Tag Archives: legal

administrative purgatory

 your case is still going through administrative processing and we don't know when that process will be completed.

Last year I was denied to go to the US when I was about to travel to San Francisco. Me and my employer's legal team never got answers as to why this happened so I've personally tried to convince myself it was all because of some human screw-up. Because why would they suddenly block me? I've traveled to the US almost a dozen times over the years.

The fact that there was no reason or explanation given makes any theory as likely as the next. Whatever we think or guess might have happened can be true. Or not. We will probably never know. And I've been told a lot of different theories.

Denied again

In early April 2018 I applied for ESTA again to go to San Francisco in mid June for another Mozilla All Hands conference and... got denied. The craziness continues. This also ruled out some of the theories from last year that it was just some human error by the airline or similar...

As seen on the screenshot, this decision has no expire date... While they don't provide any motivation for not accepting me, this result makes it perfectly clear that it wasn't just a mistake last year. It makes me view last year with different eyes.

Put in this situation, I activated plan B.

Plan B

I then applied for a "real" non-immigrant visa - even though it feels that having been denied ESTA probably puts me in a disadvantage for that as well. Applying for this visa means filling in a 10-something-page "DS-160" form online on a site that sometimes takes minutes just to display the next page in the form where they ask for a lot of personal details. After finally having conquered that obstacle, I paid the 160 USD fee and scheduled an appointment to appear physically at the US embassy in Sweden.

I acquired an "extraction of the population register" ("personbevis" in Swedish) from the Swedish tax authorities - as required (including personal details of my parents and siblings), I got myself a new mugshot printed on photo paper and was lucky enough to find a date for an appointment not too far into the future.

Appointment

I spent the better part of a fine Tuesday morning in different waiting lines at my local US embassy where I eventually was called up to a man at a counter behind a window. I was fingerprinted, handed over my papers and told the clerk I have no idea why I was denied ESTA when asked, and no, I have not been on vacation in Iraq, Iran or Sudan. The clerk gave me the impression that's the sort of thing that is the common reason for not getting ESTA.

When I answered the interviewer's question that I work for Mozilla, he responded "Aha, Firefox?" - which brightened up my moment a little.

Apparently the process is then supposed to take "several weeks" until I get to know anything more. I explained that I needed my passport in three weeks (for another trip) and he said he didn't expect them to be done that quickly.  Therefore I got the passport back while they process my application and I'm expected to mail it to them when they ask for it.

The next form

When I got back home again, I got an email from "the visa unit" asking me to fill in another form (in the shape of a Word document). And what a form it is! It might be called "OMB 1405-0226" and has this fancy title:

"SUPPLEMENTAL QUESTIONS FOR VISA APPLICANTS"

Among other things it requires me to provide info about all trips abroad (with dates and duration) I've done over the last 15 years. What aliases I use on social media sites (hello mr US visa agent, how do you like this post so far?), every physical address I've lived at in the last 15 years, information about all my employers the last 15 years and every email address I've used during the last 5 years.

It took me many hours digging through old calendars, archives and memories and asking around in order to fill this in properly. ("hey that company trip we did to Germany back in 2005, can you remember the dates?") As a side-note: it turns out I've been in the US no less than nine times the last fifteen years. In total I managed to list sixty-five different trips abroad for this period.

How do I submit my filled-in form, with all these specific and very private details from my life for the last 15 years, back to "the visa unit"? By email. Good old insecure, easy to snoop on, email! At least I'm using my own mail server (and it is configured to prefer TLS for connections) but that's a small comfort.

Is it worth it?

This is a very time and energy consuming process - I understand why this puts people off and simply make them decide its not worth it to go there. And of course I understand that I'm in a lucky position where I've not had to deal with this much in the past.

I have many friends and contacts in the US in both my personal and professional life. I would be sad if I couldn't go there ever again. It would give me grief personally since it'll limit where I can go on vacation and who out of my friends I can visit, but it will also limit my professional life as interesting Mozilla, Internet, open source and curl related events that I'd like to attend are frequently hosted there.

What's happening?

So the weeks came and went and on May 29th,  six weeks after I was interviewed at the embassy, I checked the online service that allows me to check my application progress. It said "Case Created: April 17" and the following useful addition "Case Last Updated: April 17".

Wat? Did something go fatally wrong here? I emailed the embassy to double-check. I got this single sentence response back:

Dear Sir,

You don't have to do anything, your case is still going through administrative processing and we don't know when that process will be completed.

