by Mike Masnick
Mon, Oct 17th 2011 12:10pm
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 13th 2011 8:39am
Federal Agent Manufactured Case Against Guy... For The Purpose Of Spending More Time With His Mistress
from the damn dept
But where it gets insane is the reason behind all of this. It didn't even have anything to do with Vidrine at all. Apparently, Agent Phillips used the case as a way to spend more time with his mistress, who was also working on the case. Seriously:
One of the more distressing allegations made at trial, involved allegations of Agent Phillips’ sexual, extra-marital affair (and its subsequent “cover up”) with Agent Barnhill. The evidence strongly indicated Agent Phillips deliberately used his investigation and prosecution of Hubert Vidrine to foster, further, facilitate and cloak his extra-marital affair with Agent Barnhill, and perhaps, to exert improper influence over the manner in which she investigated and reported upon this case. Agent Barnhill candidly testified that she and Agent Phillips began a physical, sexual relationship while assigned to this matter, which lasted from approximately 1996 until January or February 2001. Agent Barnhill testified she and Agent Phillips were only physically intimate when working together on the Vidrine case — in other words, they did not meet to pursue their sexual relations on occasions when they were not working the case together. Thus, the case granted the opportunity for those rendez-vous, as well as providing justification for Agent Phillips wife.For all of this, Phillips was charged separately, leading to him recently pleading guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice. Obviously, this is an extreme case, and in no way representative. But the point that it brings up is that law enforcement has tremendous power, and if they choose to go after someone maliciously (or indirectly salaciously), they can make someone's life a living hell on their own whim. This is why we're so often concerned about making sure there's transparency and oversight -- and that those accused of things are able to effectively defend themselves.
During the investigation and prosecution, Agent Barnhill, who was single, lived in South Louisiana; Agent Phillips, who was married, lived in Dallas, Texas with his wife. Prior to and at trial, plaintiffs’ counsel consistently argued Agent Phillips used the Vidrine investigation as a cover, excuse and opportunity to facilitate his illicit affair with Agent Barnhill and to hide the affair from his wife. Plaintiffs consistently argued Keith Phillips manufactured a case, both in law and fact, against Hubert Vidrine, and carefully fed the AUSA and his supervisors only the information which would further that end and perpetuate the case, all to promote access to Agent Barnhill and perpetuate and conceal their illicit affair. Regrettably, the Court agrees with plaintiffs: this inappropriate and unprofessional behavior likely was, at least in part (if not in whole) a motivation for Agent Phillips’ continued pursuit of Hubert Vidrine, without probable cause, and certainly with a complete and total reckless disregard of Hubert Vidrine’s rights.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Oct 12th 2011 8:05pm
from the unfortunate dept
“We diminish our legitimacy when we do things under a blanket of secrecy,” Judge Smith said in an interview. “The only way people can get confidence in what we’re doing is if they can get access to what we are doing and know why we are doing it.”This is a huge problem for our supposedly "transparent" government. When it can effectively conduct investigations and never have to admit to them or get any adversarial review over whether or not the investigation itself was legal, you have a system prone to massive abuse. There are certainly times and cases where such seals could make sense. But the idea that so many cases are effectively permanently sealed, it gives the government the ability to spy on people with impunity. You just need to find a magistrate judge willing to accept the government's version of what's happening... and that seems to happen frequently enough.
Judge Smith analyzed the 4,234 electronic surveillance orders issued in his Houston courthouse between 1995 and 2007 and found that 91.8% of them remain sealed today.
Judge Smith says he now sets time limits for the seals on orders that he signs. If prosecutors want to renew the seal, they must request an extension. “It’s more work,” Judge Smith says, “but I think it’s necessary work.”
He said he is worried that “people who aren’t indicted – regular law abiding citizens like you or me,” will never know if their records were obtained in an investigation, he says, “because these sealing orders live on indefinitely.”
The full article has even more disturbing details like the fact that a recent survey found that 39% of sealed cases are never even put into the court's system for tracking cases, which would at least provide some info to the public to help analyze how often this kind of thing happens. This kind of secrecy is not how a government is supposed to function. If such investigations need to happen under seal they should always include some sort of expiration date on the seal. Otherwise, the feds know that as long as they can convince a judge (without the other side there to argue), they're effectively home free, and no one will scrutinize the investigations.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Sep 23rd 2011 2:48pm
from the moving-on... dept
Not surprisingly, the US asked the full appeals court (rather than just the three judge panel) to review that ruling, but the court has now rejected that request. Often when a court refuses to rehear a case en banc, there isn't much of a discussion about it -- they just refuse. Yet here, there's an 83 page filing of opinions (pdf) by judges on the court arguing over whether or not the case should have been heard. Incredibly, despite the clear implications of what Senator Wyden has been saying, a bunch of judges say that the FISA Amendments Act doesn't represent a significant change in the law. Thankfully, those judges were outvoted here, and the lawsuit can move forward.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Sep 13th 2011 10:11pm
from the logo-wars dept
However, Fluvanna County, Virginia, decided that it had nothing better to do than to pass an ordinance similarly banning the use of its logo, in an effort that appeared to have been directed at a blogger who used the logo... on stories about the county. Thankfully, a court has struck down the law as being a First Amendment violation:
This sweeping prohibition encompasses a substantial number of uses of the seal that would not suggest government endorsement, such as the display on a website of an exact copy of an official County news release that contains the image of the seal next to the text, or the publication in a newspaper of a photograph of a County official delivering a speech from a podium upon which the County seal is attached and visible.The court does compare it to the similar federal law, but notes that at least the federal law makes it clear that it's only intended for use where there may be confusion over a potential endorsement. And, with that, here's the damn logo that the county can't sue us over.
