by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 8:28pm
by Leigh Beadon
Thu, May 15th 2014 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
At a fundamental level, everything is made of the same stuff. But thanks to the countless ways that matter can be combined and recombined at every level from the macro down to the subatomic, the material universe is one of infinite variety with lots of unexplored territory. Here are some recent developments that remind us how big the universe's Lego set really is:
- Researchers have combined nickel with an organic compound to create a self-assembling material that is extremely similar to graphene but with fewer limitations. The material shares graphene's high conductivity, but is also potentially more suited to applications like computer chips and solar cells. [url]
- Not all new materials are created in a lab — a mining company has discovered a new mineral that is unlike any known mineral or artificial compound. "Putnisite" is composed of strontium, calcium, chromium, sulphur, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in the form of purple crystals with pink streaks. [url]
- The periodic table is about to grow following the successful synthesis of the superheavy Element 117. There's still some review to be done, after which the discoverers will propose a name for the new element. [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, May 15th 2014 4:02pm
New Hampshire Man With 'COPSLIE' License Plate Wins Free Speech Battle, Lifetime Of Police Harassment
from the sir,-do-you-have-any-idea-how-fast-I've-decided-you-were-going? dept
A win for free speech (as expressed by vanity license plates) has just been handed down by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The plate at the center of the case -- "COPSLIE" -- was originally deemed to be "offensive to good taste" by a lower court, which felt a "reasonable person" would be offended that the driver of this vehicle believed that cops do, in fact, lie.
And they do. They do it more often than most people think. Everyone knows it, even the judges, and yet no one does much about it, because throwing a handful of exculpatory wrenches into the criminal "justice" gears only creates headaches for those least willing to deal with them (prosecutors, judges, DAs -- basically anyone who doesn't get jailed/fined as a result of the lies). Cops lie because they're a) human beings and b) many of their incentives are perverse.
So, when David Montenegro tried to state that fact via a delivery system easily viewable by any cop he drove by, the state told him he couldn't because some "reasonable person" (most likely a cop) would be offended by his factual statement. Montenegro could have made this statement about any group (politicians, priests, parents, kids, school administrators, lawyers, the media), but he chose to highlight this aspect of policing.
Montenegro knew the DMV's lazy rationale was faulty. In fact, he proved it. He submitted a backup request -- GR8GOVT -- which was approved. So, he took his case to the state's Supreme Court, which exposed the arbitrary nature of the DMV's "reasonable person" excuse.
The challenged portion of the regulation prohibits vanity registration plates that “a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste.” The phrase “offensive to good taste” is not defined in the regulation. Further, to the extent the phrase could be construed to prohibit obscene material, we note that a separate provision in the regulation prohibits vanity registration plates that are “capable of an obscene interpretation.” …The DMV stated that it had a "reasonable person" standard for offensiveness while also noting that different people would naturally find different things offensive. It's one thing to have a set standard. It's quite another to deploy contradictory stances as official policy. Because when you do that, you don't actually have a policy -- you have an informal straw poll.
Taken together, [the dictionary definitions of the words in the regulation] lead to various potential interpretations of the phrase “offensive to good taste.” For example, one such interpretation could be that no vanity registration plates are allowed that are “insulting to the standard of morality or virtue of individual preference.”
To the extent the DMV argues that its reasoning for denying the petitioner’s requested vanity registration plate [COPSLIE] in this case aids in interpreting the phrase “offensive to good taste,” we disagree. The DMV initially denied the petitioner’s request because several DMV employees believed the text to be “insulting.”There's where the true issue is. The blue team protecting itself and the government in general insulating itself from criticism through arbitrary enforcement of vague policies.
So, Montenegro gets the win and the plates he always wanted. In addition to securing a bit more free speech, Montenegro will also receive a lifetime of hassling by The Man and, quite possibly, the Home Version of said hassling.
