Posted on Techdirt - 10 December 2013 @ 3:06pm
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (abbreviated unfortunately as PCAST) has just released a report dealing with the nation's hottest topic since terrorism: cybersecurity. The report's writers include a host of professors from a variety of scientific pursuits, along with a few corporate figures from the tech world, including Google's Eric Schmidt and Microsoft's Craig Mundie.
The report's suggestions aren't half-bad.
Overarching Finding: Cybersecurity will not be achieved by a collection of static precautions that, if taken by Government and industry organizations, will make them secure. Rather, it requires a set of processes that continuously couple information about an evolving threat to defensive reactions and responses.
What's being suggested makes sense. But logic means nothing when confronted with bureaucratic processes. The government, as a whole, isn't a nimble beast. "Static precautions" are top speed for the behemoth. Turning it into a swift, reactive entity may be an impossibility.
Evidence of the government's inability to craft functioning and secure software exists everywhere. Currently, everyone's attention has been drawn to the government's healthcare site, which has been plagued with problems
since it went live and weeks later, after an overhaul, still underperforms and plays fast and loose with personal data.
Entities where cybersecurity is even more crucial aren't much better. It took the FBI more than decade
and several hundred million dollars (spread across two contractors) to come up with functioning software. The DEA is still using Windows Server 2003
, despite the NSA's warnings that the outdated software contains serious security flaws. The Pentagon's network of unrelated computers is even worse. According to a Reuters investigation, the Pentagon still relies on a variety of different computers, some dating back to the 1970s
. Ancient file formats and arcane file management processes make searching for older records a nightmare.
So, nimble the government is not. PCAST's recommendations do use a lighter tone than the multiple damning GAO reports
covering the same ground, but the underlying message is the same. The government may
be able to improve, but it seldom shows the desire to, as the first finding points out.
Finding 1: The Federal Government rarely follows accepted best practices. It needs to lead by example and accelerate its efforts to make routine cyberattacks more difficult by implementing best practices for its own systems.
This is a non-starter, as years of failing grades from GAO investigators can attest. Problems that existed a half-decade ago still exist today
. Each subsequent report says the same thing: recommendations were made but little evidence was uncovered that these suggestions were ever communicated to those responsible, much less deployed.
Finding 2: Many private-sector entities come under some form of Federal regulation for reasons not directly related to national security. In many such cases there is opportunity, fully consistent with the intent of the existing enabling legislation, for promoting and achieving best practices in cybersecurity.
This one has problems as well. What this looks like is an invitation for the government to use the heavy hand of regulation to force private entities to rise to a level of security the government itself is unwilling to obtain.
The government should use its existing
powers to ensure private entities protect the sensitive data it gathers on Americans during the course of business (rather than use this as an opportunity to expand power, as the report points out), but it's highly hypocritical to hold businesses to a higher standard than it applies to itself.
Finding 3: Industry-driven, but third-party-audited, continuous-improvement processes are more likely to create an effective cybersecurity culture than are Government-mandated, static lists of security measures.
This goes back to the overarching finding.
Finding 4: To improve the capacity to respond in real time, cyberthreat data need to be shared more extensively among private-sector entities and—in appropriate circumstances and with publicly understood interfaces—between private-sector entities and Government.
For this to work best, this needs to be voluntary (and encouraged by proper incentives), rather than presented as "mandatory" (or worse, "compelled") -- especially in terms of feeding info to the government. Private entities may also be reluctant to share with others in their own field for fear of exposing sources or methods. This, too, is problematic and cannot be solved simply by attempting to legislate the reluctance away.
Finding 5: Internet Service Providers are well-positioned to contribute to rapid improvements in cybersecurity through real-time action.
Of all the things I'm worried about in this list of suggestions, this is my chief concern. Everything said here is true. ISPs are in a better position to gain unique insight on attacks. The problem is, when faced with the daunting task overhauling its own processes and practices, the government may instead decide to toss the problem to ISPs and let them do the work -- and shoulder the blame.
Once again, this needs to lean towards voluntary to have any chance at success. A utopian projection would see industry and the government working hand-in-hand to repel cyberattacks. But buck-passing and scapegoating usually falls heavily on the private sector in the event of a failure -- the sort of thing that doesn't engender cooperative relationships.
Finding 6: Future architectures will need to start with the premise that each part of a system must be designed to operate in a hostile environment. Research is needed to foster systems with dynamic, real-time defenses to complement hardening approaches.
This is solid advice as well, but doing so will mean more thoroughly vetting potential contractors, as well as carefully overseeing each step of the process. Again, history shows us that government agencies are willing to hire contractors despite their past (often massive) failures
. If a responsive, secure system is going to be built, it needs to be done by the right people and tested thoroughly throughout development. It can't just be tossed to the lowest bidder and peeked in on occasionally. That's how you end up with a $500 million system that has to be scrapped as soon as it goes live.
The problem with recommendations like these is that it's almost guaranteed they will never be acted upon with any sincerity. They may get folded in with half-baked efforts aimed at cybersecurity, but what's being recommended is fundamental change.
Lawmakers have pushed various versions of cybersecurity legislation
, almost all of which is aimed at gutting protections in the private sector and increasing government power. The biggest torchbearers for the "cyberwar" threat helm agencies that have vested interests in weakening private sector security. The government is largely unwilling to clean up its own backyard and this report, no matter how on point or well-written, won't change that.
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Posted on Techdirt - 10 December 2013 @ 11:01am
The internet is filled with meritless cease and desist letters. Some are simply obeyed because people see legal letterhead and panic. Others are fought more vigorously, much to the dismay of those sending the C&Ds, as the fallout is almost always completely negative.
Some C&Ds are just sent to the wrong people -- people whose primary plane of existence is the internet. These are the worst of all (for the senders). It's perhaps too much to ask that lawyers and their clients do a little research before firing off a cease and desist letter. But a little knowledge goes a long way. You may think you're just smacking down some clueless IP "thief," when in all reality, you're jabbing a stick into a hornet's nest, along with most of your arm.
Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka of Something Awful just received a C&D (posted below) from an IP law firm representing photographer Mia McPherson. Those of you familiar with Something Awful will be familiar with its feature, Photoshop Phriday, which is a weekly collection of themed image manipulations.
Those of you familiar with Something Awful's response to legal action will recall the utter destruction of cartoonist Donna Barstow, who claimed the site "stole" her cartoons. The cartoons in questions were posted in a forum dedicated to the commentary on political cartoons. As such, the posting of the cartoons is considered fair use. This didn't stop Barstow from wandering all over the internet digging holes for herself, making a lot of noise about copyright and theft, while ignoring the fair use aspects staring her directly in the face.
This promises to be no different. Even if Something Awful's case might be a little weaker than its joust with Donna Barstow, there's no indication that it will let this C&D slide by without extensive comment.
Here's the text of the C&D (also embedded below).
Dear Mr. Kyanka:
We represent Mia McPherson with respect to certain intellectual property matters. Ms. McPherson is a wildlife photographer located in the Salt Lake City area. Recently we viewed your website at http://www.somethingawful.com/photoshop-phriday/put-butts-things/4/ and were surprised to see one of Ms. McPherson's photographs in an article entitled Put Butts on Things! by Andrew "Garbage Day" Miller. Ms. McPherson's photograph had been altered to remove her copyright notice and a butt was placed over the red-tailed hawks face. A copy of infringing image is attached hereto. Also attached, is a copy of Ms. McPherson's photograph including the copyright notice.
Ms. McPherson is very selective as to those who are allowed to use her photographs and she has not approved of the use of any of her photographs on your website. The unauthorized use of our client's photographs constitutes copyright infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq. Pursuant to the Copyright Act, Ms. McPherson is entitled to damages for the infringement. Moreover, removal of her copyright notice is a violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1202.
To resolve this matter amicably, we must demand that you remove the infringing material 'from the website immediately. Additionally, we must also demand that you provide compensation to Ms. McPherson in the amount of $1,250.00 per infringing photograph, plus $2,500.00 as the statutory minimum for the removal of Ms. McPherson's copyright notice.
Additionally, we will require a written agreement wherein you agree not to copy any of her photographs in the future without her express written consent. Additionally, please consider this letter a demand for an evidentiary hold on all documents, whether in hard or electronic form relating to the above-referenced website and the use of Ms. McPherson's photographs. Any destruction of evidence after the date of this letter will be judicially pursued with a request for sanctions and all other remedies agreed to by the Court.
We look forward to your response within 10 days of the date of this letter. Should you wish to discuss this with me please contact me directly.
First off, while Something Awful may be hosting the image, it was submitted by another user. This isn't quite the same as posting an image in the forums (where it's hosted by a third party service). Something Awful staff actually have to upload the image themselves to the website, which likely decreases any protections it might have under the DMCA's safe harbor provisions.
The removal of the image probably wouldn't have been a problem (although I imagine SA would still have fought that demand on principle), but the IP firm and the photographer are pursuing damages. One has to wonder how exactly a butt photoshopped onto a photo by someone else diminishes the market for the original, but that sort of questioning gets you nowhere. Fortunately, the law firm chose not to employ the exaggerated (and often, just plain wrong) verbiage Mia McPherson does when discussing infringement.
McPherson obviously has a problem with people "stealing" her photos. She has an entire section dedicated to copyright infringement
at her studio's website. She also has a problem with anyone altering her photos. A long post dealing with a redditor who makes "animal mashups" for fun
contains these sort of phrases. (Link to photo she's discussing here
, which I had to pull from the page's coding itself -- right-click is disabled everywhere.)
Why did I feel punched in the gut? Look carefully at my Short-eared Owl image, notice any thing odd about the face? The quality of the background? I sat at my screen fuming because some person had taken MY image without my permission and digitally manipulated it. What this copyright infringer has done is illegally create what is called a “derivative work“. This is what the U.S. Copyright Office has to say about derivative works:
"How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?
Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent."
