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Posted on Techdirt - 23 June 2017 @ 1:37pm

UK Law Enforcement Telling Citizens To 'See Something Say Something' About Dark Web Use

from the surfing-with-the-enemy dept

See Something, Say Something (UK Edition) has arrived! In the wake of terrorist attacks, local law enforcement are urging people to report "suspicious" activities. There's a long list of things to be on the lookout for, but most notable is the call to view certain internet use as suspicious, as Joseph Cox reports.

Police in the capital have reportedly been handing out leaflets listing what authorities deem as suspicious activity, in the hope that vigilant community members can continue to provide helpful information to law enforcement. Perhaps, in a sign of how online communities play an increased role in radicalization, the leaflet specifically points to use of the dark web as a potential link to terrorism.

"Be aware of what is going on around you—of anything that strikes you as different or unusual, or anyone that you feel is acting suspiciously—it could be someone you know or even someone or something you notice when you are out and about that doesn't feel quite right," another version of the leaflet, which is part of a national campaign and not London specific, reads.

Specifically, it asks citizens to report someone "visiting the dark web or purchasing unusual items online." Not exactly the sort of thing one's likely to catch shoulder-surfing. The leaflet also recommends reporting people for engaging in suspicious photography -- something that's worked out oh so well here in the US.

As Cox points out, tying terrorism to dark web use is kind of pointless. While the dark web is no doubt used by some terrorists, it certainly isn't where most of their activity takes place.

[M]uch of the communication between Islamic State supporters takes place on social media, such as Telegram. And the group's and supporters' propaganda videos are often distributed on everyday social network sites.

What an "education" campaign like this has the potential to do is turn any deviation from normal web use into something inherently suspicious. If law enforcement likes chasing down worthless tips, depicting things non-terrorists do as terrorist-centric is a good way to get that ball rolling.

I don't doubt the public can play a part in preventing terrorist attacks, but the leaflet asks citizens to become intrusive extensions of the government. Most citizens aren't going to know whether their friends and neighbors surf the dark web, much less have any idea if they're "carrying out suspicious transactions on their bank account." The upshot will be a generalized heightened level of suspicion that will most likely manifest itself as expressions of citizens' inherent biases and bigotry.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 June 2017 @ 10:42am

Cops Sent Warrant To Facebook To Dig Up Dirt On Woman Whose Boyfriend They Had Just Killed

from the blue-lives-are-more-equal-than-others dept

Everything anyone has ever said about staying safe while interacting with the police is wrong. That citizens are told to comport themselves in complete obeisance just to avoid being beaten or shot by officers is itself bizarre -- an insane inversion of the term "public servant." But Philando Castile, who was shot five times and killed by (now former) Officer Jeronimo Yanez, played by all the rules (which look suspiciously like the same instructions given to stay "safe" during an armed robbery). It didn't matter.

Castile didn't have a criminal record -- or at least nothing on it that mattered. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been allowed to own a weapon, much less obtain a permit to conceal the gun. Castile told Yanez -- as the permit requires -- he had a concealed weapon. He tried to respond to the officer's demand for his ID, reaching into his pocket. For both of these compliant efforts, he was killed.

Castile's shooting might have gone unnoticed -- washed into the jet stream of "officer-involved killings" that happen over 1,000 time a year. But his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, immediately live-streamed the aftermath via Facebook. Her boyfriend bled out while responding officers tried to figure out what to do, beyond call for more backup to handle a dead black man sitting in his own vehicle. Only after Yanez fired seven bullets into the cab of the vehicle did officers finally remove his girlfriend's four year old daughter.

To "win" at killing citizens, you must start the spin immediately. Yanez spun his own, speaking to a lawyer less than two hours after killing Castile. Local law enforcement did the same thing. Documents obtained by Tony Webster show Special Agent Bill O'Donnell issued a warrant to Facebook for "all information retained" by the company on Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend. This was to include all email sent or received by that account, as well as "chat logs," which presumably means the content of private messages. The warrant also demands any communications that may have been deleted by Reynolds, as well as metadata on photos or videos uploaded to Facebook. It came accompanied with an indefinite gag order.

Why would law enforcement want (much less need) information from the victim's girlfriend's Facebook account? It appears officers were looking to justify the killing after the fact. The following sworn statement was contained in the affidavit:

Your affiant is aware through training and expertise that individuals frequently call and/or text messages to each other regarding criminal activity during and/or after and [sic] event has occurred.

This is warrant boilerplate, especially when it comes to obtaining information from accounts or devices. But this warrant should be considered anything but business as usual. Should be. Isn't. This is the actual standard operating procedure after an officer kills someone: the department goes digging through its criminal records to find any reason at all to have killed the person and to buttress "feared for safety" excuses given by officers -- awarding them points for effort based on information they didn't have when they ended someone's life.

When it comes to police shootings in America, there are no aggressors in uniform, only victims. Officer Yanez made his own excuses, theorizing Castile's willingness to smoke pot in front of a 4-year-old child indicated Castile had no respect for human life.

I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he's, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?

Following his testimony's logic, smoking pot in front of a child has so severely damaged Castile's moral compass, he apparently would have thought nothing about shooting an officer over a non-functioning tail light. There's no logical boundary cops won't cross to pin the blame on the dead. Hence the Facebook warrant to dig up dirt on his girlfriend in hopes of adding a bit more post facto righteousness to the shoot.

The only upside -- and it's incredibly small given the surrounding circumstances -- is Facebook refused to hand over the information on the grounds that the indefinite gag order was unconstitutional. Faced with this pushback, Minnesota police withdrew the warrant. But in the end, Yanez was acquitted and Philando Castile is still dead -- a man who did nothing more than try to comply with an officer's orders.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 June 2017 @ 3:34pm

Florida Cops Shut Down Secret Spy Plane Plan After Backlash By Locals

from the if-it-wasn't-for-those-meddling-journalists... dept

The Miami-Dade Police Department has decided to drop its wide-area surveillance plan in the face of public backlash. The MDPD tried to slip it past residents and the county government by claiming the acquisition of a secret spy plane was too important to be done properly.

Documents submitted by the commission, first reported by New Times last Thursday, showed that MDPD has already applied for a $500,000 Department of Justice grant to begin testing the program. The department claimed the deadline to apply for the grants had allegedly been too pressing to wait to notify the public, and so County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's office applied for the DOJ money without first getting public approval.

A classic case of asking forgiveness rather than permission, coupled with a deliberate attempt to circumvent the part of the process that would have caused the most problems for the MDPD's surveillance plans: the public's comments.

Once the document was posted publicly, the backlash began, led by a number of rights groups including the ACLU and the Defending Rights and Dissent Foundation. The surveillance system sought is repurposed Iraq War tech: a high-powered camera system mounted on an airplane that proponents and opponents both describe as a "DVR for real life." Capable of capturing a 32-square-mile area, the cameras don't provide much in terms of close-up detail, but do allow law enforcement agencies to track people's movements over a several hour period, whether in real-time or by replaying recordings.

As the Miami New Times reports, the MDPD has offered no justification for this expansion of its surveillance powers. Apparently, the new surveillance tech was supposed to sell itself, what with most of the cost being offset by a $500,000 DOJ grant. Just as disturbing is the fact that so few county lawmakers questioned the acquisition, even after being made aware the MDPD had already applied for the grant without running it by them first.

Fortunately, the plan is now dead. The MDPD may still want its eye in the sky, but its top official has decided he won't go against the public's will... for now.

[A]fter New Times broke news of the plan two weeks ago, MDPD Director Juan Perez announced in an email to the American Civil Liberties Union today that he's scrapping the program.

"There is some good news on the horizon for you," Perez told ACLU Florida Director Howard Simon at 10:20 a.m., according to a copy Simon sent New Times. "I am scrapping the project, but would like to get your opinion on the matter."

The ACLU is obviously pleased with this decision, but still hasn't heard from the MDPD director whether this includes trashing its DOJ grant request, or whether this grant money might be still be used to purchase other surveillance gear the public won't know about until it's on the doorstep of approval.

The good news is the public's voice was heard, if a little after the fact. The invaluable reporting by the Miami New Times was instrumental in mobilizing opposition, something good journalism has a tendency to do. The real test of the MDPD's new outlook will be when the next opportunity to buy up surveillance gear with federal grants arrives. Hopefully, it will seek out public comment first, rather than only react when the backlash becomes too much to ignore.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 June 2017 @ 11:56am

Legislators Want To Open Up Wiretap Laws To Target Sex Workers And Their Customers

from the ongoing-holy-war dept

Under the guise of fighting sex trafficking, legislators have been offering up a slew of bills that will make things much worse for plenty of people not involved in this heinous crime. Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who is the go-to expert on all sorts of government abuse done in the name of sex-trafficked children, has tallied up the current stack of legislative paperwork floating around the halls of Congress. Spoiler alert: it's a lot.

So far this year, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills related to "sex trafficking," which many in government now define to mean all prostitution. This week alone brought three new efforts. And following the familiar pattern of the drug war, these measures mostly focus on giving federal law enforcement more "tools" to find, prosecute, and punish people for actions only tangentially, if at all, connected to causing harm.