Cops may not like someone confronting them (via license plate) with the fact that many citizens don't find them particularly trustworthy. But they'd be better off just letting this plate cruise by (while being passively collected by a license plate reader) without retaliation. Montenegro's already made one point. There's no need to make the rest of his points for him.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, May 15th 2014 3:01pm
from the the-ODNI-will-be-around-shortly-to-redact-your-brain dept
Intelligence agencies seem to make some very un-intelligent decisions. Just last month, James Clapper told NSA employees they were no longer free to talk to the media in an extremely misguided attempt to head off future leaks.
Now, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has seen fit to issue a redacted document, which in itself is not an unusual event. The problem here is that the unredacted version, originally published by the ODNI itself, has been in the public domain for years now.
Last month, ODNI issued a heavily redacted version of its Intelligence Community Directive 304 on “Human Intelligence.” The redacted document was produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Robert Sesek, and posted on ScribD.So, why would it do this? Steven Aftergood at FAS Secrecy News suspects it might be the ODNI caving to the CIA's desire to keep everything a secret.
The new redactions come as a surprise because most of the censored text had already been published by ODNI itself in an earlier iteration of the same unclassified Directive from 2008. That document has since been removed from the ODNI website but it is preserved on the FAS website here.
A comparison of the redacted and unredacted versions shows that ODNI is now seeking to withhold the fact that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency functions as the National HUMINT Manager, among other things.The CIA is only rivaled by the New York Police Department in terms of unresponsiveness to FOIA requests. That it would demand information related to its "super-secret" HUMINT (human intelligence) work be redacted isn't a surprise. That it would have no idea that this information is out in the open is a bit more surprising. But considering the government's extremely scattershot approach to overclassification, it is not entirely unexpected.
The entire document is marked as "Unclassified," which means there's very little reason to have any of this redacted, especially considering its previous official, unredacted release. The CIA isn't the only agency to have its information withheld, although that is probably more a product of what the redacted statement says, rather than an indication of the other agencies' desire for secrecy. The sections for both the FBI and the Defense Department have this sentence blacked out.
Collects, analyzes, produces, and disseminates foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information, including information obtained through clandestine means.Apparently, the ODNI would prefer that no one know (enemies or citizens) these agencies secure information through "clandestine means," which is something everyone expects the CIA to be doing, if not the FBI.
The exemption stated [b(3)] is bit strange itself. It's supposedly limited to information that is subject to other statutes prohibiting the information's disclosure. Whatever that unnamed statute is, it must have gone into effect at some point between 2009 (the latest date on the unredacted version) and last month. Or, more likely, the exemption was just a handy excuse for blotting out the CIA's involvement in this particular form of intelligence gathering, one the ODNI won't have to explain until the end of the year when it (like all government agencies) must list the statutes used to justify b(3) redactions.
This is just another example of the greatest irony of the FOIA Act. The ODNI publishes a completely unredacted version on its own site but when a citizen asks for a copy, it redacts half the document. A Freedom of Information Act response creates an information deficit. That makes sense.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 1:58pm
Snapchat Comes In Dead Last On EFF's Privacy Protecting List; Just Days After Getting Spanked By FTC
from the what-privacy dept
Want to know just how bad Snapchat is? Even AT&T and Comcast score better. Snapchat was the only company with one star. Amazon and AT&T only got two. Comcast (along with Foursquare and Myspace) had three. At the top of the list, Apple, CREDO Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic.net, Twitter and Yahoo all got five stars. Some might question some of this, given stories of things like Microsoft changing Skype to grant greater government access, but on the specific categories that EFF judges for the ratings, they appear to be accurate.
Of course, to be fair, one of the categories is whether or not the company "fights for users' privacy rights in courts." That's an important measure, but it's also a conditional one. All of the other categories can be done by any company of their own volition, but you can't fight in court if there are no opportunities to go to court to protect your users' privacy. Either way, it's good to see that the EFF chart is having an impact in getting companies to be more aggressive in protecting the privacy of their users from the government. But, really, shame on Snapchat for positioning itself as a privacy option when it appears to do very little to actually protect people's privacy.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 12:59pm
from the fda-failures dept
And, now it appears that all the FDA has really succeeded in doing is driving that innovation overseas, as 23andme focuses on expanding in various countries abroad, rather than the US.