While Arne Olav (the redditor who created the animal mashup) definitely used McPherson's photo without permission, he made no claim to the copyright nor did he preemptively declare it a derivative work. As McPherson notes, he didn't even strip out her watermark.
She then hunted down the original photo of the second animal combined with her photo of an owl (a baby tapir) and then makes this claim:
I won’t post the actual photo here because… well that would be a VIOLATION of copyright laws.
Well, except that it wouldn't. It would be used as part of her commentary on the "theft" of her photos and would be clearly utilized for illustrative purposes. She could have almost definitely
used it, but she doesn't seem to recognize that fair use exists. Her photos' appearance anywhere else on the web is automatically assumed to be infringement (which she repeatedly calls "theft"). She continues:
Please bear in mind that Arne Olav flipped the image horizontally before he stole the head of the baby Tapir and mashed it up with my owl.
Flipped the image??!! The horror… Somehow this is presented as being equally as wrong as using the image without permission.
It's a good thing McPherson has hired an IP law firm to represent her, as she seems a bit clueless as to how Reddit actually works. (Speaking of hornets' nests you wouldn't want to be elbow-deep in
I will eventually send DMCA Takedown Notifications to Reddit to have the image removed from Arne Olav’s page there.
Arne Olav's "page" is actually a subreddit
and, like every image on Reddit, his mashups are actually hosted at third-party hosts like imgur. So, while she could send a DMCA to Reddit, to block the link, it seems like going to the actual host would make more sense, if she's really so offended by such a use, and so determined to ignore the existence of fair use.
Back to the case at hand. Something Awful has been doing Photoshop Phriday for years, with a minimum of complaints from rights holders. (It's not as though there haven't been any
, but the number of legal threats it has faced
pales in comparison to the number of photos used.) This doesn't necessarily mean there's no infringement going on (although many of the submissions would fall under fair use) but that most right holders are either unaware this is happening or understand that it doesn't have a deleterious effect on their ability to sell their creations.
McPherson, however, sees the internet as nothing more than a den of thieves. Her post also points out that she's taking action against Pinterest and hates that site as much as she does Tumblr. (She's got something against Google as well
, unsurprisingly.) According to Chilling Effects, McPherson has sent out 14 takedown requests since 2011, most of those routed to Blogger, but Chilling Effects is hardly comprehensive, and many sites do not pass their takedowns on to that site.
No doubt Something Awful's legal representation, Leonard J. Crabs
, will post a highly entertaining and endlessly profane defense of the website's actions. If nothing else, SA's legal defense team (including the highly entertaining and endlessly profane Cliff Yablonski
) can point to the recent legal decision that found a majority of Richard Prince's appropriation art to be protected by fair use
. If Prince can paste a someone else's photo of a guitar across someone else's photo of a dreadlocked tribesman, then certainly someone can 'shop a butt across a bird's face.
Of course, fair use is still viewed as a defense rather than an assumed right. The stripping of McPherson's watermark can be problematic, but there would need to be some discovery directed towards when that happened (by the contributor or by SA itself) or if the watermark even was present on the "original" photo grabbed by "BaconButts" to use as the base for his/her Butts on Things! submission.
The only thing that can be said for certain is that this action won't portray McPherson in the best light. There will likely be a very negative reaction to her demand for $4,000 to cover the "damages" caused by a silly photoshopping of a bird with a butt for a face. No doubt this will simply confirm her prejudices about the internet in general.
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Posted on Techdirt Wireless - 10 December 2013 @ 10:02am
As we covered last week, cellphone tower "dumps" are increasingly being used by law enforcement to track criminals. These "dumps" provide LEOs with the information gathered every time someone's cell phone contacts the tower, whether it's to make a call, send a text or email or access the web.
This vast amount of data being sought is obtained with a court order, which has a much lower bar than a search warrant, which requires probable cause. The ease in which this data is obtained is one concern. The other concern is that many law enforcement agencies have little to nothing in the way of guidelines for dealing with this collected data -- often allowing it to be stored for years, completely unmiminized. Agencies also are under no obligation to inform citizens that their data has been collected.
USA Today has compiled some more information about how these tower dumps are used, as well as on how common they are becoming. As was noted in our original article, requests for these data dumps has jumped over 75% over the last five years (according to Verizon) and more than 1.3 million requests were made in 2011 alone (Verizon and AT&T combined).
Here's how one particular case utilized data dumps to search for a suspect.
In October 2012, in Colorado, a 10-year-old girl vanished while she walked to school. Volunteers scoured Westminster looking for Jessica Ridgeway.
Local police took a clandestine tack. They got a court order for data about every cellphone that connected to five providers' towers on the girl's route. Later, they asked for 15 more cellphone site data dumps...
The tower dump data helped police choose about 500 people who were asked to submit DNA samples. The broad cell-data sweep and DNA samples didn't solve the crime, though the information aided in the prosecution. A 17-year-old man's mother tipped off the cops, and the man confessed to kidnapping and dismembering the girl, hiding some of her remains in a crawl space in his mother's house. He pleaded guilty and last month was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.
To sum up, tons of data was collected, resulting in a broad sampling of 500 people's DNA, and yet it was an old-fashioned tip that resulted in the arrest and indictment of the suspect. What should be considered a troubling incursion on our civil liberties is viewed by law enforcement as just another tool in the toolset, albeit one that goes long on data and comes up short on results.
From this lowered bar (court orders), police use previously obtained cellphone tower dumps as justification for even more
tower dumps, along with any other information that they can gather without having to obtain a warrant: home addresses, call records, locations and the content of texts. This data is combined with the info gathered by other surveillance technology, including plate readers and traffic cams, to generate very precise recreations of a person's actions and movements -- all without a warrant or any concern for the amount of unrelated data gathered.
The intrusion goes even deeper than bulk data dumps, though.
Local and state police, from Florida to Alaska, are buying Stingrays with federal grants aimed at protecting cities from terror attacks, but using them for far broader police work…
Typically used to hunt a single phone's location, the system intercepts data from all phones within a mile, or farther, depending on terrain and antennas.
Stingray devices give law enforcement agencies roaming cell tower impersonators to grab even more data with, bypassing both search warrants and the wireless providers themselves.
Law enforcement agencies don't want to talk
about these devices, something the manufacturer has an active hand in.
Initially developed for military and spy agencies, the Stingrays remain a guarded secret by law enforcement and the manufacturer, Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla. The company would not answer questions about the systems, referring reporters to police agencies. Most police aren't talking, either, partly because Harris requires buyers to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Beyond not wanting to talk about the devices, agencies are also reluctant to discuss what guidelines (if any) they have in place to help safeguard civil liberties. As it stands now, most of these devices are deployed covertly, with citizens having no idea their local law enforcement even possesses this capability.
Documents obtained by Indianapolis Star indicate the Indiana state police own a Stingray device valued at nearly $375,000
. Unsurprisingly, the state police have no interest in discussing this purchase.
[O]fficials at Indiana’s largest police agency aren’t saying what they do with the technology; they’re mum on whose data they’ve collected so far; and they’re not talking about what steps they take to safeguard the data.
Citing concerns that releasing any information would endanger public safety by hindering the agency’s ability to fight crime and combat terrorism, they won’t even say whether they ask a judge for a search warrant before they turn the equipment on.
There it is again -- concerns about intrusive technology and untargeted data hauls being waved away by throwing out the word "terrorism" and claiming that revealing any
information would "endanger public safety." It's a cop-out -- one that dodges every potential issue by appealing to fear.
The reality is that very few people know how
these are being deployed. The power of the device lends itself to abuse, or at the very least, overuse. As the article points out, police in South Carolina used tower dumps to investigate items being stolen from vehicles and in Miami, the police department deployed a Stingray to spy on protesters at a world trade conference.
According to the documents, 25 police departments around the country have contracts with Harris Corp. These devices may be expensive, but utilizing the word "terrorism" when applying for a grant from the DHS generally makes the tech more affordable. These devices also appear to be loaned out freely to other agencies, meaning the actual count of law enforcement agencies with access to this technology is considerably higher than the 25 listed.
This unofficial sharing program vastly increases the amount of data gathered -- as well as the potential for the civil liberties violations. While one agency may have guidelines affecting use and destruction of gathered data, the agency borrowing it may have nothing in place at all. And, considering the fact that no
agency wants to talk about their usage of Stingrays, it's safe to assume whatever safeguards are in place are lax and full of loopholes.
Outdated laws have combined with expansive readings of the Third Party Doctrine
to give law enforcement agencies nearly unlimited access to vast amounts of data. The rise of cellphones has been fortuitous for agencies with unquenchable thirsts for data, providing millions of metadata points for millions of users. And, like our intelligence agencies, these law enforcement agencies are operating largely under the cover of "darkness," actively avoiding (or directly thwarting) any attempts at oversight.
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Posted on Techdirt - 10 December 2013 @ 3:36am
New York City Police Chief Ray Kelly has spent years defending the harassment of minorities via the PD's stop-and-frisk program. Kelly (and Mayor Bloomberg) have constantly pointed to the decline in violent crime stats as evidence the program works (and as justification for its unconstitutional aspects).
But the city must not be safe enough. Ray Kelly's retiring, but he won't be doing it unaccompanied. According to police sources, Kelly will be taking a small battalion of personal bodyguards with him wherever he goes, post-employment.
The NYPD's Intelligence Division — with Kelly’s input — is recommending that Kelly take with him a 10-officer complement of taxpayer-funded bodyguards, up from the six-officer detail the commissioner had wanted last month.
The detail will now include a lieutenant, three sergeants and six detectives to chauffeur and protect Kelly and his family around-the-clock in the Big Apple and even out of town after he ends his 12-year run atop Police Headquarters — at an estimated cost of more than $1.5 million a year, sources estimate.
This does seem excessive, especially considering Kelly will be retiring far from the mean streets, not heading to prison. In fact, he doesn't personally
put people behind bars, so it's not as though he'd be much more than a symbolic target in the big house.