In my life I've visited a whole series of countries for which I've been required to apply for a visa. None of them have ever taken more than a few weeks, including countries with complicated bureaucracy like India and China. What are they doing all this time?

At the time of this writing, more than 100 days have passed and I have still not heard back from them. I know this is unusually long and I have a strong suspicion this means they will deny me visa, but for some reason they want to keep me unaware for a while more.

No All Hands in the US

I clearly underestimated the time this required so I missed our meeting in SF this year again...

Mozilla has since then announced that a number of the forthcoming All Hands conferences in the coming years will be held outside of the US. Unfortunately several of them are to be held in Canada, and there are indications that having being denied entry to the US means that Canada will deny me as well. But I have yet to test that!

Why they deny me?

Me knowingly, I've never broken a law, rule or regulation that would explain this. Some speculations me and others can think of include...

  1. I'm the main author of curl, a tool that is used in a lot of security research and proof of concept exploits of security vulnerabilities
  2. I'm the main author of libcurl, a transfer library that is one of the world's most widely used software components. It is subsequently also used extensively by malware and other offensive and undesired software.
  3. I use the name haxx.se domain for many of my sites and email address etc. haxx or hacking could be interpreted by some, not as "To program a computer in a clever, virtuosic, and wizardly manner" but as the act to "gain unauthorized access to data in a system or computer".
  4. It's been suggested that my presence at multiple conferences in the US over the years could've been a violation of the ESTA rules - but the rules explicitly allow this. I have not violated the ESTA rules.

Administrative Processing

It's been 102 days now. I'm not optimistic.

Denied entry

 - Sorry, you're not allowed entry to the US on your ESTA.

The lady who delivered this message to me this early Monday morning, worked behind the check-in counter at the Arlanda airport. I was there, trying to check-in to my two-leg trip to San Francisco to the Mozilla "all hands" meeting of the summer of 2017. My chance for a while ahead to meet up with colleagues from all around the world.

This short message prevented me from embarking on one journey, but instead took me on another.

Returning home

I was in a bit of a shock by this treatment really. I mean, I wasn't treated particularly bad or anything but just the fact that they downright refused to take me on for unspecified reasons wasn't easy to swallow. I sat down for a few moments trying to gather my thoughts on what to do next. I then sent a few tweets out expressing my deep disappointment for what happened, emailed my manager and some others at Mozilla about what happened and that I can't come to the meeting and then finally walked out the door again and traveled back home.

This tweet sums up what I felt at the time:

Then the flood

That Monday passed with some casual conversations with people of what I had experienced, and then...

Someone posted to hacker news about me. That post quickly rose to the top position and it began. My twitter feed suddenly got all crazy with people following me and retweeting my rejection tweets from yesterday. Several well-followed people retweeted me and that caused even more new followers and replies.

By the end of the Tuesday, I had about 2000 new followers and twitter notifications that literally were flying by at a high speed.

I was contacted by writers and reporters. The German Linux Magazine was first out to post about me, and then golem.de did the same. I talked to Kate Conger on Gizmodo who wrote Mozilla Employee Denied Entry to the United States. The Register wrote about me. I was for a moment considered for a TV interview, but I think they realized that we had too little facts to actually know why I was denied so maybe it wasn't really that TV newsworthy.

These articles of course helped boosting my twitter traffic even more.

In the flood of responses, the vast majority were positive and supportive of me. Lots of people highlighted the role of curl and acknowledged that my role in that project has been beneficial for quite a number of internet related software in the world. A whole bunch of the responses offered to help me in various ways. The one most highlighted is probably this one from Microsoft's Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith:

I also received a bunch of emails. Some of them from people who offered help - and I must say I'm deeply humbled and grateful by the amount of friends I apparently have and the reach this got.

Some of the emails also echoed the spirit of some of the twitter replies I got: quite a few Americans feel guilty, ashamed or otherwise apologize for what happened to me. However, I personally do not at all think of this setback as something that my American friends are behind. And I have many.

Mozilla legal

Tuesday evening I had a phone call with our (Mozilla's) legal chief about my situation and I helped to clarify exactly what I had done, what I've been told and what had happened. There's a team working now to help me sort out what happened and why, and what I and we can do about it so that I don't get to experience this again the next time I want to travel to the US. People are involved both on the US as well as on the Swedish side of things.

Personally I don't have any plans to travel to the US in the near future so there's no immediate rush. I had already given up attending this Mozilla all-hands.

