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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Posted on Techdirt - 3 December 2013 @ 3:27pm
The legislative attempts to curb cyberbullying continue to amass. We've already seen Nova Scotia's regrettable offering -- a law that includes ex parte "hearings" attended by only the accuser and a judge, and the addition of criminal and civil liability which extends to the parents of the accused. We've seen other similar efforts here in the US, most of which have been rushed through the process while emotions are still high. The end result is a set of bad laws that criminalizes protected speech and removes objectivity from the process.
Canada is now in the process of pushing through a national cyberbullying law, one that adds "revenge porn" to the mix.
The Honourable Peter MacKay, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Central Nova, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, today introduced legislation to address criminal behaviour associated with cyberbullying. This legislation demonstrates the Government's firm commitment to ensuring that Canadians are better protected against online exploitation.
"Our Government is committed to ensuring that our children are safe from online predators and from online exploitation. We have an obligation to help put an end to harmful online harassment and exploitation. Cyberbullying goes far beyond schoolyard bullying and, in some cases, can cross the line into criminal activity," said Minister Mackay. "With the click of a computer mouse, a person can be victimized before the entire world. As we have seen far too often, such conduct can destroy lives. It clearly demands a stronger criminal justice response, and we intend to provide one."
This legislative attempt was prompted by two high-profile suicides of bullied teens -- Rataeh Parsons and Amanda Todd -- both of whom also had explicit photos of them distributed online.
The bill itself (the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act) hasn't been posted online yet, but many of the changes the legislation hopes to make have been detailed at the Canadian Department of Justice site. In addition, the report [embedded below] leading to this legislation is also available, which contains several recommendations for altering existing laws and crafting new ones.
Here are some of the key changes the legislation hopes to implement if passed.
- Create a new offence to prohibit the non-consensual distribution of intimate images – punishable by a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment on indictment or six months' imprisonment on summary conviction;
- Direct the sentencing judge to consider whether or not a person convicted of the new offence should be subject to a prohibition order that would restrict his or her use of the Internet for a specified period;
- Authorize a judge to order the removal of an intimate image from websites if the person depicted did not consent to having the image posted;
- Allow a judge to order restitution following a conviction to enable the victim to recoup expenses involved in having the images removed from the Internet or social media;
- Empower the court to seize and order the forfeiture of property related to the offence, such as computers and mobile devices;
- Specify that a justice may issue a recognizance order (peace bond) where there are reasonable grounds to believe an individual will commit the new offence; and
- Ensure that the spouse of an accused person is eligible to testify against the accused in court.
Canada isn't exactly the US when it comes to protected speech, so it will be interesting to see how this attempt at curbing "revenge porn" plays out. Beyond that, there are a couple of troubling additions to existing law that could result in lots of unintended consequences.
There's plenty of potential for abuse in allowing courts to order an image to be removed. One needs to look no further than Europe
to see how problematic this can be. Images that aren't "revenge porn" but are
embarrassing can be taken down with a court order, meaning that people will be able to bury unflattering photos. The fact that this is wrapped in with a cyberbullying law means this likely won't be strictly limited to photos. "Offensive" text may also fall under the same law.
More troubling is the fact that the law seeks to allow courts to go into the asset forfeiture business
. There are hundreds
of examples here in the US that show just how perverted that incentive is. The War on Drugs has seen citizens lose houses, vehicles and cash to law enforcement for things as minor as finding a personal supply of marijuana. Even worse, people pulled over carrying amounts of cash that officers find "suspicious" often find their money seized under the presumption that only drug dealers carry lots of cash. No legislative body should be in any hurry to unleash this sort of easily-exploited "deterrent" on its own citizens.
The addition of granting spouses the "eligibility" to testify against each other in court is an interesting twist, presumably aimed at combating revenge porn. At this point, Canadian law still considers married partners
to be "one person," which means neither can be compelled
to testify against each other. This would eliminate that "protection" (if that's indeed what it is) and doesn't seem to be limited solely to revenge porn cases. This would seem to open itself up for abuse as well and, if passed, Canadians may see police paying more and more attention to the spouses of suspects.
The legislation also seeks to modernize existing criminal code to be more applicable to current realities. This too has some problematic aspects.