Currently, the forerunner for "worst" is one that makes a mockery of federal wiretap statutes. The laws governing government eavesdropping have been modified over the years with an eye on protecting something even more sacrosanct than someone's home: someone's private conversations. Wiretaps are only supposed to be used for felonies -- dangerous, possibly life-threatening criminal activities. They're supposed to be issued only when law enforcement has exhausted all other options and subjected to strict oversight to prevent their abuse. (Note: what's supposed to happen and what actually happens are two very different things.)

What they're not supposed to be used for is small-time stuff -- misdemeanors and other low-level, non-dangerous crimes. But that's exactly what legislators are hoping to do: expand wiretap authority to cover the consensual exchange of money for services.

One such measure would expand state and local government authority "to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases" (emphasis mine) and mandate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Justice conduct a "study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade." It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules.

Combine this new authority with government officials' natural tendency to name-and-shame anyone involved with consensual sex work and you've got a whole can of wiretapped worms just waiting to be exploited for maximum public damage. Add to that the underlying assertion that sex work is some sort of illness that must be studied by the CDC and, presumably, "remedied" by even more ridiculous, harmful legislation.

And no one really wants to see the DHS getting involved in local vice cases. The DHS has already proven it knows almost nothing about securing the homeland. Asking it to dip into prostitution busts is basically asking for widespread rights violations, especially if this activity takes places in the so-called "Constitution-Free Zone," which covers areas where a large majority of the US population resides.

Also included: more federal targeting of customers and a potential to add "hate crime" sentencing enhancements to the crime of buying sex. Brown points out the bill orders the DOJ to view buying sex as a "form of gender-based violence."

And there's more, which hardly seems possible. Prostitutes could possibly be legally considered "criminal street gang members" under proposed legislation. And some bills would allow the government to start seizing personal property if fines are not paid.

The named target is sex trafficking and the supposed beneficiaries would be children, who are kidnapped and exploited all the damn time according to stats made up out of thin air. But the real targets will be the oldest profession, which includes plenty of un-exploited sex workers voluntarily providing services to paying customers. But the end result will be a spectacular amount of collateral damage -- and that's not just limited to customers having their conversations intercepted or being hit with hate crime enhancements. The proposed legislation would also wreak havoc on the internet.

Grassley's bill cobbles together a host of changes that give federal prosecuting agencies more power. Among other things, it would create a federal mandate to fight "sextortion" (without defining what this means); ask the quasi-governmental National Center for Missing and Exploited to assist the government in identifying "misleading domain names" and "misleading words or digital images on the Internet"; and more than quadruple annual appropriations for grants related to these activities.

Starting with this premise, those caught up in these supposed anti-sex trafficking efforts will find themselves in the position of proving a negative. If the government decides you're looking for child porn or exploited children (or offering either of these) but can't find images or terminology affirming this hunch, it can still go after you for being "misleading."

These bills may namecheck sex trafficking and carry the veneer of honest law enforcement work, but underneath every one of them lies the Puritanical notion that buying and selling sex is immoral and must be punished not by God, but by the government itself.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 June 2017 @ 9:38am

Former University Official Files Libel Lawsuit Against His Replacement For Things A Journalist Said

from the that's-not-how-this-works dept

We've covered a lot of ridiculous defamation lawsuits here at Techdirt. A ton. MANY. We like covering them so much we bought the company. But this defamation lawsuit passed on to us by Adam Steinbaugh is just baffling. Even more baffling, it's been filed with professional representation. Its attempt to fashion a libel lawsuit out of nothing bears far more resemblance to those filed by plaintiffs with fools for lawyers.

In March of last year, Jim Myers of the The Tennessean wrote an article about some staff changes at a local university's culinary arts program. If this seems like extraordinarily innocuous subject matter, you're obviously not former director Tom Loftis or his legal representation. Loftis has formally shouted "defamation" in a crowded courthouse. But his accusations aren't levied against Myers or The Tennessean, but rather against someone featured in the article: new culinary arts director Randy Rayburn.

His complaint [PDF] tries to turn Rayburn into the libelous villain by attributing things Myers wrote about Loftis and Rayburn into direct quotes by Rayburn.

On March 2, 2016, The Tennessean published an article, which is attached hereto as Exhibit A and incorporated herein by reference, under the byline of Jim Myers. The words in the article were spoken by Randy Rayburn and published by Mr. Myers in The Tennessean.

This opening assertion is then immediately proven false by Loftis' next allegations. (Emphasis mine.)

"It starts and ends on the cooking line," wrote Mr. Myers, "regardless of the talent of the chef or the quality of the wait staff." The article promoted an event called "Tennessee Flavors," purportedly the product of the Defendant, Randy Rayburn, as a benefit for the culinary arts program of Nashville State Community College.

Myers claimed to have written before about "the dearth of qualified line cooks in town, from our best restaurants to the hotels and convention centers ...." Rayburn, according to Myers, "recognized this need every day in his kitchens at the old Sunset Grill, Midtown Cafe, and Cabana, so he decided to do something about it by dedicating himself to helping build a Culinary Arts program at what used to be called Nashville Tech." These words of self-aggrandizement portray Rayburn as the savior of culinary arts from the incompetence of Plaintiff. The school had chosen to name its new facility at the former Hickory Hollow Mali in Antioch, "The Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts."

Reputation isn't zero-sum. Self-aggrandizement isn't defamation, even if it makes someone else look worse by comparison. And we still have yet to see any direct quotes from Rayburn -- only the columnist's impression of Rayburn and his activities.

Myers quoted Rayburn as willing to tell you "it hasn't been easy." When he sought the help of local restaurateurs and chefs to offer feedback on the program and the quality of his graduates, he was quoted, "the reports he got back weren't flattering. The program was simply turning out unqualified students."

Rayburn, "with his name on the building" chose to apply his experience in "how to cut losses and move on quickly," and "decided to get more involved."

Myers then wrote: "they started by cleaning house from the top by removing director Tom Loftis. It was a politically inexpedient move last year since Loftis was the brother-in-law of Bill Freeman who was running for Mayor at the time. If the election had gone a different way, it might have affected funding for the school."

And we still have yet to see Rayburn quote with anything more damning in it than his assessment of returned assessments. But Loftis isn't going to let facts stand in the way of a $1.5 million defamation suit.

These boastful and unseemly comments were reckless and made with a conscience [sic] indifference to the truth. No specific deficiencies were described nor was it revealed in this article whether any of the individuals about whom complaints were made had even attended the school much less graduated from it. No effort was made to determine whether these deficiencies were a function of a failure of instruction rather than an inadequacy of the individual. Among the chefs mentioned in the article were individuals who, to the knowledge of the Plaintiff, had never employed a graduate of the school.

And on and on it goes. Normally, a stupid defamation lawsuit is filed against the biggest target, be it Google or Yelp, etc., rather than the person actually engaging in alleged libel. This suit goes for the smaller target -- Randy Rayburn -- either out of spite (because Rayburn replaced Loftis and had a building named after him and appears to be better liked by local writers, etc.) or because Loftis thinks Rayburn will put up less of a fight than The Tennessean.

The motion to dismiss [PDF], filed by Rayburn's lawyer, Daniel Horwitz, does a thorough job explaining why this should be laughed out of court. It points out that Rayburn is never directly quoted -- at least not saying anything remotely defamatory -- and that the lawsuit states repeatedly that the words Loftis is bothered by were written by Myers and published by The Tennessean, neither of which are party to this lawsuit.

The problem here is Rayburn has to defend himself against these completely baseless allegations or get hit with an expensive default judgment. The best case scenario is the lawsuit being tossed as soon as a judge reviews the motion to dismiss. Unfortunately, this state has no anti-SLAPP law, so it will be extremely difficult to hold Loftis financially culpable for Rayburn's legal fees.

Hurt feelings often result in bogus lawsuits, but this one appears to be almost entirely motivated by the fact the plaintiff's successor at the university appears to be both better-liked and better at the job.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 June 2017 @ 8:25am

Colorado Voters Will Get A Chance To Prevent Preteens From Using Smartphones

from the making-the-state-an-adoptive-parent dept

Some enterprising Colorado residents have turned a small tech panic into a stupid ballot measure. (via Free Range Kids)

Dr. Timothy J. Farnum apparently doesn't like the way his teenaged kids act. He blames this on smartphones.

"They would get the phone and lock themselves in their room and change who they were," he said.

With one of his sons, then 12, he thought the problem became bad enough to warrant taking the phone away.

"(With smartphones), the internet is always begging for your attention," he said. "The apps are all designed to addict you. ... For children, it's not a good thing."

Because parenting is hard, Farnum has decided to see if the state can't pick up his parenting slack. He has introduced a ballot measure that would ban retailers from selling phones to preteens, even indirectly. If this anesthesiologist can find 300,000 like-minded idiots willing to follow him into legislative infamy, his proposal could possibly become law.

