-6
Top row from left to right: John Perry Barlow, John Gilmore, Mitch Kapor
Bottom row from left to right: Bryan Cranston, Matthew McConaughey, Jonathan Banks

The story begins in the early 1990s when an FBI agent arrives at the Wyoming ranch of Grateful Dead lyricist/Internet enthusiast John Perry Barlow (played by Breaking Bad alum Bryan Cranston). Someone has stolen and distributed ROMs containing Macintosh source code, and the agent wants answers. Yet as the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that the agent is barely familiar with the technology he is investigating. Barlow begins to worry: If the FBI doesn’t understand the digital world, how can anyone accused of a digital crime prove his innocence?

Disturbed by the experience, Barlow reaches out to others in the tech world. He finds partners in John Gilmore (a transformative performance by Matthew McConaughey) and Mitch Kapor (Jonathan Banks). They establish the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that will pioneer the fight for civil liberties online.

The king of the north

Fast-forward to 2013. The evidence provided by Edward Snowden has shocked the world, casting suspicion on the global intelligence community. The United States is particularly embarrassed and wants Snowden to return to his home country to stand trial.

combination-3 Vladimir Putin (left) and Woody Harrelson (right) share striking features and entrancing blue eyes.

This marks an opportunity for Vladimir Putin (Woody Harrelson), President of the Russian Federation. The country formerly belonged to a larger bloc of countries that was locked in a decades-long ideological struggle with the U.S. While relations with the U.S. have improved over recent decades, the two countries are far from bosom buddies. Putin decides to offer asylum to Snowden, further straining ties with the U.S.

The news comes as a mixed blessing to privacy activists. On the one hand, Snowden’s safety is a chief concern, as he now represents a movement centered around burgeoning awareness of digital privacy. On the other hand, President Putin is no white knight–a former intelligence operative, he has subjected his country to stringent censorship and harsh NGO regulation.

For the love of privacy

combination-7 Taylor Lautner (right) would bring a roguish charm to the part of David Miranda (left).

Even after the initial release of documents, the reporting on Edward Snowden continues. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, Snowden’s initial media contact, works from Brazil, a resource-rich nation in the southern hemisphere. Greenwald needs key documents from Laura Poitras, but scrutiny from the U.S. government has sent her to the German capital of Berlin. Greenwald sends his partner, David Miranda (Taylor Lautner), to see Poitras.

All goes according to plan until Miranda heads home. He stops at London’s Heathrow Airport to change planes, at which point he is detained by British police under Schedule 7 of Terrorism Act 2000. They proceed to take all his electronics and copy their contents. Nine hours later, Miranda is released.

Miranda’s detention draws criticism from around the world, with many pointing to it as a misapplication of legislation meant to be used against suspected terrorists. When Miranda finally lands in Rio de Janeiro, he is greeted by a concerned Greenwald and a flock of journalists.

Big tech vs. big government

Meanwhile, the United States is locked in some serious soul-searching. The country’s mass-surveillance was largely a response to terrorist attacks it sustained on September 11, 2001. While no equivalent attack has occurred in the years since, many citizens are struggling to reconcile large-scale government surveillance with the country’s founding principles of liberty and democracy.

On December 2, 2015, a married couple armed with guns stages a terrorist attack in San Bernadino, a town in the western state of California. 14 people are killed and 22 are injured. The couple dies four hours later during a shootout with police.

combination-4 Despite a background in comedy, Neil Patric Harris (right) would likely have little trouble channeling tech mogul Tim Cook (left).

In the aftermath of the shooting, investigators discover that one of the shooters possessed an iPhone, a handheld piece of cellular technology, that may carry clues regarding the attack. However, the iPhone is locked with a code. When investigators are unable to guess the code, they try to compel the device’s manufacturer, Apple, to create a backdoor so they can decrypt the device’s data.

Apple is a multinational corporation with hundreds of millions of customers. Hoping to use some of its brand clout to raise awareness of the magnitude of the government’s request, Apple CEO Tim Cook (an artificially aged Neil Patrick Harris) appeals to consumers with a highly publicized letter. The government eventually withdraws its request, but only after finding a third party who could hack the device for them.

combination-5 Senators Burr (top left) and Feinstein (bottom left) collaborated in drafting an alarming anti-encryption bill. That makes horror veterans Kevin Bacon (top right) and Jessica Lange (bottom right) great candidates for their roles.

In response to the event, members of the U.S. national legislative body begin drafting new legislation. Some, like Senators Richard Burr (Kevin Bacon) and Dianne Feinstein (a haunting Jessica Lange), try to weaken encryption by compelling tech companies to comply with requests from law enforcement agencies. Others take a heroic stand for privacy, like California Congressman Ted Lieu (Daniel Wu), who tries to stop states from banning encryption.

combination-1 Congressman Ted Lieu (left) would be done proud by
Into the Badlands actor Daniel Wu.