On the other hand, spending a decade deploying (and championing
) a questionable program that gives NYPD officers the right to stop anyone (almost exclusively minorities) for any reason didn't exactly make Kelly a whole lot of friends. If an investigator was to ask whether anyone had a motive for doing something horrible thing to ex-Chief Kelly, the list of suspects would probably rival the New York City phone book.
But that's also an abstraction. The streets won't be less safe once Kelly steps down. They'll be roughly the same as they are now. Unless Kelly's already
traveling with an armed entourage, there's really no reason he'd be less safe
once retired. If anything, no longer being the figurehead of the NYPD should make him safer
Supposedly, the Intelligence Division has some solid reasoning backing up this decision. According to information dug up by Matt Sledge at HuffPo, Ray Kelly has every reason to fear for his life.
[T]his May 17 declaration from Deputy Commissioner David Cohen in one of the NYPD surveillance lawsuits may provide some insight on the perceived threats to Kelly's safety.
After the officers who shot Sean Bell were acquitted, Cohen wrote, surveillance was ramped up citywide "in response to the possibility of unlawful activity and allowed for informed decision-making on the likelihood of violence or other unlawful activity, as well as resource deployment decisions."
"The shooting and subsequent trial sparked demonstrations across New York City and widespread threats of violence against members of the NYPD, including Police Commissioner Kelly, who was the target of a murder plot motivated by the Sean Bell matter," Cohen wrote.
Frightening, except for the fact that Kelly's stalking death threat came in the form of a person not much suited for stalking/death-dealing. (Nor was he in the position to front the $65,000 needed to send a more able-bodied person to do the job
Sounds pretty serious. Until you learn who was behind the 2007 "plot": a 400-pound, imprisoned, impoverished wheelchair-bound "mentally ill" man with a rap sheet the length of your arm.
As it stands now, Kelly will leave office with more bodyguards than any previous police chief since Howard Safir's retirement in 2000. Safir took 12 bodyguards with him, citing "vague threats." (Presumably, the same "vague threats" law enforcement and security agencies have used to weaken policies and expand power over the past decade-plus...) Not only that, but he'll be one of the few allowing the city to pick up the tab for post-career protective services.
True, this $1.5 million will be a drop in the bucket considering the size of NYC's budget, but considering the fact that Ray Kelly seems intent on making himself the sort of example other police chiefs shouldn't
follow post-retirement, this should probably be opposed on sheer principle. Or, at the very least, his request should be trimmed down to a more reasonable number of bodyguards.
If Kelly's made an enemy of the people, there's really no one else he can point the finger at. If this means he'll be living in fear for the rest of his retirement, maybe he'll develop a bit of empathy for the thousands of minority citizens who have been harassed repeatedly over the last decade under the color of law.
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Posted on Techdirt - 9 December 2013 @ 3:05pm
Good news, citizens! You have the right to refuse a warrantless search of your premises. It's a right that's guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. But that right won't protect you from the consequences of your failure to roll over for law enforcement. Nope, the right to not be subjected to a warrantless search can actually be held against you -- not in a court of law, mind you -- but by the police themselves.
Eric Crinnian, an attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, says police came to his door looking for parole violators, and got upset when he refused them permission to tramp through his house and paw through his possessions. In fact, he claims, one cop went so far as to threaten to shoot his dogs if he made them abide by the requirements of the law by getting a search warrant to look through his home.
Here's the direct quote from the news article
“If we have to get a warrant, we’re going to come back when you’re not expecting it, we’re going to park in front of your house, where all your neighbors can see, we’re gonna bust in your door with a battering ram, we’re gonna shoot and kill your dogs [...] and then we’re going to ransack your house looking for these people.”
This sounds suspiciously like a threat (several threats, actually). This is the classic "you can do this the easy way or the hard way" persuasion technique that's been deployed by law enforcement since there's been law enforcement. Even when not spoken out loud, the "or else" always hangs in the air when LEOs "ask nicely" for permission to do things they can't legally do
without your consent.
Rarely is this threat spoken with such clarity and detail, however. As both Reason and the Volokh Conspiracy
note, the threat delivered by a KCPD officer may not actually be illegal
John Hamilton, an associate professor of criminal justice administration at Park University and a retired Major with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, told the news station that the officers' threats may not be illegal, though they're inappropriate and it's possible they violate department policy. He also pointed to the matter of appearances, saying that such behavior "makes it tenuous when you appear in front of the court in a case like that."
Not exactly illegal, but not very helpful should this incident result in a lawsuit. In fact, Missouri's laws give police officers leeway to make threats such as these without repercussion, as Reason's J.D. Tucille notes.
Missouri has a statute that defines a "credible threat… against the life of, or a threat to cause physical injury to, or the kidnapping of, the person, the person's family, or the person's household members or domestic animals or livestock" as aggravated stalking and might fit the bill in this situation. However, that law explicitly exempts law enforcement officers "conducting investigations of violation of federal, state, county, or municipal law," which is more than a little disturbing.
In all likelihood, the citizen who exercised his Fourth Amendment rights will be the only one who is punished (in one fashion or another) for the officer's threats. Making these allegations public will decrease the likelihood of the KCPD following through on its offer to tear apart Crinnian's home and shoot his pets. Of course, this could just as easily go the other way. The PD has already promised to retaliate for his refusal to permit an unconstitutional search. It may up its level of retribution in the wake of this public embarrassment.
There's also this to consider. While the officer's words may sound
like a threat, what he's saying may not be a threat. It may just be a simple observation of what doing this the "hard way" will entail
Some people have hypothesized that the police officer was merely describing the normal warrant execution process rather than threatening to retaliate by causing gratuitous property damage. I think it's worth noting that these are not inconsistent. It would not surprise me to learn that the police routinely retaliate against people who make their lives difficult by causing gratuitous damage during the warrant execution process.
are always more damaging than those announced by a knock on the door. Police use different tactics depending on their perception of the person they're serving the warrant to. People with the power and money to retaliate in court are often handled with more respect (and less collateral damage) than those that are perceived to be powerless (yet somehow more dangerous). Note how an arrest of celebrity is carried out much differently than arrests of millions of nobodies.
"We'll come back with a warrant, but we'll make you wish you had consented earlier." It's almost extortion and yet, it's almost certainly not punishable under Missouri law. Gotta love that Fourth Amendment protection, which grants you the right to turn down a warrantless search, but instead subjects you to a violent, noisy, destructive search of your house once the proper paperwork is secured.
Hopefully, Crinnian's public complaint will either a) force the KCPD to conduct an orderly, non-dog-shooting search of his premises or b) move any judge asked to sign this warrant makes sure the KCPD has dotted every evidentiary "i" and crossed every reasonably suspicious "t." Better yet, let's hope it convinces the PD to drop its apparently errant investigation of Crinnian.
But the underlying message is both terrible and crystal clear. You are protected from illegal searches, but not from petty retaliation conducted under the color of law. The system has checks and balances, but these are essentially meaningless when the balance of power has shifted this far out of whack.
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Posted on Techdirt - 9 December 2013 @ 9:45am
Apparently, there's nowhere our intelligence agencies won't go in ostensibly in search of terrorists. The latest leak from Snowden, as published by ProPublica, New York Times and The Guardian, shows the NSA and GCHQ are actively infiltrating MMOs and other online gatherings in order to fight terrorism.
Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.
Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels.
The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.
According to the document (from 2008), online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life are potentially "target-rich environments" in which suspected terrorists "hide in plain sight." (And it's not just MMOs. Xbox Live has apparently been swept up in the surveillance efforts as well.) Despite this assertion, the documents contain no evidence that any terrorists have been uncovered by agents and analysts. In fact, experts and developers of games like these have found no evidence that terrorists are using their services to communicate or recruit new members.
Once again, the efforts of the NSA and GCHQ seem to be focusing time and energy searching locations where terrorists would be least likely
to be "hiding in plain sight," much in the way that grabbing data from mainstream email services
and social platforms is only going to find the most amateurish of wrongdoers.
Games “are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked,” said Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution, an author of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know.” “For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar.”
Not only is the effort highly inefficient, but it's also highly redundant. As ProPublica points out, there are so many agents from the Pentagon, CIA and FBI chasing targets in virtual worlds that a "deconfliction" group was created just to avoid online "collisions."
Blizzard, the developer behind World of Warcraft, has gone on record stating that if intelligence agencies are using the service to track terrorists, it hasn't been informed or given its permission. Microsoft and Linden Lab (Second Life's developer) declined to comment.
There may be a good reason Linden Lab isn't issuing a statement. Its former CTO is an ex-military officer with top secret clearance.
In 2007, as the NSA and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, NSA officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the NSA with a top-secret security clearance.
He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement. It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”
GCHQ, in particular, has used Second Life to track down a crime ring selling stolen credit card information. While the use of these games in discovering and tracking terrorists still remains largely theoretical, GCHQ found the online games did
offer one benefit:
According to the minutes of a January 2009 meeting, GCHQ’s “network gaming exploitation team” had identified engineers, embassy drivers, scientists and other foreign intelligence operatives to be World of Warcraft players — potential targets for recruitment as agents.
The NSA, on the other hand, seems to have found little more than evidence that terrorism suspects are largely like non-terrorists when they play online games -- they do it for enjoyment.
One NSA document said that the World of Warcraft monitoring “continues to uncover potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.” In other words, targets of interest appeared to be playing the fantasy game, though the document does not indicate that they were doing so for any nefarious purposes.
Whether or not these agencies are actually hunting down terrorists, one this is for certain: large amounts of communications are being caught in the surveillance nets.
One document says that while GCHQ was testing its ability to spy on Second Life in real time, British intelligence officers vacuumed up three days’ worth of Second Life chat, instant message and financial transaction data, totaling 176,677 lines of data, which included the content of the communications.
Not surprisingly, there's also a profit motive tied into this infiltration of online games. SAIC, a government contractor specializing in surveillance systems (and building non-functional
, incredibly expensive software), may have set this online surveillance in motion back in 2007.