- Provide for preservation of volatile computer data;
- Require judicial authority to acquire preserved computer data, and require the deletion of such data when it is no longer needed;
- Update production orders and warrants to make them more responsive and appropriate for today's advanced telecommunications environment;
- Give the police better tools to track and trace telecommunications to determine their origin or destination; and
- Streamline the process for obtaining multiple warrants and orders that are related to the execution of a wiretap authorization.
It's the last bullet point that's the most worrying. Streamlining processes like these almost always results in an escalating disregard for civil liberties and privacy protections. This is another area where governments should tread carefully, or better yet, not at all. Modernizing isn't simply "streamlining." Modernizing also means carefully considering the unintended consequences of applying "streamlined" procedures to a heavily-connected public. Modernizing laws, done the wrong way, simply grants more access to law enforcement without considering the additional privacy protections that may need to be built in.
Legislators (and courts) also need to be especially wary of how the law will be interpreted by those enforcing it. Most likely, new permissions will be bent to give law enforcement the "edge" it always seems to feel it needs. Again, we don't need to look any further than the US to see how selective "modernization" can be. If a judge said back in 1993 that it was fine for officers to open a flip phone and scroll through the address book without a warrant, law enforcement takes that to mean it can browse the contents of a modern smartphone (which is analogous to raiding someone's computer) without a warrant in 2013.
Pre-greasing the wiretap wheels is never a good idea. We have an entire intelligence network predicated on streamlined, bulk collections that arose out of generous interpretations of existing surveillance laws.
The bullet points alone indicate this legislation has a lot more bad in it than good. In the search for applicable deterrents to fight a nebulous problem, the bill's drafters have erred on the side of smothering speech under a heavy blanket of good intentions.
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Posted on Techdirt - 3 December 2013 @ 10:33am
Brad Bushman, the Ohio State University researcher who (usually in conjunction with Craig Anderson) has somehow managed to ignore a body of work to the contrary, has again produced a study that claims video games turn players into monsters. His study, conducted with the aid of Italian researchers, makes a couple of specific claims based on the observed behavior of the 172 subjects.
- People playing violent video games are more dishonest than those playing non-violent games.
- People playing violent video games exhibit less self control than those playing non-violent video games.
Subjects either played violent games (Grand Theft Auto III or GTA: San Andreas) or non-violent games (Golf3D or Pinball3D). During their playtime, they were given a bowl of M&Ms to snack on, but were first warned that eating too much candy in one sitting was "unhealthy."
Let's stop right here for a moment and consider the credibility of researchers who (presumably with a straight face) told teenagers that eating too much candy would make their tummies hurt. The health implications of a single bowl of candy in a research setting are effectively nil, but this ridiculous instruction is used as evidence that violent video games adversely affect players' judgement.
According to Bushman's research, players playing violent games ate more than those playing non-violent games. Ipso facto, violent game players have less self-control.
Post-playtime, players were given a set of logic questions to answer and received a raffle ticket for each correct answer. The "catch" (as it were) was that players were allowed to collect these tickets themselves from an envelope. Research showed those playing violent games were eight times as likely to grab more tickets than they actually earned, thus suggesting players of violent games are more subject to moral turpitude.
An additional factor thrown into the mix was a post-play "game" which gave players the option to blast losing players with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no one on the receiving end of the blasts, which is kind of a shame…) Violent game players were much more prone to do this, again suggesting those under the influence of Grand Theft Auto tend to be more aggressive and harmful towards others.
The problem with Bushman's study is that it collects evidence on short-term effects (behavior observed during or shortly after play) and uses that to suggest there are long-term repercussions inherent in playing violent games. It's completely unsurprising that those who had played Grand Theft Auto would be more prone to blast other players with noise than those who played a sedate game like Golf. (It would be interesting to see this comparison done more aggressive sports games -- like football, hockey or boxing.) Both games demand a different mental approach and a game containing violent behavior would likely see a short-term rise in aggression in most players.
Also, when players have just finished playing a game where their protagonists can break all sorts of laws, taking a couple of extra tickets just doesn't seem to be a big deal. But this is behavior viewed nearly immediately after playing. A reasonable amount of "cool down" time would likely reduce this number. Stealing a raffle ticket from a research project is a far cry from exiting the building and punching people or making off with their vehicles.
