Libertarian Party of San Francisco 2215-R Market Street, PMB170, San Francisco, CA 94114-1612 (415) 775-LPSF www.lpsf.org August 2001
LPSF Encourages Support for HOPE
By Chris Maden
At its monthly meeting on July 14, the LPSF considered endorsing the Home Ownership Program for Equity (HOPE). This proposal, whose chief architect is San Francisco Libertarian Sarosh Kumana, provoked contentious debate.
HOPE is a proposal to increase the number of legal conversions from multi-unit apartment buildings into condominiums in San Francisco. If passed, it would create the opportunity for landlords to convert their buildings and sell individual units to the current residents. This would happen only if a significant number of the residents agreed, and the landlord were willing.
The goals of HOPE are to increase private home ownership in San Francisco and to remove some government restrictions on landlords use of their own property. Many of HOPEs supporters believe that increased home ownership would lead to a more libertarian populace, which we would certainly support, and we can wholeheartedly endorse removal of restrictions on use of one's own property! However, in order to have a realistic chance of passage, HOPE also includes compromise measures to build a broad base of support, such as the creation of a new affordable housing fund (paid for by the transfer tax on the condominium conversions) and lifetime leases for the tenants who do not want to purchase the units in which they live.
After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that, while we support HOPEs goals, and recognize the need for political compromise to accomplish them, we can not associate our name publicly with a proposal that introduces new laws and creates a new government fund. By a vote of 6 to 3, with 1 abstention, the following resolution was passed:
The LPSF encourages its members to vote for and support the HOPE proposal. This does not constitute permission to use the LPSF name in connection with HOPE.
More information about HOPE can be found from the Affordable Homeownership Alliances Web site at affordable-homeownership.org; the proposed legislation is at affordable-homeownership.org/hopelegis.html.
[While the resolution as quoted was passed by the LPSF at its monthly business meeting, any difference between this analysis and the opinions of those present at the meeting is entirely the fault of the author.]
Dmitry Sklyarov and the DMCA
By Chris Maden
As you may have read in the news over the last few weeks, a Russian programmer named Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested in Las Vegas by the FBI following the DefCon computer security conference. He was charged with trafficking in a copyright protection circumvention device, which is a criminal infraction under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
The DMCA, as it is known, is a nasty little bit of legislation. Most notably, it outlaws the publication of information on how to circumvent copy-protection schemes; Jon Johanssen, a teenager in Norway, was charged for figuring out how simple the protection on DVD movies is. Users of the free Linux operating system could not play DVDs on their own computers because no authorized company had written a "driver" for them; with Johanssens scheme, they could. The Motion Picture Association of America not only dealt harshly with Johanssen, but sued the hacker magazine 2600 for even linking to Johanssens code from their Web site. Princeton University professor Edward Felten was also threatened with a lawsuit if he presented his investigation into a file protection scheme, proposed by the music industry, at a conference.
The DMCA does have "fair use" provisions, but they are much narrower than the copyright law that preceded DMCAs passage. The fair use doctrine was developed to balance free speech rights against copyrightse.g., satirical uses or parodies of copyrighted work, or short excerpts in a critical review are permitted under fair use. Under the DMCA, a publisher can take those rights away from a user via technology, and it becomes illegal to develop a tool to restore those rights to the informations consumer.
As a Ph.D. candidate at a Moscow state university, Sklyarov (pronounced skul-YAHR-off) investigated the security of Adobe Systems "Acrobat eBook Reader" software. This software enables publishers to deliver "ebooks" that are locked to one specific computer; the end-user cannot copy the book to another computer, nor print it or have the text read aloud by the computer if the publisher has not specifically enabled those features. (In other words, blind customers may not be able to legally use a product they purchase.) Adobes product has not been doing very well; the on-line customer discussion fora are filled with comments about the inadequacy of the product (many using a four-letter verb that starts with s).
In the course of his investigations, Sklyarov found that Adobes security was very poor, and that it was a simple matter to intercept the unprotected book when the purchaser entered the enabling password. He developed a program that exploited this shortcoming. This enables users who have legitimately purchased a book to create an unlocked copy, which they can then print, copy to another computer, or even publish across the Internet to thousands of other readers.