Repercussions

Mark Nottingham sent an email on the QUIC working group's mailing list, and here follows two selected sections from it:

You may have seen reports that someone who participates in this work was recently refused entry to the US*, for unspecified reasons.

...

We won't hold any further interim meetings in the US, until there's a change in this situation. This means that we'll either need to find suitable hosts in Canada or Mexico, or our meeting rotation will need to change to be exclusively Europe and Asia.

I trust I don't actually need to point out that I am that "someone" and again I'm impressed and humbled by the support and actions in my community.

Now what?

I'm now (end of Wednesday, 60 hours since the check-in counter) at 3000 more twitter followers than what I started out with this Monday morning. This turned out to be a totally crazy week and it has severally impacted my productivity. I need to get back to write code, I'm getting behind!

I hope we'll get some answers soon as to why I was denied and what I can do to fix this for the future. When I get that, I will share all the info I can with you all.

So, back to work!

Thanks again

Before I forget: thank you all. Again. With all my heart. The amount of love I've received these last two days is amazing.

Screen scraping expert witness

This is a slightly edited version of a genuine email I received in May 2012:

Dear Mr. Stenberg -

I recently came across the text you co-authored with Michael Schrenk, Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers, and was wondering if you might be interested in being a paid expert witness in a lawsuit we're handling.

One of the major claims in the suit is unauthorized computer access in the form of a massive, multi-year campaign of screen scraping, and we're looking for a qualified expert who can make the activity make sense to a jury (in the unlikely event that this matter reaches trial; fewer than 2% of cases do, in federal court).

We're in Los Angeles, California, as is the case (and naturally would cover travel expenses, an hourly or per diem expert witness fee, etc). If you're interested (or even if you're not), please let me know? You can reach me via email or at (xyz) xyz-xyzx.

Many thanks,
[withheld]

Link to the book.

I responded to this mail saying that I'd rather not due to the distance and travel it'd require, but I never heard back from them again so I have no idea whatever happened in this case or who got to be the expert in the end...

US patent 6,098,180

(I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice and these are not legal analyses, just my personal observations and ramblings. Please correct me where I'm wrong or add info if you have any!)

At 3:45 pm on March 18th 2011, the company Content Delivery Solutions LLC filed a complaint in a court in Texas, USA. The defendants are several bigwigs and the list includes several big and known names of the Internet:

  • Akamai
  • AOL
  • AT&T
  • CD Networks
  • Globalscape
  • Google
  • Limelight Networks
  • Peer 1 Network
  • Research In Motion
  • Savvis
  • Verizon
  • Yahoo!

The complaint was later amended with an additional patent (filed on April 18th), making it list three patents that these companies are claimed to violate (I can't find the amended version online though). Two of the patents ( 6,393,471 and 6,058,418) are for marketing data and how to use client info to present ads basically. The third is about file transfer resumes.

I was contacted by a person involved in the case at one of the defendants'. This unspecified company makes one or more products that use "curl". I don't actually know if they use the command line tool or the library - but I figure that's not too important here. curl gets all its superpowers from libcurl anyway.

This Patent Troll thus basically claims that curl violates a patent on resumed file transfers!

The patent in question that would be one that curl would violate is the US patent 6,098,180 which basically claims to protect this idea:

A system is provided for the safe transfer of large data files over an unreliable network link in which the connection can be interrupted for a long period of time.

The patent describes several ways in how it may detect how it should continue the transfer from such a break. As curl only does transfer resumes based on file name and an offset, as told by the user/application, that could be the only method that they can say curl would violate of their patent.

The patent goes into detail in how a client first sends a "signature" and after an interruption when the file transfer is about to continue, the client would ask the server about details of what to send in the continuation. With a very vivid imagination, that could possibly equal the response to a FTP SIZE command or the Content-Length: response in a HTTP GET or HEAD request.

A more normal reader would rather say that no modern file transfer protocol works as described in that patent and we should go with "defendant is not infringing, move on nothing to see here".

But for the sake of the argument, let's pretend that the patent actually describes a method of file transfer resuming that curl uses.

The '180 (it is referred to with that name within the court documents) patent was filed at February 18th 1997 (and issued on August 1, 2000). Apparently we need to find prior art that was around no later than February 17th 1996, that is to say one year before the filing of the stupid thing. (This I've been told, I had no idea it could work like this and it seems shockingly weird to me.)

What existing tools and protocols did resumed transfers in February 1996 based on a file name and a file offset?

Lots!

Thank you all friends for the pointers and references you've brought to me.

