from the government-documents... dept
There was a lot of important news — good and bad — this week, on everything from how patent abuse tries to hold back healthcare even while making us pay more for it, to how a rag-tag, Whedon-esque coalition of organizations came together, against all odds, to fight NSA surveillance.
The following, however, are my daily favorites with a grand prizer winner at the end.
For those of you who don't know me, I am a huge government documents nerd and I co-founded MuckRock, a Freedom of Information request filing tool that occasionally graces these pages (including this week). If you're interested in this sort of thing, we have 20 free accounts set aside for Techdirt readers: Just email me with the subject line "Techdirt".
And now on to the week that was.
I just caught up this week on This American Life's When Patents Attack, Part II, so while this story is one of the oldest in the book for long-time Techdirt readers, it's one that still resonates, and the reality is that if you run some kind of technology business (or even if you don't), you are in constant danger from patent troll looters backed by a broken legal system.
There were so many great stories on Tuesday, but this one stood out. I feel like "Metadata" has received more widespread attention the past two months than in the prior 5 years, but perhaps it's still not enough given how open it is for abuse and poorly it is understood by policy makers, courts, and the general public. It was good to see some push back by the ACLU on this issue, as well as clear illustrations about the dangers and invasiveness of something so seemingly benign as just cell tower data. I'm hopeful that, like in Texas, the tide is changing.
There's nothing I don't love about this story: The cheeky Facebook post that sets off international intelligence alerts, the innocent farce that becomes a legal "demonstration," or the surreal response by local police doing a simultaneous call-and-knock. It's hard to tell which is more childish: The civilian playing as nature guide, or the law enforcement playing as spies.
In April, MuckRock and the Boston Globe did a joint investigation into the amazing lack of policy around license plate scanning technology throughout the state. Now the ACLU has taken it 49 steps further and found that it's a national problem. In New York, one city's usage policy was only limited by an "officer's imagination." Not to editorialize, but this is what happens when Homeland Security gives high-tech gizmos away to departments with little or no oversight from policymakers. Ok, I editorialized.
Honestly, ever since I had a TSA agent lecture me about how dinosaurs never existed and another make me tuck my shirt in to go through their scanner, nothing surprises me about how they operate. This came close. At least I can still take the subway to the airport and avoid asinine TSA security practices. Oh wait, I can't.
Like I said, I'm a huge government document nerd, so I found this ruling really exciting and pretty surprising. I'm guessing Mike is right and that the released documents will be heavily redacted, but the fact that anything will make it out is a great development. I've already used the decision as the basis for a number of my own FOIA requests, and I'm hopeful it will shed more light on the lines not even tap-happy telcos wanted to cross.