The less said about the candy "evidence," the better. But, if nothing else, we are again observing behavior during and shortly after gameplay, not long-term indicators.
It needs to be highlighted that the negative behavior was more prevalent in those who "scored highest on a measure of moral disengagement." This suggests the underlying factors are pre-existing, rather than created by gameplay. Research subjects with moral issues were more morally suspect. Go figure. Bushman wants to believe the video games alter the morals of players, but his own research states otherwise. In fact, Bushman himself states otherwise.
“Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.”
Even the "moral disengagement" is questionable. Take a look at one of the questions used to indicate "moral disengagement."
“Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious.”
Well, no kidding. Someone doesn't have to be suffering from outsized "moral disengagement" to realize that stealing from a store is a much less serious crime than other criminal acts (like, say, stealing directly
from another person). Anyone who disagreed with this statement has some moral issues of their own.
Bushman's study involved 172 students, a grouping that will generally produce statistically solid results. But compare those 172 who seemingly proved Bushman's theory ("violent video games are unquestionably bad") to a recent study involving 11,000 children that spanned 10 years
. A broader base, spread over time, indicated that video game playing had nearly no discernible effect on children.
Bushman's (and Anderson's) body of work
has tried to prove that violent video games make people violent, but has actually done little more than see him push preconceived notions under the pretense of "science." His research tends to indicate short-term effects but his statements assert players of violent video games are incapable of resetting their moral compass. He's been called out before for his flawed research and cherry-picked "analysis."
This is more of the same. Bushman ignores the results his own "moral disengagement" test and makes the claim that violent video games make otherwise good people aggressive, dishonest and (LOL) eat more candy.
Because of his past "research," Bushman (and Anderson) will continue to be the go-to man for talking heads who want their own perceptions of Big Bad Video Games confirmed. Those willing to see past the headlines will find little more than a researcher repeatedly confirming his own bias.
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Posted on Techdirt - 3 December 2013 @ 9:37am
"Shoot first, be named in a lawsuit later." That seems to be the mindset of certain members of our national law enforcement agencies. Orange County resident Daniel Noriega is proving this (just made up now) adage with his suit against ICE for a cavalcade of harmful errors.
Noriega says he was dropping off his girlfriend's son at an Anaheim elementary school on Dec. 1, 2011, when "all of a sudden, a car quickly pulled up near Noriega. The tires screeched as the vehicle came to an abrupt halt. The UFA [Unknown Federal Agent], without any warning or instruction, without identifying himself as a federal agent or law enforcement officer, without any provocation whatsoever, and while wearing plain clothes, quickly exited his vehicle, pulled out a firearm as he approached Noriega, and fired it at Noriega," according to the complaint.
Noriega, scared for his life, drove around a vehicle in front of him and left the parking lot to escape from the "unidentified attacker that had tried to kill him," he says in the lawsuit.
Unfortunately for Noriega, fleeing for your life from unknown assailants looks to pursuing agents exactly
like a guilty person fleeing arresting officers. Noriega then made the next logical move for a person who thought someone was trying to kill him.
Noriega, who did not have a cell phone on him, drove to a nearby gas station and used their phone to call 911. Several officers, including the immigration agent, showed up at the gas station, handcuffed Noriega, and put him in the back of a vehicle, according to the complaint.
At this point, the chain of events is rather hazy. At some point during his detainment, Noriega was accused of trying to kill a federal agent and his vehicle and house were searched. His girlfriend was apprised of these "facts" by another ICE agent during the search of his residence.
The Orange County Register has more details, including dispatch recordings indicating ICE screwed the whole thing up
An Anaheim police dispatcher, in a recorded conversation with a Buena Park dispatcher, called the Dec. 1. shooting "all FUBAR through ICE" -- using the military expletive for " (messed) up beyond all recognition..."
In dispatch recordings, ICE agent "Nicole " tells a Buena Park dispatcher that the agency is looking for Alcala and that Noriega must be lying about his own name.