To drum up support for his idea, Farnum has cobbled together a website that probably looks terrible on mobile devices. It certainly looks awful on the regular web.

And it's full of terribleness -- half-arguments and citation-less assertions, not exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from a board of directors composed of people with medical degrees. Here's just a few of the convincing arguments Farnum deploys:

Years from now parents will look back on our time and shake their heads and wonder how we allowed this atrocity. Allowing our children to be robbed of their carefree days of wonder, laughter, and normal natural development. Yes, they will wonder, didn't they see it?, didn't they see their children stop achieving, stop playing, stop laughing, ceasing to be free? Instead, isolating themselves in their rooms choosing soft and cushy electronic lives over their real ones. Didn't they see the damage?

Or:

Currently, parents are supposed to do everything, and the manufacturers, content and service providers, basically everyone in the whole industry gets a free pass. Parents are somehow supposed to be up to date on the current recommendations on usage from experts, and enforce these recommendations, plus guard their children everywhere they go. This is not only unfair, it is altogether impossible given the saturation of our children's environment.

Or:

The wild west free for all that we have now has left parents with little clear direction, and has caused incalculable damage to children. The American Academy of Pediatricians came out in 2000 with their recommendations, reaffirmed them in 2012, and yet parents are unaware, and children continue to be harmed.

FINALLY. A citation to something other than Farnum's gut instinct, or how the world should change to better accommodate his strained relationship with his sullen, withdrawn children. Something written by someone other than an anesthesiologist.

Or not. There's no link to these recommendations or direct quotes from any AAP report. It's as if Farnum believes you can just type something on the internet and readers are obligated to believe it.

The AAP certainly doesn't suggest legislation should take the place of parenting, no matter how Farnum skews it.

The AAP recommends that parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family.

“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “Media and Young Minds,” which focuses on infants, toddlers and pre-school children. “What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”

What a revolutionary idea: parents engaging in the act of parenting! But if that's not for you, there's Farnum's ballot measure [PDF], which is prefaced with phrasing guaranteeing it will never be taken seriously.

WE THE PARENTS AND CONCERNED CITIZENS OF THIS MOST MAGNIFICENT STATE THROUGH FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE AND MOUNTING SCIENTIFIC DATA HAVE COME TO BELIEVE THAT SMARTPHONES ARE ADDICTIVE, HARMFUL, AND DANGEROUS IN THE HANDS OF CHILDREN.

THE MANUFACTURES AND SERVICE PROVIDERS OF SMARTPHONES HAVE CONTINUED UNABATED TO PROMOTE THEIR USE IN A RECKLESS AND WANTON MANNER, WITH NO CONCERN FOR OUR CHILDREN'S HEALTH OR SAFETY.

OUR GOVERNMENT BODIES ON ALL LEVELS HAVE FAILED TO GRASP THE LEVEL OF ADDICTION, THE SEVERITY OF THE HARM, OR THE UNMENTIONABLE STARK DEPRAVITY OF THE DANGERS.

WE AS PARENTS FIND THIS MATTER TO BE SO WIDESPREAD, SO INSIDIOUS AND OF THE VERY HIGHEST PRIORITY. NO HALF MEASURES, INEFFECTUAL EDUCATION CAMPAIGNS, NEW APPLICATIONS, OR PROMISES FROM MEGA-CORPORATIONS OF IMPROVEMENT WILL SUFFICE TO CAUSE THE GREAT CHANGE NECESSARY TO RESCUE THIS AND GENERATIONS OF CHILDREN TO COME FROM THE CARELESS AND EXPERIMENTAL INTRODUCTION OF SIMILAR TECHNOLOGIC[AL] DEVICES AND ADVANCEMENTS BY PROFIT DRIVEN CORPORATIONS.

It's pretty much a conspiracy theorist's message board post, only with some nonsensical legislation attached. The proposal would require retailers to ask customers if they're buying phones for preteens and, apparently, refuse the sale if the answer is "yes." Retailers are also required to put up signage informing customers of the new state-enforced policy and train employees to dig into the details of customers' purchases. Then they'll have to turn this information over to the state.

(4) RETAILER SHALL VERBALLY INQUIRE ABOUT THE AGE OF INTENDED PRIMARY OWNER PRIOR TO COMPLETING THE SALE OF ANY SMARTPHONE.

(5) RETAILER MUST DOCUMENT THE RESPONSE OF PURCHASER AND KEEP A RECORD OF THIS RESPONSE.

(6) RETAILER MUST FILE A MONTHLY REPORT TO THE DEPARTMENT THAT PROVIDES A LISTING OF:

(a) THE TYPE OF PHONE THAT WAS PURCHASED EITHER SMARTPHONE OR CELLULAR

(b) THE AGE OF THE INTENDED PRIMARY OWNER AT TIME OF PURCHASE

This is a really disturbing addition, as it places smartphone sellers under a more pervasive form of regulation than sellers of other age-controlled items like alcohol, cigarettes, and porn. And it makes no sense at all to maintain these records, as the proposal contains no avenue of state recourse against parents who lie to retailers about the cellphone recipient's age.

Retailers who violate the law face steadily-increasing fines, starting at $500 and topping out at $20,000. Retailers are given an "affirmative defense" to use when accused of violating the law, but can only use this defense twice in a 24-month period. And it's not really an affirmative defense. It's really nothing more than a statement of compliance with mandated sales policy changes that can be used to shield the retailer from fines if it's determined to have violated the law.

Finally, to cap off the nonsense this is, Farnum's own site presents this contradictory argument:

It absolutely is a parents right to choose how to raise their child. But it is also our American parents right to form an alliance together and try to make manufacturers and service providers accountable for the mess they have created.

It is a parent's right to choose. Here's some legislation taking that choice away! And some sort of plan to collect reparations from local retailers for the evils perpetrated on society by manufacturers. Somehow this proposal managed to survive the scrutiny of state ballot officials, which doesn't say much for their judgment skills.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 June 2017 @ 2:57pm

Sheriff Defends Deputies' Lies In Court By Saying Officers Didn't Know They Were Supposed To Tell The Truth

from the keep-calm-and-screw-citizens dept

The Orange County (CA) District Attorney's office remains in the news. It's not often an entire prosecutors' office gets booted off a high-profile murder case, but that's what happens when misconduct occurs on a massive scale. An open-and-shut murder case with eight victims is now the DA's perpetual nightmare. Judge Thomas Goethals kicked the agency to the curb after uncovering repeated discovery violations committed by prosecutors.

But the problems go back further than this case. The office has hidden the existence of a law enforcement database from defense lawyers (and judges) for a quarter century -- a database holding all sorts of information about jailhouse snitches that may have made the difference in a number of cases.

A quarter-century of obfuscation followed by outright lying on the stand by prosecution witnesses is something you'd think would be addressed by a swift housecleaning. You'd be wrong. So far, there have been no announcements from the DA about pending investigations -- either into its own misconduct, or the repeated abuses of the jail's snitch program run by the local sheriff's office.

Add to that yet another revelation from the current criminal case: the sheriff's office shredded documents ahead of an announced investigation by the DOJ.

Sheriff's deputies doctored and shredded records after the announced launch of a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) probe eight years ago into suspected police corruption, according to the latest courthouse bombshell filed March 30 in what is known nationally as the Orange County Jailhouse Informant Scandal.

Revealed in a brief filed by Scott Sanders, the assistant public defender in People v. Scott Dekraai, a pending death penalty case marred by astonishing law enforcement misconduct, Deputy Michael Carrillo wrote an entry never intended for public consumption: "ADUJSTED (sic) THE DISCIPLINARY ISOLATION LOGS FOR THE DOJ TO MATCH THE LOGS FOR AD-SEG AND PC LOGS, PER SGT JOHNSON."

Those in charge of the sheriff's snitch program have been asked to testify in response to perjury allegations. They have chosen not to, with each sheriff's office witness called pleading the Fifth. This chain of events has led to the most jaw-dropping law enforcement statement I have ever read, and that includes arguments made in support of setting toddlers on fire with carelessly-tossed flashbang grenades.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens claims the veteran officers were unaware they were required to testify honestly during prior court appearances for the death penalty case marred by astonishing degrees of government cheating.

Officers, especially veteran ones, are aware they are required to testify honestly. This is why they're sworn in before testimony. There's a promise made at that point. Not testifying honestly is called "perjury," as the officers are surely aware. High school students taking civics classes are aware of this. No one's really unclear on the whole "tell the truth in court" thing.

This is R. Scott Moxley's paraphrasing of what was actually asserted by the sheriff. The paraphrasing strips the original quote of its defensive obfuscation, but the real quote is no less damning, if not as direct. (Original quote obtained from Moxley.)

[T]he OC sheriff was asked why a veteran deputy had lied about the existence of incriminating agency TRED records after swearing in open court he would tell the "whole truth" and she replied, "I believe he was unclear about what he could or couldn't say about that system."

I'm not sure what the deputy thought was unclear, other than it seemed wiser for him to lie to the court than reveal the database the sheriff's office had kept hidden from defendants for years. If there was a question about what could be said in open court, the sheriff's witnesses could have asked to discuss the specifics in camera and allow the judge to decided whether it could be discussed publicly. Denying the existence of records that exist is still perjury, no matter how the sheriff wants to spin it.

