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After Cracking Down On Tens Of Thousands Of Enemies, Erdogan Says He's Dropping His 2000 Lawsuits Over Insults (Too Much Free Time)

by Mike Masnick

from the say-what-now? dept on Friday, July 29th, 2016 @ 7:39PM
For the last few months we've poked fun at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ridiculously thin skin. As we noted, he had filed upwards of 100 lawsuits per month against people for "insulting" him -- and this included things as ridiculous as posting a meme on social media that compared Erdogan to Gollum.

Of course, more recently (as you've heard) there was a coup attempt in Turkey, which failed, and Erdogan has spent the last few weeks basically using the coup as an excuse to crush all his enemies.

In the first 48 hours, around 7,000 people were detained, arrested, or dismissed from their jobs. That number has been rising constantly, reaching around 66,000 people from all layers of society, but consisting mostly of government employees.

Add to that the family members of those arrested and dismissed and you will reach a number of 250,000-300,000 potential new opponents, most of whom were not involved with the "other" side or had no direct links with it. The memory of the killings, the hatred, and violence, the split in the army and government agencies about who was on which side -- all of this is truly traumatic for the Turkish nation.

And now, having done that -- including having shut down much of the media in the country and arrested a ton of journalists, Erdogan is apparently in a good mood. He has announced that in a "show of good will" he's going to drop those thousands of cases against people for insulting him.

Uh... thanks?

Of course, he notes that this is a "one-off" meaning he can start bringing more cases pretty soon. Besides it hardly seems like a gesture of goodwill when it follow destroying the lives of 100s of thousands of people to further entrench your own political power and interests. Of course, he also has a message to anyone with an opinion on all of this:
"Some people give us advice. They say they are worried. Mind your own business! Look at your own deeds."
Yeah. Perhaps Erdogan should look at his own deeds as well.
17 Comments

Stupid Patent of the Month: Solocron Education Trolls With Password Patent (Patents)

by Daniel Nazer, EFF

from the patenting-passwords dept on Friday, July 29th, 2016 @ 5:35PM

Another month, another terrible patent being asserted in the Eastern District of Texas. Solocron Education LLC, a company whose entire "education" business is filing lawsuits, owns U.S. Patent No. 6,263,439, titled "Verification system for non-traditional learning operations." What kind of "verification system" does Solocron claim to have invented? Passwords.

The patent describes a mundane process for providing education materials through video cassettes, DVDs, or online. Students are sent course materials, take tests, and, if they pass the tests, are allowed to continue on to the next part of the course. At various times, students confirm their identity by entering their biographical details and passwords.

Solocron did not invent distance education, encryption, or passwords. The patent doesn't describe any new technology, it just applies existing technology in a routine way to education materials. That should not be enough to get a patent. Unfortunately, the Patent Office does not do enough to prevent obvious patents from issuing, which is how we get patents on white-background photography or on filming a Yoga class.

The extraordinary breadth of Solocron's patent is clearest in its first claim. The claim, with added comments, is below:

1. A process which comprises the steps of:

encoding at least one personal identifier onto a user interface media [i.e. set up an interface requiring a particular user ID];

displaying a prompt on said user interface media for the at least one personal identifier which requires a match of the at least one personal identifier encoded on the user interface media [i.e. ask the user to enter their user ID];

encoding at least one password onto a data storage media [i.e. encrypt or otherwise password-lock a file];

encoding the at least one password from the data storage media onto the user interface media [i.e. set up the user interface so it can check if the password is correct]; and

displaying a prompt on the user interface media for entering the at least one password which requires a match of the at least one password from the data storage media with the at least one password encoded on the user interface media [i.e. require users to enter their passwords into the interface].

Although the claim runs 119 words, it just describes an ordinary system for accessing content via inputting a user ID and password. These kinds of systems for user identification predate the patent by many, many years. The claim is not even limited to education materials but, by its terms, applies to any kind of "data storage media." The Patent Office should not allow itself to be hoodwinked by overly verbose language that, when read closely, describes an obvious process.

Solocron is asserting its stupid patent aggressively. It has sued dozens of companies, including many new suits filed this year. As with so many patents we have featured in this series, it is suing in the Eastern District of Texas, taking advantage of the court's patent-owner-friendly rules. We need fundamental patent reform, including venue reform, to stop patents like this from being granted and from being abused in the courts.

Reposted from the EFF's Stupid Patent of the Month series.