While it awaits the agency's approval, a process that could take years, 23andMe aims to offer partial or full genetic-testing services in one or more countries outside of the United States by the end of the year, with likely contenders including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, the source said.A big part of the problem is that the FDA is simply not designed to actually deal with innovative healthcare products. It was built to handle one thing and one thing only: approving pharmaceuticals. And it has a very hammer-and-nail approach to everything it does. Nearly a decade ago, we wrote about Andy Kessler's book The End of Medicine. While that book is now a little outdated, one thing that was quite clear in that book is how ill-prepared (and ill-interested in ever becoming prepared) the FDA is for technological innovations in the healthcare space. The FDA understands clinical testing for drugs, and has trouble understanding anything that doesn't fit into that paradigm.
Providing more useful information to people about their own genes and makeup is a very useful tool. Yes, there can be false positives, but is it better to keep people totally ignorant, or to better inform them across the board? Sure, perhaps it makes sense to do thorough testing of drugs to make sure they're safe (though, even with that there are plenty of compelling arguments for why the FDA does that wrong too), but when it comes to a service that is about providing more information to people, allowing them to be better informed and do more research to be healthier, you'd hope that the FDA would learn how to enable more innovation, rather than shutting it down... and sending the innovation overseas.
by Glyn Moody
Thu, May 15th 2014 11:58am
from the nobody-but-us dept
Two of the sharpest commentators on the implications of Snowden's leaks are the security expert Bruce Schneier, and the science fiction writer Charlie Stross. By an intriguing coincidence, both have recently written highly-readable columns that not only discuss the same issue -- the damage the NSA has wrought on the Internet -- but even employ the same key metaphor. In his "Internet Subversion," Schneier writes:
What we trusted was that the technologies would stand or fall on their own merits.
His metaphor for what this has produced is striking:
We now know that trust was misplaced. Through cooperation, bribery, threats, and compulsion, the NSA -- and the United Kingdom's GCHQ -- forced companies to weaken the security of their products and services, then lie about it to their customers.
This mistrust is poison.
He points out the terrible consequences of that weakened security:
There is a term in the NSA: "nobus," short for "nobody but us." The NSA believes it can subvert security in such a way that only it can take advantage of that subversion. But that is hubris. There is no way to determine if or when someone else will discover a vulnerability. These subverted systems become part of our infrastructure; the harms to everyone, once the flaws are discovered, far outweigh the benefits to the NSA while they are secret.
In his own piece, "The Snowden leaks; a meta-narrative," Stross picks up on that theme, and emphasizes one particularly important implication:
At every step in the development of the public internet the NSA systematically lobbied for weaker security, to enhance their own information-gathering capabilities. The trouble is, the success of the internet protocols created a networking monoculture that the NSA themselves came to rely on for their internal infrastructure. The same security holes that the NSA relied on to gain access to your (or Osama bin Laden's) email allowed gangsters to steal passwords and login credentials and credit card numbers. And ultimately these same baked-in security holes allowed Edward Snowden -- who, let us remember, is merely one guy: a talented system administrator and programmer, but no Clark Kent -- to rampage through their internal information systems.
Stross then turns to the same metaphor that Schneier employed:
The moral of the story is clear: be very cautious about poisoning the banquet you serve your guests, lest you end up accidentally ingesting it yourself.
These two posts on the same topic are part of a growing awareness that the harm caused by spy agencies subverting key elements of the Internet is not only a much more serious problem than many people realize, but a long-term one that will be very hard to fix. It looks like we'll be forced to swallow the NSA's poison for a while yet.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 10:56am
Lobbyists (And, Oh Yes, Everyone Else), Start Your Engines: FCC Opens The Floor For Comments On Net Neutrality
from the and-we're-off dept
After folks on Wheeler's own side threatened to revolt, combined with a lot of public pressure, Wheeler apparently did a last minute revising of the plans, to make it more explicit that he'd like the public to weigh in on paid prioritization and Title II reclassification. It also appears he's added in this vague concept of a "ombudsperson" who will supposedly try to make sure that we don't end up with ISPs behaving badly.