On the other side of the pond…

combination-2 Imagine the icy determination Julianne Moore (right) would bring to the role of Home Secretary Theresa May (left).

While the United States struggles with its conscience, its erstwhile colonial master, the United Kingdom, ponders expanding its own mass surveillance program. Home Minister Theresa May (Oscar-winner Julianne Moore) pushes forward the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would give the government the latitude to cyberspy on just about anyone, provided they get judicial approval. Public criticism pushes May to slightly tone down the bill, but a fearsome iteration is still able to make it through the House of Commons.

To be continued!

Hooked on what you’ve seen so far? Subscribe to the ExpressVNP newsletter for the latest headlines in digital privacy. You can also help brainstorm titles for the digital privacy TV drama in the comments below!

 

Image attributions:

John Perry Barlow: Joi / Flickr
John Gilmore: Neurosynthetic / Wikimedia Commons
Mitch Kapor: Joi / Flickr
Bryan Cranston: Peabody Awards / Flickr
Matthew McConaughey: Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons
Jonathan Banks: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
Vladimir Putin: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office / www.kremlin.ru
Woody Harrelson: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons
David Miranda: Agencia Brasil / Wikimedia Commons
Taylor Lautner: Eva Rinaldi / Flickr
Tim Cook: LeMagIT / Flickr
Neil Patrick Harris: Kristin Dos Santos / Flickr
Richard Burr: US Senate/ Wikimedia Commons
Dianne Feinstein: United States Congress / Wikimedia Commons
Kevin Bacon: SAGIndie / Flickr
Jessica Lang: Anne Morin, diChroma photography / Wikimedia Commons
Ted Lieu: US Congress / Wikimedia Commons
Daniel Wu: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
Theresa May: ukhomeoffice / Wikimedia Commons
Julianne Moore: nicolas genin / Flickr

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Free sports streaming sites put your privacy at risk: 3 reasons to use a VPN

ExpressVNPfree live sports streams are dangerous

We all know how annoying it is to find live sports streams online. Searching for a working link, worrying about random pop-ups, and dealing with the onslaught of cookies that stick to your browser like bubblegum on a shoe are all steps we take when we stream free content online.

According to researchers at Stony Brook University,as much as 50% of free streaming sports sites contain malicious ads.

Is it worth the risk? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still do it.

Luckily, there are safer ways to live-stream sports. Here are three reasons why it’s always better to stream with a VPN.

Stream Straight from the Source

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know what a VPN is. What you may not know is how VPNs make it easier to bypass sketchy live streams altogether and stream directly from the source.

how itv looks without a vpn Before ExpressVNP…

Because a VPN lets you mask your IP address with one in another country, you can access legitimate streaming sites all over the world!

how itv looks after a vpn After ExpressVNP…

With ExpressVNP’s Stream Sports directory, you can read detailed guides on how to live stream the world’s biggest sporting events without ever having to open a sketchy link.

Add More Security to Your Network

Although free streaming sites are growing in popularity, they carry a host of privacy risks. Malware, viruses, and nefarious web trackers are all threats you willingly accept when you decide to stream content from these sites.

Grainy videos, annoying pop-ups, third-party trackers—these are just a few of the headaches you deal with when you use live streaming sites.

When you use a VPN, you’re able to encrypt your network traffic and anonymize your location, not to mention you’re also able to stream from legitimate websites as opposed to random links.

It’s a win-win.

Even Watch in HD

Video quality is rarely the norm when it comes to third-party sites. When you stream from external sources you’re not only risking your privacy, you’re watching a sub-par stream.

Because VPNs let you stream from the source, the video quality is way better, and the loading times are next to nil.

You can even use the Speed Test to see which VPN server locations offer the best speeds.

Face it, folks: If you’re going to look for sports streams online, make sure you use a VPN.

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How the EU made life harder for Netflix

ExpressVNPeurope makes life harder for netflix Life can be tough when you’re an international streaming sensation.

Netflix made waves earlier this year when it announced streaming services in an additional 130 countries. Suddenly whole new audiences could enjoy the nefarious deeds of Frank Underwood on House of Cards and understand why Washington, D.C. residents were so creeped out by a metro ad promoting a “push in the right direction”.

Enter the European Union. In late May, the European Commission, the EU’s chief regulator, recommended that on-demand and video streaming services be required to reserve 20% of their catalogs for European content. The move is supposed to support local arts and entertainment.

Netflix was not thrilled about the news. A spokesman said that while the company “appreciates the Commission’s objective to have European production flourish, …the proposed measures won’t actually achieve that.”