In one 66-page document from 2007, part of the cache released by Mr. Snowden, the contracting giant SAIC promoted its ability to support “intelligence collection in the game space,” and warned that online games could be used by militant groups to recruit followers and could provide “terrorist organizations with a powerful platform to reach core target audiences.”
ProPublica notes that there's nothing in the documents that suggests SAIC ended up with a contract (at that time) as a result of its self-promotion, but it does appear that SAIC (along with Lockheed Martin) won a multi-million dollar contract a couple of years later, shortly after it participated in a discussion about a proposed government study of the link between online and offline behavior in MMO gamers.
The question is how useful these infiltrations have been after a half-decade of use. The agencies have stated they feel these games could be used for communication and recruitment, but nothing has surfaced indicating the surveillance is effective. It largely seems to be another way to gather data, something the agencies already have too much of
. If nothing else, GCHQ seems to be using it for a headhunting tool, but I'm not sure how many potential employees would be flattered to know they've been "scouted" by a questionable surveillance program. For now, it seems to be another case of the reach far exceeding the grasp, not that this lack of success ever seems to result in scaling back the "reach."
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Posted on Techdirt - 9 December 2013 @ 5:36am
AP investigative journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman memorably proclaimed the NYPD to be "less transparent than CIA, FBI and NSA" when it came to responding to FOI requests. Apparently, the NYPD finds this assessment of its obfuscation skills to be underwhelming, as other notable entities like "the Kremlin in its Cold War prime" and "the North Korean Ministry of People's Security 1948-present" were not included in the journalists' depiction of the department.
DNAinfo reports that the NYPD is now shutting down local journalist's access to police blotters.
The NYPD has ordered the city's 77 police precincts to stop giving out any information to the media about crimes taking place in their neighborhoods, cutting off a long-standing source of information for New Yorkers.
According to a terse NYPD edict transmitted citywide, precinct commanders were instructed: “Any requests by media to view complaint reports be referred to the office of the Deputy Commissioner For Public Information.”
This was first reported by Amanda Woods at The Nabe, who discovered this while attempting to do the site's weekly rundown of the 88th Precinct's police blotter
Every Wednesday morning, a reporter from The Nabe visits the 88th Precinct and is handed forms outlining the previous week’s felony crime reports, which includes information on all murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary or theft or property in the precinct. The reporter copies down the information, asks the officers lingering questions from the reports and writes up the crime blotter post. This will no longer be allowed. Reporters must now contact the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (DCPI) for all crime inquiries, according to the officer.
Funneling everything through the DCPI creates an info bottleneck, as is surely the intention of this new policy. A source inside the police department said the DCPI is a "small unit" and would most likely be unable to cope with the influx of information requests.
Not only that, but the DCPI has already been pushed by Chief Ray Kelly to clamp down on the amount of information it releases to the public.
Under his stewardship, DCPI has systematically diminished the type of information it provides as well as overall access to department personnel. The clampdown evolved even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a media mogul, pledged that his administration would be a beacon of open government and transparency.
This leaves journalists with two options: queueing up for whatever scraps the DPCI might throw in its direction or filing FOIL requests. The latter is even less likely to result in any
response, much less a timely one. The NYPD's antagonistic attitude toward public information requests is well-documented
. As Salon noted earlier this year, the NYPD stalls or denies a majority of requests
, only begrudgingly parting with information when civil liberties groups (like the New York Civil Liberties Union) get involved.
So, unless journalists have an infinite amount of time and the willingness to go to court to battle for information they're rightfully entitled to have, the NYPD will simply be able to play a waiting game, hoping those looking for info simply give up once the info requested loses its timeliness.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 December 2013 @ 1:43pm
The TSA undoubtedly has several problems, chief among them being charged with providing an expensive, interactive theater program aimed at putting travelers' minds at ease while simultaneously putting their nether regions through a rigorous groping regimen. The exposure of documents stating its all-important job isn't actually that important certainly doesn't help. As it stands now, the TSA is just another government institution, destined to be funded in perpetuity, even as its relevance continues to erode.
One problem it shouldn't have but does is how to deal with a vast accumulation of pocket change left behind by the nation's travelers.
Last year, the Transportation Security Administration collected $531,395.22 in change left behind at checkpoints.
Federal law requires the TSA to report the amount of unclaimed money they keep every year to Congress. The fiscal 2012 report, obtained by The Washington Post, shows the agency collected about $499,000 in U.S. currency, and another $32,000 in foreign currency, at their checkpoints.
While this amount is literally small change compared to the agency's ~$8 billion annual budget, it's still too significant an amount to ignore. This unclaimed change is earmarked for "civil aviation security" -- you know, the main thing that the TSA does. The agency is supposed to put the money back into the company, so to speak. But, if the following figure is accurate, it would appear the agency is operating at peak (in)efficiency.
[T]he TSA has only spent about $6,500 of the money it collected last year.
Well, if the agency can't use it, maybe it could pass it on to those who could.
On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 1095, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), which would require the TSA to fork that cash over to nonprofit organizations that provide travel-related assistance to military personnel or their families.
Good idea, one would think. But that would be before hearing how expensive
giving money away can be when the TSA handles the job.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated [pdf] that collecting, accounting for and transferring the money to the USO would cost $1.2 million — $700,000 more than the actual amount collected.
The CBO's two-page estimate is woefully light on details on how it arrived at its $1.2 million figure. It just sort of claims the costs will exceed $1 million, extrapolates this income/expenditure over a decade and states the whole thing will be a wash, even if the TSA's spending steadily declines. To sum up: nothing ventured, nothing lost.
It seems there would be a very inexpensive
way to route this money to charity. First off, each airport's security team could designate a charity to route the funds to. Then… nothing. The TSA simply collects the change as usual and dumps it into the proper receptacle. The designated charity could pick this up quarterly (unintentional pun), count it themselves and turn over a receipt for record keeping to the TSA -- all on their own dime (slightly less unintentional pun). Total cost to the TSA: nothing more than the hourly wage it already pays to have someone scoop up and store abandoned change.
End result? PR wins all around (especially if local charities are used) and the agency won't be spending money to reroute money. In fact, donation boxes for the selected charity could be set up right past the scanners, allowing people to toss the change in themselves and restore a little faith in humanity after a trip through the TSA's dehumanizing theatrical production.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 December 2013 @ 9:46am
Vice President Joe Biden is in China and as usual, he took the opportunity to try to insert his foot in his mouth. China may be veering towards its own brand of capitalism simply because it's a manufacturing powerhouse, but it's still a long way from being an open country in any other respect.
Biden's pep talk to some Chinese citizens gathered at the US embassy included this "empowering" exhortation.
“Innovation can only occur when you can breathe free, challenge the government, challenge your teachers, challenge religious leaders.”
All well and good, I suppose. Of course, it's much easier said than done, and Biden's contribution only included the "saying" part. These sort of challenges have actual repercussions in China, which still wishes unruly citizens into high-walled political
But what's even more irritating about his blithe statement is the fact that his own administration isn't really keen on being challenged by its citizens.
Case in point: the NSA leaks. For a long time, the administration stood firm
in its support of the agency. It only stepped back when it realized the situation was going to get a whole lot worse before it got any better and that the NSA itself wasn't just lying to the public
, but to the president and the rest of the government as well. It also smelled blood in the water after amendments and bills targeting
the NSA and its programs began gathering bipartisan support and wanted to be as far away from the massacre on the horizon.
This administration has also prosecuted more whistleblowers
than all other administrations combined
. This is what happens to people who challenge the administration. They end up broken by the system
, the same system that tells them it wants to be "open" and "transparent."
The administration has also shown a fondness for shutting out inquiring minds with the overuse of state secret exceptions
. Sure, information may want to be free, but its overseers won't let it roam without being covered in black ink. Its track record on civil liberties has eclipsed the awfulness of the Bush administration, which at least had the courtesy to be openly evil in its intentions.
Even the press has grown disillusioned with Obama's administration, recently complaining that it controls the narrative by handing out approved promo shots rather than allowing press photographers to do their jobs
Now, I realize that as vice president, Biden doesn't truly
represent the administration. He may be second-in-command, but the reality of the job demands someone who can stay out of the way while whipping up support for the administration's policies and pet legislation behind the scenes. It requires him to make appearances on behalf of the administration but kindly asks him not to embarrass it while doing so. Biden has failed to hold up his end of the bargain with his statements.
Here he hands Chinese citizens advice they can't possibly use while simultaneously highlighting the hypocrisy inherent in the administration's treatment of criticism. "Challenge your government," he tells people who can be ripped from their families for doing so before retreating to the safety of an administration that actively seeks out and punishes those who challenge its methods and actions. With this mindless bit of "go team!" posturing, Joe Biden is hurling stones from the balcony of the administration's glass house.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 December 2013 @ 8:39am
Our founding fathers understood the problems with overly-broad warrants and the dangers posed by unreasonable searches and seizures. These were the sort of things kings did because the populace had no way to check that power. So, when they decided the US wouldn't be run like a patriarchal state, they built in protections for the new nation's inhabitants.
But they also understood that these checks on government power might be inconvenient for law enforcement and security agencies, which is why they built in extensive waivers and exceptions that would allow these entities to bypass the limits in order to pursue criminals, terrorists and whistleblowers. As the wording clearly states in the Bill of Rights, the people are guaranteed certain protections "unless, you know, we're trying to catch bad guys."
It's true.** Our founding fathers would be amazed to observe the ruckus being raised by so-called "defenders" of rights in the wake of the NSA leaks or the rising amount of evidence showing government agencies are willing to exploit every loophole (mainly the Third Party Doctrine) to seize tons of data completely unrelated to the investigations at hand.
**It absolutely fucking isn't.
Jess Remington at Reason points out another of these "non-events" being carried out under the name of law enforcement.
Police officers in Richland County, South Carolina are currently defending the use of a controversial investigation method that grants their departments access to thousands of cell phone users’ data in the search for criminals.
