It hasn’t gotten a lot of play in the news media, but a recent U.S. District Court decision may at least weaken a policy that theoretically gives the Department of Homeland Security the right to search laptop storage of more than two-thirds of Americans.
In case you’ve forgotten, in August 2009, the U.S. government implemented a new policy for the Department of Homeland Security giving the department the right to search laptops in border areas. The problem was, according to Udi Ofer, Advocacy Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a letter he wrote to the New York Times in August, 2010, Border Patrol agents have the right to conduct such seizures within 100 miles of the U.S. border, which covers much more of the United States than it sounds. In fact, two-thirds of the population of the U.S. lives in one of those areas, he wrote — and people in those areas could be subject to losing their laptops. (Indeed, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that such laptops could be transported more than 100 miles away to do a more thorough search.)
In a particular case filed last May, the U.S. government was charged with targeting David House, a Massachusetts programmer, due to his association with Bradley Manning, the soldier accused to leaking material to WikiLeaks, for one of these searches. The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Massachusetts had filed suit against the government for this, which the government moved to dismiss.
The 27-page court decision this week denied the government’s motion, meaning that the lawsuit against the government can continue to take place. Moreover, although the judge supported the government’s right to search laptops at the border, he did put some sideboards on that right, such as:
- Not allowing laptops and other equipment to be seized for an indefinite period of time (House’s were seized for seven weeks)
- Not allowing people to be targeted for First Amendment-protected political speech (it has been suggested that House was targeted due to his association with Manning)
This doesn’t eliminate the searches — which also have criminal defense attorneys concerned, due to loss of attorney-client privilege, not to mention students with majors in Islamic Studies — but this and some other lawsuits challenging the policy give hope that it may be modified in the future.
We’ve heard this sort of story before (here, and here, and here): While members of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign staff were at dinner in San Diego, their parked SUV was broken into, leading to the loss of two laptops, two iPads, and two two-way radios.
The conversation quickly turned to whether this was a random act of burglary or a targeted political action. 10News in San Diego, which broke the story, interviewed local political analyst Carl Luna.
“This could just be a coincidence,” said political analyst Carl Luna. “Then again, given this campaign season and how negative it’s been, dirty tricks are not alien to American politics. Best case scenario for the Romney camp… these things are going to be sold at a swap meet on the side. Worst case scenario… some of this stuff makes it onto the Internet and if somebody could spin it against them they might.”
But unlike most of these stories, this one has a happy ending, or, at least, not an unhappy one. While the aides said the theft was a bummer in that they had to replace the equipment — not to mention their clothes and other items that were stolen — they weren’t worried about the theft of information, apparently because the equipment was reportedly all remotely erased, according to the UT San Diego newspaper.
“My understanding is once they found out they called people and had everything shut down,” [Detective Gary] Hassen told the paper.
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by Romney’s perspicacity. This was, after all, the administration that had the foresight to buy all its hard drives when it left office, depriving later generations — as well as opponents and journalists — from researching his time in the Massachusetts’ Governor’s office.
Maybe the campaign was just planning ahead.
You thought the MegaUpload seizure was bad? Check this out. The Swiss file uploading service RapidShare, accused of harboring copyrighted content, has been ordered by a German court to monitor all uploads to its service — which amount to thousands per day.
While it was agreed that RapidShare had copyrighted content, the company had been working on its reputation, clearing its name in a single year and then throttling downloads to its free users to discourage content distribution, because people who were pirating content didn’t want to sign up for the premium service and use their name. But after the MegaUpload seizure, pirates had reportedly started turning to RapidShare, which resulted in the slowdown to 30 Kbps. According to the Village Voice,
“RapidShare has been faced with a severe increase in free user traffic and unfortunately also in the amount of abuse of our service ever since, suggesting that quite a few copyright infringers have chosen RapidShare as their new hoster of choice for their illegal activities. We have thus decided to take a painful yet effective step: to reduce the download speed for free users. We are confident that this will make RapidShare very unpopular amongst pirates and thus drive the abusive traffic away.”
Unfortunately for RapidShare, that wasn’t enough, leading to the German court’s decision.
Another interesting aspect is that the European Court of Justice had found earlier this year that networks couldn’t be forced to install an anti-piracy filter, saying that the privacy of users was more important than protecting copyright. How this will affect the implementation of the order isn’t clear.