Hutchens and every "veteran officer" she's referring to should be fired immediately. Anyone who honestly believes testifying in court is subject to discretion calls by the sheriff's office about what can and can't be discussed needs to replaced with those who understands and respects the oaths they take. If they're actually stupid enough to believe being a law enforcement officer makes truth-telling under oath optional, they should be forced to tattoo "THIS END UP" on their foreheads to prevent them from making unfortunate decisions about which method of bipedal ambulation works most efficiently and have "DON'T LIE IN COURT" notes safety-pinned to their chests if they're going to be within 1000 feet of any US courthouse.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 June 2017 @ 12:03pm

Deputy Attorney General Asks Congress For $21 Million To Solve The FBI's 'Going Dark' Problem

from the 21-million-buys-a-lot-of-hysteria dept

James Comey may have been unceremoniously dumped by the Commander-in-Chief, but his device encryption legacy lives on.

The Justice Department is requesting more than $20 million in federal funding to bankroll efforts related to resolving the government’s continuing “Going Dark” problem, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Tuesday, signaling one of the Trump administration’s first attempts at tackling the issue of ubiquitous, hard-to-crack encryption amid growing concerns involving its impact on criminal investigations.

The request came during Rosenstein's testimony before the Appropriations Committee -- the place where all government officials perform their most sincere acts of begging. Not that the FBI was likely to be faced with budget cuts -- not with a "law and order" president running the country and overseen by an Attorney General who appears to believe we're currently engulfed in a massive drug-and-immigrant crimewave.

Here's Rosenstein's full "going dark" budget request:

Department of Justice must continue to take a leading role in enhancing the capabilities of the law enforcement and national security communities. This budget request will provide $21.6 million in funding to counter the “Going Dark” threat. The seriousness of this threat cannot be overstated. “Going Dark” refers to law enforcement’s increasing inability to lawfully access, collect, and intercept real-time communications and stored data, even with a warrant, due to fundamental shifts in communications services and technologies. This phenomenon is severely impairing our ability to conduct investigations and bring criminals to justice. The FBI will use this funding to develop and acquire tools for electronic device analysis, cryptanalytic capability, and forensic tools. The Department’s role has been to collect, house, analyze, and share critical data among our federal, state, local, and tribal partners.

Beg to differ, but the "seriousness of this threat" can be overstated. Comey did so on multiple occasions. Sometimes others -- mainly Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance -- followed suit. Both claimed to have a large number of phones in their possession that couldn't be cracked. Even if the underlying assumption that all of these phones contained valuable evidence directly related to investigations, one still had to wonder how hard investigators were trying to get into these phones. Or how many other options they'd explored before throwing their hands up in frustration and resigning the devices to a dismal future as press conference props.

Take, for instance, this quote from the Washington Times article:

Days before leaving office on May 9, Mr. Comey said federal investigators had legally seized more than 6,000 smartphones and electronic devices during a recent six-month span but found that 46 percent couldn’t be opened “with any technique.”

This stat is almost completely unbelievable. Documents obtained from local law enforcement agencies with much smaller budgets show investigators are finding multiple ways to obtain data and communications from locked phones. We're also not hearing these sentiments echoed by law enforcement officials at the local level. If it's this much of a problem for the FBI -- nearly half of all devices seized -- one would think smaller agencies would be seeing a much higher access failure rate, followed directly by public complaints about device encryption. But we're just not seeing that.

Hopefully whatever's handed to the FBI to solve its apparently singular "going dark" program is put to use wisely. But nothing about the "going dark" hype suggests this will be the case. It may just disappear into some sort of talking points war fund and used to promote the spread of "going dark" hysteria until enough legislators are on the hook. If the money is deployed intelligently, it could actually make a difference for the agency. But all evidence points to the agency angling for legislation and favorable court precedent that will make the rest of us pay the price for the agency's inability or unwillingness to see anything but darkness when confronted with technical hurdles.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 June 2017 @ 6:17am

Secret Defense Dept. Report Shows Manning Leaks Did No Serious Damage

from the confirming-unofficial-statements-from-US-officials dept

Prosecutors seeking to justify a lengthy sentence (and the abuses that had already occurred) in the Chelsea Manning case insisted the documents she leaked had caused serious damage to those exposed by them. They said this even as multiple government officials admitted the most the United States had suffered was some embarrassment.

Jason Leopold has obtained an official assessment of the Manning leaks which shows the same thing: no real damage was done.

Regarding the hundreds of thousands of Iraq-related military documents and State Department cables provided by the Army private Chelsea Manning, the report assessed “with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq.”

This doesn't necessarily mean no damage was done. But the report confirms the United States didn't suffer from the Manning leaks.

The report also determined that a different set of documents that was published the same year, relating to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, would not result in “significant impact” to U.S. operations. It did, however, have the potential to cause “serious damage” to “intelligence sources, informants and the Afghan population” and U.S and NATO intelligence collection efforts.

The report [PDF] also notes investigators located the encrypted Wikileaks "insurance" file -- one Julian Assange says he'll release the key to if he feels his ability to disseminate information is threatened. (Stay tuned!) The assessment concludes it's unlikely this file contains anything damaging either.

Based on public statements by Assange, the IRTF assesses with moderate confidence that the "Insurance File" does not contain any USG data beyond what the IRTF has already reviewed.

The document dates back to 2011. It may have been some use in Manning's defense during the trial (a defense severely limited by the nature of espionage proceedings). As Leopold notes, Manning was not allowed to view this report. Instead, she was forced to fight the charges blind while prosecutors cherry-picked portions of the report to bolster their arguments.

Not that any of this matters at this point. The damage has already been done to Manning's life. And Manning's prosecution likely serves as a low-key chilling effect to dissuade potential leakers and whistleblowers from publicly humiliating the US government. But it does show the government is willing to use evidence that doesn't actually exist to secure a conviction.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 June 2017 @ 9:32am

Supreme Court Makes It Even More Difficult To Sue Federal Officials Over Rights Violations

from the BUILD-THAT-WALL dept

If you wanted even more leeway for government officials to bypass accountability, you've got it. Courtesy of the US Supreme Court, the immunity for federal officials has just been expanded. On a day when the court handed down two significant First Amendment victories, the court has dialed back an avenue of redress for people whose rights have been violated by federal employees.

This case has its origins in the 2001 Twin Towers attack. In the wake of the attack, the government engaged in some questionable behavior (not unlike some of its World War II actions), rounding up undocumented Arab immigrants and detaining them under harsh conditions.

When they were finally released, they sued the US government for violating their rights. Unfortunately, options for directly suing federal officers are severely limited. Up until the Supreme Court's 1971 Bivens decision, plaintiffs had almost no way to seek redress for rights violated by federal employees. Bivens produced a new option, but its limited scope still made it very difficult for plaintiffs to secure a ruling in their favor. It's especially useless in cases like the one before the Supreme Court -- a case where the plaintiffs have no other way to bring a suit against the government other than going the Bivens route, thanks to their status as undocumented aliens at the time the rights violations allegedly occurred.

This new decision limits Bivens even further by adding national security concerns to the mix. In cases like these -- prompted by federal government reactions to a domestic terrorist attack -- the Supreme Court comes down on the side of the US government. But it's not just national security playing a limiting factor in seeking justice for violated rights. It's pretty much any case where the government hasn't seen this particular sort of violation before.

Cornell law prof Michael Dorf points out how severely restricting this ruling is for plaintiffs who have a single recourse option available to them:

The key move in the majority opinion is one of characterization. The Court says that it is not enough for a Bivens action to be available that there are precedents in the same general area holding that no "special factors" warrant denial of a Bivens action; the "special factors" must be evaluated by reference to a highly particularized description of the case at hand. How particularlized? The Court says:

Without endeavoring to create an exhaustive list of differences that are meaningful enough to make a given context a new one, some examples might prove instructive. A case might differ in a meaningful way because of the rank of the officers involved; the constitutional right at issue; the generality or specificity of the official action; the extent of judicial guidance as to how an officer should respond to the problem or emergency to be confronted; the statutory or other legal mandate under which the officer was operating; the risk of disruptive intrusion by the Judiciary into the functioning of other branches; or the presence of potential special factors that previous Bivens cases did not consider.

The shorthand version is the same excuse used in tons of normal, non-Bivens civil rights cases: if the court hasn't previously ruled on this specific set of circumstances before (and judged them to be a violation of rights), qualified immunity for government employees will be upheld. The problem is violations must be "clearly established" by a court decision to bypass immunity -- which is an extreme rarity in a system that heavily relies on precedent, frequently punts on tough legal questions, and often tells plaintiffs their redress is tied to legislation Congress has yet to write, much less pass.