  • The FTP spec RFC 959 was published in October 1985. FTP has a REST command that tells at what offset to "restart" the transfer at. This was being used by FTP clients long before 1996, and an example is the known Kermit FTP client that did offset-based file resumed transfer in 1995.
  • The HTTP header Range: introduces this kind of offset-based resumed transfer, although with a slightly fancier twist. The Range: header was discussed before the magic date, as also can be seen on the internet already in this old mailing list post from December 1995.
  • One of the protocols from the old days that those of us who used modems and BBSes in the old days remember is zmodem. Zmodem was developed in 1986 and there's this zmodem spec from 1988 describing how to do file transfer resumes.
  • A slightly more modern protocol that I've unfortunately found no history for before our cut-off date is rsync, as I could only find the release mail for rsync 1.0 from June 1996. Still long before the patent was filed obviously, and also clearly showing that the one year margin is silly as for all we know they could've come up with the patent idea after reading the rsync releases notes and still rsync can't be counted as prior art.
  • Someone suggested GetRight as a client doing this, but GetRight wasn't released in 1.0 until Febrary 1997 so unfortunately that didn't help our case even if it seems to have done it at the time.
  • curl itself does not pre-date the patent filing. curl was first released in March 1998, and the predecessor was started around summer-time 1997. I don't have any remaining proofs of that, and it still wasn't before "the date" so I don't think it matters much now.

At the time of this writing I don't know where this will end up or what's going to happen. Time will tell.

This Software patent obviously is a concern mostly to US-based companies and those selling products in the US. I am neither a US citizen nor do I have or run any companies based in the US. However, since curl and libcurl are widely used products that are being used by several hundred companies already, I want to help bring out as much light as possible onto this problem.

The patent itself is of course utterly stupid and silly and it should never have been accepted as it describes trivially thought out ideas and concepts that have been thought of and implemented already decades before this patent was filed or granted although I claim that the exact way explained in the patent is not frequently used. Possibly the protocol using a method that is closed to the description of the patent is zmodem.

I guess I don't have to mention what I think about software patents.

I'm convinced that most or all download tools and browsers these days know how to resume a previously interrupted transfer this way. Why wouldn't these guys also approach one of the big guys (with thick wallets) who also use this procedure? Surely we can think of a few additional major players with file tools that can resume file transfers and who weren't targeted in this suit!

I don't know why. Clearly they've not backed down from attacking some of the biggest tech and software companies.

patent drawing

(Illustration from the '180 patent.)

foss-sthlm second meetup

Within the network of people we call foss-sthlm, the time is closing in towards our second meetup. Or "Möte #2" as we so imaginatively call it (translates to "meeting #2"), to be held in the same great place as the first one, on May 19th 2010.

Our first gettogether was an astounding success and I don't expect us to be able to repeat that massive attention and number of attendees this time. Things still look good and the number of attendees just reached 80 with exactly three weeks to go, so there's still good time for more people to decide.

This time we've lined up 5 speakers and we've made an deliberate effort to not re-use any of the speakers from the first metting to make sure more people get the chance. Unfortunately, that means I won't do any talk! 😉 Topics this time (for those lazy enough to not visit the link or if you for any reason think Swedish is hard to digest) include:

Smalltalk, FOSS legalities in Sweden, Cross platform Qt, Women in Open Source and FFmpeg.

I'm glad that we once again have sponsors that will let us use the room for free, provide sandwiches and coffee for the break without charge so that we can do this thing admission free once again. We learned from the first meeting that we need a little break in the middle.

If you're in the area and still haven't signed up, please go ahead. We'll get a full afternoon with hardcore FOSS talks, followed by the rest of the evening at a pub talking FOSS with Stockholm's FOSS hackers that matter.

Logotype Competition

We're also throwing out different logo alternatives on the mailing list as a kind of competition and I guess we'll just vote for a winning contribution at some point. My personal favorite so far is probably this version created by Tommy Nevtelen:

Tommy-Nevtelen-FOSS_STHLM

Open Android Alliance

In the past: cyanogenmod made one of the most popular 3rd party Android ROMs for HTC devices. Personally I haven't yet tried it on my Magic, but friends tell me it's the ROM to use.Android

On September 24th 2009, Google sets their legal team on the ROM creator, asking him to stop distributing the parts of Android that aren't open source but in fact are good old traditional closed source apps - made by Google. Cyanogen himself (Steve Kondik) responded something in the spirit that since the ROM only runs on hardware that already runs the apps users already have a license to use them. Google responded, saying they protect the Google Phone Experience.