At this point, what we basically have is open season on lobbyists trying to influence the FCC one way or another, eventually leading to some sort of rulemaking, followed (inevitably) by a bunch of lawsuits from broadband providers who aren't going to be happy with any solution. And, of course, the potential (unlikely as it may be) for Congress to get involved.
Stacey Higginbotham over at GigaOm has the best rundown of the issues up for comment in the NPRM. If you're trying to understand what exactly people are really commenting on (beyond the broad claims of "net neutrality" "open internet" "fast lanes" "reclassification" "common carriers" and the like), that's a good place to start. I know folks like to view this on a more simplified yes/no level, but this isn't an issue that neatly fits into a series of simple yes or no options, in part because of two big reasons: (1) telecommunications law is a massive mess and (2) this is all a symptom of the real problem: the lack of meaningful competition.
And while Wheeler has suggested that the FCC is willing to knock down laws that block competition, we'll believe it when we see it in action. On top of that, Wheeler made it clear today that he still sees the interconnection issue as a separate issue, even thought it's becoming clear that that's where the real problem is. Oh, and while lots of people are calling for Title II reclassification, and there are many reasons to believe that may be the best solution, it's also exceptionally messy as well, because Title II has lots of problems as well. The FCC would need to deal with those problems, via forbearance, which creates a whole different set of headaches.
In short: this is a very messy process, and there are many, many places where it can (and likely will) go wrong.
But, that doesn't mean that everyone should just throw up their hands and go home to their (increasingly slow) internet. The broadband lobbyists will not be doing that. And, of course, they know quite well how to play the lobbying game and how to work the ins-and-outs of everything above. It is why it's going to become increasingly important to become much more informed on a variety of these issues and the true implications of the choices the FCC makes in the coming months. If you would like to weigh in, and I do suggest everyone seek to share their comments with the FCC, I would suggest first spending a little time more deeply reading through the full set of issues and what the pros and cons of different options may be. You can file comments directly with the FCC or via a very, very handy Dear FCC tool that the EFF put together.
Update: And... many hours later, the FCC has finally released the actual NPRM. Take a look.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 9:51am
California Court: We Won't Issue A Subpoena To Identify Someone Just To Prove 'Someone Is Wrong On The Internet'
from the anonymous-speech-is-important dept
A year ago, we were disappointed to see a trial court side with Grooveshark and order DMN "preserve" logs that had long ago been deleted in the regular course of DMN running its business. Even worse, the court wanted DMN to hand over its server hard drives for Grooveshark to try to do a forensic analysis of the deleted data to see if it could identify the deleted information about the commenter. DMN appealed the ruling and a California state appeals court has overturned the original ruling -- but did so for reasons other than Levy and DMN had suggested.
Levy and DMN had argued, quite reasonably, that the First Amendment barred revealing the anonymous commenter and also that since the data had already been deleted in the regular course of business, that it cannot be required to preserve servers that might possibly have that data hidden somewhere. Instead, the court ruled in a different manner, saying that the commenter's identity could be protected, but because of California's constitutional privacy protections:
Even if Visitor’s identifying information was reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence, his or her right to privacy under the California Constitution would outweigh Escape’s need for the information. “The right to speak anonymously draws its strength from two separate constitutional wellsprings: the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and the right of privacy in article I, section 1 of the California Constitution.” .... The California Constitution provides that all people have a right of privacy.... This express right is broader than the implied federal right to privacy.... The California privacy right “protects the speech and privacy rights of individuals who wish to promulgate their information and ideas in a public forum while keeping their identities secret,” and “limits what courts can compel through civil discovery.”Perhaps even more interesting is that Justice Victoria Chaney appears to channel XKCD in pointing out that we can't just go around willy-nilly identifying people online just because you don't like what they say:
Visitor has done nothing more than provide commentary about an ongoing public dispute in a forum that could hardly be more obscure—the busy online comments section of a digital trade newspaper. Such commentary has become ubiquitous on the Internet and is widely perceived to carry no indicium of reliability and little weight. We will not lightly lend the subpoena power of the courts to prove, in essence, that Someone Is Wrong On The Internet.Well said.