Critics have weighed in on both sides of the debate with lofty talk of protectionism and free trade, yet no one seems to be answering one important question: Will this change how I Netflix and chill?

Fear not, fans of couch cuddling and Orange Is the New Black. Below is a primer on the new proposal and what it means for you.

Who’s behind the EU Imposed Content Regulation?

Representatives from various European countries supported the measure. However, the Spanish and French governments were the principal lobbyists. Both countries have complained about the creeping influence of the English language on their culture and arts.

The complaints are nothing new. Back in 1993, France and Spain both passed protectionist measures to boost local entertainment industries against American media. France required radio stations to devote 40% of their airtime to French songs, while Spain imposed restrictions on the projection of American films. They argued that such laws were the only way to preserve European cultural identity

Now that people are shifting their media consumption away from the cinema and over to the computer screen it seems Europe thinks new regulations are in order. The move is also in line with other EU decisions forcing Internet companies to change what content is displayed in Europe, like the famous “right to be forgotten” case.

All Online Streaming Services Affected by EU Regulation

All video-on-demand services will be held to the quota, meaning Netflix will be joined by rivals Amazon and Apple iTunes. And while all three currently surpass the 20% benchmark, there are also vague measures requiring the companies to make financial contributions aiding European film and TV production.

Netflix points to the European projects it already has as proof that no regulation is necessary. Marseille, a French-language series following the seedier side of the title city, began streaming this spring, and The Crown, a sweeping drama about Queen Elizabeth II, will be released this fall. Netflix says it also has Italian, Spanish, and German productions in the works.

Other critics of the regulation say the market–i.e. you–are the one who should decide what gets streamed, and not bureaucrats in Brussels. They also point out that less successful streaming companies will probably just buy a lot of cheap, low-quality content to meet that quota. If so, that might undermine a proposal that’s supposed to bring out the best in European cultural production.

Will the EU Affect My Netflix Happy Time?

It depends on where you watch your Netflix. Currently, Netflix offers different libraries of content to different countries. That means when you travel with Netflix, you might find something you wouldn’t see in your home country. In this case, European Netflix subscribers are likely the only ones to be impacted.

Right now Netflix just barely hits the required 20% European content benchmark. However, the proposal could affect how it adds content in the future. Basically, for every four hours of non-local content Netflix offers European customers, they’ll be forced to add an additional hour of European content. And while they could cut old content in order to maintain the required ratio, that would cause European consumers to lose out.

What do you think of the EU’s idea–intrigued? Confused? Annoyed? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured image: Dmyrto_Z / Deposit Photos

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How to replace old or damaged hard drives securely

ExpressVNPsafe-hard-drive-disposal

If you are like most other computer users, you’ll rarely throw away or delete data. And with disk space becoming cheaper and cheaper, you’ll rarely have to. But if you do ever need to get rid of an old hard drive, it’s important to take precautions first.

The cost of memory storage has decreased dramatically over recent years. According to data assembled by John C. McCallum, a hard drive with enough space to hold two Terabytes (TB) of data would have cost you $1,360 USD in 2004. Three years later, in 2007, that price was down to $530 USD. In 2010, it would have only cost $140 USD, and in 2013, $110 USD.

Today you can get almost double as much space for $110 USD, and two TB drives are now on the smaller end of the available spectrum of hard drives.

How to Prepare for a Hard Drive Failure

It’s important to set up your computer properly, to ensure that the hard drive is encrypted. This is easy to set up on a Mac with the inbuilt FileVault. Windows users can use programs like Bitlocker to encrypt their hard drives and most Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, have this native encryption capability.

It is advisable to keep a physical second hard drive (not just a separate partition on your internal hard drive). A desktop computer can often easily fit another hard drive into its tower, and an external hard drive will do for smaller towers or laptops. If you only backup your most important data, the storage requirements will not be expensive at all.

Whatever backup solution you choose, remember to encrypt your backups. Encryption is usually applied by just a ticking a box and will ensure the data is protected from seizure, theft, or loss.

Hard drive failures can be difficult to foresee, and sometimes they are abrupt and instantly fatal. Most of the time, however, your hard disk failure will slowly creep up on you, with more and more errors occurring when booting your computer, more system crashes, and an increasing number of inaccessible files.

Hopefully, the typically slow nature of failure will allow you to move files to a new drive without significant data loss.

Replacing Your Hard Drive

Given the speed at which hard drives are getting bigger and cheaper, you will likely want to replace your machine’s hard drive before you replace your computer. Hard drives have fast moving parts and are one of the least durable parts of a computer, with an average lifespan of only three to five years.

Despite such a short life, there is a lively market for used hard drives. Some people buy them for cheap data storage, while others, like criminal groups, systematically buy up old hard drives to look for private data and company secrets.