Noriega was detained for "several hours" under the pretense that he had tried to kill the federal agent who shot at him, but when all was said and done, ICE dropped the charges and picked up the tab for his impounded vehicle. Despite knowing they had grabbed the wrong guy (ICE was looking for Noriega's girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, Juan Carlos Aclala), ICE still considers Noriega a "suspect," according to his attorney.
This case seems like it might hinge on whether the agent shot at Noriega before Noriega attempted to flee. According to an Orange County D.A.'s investigation
, nothing can be determined conclusively. The ICE agent apparently fired at Noriega from INSIDE his vehicle (backed up by a hole in the windshield and a shell casing on the car floor), lending more credence to the assertion that Noriega made an "aggressive" move first
. Then again, having an unmarked vehicle suddenly block off yours could prompt a panicked reaction, one that would only get worse when (allegedly) followed by the sound of a gunshot.
However this does play out, the chain of event shows ICE's disregard for public safety in its quest to get its man. Surely there are better places than in front of an open school to attempt detainment, especially if there's potential for the confrontation to turn violent. Its follow-up actions were just as careless as it moved forward with searches of Noriega's vehicle and house without first
determining they had the right person.
The ICE officer states in the DA's investigation that he couldn't positively identify whether he had the right person (Noriega was wearing a hat and sunglasses) before making his move to block off the vehicle. The fact that the agent made an aggressive move without positive identification is an indicator of the agency's willingness to accept a certain amount of collateral damage as being "just part of the job."
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Posted on Techdirt - 3 December 2013 @ 7:32am
The trial for two of the three Fullerton police officers charged in the beating death of mentally ill homeless man, Kelly Thomas, has begun. Manuel Ramos, the officer who first approached Kelly Thomas and delivered most of the damage, is facing charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Jay Ciccinelli, who arrived on the scene moments later, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Ramos' lawyer, John Barnett, sought to have charges against his client dropped last year, claiming the 10-minute-long ordeal that Thomas suffered through before lapsing into a coma (first, attempting to tell officers he couldn't breathe and, towards the end, crying out for his father) was a direct result of Thomas' reluctance to be further hassled by the officer.
When a "recalcitrant" Thomas did not comply, Ramos was entitled to use force and the threat of force to complete his arrest, Barnett contended in his 80-page motion.
"Rather than use actual force, Officer Ramos employed a lawful, conditional threat, to use force," he wrote. "The death of Kelly Thomas was not the natural and probable consequence of that lawful threat."
The recording shows Ramos relied almost exclusively on "force" rather than the "threat of force." As mentioned earlier, Ramos approached a seated Thomas before the beating commenced and said, "You see these fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up." That, I suppose, would be considered a "threat of force." Ramos wasn't kidding. His fists, along with his nightstick and additional abuse from a handful of other officers, completely "fucked up" Kelly Thomas, leaving him in an irreversible coma. Jay Cicinelli contributed in his own way, beating Thomas' face with the butt end of his Taser. (Cicinelli is captured on Ramos' mic stating that he "smashed [Thomas'] face to hell.")
[You can go to this link to see a picture
taken by Thomas' father after his son's arrival at the hospital -- but we warn you that it's gruesome.]
There's really no questioning what happened. Security camera footage
, synched to Ramos' mic, paints a brutally clear picture of how much Thomas went through before his body and mind gave out. Even the coroner's report notes the death wasn't accidental, listing "mechanical suppression of the thorax" as the cause of death. [The recording is 33 minutes long. The "altercation" begins about 15 minutes in. Five minutes later, there are six officers restraining Thomas. Warning
: video, especially Thomas' anguished screams, is Not Safe For Life
John Barnett is still defending Officer Ramos. He's decided to top his earlier claims that the officer's actions were lawful and appropriate
Ramos’ attorney… told jurors that the officers who beat Thomas on a summer night in 2011 not only didn’t use excessive force in the incident, they “weren’t using enough force.”
The officers were forced to call for backup because they could not subdue an out-of-control Thomas, John Barnett said. “They’re losing the fight,” Barnett said.
