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Posted on Techdirt - 24 April 2017 @ 3:08pm

Legislators, School Administrators Back Off Cellphone Search Bill After Running Into ACLU Opposition

from the shocked-SHOCKED dept

Legislators working with the Association of California School Administrators are backing away slowly from a bill aiming to separate schoolchildren from their phones and their privacy. The bill would have created an exception in California's privacy law, allowing teachers and school administrators to search the contents of students' phones. Courthouse News' Nick Cahill has more details:

While short in length, the bill has stature. Its 130 words would exempt students from the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, CalECPA, which was passed in 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature.

“That law also specifies the conditions under which a government entity may access electronic device information by means of physical interaction or electronic communication with the device, such as pursuant to a search warrant, wiretap order, or consent of the owner of the device,” the new bill states.

This attempt to further limit students' Constitutional rights and legal protections ran into the ACLU's opposition, which noted the exception would "sledgehammer" the Fourth Amendment. Apparently, the backers of the bill thought it would sail through with a minimum of public resistance. Having failed to foresee the expected, supporters are rebranding their civil liberties sledgehammer.

“We’re making it a two-year bill, which means it’s not going to be heard next week. But the conversations are going to continue,” said Laura Preston, lobbyist for the school administrators.

Ah, the classic "wait until the noise dies down and try again" approach. It's just crazy enough it might work. I doubt the legislation itself will be rethought. More likely, the sales pitch will be altered to make the bill appear less sledgehammer-y.

Considering California is pretty much Protest Central, it's a bit stunning to read a legislator was "stunned" by collective opposition to a privacy-threatening bill. But that's exactly how the bill's author, Jim Cooper, described his reaction. The lobbyist for the schools, Laura Preston, went even further, utilizing the post-Godwin Nuclear Option rhetorical device:

“We introduced the bill to try and pull schools out of CalECPA, and you might as well have thought that we started World War III,” Preston said of the reaction.

Supporters of the bill claim the lack of an exception to the privacy law leaves administrators powerless. True, a school administrator can't seek a warrant to access the contents of a student's phone, but there are options schools can use rather than exempt every California student from the state's privacy law.

Most schools have electronic device policies that tie search consent to school attendance, which usually includes personal electronic devices along with vehicles parked on school grounds and lockers. A consensual search -- even if performed under an "implied consent" standard rather than a more affirmative version -- is still a "clean" search, though possibly one less likely to survive a courtroom challenge. Many schools also have police officers on staff. Whether or not these officers can seek warrants to access phone contents is unclear, but in cases of suspected criminal conduct, this would be turned over to law enforcement anyway.

Supporters undercut their Homeroom Apocalypse arguments with their own statements, though.

Since CalECPA was enacted, students have been refusing to hand over their cellphones to teachers and administrators, Preston said. She said teachers usually want access to cellphones to prevent cyberbullying and cheating on tests, not to delve into social media or text messages for criminal content.

I'd really like to hear how paging through some kid's phone "prevents cyberbullying." It may be used to find evidence of ongoing cyberbullying, but it's not going to head it off. If it's really bullying, there are a variety of school policies and law enforcement options available to school administrators that don't involve digging through a student's phone -- a device that will contain far, far more personal info than should be sought by administrators with zero law enforcement training or acumen.

Cheating on tests can be resolved simply by requiring phones to be secured somewhere away from the testing area, like in students' lockers or in instructors' possession until testing is complete. Digging through someone's phone might expose a cheater, but it really seems like overkill considering the privacy issues at stake. It's also not something that should involve any on-site law enforcement officers, even if their powers are slightly limited.

What is clear is "stunned" politicians and school administrators haven't given up on their dream of crushing students' Fourth Amendment protections. No doubt the ACLU -- and others -- will be keeping an eye out for Sledgehammer 2.0 later this year.

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Posted on Techdirt - 24 April 2017 @ 10:43am

Texas Lawmaker Wants To Decide Who's A Real Journalist, Make It Easier To Sue Them

from the double-trouble dept

Because a buddy of his lost a defamation lawsuit, a Texas legislator has introduced a pair of bills targeting protected speech. Kelsey Jukam of Courthouse News has more details:

State Rep. Ken King, a gas and oil man from the small town of Canadian in the Panhandle, last week introduced House Bill 3387, which would make it easier for public officials to sue reporters for libel, and House Bill 3388, which undermines Texas’s shield law, which allows reporters to keep their records and sources confidential.