Passwords and cookies stored on hard drives can be especially valuable, but your personal information can also be in high demand, for many reasons, including identity theft.

How to Deal with Your Old Drive

Once you’ve moved your data to a new device, you’ll have to get rid of your old hard drive. Ideally your hard old drive still works, and you can format it with the built-in tools of your operating system, such as DiskWipe on Windows, Disk Utility on Mac OS X, or Gnome Disk Utility on Ubuntu.

Simply format the entire drive, overwrite it with zeros (select this option in your disk utility), and optionally repeat the process once or twice, just to be sure.

Recovering your data now will be incredibly difficult and prohibitively expensive. Though a well-funded adversary, such as the spy agency of a large government, might still be able to recover some of your data.

High profile targets of surveillance will likely need to undergo some extra steps to render their hard drives unreadable, such as disassembling the drive and sanding the surface of the disks, or shredding the parts. However, these processes are not advisable to inexperienced users and can pose serious health hazards.

Make Sure Old Systems Are Protected

It’s never too late to ensure old hard drives do not contain unencrypted personal Data. Encryption was not as prevalent as it is now, even as recently as three years ago, so likely your old drivesare not properly secured.

If you do not have the ability to wipe your hard disk, for example because your computer is no longer able to detect it, others might also not be able to access your data. However, it is sometimes difficult to assess how easily a hard drive can be fixed, and that uncertainty could bear risk.

The easiest way to render your hard drive unreadable, in instances where you can’t access it, is to drill a hole on in, or smash it up with a hammer.

Destroying a hard drive in such a fashion requires great caution and experience in drilling. You will likely need to apply a lot of force which could cause damage to you or your surroundings.

Dispose of Old Hard Drives Safely and Responsibly

Remember that hard drives cannot simply be disposed of in the household trash, as they contain toxic materials and are partly recyclable. Your nearby electronics market or recycling station should be able to help you.

Featured image: KirillM / Deposit Photos

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Why ExpressVNP is scared of chatbots (and definitely doesn’t use them)

ExpressVNPno-chatbots

ExpressVNP doesn’t use chatbots, and for good reasons.

While AI is improving, it’s still not human, and it will miss some of the finer (and more blatant) nuances of human conversation. There is nothing more frustrating than asking a question and receiving stock, cut and paste answer from an FAQ you have already looked through.

Humans are pretty good at communication, it’s one of the reasons we have evolved so magnificently, and ExpressVNP doesn’t see any need to replace us with machines just yet.

One day, AI will pass the Turing test, but until then, well, sometimes it’s good to be stuck in your ways. People power. Woo.

Types of Chatbot and How They Work

There are two types of chatbot, and both are capable of interacting with humans.

Chatterbots

A chatterbot (also known as a talkbot, chatbot, bot, or chatterbox) is a computer program capable of conversing with a human, either by speech or by text.

Chatterbots are more likely to be used in customer service, and some of them employ extremely impressive and sophisticated AI programming. Most, however, are simpler systems which only scan for keywords and pull a reply from a database.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) Bots

An IRC bot connects to Internet Relay Chat as a client and therefore appears to IRC users as another user. In general, an IRC bot carries out automated functions rather than dealing with human interaction.

Most likely, IRC bots perform chat services without human contact, such as spam filtering and maintaining block lists.

When Chatbots Go Wrong. Very, Very Wrong

There have been a few chatbot scandals over the years, perhaps most notable was the Ashley Madison affair, where ‘fembots’ were deployed to entice male users. But Microsoft’s artificial intelligence experiment, called Tay, astronomically raised the bar on dramatic chatbot failure.

Tay was designed to mimic a 19-year-old American girl and was set loose on Twitter almost immediately after creation. The hope was Tay would interact with, and learn from, humans.

But Microsoft forgot Rule One: This is the Internet.

And so Microsoft didn’t program any concept of inappropriateness or offensiveness into Tay. Realizing the oversight, Twitter users started ‘teaching’ Tay anti-Semitic, sexist, racist, and pretty much any other offensive slur you can imagine.

Less than a day later, Tay was aborted after she posted a horrendous series of racist and sexist Tweets.

Poor Tay. She was only doing what she was programmed to do, and her failure rests very much at the feet of humankind. It’s a pretty damning indictment of humanity to see how we, as a species, turned a newborn into a super Nazi within 24 hours.

tay-twitter A Tay Tweet with all the offensive words redacted.

ExpressVNP Is Staffed by Real People

ExpressVNP’s live chat support is 24/7 and 100% human (what a time to be alive!) So if you have any problems whatsoever, get in touch, and the team will help you out, pronto.

Do you have any chatbot tales? Leave them in the comments below!

Featured image: marish / Deposit Photos
Featured image: yayayoyo / Deposit Photos

Also published on Medium.

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