What remains to be seen is how RapidShare is going to comply with the court order. The number of files uploaded on a daily basis probably exceeds the number that can be monitored manually, meaning that software will likely need to be developed to scan for copyrighted content. But such software isn’t foolproof; in 2009, in response to a takedown request, file sharing site Hotfile gave Warner Brothers such a tool to find its content, with the result that a great deal of material that Warner Brothers didn’t own was incorrectly tagged and removed. And as with MegaUpload, legitimate users stand to be inconvenienced.
It’s funny sometimes how a perfectly ordinary press release can have a lot more to it than appears at first.
Take Carbonite (NASDAQ:CARB). The company issued a press release a few days ago citing a study finding that many small businesses were using old, unreliable methods such as external hard disks, USB drives, and CD ROMs with which to back up their data. The report noted the following:
- 50% use external hard drives, yet 20% backing up their business data indicated they started to do so because of a hard drive failure
- 42% use USB/flash drives primarily because it is perceived as easy, yet only 6% believe USB/flash drives to actually be reliable
- More than one-third use CDs/DVD drives to back up data, even though 62% feel they are inconvenient or risky
- 21% of small businesses using online backup were using a free product; since free online backup services are typically capped at two gigabytes, small businesses using these methods could be vulnerable to data loss
- 24% of small businesses using this method noted USB/flash drives do not work well for backup specifically because they have limited storage space
- 22% of small businesses surveyed pay for outside tech assistance
- 40% of those who manage the process in-house spend more than an hour per week backing up their company data, with 6% spending more than five hours per week
- Only 24% have backed up their data in the past day, and 24% haven’t backed up their data within the past week
Gosh. Sounds serious.
If one reads further, however, one notes two things. First of all, by an amazing coincidence, Carbonite just happens to sell a service, at what is no doubt a reasonable price, that solves all these problems.
Second of all, there is absolutely no information in the press release about the study itself, other than its name: Carbonite Small Business Data Backup Usage Study, July 2011. Nothing about how many people were surveyed, how they were chosen, or anything. For any vendor survey, this tends to cast suspicion on its results.
Not to mention, July? Really?
If one uses one’s favorite search engine to search for the title of said study, one discovers that Carbonite has in fact referenced the same study in three other press releases, in July, October, and November. It’s in the July one that we learn that the survey itself on which the study was based was actually performed in April. 2011.
That said, several outlets, including no less than eWeek, picked up the survey and ran it as a straight news story.
But Carbonite, which went public last summer, was in the news for something else recently. In response to the Rush Limbaugh lambasting of Sandra Fluke as a “slut” for implying that she actually, gasp, had sex, Carbonite pulled its advertising on March 3 from the conservative radio show — one of some 40 radio talk shows on which it advertises, according to a blog post from the company president.
There have been two results from that. First, Carbonite has been slagged by any number of sites in the right-wing echo chamber, as well as on its own Facebook page, for daring to question Rush — not to mention, as it turns out, because the company CEO had donated money to left-wing candidates and causes. Second, the company’s stock dropped some 10% in a day, from which it is slowly — very slowly — recovering.
So, did the company issue yet another press release on the same July study — now with data nearly a year old — to deflect interest from the Rush flap?
Almost exactly a year after it was first announced, Western Digital has announced that it has closed its purchase of Hitachi GST, after being required to sell off a portion of the business to satisfy the FTC.
Western Digital announced the deal on March 7, 2011, and said it expected it to close in September of that year. It seems to have slipped a bit. In the meantime, Hitachi GST changed its name to Viviti Technologies Ltd.
Western Digital said the acquisition cost $3.9 billion in cash and 25 million shares of WDC common stock valued at approximately $0.9 billion, in comparison to the original deal of $3.5 billion in cash and $750 million in stock. Hitachi, Ltd. now owns approximately 10% of WDC shares outstanding, and it has the right to designate two individuals to the board of directors, the company said.
For anticompetitive reasons, the Federal Trade Commission required that Western Digital sell assets to Toshiba Corp. that Hitachi uses to make and sell desktop hard- disk drives, according to Bloomberg. The European Commission had also required Western Digital to sell one of Viviti’s 3.5-inch manufacturing plants and associated intellectual property for making these drives. In return, Western Digital received a Toshiba plant that had been damaged in last year’s Thai floods. Chinese regulators also required the two companies to remain separate entities for two years.