by Glyn Moody
Thu, May 15th 2014 8:53am
from the dedicated-follower-of-fashion dept
Among governments, bad digital policy ideas have a habit of spreading. For example, after France pioneered the "three strikes" approach, it was picked up by a number of other countries, but it is now finally dying a long-overdue death -- except in Australia, which evidently missed the memo that this approach demonstrably doesn't work. Now the latest fashion seems to be "notice and staydown", which Mike wrote about a couple of months back. After largely abandoning "three strikes", France may be signing up for this latest hot trend, as TorrentFreak reports:
French anti-piracy agency HADOPI handed the government a long-awaited report on the development of "operational tools" for dealing with online piracy. Several key areas are outlined, including the creation of a new type of takedown notice designed not only to take content offline, but keep it offline for up to six months.
Here are some details:
These notices would oblige a host to "stop and prevent, for a specified period, the reappearance of content that has been identified as constituting an infringement of copyright or related rights on the site."
Although the "staydown" would be for up to six months, rather than forever, as proposed in the US, it's easy to predict future demands from the copyright industry to extend that limit when it doesn't have the desired results, and to include BitTorrent indexes as well. And there's no way smaller companies and startups could cope with the huge task of monitoring uploads for things that have to "staydown". All-in-all, then, this seems destined to join "three strikes" in the digital dustbin of history, along with all the other failed enforcement approaches. The question is: what will be the next bad idea governments adopt?
It's suggested that these kinds of orders could be valid for up to six months but at least initially would only be directed at sites hosting actual files, not links to files such as in the case of BitTorrent indexes.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 15th 2014 7:38am
from the expectation-of-privacy? dept
Last October, it finally started alerting some defendants, leading courts to halt proceedings and re-evaluate. As two of those cases have moved forward, the DOJ is trying to defend those cases, and one way it's doing so is to flat out say that Americans have no 4th Amendment protections when talking to foreigners.
The Supreme Court has long held that when one person voluntarily discloses information to another, the first person loses any cognizable interest under the Fourth Amendment in what the second person does with the information. . . . For Fourth Amendment purposes, the same principle applies whether the recipient intentionally makes the information public or stores it in a place subject to a government search. Thus, once a non-U.S. person located outside the United States receives information, the sender loses any cognizable Fourth Amendment rights with respect to that information. That is true even if the sender is a U.S. person protected by the Fourth Amendment, because he assumes the risk that the foreign recipient will give the information to others, leave the information freely accessible to others, or that the U.S. government (or a foreign government) will obtain the information.This argument is questionable on so many levels. First, it's already relying on the questionable third party doctrine, but it seems to go much further, by then arguing that merely providing information to a foreign person means that it's okay for the US government to snoop on it without a warrant. The DOJ further defends this by saying, effectively, that foreign governments might snoop on it as well, so that makes it okay:
Moreover, any expectation of privacy of defendant in his electronic communications with a non-U.S. person overseas is also diminished by the prospect that his foreign correspondent could be a target for surveillance by foreign governments or private entities.With this, it appears the DOJ is trying to attack the idea of the reasonable expectation of privacy that has been the basis of the 4th Amendment in the US. They're effectively arguing that since foreign governments might look at the info too, you should have no expectation of privacy in any communications with foreigners and thus you've waived all 4th Amendment protections in that content.
In fact, they flat out admit that they're stripping Americans of any 4th Amendment rights with this claim, noting that communicating with foreigners means you've likely "eliminated" your 4th Amendment protections.
The privacy rights of US persons in international communications are significantly diminished, if not completely eliminated, when those communications have been transmitted to or obtained from non-US persons located outside the United States.The implications of this argument, if upheld by the court is staggering. It would seem to fly in the face of basic logic and historical 4th Amendment law, all discussing how it's the expectation of privacy that matters. And I'm fairly certain that most of us who regularly communicate with folks outside the US have quite a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications (though, to be fair, I've been much more actively using encryption when talking to people outside the US lately).
As Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU points out, this eviscerates basic Constitutional protections for many Americans:
The government's argument is not simply that the NSA has broad authority to monitor Americans' international communications. The US government is arguing that the NSA's authority is unlimited in this respect. If the government is right, nothing in the Constitution bars the NSA from monitoring a phone call between a journalist in New York City and his source in London. For that matter, nothing bars the NSA from monitoring every call and email between Americans in the United States and their non-American friends, relatives, and colleagues overseas.I'm curious if anyone wants to defend this as a reasonable interpretation of the 4th Amendment, because it seems quite clearly a complete bastardization of what the 4th Amendment says and how courts have interpreted it over the years.
In the government's view, there is no need to ask whether the 2008 law violates Americans' privacy rights, because in this context Americans have no rights to be violated.
Thu, May 15th 2014 5:40am
from the the-best-braaaaains dept
If you're like me, you might be surprised to learn just where zombies turn up. For instance, an undead king-o-pop might show up in a video game. Or in a humor-driven warning from the Center for Disease Control. Or, as it turns out, amongst contingency plans by the Pentagon.
Buried on the military's secret computer network is an unclassified document, obtained by Foreign Policy, called "CONOP 8888." It's a zombie survival plan, a how-to guide for military planners trying to isolate the threat from a menu of the undead -- from chicken zombies to vegetarian zombies and even "evil magic zombies" -- and destroy them.Ah, the undead sure do create cause for such strange bedfellows. It's a little bit heartwarming that the Pentagon would see fit to team up with our more-human adversaries against the zombie horde, isn't it? Imagine: the Taliban and the American military hand in hand, standing tall and steadfast against wave after wave of the undead. It's equal parts poetic and idealistic.
"This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve 'non-zombie' humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde," CONOP 8888's plan summary reads. "Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population -- including traditional adversaries."
Now, lest anyone take this too seriously, like the CDC's warning, the Pentagon would like to stress that they don't actually think that this zombie apocalypse is, you know, going to happen.
Military planners assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska during 2009 and 2010 looked for a creative way to devise a planning document to protect citizens in the event of an attack of any kind. The officers used zombies as their muse. "Planners ... realized that training examples for plans must accommodate the political fallout that occurs if the general public mistakenly believes that a fictional training scenario is actually a real plan," the authors wrote, adding: "Rather than risk such an outcome by teaching our augmentees using the fictional 'Tunisia' or 'Nigeria' scenarios used at [Joint Combined Warfighting School], we elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken for a real plan."In other words, rather than risk the paranoid hysteria that would revolve around a false plan to combat a real-life adversary, they made one up. It's actually humanizing to see a little humorous creativity coming from our men and women in uniform. And it appears the creators of the plan really did let their imagination fly. They designed methods to combat vegetarian zombies (yay!), evil magic zombies (sounds ominous), and chicken zombies (run, you stupid bastards!), outer space zombies (genre crossovers are so tired), bio-engineered zombies (calling Umbrella Corp.), and a pathogen-based zombie outbreak. Not all the military brass was impressed with the effort, it seems.
"I hope we've invested a similar level of intellectual rigor against dragon egg hatching contingencies," one defense official quipped.Oh, you silly defense guy, untwist your shorts. Everyone knows there haven't been dragons in these parts in years.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, May 15th 2014 3:38am
Texas Grand Jury's Use Of A 'Shooting Simulator' Questioned After Police Cleared In Every Shooting Incident Over The Last Decade
from the to-acquit-a-cop,-you've-got-to-think-like-a-cop dept
We've discussed the multiple problems with the grand jury system here in the US -- a system that only survives in a handful of states. Grand juries are known both for their expedience and their willingness to indict nearly anyone for anything. True, they don't decide whether a person is guilty or innocent, but an indictment is the next best thing to a verdict for those indicted, many of which are imprisoned until they can be properly tried.