Mix in national security concerns, "special considerations," and expansive immunity protections for government employees and this decision demands future Bivens petitioners do the impossible:

That means that it is now possible for a federal officer to violate clearly established rights--i.e., to commit rights violations that are established as clear in virtue of being very similar to rights violations that were adjudicated in prior cases--but still not be subject to a Bivens action because the case is nonetheless too different from prior Bivens cases to overcome the "special factors" limitation.

To bring a successful Bivens action a civil rights plaintiff must now pass through the eye of a tiny needle inside the eye of another tiny needle.

The decision [PDF] also suggests plaintiffs just wait around with their rights violated until Congress does something about it:

The proper balance in situations like this, between deterring constitutional violations and freeing high officials to make the lawful decisions necessary to protect the Nation in times of great peril, is one for the Congress to undertake, not the Judiciary.

What remains after this decision is almost nothing for plaintiffs -- like the Muslims and Arabs rounded up in a legally-unsound reaction to a terrorist attack -- and another expansion of immunity protections for federal officers and officials. As Steve Vladeck pointed out on Twitter, future Bivens cases will be limited to a small subset of prior Bivens decisions. The chances of previous decisions being perfectly applicable to the facts at hand in future cases hovers right around 0%. In the context of this case, it means the government can again engage in such a roundup of Muslims and Arabs without worrying about future lawsuits. None of the courts involved declared this roundup to be a violation of rights, so as far as the judiciary is concerned, similar actions won't violate any established precedent.

Plaintiffs bringing these complaints -- plaintiffs who often have no other options under the law -- will have to be willing to spend lots of time and money pursuing miracles. The Supreme Court has ruled that if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, but quacks a bit more like a Canvasback than a Mallard, federal immunity will be upheld..

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 June 2017 @ 3:38am

Oversight Report Shows NSA Failed To Secure Its Systems Following The Snowden Leaks

from the NSA-officials:-'feel-good-story-of-2015,-etc.' dept

It appears the NSA hasn't learned much since Ed Snowden left with several thousands of its super-secret documents. Agency officials were quick to claim the leaks would cause untold amounts of damage, but behind the scenes, not much was being done to make sure it didn't happen again.

A Defense Department Inspector General's report obtained via FOIA lawsuit by the New York Times shows the NSA fell short of several security goals in the post-Snowden cleanup. For an agency that was so concerned about being irreparably breached, the NSA still seems primed for more leakage. Charlie Savage reports:

The N.S.A. failed to consistently lock racks of servers storing highly classified data and to secure data center machine rooms, according to the report, an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general completed in 2016. The report was classified at the time and made public in redacted form this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The New York Times.

The agency also failed to meaningfully reduce the number of officials and contractors who were empowered to download and transfer data classified as top secret, as well as the number of “privileged” users, who have greater power to access the N.S.A.’s most sensitive computer systems. And it did not fully implement software to monitor what those users were doing.

Let's not forget the NSA wants to be engaged in ensuring the cybersecurity of the nation. It's repeatedly asked for more power and a better seat in the CyberWar room. But it doesn't even take its OWN security seriously. The NSA told its oversight it was engaging in 40 "Secure the Net" initiatives, directly after the first Snowden leak. Two years later, it told Congress it had completed 34 of 40 STN initiatives. The term "completion" apparently has multiple definitions, depending on who's using the word. The IG sampled only seven of the initiatives and found four were mostly done and three were nowhere near completed. Extrapolating from the sampling, it's safe to assume the NSA's internal security efforts are only slightly more than half-baked.

The three the NSA failed to implement are of crucial importance, especially if it's looking to keep its in-house documents safe at home. From the report [PDF]:

NSA officials did not effectively implement three PRIVAC [Privileged Access]-related STN initiatives:

- fully implement technology to oversee privileged user activities;

- effectively reduce the number of privileged users; and

- effectively reduce the number of authorized DTAs [Data Transfer Agents].

First off, the NSA -- prior to the Snowden leaks -- had no idea how many users had privileged access. Post-Snowden, things hardly improved. Considering the tech capabilities of the agency, it's incredibly amusing to see how the NSA "tracked" privileged users.

NSA officials stated they used a manually kept spreadsheet, which they no longer had, to identify the initial number of privileged users.

Pretty much useless, considering this number the NSA couldn't verify (thanks to its missing spreadsheet) was supposed to be used to establish a baseline for the planned reduction in privileged users. Despite missing this key data, the NSA moved ahead, "arbitrarily revoking access" and asking users to reapply for privileged status. It then reported a reduction by citing the number of users it denied restoration of access privileges. It did not factor in any new users it granted privileged access to or tally up the number of accounts it never bothered to revoke.

As the fully-redacted chart presumably points out (according to the text above it), the NSA had a "continued and consistent increase in the number of privileged users once the [redacted] enrollment process began."

The NSA also claimed it had reduced the number of DTAs. And again, the NSA had no receipts.

Although repeatedly requested, NSA officials could not provide supporting documentation for the total number of DTAs before and after the purge or the actual number of users purged.

The NSA's objectively-terrible internal controls (again) ensured no number could be verified.

NSA did not know how many DTAs it had because the manually kept list was corrupted during the months leading up to the security breach.

The NSA handled these missing numbers the same way it had privileged users: it made up a new baseline, arbitrarily decided it could show a downtrend in DTAs, and delivered this as "proof" of another completed security initiative.

The report points out repeatedly the NSA's failure to provide documentation backing its STN claims -- either from before the initiatives took force or after they supposedly hag been completed. The IG's comments note the NSA's response to the report ignored its detailed description of multiple failures in order to spin this as a "win" for the agency.

Although the Director, Technology Directorate NSA/CSS Chief Information Officer, agreed, he did not address all the specifics of the recommendation. Therefore, we request that the director provide additional comments on the final report that identify specific actions NSA will take.

Here's how the NSA portrayed the report's findings:

While the Media Leak events that led to Secure the Net (STN) were both unforeseen and serious, we consider the extensive progress we made in a short time to be a "good news" story.

Sure, if you consider a half-done job securing NSA assets to be "good news," rather than just an ongoing series of security holes left halfway unplugged while agency officials testify before Congressional oversight in front of a "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner backdrop.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 June 2017 @ 3:46pm

South Carolina Sheriffs Less Interested In Enforcing Laws Than Taking Stuff

from the my-own-private-Nottingham dept

It's not like we need any more evidence showing asset forfeiture has almost nothing to do with enforcing laws or breaking up criminal organizations. But law enforcement agencies just keep generating damning data.

The Charleston Post and Courier's article on the subject runs under an innocuous title that seems to put the blame on the federal government for the asset forfeiture sins of local police, but the article tells a completely different story. The officers and officials quoted in the story make noises about taking down criminals, but the greedy devil is in the details.

Every year in Spartanburg County, the Sheriff's Office organizes a week-long crackdown on Interstates 26 and 85 involving multiple local and federal agencies. They call it "Rolling Thunder."

Cool name. About as cool as the "interdiction teams" Rolling Thunder contains, which makes it sound as though officers are seriously engaged in disrupting drug trafficking. And the numbers here show the week-long effort did indeed result in a whole lot of searches.

During the March operation, deputies and their colleagues pulled over 1,110 motorists — the majority of whom were black or Hispanic — mostly for infractions such as making improper lane changes or following too closely. Police searched 158 vehicles, including large tour buses. Drug-detecting dogs sniffed around 105 vehicles, and the tour bus luggage…

But did it result in a whole lot of drug traffickers being shown the (jail) door? Of course not.

Just eight felony arrests were made, but police found and seized 233 pounds of marijuana, nearly 8 kilos of cocaine, 164 ounces of heroin, more than 4,800 prescription drug items, 65 grams of methamphetamine, $139,320 in cash and counterfeit consumer products.

Why even make the slightest effort to prosecute when civil asset forfeiture allows you to make nearly no effort at all? Here's Rolling Thunder "participant" trophy-winner Sheriff Chuck Wright making claims about the wondrous works of interdiction teams.

“You’re not going to do this here and get a free pass,” Wright said. “People in Spartanburg County elected me to enforce all laws, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

“The proof is in the pudding. Look around. Do you want this in your street?” Wright said.

But a free pass is exactly what most people got. Eight felony arrests arising from 158 vehicle searches which turned up a whole bunch of drugs and cash. Not sure how a search-and-release program isn't a "free pass" or does anything to prevent more drugs from ending up on the street. Drug producers can always produce more drugs. And as long as their mules aren't sitting in jail, they should have little trouble moving product from point A to B.

The most damning fact is this: South Carolina law enforcement agencies simply stopped enforcing laws when told they weren't allowed to enrich themselves through asset forfeiture. When the federal government briefly shut down its equitable sharing program -- which allowed agencies to route around state forfeiture restrictions to stake a larger claim of seized property -- local agencies shut down their drug interdiction efforts.

"The tip of the spear has just been blunted — it’s got no point now," Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said at the time.

Hampton County suspended drug interdiction patrols until the payment program resumed.