The technique, in which law enforcement officials rely on what are known as “tower dumps,” is an increasingly common policing tactic in local departments across the country. Following a crime, law enforcement officials locate nearby cell towers and request all of the call, text, and data transmissions that occurred during the crime from the tower’s provider. The majority of the data collected belongs to individuals with no connection to the crime.
How does one's info end up being swept up in a tower dump? Does one have a cellphone with a signal? Yeah, that's how. Checking your email? Surfing the web? Making a call? Sending a text message? It all goes in the dump. And South Carolina cops are helping themselves to all of this data because, hey, it makes capturing bad guys a little easier
. (CAUTION: AUTOPLAY IN EFFECT)
The Richland County Sheriff's Department used Tower Dumps during the investigation into a string of car breakins, where weapons and computers were stolen. They combined the Tower Dump information with DNA evidence and in 2011 arrested Phillip Tate on three counts of "breaking and entering a motor vehicle" and one count of "larceny."
"He did break and enter into both of those vehicles, one of them being the vehicle of Sheriff Lott. It was parked at his house," said Fifth Circuit Solicitor Joanna McDuffy in court. "It was his sheriff department issued vehicle. Weapons were taken from that vehicle your honor."
Search warrants we found say Richland Sheriff's investigators requested dumps on two cell phone towers during their investigation.
Cops seeking to use these tower dumps just can't call up the provider and ask for them. But neither do they have to jump through the probable cause hoops a warrant entails. All they need is a court order, which is considerably easier to obtain than a warrant, thanks to the (somewhat ironically-named) Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
The Richland PD is just one of several law enforcement entities making frequent use of these untargeted, unminimized data dumps. And the numbers keep increasing every year.
In 2011, AT&T and Verizon received 1.3 million requests for cell phone data (many of which were tower dumps) and filled more than 500,000 of them. Verizon estimates that over the last 5 years, law enforcement’s tower dump requests have increased by 15% annually. T-Mobile reported increases of approximately 12%-16%.
Thanks to the ease of obtaining tower dumps, it's becoming a go-to tool for law enforcement. Not only can they collect these without needing to show probable cause, they're also under no obligation
to inform any of the millions of unrelated cellphone customers whose information they've obtained that they've swept up their data.
Oddly enough, someone from the counterterrorism community is being the voice of reason in all this.
"In recognizing that it's not just the CIA or FBI tracking a terrorist that may have flown over here, this is local law enforcement. As citizens, we sort of have a question: how often is this happening?" said Keith Pounds, president of counterrorism consulting firm Countercon…
He supports Tower Dumps, but only if a search warrant is signed, the data is purged after an investigation is complete and law enforcement notify subscribers included in the database.
"Inform us," Pounds said. "Or at least those couple of hundred or couple of thousand people, innocent people, inform them that hey we acquired your information for this particular crime. We're going to purge the data and get rid of it."
This obviously isn't being implemented anywhere
at the moment, or we would have heard of it. Law enforcement agencies are understandably in no hurry
to tell innocent citizens that they're sweeping up their data in order to sift through it for potential signs of wrongdoing. They seem to be taking their cues from our nation's intelligence agencies, which only begrudgingly inform the public about their data hauls, and then only after
former employees splash them all over the front pages of newspapers.
Making this worse (especially for South Carolina residents) is that local laws regarding this data tie retention rates to whether the suspect apprehended using tower dumps is convicted or not.
South Carolina evidence control laws say if a suspect is convicted or pleads guilty, police could keep everything they get from a Tower Dump for up to seven years.
So, your data's stay in SC police databases isn't subject to any minimization by process of elimination. It isn't even purged once a guilty verdict (or entered plea) is obtained. Instead, SC law enforcement has nearly a decade (or longer -- no mention of what happens if the suspect is found not guilty) to play connect-the-dots with data on non-criminals.
Even worse, this is a state that at least has some sort
of policy in place to deal with this data. Most states have very little in the way of guidelines or privacy protection. Usually, these are developed post-public uproar. And if no one has to inform the public about the gathering of their data, this delays the (almost inevitable) exposure of these practices and increases the chances of abuse.
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Posted on Techdirt - 6 December 2013 @ 3:27am
The fallout continues to accumulate from an in-school altercation that left a student in a medically-induced coma after being tased by a school resource officer (read: sheriff's deputy). In addition to a lawsuit being filed against the school and sheriff's office by the student's parents, a collection of civil rights groups is now calling for a ban on the use of nonlethal weapons by school police officers.
The request to bar nonlethal weapons was made by the ACLU, the Texas Appleseed group, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Texas, Texans Care for Children, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Texas.
"Tragic incidents like this one demonstrate why the state should not grant police free rein to wield weapons in schools for the apparent purpose of maintaining order," said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. "Schools should be safe havens from this type of police use of force. I hope the commission will heed our call to end use of Tasers and pepper spray."
This attacks part of the problem. These weapons are often deployed carelessly
because of their "nonlethal" descriptor. The indiscriminate use
of Tasers has resulted in serious injuries and death
over the past several years but banning these nonlethal weapons leaves officers employed by schools with few options when the use of force is necessary.
The use of Tasers and pepper spray was defended by Chief C.A. "Chuck" Brawner, of the Spring Branch Independent School District police force, who said nonlethal weapons are necessary so officers don't have to use firearms or nightsticks on unarmed students…
"When you take away the pepper spray and you take away the Taser, what do you have left?" Brawner said. "What if there are several people and you have one officer and they can't control them and they could get away and cause other problems, how do you stop them? When you start taking away other options other than a firearm or a nightstick, what else are you going to use?''
A ban of Tasers and pepper spray would arguably make things worse, leaving officers with the option of beating or shooting students when things get out of hand. This problem needs to be approached from a different direction if schools hope to prevent this sort of thing in the future.
More training is obviously key, and not just training officers on how to deploy nonlethal weapons more "safely," but training them how to resist the impulse to deploy nonlethal weapons when the situation doesn't warrant it. This is much trickier. Fights have occurred in schools for as long as schools have been around. For years, they were broken up by faculty with no training and no weapons, lethal or not. The prevailing belief that only
a law enforcement officer can control fighting students is not only wrong, but it's led to on-campus officers handling a great deal of the intervention and discipline
that administrators themselves used to handle, often with regrettable results.
This has the effect of turning a common schoolyard fight into a criminal activity, and the response tends to be tailored more towards stopping a street fight than breaking up an altercation between students. If the students aren't using weapons (and they shouldn't be, what with all the other policies in place), then the responding officer shouldn't feel a need to use a weapon either.
If the situation seems to be escalating dangerously, the on-campus officer should have several nonlethal options to deploy before turning the situation deadly. But even the deployment of tasers and pepper spray should be a last resort rather than something used to quickly nullify the perceived threat. The safety of the students should still be paramount. Deploying a Taser simply because someone isn't moving fast enough, being responsive enough or simply "looking threatening" is not
the correct response.
I agree with the ACLU's assertion that schools should be a "safe haven" from the use of force, but a ban will have negative consequences, especially if the underlying issues (the use of police officers as a disciplinary tactic; the overuse of force by resource officers) aren't addressed. Instead of a tasing that leads to a coma, we'll have gunshots and blunt force trauma. There's a culture grown from zero tolerance policies and its attendant paranoia that infects administrators and the officers they employ. This
needs to addressed before we can start removing nonlethal options.
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Posted on Techdirt - 5 December 2013 @ 7:58pm
Information recently published by the LA Times indicates it may be tougher landing a job in retail than to be employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Obviously, the LASD has to hire from the human race, but considering the responsibilities inherent in these positions, you'd think the department would be a bit more selective.
What's been uncovered by Robert Fautrechi and Ben Poston ranges from collections of minor offenses to some truly troubling (and criminal) behavior.
The Times reviewed the officers' internal hiring files, which also contained recorded interviews of the applicants by sheriff's investigators.
Ultimately, about 280 county officers were given jobs, including applicants who had accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work and solicited prostitutes, the records show.
For nearly 100 hires, investigators discovered evidence of dishonesty, such as making untrue statements or falsifying police records. At least 15 were caught cheating on the department's own polygraph exams.
Twenty-nine of those given jobs had previously had been fired or pressured to resign from other law enforcement agencies over concerns about misconduct or workplace performance problems. Nearly 200 had been rejected from other agencies because of past misdeeds, failed entrance exams or other issues.
Did I say a "bit" more selective? Make that "tons" more selective. Apparently the LASD is a firm believer in that famous bit of mutual fund boilerplate: "past performance is not an indicator of future success." The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department isn't looking for the best
men and women for the job. It's just looking for warm bodies.
Here's something that apparently won't prevent you from landing an LASD job.
David McDonald was hired despite admitting to sheriff's investigators he had a relationship with a 14-year-old girl whom he kissed and groped. He was 28 at the time.
It's OK, though. McDonald has an explanation.
"I was in love," he said in an interview with The Times. "I wasn't being a bad guy."
Seems legit. Time to clear a few thousand people off the sex offender registry. "Love" is all you need.
Linda D. Bonner, jailer - Fired a weapon at her husband who was (according to her) fortunately running in a zigzag pattern, or "things would be much different." Her response to publication was that the sheriff's office was "wrong" about her background.
David E. Esparza, jailer - Stole $2,200 worth of military equipment. This theft wasn't initially disclosed during interviews. Esparza offered no response other than to state the information was "confidential."
Edward Marquez, jailer - While working for an unnamed sheriff's department, Marquez pulled over a car in which his girlfriend was a passenger and attempted to issue a ticket to the male driver. His girlfriend filed a complaint with the department.
William Salazar, deputy sheriff - Displayed his gun during a confrontation with a park patron who approached him about walking his dog without a leash. Fired his shotgun in the air in a police department parking lot. Suspended for a day for suspicion of falsifying timecards.
Ferdinand Salgado, jailer - While serving as a county police officer, was suspended for soliciting an undercover cop.