So what have we got here?” summarizes Chris Mellor of Register UK. “We have a 5-player industry featuring Hitachi GST, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital shrinking to three over an (at least) two year period. Seagate is buying Samsung but has to operate it at arms length for one year due to Chinese conditions. WD is buying Hitachi GST but has a two year limbo before it can apply to the Chinese guy to formally integrate its two subsidiaries. Toshiba is getting two legs up into the 3.5-inch disk drive business by getting Hitachi GST’s disk production and some off-loaded WD production too. It is, in manufacturing capacity and HDD technology terms, an unanticipated gainer from the WD-HGST acquisition. Furthermore, because it has its own flash foundry, unlike either Seagate or WD, it is arguably well-placed to add flash caches to its disk drives.”
Combining the production volume of Seagate and Samsung and Western Digital and Vivinti (HGST), in CQ4 2011 market share would have been 47% Seagate Technology, 37% Western Digital and 16% Toshiba, according to storage analyst Tom Coughlin. At the time of the announcement, Western Digital held about 31% of the hard disk drive market, followed by Seagate Technology with 29%. Hitachi had about 18%, wrote Grant Gross of IDG News Service.
In a decision that may be as far-reaching as the 2006 changes in rules for civil proceedings that essentially created the e-discovery market, Southern District of New York Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck has issued a ruling that litigants may (that word is important) use computer-assisted review software that uses “predictive technology” software to help determine the relevance of documents.
Ironically, this all happens almost exactly a year after the New York Times published an article on the subject, which though it didn’t use the term “predictive coding” described the practice and its effect on the legal community. Studies have also found that computer programs are better at it than legal staff.
The “may” is important for two reasons. The first is that, due to some confusion, some people believed that Peck’s ruling, in the case of Monique Da Silva Moore, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Publicis Groupe & MSL Group, Defendents, 11 Civ. 1279 (ALC)(AJP), required the use of predictive coding, which is does not do. The second is that a different case, Kleen Products LLC v. Packaging Corporation of America, et al., still in court, does hinge on the question of requiring predictive coding.
Indeed, in the particular case to which Peck refers, the litigants agreed between themselves to use predictive coding in principle — but have been unable to agree on the details, and in fact the plaintiffs have filed an objection to Peck’s ruling, saying they are concerned that the software process is not transparent enough.
Peck’s opinion is not a surprise; last October, he wrote an article describing predictive coding and its role in e-discovery. While he uses charming phrases such as “A basic problem is that absent cooperation, the way most lawyers engage in keyword searches is, as Ralph Losey suggests, the equivalent of “Go Fish,””, one hopes he is a better judge than a prophet:
Perhaps they are looking for an opinion concluding that: “It is the opinion of this court that the use of predictive coding is a proper and acceptable means of conducting searches under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and furthermore that the software provided for this purpose by [insert name of your favorite vendor] is the software of choice in this court.” If so, it will be a long wait.
Four months isn’t all that long.
Needless to say, e-discovery vendors are kvelling about the ruling, and not just because Peck uses charming phrases such as, “The Court recognizes that computer-assisted review is not a magic, Staples-Easy-Button, solution appropriate for all cases.” (Peck emphasizes that he isn’t endorsing any particular vendor.)
Clearwell, for example — recently purchased by Symantec (which had specified growth in technology-assisted review as one of its 2012 predictions) as one of the first e-discovery acquisition dominoes to fall — noted five major points about the decision:
- The Court did not order the use of predictive coding
- Computer-assisted review is not required in all cases
- The opinion should not be considered an endorsement of any particular vendors or tools
- Predictive coding technology can still be expensive
- Process and methodology are as important as the technology utilized
Organizations that have held off on implementing predictive coding now have a green light to proceed.
Remember when Facebook started designing its own servers and data center?
Now it’s designing its own disk drives.
This is all supposed to be part of the company’s Open Compute initiative, according to Wired, though it’s not yet included on the website, and details were thin. (For example, it isn’t clear whether they include the hard drive thermostat the project described last summer.) However, the company said it will release its new storage designs in early May at the next Open Compute Summit.
Facebook is doing all this because it has such a heavy load — 845 million users and 140 billion digital photographs, Wired said — so savings that it can achieve in hardware, whether in the hardware itself, the power it uses, or the cooling it requires, can aggregate to quite a lot. The company has already made a number of changes to its servers to save cost, space, and heat.
