Nipper, the EFF and the Badges: Triangulating their master’s voice

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph,” painted by Francis Barraud

According to Wired Magazine, the EFF has raised an interesting point that really should be fully debated:

The Los Angeles federal court records, which were unsealed Wednesday at the joint request of Wired, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the First Amendment Coalition, highlight a secret government process in which a judge granted the government repeated time extensions to build a civil or criminal case against, one of about 750 domains the government has seized in the last two years in a program known as Operation in Our Sites.

Apparently, however, the RIAA and music labels’ evidence against Dajaz1, a music blog, never came. Or, if it did, it was not enough to build a case and the authorities returned the site nearly 13 months later without explanation or apology.

Cindy Cohn, the EFF’s legal director, said the site’s 13-month seizure by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau highlights the RIAA’s influence over the government. President Barack Obama has tapped at least five former RIAA attorneys for senior positions in the Justice Department.

“Here you have ICE making a seizure, based on the say-so of the record company guys, and getting secret extensions as they wait for their masters, the record companies, for evidence to prosecute,” Cohn said in a telephone interview. “This is the RIAA controlling a government investigation and holding it up for a year.” (emphasis mine)

First of all, if ICE actually did “make” a seizure “based on the say-so of the record company guys” that is inconsistent with the way these probable cause showings are handled.  In fact, based on public statements of ICE officials and affidavits in the court documents I have reviewed, the opposite is true.  ICE wants to do its own investigation.

But the idea that officials in the Obama Administration are controlled by their former employers or clients is an interesting one.  Let’s start with Danny Weitzner, the White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy.  Mr. Weitzner was formerly employed as Deputy Policy Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was a co-founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology an organization that is kind of at the center of things these days.

CDT was also the launching pad for Alan Davidson, chief lobbyist for Google from 2005 until recently.  Rumor has it that Mr. Davidson was one of the architects behind the Google-backed network of 501(c)(3) lobby shops masquerading as tax exempt organizations, academics acting as surrogates in return for contributions to their academic units–round and round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows.

And then of course there was that other member of the Coffee Generation, Andrew McLaughlin.  Mr. McLaughlin was the former Head of Public Policy for Google, Emeritus Fellow of the Berkman Center, and was hired by the Obama Administration as Deputy Chief Technology Officer.  You know, the job that Danny Weitzner has now.

Alas, Andrew we hardly knew ye.  McLaughlin was–separated, as they say–from his White House job after a Freedom of Information Act request revealed a slew of emails on White House business from Google executives like Vint Cerf and lobbyists like Alan Davidson and the union buster Markham Erickson that McLaughlin received at his private email address.  Not to mention–Ben Scott of Free Press whom we will come to presently.  Those emails provided further evidence that McLaughlin was meeting with various people on the Google side of the street at coffee shops, probably including the well known destination of Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House–the new swinging spot for the Coffee Generation to meet and greet.  And for Ben Scott to try to get a line inserted in the State of the Union address by the President of the United States (“SOTU”).

And avoid the famously transparent White House visitor logs.  Kind of like getting an email at your private email address avoids scrutiny.  Unless you refer to meeting at Caribou Coffee for an off the books meeting in your off the books emails that you get caught with on the books.

If we didn’t know that Google does no evil, one might get the idea that the emails went to McLaughlin’s private email address because he didn’t want to have to disclose them under the various Presidential record-keeping laws and he thought he could get away with it.

Emails like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Yes, let’s meet down at the place where we used to go where that thing happened that time with that guy.

And then there’s this status report from one Markham Erickson:

That is probably Victoria Espinel, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.  But evidently things did not go so well for Erickson and he felt the need to communicate that to McLaughlin right away (less than two hours later):

Was that the sound of His Master’s Voice?  Would old Nipper roll over for a nice tummy scratch?  Anyway, you get the idea.

So just how much did Google control this network and how far did its reach go into the U.S. Government?  This invitation that went out to a small group of Silicon Valley cognoscenti says 1000 words:

David Drummond is Google’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer.  Whoever got this notice clearly knew who David Drummond was because he apparently needed no introduction to the recipient list.  And if the invitation was to his home, presumably David Drummond knew everyone who was being invited.  As I understand it, the “San Francisco home” (as opposed to his other homes, I guess) of David Drummond was then in the St. Regis condominiums on Third Street south of Market in San Francisco (you know, SOMA).  Those cribs are big by downtown San Francisco standards, but it’s not like this was some sprawling Atherton estate, so my guess is that the invitation went to a fairly small group of people.  I would guess no more than 100, probably 200 max.