The Sheriff's office claims it was pressured to hire several officers in the wake of the Dept. of Public Safety disbanding and dropping its duties on the LASD. Apparently, it's OK to do a lousy job if you're under pressure. The person who first vetted the applicants' files, former Undersheriff Larry Waldie, first stated there needed to be "grave reasons" to not
hire potential employees. When pressed further, Waldie simply shut the conversation down.
Waldie said: "That information was not brought to me ... I don't recall any of these specifics so don't ask me anymore."
The county spokesman has, of course, denied placing pressure on the sheriff's department to hire more officers. Both narratives are non-starters considering how quickly the buck is being passed. But Waldie is likely correct about one thing: there was pressure.
Internal Sheriff's Department records reviewed by The Times show the union representing the former county officers was also lobbying Waldie to hire specific members, including some who had committed serious misconduct during their careers…
One taped recording of a background interview suggests the department made special accommodations for the county officers.
Once you're on the "inside," you're golden, especially if there's a powerful union backing you up.
In the recording, a sheriff's investigator tells an applicant who was caught cheating on his polygraph exam that normally that would have meant "goodbye, you're done, there's no second chances." The investigator then told the applicant that he and other suspected cheaters might not be disqualified "as a favor because, you know, it's law enforcement." The applicant was eventually hired.
The Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) has fought hard to keep this information from surfacing
, as Reason reports.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), the union that represents LASD deputies, tried in September 2013 to stop the records from being unveiled, going after the Times and the reporter who had acquired the records, Robert Faturechi, saying he unlawfully possessed background investigation files containing personal information of deputies.
"What part of 'stolen property' is such a mystery to the L.A. Times?" ALADS President Floyd Hayhurst said in a statement on the ALADS website. "If any harm comes to deputy sheriffs or their families because of the stolen files, we will hold the Los Angeles Times responsible for their complete lack of journalistic integrity," Hayhurst said.
The union tried to secure a court order temporarily blocking the publication but the judge shot it down, claiming the union failed to present evidence supporting its claims that publication would cause "irreparable harm or immediate danger."
“The court declines to issue [an order] imposing a prior restraint on defendants’ free speech based on the speculative hearsay testimony of anonymous witnesses,” she wrote.
The Sheriff's Department itself opened up an investigation into the "leak" of hiring documents and ALADS followed up its temporary injunction attempt one month later with a lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction
. This too was rejected by the judge, again citing the union's lack of evidence and the First Amendment's protections against prior restraint. A week after being shot down, ALADS issued its statement questioning the "journalistic integrity" of the LA Times for daring to expose the sheriff's department's
shoddy hiring practices.
Rather than investigate the leaks and file lawsuits attempting to block this info, both entities would be better served throwing some time and energy into overhauling its hiring practices and working towards ensuring only the best applicants get the job -- not just those with "insider" connections.
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Posted on Techdirt - 5 December 2013 @ 11:59am
Stop me if you've heard this one:
An emotionally disturbed but unarmed man walks into heavy traffic near Times Square. Police officers arrive on the scene and try to apprehend him. The unarmed man reaches into his pocket, prompting police to open fire in a crowded area. Man is unwounded but two bystanders are shot.
I don't really remember the middle part of this joke but the punchline is this:
An unarmed, emotionally disturbed man shot at by the police as he was lurching around traffic near Times Square in September has been charged with assault, on the theory that he was responsible for bullet wounds suffered by two bystanders, according to an indictment unsealed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday.
While you're letting that sink in, here are some more details.
Initially Mr. Broadnax was arrested on misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession and resisting arrest. But the Manhattan district attorney’s office persuaded a grand jury to charge Mr. Broadnax with assault, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. Specifically, the nine-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday said Mr. Broadnax “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.”
“The defendant is the one that created the situation that injured innocent bystanders,” said an assistant district attorney, Shannon Lucey.
Here are some more details from the original coverage of the incident
The police arrived and the crowd grew. The hulking man continued on, ignoring the officers’ commands while eluding capture. Then the man reached into his pants pocket, withdrawing his hand as if it were a gun, the police said, and pretended to shoot at some of the officers.
As Scott Greenfield points out, this descriptive wording is a prime example of Creative Writing 101
(Law Enforcement Edition).
Note the language of the article. “Hulking” man. “Withdrawing his hand as if it were a gun.” These aren’t the words of a news account, but the language of justification and excuses.
Broadnax didn't even have a gun, as officers plainly saw before opening fire. He had a Metrocard in his hand, and no matter how hulkingly he pointed it at officers, it still didn't turn into a weapon capable of wounding other people. His weaving around in traffic was potentially dangerous, but more to himself than others.
Returning once again to the "language of justification and excuses" deployed by the DA's office: someone wandering around in traffic in New York City is hardly creating a "grave risk of death." NYC has plenty of pedestrian traffic, not all of which crosses only at the corners. The man certainly created a "disturbance" but the shots fired by the responding officers created the only injuries. And yet, it will be the man shot at (and missed) who will pay for the mistakes of the officers.
The narrative being pushed (back at the time of the incident and again by the DA's office) is that the officers had no choice
but to risk firing shots in a crowded area because the man wouldn't cooperate (and menaced officers with a Metrocard). But recordings of the incident suggest the cops actually had many more options are their disposal.
There are no doubt times when shots must be fired, and there are no doubt times when a bullet will strike a bystander despite the best, and most competent, efforts of police. But the video of this, taken by a bystander who was not shot, shows a great many cops in the area before the two cops shot at Broadnax, and makes it difficult to understand why the newspapers don’t question why all those cops couldn’t manage to take down one big crazy guy without shooting up the bystanders.
The video Scott Greenfield posted back in September no longer exists. But this video shows a swarm
of NYPD officers attempting to apprehend Broadnax before the shots are fired.
Broadnax was finally subdued by a single officer with a Taser but not before two pedestrians had been shot in an effort to ensure their safety. Holding the arrestee responsible for the bad decisions (and worse aim) of two cops basically sends the message to officers that irresponsible gun usage is perfectly fine, as long as the intentions are pure. If in the future officers hit other bystanders by firing in crowded areas (as they have in the past), the blame will be passed along to the intended target for "forcing" the police to make unwise decisions.
[Postscript: Ken White at Popehat has more thoughts on the NYPD's resemblance to Ike "Don't Make Me Hit You" Turner.]
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Posted on Techdirt - 5 December 2013 @ 5:43am
Comcast, which frequently makes yearly Worst Company in America lists, is trying to address its public image -- that being one of a corporate monstrosity borne from a lack of competition that extracts as much money from its customers as possible while offering the minimum it can, service-wise, in return.
In a recent interview, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts asserts the problem isn't so much that Comcast is an awful company, but that the size of its customer base makes even a small percentage of complaints seem like a never ending cascade of screwed customers.
"What unfortunately happens is we have about … 350 million interactions with consumers a year, between phone calls and truck calls. It may be over 400 million and that doesn't count any online interactions which I think is over a billion. You get one-tenth of one-percent bad experience, that's a lot of people – unacceptable. We have to be the best service provider or in the end, this company won't be what I want it to be."
Roberts is right. Even small pockets of discontent in a large customer base both exaggerate the size of the problem and are, as he puts it, "unacceptable." But this isn't simply a problem with scale. (A problem that will only exponentially increase if Comcast decides to purchase Time Warner Cable
.) Comcast has made several moves
over the years that have been fairly antagonistic towards its customer base.
And while the CEO is doing a bit of a goodwill tour, his company continues to makes moves that make Comcast seem even more evil.
First off, Comcast is looking to alter Nielson ratings in order to charge a premium for ads
inserted into repeated episodes of TV shows -- a move aimed at capturing the "binge" viewer market.
"Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable provider, wants to count viewers who devour multiple episodes of shows, while giving the most current episode a ratings lift. The Philadelphia-based company is working with Nielsen to roll out on-demand commercial ratings, or C3, for participating networks."
Basically, Comcast wants to flip the current advertising system upsides-down and have older episodes of primetime shows carrying the same commercial load as the most recent episode. Right now, Nielsen gives ratings credit only if the commercial ad load remains identical to the original episode.
All well and good, except that the same article quotes Matt Strauss
, the senior vice president of video services, as saying Comcast customers can kiss their DVR fast-forward button goodbye.
While digital video recorders and services such as Dish’s AutoHopper infuriate programmers because they allow for fast forwarding of ads, Comcast’s video on-demand services disable fast forwarding.
“The money being lost by people fast-forwarding commercials is in the billions,” said Strauss.
We can argue the semantics of using the word "lost" to describe something advertisers failed to capture all day long, but the bottom line is this: most customers hate commercials and they don't like them any better when they're made unskippable by cable companies. People pay a premium for DVR services. Telling them they can't do the one thing they'd most like to do is only going to increase the percentage of complaints.
DSLreports also points out that Comcast is still continuing its stealthy push towards capped broadband
Comcast has slowly but surely been expanding their usage cap trials, predominately in less competitive Southern markets. Portions of Maine and Augusta, Georgia appear to be the latest market to face caps and overages. Augusta locals tell the local media they were surprised to suddenly see they had a 300 GB cap and had to pay $10 for every 50 GB they travel.
As usual, this is accompanied by spokespeople "informing" reporters that "most people" don't use that much data and that sneaking in usage caps is the "fairest" way to make sure data hogs don't use up all the internet (paraphrased). Of course, these caps have nothing to do with managing bandwidth
. It's just a way to make users pay more for their services. Comcast may find that many people don't hit 300GB/month in usage now
, but that's likely to change in the future as streaming services like Netflix increase in popularity, as well as console manufacturers making active pushes for digital delivery.
In the short run, this activity hurts Comcast's reputation while increasing its income only slightly. But if the foot's in the door, it can rake in huge amounts of cash once these users switch towards data-heavy streaming services. It's a long game, but one Comcast feels is well worth playing. Customers? Not so much. There's a dearth of competition in the broadband market, and providers will very likely adopt usage caps even in competitive markets if any provider has already proven they can be instituted with minimal effect to its customer base.