Watch that tape again (or for the first time) and see whether it appears the cops are "losing the battle." Thomas, who weighed 135 pounds, was subdued by six
Fullerton officers. The recording clearly captures him telling officers he can't breathe. Thomas was homeless and suffered from schizophrenia. While he wasn't cooperative with Ramos' instructions before he was beaten, he was still pretty far from being a threat. Last year, Barnett claimed the force was "appropriate." Now, he claims it was "too little." Officer Ramos apparently has no idea how to deploy an appropriate
amount of force, despite his training.
“This case is not about a homeless, helpless, harmless mentally ill guy, this case is about a man who made choices in his life, bad choices that led to his tragic death,” Barnett said.
No one's arrest should end in death -- no matter what "choices" they've made -- not when six officers
are looking to control one person
. And for Barnett to claim that somehow choices the mentally ill Thomas made earlier in his life
contributed to his death is not only disingenuous, it's genuinely sickening. If that's the case, then bad choices made by Officers Ramos and Cicinelli in their lives
led to them being charged with manslaughter and murder.
This isn't about Kelly Thomas' life choices. This is about the choices made by a handful of officers -- choices that resulted in the death of a man whose life, what there was of it, came to a sudden halt because he ran into Officer Ramos and his backup.
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Posted on Techdirt - 2 December 2013 @ 3:33pm
Everything old is new again, copyright troll-wise. Just recently, we witnessed the return of one of internet's stranger denizens, one hit wonder Shaun "Tongues of Glass" Shane and his army of Twitter accounts deployed to ensure his oft-tweeted banalist poem is properly attributed to the gruff man with unparalleled page-turning skills.
Ken White at Popehat notes that another copyright-wielding troll has emerged from hiding. Donna Barstow, the "cartoonist" whose unfunny drawings drew the (highly negative) attention of Something Awful goons (that's their chosen name, by the way, not a statement of judgment), has ended her self-imposed hiatus by issuing a backdoor-entrance takedown attempt aimed at delisting White's highly critical post from 2012.
I wrote about her in July 2012, which resulted in a truly surreal phone call from her. I also wrote about her odd follow-up rant in which she suggested that copyright is a federal crime. Apparently she actually meant that copyright violation is a federal crime. I think.
Anyway, this morning (that is, nearly 17 months after I wrote about her) I got an email from Google indicating that she had complained that my post contained private information:
We're writing from Google.com to bring the following page to your attention:
A Whois search indicated that you're the host for this page.
A concerned user contacted us to report that handwritten signature is published on this page. We hope that you'll assist this individual in restricting access to this private information by removing the page from the web. If it's changed to return a true 404 error via the http headers, please let us know and we'll also remove the listing from the Google index.
We appreciate your assistance. Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.
The Google Team
On 11/18/13 15:54:25 firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
your_name: D. Barstow
hidden_subject_signature: Your personal information removal request for a handwritten signature
As you can see, Donna Barstow considers her signature -- the same signature she attaches to every
cartoon she creates -- to be "personal information." Apparently, Barstow's idea of "personal" means "things anyone can access."
There's only one place Ms. Barstow's signature appears in my post about her — it's in her cartoon about Mexico, which I put in the post to comment upon it, criticize it, and report on ongoing allegations that some of her cartoons are racist or otherwise obnoxious. It's the signature that she displays to the world in all of the cartoons she publishes. It's "private" in the sense that you can't see it unless you look at one of her cartoons on her web site or published elsewhere by her.
White has written back to Google clarifying the situation. Presumably, Google won't follow through with this request, but stranger things have happened. It appears Barstow's earlier experience with the limitations of copyright law may have taught her at least one thing: the copyright angle probably won't work. Consequently, she has chosen to approach this from an entirely different (but still completely wrong) angle.
Speaking of stranger things, Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing points out that Charles Carreon may be behind Barstow's latest effort
. His post dated November 24th details a conversation
he had with the "poor woman" who contacted him about concerns that he might be posting about her at a site using Carreon's name
. (The site is a "satirical diary" and is [quite obviously] not
written by Charles Carreon, "Internet Lawyer
".) In the long and winding post, Carreon eventually unloads plenty of hate in Ken White's direction and presumably did the same while calming Donna Barstow, victim of hundreds of self-inflicted wounds.