Sklyarov's employer, a Russian company called ElcomSoft, specializes in password-recovery tools. For instance, if you lock an Excel spreadsheet, but then forget the password (or worse, your accountant who had the password quits), you can buy a tool from ElcomSoft to recover the data. The FBI is a significant customer of these tools, which have obvious law enforcement applications. ElcomSoft dubbed Sklyarovs tool the "Advanced eBook Processor," or "AEBPR," and put it up for sale, using a US-based credit card processing Web site.
On the June 25, Adobe filed a cease-and-desist notice with ElcomSoft, giving them 5 days to pull the program from sale. On June 26, Adobe filed a criminal complaint with the US Attorney against Dmitry Sklyarov, as the author of the program. Adobe knew that Sklyarov would be coming to the United States to speak at DefCon, and advised the FBI of this fact. He was arrested in due course on July 16.
This outraged the electronic community, for a variety of reasons. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, located here in San Francisco, got involved, and activists organized a boycott of Adobe products and demonstrations against Sklyarovs arrest around the world. On Monday, July 23, demonstrators rallied in Boston, St. Paul, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Moscow, New York, and, most significantly, outside Adobes headquarters in San José while the EFF met with Adobes leadership inside. The end result of the pressure from the demonstrators, the boycott, and press coverage, together with the EFFs negotiations, was that Adobe dropped the criminal complaint and called for Sklyarovs release in a joint press release with the EFF.
Unfortunately, this is a criminal case, and it remains up to the Department of Justice to actually free Sklyarov. Another protest was held on Monday, July 30, at the Federal Building in San Francisco as well as in several other cities around the nation. A protest at the US Embassy in London got significant media attention on Friday, August 3. As I write this, we are preparing for a rally at Sklyarovs bail hearing in San Jose for Monday, August 6.
There are several important reasons to set him free:
1. He is charged with trafficking in forbidden technology. He did not sell the program; his employer did. Although three ElcomSoft employees were at the conference, including the president, it was Sklyarov who was arrested. It seems obvious that an example is being made of him.
2. The DMCA specifically allows for narrow fair use exemptions from the civil and criminal violations it defines. AEBPR will only unlock a book legitimately purchased by the user; it can not be used to steal others books. It is thus probable that the program does not even violate the law.
3. The DMCA is a very bad law. It has a demonstrably chilling effect on speech. One colleague, while a co-worker of mine at an ebook company, did the same research as Sklyarov. He did not publish his work, though, and is now much more careful about what he publishes. Foreign scientists are beginning a boycott of US conferences for fear of prosecution and also in solidarity with Sklyarov and Johanssen. It also punishes research, rather than copyright violation; since AEBPR only unlocks a users legitimately purchased copy, it is the user who must make the decision to pirate the unlocked copy. AEBPR is a tool with legitimate and illegal uses, like a lockpick, a crowbar, a car, or a gun. Outlawing the tool does not help.
However, there are other DMCA test cases, civil ones, working through the court system, and it is not important to keep Sklyarov as a hostage for a test case. Let him go.
This is an important Libertarian issue as well, for a few reasons.
1. The rights violations mentioned aboveSklyarovs right to do research, publish his findings, and create tools with legitimate uses, and the publics right to fair use of information they purchase.
2. It is an excellent example of the dangers of big government. Adobe, faced with an inferior product and public criticism of its security, used the government to bully its critics by proxy, having one of them arrested. The use of criminal charges as a substitute for competition in the marketplace is unacceptable. A small government is not a useful tool for a corporation, and would thus avoid similar abuses.
3. The community response, the boycott, and Adobes subsequent relenting and call for Sklyarovs release are a case study in how the free market can be used as a tool to effect social change without regulation.
Interested Libertarians are encouraged to join the protests and voice our support for free speech and our opposition to abusive laws and their enforcement. Please see freesklyarov.org for up-to-date information, or contact the author of this article directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-8677. The EFFs Web site is eff.org, and it includes information about Sklyarov, Johanssen, Felten, and the DMCA.