Comcast's CEO may be stinging a little from his company's poor reputation
, but expressing a little concern in an interview doesn't do much towards mitigating the damage done by years of customer-unfriendly tactics. And, if these recent stories are any indication, there will be much more damage done in the future.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 December 2013 @ 8:05pm
We've written several times about the ridiculous and tragic outcomes of school zero tolerance policies, especially when enforced by "resource officers" (the more child-friendly term for law enforcement officers deployed in schools).
Zero tolerance policies have been on the rise since the mid-90's, thanks to the War on Drugs. High profile school shootings over the past decade have only made these policies worse, as did tying school funding to certain enforcement measures. The problem with these policies is they remove any nuance from discipline, leading to a pop tart bitten into the shape of a gun being treated with the same severity as an actual weapon.
These policies don't solely affect drug and gun possession. They have also been rewritten to cover many other infractions, thanks to the (perceived) rise in bullying and cyberbullying. The end result has been an increase in suspensions, expulsions and arrests, frequently over disciplinary problems that would have been handled in a more rational fashion (and by school administrators, rather than LEOs) before these policies were put in place.
It now appears some schools around the nation are realizing these policies have done more harm than good.
Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.
Perhaps nowhere has the shift been more pronounced than in Broward County’s public schools. Two years ago, the school district achieved an ignominious Florida record: More students were arrested on school campuses here than in any other state district, the vast majority for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti.
By removing administrators' ability to tailor punishments to the student by considering extenuating circumstances, zero tolerance policies have demanded a perverse form of consistency that results in large numbers of suspensions and arrests. Now, schools are starting to realize that these actions only lead to further problems and further separation of at-risk students from an education.
Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.
These alternative efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.
Throwing kids into an already-congested criminal system and crippling their future for minor violations is a very strange way to turn them into educated and useful adults. For many schools, zero tolerance policies have shifted their focus from education to enforcement, to the detriment of their students. When a school becomes a rough approximation of a prison, the students will suffer, as has been evidenced by years of declining test scores.
“What you see is the beginning of a national trend here,” said Michael Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Everybody recognizes right now that if we want to really find ways to close the achievement gap, we are really going to need to look at the huge number of kids being removed from school campuses who are not receiving any classroom time.”
This push towards a more discretionary approach to discipline is not just coming from parents and faculty. It's coming from up top, as well.
Beginning in 2009, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education aggressively began to encourage schools to think twice before arresting and pushing children out of school. In some cases, as in Meridian, Miss., the federal government has sued to force change in schools.
In Broward County, some immediate results of the shift away from zero tolerance have already been observed.
School-based arrests have dropped by 41 percent, and suspensions, which in 2011 added up to 87,000 out of 258,000 students, are down 66 percent from the same period in 2012, school data shows.
All of this adds up to at-risk students spending more time in classrooms and getting additional assistance to work through their problems. It's certainly not going to turn every student around but it has an infinitely higher chance of doing so than the normal "processing" (i.e., suspend/cuff/expel) did previously.
Hopefully, Broward County's success will be sustained and prompt others to reconsider their policies. This sort of change would go far towards turning our schools back into schools, rather than the glorified juvenile detention centers zero tolerance policies turned them into.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 December 2013 @ 12:33pm
The drawn-out process in which a bill becomes a law lends itself to harmful things, like mission creep and bloating. Canada's new cyberbullying legislation, problematic in its "purest" form, is now becoming even worse as legislators have begun hanging language aimed at other issues (child porn, terrorism, cable theft [?]) on the bill's framework.
As was noted earlier, language aimed at punishing revenge porn had already been attached to the bill. But the urge to target as much as possible with a broadly written bill is too much for Canada's politicians to resist. Michael Geist notes that Bob Dechert (Secretary to the Minister of Justice) took a moment during the debate to speculate about the "dangers" of "stolen" cable.
With respect to the cable, I would like the member to consider if his cable were being tapped into by someone who was transmitting child pornography over the Internet, or if his home Wi-Fi was being tapped into by someone who was using it to cyberbully another child, he would want to know about that and he would want that to stop. The modernization of those provisions is simply to bring them up to date.
The amendments proposed on those long-standing offences of stealing cable are already in the Criminal Code in section 327. They simply update the telecommunication language to expand the conduct, to make it consistent with other offences…
However, I would like him to think about the potential for someone who is doing cyberbullying, transmitting child sexual images, or perhaps planning a terrorist act, doing it by tapping into some law-abiding citizen's cable or Wi-Fi Internet access.
The code Dechert refers to deals with theft of services
. What Dechert is hoping
to do is turn a targeted law into something that can be used to pursue vagaries. By throwing cyberbullying, child porn and terrorism into the mix, Dechert is hoping to limit opposition to this "update" of the language.
Geist doesn't think much of Dechert's statement.
In other words, Dechert is suggesting that accessing a neighbour's cable or wireless Internet access might somehow be linked to planning a terrorist attack, sending child pornography, or engaging in cyberbullying. I would happy to think about the potential for cable theft to play a role in terrorist plots. In fact, I think most would agree that there is no likelihood whatsoever and that the government should stop trying link provisions in their "cyberbullying bill" that have nothing to do with cyberbullying.
The odds, as Geist points out, are almost nonexistent. But very slim odds are a legislator's best friend. No one wants to be caught out by the unexpected, especially when they had a chance to head it off back when the bill was being written. So, a lot of "just in case" rhetoric is deployed, accompanied by fearful projections.
If this line of reasoning is allowed to proceed, Canadians could be looking at the possibility of legal penalties for running unsecured WiFi connections. It seems implausible, but this has been witnessed before
. Back in 2010, a German court
stated that those running open WiFi connections could be fined for not securing their networks (thus "enabling" illegal activity). Copyright maximalists have made the argument several times
that an open WiFi connection is "negligent." When the realization sinks in that it's easier to target the listed subscriber rather than find out who exactly was performing criminal activities on an open WiFi connection, you can be sure that the solution will be routed along the path of least resistance: holding the subscriber responsible for the actions of others.
And, as Geist points out, the mission creep in this bill is astounding. What was meant to target cyberbullies has instead become a playground for legislators
. A nearly non-existent threat is being used to beef up the penalties for cable theft, as though that
part of the equation were the greatest deterrent to illegal activities. It's also concerning that the additional powers being granted to law enforcement outside
of the cyberbullying scope were omitted from the government's official "introduction" to the bill
(posted without the bill's text). This omission seems to indicate that the crowd-pleasing "cyberbullying" angle will allow legislators to copy-and-paste whole sections from a previously unsuccessful "lawful access
" bill, itself defended
with cries of "child pornography."
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 December 2013 @ 9:53am
Recently, Xbox users uploading gameplay videos with recorded commentary were surprised to find themselves booted from Upload Studio for their use of "adult" language. Microsoft apparently intends to run a very clean service, but it also bans a common slang word for penis, which also happens to be the co-op player's name in Dead Rising 3. So, you can see where the ideal begins to clash with reality.
The clash turns to cognitive disconnect when you take into account the number of foul-mouthed protagonists of popular M-rated games. Microsoft apparently has no problem with the actual gameplay consisting mainly of gunplay and f-bombs, but its customer base had better not be adding in any colorful verbal explosions of their own.
Microsoft's sliding ban scale still allows most swearing players to access other areas of its online offerings, but temporary-to-complete bans of all services are still an option for those who can't keep a civil tongue in their headset.
Following on the heels of this news is the discovery that swearing too much during gameplay can have consequences within the games themselves.
In a video that's both amazing and a little creepy, one gamer playing NBA 2K14 shows how he was given a technical foul after the Kinect heard him curse. In an actual NBA game, referees can hand out technicals if players swear excessively, and it looks like the same happens in NBA 2K14.
Here's the video. (SFW? Well, it obviously contains swearing…)
And it's not just basketball. Players of Unamerican Football are being served with sternly-worded notices from their club's board of directors.
These same "features" were noted on the PS4 versions, which means it was a developer decision rather than a Microsoft "exclusive." Both games do offer the option to toggle off the potty mouth penalties, thus allowing gamers to play them as God intended when He/She/It gave them expansive four-letter-dependent vocabularies.
Now, while Microsoft has been dealing with degenerate vernacular, Sony has taken a decidedly hands-off approach to user-generated content. Its system also utilizes an (optional) camera and mic. PS4 users are (well, were
) able to stream video live thanks to Sony's partnership with Twitch and its pre-loaded alternate-reality game, The Playroom.
The Playroom gives PS4 users a squad of tiny digital "robots" to interact with. And interact they have, often bypassing the digital playmates completely in favor of interacting with other players.
To date, there have been no users banned for talking like over-caffeinated sailors. Sony gave its users the freedom to use the system however they'd like. And users responded by doing exactly that
[The users have] put shoes on their head at the exhortation of others watching their broadcast live. They've had sex in front of their TV screen. They've stripped their wife naked as she lay seemingly unconscious on a couch. They've had to explain to a local police department that they didn't have a child locked up in their basement after viewers called to tip the cops off to the suspected crime.
Other bizarre and disturbing behavior has also been noted. A user tormented a young child by pretending he was lurking outside his house. The hosts of "The Spartan Show," a call-in show that swiftly gained a following on Twitch, was besieged by trolls who taunted the hosts and hit them with a barrage of cruel questions.
Twitch has now banned streams from Sony's "Playroom." It says it will consider reconnecting the two once PS4 users "become more familiar with the games-only focus of Twitch content." In other words, you can have your stuff back when you've shown me you've matured.
So, did Microsoft make the right move by using a version of the "broken windows theory
" (ban small-time swearing and the larger problems vanish)? Or is its policy simply unreasonable consider the number of M-rated titles it supports? Or did Sony just screw up by assuming its customers would create nothing but beauty and kindness (and unit-moving videos) when given access to live-streaming?
