Samsung v Apple gets contempt of court-y

The Korean tech giant released prohibited evidence to the press, angering the presiding judge

Apple versus Samsung got off to a turbulent start yesterday, with the presiding judge, Lucy Koh, berating the Korean tech giant for what looks very much like attempted contempt of court.

Apple's lawsuit, which is over allegations that Samsung deliberately copied Apple's patented designs for the iPhone for its own smartphone products, is matched by a countersuit from Samsung, alledging that Apple is in breach of its own patents relating to mobile phone technology. Apple is attempting to portraty its opponent as an admitted copycat which only resorted to patent suits when it couldn't defend its designs on their own merits, while Samsung is trying to argue that Apple is the real copycat.

Some of the evidence presented yesterday is more compelling than others. Apple pointed to internal Samsung documents describing the iPhone as "easy to copy", while Samsung argues that much of what Apple claims is "magical" design was in fact industry standard long before the iPhone.

However, Samsung was angered by the judge's decision not to let them submit some evidence to the jury which they deemed crucial. Two arguments, that Apple itself may have ripped off Sony, and that Samsung had an iPhone lookalike in development before the phone's release, were prevented from being presented in court due to late submissions.

Both these arguments have been in the public domain for several days now, and the Sony claim isn't as strong as Samsung may hope. The company pointed out that Apple itself sent round an internal brief to design a "Sony-like" phone, which would eventually become the iPhone. The problem Samsung has it that this is the Sony phone (pic) they alledge Apple ripped off, and it is a far cry from the outcome of that prototyping session, the "Jony" phone (pic), named after Apple designer Jony Ive. Meanwhile, the difference between Samsung's Vibrant (pic) and an iPhone is less obvious.

But the latter defence is one that the company may regret not getting in. The Verge has a picture of the slide Samsung were hoping to show the jury, which shows five different internal prototypes of touchscreen, one-button phones in development before the iPhone's announcement in January 2007.

Unfortunately, while the decision by the judge not to allow that to be shown in court may have damaged Samsung's chances, the company itself may have done far worse. Immediately following Judge Koh's final rejection, Samsung "emailed its rejected slides regarding F700 development and the 'Sony-style' prototype to the press with a statement saying 'The excluded evidence would have established beyond doubt that Samsung did not copy the iPhone design,'" according to the Verge's Nilay Patel.

Worse still, the statement argues that "fundamental fairness requires that the jury decide the case based on all the evidence". One person's plaintive cry of unfairness sounds a lot like another's nudge-and-wink suggestion that the jury ought to see evidence banned from court anyway. Judge Koh was "livid" when she found out, and demanded to know who authorised the release. This is a move that could come back to haunt Samsung.

Spot the difference... A Samsung and an Apple phone.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.