This is the ugly reality of asset forfeiture. It's not about laws. Or drugs. Or taking down drug cartels. It's about taking stuff from people with a minimum of legal fuss. When the going gets tough, the tough shut down. What began as a well-intentioned notion has become a mockery of property rights and due process.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 June 2017 @ 9:39am

There Is No 'Going Dark' Problem

from the to-make-investigative-omelets,-you've-got-to-crack-a-few-phones dept

Former FBI Director James Comey made plenty of headlines with his insistence cellphone encryption would be the end of law enforcement as we know it. Comey's assertions made it seem as though regular police investigative work was no longer of any use and that any and all evidence pertinent to cases resided behind cellphone passcodes.

He insisted the problem would only get worse in the future. If not put to an end by legislated backdoors or smart tech guys coding up "safe" holes in device encryption, we may as well accept the fact that no criminal committing more than a moving violation would ever be brought to justice.

Default encryption does pose a problem for law enforcement, but it's nowhere near as insurmountable as Comey has portrayed it. Multiple FOIA requests handled through MuckRock have shown law enforcement still has several phone-cracking options at its disposal and doesn't seem to be having many problems recovering evidence.

This is superbly illustrated in documents obtained from the Tulsa and Tuscon (AZ) Police Departments by Curtis Waltman. Tuscon PD documents [PDF] show law enforcement officers are using tools crafted by the same company that provided the hack to the FBI in the San Bernardino case, among several other options. But the real motherlode is the Tulsa PD's log of cracked phones.

The kicker really is how often these are being used - it is simply really hard to believe that out of the 783 times Tulsa Police used their extraction devices, all were for crimes in which it was necessary to look at all of the phone’s data… There are some days where the devices were used multiple times - Tulsa used theirs eight times on February 28th of this year, eight again on April 3rd, and a whopping 14 times on May 10th 2016. That is a whole lot of data that Tulsa was able to tap into, and we aren’t even able to understand the why.

The document contains page after page of cracked phones, ranging from Samsungs to HTCs to LGs… even iPhones (5 and 6). "Going dark" remains a Comey fairy tale, for the most part, if these documents are anything to go by.

And there's apparently very few rules for deployment of cellphone-cracking devices. Only one PD in Arizona returned any guidelines in response to requests and those rules basically state there are no rules. The Mesa PD's Computer Forensic Unit makes the most of its limited resources by limiting its work to… any crime at all.

This is the list of criminal activity the unit provides forensic work for, listed in order of priority.

Homicide
Sexual Assault
Child Crimes
(which I assume means "crimes against children," rather than crimes committed BY children)
Aggravated Assault/Robbery
Property Crimes
All other felonies
All misdemeanors

Everything. That would explain the number of cellphones accessed by these PDs. Presumably other PDs are also operating under very loose guidance or none at all.

This sort of intrusiveness should be limited to serious felonies and investigations where it's plainly apparent the best route to evidence runs through the suspect's cellphone. Otherwise, law enforcement agencies are just using these tools because they have them, not because they necessarily need them.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 June 2017 @ 3:12am

Man To Spend 180 Days In Jail For Turning Over Non-Working Password

from the inadvertently-building-up-time-served-credit dept

The protections of the Fifth Amendment are running up against technology and often coming out on the losing end. Court rulings have been anything but consistent to this point. So far it appears password protection beats fingerprints, but not by much.

It all comes down to the individual court. Some view passwords as possibly testimonial in and of themselves, and side with defendants. Others view passwords as something standing in the way of compelled evidence production and punish holdouts with contempt of court charges.

That's what's happening to a Florida man suspected of child abuse. He claims he's given law enforcement his phone's password already, but prosecutors claim the password failed to unlock his phone. They believe his phone holds evidence of the physical abuse alleged -- a claim that seems a bit less believable than those made about child porn viewers and drug dealers.

The court, however, has sided with prosecutors.

A Hollywood man must serve 180 days in jail for refusing to give up his iPhone password to police, a Broward judge ruled Tuesday — the latest salvo in intensifying legal battles over law-enforcement access to smart phones.

Christopher Wheeler, 41, was taken into custody in a Broward Circuit Court, insisting he had already provided the pass code to police investigating him for child abuse, although the number did not work.

All that can be said for certain is prosecutors still don't have an unlocked phone. As prosecutors and this judge see it, the only explanation is that Wheeler lied. That earns him six months of jail time. Maybe Wheeler should have said he couldn't remember.

As Wheeler was jailed Tuesday, the same issue was unfolding in Miami-Dade for a man accused of extorting a social-media celebrity over stolen sex videos.

That man, Wesley Victor, and his girlfriend had been ordered by a judge to produce a pass code to phones suspected of containing text messages showing their collusion in the extortion plot.

Victor claimed he didn't remember the number. He prevailed.

This would be the same judge who determined turning over a password had no Fifth Amendment implications. However, the court found it plausible the defendant might not be able to remember the password to a phone he'd last used over ten months ago. But the ruling doesn't necessarily say the defendant is telling the truth. It only goes so far as saying it's almost impossible to prove he's lying. Given the gap between the phone's seizure and the demand for a password, it's a plausible claim.

His co-defendant made no such claim. Like Wheeler above, Victor's girlfriend handed over a password but it didn't work. The court has asked her to explain why. Given the judge's earlier Fifth Amendment determination, it's safe to assume Hencha Voigt will be facing jail time if the explanation isn't to the judge's liking.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 June 2017 @ 7:39pm

Fake Libel Court Order Used In (Failed) Attempt To Vanish Sexual Battery Conviction

from the nonsexual-fanatasies dept

People who do not have a legal reason to have content delisted are still trying to trick Google into compliance with various illegal actions. So far, we've seen bogus lawsuits filed by fake plaintiffs against fake defendants, slid by inattentive judges to secure takedown orders. We've seen people trying to limit negative search engine results by forging judge's signatures on fake orders. We've seen people assemble fake news sites to post copies of negative content solely for the purpose of targeting the original posts with fraudulent takedown orders.

Eugene Volokh has dug up another interesting libel takedown order, supposedly issued by a Michigan federal court. It awards the plaintiff, Abraham Motamedi, $5,720 in legal fees and the delisting of sex offender registry-related URLs (only one of which isn't a top-level domain). From the order [PDF]:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED: that to prevent further or future harm to Plaintiff’s reputation in the community and protect his employment from the dangers of labeling him as a “sex offender”, Plaintiff is awarded a permanent injunction against Defendants … compelling these Defendants to immediately remove any and all sex offender postings of Plaintiff caused by these Defendants, including but not limited to the sex offender postings presently on the following websites:

The plaintiff also is granted a permanent injunction against further posts linking him to sexual offenses.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED: that to prevent further or future harm to Plaintiff’s reputation in the community and protect his employment from the dangers of labeling him as a “sex offender”, Plaintiff is awarded a permanent injunction against Defendants CHARLES RODERICK II, a/k/a Chuck Roderick, an individual, WEB EXPRESS, L.L.C., d/b/a “Online Detective”, an Arizona limited liability company; and, ONLINEDETECTIVE.COM, L.L.C., an Arizona Limited Liability Company compelling these Defendants to refrain from ever posting any similar sex offender posting concerning 5 Plaintiff or otherwise posting defamatory statements concerning Plaintiff on the internet.

Volokh says this was submitted to Google, despite the order naming only the sites listed above. The order doesn't discuss Section 230 once, even though it skips a set of intermediaries in its haste to get to the delisting. But that's really no surprise, considering no judge ever saw a complaint, much less signed their name to this judgment.

There is no Motamedi v. Oesterblad in the Eastern District of Michigan. The case number 2:13-cv-14541 (the number listed in the order) in that district corresponds to a completely different order. There is no Daniel Ro. Markus, the lawyer who, according to the order, was responsible for the case. The order submitted to Google was a forgery, like the ones discussed here (Lichterman and Aukerman), here (Arnstein), and here (Haas).

Nevertheless, Abraham Motamedi insists it's a real court order. Volokh spoke to Motamedi, who claimed the order was legit (despite the case being nonexistent). This isn't necessarily an indication Motamedi crafted the completely-fake court order. It could mean some shady reputation management company did it on his behalf. But considering Motamedi never expressed any hesitance about his assertions, it's safe to assume he's well aware this isn't legitimate.

Additional weirdness: the criminal conviction Motamedi is trying to make vanish was handed down in Idaho and he now apparently lives in Nevada. Where Michigan factors into all of this is a mystery, although I suppose completely fake court documents don't have to adhere to any sort of jurisdictional limits.

As more evidence of forged/fake court documents is uncovered, it's crucial that that intermediaries pay close attention to any supposed court order they receive. Failing to give these documents additional scrutiny will only encourage further abuse.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 June 2017 @ 3:26am

2008 FISA Transcript Shows NSA Already Knew It Might Have An Incidental Collection Problem

from the where-'about'-means-'how-about-we-just-collect-it-all?' dept

The ODNI has released several documents in response to FOIA lawsuits (EFF, ACLU). The EFF scored 18 of these (handy zip link here) and the ACLU seven. The ACLU's batch has proven more interesting (at least initially). One document it obtained shows a tech company challenged a Section 702 surveillance order in 2014. The challenge was shut down by the FISA court, but with the exception of Yahoo's short-lived defiance, we haven't seen any other evidence of ISP resistance to internet dragnet orders.

