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  • New Report Highlights Driverless Car Urban Impact; Takes Techno-Dystopian Stance

    July 29, 2014 10:26 AM

    Earlier this month, Professor David Begg of Transport Times published a new report on automated transport technology focusing on the potential impacts on London. This is one of the first attempts to apply this new technology to urban areas in a systematic way.


    The U.S. Institute of Electrical Engineers has estimated that up to 75 percent of all vehicles will be autonomous by 2040. Automated vehicles are the future but they are also quickly becoming the present. The chief concern among proponents is the potential for burdensome government regulation. It is absolutely critical lawmakers and regulators do not stand in the way of automated vehicles.


    In his report, Begg explains, like many others have noted, an issue with this technology is who is to blame when a “robot car” is involved in a collision. He asks, “Who is liable? Is the driver to blame? Is the car maker to blame? Might ‘no fault’ legislation be needed to deal with his problem?”


    To be sure, there are very real issues surrounding products liability and insurance. But this is frankly a secondary concern when confronted with the overwhelming evidence that driverless transport will save thousands of lives annually, and so far there is little indication that common law evolution cannot handle the advent of automated vehicles. Yet Begg only mentions these potential accident reductions (over 90 percent of crashes are due to human error) after expressing his speculative concerns.


  • Bitcoin’s Undiscovered Potential

    July 28, 2014 9:58 AM

    A recent piece in American Banker magazine explores how Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can help the underprivileged, particularly the millions of unbanked people who do not have bank accounts. This is an area where digital currency could do much good.


    In fact, the online microfinancing platform Kiva has already begun a peer-to-peer service, known as Kiva Zip, whose model resembles some of the features in Bitcoin. Microfinancing is a form of lending for lower-income people that provides smaller loans than commercial banks are typically able to offer. Kiva Zip’s peer-to-peer structure means that users interact directly with each other, without administrators or other institutions acting as a middleman.


    Another service known as Swarm is already proposed to implement crowdfunding based on the Bitcoin protocol. Crowdfunding is a service where persons or companies propose a project or service they wish to develop and create a campaign to solicit funds for development. It is typical for campaigners to offer prize incentives for larger contributions, such as earlier access to the product or other perks.


    These new innovations represent just the initial adaptations of the Bitcoin protocol. In order for these technologies and services to continue to develop—and to help people—it is imperative that new regulations not be prematurely implemented. Otherwise, it will not be just Bitcoin businesses that suffer. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder could suffer as well, as they would lose precious opportunities to access capital.


  • Why the Supreme Court's Aereo Decision Protects Creators without Endangering the Cloud

    June 26, 2014 10:41 AM

    This post was coauthored by Geoffrey Manne and Ben Sperry of the International Center for Law and Economics. It originally appeared at Truth on the Market.


    Yesterday, the Supreme Court released its much-awaited decision in ABC v. Aereo. The Court reversed the Second Circuit, holding that Aereo directly infringed the copyrights of broadcast television program owners by publicly performing their works without permission. Justice Breyer, who wrote the opinion for the Court, was joined by five other Justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kennedy, and the liberal-leaning bloc. Interestingly, Justice Scalia dissented on textualist grounds, joined by his conservative-leaning colleagues Justice Thomas and Justice Alito.


    As this split illustrates, debates about intellectual property often don’t break down along partisan or ideological lines, and the division between the majority and the dissent in Aereo focused entirely on how to interpret the copyright statute, not on the underlying philosophical merits of property rights or policy judgments regarding the costs and benefits of stronger or weaker IP.


    The majority, relying on both the legislative history and the text of the Copyright Act of 1976, emphasized that the Act sought to foreclose the workaround by cable companies of broadcasters’ copyrights that the Supreme Court had previously sanctioned in a duo of cases—and that Aereo’s conduct was functionally almost identical to the unauthorized retransmissions by cable companies prior to the 1976 Act.


    Justice Scalia dissented on two grounds: first, that the majority based its reading of the statute on legislative history, a practice he opposes as a means of divining a statute’s meaning; and second, that the majority relied on a vague and inapt comparison between Aereo’s allegedly infringing conduct and cable companies’ pre-1976 retransmissions of broadcast network programming.


