Harmful Effects of Violent Video Games

Does playing violent video games increase tendencies toward violence?  Researched published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that it does.  As reported here, “[c]hildren and teenagers who play violent video games show increased physical aggression months afterward.”  The research is based on two studies performed in Japan and one performed in the U.S. and finds consistent results despite the cultural differences in the two countries.  “The study in the United States showed an increased likelihood of getting into a fight at school or being identified by a teacher or peer
as being physically aggressive five to six months later in the same school year.”  The author of one of the studies put the findings in context:  “A healthy, normal, nonviolent child or adolescent who has no other risk factors for high aggression or violence is not going to become a school shooter simply because they play five hours or 10 hours a week of these violent video games.”

This brings me back to last week’s discussion in Internet law about Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Child Pornography Prevention Act which, among other things, banned virtual child pornography.  The Court relied in part on the lack of a demonstrated causal link (not merely a correlation) between viewing child pornography and engaging in pedophilia.  Based on the reporting about this study, the link may be less tentative than I thought.

OpenDNS

With Security at Risk, A Push to Patch the Web in today’s NY Times reminded me about OpenDNS, a free domain name system service.  The article, which deals with a serious security flaw discovered in the operation of the domain name system earlier this year by Dan Kaminsky, an Internet security expert, notes that individuals and small businesses can protect themselves from the flaw by using OpenDNS.   I configured my home network router for OpenDNS a few years ago and never thought about it again.  The router failed six months ago and, reading this article this morning, I realized I never changed the default server settings on the new router to use OpenDNS.  Making and implementing the changes took just a few minutes.  The OpenDNS site provides simple instructions for configuring popular routers and changing DNS settings in Macs, PCs, and other devices.  Take five minutes and do it.

Privacy and Security

A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal titled NSA’s Domestic Spying Grows as Agency Sweeps Up Data (subscription required) reports that–

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called “transactional” data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA’s own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge’s approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA’s enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world’s main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called “black programs” whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

An NSA spokeswoman stated that the Agency “strictly follows laws and regulations designed to preserve every American’s privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” If you find comfort in that statement, consider this description of how the Agency uses its expanded domestic surveillance authority to pursue leads:

If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city — for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans –the government’s spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city. The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit.

The information collected “doesn’t generally include the contents of conversations or emails.” Generally. That’s a word we lawyers use to say “most of the time we don’t, unless we do.” Even without such content the NSA can identify the parties to phone calls and emails, their locations, and their cell phone numbers. The telecoms enable the NSA’s efforts either by copying all data through their switches to share with the NSA, or by ceding control to the NSA over the switches. The White House is pushing a bill that would immunize the telecoms from liability for privacy claims arising from this data collection. The NSA domestic surveillance program includes elements of and technology from the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness initiative that Congress defunded in 2003 following criticism of TIA’s potential for civil rights abuses. Before it was killed the Pentagon renamed TIA to Terrorist Information Awareness to make it seem less creepy. Now the NSA is implementing TIA through its “black budget,” beyond effective non-NSA scrutiny.

The Journal story reminded me of a recent Wired column by the always-prescient Bruce Schneier: What Our Top Spy Doesn’t Get: Security and Privacy Aren’t Opposites. Schneir’s column focuses on a proposal from National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell to monitor all–“that’s right, all–” Internet communications:

In order for cyberspace to be policed, internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search. “Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation,” he said. Giorgio warned me, “We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'”

This states it as baldly as one can. This administration’s top intelligence personnel consider every increase in security to require a corresponding decrease in privacy. As Scheier states “I’m sure they have that saying in their business. And it’s precisely why, when people in their business are in charge of government, it becomes a police state.” Scheier says privacy versus security is a false dichotomy, that the true dichotomy is between liberty and control–and that “liberty requires both security and privacy.”

Predator Fear

David Pogue’s weekly column in the NY Times linked to a PBS Frontline video segment (part of its Growing Up Online series) titled The Child Predator Fear. Unlike most news treatments the Frontline piece does not raise hysteria. It focuses on a New Jersey family in which the mom fears stalkers lurking on Facebook and her teenage children possess common sense of online dangers. A telling moment: the mom voices specific concern about the safety of her attractive teenage daughters while the camera pans their faces. In other words, in sounding the alarm about Internet predation she is exposing her daughters to view of anyone who sees the video on television or online. The video closes with experts concluding that teenagers engage in risker behaviors and face more danger from their offline activities.

