Changing this site’s tagline

Previously, my site tagline was “News, technology, life, and more.”

As of today, it is now “Technology, law, life, and more.”

When I first started this blog in 2008, I labelled it “A blog discussing current events, news, politics, technology, law and more.” Even then, as a high schooler, I was interested in the law—and in the intersection of law and technology.

I distanced myself from law for a while, enticed by opportunities in engineering and medicine, right around the time I was applying to university and completing my first year of undergrad. Mirroring this stage of my life, I removed the keywords “politics” and “law”. I blogged about healthcare-related issues.

As I now decide between two fantastic law schools to attend next year, I’ve realized that my entire path has been leading me to this intersection of law & technology. But no matter where I go, I will always be a technologist first; the order of words in “Technology, law, life, and more” reflects that (and the deliberate Oxford comma).

It was time to update my blog to publicly acknowledge my choice of path in life—indeed, my return to my true passions.

How should Internet regulation of content work?

I first published the following query in a closed discussion forum for CIS 125/LAW 613 (Technology & Policy) at Penn Law. It is reposted here with minor edits.

Understanding the layers of the Internet (TCP/IP, etc) helps us to think about Internet governance in terms of allocating scarce resources, such as IP addresses and domain names. There is another layer to regulating the Internet that has little to do with scarcity or technical concerns: content on the World Wide Web. While people around the world effectively must agree to the same technical standards and the same mechanisms of allocating scarce resources in order for the Internet to function, there seems to be disagreement on which laws relating to speech and content apply, the geographic boundaries (if any) within which they apply, and to what extent foreign entities must comply. These concerns are obvious when we talk about the “Great Firewall of China”, highlighted by Google’s pull-out from mainland China, but less so evident when talking about countries that don’t use technical measures to censor citizens’ Web access.

This week, the issue became topical when Russia’s media/telecom regulator clarified existing rules on use of an individual’s image, seeming to outlaw certain forms of the Internet phenomenon known as memes.1 The clarification came on the heels of a Russian court ruling in favour of a singer whose likeness was used without his permission in various Internet memes, some of which were unflattering. According to the Roskomnadzor—the agency that issued the clarification—as reported by the Washington Post, it is illegal in Russia to depict a public figure in a way that is unrelated to their “personality”, whatever that should mean. As expected, American media quickly seized on this act as part of a broader effort to control dialogue on the Web, at least within the Web as seen in Russia; noncompliance with the agency’s rules can result in a website being blacklisted in all of Russia.2

Setting aside any immediate visceral reaction that categorizes this as censorship, we might pause to consider Roskomnadzor’s justification, which pointed to the offence to celebrities’ “honor, dignity and business.”3 But this is not some novel argument to protect celebrities at the expense of open expression; after all, even US law, which is weaker than European regimes that acknowledge a dignitary right in privacy, protects one’s likeness and privacy to some extent in tort, for very similar reasons.4 And even if we disagree with the application of this principle in the agency’s rule, protecting individuals’ privacy and identity is still a legitimate state interest.

The real question, I think, is not whether Russia’s rule accomplishes the right balance of priorities, between privacy/control-of-likeness and open expression. After all, the extent to which the rule can even be enforced is dubious. (It would be a waste of resources for the Russian government to go after every meme of Putin on horseback.)

The much more interesting question for us is, to what extent should geopolitical nations be able to control content on the global Web according to their own sovereign laws? Moreover, given the borderless (by default) accessibility of websites and the diverse origins of Web publishers, is it reasonable to burden companies across the world with the task and cost of complying with a patchwork of nation-by-nation rules and judicial orders lest they allow their site to go dark in Pakistan or Russia or China?

In other contexts, like inconsistent cybersecurity laws across US states, companies have found it easiest to follow the strictest set of rules, hence simplifying their task. Maybe an image host like 9gag, catering to meme-makers, would find it technically easiest to comply with these inconsistent rules by deleting content whenever any nation complains. But then free speech everywhere is constrained to the narrowest rules among jurisdictions, so this is an unacceptable outcome. What is the alternative? Does the company have to add technical complexity to its systems to block Russian visitors only from accessing a picture of Putin? Isn’t this option economically inefficient?

Looking to a historical example, even a company that wants to stand up for human rights and free speech principles might find a weighty cost of defiance. In 2010, Google withdrew from operating the mainland Chinese edition of its search engine so as to relieve itself of the burden of obeying mainland Chinese regulations.5 Reportedly frustrated with complying with strict censorship, and probably having small market share in the shadow of China’s Baidu, Google decided to redirect all mainland Chinese visitors to its Hong Kong edition, which operates under more lax rules. The cost of doing so? Losing relevance in the Chinese market.6

Many other companies lacking Google’s backbone and cash would likely roll over when requested to avoid losing their audience. Does this give too much influence to countries like the United States, China, and the UK, over what citizens can see on the Web? Is the Web any better under the rules of the superpowers than under the patchwork of nation-by-nation restrictions on free speech?