    We argue here, building on our amicus brief and our previous blog post on Aereo, that, regardless of which test applies, Aereo infringes on television program owners’ exclusive right under the Copyright Act to publicly perform their works. Moreover, we argue that the Court’s test in Aereo is far less ambiguous than its critics assert, and that it does not endanger cloud computing services like so many contend.


  • Distracted by Paranoia, Obama Administration to Regulate Map Apps?

    June 17, 2014 9:23 AM

    story in The New York Times is making the rounds about an Obama administration proposal to clarify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) authority to regulate smartphone navigation apps: the administration supports giving NHTSA this clear authority.


    The tech industry is obviously upset, as they should be. But the paranoia underlying the Obama administration's call for burdensome regulation deserves some examination. 


    As I have noted in the past, the administration has been obsessed with the supposed scourge of cellphones in automobiles, going so far to call on states to enact bans on texting while driving without examining actual crash data. Why? Because the data do not support cell-phone use bans, whether voice communications or texting. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found in 2010 that states which enacted texting bans did not see accident claims reductions, speculating that drivers became aware of the ban and associated fines and responded by moving their cell phones further from the windshield to prevent police offers from observing their behavior.


    The lack of real-world evidence supporting their position has not dissuaded the Obama administration from pushing aggressive and likely counterproductive policies related to in-car technology and distraction risks.


  • Ridesharing Wars: Uber, Regulators, and the "California Compromise"

    June 6, 2014 12:35 PM

    Yesterday, as many in the D.C. metro area are aware, Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber (PDF) and Lyft (PDF) warning the ridesharing companies to halt their "illegal operations." As someone who has followed the regulatory battle over ridesharing closely, this was incredibly disappointing. But on the same day as the Virginia DMV's attack on competition and innovation, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed Senate Bill 125 into law. This new law creates a regulatory class called the transportation network company, requires driver background checks, and spells out insurance requirements for ridesharing operators.


    While this route is not ideal -- ideally, lawmakers would support broad liberalization of the transportation service industry -- explicitly recognizing the legality of ridesharing, along with some regulatory requirements, is superior to Virginia's approach. Some have referred to this as the "California compromise," as Colorado's bill is based on the California Public Utilities Commission regulations (PDF) that were promulgated in September 2013 after a long battle between ridesharing companies and various regulators in the Golden State.

  • House Intel Committee Chair Ignores Report Calling NSA Surveillance Illegal

    June 2, 2014 11:51 AM

    At a recent event titled “A Statesman Forum on Cybersecurity Policy and Diplomacy” at George Washington University, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) stated:


    Every investigation, every group that review it found no illegal activity, no abuses, and that it was lawful. It’s hard to say that there was some horrible rogue agency when all the groups that investigated it came to the same conclusion.


    Rep. Rogers is wrong. His statement, which referred to the National Security Agency’s data collection programs under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (50 U.S.C. § 1861), ignores the report published by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) in January 2014 concluding that the NSA’s data collection programs under Section 215 are illegal. The findings of PCLOB—an independent federal agency established in 2004 to ensure that government surveillance does not overstep its lawful bounds—are worth revisiting after the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill intended to reform NSA surveillance activities, lost more than half of its sponsors last week following a new version of the bill out of the House Rules Committee.


    Section 215 is the provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, a 2001 law which amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), that prescribes the conditions under which intelligence agencies, like the NSA, may gain access to information such as phone call data. This law has been the key legal justification for the NSA’s controversial metadata collection programs, which many people accuse the agency of using to collect domestic data. In June 2013, Edward Snowden, a former private contractor for the NSA, revealed documents to Glenn Greenwald and other reporters who used them to expose these programs.


  • How Policy Makers Should Approach Google's Driverless Shuttles

    May 28, 2014 10:25 AM

    Yesterday, Chris Urmson, director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, wrote a post for the company blog describing Google's newest prototype: fully automated vehicles that lack manual steering, accelerating, and braking functions:


    It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What should be different about this kind of vehicle?” We started with the most important thing: safety. They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections. And we’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph. On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route—and that’s about it.