6 Comments

Clinton Friend, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe Now Pretends Hillary Never Supported TPP (Politics)

by Mike Masnick

from the that's-just-wrong dept on Friday, July 29th, 2016 @ 4:02PM
The whole silliness around Hillary Clinton at the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement just keeps getting sillier. She should admit what pretty much everyone already recognizes: she supports the deal. She could then explain why she supports it and perhaps the public could have an honest and open conversation about the nature of these agreements. As we've noted more than once, we tend to support free trade here at Techdirt, but the TPP agreement is barely about free trade. It's mostly about investment and creating other regulatory/protectionist barriers. But Clinton's constant flip flopping on the issue is silly. Back in 2012, she declared the TPP to be "the gold standard" in trade agreements. It was only last fall, after she started facing primary pressure from Bernie Sanders, who was against the agreement, that she flip flopped and said:
“As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it,” Clinton said, later adding, “I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.”
It got so ridiculous that Clinton deleted the section of her memoir where she talks about her support of the TPP. That's just literally trying to rewrite history.

Meanwhile, pretty much everyone has assumed that after the election, she'd flip flop right back into supporting the TPP. Back in February, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue, made it clear that he fully expected she'd flip back and this week a US Chamber of Commerce employee who spoke at the Democratic Convention (officially as a member of "Republican Women for Hillary" has also said she expects Hillary to flip back and support the agreement.

But, of course the bigger headlines came when the Clinton's close family friend and advisor, current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, admitted that he fully expected she'd support the TPP after the election. As we noted, this resulted in a bunch of other Clinton supporters to scream loudly about how this was crazy and Hillary was never going to support TPP. Apparently the message got back to McAuliffe, who when approached at a bar late at night by a Gawker reporter now claims not only that Hillary will never support the agreement, but that she never did in the past either.
She’s wrong. I support it. She doesn’t. She never supported it. I create jobs in Virginia, I always supported it. We’re best friends. She has never supported it.
Except, of course, she has supported it, quite clearly in the past. And almost certainly still is. I understand the political calculations here. Historically, Democrats (especially the progressive wing) have generally been against free trade. So these agreements (even when they're actually good!) are usually a tough sell to Democratic voters. But this is a weird year. Because while these agreements have almost universally been supported by Republicans, this year Donald Trump suddenly hates them -- not for all the legitimate reasons to hate them, but mainly because he doesn't understand how international trade works.

But wouldn't it be nice if Clinton could just come out and say what she really thought about the TPP and have an open conversation about it, rather than playing this "wink wink nod nod" game where basically everyone knows her true position, but she won't say it?
8 Comments

NYPD Dodges Another Legislative Attempt To Inject Accountability And Transparency Into Its Daily Work (Legal Issues)

by Tim Cushing

from the the-teflon-army dept on Friday, July 29th, 2016 @ 2:30PM

Law enforcement officers are pretty used to being able to stop nearly anyone and demand to know who they are and what they're doing. Sure, there are plenty of laws that say they can't actually do that, but the public is generally underinformed about their rights, and this works in cops' favor. As a recent Appeals Court decision pointed out, citizens are "free to refuse to cooperate with police before a seizure."

Obviously, this perfectly legal act of noncompliance just won't do, and it certainly won't be cops pointing out to citizens the rights they have available to them. New York City legislators thought they could force this transparency on the NYPD.

The bills, known as the Right to Know Act, require officers to identify and explain themselves when they stop people, and to make sure people know when they can refuse to be searched. These are timely, sensible ideas, echoing recommendations made by President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing. Though the Right to Know Act has been bottled up in the Council for two years, it has broad support among Council members and community organizations, and sponsors say it would pass easily if it ever came to a vote.

It may have "broad support," but it didn't have support where it counts. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton expressed his displeasure with the idea of his officers having to respect the rights of citizens.

Mr. Bratton has denounced the Right to Know Act as an “unprecedented” intrusion into his domain.

As Scott Greenfield points out, Bratton could have dialed back his righteous indignation and applied these changes on his own.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton from telling his cops to do this anyway. But he didn’t. He won’t. It’s not as if he serves at the pleasure of New York’s most progressive mayor ever. But the big issue for Bratton isn’t that the ideas incorporated in the law are so dangerous and counterproductive, but cops just don’t like being told what they have to do.

"Broad support." "Would pass easily." None of this matters. The person in charge of routing pending legislation made this decision for the rest of the legislators who support the bill in its unaltered form.

But there has been no vote. The Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, essentially derailed it this month. She told members that she had quietly struck a compromise with the Police Department to adopt some, but not all, of the act’s reforms administratively. Under the deal, officers who want to search people but have no legal basis to stop them must ask permission and wait to hear “yes” or “no.” They have to explain that a person can refuse to be searched, and give a business card to people who are searched or stopped at a checkpoint or to anyone who asks.