The grand jury in Harris County, Texas has an additional tool at its disposal, one not in use anywhere else in the state.
The armed carjacker projected on a large screen threatens to kill you if you don't give up your keys. Holding a modified gun that emits a beam, you pull the trigger when he draws his weapon, and seconds later fire again at another person who jumps in front with something in his hand.This shooting simulator (which appears to be "Mad Dog McCree: Law Enforcement Edition," at least according to the published photo and the description above) puts grand jury members in the shoes of accused police officers. Grand juries may be able to indict ham sandwiches, but this particular grand jury has reached the conclusion that, despite derogatory slang linking the two, police officers are not ham sandwiches.
The second person turns out to be a bystander holding a cellphone.
This interactive way of illustrating the use of deadly force is part of unusual training that Houston-area grand jurors can receive before they begin hearing cases, including those involving police officers.
[A]n investigation by the Houston Chronicle last year found that Harris County grand juries have cleared Houston police officers in shootings 288 consecutive times since 2004.Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any data on the simulator's effect on non-police shooting indictments. That the cops have been cleared 288 times without an indictment may not have as much to do with the shooting simulator's empathetic capabilities as it has to do with the grand jury being a grand jury.
Sandra Guerra Thompson, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said grand juries usually give officers the benefit of the doubt in shooting cases because of the dangerous nature of their jobs.The problem is that the more this benefit of a doubt is given, the less likely it is that officers will use training or restraint when in unsafe situations. If a teen answers the door carrying a Wii remote, they're free to open fire before ascertaining that the held item isn't a weapon. Harris County's shooting simulator plays into that mindset, inserting jurors as proxy cops into situations they're not trained to handle and using those visceral reactions to guide their indictment decisions.
So far, the courts have sided with the use of the simulator. The DA's office finds it to be "educational and helpful." Opponents say it promotes "pro-law enforcement bias." Sadly, these viewpoints aren't contradictory. Most DAs would find anything that locks "bad guys" up and keeps "good guys" on the street "helpful." A "pro-law enforcement bias" achieves these aims. And the track record -- 288 consecutive findings in favor of police officers -- speaks for itself.
by Glyn Moody
Thu, May 15th 2014 12:37am
from the weapons-of-legal-destruction dept
A few months back we wrote about the free trade supporter Cato Institute arguing that corporate sovereignty provisions should be dropped from trade agreements, for a variety of cogent reasons. You wouldn't expect one of the top arbitration lawyers that actually uses the system to go quite so far, but this is pretty close:
A prominent international lawyer has launched a scathing critique of the international arbitration system that deals with investor-State disputes, calling for its "complete overhaul".
His ten points are all good, and well-worth reading, but the first is particularly important. It helps to explain why corporate sovereignty has become such a big issue recently -- and why some nations are starting to withdraw from such schemes:
Delivering the keynote address to the Eighth Annual Juris Investment Treaty Arbitration Conference held in Washington, D.C. in late March, George Kahale III -- who has been lead counsel in several of the world’s largest international arbitration cases, including a pending claim against Venezuela -- also listed the top ten of what he viewed were the most troubling aspects of investor-State arbitration.
many governments are jumping on to the bandwagon of investment treaties -- which Kahale described as "weapons of legal destruction" -- often without scrutinising the serious implications and significance of the obligations contained therein.
It's the fact that investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) chapters are like a ticking trade time-bomb, just waiting to explode at some unknown future date, that makes them so dangerous. A country can't predict which apparently innocuous change to its laws or regulations will trigger a multi-million -- or even multi-billion -- dollar ISDS claim against it. Since awards must be met from the public purse, that means there could be a huge unexpected shortfall in the national budget. That lack of certainty -- and lack of financial control -- is no way to run a country, and is yet another reason why all nations, even the largest, would be wise to refuse to include corporate sovereignty provisions in their trade agreements.
Governments also often overlook the changing nature of investment treaties -- which are expanding in breadth and ambiguity -- in favour of investors with the corresponding effect that more and more types of State acts, gestures or Statements are becoming liable to challenge and compensation by foreign investors, said Kahale.