If this call was recent, Barstow's reaction time is horribly slow. The post she referenced
in her conversation with Carreon appeared in July of 2012 (as did Popehat's). It looks as if Barstow's making a belated attempt to clean up her reputation and is apparently assuming it's so long after the fact that no one will care. Obviously, she's wrong. The takedown attempt aimed at Popehat most likely won't work and her effort has generated a minimum
of three negative posts in response. Anyone else she targets will just contribute to the body of negative press she's accumulated since going nuclear last summer.
There are lessons to be learned here, but Barstow doesn't seem to have learned anything from her previous experience other than she's run the wheels off the copyright angle.
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Posted on Techdirt - 2 December 2013 @ 8:40am
Facebook is developing a speech impediment. The recent fracas over beheading videos was marked by severe bouts of waffling from the social media giant. On one hand, it seems to want to ease unfettered expression. On the other hand, it's set itself up as the content police.
These two aspects often collide with disastrous results. Beheadings are a go, but breast cancer groups can't post photos of mastectomies. Recent partnerships with government agencies see Facebook willing to censor by proxy, even as it attempts to roll back its control in other areas. Giving 800+ million users access to a "report" button is well-intended, but the reality is more troubling. Something that's simply unpopular can be clicked into oblivion in nearly no time whatsoever.
Here's how Facebook's efforts to play both sides (free speech/content patrol) works in practice. [Caution: contains mandatory autoplay video because every TV news website in the US apparently believes we want to be informed without consent.]
Fitness advocate and mother of three, Maria Kang, is an avid blogger and Facebook user, but her most recent post didn't sit well with Facebook, and some people are now calling her a bully...
When Kang saw an article online from the Daily Mail showing plus-size women posing in lingerie, she logged onto her Facebook page and started writing.
"The popular and unrelenting support received to those who are borderline obese (not just 30-40lbs overweight) frustrates me as a fitness advocate who intimately understands how poor health negatively effects a family, a community and a nation," Kang said.
"While I think it's important to love and accept your body, I was a little peeved because I think that we're normalizing obesity in our society," Kang said.
One thing that's worth pointing out is that Kang posted this rant on her
page. She didn't head to a body acceptance group page or the Daily Mail's post or anywhere that she would be, in effect, intruding
. So, while people may have found it offensive, she didn't go out of her way (so to speak) to offend.
This ultimately didn't matter. Outraged readers reacted swiftly enough to get her post taken down and her account yanked in record time. Facebook explained its actions to Kang this way.
Just three hours after her post went viral, Facebook responded by removing the post and shutting down her account, calling the post "hate speech," according to Kang.
The bright line between protected expression and hate speech may occasionally be rather grey and dim, but there's a big difference between what Kang said and what most
people would consider to be "hate speech." Something that angers others -- even if it's several
others -- is not "hate speech" solely
because it provokes a strong reaction.
Shortly after Kang went public with this, Facebook offered a completely different
explanation of what happened.
"A user reported content on her page, and it was mistakenly removed by Facebook. When we realized the error we corrected it immediately, and restored full access to Ms Kang. We apologize for the inconvenience."
Facebook restored Kang's account but did not restore the post, saying Kang could repost it if she chose to. At this point, the post is still deleted, along with every comment, Like, etc. that was attached to it. Reposting it fresh would pretty much be pointless. Kang made her point once and was treated to Facebook's baffling, inconsistent "policy" on controversial content.
Many readers agreed with Kang's sentiments. Many others felt it was bullying. There's no real "right" viewpoint here because all Kang did was express her opinion. The correct response would have been to leave it alone and let the best weapon against offensive speech sort it out: more speech
. Kang's posting undoubtedly drew at least as much vitriol as she offered up. Speech battles speech better than weak censorious efforts like Facebook's knee jerk response.
The platform has nearly one billion users. To shut down speech because of a single report completely undermines the power inherent in one of the largest social networks in the world. Facebook: you have a billion voices. Let them talk it out. Hastily pulling the trigger at the behest of those offended only makes it harder for the offender to see how their words have affected others. It certainly doesn't teach anyone to be more tolerant. All it does is feed into their mindset by proving them "right" -- that the rest of the world can't handle their "truth."