from the foxes-guarding-the-henhouse dept
Wed, Jul 27th 2011 1:09am
from the #140charactergoverning dept
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jun 9th 2011 9:19am
from the so-that's-how-it-works... dept
The Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment has no records responsive to your request. Please note that NBC Universal owns the material, not the City of New York.That's fascinating information. Of course, I had also filed a separate FOI request for any info on the licensing agreement between NYC and NBC Universal. As of this writing there has been no response from NYC, in violation of New York State's Freedom of Information Law, which requires a response within 5 business days (we're way beyond that).
Still, at least give NYC credit for making it clear that NBC Universal had a hand in the creation of the videos, even if it left out the rather pertinent information that it created and owned the videos. While I find it immensely troubling that a municipal government would run PSAs created by corporate interests (without making that clear), I'm extremely troubled by the news that the federal government would run those same videos with absolutely no mention of the fact that the videos were created and owned by a private corporation with a tremendous stake in the issue.
Could you imagine how the press would react if, say, the FDA ran PSAs that were created and owned by McDonald's without making that clear to the public? How about if the Treasury Department ran a PSA created and owned by Goldman Sachs? So, shouldn't we be asking serious questions about why Homeland Security and ICE are running a one-sided, misleading corporate propaganda video, created and owned by a private company, without mentioning the rather pertinent information of who made it?
Does Homeland Security work for the US public... or for NBC Universal?
by Mike Masnick
Mon, May 23rd 2011 6:46am
from the who-didn't-protect-its-users dept
It appears that the ACLU and the EFF are asking the same question.
While (of course) it would appear that such info is being kept totally secret by the US government, those two organizations scanned the case numbers to determine that it appears four other similar orders were issued at the same time as Twitter's order -- and they'd like to know who those orders went to, in order to defend the users' right to privacy. The argument seems pretty sound here. Since these users are currently fighting the government's attempt to have Twitter hand over their info, shouldn't they have the right to fight against other services handing over their info?
Of course, the end result of this will almost certainly be a revelation of which four online services simply rolled over rather than defending their users' rights. Anyone want to take guesses as to who's on that list?
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Apr 27th 2011 1:20pm
from the this-is-stupid dept
On Monday, hours after WikiLeaks, The New York Times and other news organizations began publishing the documents online, the Justice Department informed Guantanamo defense lawyers that the documents remained legally classified even after they were made public.The NY Times, rightly, calls this "absurdist." I'd call it out right stupid. It's head-in-the-sandism. If the information is public, live with it. It's public. Pretending that public information is not public doesn't help anyone. It just makes it look like the government is in denial and not dealing with reality. Frankly, I'd much prefer a government that can deal with reality to one that tells everyone to cover their eyes and ears and pretend reality doesn't exist.
Because the lawyers have security clearances, they are obligated to treat the readily available files "in accordance with all relevant security precautions and safeguards" -- handling them, for example, only in secure government facilities, said the notice from the department's Court Security Office.
Of course, this is not the first time we've seen this. With just Wikileaks, we saw it a few months ago when parts of the federal government barred employees from looking at the site and its leaks, using the identical rationale. So, despite the fact that everyone else in the world could easily see those documents, the ones who it might impact the most have to pretend that the documents are not actually public.
It's government playing make believe.
It's also not unlike the ridiculous hoops the government made lawyers go through in the al-Haramain case, in which the government accidentally leaked a document proving that it had wiretapped without a warrant. And despite the fact that the document had been leaked, it was required that lawyers for al-Haramain pretend the documents were still secret, leading to an absolutely insane process by which the lawyers had to destroy all of the copies they had of this info, and could only refer to it obliquely from memory, with a Justice Department official watching over them, with the ability to force them to stop talking about certain aspects.
None of this makes any sense. Just like we have "security theater," this appears to be "classification theater." These documents are not classified any more. Period. Pretending they are is a charade that the government is putting on which everyone knows is a lie. Isn't it time we had our government stop pretending and start dealing with reality?