For example, in its Prineville, Ore., data center, the company has eliminated chillers and uninterruptible power supplies, Wired said. The article quoted a Facebook engineer, originally from Dell, as saying that the really valuable part of storage is the disk drive itself and the software that controls how the data gets distributed to and recovered from those drives, and that the company would do what it could to eliminate the other ancillary parts, as well as make the valuable parts easier to get at and fix. For example, the company would like to eliminate the handles and screws that are currently part of some disk drives.
So why does this matter to you? Because Facebook intends to open source the storage design when it’s finished, meaning it could end up in the marketplace, as it has with its servers. So chances are, what Facebook decides will affect your data center, too.
Contradicting earlier court actions in other states, the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit has ruled that a man suspected of holding child pornography on his hard disk drive doesn’t have to reveal the necessary code to decrypt it for law enforcement, saying it violates his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
In comparison, in January a woman suspected of bank fraud was ordered to give up her password by a U.S. District judge.
A few weeks ago, we were hearing all about how IBM researchers were developing teeny-weeny disk storage. Now we’re hearing about how other researchers are developing really fast disk storage. Unfortunately, the two technologies aren’t compatible, so you’ll have to settle for small or fast, not both. Noted one York University researcher in the multinational team:
Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat. This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption.”
According to ScienceNOW, this is how it works:
[L]aser light heats up the gadolinium-iron alloy so incredibly fast—in 1/10,000 of a nanosecond—that at first only the iron atoms lose their mass orientation. The gadolinium atoms react more slowly in losing their magnetization. And once the iron atoms get hot enough and are free to pivot around, they prefer to align in the same direction as the gadolinium atoms. Then, as the material quickly cools and the orientations of the atoms freeze up, the iron and gadolinium atoms again prefer to point in opposite directions. But this time, it’s the slow-cooling gadoliniums that flip leading to a predictable overall reversal in the material’s magnetization.”
There’s only one problem. Remember the jokes about “write-only memory“? Turns out that, at least for the moment, that’s what the laser storage produces, because it isn’t clear how to read it again. “The only problem, at this point, is that while lasers are great at writing magnetic data, reading it is another challenge entirely,” notes DVICE.com. “The researchers seem to have used a fancy type of X-ray spectrometer that can read magnetic fields to check and see if they were writing the data that they thought they were, but until those get shrunk down to HDD component size (or someone comes up with something clever), we may be stuck just writing our data really really fast and not reading it ever again.”
Neither the storage industry nor the state of Idaho are known for having flashy technical CEOs like Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs, but they both lost one last Friday when Micron CEO Steve Appleton died unexpectedly in a crash of his plane.
A daredevil and adrenalin junkie who excelled in tennis, scuba diving, surfing, wakeboarding, motorcycling, off-road car racing, taekwondo, and aviation, who had already survived a crash in 2004, the 51-year-old Appleton was named one of the worst CEOs in the country by Forbes at the same time that Fortune was naming Micron one of the most-admired companies in the nation. Some criticized him for his salary, while others said it was not out of line in the heavily cyclical DRAM industry.
Raised in California, Appleton attended Boise State University and began working for Micron soon after graduation, eventually working himself up to president, chairman, and CEO in 1994, making him one of the nation’s youngest CEOs. According to Jim Handy of Objective Analysis:
Under his guidance the company became the last surviving US DRAM manufacturer and turned around a number of failing DRAM businesses it acquired from Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Qimonda, and others, while investing in businesses outside of its core DRAM strength including a recent acquisition of NOR maker Numonyx. One particularly successful investment has been Micron’s IMFT joint venture with Intel for the manufacture of NAND flash.
While the company’s chips were used in a variety of products, its own consumer brand is Lexar.
In Idaho, Micron was a major employer and, along with HP, helped form Boise’s nascent technology community. Due to the company’s innovations and the state’s small population, Idaho often ranked at or near the top in lists of numbers of patents per capita.
Unlike some other superstar tech CEOs, however, Appleton was known for his philanthropic efforts — for example, donating money to Boise State for its tennis courts and for a business and economics building to be named after Micron, still under construction. The company’s Micron Foundation also donated to the College of Western Idaho community college, founded just a few years ago.
Appleton is survived by a wife and four children. The board has named as CEO former president and COO Mark Durcan — who had just announced his retirement a week before.