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Posted on Techdirt - 27 November 2013 @ 5:34pm
Another incident that highlights the troubling aspects of placing cops in schools has surfaced. The sheriff's office's (which supplies the deputies to the school) story has changed several times in the space of few days, but the end result is inarguable: a 17-year-old student is in a medically-induced coma as the result of its officer's actions.
At one Texas high school, the use of a Taser by Randy McMillan, a sheriff’s deputy/school resource officer, on 17-year-old Noe Niño de Rivera has resulted in the student being put in a medically induced coma. The family has filed a lawsuit against McMillan, the school district, and the county, and alleges Rivera was tased after trying to break up a fight.
According to the court documents, the teen was walking backwards from school officers who were trying to break up a fight when he was tased, falling backwards and suffering a brain hemorrhage. The sheriff's office maintains that the student acted aggressively and refused to back off when ordered to by officer Randy McMillan.
The narrative is cloudy, even when restricted to just the sheriff's office's statements. The original report of the incident on Nov. 20th said this
A Bastrop County sheriff deputy assigned to Cedar Creek High School as a resource officer used a Taser on a 17-year-old student during a fight on Wednesday, according to officials.
The student and two other boys were involved in a fight in the hallway when the deputy used the stun gun on him, according to the Bastrop school district and Sissy Jones, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
The next day, the office's statement added this
A 17-year-old Cedar Creek High School student was acting aggressively before a Bastrop County sheriff’s deputy Tased the teen Wednesday, officials said Thursday.
Thus making the deployment of the Taser more justifiable. But it also added this:
Sissy Jones, a spokeswoman for the Bastrop County sheriff’s office, said that two deputies who work at the Bastrop school district as resource officers were trying to stop a fight Wednesday between two female students in the high school’s hallway when the 17-year-old male student approached.
The original report stated the tased student was involved in a fight with two other boys and the deputy
. This new statement shows the student wasn't even involved in the fight and had only "approached" the scene.
The student tried to interfere with the deputies and didn’t listen to their commands, Jones said. “He looked as though he was ready to fight.”
"Looked." This still doesn't explain the office's statement that the student was "aggressive" or the implication that he posed a threat to the officers.
The family's lawyer claims to have cell phone footage of the incident that contradicts the statements made by the officers
"They're completely lying, they're completely lying because they're very worried about this officer being indicted for a criminal charge, which he should be," said attorney Adam Loewy, who is representing the family…
"Noe was being a good Samaritan, a good citizen, he broke up the fight. Then there was some stoppage to everything, and he was standing there. You see these police officers go up to him and tase him," Loewy said.
Whatever this footage shows likely won't make an appearance until the case goes to trial, but it would seem the school itself
should have footage of the incident. According to its parent's handbook, the school has cameras in use
For safety purposes, video and audio recording equipment is used to monitor student behavior, including on buses and in common areas on campus. Students will not be told when the equipment is being used.
A "high school hallway" would presumably be a "common area." If there is footage, no one has made any mention of it. Even stranger, no one has even offered
to review the recordings or even deny such footage exists.
The lawsuit would obviously limit the school from talking about the incident (as would the student's age), but the school issued nearly no statements in the days preceding the filing, other than its original joint statement with the sheriff's office (above) and this boilerplate isued on the day of the incident.
“The safety and security of all students is the number one priority at Cedar Creek High School and Bastrop ISD,” the district said in a statement. “When law enforcement officers intervene and take action, they do so based on their training and protocol, as they deem warranted.”
The sheriff's office has gone on record as stating the student wasn't
involved in the fight, but yet somehow, the uninvolved student is the one who was tased and hospitalized for nothing more than appearing "aggressive." Fights have occurred in schools as long as there have been schools, but only in recent years has it been assumed that only
law enforcement officers are capable of handling combative students. When you use law enforcement officers to handle routine disciplinary problems, you greatly increase the odds of severe injuries. Officers have certain training and tools and applying them to situations that don't require severe responses puts LEOs in the awkward place of either doing nothing or approaching students as though they were dangerous, hardened criminals.
If this school had no "resource officers," it's nearly guaranteed that this situation would have ended with nothing more than routine disciplinary action, rather than with a 17-year-old in a coma and the filing of a federal lawsuit.
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