This C&D act triggered a huge reaction in the Android communities as people suddenly became aware of the fact that A) parts of the Android core OS aren't at all open (source) and B) Google is not the cuddly Teddy Bear we all want it to be.

In the xda-developers.com front, where a lot of the custom ROMs are being discussed and users of them hang out, they created the Open Android Alliance with the intent of creating a completely open source Android.

In another end and indepedently of the xda-developers it seems, lots of participants in the google group android-platform pretty much decided the same thing but they rather started out discussing exactly what would be needed to do and what code there is and so on.

Currently, both camps have been made aware of each other and there have been expressed intents of joining into a single effort. I don' t think such subtleties matter much, but we just might see the beginning of a more open more free Android project getting started here. I'll certainly be interested in seeing where this is going...

Updated: they now have their own domain. Link in article updated.

Apple patents another Rockbox idea

We've just read about Apple's patent application (that seems to have been filed on July 17 2007) to alter the volume of a media player based on the external surrounding.

It's funny how this was suggested to the Rockbox project already back in September 2002 and is logged fine independently by archive.org - and in fact also on Sourceforge where we hosted our request-tracker back then.

This is not the first time we see this consumer electronics giant patent ideas we've already implemented or discussed publicly a very long time before in the Rockbox project.

In 2006 Apple filed to patent a system to read up audio clips to the user to help menu navigation, a concept we at that time already had implemented and I must say was fairly polished in Rockbox. (Link to their patent application.)

Two obvious cases of where the ideas certainly were not new. Not that it tend to prevent patent applications, but still...

Rockbox

How to hack firmwares and get away with it

It is with interest we in the Rockbox camp checked out the recent battle in Creative land where they shot down a firmware (driver really) hack by the hacker Daniel_K as seen in this forum thread.

We're of course interested since we do a lot of custom firmwares for all sorts of targets by all sorts of companies, and recently there are efforts in progress on the Creative series of players so could this take-down move possibly be a threat to us?

But no.

In the Rockbox community we have already since day one struggled to never ever release anything, not code nor images or anything else, that originates from a company or other property owner. We don't distribute other's firmwares, not even parts of them.

For several music players the install process involves patching the original firmware file and flashing that onto the target. But then we made tools that get the file from the source, or let the user himself get the file from the right place, and then our tool does the necessary magic.

I'm not the only one that think Daniel Kawakami should've done something similar. If he would just have released tools and documentation written entirely by himself, that would do the necessary patching and poking on the drivers that the users could've downloaded from Creative themselves, then big bad Creative wouldn't have much of legal arguments to throw at Daniel. It would've saved Daniel from this attack and it would've taken away the ammunition from Creative.Lots of Rockbox Targets

I'm not really defending Creative's actions, although I must admit it wasn't really a surprising action seeing that Daniel did ask for money (donations) for patching and distributing derivates of Creative's software.

So far in our 6+ years of history, the Rockbox project has been target of legal C&D letter threats multiple times, but never from one of the companies for which targets we develop firmwares for. It has been other software vendors: two game companies (Tetris Company and PopCap games) fighting to prevent us from using their trademarked names (and we could even possibly agree that our name selections were a bit too similar to the original ones) and AT&T banning us from distributing sound files generated with their speech engine software. Both PopCap and Tetris of course also waved with laywers saying that we infringed on their copyrights on "game play" and "look" and what not, but they really have nothing on us there so we just blanked-faced them on those silly demands.

The AT&T case is more of a proof of greedy software companies having very strict user licenses and we really thought we had a legitimate license that we could use to produce output and distribute for users - sound files that are to a large extent used by blind or visually impaired users to get the UI spelled out. We pleaded that we're an open source, no-profit, no-money really organization and asked for permission, but were given offers to get good deals on "proper" licenses for multiple thousands of dollars per year.

Ok, so the originating people of the Rockbox project is based in Sweden which may also be a factor as we're not as vulnerable to scary US company tactics where it seems they can sue companies/people who then will have to spend a fortune of their own money just to defend themselves and then you have to counter-sue to get any money back even if you were found not guilty in the first case. Neither is Rockbox an attempt to circumvent any copy protections, as if it were it would have violated laws in multiple countries and regions. Also, reverse engineering is perfectly legal in many regions of the world contrary to what many people seem to believe.

If this isn't sticking your chin out, then what is? 😉

Update 4-apr-2008: Creative backpedals when their flame thrower backfired.