    Here's a short video of the prototype in action:




    Google's announcement of a low-speed, non-highway vehicle is not surprising. As Stanford Law's Bryant Walker Smith noted last fall at The Volokh Conspiracy,

  • Senate Leaders Kill Patent Reform, Once again Thwarting Democracy to Protect Special Interests

    May 27, 2014 7:28 AM

    Hundreds of moderate and conservative bills have passed the House of Representatives, often overwhelmingly, only to die in the Senate without even being voted on there. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) doesn't want these bills to pass, because they contain provisions opposed by left-leaning special interest groups, like the trial lawyers. Letting them come to a vote would enable many of these bills to pass, given popular support for them.


    Reid just did it again with patent reform, which passed the House, only to die in the Senate. Thanks to Reid, the trial lawyers and "patent trolls won in Congress," laments a tech policy expert at Ars Technica. Without Reid's approval, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) won't even hold a vote on the bill, knowing it would likely pass the committee if he did. Nor will he consider a compromise replacement designed to attract Democratic support hammered out by Senators Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Cornyn (R-Texas), which added sweeteners to the bill to attract Democrat-leaning constituencies like universities.


    Even the liberal New York Times editorial board, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since Dwight Eisenhower, supports the bill. But trial lawyers, a powerful special interest group who are a major force in the Democratic party, opposed the patent reform bill. Many House bills that supporters say would create jobs have never been allowed to come to a vote in the Senate.


    Ironically, news of the death of patent reform came at the same time that President Obama, speaking at a partisan fundraiser, claimed that "the problem” in Washington, and the reason for legislative gridlock, "is not that the Democrats are overly ideological — because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side."


  • No, Gov. Perry, a Ban on Internet Gambling Won't Protect the Internet or Individual Freedom

    May 22, 2014 5:48 PM

    In an attempt to save face, Texas Governor Rick Perry is trying to justify his support for a federal online gambling ban by claiming that it’s the only way to protect e-commerce from government regulation. Criticism against Perry and other republicans has centered on the fact that the bill he supports was authored by the lobbyist of casino magnate and prominent GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.


    Additionally, the igambling ban would reverse legalization and regulation laws passed by states. Gov. Perry, a supposed defender of federalism, may have faced some embarrassment after people (like me) started to point out how his asking the feds to prohibit states from enacting legislation while also claiming to support federalism makes him a hypocrite. This op-ed hasn't change my opinion.


    In an opinion article published at the National Review Online, Gov. Perry states,


    Internet-gambling proponents are seeking to create, for the first time, formal government oversight and enforcement of a specified class of Internet content. The expansion of Internet gambling will result in the expansion of government and raise more questions about the government presence in our daily lives.


    Later he declares that “[t]he proponents of Internet gambling are at the edge of a slippery slope, the bottom of which is a Federal Department of Internet Regulation with broad and intrusive powers.”


    I actually agree with Gov. Perry that a new federal regulatory agency to regulate the Internet or online gambling is a bad idea. However, he is committing a classic logical fallacy by creating a false dichotomy. That is, he presents only two options when it comes to online gambling: ban it and protect online commerce or legalize it, creating an increase in regulation.


    A ban—for it to be an actual ban—will certainly require increased enforcement. How many new state and federal employees will we need to track online activity, arrest, and prosecute those who violate a prohibition against online gambling? Perry also conflates the state and federal efforts to legalize online gambling, saying “[a]t both the state and the federal levels, Internet-gambling proponents are aggressively lobbying to establish the most far-reaching government regulations of the Internet. One bill calls for the creation of an Office of Internet Gambling Oversight in the Department of the Treasury and would 'empower the federal government for overall oversight.' Another calls for an Office of Internet Poker Oversight.”


    It’s true that the *federal proposals* would create new federal agencies, but the state initiatives to legalize online gambling--that is, the only proposals actually passing, would not increase the size of the federal government. These state laws are what Perry is asking Congress to overturn and prohibit.


  • CEI Podcast for May 20, 2014: Phones on a Plane

    May 20, 2014 6:17 PM

    CEI Fellow Marc Scribner supports the FCC's attempt to lift a ban on in-flight cell phone use.


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