Waiting for the NYPD to "adopt" reforms is like waiting to adopt a child. Days become weeks become months become years. Three years after Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to alter its unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program, officers still weren't fully informed of the new guidelines. The NYPD's "quiet adoption" of the agreement is more in line with dumping it into a foster home run by negligent caretakers.

The government has long depended on the ignorance of the citizens to maintain control. The killing of this legislation -- and Bratton's agreement to make it watered-down internal policy rather than actual law -- is more of the same. The less the public knows about what the police can or cannot demand from them, the more often this ignorance will be exploited by people with power.

11 Comments

How California's Identity Fraud Law Has Been Interpreted To Criminalize Defamation, Publicity Rights Violations And More (Legal Issues)

by Mike Masnick

from the yikes dept on Friday, July 29th, 2016 @ 12:57PM
Eugene Volokh has a somewhat terrifying look at how very broad interpretations of California's identity fraud law, California Penal Code § 530.5(a) has been so broadly interpreted by the courts that it, in effect, creates a crime out of things that were normally considered, at best, civil offenses. This includes defamation, publicity rights infringements and disclosure of private facts. He discusses a few cases, but focuses on a key one that we've mentioned: the state of California's recent legal win over Kevin Bollaert, a revenge porn creep. In our writeup, we were mainly concerned with how the ruling seemed to run against Section 230's protections, but as Volokh makes clear, it's much, much worse than that.

As Volokh notes, among the charges that Bollaert was found guilty over, there was the § 502.5(a) claim of identity theft. And, he points out, nothing in the ruling limited it to revenge porn or extortion. It was just "identifying information" for the purpose of committing a tort, which suddenly becomes a criminal offense:

But nothing in Bollaert’s § 530.5 discussion was limited to revenge porn, or to extortion.

Say, for instance, that Kendra Schmollaert, Kevin Bollaert’s second cousin, has a blog with a couple of thousand readers. She publishes a blog post that mentioned an acquaintance’s formerly private sex scandal (or medical problem) and gives the acquaintance’s name. That may well constitute the tort of disclosure of private facts, and maybe Schmollaert should be liable for that. (I think the tort is too broad and vague to be constitutional, but most courts disagree with me on that.) But, to her surprise — and, I suspect, to the surprise of most media lawyers — a prosecutor decides to charge Schmollaert criminally. Guilty!

  1. Schmollaert willfully published the aquaintance’s “identifying information” — the full name, and possibly some indication of location (e.g., if Schmollaert says the acquaintance is Schmollaert’s neighbor).
  2. Schmollaert did so with the purpose of committing a tort, namely the disclosure of private facts. (True, Schmollaert wasn’t doing this just for the sake of committing a tort, but neither was Bollaert — Schmollaert wanted to tell an interesting story, or maybe expose an acquaintance whom Schmollaert disliked, while Bollaert wanted to make money, and both purposefully used people’s identifying information as a means of accomplishing that goal.)
  3. Schmollaert didn’t reveal any nude photographs — but nothing in § 530.5(a) says anything whatever about nudity, or about photographs; as the courts have interpreted the statute, tortious disclosure of private facts is enough.
  4. Schmollaert also wasn’t impersonating anyone — but neither was Bollaert.

Or say that Schmollaert instead starts selling T-shirts that depict photographs of celebrities, with captions that give the celebrities’ names. Under California law, that’s a tort, both statutory and common-law, and might lead to liability. But again Schmollaert also turns out to be guilty of a crime:

  1. She willfully published the celebrities’ “personal identifying information” (“full names, … as well as the … photographs themselves.”
  2. She did so with the purpose of infringing the celebrities’ right of publicity.
That's... crazy. Criminalizing defamation and publicity rights infringement by broadly interpreting an identity fraud law seems very, very problematic. As Volokh notes again, it seems extra troubling that this seems to have happened without any real legislative discussion or deliberation. Again, these things may be civil offenses, but to turn them into criminal offenses is a situation that can and will be abused. Not many people will cry for Kevin Bollaert, but the precedent this sets is potentially terrifying:
I don’t think the California Legislature was trying, with § 530.5, to so broadly criminalize tortious speech. But that’s how California courts have interpreted the statute.

And this also helps show why many commentators — myself included — criticize proposed statutes based on the possible scope of their broad and vague language, rather than just focusing on the particular problem that led to the proposal. Once a statute is enacted, prosecutors will often push them to the limits of the language, especially when the defendants are bad people doing bad things (e.g., Bollaert’s revenge porn blackmail racket). And courts will often (not always, but often) read the language broadly. The story of § 530.5 is a classic example.
It remains to be seen how widely this gets abused, but it is certainly a big concern.
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