Direct Action Forum:
Doherty on Cyberactivism
On Wednesday, July 18, Will Doherty of the Electronic Frontier Foundation spoke to the Direct Action Forum on techniques of cyberactivism. Prior to joining EFF in February, Doherty (aka Stardust, believe it or not) served as Director of Online Community Development at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Unlike Al Gore, he can actually claim to have had a hand in the invention of the Internet. In the early 1980s, at MIT, Doherty worked on the ARPANET, a precursor of the World Wide Web. He founded and currently serves as Executive Director of the Online Policy Group, dedicated to "one Internet with equal access for all."
Doherty discussed a number of techniques for use of the Internet as an activist tool: anonymous posting, banner links, e-mail listservs, encryption, pop-up and interstitial ads, surveillance, and viral marketing. He pointed out that, although anonymous posting may have a bad name, it has often been important in liberation movements, including the American Revolution. Anonymizer.com allows you to make postings anonymous, though the service isnt foolproof. Dohertys own onlinepolicy.org offers free e-mail listservs to organizations which are "underrepresented, underserved, or face bias, discrimination, or defamation online." He encouraged the use of encryption, even when it isnt needed, to help prevent those who do need it from drawing attention to themselves. (The national LP encrypts its press releases.) Pop-up or interstitial ads are those that appear in a separate window while you are on your way to something else. Doherty cautioned that many Web users find them annoying. Surveillance has been an important tool in some human rights campaigns, video or audio recording "inappropriate" activities and broadcasting them from the Website. This requires a high-bandwidth Internet connection and digital recording equipment. Some governments are also moving to prohibit the videorecording of law enforcement officers on duty. Viral marketing, less insidious than it sounds, is done through e-mails lists, buttons, or forms on websites, using giveaways or funny or touching stories to encourage wider distribution.
Doherty also discussed legal aspects of cyberactivism. Destruction of communication lines, stations, or systems is obviously illegal, but so is "willful delay of transmission of any communication over such lines"except for "lawful strike or collective bargaining activity which does not destroy systems."
Many of Dohertys listeners were most interested in news of the recent arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov. Chris Maden, in particular, has been actively involved in this case; see his article on p. 1.
Direct Action Forum:
Saving the Edison Charter School
On Wednesday, June 20, Diallo Dphrepaulezz of the Pacific Research Institute and education activist Gary Larsen addressed the Direct Action Forum with regard to the privately run Edison School. The Edison School had been famous as the worst elementary school in San Francisco. Three years ago it was taken over by a private corporation coincidentally named Edison Schools, Inc., which spent $1.8 million on renovations. Since it began 5 years ago, Edison, Inc., has taken over 113 of the worst-performing schools in the country, serving mostly low-income, nonwhite students.
San Francisco provides, of course, the least hospitable environment for a school run for profit. Last year the Board of Education launched an investigation in response to parental complaints that the school was weeding out the worst students in order to boost test scores. It was hard to make a charge of racism stick, since half the students were Black and many Black parents testified that they loved the new school. The Board did, however, find Edison in violation of its charter to educate all students without regard to "behavior . . . or academic achievement," and also found the rate of teacher turnover unacceptably high. In March it gave Edison 90 days to remedy the problems.
The investigation was the subject of a Newsweek article on July 2, which focused on a "rambunctious" second grader, Andre Hines, who "fought with other kids and his teachers." According to Newsweek, "After numerous suspensions, school administrators hinted to [Andres mother Toni] Hines that she should remove Andre from the Edison academy." The photo accompanying the article shows the Hines family looking appropriately surly and belligerent (with the exception of one male standing to the side and looking off into space, as though he didnt want to be part of the scene).
As Newsweek was going to press, however, the SF School Board voted 4-2 not to try to revoke the schools charter, but instead to allow it to contract directly with the state. Newsweek noted that the state board was more ideologically in tune with Edisons philosophy than the local school board; one of its members, in factGap founder Don Fisheris a major Edison investor.
Starchild adds that he has been told that the only SF School Board member who has consistently stood by Edison and is not against competition and choice in San Francisco schools is Mary Hernandez. Worth remembering, he says, next time you vote.