1 Megan Geuss, Russia’s Internet censor reminds citizens that some memes are illegal, Ars Technica (Apr. 11, 2015), http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/04/russias-internet-censor-reminds-citizens-that-some-memes-are-illegal/; Caitlin Dewey, Russia just made a ton of Internet memes illegal, Wash. Post Intersect Blog (Apr. 10, 2015), http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/04/10/russia-just-made-a-ton-of-internet-memes-illegal/.

2 See Caitlin Dewey, supra.

3 Id.

4 Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652A-E (1977).

5 Jemima Kiss, Roundup: Google pulls out of China, Guardian (Mar. 23, 2010), http://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2010/mar/23/google-china.

6 See Kaylene Hong, Google’s steady decline in China continues, now ranked fifth with just 2% of search traffic, Next Web (Jul. 5, 2013), http://thenextweb.com/asia/2013/07/05/googles-steady-decline-in-china-continues-now-ranked-fifth-with-just-2-of-search-traffic/.

Review: PennMobile app, and its botched launch

In the past, I’ve written about scams in computer services, and poor use of technology on a campus media site. Now bringing you… my views on a student government project to deliver a mobile app, PennMobile, to the University of Pennsylvania.

Since I was involved with planning when the 2013-2014 Vice-President of the UA was drafting the Penn Mobile App Resolution (which passed on December 8, 2013), I have been tracking the project and offering feedback since its inception. On multiple occasions, I have been disappointed with how the project was realized.

In this 3-part post, I’m going to cover:

  1. The botched initial public release
  2. Still unfixed bugs on Android that were reported
  3. The original vision

Continue reading Review: PennMobile app, and its botched launch

Installing a Puppet master on CentOS 7 with nginx and Unicorn

I was experimenting with configuration management tools, and wanted to set up a Puppet master node for my virtualized machines.

It is unfortunate that most guides out there today are tailored specifically for Ubuntu, or rely on prepackaged DEBs that do all the work (which, obviously, don’t really help on CentOS/Fedora/RedHat). This guide on DigitalOcean for setting up a Puppet master on Ubuntu 14.04 is pretty solid, but my own preferences are for CentOS and Fedora. Furthermore, I have completely migrated to using nginx in all my servers, though many deployment guides for Puppet still use Apache and Passenger. And the closest I could find in a guide for CentOS 6, nginx, and Unicorn used SysVinit and God… which are unnecessary now that systemd has been adopted.

(If you’re not as picky, just use Foreman Installer. It’ll take care of everything… even on CentOS 7.)

This guide will use:

  • CentOS 7 (at the time of writing, latest release)
    • systemd
  • nginx 1.7.x (mainline, from official nginx repository)
  • Unicorn
  • Puppet open source 3.7.x

Continue reading Installing a Puppet master on CentOS 7 with nginx and Unicorn

Fedora 21 on XenServer

In this post:

  1. Prebuilt Fedora Cloud images for XenServer
  2. Kickstart scripts for Fedora Server on XenServer

Fedora
Fedora 21 was just released earlier this week on December 9, 2014. The biggest change was the separation of the distribution into three “products”:

  • Fedora Cloud, a lightweight optimized distribution for public/private clouds, containerization with Docker and Project Atomic.
  • Fedora Server, the traditional platform for running services, usually on a headless host whether virtualized or on baremetal.
  • Fedora Workstation, a developer-friendly desktop running a cutting edge OS.

Of course, as always, OpenStack/KVM and Docker get a lot of love, but Xen and XenServer are once again ignored. This post is my solution. With the prebuilt images distributed here and the kickstart scripts below, you can deploy Fedora 21 on your own XenServer (6.2+).
Continue reading Fedora 21 on XenServer

The silent threat

On September 11, 2001, some 3000 Americans were killed by terrorists... every year since... some 20000 Americans died because they couldn't get health care.

Terrorism is salient and graphic. Wars abroad are visible — at least imaginable. Justifying trillions in spending on fighting threats that can be exaggerated is easy when triggering fear in the population is as easy as reporting a claim without evidence; even more so when all Americans feel like it’s a threat they face.

But death from lack of access to medicine isn’t the kind of problem that privileged lawmakers and the people with power and influence tend to encounter, except, perhaps, the doctors and health economists who see it most vividly.

Quotation above from The Healing of America, by T.R. Reid. Required reading for HCMG 850.