Journalist Files FOIA Request for Obama’s Game of Thrones Screeners

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was designed to facilitate transparency in matters of government, allowing members of the public to access to Federal agency records in order to hold the ruling classes accountable. An American journalist, though, is seeking to push the boundaries of the FOIA (or exploit them, depending on your perspective) to get her hands on episodes of the new season of Game of Thrones, set to premiere this Sunday (24th April).

Last week, Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss let slip that President Barack Obama was in possession of a number of episode screeners for new season, the only person outside of HBO allowed to see them. “He’s the leader of the free world,” Weiss revealed. “When the commander-in-chief says, ‘I want to see advanced episodes,’ what are you gonna do?”

Armed with this knowledge, Refinery29 writer Vanessa Golembewski decided to “test the limits of the Freedom of Information Act.” As she puts it, “If the president — and by extension, our government — is in possession of a file, surely that file is subject to my request to see it as a U.S. citizen.”

While Golembewski admits that she “know[s] it’s a stretch,” acknowledging that she’s “not entirely sure where the Game of Thrones screeners fall in the grey area that is personal property of a government figure,” she thinks that “there’s a lot of evidence that makes me think Obama […] will be delighted to help a girl out.”

When asked what fee she would be willing to pay for the FOIA request, Golembewski told the government to stick it on her student loans tab:

US Congress Bill Plans to Make Effective Encryption Illegal

In the wake of the FBI’s feud with Apple over bypassing the encryption of San Bernardino shooting suspect Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the US Congress is proposing a new bill that aims to outlaw effective encryption, what is termed “technical assistance”, requiring any company or entity to build in backdoors to its security systems for law enforcement to exploit.

In a draft of the proposed bill, written by a committee led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and leaked by politics news outlet The Hill, businesses are required to release “information or data” if served with a court order – meaning that they are legally obligated to have access to that data in the first place – or provide law enforcement agencies with “technical assistance as is necessary to obtain such information in an intelligible format or to achieve the purpose of the court order.”

While talk suggests that the leaked draft of the bill is close to its final iteration, its final draft could still change, especially since it does not have the support of President Obama. It is not yet known if this version of the bill has been submitted to Congress.

“While the bill claims that it in no way is designed to force companies to redesign their products, this is a subtle hypocrisy,” Jonathan Zdziarski , a computer forensics and encryption expert, wrote in a blog post. “The reality is that there is no possible way to comply with it without intentionally backdooring the encryption in every product that may be used in the United States.”

“This bill would not only be surrendering America’s cybersecurity but also its tech economy, as foreign competitors would continue to offer—and bad guys would still be able to easily use!–more secure products and services,” Kevin Bankston, Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, told Vice Motherboard. “The fact that this lose-lose proposal is coming from the leaders of our Senate’s intelligence committee, when former heads of the NSA, DHS, the CIA and more are all saying that we are more secure with strong encryption than without it, would be embarrassing if it weren’t so frightening.”

Apple’s Tim Cook Warns Obama That Sacrificing Privacy Will Have “dire consequences”

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has criticised US President Barrack Obama’s executive order for enhanced cybersecurity, saying the move will have “dire consequences”.

Cook was speaking at a cybersecurity summit organised by the White House, just moments before President Obama was set to take the stage.

“We still live in a world where all people are not treated equally. Too many people do not feel free to practice their religion or express their opinion or love who they choose,” Cook said.

“A world in which that information can make a difference between life and death,” Cook said. “If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money. We risk our way of life.”

“Fortunately, technology gives us the tools to avoid these risks. It is my sincere hope that by using them and by working together, we will.”

He added that “history has shown us that sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences.”

James Comey, Director of the FBI, criticised Apple’s use of encryption last year, saying, “Criminals and terrorists would like nothing more than for us to miss out.”

Source: The Guardian

The Interview is Sony’s Most Downloaded Movie – Making $15m

The Interview is doing alright online, raking back a third of its crazy $44 million budget. It’s also Sony’s most downloaded movie ever.

“Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience The Interview on the first day of its unconventional release,” – Rory Bruer, Sony’s President of Global Distribution in a statement to The Wrap following the movie’s opening.

Sony will certainly be interested in these figures. Analysts have suggested that the company could lose billions of dollars due to the hack – something an already struggling Sony doesn’t need. It’s questionable as to how much money the movie will make online and in such a limited number of cinemas.

This figure also poses something else – what will the non-theatrical release of this major motion picture mean for the future of cinema? We’ve seen movies released to DVD/Blu-Ray and downloads sooner and sooner following their theatrical release. We’ve also seen movie studios expressing interest in cutting out cinema releases altogether in an attempt to curb piracy. So does the modestly successful online release of The Interview further compound the beliefs of those who think we should say goodbye to cinema?

Source: BBC News

iTunes to Offer The Interview Too

Just a few days after it was reported that Apple declined streaming ‘The Interview’, Apple has just confirmed that it will indeed be offering the movie.

According to Re/code, an Apple representative informed them that the movie will be available from 1pm EST for streaming and downloading. This means that the movie will be available on many of the big streaming platforms, including iTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

Sony said that they intended to deliver the movie on a “different platform” following their decision to pull it from its Christmas Day release. The company did say that no streaming or download service had initially come forward with an offer to provide the movie, but now that’s obviously a different story. The movie did also see its cinematic release, but only in  handful of venues.

Source: Re/code

Obama Says the Sony Hack Wasn’t An “Act of War”

President Obama is once again talking about the hack on Sony Pictures, where he has said that the cyberattack on the Japanese electronics giant was not an “act of war” but it was a serious case of “cybervandalism.”

Obama was talking with CNN when he said that, adding that there aren’t any clues as to what his administration’s “proportional response” to North Korea might be just yet.

Source: Engadget.

Obama Criticises Sony For Pulling ‘The Interview’

During his end-of-year address, US President Barack Obama spoke about Sony’s decision to pull The Interview from cinemas following threats from hacker group Guardians of Peace. Obama considers the move “a mistake”.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” President Obama said. “If somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing if they see a documentary they don’t like or news reports they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers or distributors start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America’s about.”

Obama also had a dig at North Korea. He quipped, “it says something interesting about North Korea that it decided to have the state mount an all-out assault against a satirical film starring Seth Rogen.”

Source: Engadget

Intel, IBM, and Qualcomm Oppose Title II Net Neutrality

An alliance of 60 tech companies, including the likes of Intel, IBM, and Qualcomm, have signed a letter addressed to US Congress and the FCC opposing Title II reclassification of broadband services.

It was President Barack Obama who proposed classifying internet as a utility service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act in order to ensure net neutrality, but there has been backlash from ISPs, tech companies, and telecoms providers ever since the idea was pitched.

“For almost twenty years, national leadership, on a bipartisan basis, has nurtured the broadband internet with a wise, effective, and restrained policy approach that supported the free flow of data, services, and ideas online while creating a climate that supported private investment in broadband networks,” the letter claims. Then, attacking Obama’s net neutrality plan, it continues, “Title II is going to lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don’t know that you can recover on your investment, you won’t make it.”

FCC chair Tom Wheeler had hoped to bring in legislation to protect the internet by the end of the year, but plans have been delayed until 2015.

Source: The Verge

The White House Promises $263 Million For Police Body Cameras

President Obama has pledged a cool $263 million, which would be put toward providing law enforcement agencies with body cameras for their officers.

This is of course a roll-on action of the events in Ferguson, with $75 million of the fund being put to good use by purchasing cameras (around 50,000 of them), with the rest of it set to storage, training and outreach programs that will hopefully increase the level of trust between law enforcement officers, and the general public.

Source: Engadget.