Included in the ACLU's batch is a 2008 FISA Court transcript [PDF] that's particularly relevant to the NSA's voluntary shutdown of its "about" collection. In it, the NSA discusses its filtering and oversight procedures, which were already problematic nearly a decade ago.

There are some really interesting tidbits to be gleaned from the often heavily-redacted proceedings, including this statement, which makes it clear the NSA engaged in wholly-domestic surveillance prior to the FISA Amendments Act.

THE COURT: All right. Well, what about the non-U.S. person status, which of course is new under the FISA Amendments Act? Are you going to be changing anything in terms of focusing on that?

[REDACTED GOV'T RESPONDENT]: We already sort of do with respect to the U.S. person status is so intertwined with the location of the target [REDACTED] to the extent that in the past NSA.would actually affirmatively identify targeted U.S. persons to us on the sheets, because one of the additional fields that they put in the sheets is basically a blurb, an explanation and a description of the target.

Clearly, we're not allowed to target US persons anymore, so I don't anticipate seeing any such descriptions on the sheets. But again, since the status of the person, the determination of how that is made is so intertwined with the same information upon which NSA relies to make a foreignness determination, that it would be hard for us not to identify such information as we're conducting the reviews.

Which, of course, means the NSA was allowed to target US persons and their communications previously, contradicting statements made by US officials, including President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

It's stated earlier in the transcript that the NSA does a few things to help minimize examination of US persons' communications. But they're not great. The NSA runs spot checks on analysts' transactions, deploys filters, and relies on self-reporting to guard against Fourth Amendment violations. It sounds like quite a bit, but the details show it's not nearly enough. To start with, the filters meant to filter out US persons' communications don't work.

COURT: The NSA minimization procedures, you're stating, 'contain a provision for allowing retention of information because of limitations on NSA's ability to filter communications.' My question I had was is the filter discussed in targeting the same filtering. I just wanted to understand that, and apparently it is. [The rest of the court's question is redacted.]

GOV'T: I think the inclusion of that provision in the minimization procedures was intended to be prophylactic in the event that the filters don't necessarily work, and NSA has represented that it's been their experience with the filters and [redacted] this provision basically captures instances where the filters may not work in every instance.

And there's a good reason why they won't work "in every instance." Further unredacted discussion reveals the NSA partially relies on an IP address blacklist to filter out US persons' communications. This is better than nothing, but still a long way from being a strong positive indicator of a target's (or incidental target's) location.

The court then asks about the limitations of the filters and… we get several fully-redacted pages as an answer.

The court also asks about the "about" collection -- where targets are discussed but the communications do not directly involve NSA targets.The judge wants to know how often this is being used rather than the more-targeted "to/from" collection and how often it results in incidental collection. Unsurprisingly, the government can't say how often this happens. This is because the NSA saw no reason to track these searches.

GOV'T: As far as the percentage number, we don't have a number for that, because as I mentioned earlier, when we [redacted] we find to's and froms and [redacted] so we don't categorize those separately to be able to count those communications as abouts.

The court then asks why it's not possible to limit the collection to to's and froms. The government's response is that collecting it all just works better for the NSA, even though it apparently possesses the technical ability to keep these collections separate.

It is technically feasible. The problem with doing so is if you end up discarding a number of communications that are truly to-froms that you should be able to collect but [redacted]...

So by trying to limit us to no abouts, then we end up cutting out those kind of communications as well, truly to-froms. So it would be -- we're not surgical enough to take that out of the equation without impacting our ability to do to-froms effectively.

And later in the discussion, there's a bit of a bombshell about the "about" collection. The NSA shut it down because it couldn't find a way to prevent incidental collection of US persons' communications. In this transcript, the government points out incidental collection is just as likely with to-from targeting.

COURT: Is it more or less likely to pick up U.S.-person information in an about than a to or from?

MR. OLSEN: I don't know the answer in practice. At least from my perspective in theory, I wouldn't see why it would be more likely than a targeted to or from collection where the target's outside the United States where there's a similar possibility that that target would be in communication with someone in the United States, with a U.S. person in the United States.

If this is true, the elimination of the "about" collection doesn't do much to curtail incidental collection. And almost a decade ago, the NSA was already making it "impossible" to comply with Congressional requests for incidental collection numbers by refusing to separate its collections, even with the FISA Court raising questions about its Fourth Amendment implications.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 June 2017 @ 10:44am

Unnamed Tech Company Challenged 702 Surveillance Order

from the all-hail-the-mystery-men/women-at-[REDACTED] dept

In response to FOIA lawsuits, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence turned over two (!) stacks of FISC documents pertaining to Section 702 surveillance. One document [PDF] (from an ACLU lawsuit) reveals a tech company (whose name is redacted) refused to hand over (or provide access to) communications requested with a Section 702 order. This order was issued in 2014, so it's a post-Snowden challenge. The end result -- determined with almost zero participation from the tech company -- is an order from Judge Rosemary Collyer demanding the tech company produce the records.

Discussed along the way to this conclusion are several things, including the NSA's problems with the Section 215 collection. There are also discussions about the adequacy of the NSA's minimization processes, meant to protect the privacy of US persons caught in the agency's internet dragnet. Unfortunately, we're not able to see much of this discussion, thanks to the opinion being heavily-redacted.

But we may be one step ahead of the mystery tech company, which had to fight this legal battle completely blind. All arguments and evidence were provided by the government, in camera and ex parte. The tech company was apparently allowed to submit its arguments, but was otherwise sidelined by the national security nature of the legal proceeding.

The opinion notes that the ODNI had issued a new 702 directive in 2014, presumably expanding the NSA's collection powers, which seems like a really odd decision post-Snowden. This is apparently what the tech company challenged. There's not much else that can be gleaned from the court's discussion of the expanded powers and their effect on the Fourth Amendment, other than it disagrees with the tech company's assessment. At one point, the court states "This argument is simply not supported by the facts" before heading into six fully-redacted pages apparently discussing the facts that don't support the company's arguments.

The court also finds, despite evidence to the contrary, NSA "incidental" collection of US persons' communications does not happen "frequently, or even on a regular basis." Any discussion of what the court feels is an acceptable amount of violations is, again, hidden under page after page of redaction.

To sum up, the court concludes that even if it's a close call on the Fourth Amendment (and even if the company had standing to bring this challenge), the national security purpose of the collection outweighs most possible privacy concerns. It expresses a great deal of faith in the NSA's internal oversight -- which seems odd considering the admissions by the NSA about its collection tactics in other released documents, including the fact that it relies almost completely on self-reporting and spot checks to minimize use of incidentally-collected US persons' communications.

The good news is that the NSA's inability to stop incidental collection resulted in the shutdown of the "about" collection. The other good news is some mystery company took a strong stand to protect its users' privacy. The downside, however, is the challenge failed. Worse, it appears the NSA's other 702 collection methods are still capable of grabbing US persons' communications and its internal oversight hasn't gotten much better over the years.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 June 2017 @ 3:21am

New York Legislators Trying To Make A Bad Publicity Law Even Worse

from the sue-anyone,-anywhere,-from-New-York-state dept

If there's been a good right of publicity law enacted, we've yet to see it. Ostensibly enacted to prevent celebrities' likenesses, words, etc. being used in way they wouldn't approve of, the laws are usually deployed by dead celebrities' families to censor speech. Most of the censorship activity focuses on commercial use of dead public figures, implying endorsements from beyond the grave. But the laws have also been abused to shut down biographical projects and, in one notable case, was used by a deposed and jailed dictator who though Activision should have paid him something for using his likeness in a Call of Duty game.

This is why the EFF is warning people about another right of publicity bill being quickly and quietly ushered through the New York state legislature.

The New York State Legislature is considering a bill that would radically reshape its right of publicity law. Assembly Bill A08155 [PDF] would dramatically expand New York’s right of publicity, making it a property right that can be passed on to your heirs – even if you aren’t a New York resident. The bill was introduced less than two weeks ago and is being rushed through without any hearings. EFF is urging legislators to slow down before passing an unnecessary law that would threaten the freedom of expression of individuals, activists, artists, and journalists around the United States.

New York already has an abusable right of publicity law. This bill would make it worse. It expands the definition of "likeness" to include things like "mannerisms" and "gestures." It contains very few protections for free speech. It adds 40 years of postmortem protection, meaning those most likely to benefit from the law aren't those whose likeness is being used/abused, but rather their heirs.

Perhaps worst of all, it expands the law's jurisdiction, allowing out-of-state celebrities to file suits if their likenesses were used in the state of New York. This alone will encourage more litigation (even if most is dismissed early on), thanks to the internet's lack of boundaries. Simply posting something on a website anywhere could place the person posting it at risk if the website is accessible in New York. It's an invitation for forum-shopping, disguised as an extra layer of protection for public figures.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 June 2017 @ 3:28pm

Another Judge Says The Microsoft Decision Doesn't Matter; Orders Google To Hand Over Overseas Data

from the when-reality-is-complicated,-simply-ignore-it dept

Microsoft may not have to respond to government demands for US persons' data held overseas, but it looks like everyone else (specifically, Google) will have to keep trawling their foreign data stores for US law enforcement.