The only way you learn is by trying. Sony erred on side of the freedom while Microsoft erred on the side of caution. Points will be scored by Microsoft simply because its users have yet to upload rapey videos. Treating the average gamer (still hovering around age 30 despite the influx of younger gamers using tablets and mobile devices) like a child
will only get you so far. Any platform will be misused by a certain subset of humanity --that's a given -- but that's no reason to overreact far in advance
of potential issues.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 December 2013 @ 8:53am
The Dallas Police Department can't seem to get its officers' statements on shootings to agree with recordings of the incidents. So, it's doing what any forward thinking law enforcement agency would do -- changing the rules.
Any Dallas officer involved in a police shooting — whether the officer fired a weapon or witnessed the gunfire — will now have the right to remain silent for 72 hours under a new department policy.
And even before they give a statement about the shooting, the officers can watch any available video before they give a statement.
Very convenient. This policy change, which was ushered in under the cover of the Thanksgiving holiday, will help ensure that DPD officers don't find their statements directly contradicted by the inconveniently unblinking eye of the camera, as happened just recently.
On October 14th, Dallas police officer Cardan Spencer shot a mentally ill man four times in the stomach
. According to Spencer's partner, Christopher Watson (who wrote the report), the man (Bobby Gerald Bennett) moved "in a threatening manner" towards him and the other officer. Watson's statement even went so far as to say
Bennett "lunged" at them. A statement released by the DPD a few hours after the shooting claimed the situation "escalated."
A surveillance camera caught the entire confrontation on tape. Less than 20 seconds pass before Spencer opens fire. See if you can catch a glimpse of the "lunge" or the "escalation."
Bennett never lunges. He doesn't do anything more threatening than stand up from the chair he was sitting in. Four bullets later, Bennett is on the ground. Somehow, being shot four times by a DPD officer is "aggravated assault," a charge the DPD pressed (it was later dropped
) while Bennett was still in critical condition.
As a result of this, Spencer was fired and Watson suspended for making false statements. But this was only after Bennett's mother took the video to the media. Before she did this, DPD Chief David Brown watched the video and claimed his own officer's statement trumped his lying eyes
"The unfortunate thing here is that Officer Watson's statement really overrode what the video showed," Brown said. "We had not at that point determined if the video captured the entire incident, or if the video had not been altered in any way. We put a lot of credibility on officer's statements until we have other evidence to prove otherwise."
Not so much anymore. Former DPD officer Cardan Spencer may be facing assault charges for shooting Bennett. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this whole debacle is the fact that Bennett's mother called the police because she was afraid her son (who has mental issues and was off his medication) might hurt himself
As this has caused the DPD considerable embarrassment (not the least of which is the chief claiming a recording of the shooting is less trustworthy than statements given by an officer later suspended for making false statements), the only solution was (apparently) to buy time for officers to fix their narratives should inconvenient recordings surface.
Supposedly, this 72-hour waiting period is better for memory. Chief Brown refers to research by Alexis Artwohl
which indicates recall of traumatic events increases over time
. Immediate statements may be less accurate. That may be, but this report has been available since 2002 and there hasn't been a large shift in policies regarding police shootings across the nation. This looks like nothing more than someone finding the justification they need to install an insular policy that will allow bad cops to be even worse. This gives shelter to liars by allowing them to craft a plausible narrative that can't be undone by a single surveillance video.
This also doesn't explain why police insist on questioning suspects and eyewitnesses immediately
after a criminal incident. But Artwohl has an explanation.
Artwohl, the memory expert, said officers treat civilian witnesses differently because officers won’t always be able to find the person again. That usually isn’t true of officers, she said.
Unsurprisingly, attorneys for the Dallas Police Association "applauded" Chief Brown's application of an additional layer of paint to the thin blue line. Anything that makes it easier to defend cops who are threatened by people standing motionless is a win for the PD's lawyers.
Defense attorney Mark Bennett flips the scenario to show just how outrageous this policy would be
if it was applied to anyone else.
As a result of this incident, the Dallas Police Department changed its policy regarding gang-related shootings. Instead of pressing gang members for statements immediately after shootings, police officers will advise them that they have seventy-two hours to get together and make up a story, and will provide them, during that time, with any video the police can find, so that they can conform their stories to the video.
It makes no sense, does it, that police policy should not just permit but encourage members of a criminal street gang who witness a gang-related shooting to take three days to talk to each other and their lawyers and review the facts that are beyond dispute before making a statement?
It makes sense only if the police want the perpetrators of such shootings to walk free. The idea would be farcical if the criminal street gang were anything other than the police.
It's a farce, alright. The DPD has just ensured no one
will trust the narratives constructed by its officers. And every citizen who's been paying attention will know to hang onto their recordings
for at least 72 hours, rather than see it twisted into "evidence" that keeps bad cops employed.
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 December 2013 @ 5:39am
The more statistics are gathered on broadband speed, the more evidence accumulates that the United States' lack of true broadband competition is holding this country back. Karl Bode at DSLreports points to the latest data gathered by Ookla, which shows the US is still lagging behind several countries in connection speed.
According to the latest Speedtest.net data from Ookla, the United States has fallen to 31 in mean downstream broadband speed, behind such countries as Uruguay, Estonia, and Latvia. Ookla notes they collect the data from millions of user connections, measuring the "rolling mean throughput in Mbps over the past 30 days where the mean distance between the client and the server is less than 300 miles."
As Bode points out, part of this is due to the geographic sprawl of the United States. Many of the countries listed above the US (Malta, Macau, Luxembourg) are exponentially smaller than the US. But that's not the entire story. Countries with comparable sizes rank near the US in speed. One is Russia (#35), whose infrastructure is still hit-and-miss (but still a bit of an overachiever
). The other is Canada (#37), a country with its own competitive issues
Even weighing those factors, the lack of competition is still the main contributor to these under-performing speeds. As Bode notes, the speed results are also low because many customers don't purchase the fastest tier available. Again, this is because faster tiers are prohibitively expensive for most users. If other countries are obtaining better speed results, their customers are being offered faster speeds at affordable prices.
Not only are Americans connecting at subpar speeds, but they're not even getting what they've paid for. Ookla's "Promise Index" compares actual speeds with advertised speeds. According to its numbers, the US ranks 28th in the world
. The actual percentage isn't terrible (92.95%) but it is another sign that there's a reason every advertised broadband package contains those two special words, "up to."
There doesn't seem to be much improvement on the horizon, either. Time Warner Cable is for sale and it's made it clear its preferred buyer is none other than Comcast
, a cable company that routinely finishes towards the "top" of Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" polls
. This would effectively give Comcast one-third of the national broadband market. This purchase would need approval from regulators (the DoJ and the FCC), but these agencies have been talked into very questionable "consolidations" in the past.
If the broadband market's ever going to improve, it needs more players. The incumbents have spent several years building up roadblocks to discourage new competitors. Google's fiber efforts
may be spurring very belated improvements in limited markets, but it's hardly the answer. Without some sort of large-scale disruption, we're likely looking at rising costs, stagnant speeds and a push by providers to preferred high-margin services and the steady creep of customer-unfriendly usage caps
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Posted on Techdirt - 4 December 2013 @ 3:39am
Trying to pry information loose from the NSA is nearly impossible. The ODNI has been dropping documents related to the NSA's various surveillance programs, but that's as a result of a lawsuit, something that goes completely unacknowledged at the ODNI's site. People requesting a peek into what the NSA has collected on them PERSONALLY have been universally met with a boilerplate response that "neither confirms nor denies" the existence of this data.
MuckRock has been filing dozens of FOIA requests in hopes of freeing up info on the many contractors employed by the NSA. Unsurprisingly, this has met with little success. While it did manage to secure 16 pages on French security firm Vupen, its other requests have been met with claims that no responsive documents have been found. This is hard to believe considering some of the requests are about known NSA contractors.
But one recent response went past baffling into the realm of the surreal in its assertion that the keywords MuckRock sought info on were just too "wide open" to be useful.
A search for overly broad keywords such as "CNO" and "computer network attack" would be tantamount to conducting a manual search through thousands of folders and then reading each document in order to determine whether the document pertains to a contract.
So, the agency that claims to be able to sift through millions of pieces of communications and data somehow claims it can't wrangle its own data. Of course, the NSA can't even search its own internal email
, so asking it to run a keyword search for contract documents is probably out of the question. But this assertion by the NSA is a bit puzzling, as it almost implies a lot of what's being searched for isn't even digitized, as MuckRock points out.
In other words, the NSA is claiming that, for external contractors, large portions of its $10.8 billion budget are tracked primarily through paper indices not searchable even by relatively broad topic.
In addition, the agency's response appears to be saying that they don't even have a designated place to store paper copies of contracts, but place them in folders with other documents.
So, how does the agency track its interactions with its "vendors?" Does it even matter? The agency's own budget is secret (though not so much
anymore), so a lack of solid accounting hardly matters. But it's still rather disturbing to see such a deliberately cavalier attitude towards accountability.
How do they keep track of their activities if they don't have an electronic contracts database? How do they, as a complex organization, determine budgetary needs if they cannot easily track their own spending? How do they measure the performance of vendor contracts, if as they claim, the contracts are shuffled to some paper file that may not see the light of day unless someone requests it through a FOIA request?
As MuckRock points out, this obfuscation is likely deliberate. The NSA is a data black hole. Lots of info flows in but it rarely, if ever, leaves. Any questions those charged with approving funding might have can be waved away by citing magic words like "national security," and that's even before its flacks
in the halls of Congress start erecting roadblocks.
Almost certainly the NSA has very effective ways of searching its own internal files. After all, its defenders often boast about the number of geniuses it employs. It just has no compelling reason to do so. Even being compelled by courts to kick loose documents has its limits. As we saw just recently, a court order to declassify the government's secret opinion on the Section 215 collections was flat out refused
by the DOJ. If the FISA court can't get the government to comply, then average citizens have no chance whatsoever.
MuckRock is continuing to assault the NSA's FOIA defenses. It's hoped that with enough requests, info will be pried loose that will indicate what sorts of keywords generate responsive documents -- and which ones result in ridiculous "this is impossible" statements from the agency.
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