The Switchboard: Five tech policy posts you need to read today

September 5, 2013

(Mark Wilson / Getty)

Selling insecure devices can get you in trouble with regulators. The maker of a baby-monitoring camera has settled with the Federal Trade Commission after a hacker gained access to the private video feeds of 700 customers' homes. As my colleague Tim Lee writes, "The agreement is significant because it’s the first time the security of an Internet-connected consumer product has been the subject of an FTC enforcement action." The settlement could pave the way for future cases involving the Internet of Things.

Microsoft awarded $14.5 million in Motorola patent licensing suit. Motorola will be forced to pay millions in damages to Microsoft for licensing patents at exorbitant rates, CNET reports. Motorola had sought as much as $4 billion in annual royalties from Microsoft for patents relating to HD video and wireless technology. While the ruling is a victory for Microsoft, the Seattle jury's award is just half of what the company had asked for.

Court orders retrial in Google Maps-related murder case. A North Carolina appeals court has ordered a retrial for a former Cisco employee who allegedly strangled his wife, then searched Google Maps for the right place to hide her body. "Cooper's defense attorney, Howard Kurtz, had planned to rely upon a longtime computer network security expert, Jay Ward, who was prepared to testify that in his judgment the Google Maps evidence had been manufactured and placed on Cooper's computer after the murder," NetworkWorld reports. The judge blocked Ward from offering that testimony, however. With the retrial, the appeals court appears to have overruled the judge's decision.

Mapping the Bitcoin economy could reveal users' identities. Bitcoin is often assumed to be completely anonymous — only transactions are ever tracked and never the users. But new research from the University of California at San Diego finds that simply tracing the path of a bitcoin could assist law enforcement. "An agency might, for example, follow the flow of bitcoins from an illegal transaction to a bitcoin exchange and then subpoena that company," according to MIT Technology Review. The UCSD team has only begun to map the larger Bitcoin economy, but significant relationship patterns are already becoming clear, the team's lead researcher said.

President Obama raises possibility of new legislation to curb NSA powers. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, President Obama acknowledged there were "legitimate questions" about the National Security Agency's surveillance activity and hinted that he might back a legislative effort to restrict the programs. "Obama was careful to speak only about content," the Guardian reports, "and avoided the issue of metadata – the timing, duration, location and other information about phone calls, emails and other private information being scooped up daily round the world by the NSA."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Timothy B. Lee | September 4, 2013