The Second Circuit Appeals Court ruled US government warrants don't apply to overseas data. Courts outside of the Second Circuit are finding this ruling doesn't apply to Google's foreign data storage. The most obvious reason for this is other circuits aren't bound by this decision. The less obvious reason has to do with how Google stores its data.

As Google describes it, communications and data are in constant motion, moving in and out of the country as needed for maximum efficiency. When a warrant arrives, Google gathers everything it finds in its domestic servers but hands back a null response to data currently held overseas. Sometimes what Google hands law enforcement is nothing more than unusable digital fragments. Obviously, the government isn't happy with this new status quo.

And it is a new status quo, as is pointed out in this ruling [PDF] by a DC magistrate judge [via FourthAmendment.com]. The ruling here aligns itself with one handed down in Pennsylvania earlier this year. In that decision -- like in this one -- the judge noted Google used to capture everything requested, no matter where it was located. It's only very recently Google has refused to chase down data (and data fragments) located in servers around the world.

The process was described this way in the Pennsylvania decision:

Google stores user data in various locations, some of which are in the United States and some of which are in countries outside the United States. Some user files may be broken into component parts, and different parts of a single file may be stored in different locations (and, accordingly, different countries) at the same time. Google operates a state-of-the-art intelligent network that, with respect to some types of data, including some of the data at issue in this case, automatically moves data from one location on Google's network to another as frequently as needed to optimize for performance, reliability, and other efficiencies.

As a result, the country or countries in which specific user data, or components of that data, is located may change. It is possible that the network will change the location of data between the time when the legal process is sought and when it is served. As such, Google contends that it does not currently have the capability, for all of its services, to determine the location of the data and produce that data to a human user at any particular point in time.

Nothing has changed here. And nothing has changed in terms of legal analysis, despite this memorandum order being issued in a DC court. The court finds Google does not effect a seizure of requested data because it simply makes a copy of it. It also points out (and Google concedes) that it does not act as a government agent when it does this, despite the only reason for Google's copying of the data is to respond to a government warrant. The court notes the Stored Communications Act does carry privacy implications, but only as far as the private entity's actions -- not the government's demands. The court's analysis states the SCA provisions only prohibits unlawful access (such as hacking) while regulating companies' responses to government demands.

The court goes on to say Google's view of its legal responsibilities is completely untenable. Because of the transitory nature of Google's data handling, it would never be able to fully comply with demands for records, no matter which country issued the order.

Finally, it must be said that the above Morrison analysis of the operative sections of the SCA has the added benefit of avoiding the bizarre results that application of the Microsoft decision to modern data networks like Google's would produce. If that decision's focus on the physical location of the data's storage were to be applied to service providers using such networks, the records and information the government would receive in response to an SCA warrant may differ significantly depending on the date on which the warrant is served. Indeed, the same warrant served on ten different days may well produce ten different results depending on where on the network the shards of responsive data are located at the moment each warrant is served. Such random results -- generated by a computer algorithm -- would serve the interests of neither privacy nor international comity.

Compounding the problem, even assuming the service provider could and would identify for law enforcement the location of the foreign-based servers on which the missing data was stored (as Google refused to do here), that knowledge would effectively be useless to the government here. By the time the government could initiate the international legal process necessary to obtain the missing data from wherever it was stored, it is entirely possible that the network would have relocated the data yet again to a server in a different country. Moreover, it is Google's position that it need not respond overseas to any such international legal requests because it is only at its headquarters in California that its data can be accessed and compiled into a recognizable electronic file. Thus, in Google's view, the only means available to obtain records and information related to a Google account is by serving an SCA warrant on its LIS team in California.

The magistrate says that's not going to work -- not under the stipulations of the SCA. In fact, it's just not going to work at all because of Google's data-handling. It may be primed for efficiency, but does little to help it comply with warrants.

To reach the conclusion advanced by Google here, the Court would need to find that a properly-issued SCA warrant requiring the disclosure to law enforcement in the United States from Google's headquarters in the United States of digital files accessible only from the United States constitutes an extraterritorial application of the SCA simply because pieces of data that make up those files were stored on a server located outside the United States at the moment in time the warrant was executed. Because such a conclusion runs contrary to the straightforward extraterritorial analysis of the SCA under Morrison detailed above, the Court finds that Google has not shown cause for its failure to produce all the records and information called for in the instant warrant within its possession, custody, or control.

In the end, the court orders Google to ignore the realities of its data flow. It may make things easier for law enforcement, but it has very little to do with keeping the government within its jurisdictional confines.

Google's LIS representatives in California can access, compile, and disclose to the government those records and information with the push of a button and "without ever leaving their desks in the United States." Microsoft, 829 F.3d at 229 (Lynch, J., concurring). Because that "entire process takes place domestically," id., Google will be ordered to comply with the warrant in full, and to disclose to the government all responsive electronic records and infonnation identified in Attachment B to the warrant within its possession, custody or control, wherever those records and information may be electronically stored.

In essence, Google is being ordered to act as a government agent to secure all requested data wherever it happens to reside. Since it can do it from a California office, the court reasons nothing foreign is touched -- at least not by the government. Once it's all packaged up locally, the local boys can access it without fear of a suppression challenge.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 June 2017 @ 1:27pm

Judge: Sure, These Bloggers Are A Bunch Of Jerks, But They're Not Engaged In Defamation

from the think-before-you-file dept

How much does it take to cross the line into defamation? Far, far more than the plaintiff in this case would have hoped.

It started as so many defamation cases do: with the president of a property association drawing the criticism of other residents. Anthony Milazzo -- winner of the condo association's presidential election (and local dentist) -- was accused of many things by residents on a self-appointed watchdog's blog. As Eric Goldman points out, the blog's owners were rather proud of the site's ability to spread criticism and harvest outraged responses.

A few self-described “troublemaker” residents (as they proudly declare, “We’re the sand in the oyster”) run a blog monitoring the association, including breaking news coverage on issues like a cost overrun on hallway renovations and repairs made using “degraded cement.” After an election for association leadership, a losing candidate blogged that the winner, Milazzo, rigged the election; subsequent posts accused the winner of other malfeasances.

The court notes the posts following the disputed election were far from flattering. Some of the residents' posts are quoted in the court's opinion [PDF]. The posts make claims of election rigging, the (nonspecific) breaking of laws, a comparison to North Korea's government, and this bit of word coining:

"As to the phrase 'a milazzoed moment,' that's a regional colloquialism used to describe those instances when truth gets twisted, raped, then beaten into a sweet hollow mush that's known to trigger the gag reflex and associated depression. Fits of socially inappropriate laughter have also been documented."

Milazzo was obviously unhappy with these portrayals. More specifically, he was miffed the site had chosen to include a link to his dental practice in one of the posts, which he claimed led to quantifiable harm to his day job:

Milazzo asserted that because of defendants' defamatory statements, for the period from 2014 to 2016, his dental practice experienced a decline in: (1) patient visits from 546 to 428; (2) new patients from 351 to 268; and (3) total days worked from 162 to 104 (annualized).

All of Milazzo's claims fail. The court finds the content of the blog was indeed "offensive, rude, and annoying," but it was not defamatory. Goldman's sums up:

The vote rigging discussion expressly acknowledged it lacked supporting evidence. The discussion claiming Milazzo broke 3 laws didn’t specify which laws. The blog posts that “portray Milazzo as an unsavory, untrustworthy and crooked president incapable of effectively operating the condominium association” were all protected opinions and weren’t capable of verification. Regarding some blogged statements, the court says “an investigation of those claims would be fruitless given their overly vague, broad and conclusory nature lacking any basis in fact.”

Talking smack isn't defamation -- at least not in this case. Goldman is somewhat alarmed to see the court actually attempt to tackle the defamation-via-hyperlink argument ("The court seems to imply that the presence of the outlink leads to more inbound search engine traffic from people searching for Milazzo, which is just wrong."), but seeing as it has no bearing on the outcome of the case, he gives it a pass.

Indeed, the blog's self-proclaimed "sand in the oyster" status may have helped the defendants' defamation defense. As the court points out, context matters.

[W]hen read in literary and social context, it is apparent that each of the complained of defamatory statements were an expression of opinion reflecting dissatisfaction with Milazzo and the election results, but were not factual statements. Although all five statements portray Milazzo in a negative light, the statements consist of the author's unsubstantiated rhetoric and opinionated editorial comments, often times resorting to hyperbole. Nothing in the identified statements would cause a reasonable person to believe they were statements of fact; instead, the statements were accusations ambiguous in nature and lacking any supportable basis.

Unfortunately, defending against these defamation claims still cost the defendants money. An anti-SLAPP law, either at the state level (Illinois) or federal, might have allowed the defendants to recover their costs. At the very least, it may have caused Milazzo to think twice before firing off a lawsuit in the face of hyperbolic criticism.

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