What Was He Thinking? Department

USA Today reports that Steven Zahorksy of Bridgeport, Connecticut posted an ad on Craigslist–“Mary Jane in Fairfield County”–offering to sell half-ounces of “A Plus” marijuana for $220 and “B Plus” marijuana for $160. A Stamford police officer spotted the ad, arranged to meet Zahorsky at an I-95 rest stop, and there exchanged $320 cash for three-quarters of an ounce. (I guess there was a $10 discount for the extra quarter-ounce.) Police then arrested Zahorsky whose reported response was, in essence “Wha? Marijuana? Whaddya mean? I stopped for a burger.” In his wallet was $320, in his cellphone was the officer’s phone number, and in his apartment were more marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, a digital scale (are triple-beam balances too old-school) and a shotgun. The moral of this story is _____________________.

Real Player Warning

Stopbadware.org–organized Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center and the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University–warns about the privacy failings Real Player 10.5 and Real Player 11.0. The former does not alert the user that its message center feature will display pop-up ads if the program is not registered, while the latter secretly installs the Rhapsody Player Engine and leaves it in place if the user uninstalls Real Player 11.0. For years I’ve avoided Real Player products as much as possible because, in my experience, they are intrusive and persistent. I gave the company another shot by using Rhapsody for a while but it was a constant headache. I had to uninstall it a few times and in each case it was like cleaning up after a terrible roommate who leaves dirty plates in the living room, smelly socks on the kitchen table, and wet towels on the bathroom floor. I canceled the account after a few rounds of this. Brian Krebs reports the story and proposes some alternatives to Real Player.

Course wiki projects

Wednesday night I had dinner at Stella in the South End with my former business partner. We dissolved our financial advisory business in 1999 when we both started teaching full-time, me at BU School of Management and David in a Boston public school. He and his family have been in New Delhi for eighteen months where his wife took an assignment for her company and David played golf and taught in an American school. He related how his 10th-grade English students engaged in “deep reading” of classic literature–that is, reading, thinking, and making marginal notes in the velo-bound public-domain works he assembled for them–and turned Agamemnon into a play about a high-stakes soccer match between bitter foes that they then performed for classes of 6th-graders. These experiences echoed the written case assignments and wiki content creation I’ve introduced into some of my courses. Make someone write about what they read, make them find creative ways to engage with the course material, and they will understand it more fully.

The wiki assignments are new to real estate law and Internet law this semester. I want another vehicle for student engagement that can tap into and capture how they learn and create a repository of resources for current and future classmates. This week I sketched out rough ideas for how students might use the wiki with no sense of how they would react to them, and asked for volunteers to create the first projects. It has only been a few days but so far I am pleased. Their initial ideas have outstripped my thinking about what they might do. It proves to me again that the best ideas come from students.

Priming the Pump

In the blur of class preparation, reading papers, meetings with students, social engagements, workouts, and late-night Patriots games my desktop has become jammed with articles and ideas. Since I can’t go back in time I’ll clear the slate with these brief posts and try to get back in posting rhythm.

First, Facebook Founder Finds He Wants Some Privacy reports on Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to force 02138 magazine (for those who do not “go to school in Cambridge,” 02138 is the Harvard zip code) to remove some “unflattering documents” from its website. A freelance reporter obtained the documents from the federal district court in Boston, where they were filed in connection with a lawsuit against Zuckerberg by the founders of ConnectU who claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea for a campus-based networking site after they engaged Zuckerberg for programming help. The documents include “include Mr. Zuckerberg’s handwritten application for admission to Harvard and an excerpt from an online journal he kept as a student that contains biting comments about himself and others.” The court rejected Zuckerberg’s motion to remove the documents without explaining his ruling.

Steven Kirsch–inventor, a serial entrepreneur, and philanthropist–has come up with a new way to stop junk email. Spam’s End? Maybe, if Time Allows discusses his scheme and his personal challenge in seeing it to fruition. Kirsch has Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a form of blood that is “considered incurable, although it can be managed beyond the five- to seven-year longevity that new patients are usually told to expect.” His spam-blocking technique relies on “the recognition that the ratio of spam to legitimate e-mail is individually unique. It is also a singular identifier that a spammer cannot manipulate easily. By assessing the combined reputations of the recipients of any individual message, the Abaca system determines the “spaminess” of a particular message.” Kirsch is approach his illness like an engineer, treating it as a problem requiring a solution.

Adult website Perfect 10–described by a defendant in a lawsuit as “a serial filer of nuisance copyright claims”–has come up short in one of its suits. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal from the 9th Circuit’s decision in Perfect 10 v CCBill LLC. In one of those coincidences that makes teaching–especially teaching Internet law–so much fun, the Court denied Perfect 10’s appeal on Monday of a week in which we are reading and discussing Perfect 10’s copyright lawsuits against Google and CCBill. To be fair, the 9th Circuit did remand the case against Google for further consideration of some of Perfect 10’s claims.