City Hall Report
[July 10. Starchild was on hand to hear libertarian-leaning Supervisor Tony Hall unveil the HOPE proposal (see related article, p. 1) that he introduced to the Board of Supervisors, and to hear Supervisor Gavin Newsome speak in favor of it. He further reports:] I also spoke at an Audit Committee hearing in support of a proposal from Supervisor Chris Daly to eliminate the citys dance hall keeper permit requirement, which requires that businesses obtain a special permit to allow dancing in their establishments. Stephanie Tucker of the San Francisco Late Night Coalition told me that Daly had come up with this legislation on his own, rather than as a result of prompting from the SFLNC as I had assumed. There were no fewer than three representatives present from the SFPD, and I confirmed that at least two of them (probably all three, as the third was the only one in uniform) were being paid to be there. As a taxpayer, I find it outrageous that the police and other city departments can send personnel on the city's dime to testify during the public comment period at official hearings. Almost always they are there to argue in favor of greater spending, regulation and control. (Sorry for interjecting the pet peeve there!) Anyway, the upshot was that the committee, consisting of Daly and McGoldrick (Newsome cut out early), postponed action for 2 weeks to gather more information, so the matter will be back again.
Many thanks to the 3 additional readers who agreed in the last month to receive GGL by e-mail. The drop in newsletter cost from last month reflects not only these 3 electronic subscriptions, but the continuing large number of lapsed memberships. Since monthly dues drop accordingly, the saving here is illusory.
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It would be a bit of a stretch, its true, to call "Hannibal" a libertarian movieeven though it meets the first criterion of having received uniformly bad reviews. The movie is remarkably faithful to the book; the new ending is the only one which could be made psychologically plausible within the space of a movie. Harriss extraordinary achievement in "Hannibal" is to draw our sympathy to the side of this vile creature. We recognize early on that Clarice Starling is in no danger from him, and the reviewers have complained about the resulting lack of suspense. What they have not commented on is that Lecters antagonists, chiefly government agents, make him look like a saint. The FBI (with the exception of Starling), the local police, the Italian police, the Senatorall are slimy and corrupt Most of them are in the pay of Lecters one surviving "victim," Mason Vergera filthy rich pedophile and fetishist who has his cocktails made from childrens tears. Interestingly, Lecter never laid a hand on Verger; he merely persuaded him to express his self-disgust by cutting off his face and feeding it to the dog. (You would have thought Verger could have afforded a better plastic surgeon.) In fact, we never see Lecter aggressing against anybody, merely offing those who are out to get him. Harriss antigovernment sentiments are too pervasive to miss. But we promise not to refer to Lecter as a libertarian hero.
On video August 21.
The Arrogance of Power
San Francisco resident Mark Gleason was on his way to mandatory $5-a-day jury duty near City Hall and happened to have a camera with him when this sight caught his eye. Department of Parking and Traffic lackeys claim that the ever-increasing transfer of vast sums of money from the pockets of ordinary drivers into the citys coffers is necessary to keep people from parking wherever they feel like and blocking access to things like driveways, bus stops, and, yes, fire hydrants. But this photo loudly proclaims the unspoken attitude of many bureaucrats toward the laws they expect others to comply with: Well follow them when its convenient, because, after all, we have important jobs to do. The photo occupies a prominent place on Gleasons refrigerator to remind him and his roommates of the realities of life under the governments heel.
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Golden Gate Libertarian
2215-R Market Street, PMB 170
San Francisco, CA 94114-1612
No Financial District meeting this month.
Saturday, August 11: Richmond District meeting, 3-6 p.m., Round Table Pizza, 5160 Geary.
Wednesday, August 15: Direct Action Forum, Thai House, 2200 Market, 7-10 p.m. Members of San Franciscos Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.
Thursday, August 23: Town meeting with Aaron Peskin, Supervisor of District 3, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Saints Peter & Paul Parish Center, 620 Filbert St. 554-7453.
Thursday, August 30: Large protest march for Dmitry Sklyarov, 11:30-1:30, from Moscone Center to the Burton Federal Building and back. The march will coincide with the Linux World Expo.
Vice-Chair and Activities Chair
Secretary and Database Manager
Treasurer and Newsletter Editor
Opinions expressed in unsigned columns of the Golden Gate Libertarian do not necessarily represent those of anyone but the Editor. Submissions are encouraged. The deadline (including agenda and calendar items) is the penultimate Friday of the month.
Next meeting: August 11, 3-5 p.m. (business), 5-6 (social), upstairs at Round Table Pizza, 5160 Geary Blvd. (at 16th Avenue).