Note that the speakers were “Larry Lessig” (naturally) and Ben Scott.  So who are these people?

David Drummond is Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer of Google.  If you watched Eric Schmidt’s performance at the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, David Drummond is the lawyer Schmidt conferred with before he told Senator Cornyn that he was unable to answer the Senator’s questions about the Google drug “no indictment” letter agreement “on the advice of counsel”.  Mr. Drummond was formerly a partner at Wilson Sonsini and joined Google in 2002–that is, pretty much at the beginning.  Said another way, Mr. Drummond is likely The Man Who Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried.  They all have one.

Lawrence Lessig we know.  But he is also a co-founder of Rootstrikers.  According to its website, “Rootstrikers began in April 2011 as a project of Fix Congress First, an organization founded by Lawrence Lessig and Joe Trippi. We now exist as a grassroots project of United Republic, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit foundation created to curb the undue influence of corporate lobbyists over the US political process.”  Maybe that’s what Lessig, Drummond and Scott talked about with the cognoscenti at Drummond’s house.  Or maybe they discussed something else.  Who knows?

There are a number of connections between Rootstrikers and others which we will come back to another time.

Ben Scott started out in Washington as an aide to Senator (then Representative) Bernie Sanders (see, e.g., “Vermont’s Bernie Sanders becomes the first Socialist Elected to U.S. Senate,” Democracy Now), and then worked at Free Press for a time before he became Policy Advisor for Innovation at the US Department of State in 2010.  During the net neutrality debate, rumor had it that Ben Scott had pretty much started living at the Federal Communications Commission offices in Washington.  (And of course, Jen Howard was Press Secretary for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski–that is the Jen Howard who came to the FCC from being press director for Free Press which had made “net neutrality” (whatever that is) a key part of its platform.)  An issue that evidently was important to McLaughlin as well:

Maybe Ben Scott had a nice chat with Lawrence Lessig about getting corporate money, corruption and lobbying out of politics at the home of Google’s Chief Legal Officer?

Josh Silver left Free Press to lead United Republic.  According to Boing Boing (why not?) “United Republic is a group that campaigns to get corporate money, corruption and lobbying out of politics. They’ve formed coalition with similarly aimed groups like Larry Lessig’s Rootstrikers and Dylan Ratigan’s Get Money Out campaign, and have an inclusive, credible campaign strategy to make democracy accountable to the interests of people, not money.”   Wait…I thought Rootstrikers was funded by United Republic?  Anyway, maybe Josh Silver talked about getting corporate money, corruption and lobbying out of politics at the home of Google’s Chief Legal Officer?

Anyway, you get the idea.

So I’m very glad that the EFF has raised this “master’s voice” idea regarding the U.S. Government and the 5 lawyers with connections to the RIAA.

And then there’s this reference in EPIC’s objection to the initial allocation of millions paid by Google to organizations including the EFF in the Google Buzz settlement:  “Class Counsel proposed instead to distribute the majority of [settlement funds]  to organizations that are currently paid by Google to lobby for or to consult for the company….”  EFF picked up a cool $1 million out of the deal.

And the Center for Democracy and Technology got $500,000, the Berkman Center got $500,000 and the ACLU got $7 million.  (These were unusually large cy pres awards in a strange process–see discussion of recent cy pres awards in the United States circuit by circuit.  Cy pres awards are usually unclaimed funds in a class action settlement, not direct awards to particular organizations chosen by the defendant.  See also “Class action cy pres awards give judges a slush fund, critic argues“, criticism by Judge Richard Posner and others.)

So you see that pattern?  EFF, CDT, Berkman Center, Free Press, Google, government.  Lots and lots of them in very senior jobs.

Let’s go there.

In the meantime, I happened to be reading a user review of Caribou Coffee the other day which described the shop as a nice meeting place of government employees and private sector workers.

This made me laugh out loud.  The waitress asked me what was so funny.  I described the review to her and she said, “I don’t get it.”

How did the reviewer know they were government employees, I asked.

The waitress said she didn’t know.

I said there might be a couple answers to that question, but the most obvious one was the badges.  The assumption would be the that ones with the badges were government and the ones without them were private sector.

“The badges?”

Yes.  White House employees wear badges.

Now will someone please scratch that dog’s tummy?  He might do his business in the lobby of the St. Regis.