Last for this desk-clearing exercise, there have been numerous articles written about the suicide of 13 year-old Megan Meier. The story in a nutshell:

Meier met a 16-year-old named “Josh Evans” on MySpace. Her mother reluctantly gave permission to add Josh as a friend and visit with him online. They became close, but he suddenly turned on her, calling her names, saying she was “a bad person and everybody hates you.” Others joined the harassment, and the barrage culminated in Meier’s Oct. 16, 2006, suicide, just short of her 14th birthday.

Weeks later, Meier’s parents learned the boy didn’t exist—he’d been fabricated by a neighbor, Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier’s former friends. The girls had had a falling-out, police say, and Drew wanted to know what Meier was saying about her daughter.

Drew managed to stay under the radar for a while but eventually she was outed–a Google search for “Lori Drew” yields about 59,000 hits and a search for <“Lori Drew” helicopter parent> yields almost 370 hits including Judith Warner’s piece in the NY Times: Helicopter Parenting Turns Deadly. Outrage and venom notwithstanding, the local prosecutor announced this week that he will not charge Drew in Megan Meier’s death because her conduct did not violate any criminal statutes. reviewed laws related to stalking, harassment and child endangerment before making his announcement. “[Prosecutor Jack] Banas said harassment and stalking laws both require proof that communication was made to frighten, disturb or harass someone. In this case, he said, the fictitious MySpace profile was created not to bully Megan, but to find out what she was saying about the neighborhood mother’s then-13-year-old daughter, a former friend. There are a few statements at the end that are a heated argument,” he said. “That’s why you have a hard time making a harassment case.””

Universal Digital Library

The mission of the Universal Digital Library: Million Book Collection, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University is to

create a Universal Library which will foster creativity and free access to all human knowledge. As a first step in realizing this mission, it is proposed to create the Universal Library with a free-to-read, searchable collection of one million books, available to everyone over the Internet. Within 10 years, it is our expectation that the collection will grow to 10 Million books. The resultwill be a unique resource accessible to anyone in the world 24×7, without regard to nationality or socioeconomic background.

One of the goals of the Universal Library is to provide supportfor full text indexing and searching based on OCR (optical character recognition) technologies where available. The availability of online search allows users to locate relevant information quickly and reliably thus enhancing student’s success in their research endeavors. This 24×7 resource would also provide an excellent test bed for language processing research in areas such as machine translation, summarization, intelligent indexing, and information retrieval.

It is our expectation that the Universal Library will be mirrored at several locations worldwide so as to protect the integrity and availability of the data. Several models for sustainability are being explored. Usability studies would also be conducted to ensure that the materials are easy to locate, navigate, and use. Appropriate metadata for navigation and management would also be created.

Bookmark the UDL’s home page and search form and use the site often. It deserves support.

Dubious Disclaimers

A student asked whether the disclaimer at Download-Crack-Serial.com served any legal purpose. One can guess at the correct answer on the site’s name alone. The language in question is this:

If you are affiliated with any government, or ANTI-Piracy group or any other related group or were formally a worker of such one or you want to eliminate this site or you have any claims on this site you CANNOT enter this web site that means you are not allowed to take ANY content from download-crack-serial.com, cannot access any content and you cannot view any of the HTML files. All the objects on this site are PRIVATE property and are not meant for viewing or any other purposes other then bandwidth space. DO NOT ENTER whatsoever! If you enter this site and you are not agreeing to these terms (Disclaimer) you are violating code 431.322.12 of the Internet Privacy Act signed by Bill Clinton in 1995 and that means that you CANNOT threaten our ISP(s) or any person(s) or company storing these files, cannot prosecute any person(s) affiliated with this page which includes family, friends or individuals who run or enter this web site. By continuing to enter this site, you are expressly and impliedly agreeing to all terms as stated above. If you disagree with this term you must leave this site immedeatly (sic).

The idea that such a contract “disclaimer”protects one from criminal or civil liability is representative of what can pass for legal knowledge on the Internet. Determine a desired outcome, invent a law to support it, wrap it up in legal-sounding language, and put it on the web. Poof! WikiLaw!

Nonsense. There is no Internet Privacy Act. Any first-year law student knows that 431.322.12 is not a form of citation to a federal statute. A contract disclaimer between a web site and a user cannot bind the rights of third parties (e.g., copyright holders or the state) because they are not in privity with the “contract.” A disclaimer of criminal liability would undoubtedly violate public policy and be void. If you rely on protection such as this to protect you from liability, then I have proposal for you. My friend is a top official of the Nigerian government, has millions of dollars trapped in the country, and needs only your bank account information . . .