Two decisions regarding technology were handed down by US courts today and I am once again disappointed by the result. Incidentally, the two cases just happen to be my two pet peeves, personal privacy and patents.
In the case of Vonage vs Verizon, a judge has issued an injunction against Vonage barring them from acquiring new customers on the grounds that Vonage has violated 3 very very broad software patents of Verizon’s. Not delving into the issue of whether software patents should be issued at all (and most of the world in fact do not issue software patents), Verizon’s own patents seem to cover nothing more than “obvious extensions” to current technology. See Clint Ricker’s brilliant analysis of the patents involved at his blog. Why can’t the US patent office do their job properly?!
In a much murkier case, a university student who was hacking sites like ebay.com was convicted based on evidence that the systems administrator of the network collected while hacking the student’s computer! Wire has published an article summarizing this case pretty well: Court Okays Counter-Hack of eBay Hacker’s Computer. This precedent can have potentially horrifying repercussions downstream. What stops Microsoft from deleting all of your files because they *think* you have a pirated version of Windows? or are we now going to let the RIAA hack computers that they *think* might contain pirated songs? Bruce Schneier, the CTO of Counterpane has written a great editorial about the subject: Vigilantism Is a Poor Response to Cyberattack.
Our civil liberties and our ability to innovate continue to get stymied by bad policies from the US government. Perhaps 1984 wasn’t nearly as fictional as people had thought.