Both bills stem from an unsuccessful libel suit brought by a millionaire hedge fund trader, who also lives in Canadian.

The hedge fund trader is local hero/local litigant Salem Abraham, who filed two lawsuits against bloggers who both (erroneously) reported he had been thrown out of a campaign event by Governor Rick Perry. Both were losing efforts, with Abraham ultimately being held responsible for legal fees under Texas' declaratory judgments statute. It appears King is trying to hook his fellow Canadian (TX) resident up with additional lawsuit options as well as have the state government decide who is or isn't a journalist. According to King's proposed bill, real journalists shouldn't have any political affiliations.

HB 3388 would prohibit the shield law from applying to any reporter who has worked for or donated to political campaigns within five years, and to any reporter whose employer has worked for or donated to political campaigns in that time.

Proponents testified that it would prevent “political hacks” from gaming the system by claiming journalistic privilege in defamation litigation. They said the bills are not meant to harm “bona fide” reporters.

When legislators start questioning the bona fide-ness of journalists, it's usually because they've got political axes of their own to grind. The real/fake journalist line will be determined by prevailing political winds, as generated by the party in power. This gives the government the power to censor based on something the Supreme Court has determined to be an integral part of free speech: political contributions. How this bill will survive a constitutional challenge is left to King's (and Abraham's) imagination.

The other bill narrows the definition of "public figure" to make it easier for public figures to dodge the "malice" prong in defamation lawsuits. This was ultimately the undoing of Abraham's lawsuits. Abraham caught the bloggers in a lie, but was unable to prove the publication of the false statement was willfully malicious.

What the law would do is sneakily pernicious. The argument Abraham advanced was that he was well-known locally but not all over the world. Since the blog posts were ostensibly accessible to the entire world, Abraham felt his stature as a public figure should be negated since he wasn't actually world-famous. That argument ultimately failed, but that's what King's bill would institute in the state of Texas: a separate libel standard solely for internet posts, comments, etc.

A person is considered a public official for purposes of a defense to a libel claim only if the person is known as a public official in the community in which the damage to the person was proximately caused.

If the damage is "proximately caused" on the internet, the community is technically worldwide and local public officials won't have to meet the malice stipulation when litigating alleged defamation because they're not well-known everywhere the internet reaches.

Both bills are bad for the press and bad for Texans. First, it puts the government in charge of deciding who's a journalist. Second, it invites public figures to sue critics by lowering the standards they have to meet when litigating. If these pass, there will be a palpable chill in the air.

[D]onnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, disagreed. He told the committee the bill would effectively crush political reporting in Texas, because most news outlets are owned by people or corporations who have been involved in politics in some way.


Stacy Allen, an attorney representing the Texas Association of Broadcasters, testified that the bill would be “seriously detrimental” to the state’s shield law, enacted in 2009, which he said is highly regarded and has been used as a model by other states.

Allen said the bill punishes journalists for exercising their First Amendment right to political speech and by narrowly defining who qualifies as a journalist.

Finally, the millionaire for whom the bills are being written was on hand to express his support. There's nothing quite like a plaintiff in two failed libel lawsuits defending two bad laws by citing nonexistent Constitutional rights.

“I was sanctioned for trying to defend my reputation, when everyone agrees I was lied about,” Abraham said. “It seems that everyone here knows about the First Amendment. There are other amendments to the Constitution and other rights in the bill of rights, one of which is defending your reputation.”

Yeah. That's called the First Amendment. Anyone can defend their reputation with more speech. Shutting down the speech of others because you don't like having to meet certain legal standards when suing isn't "defending your reputation." There is no right to successful lawsuits contained in the Bill of Rights. Hopefully, these bills will die the swift death they deserve.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2017 @ 9:39am

Feds Say Jewelry Company CEO Scrubbed Google Results With Fake Court Orders And Forged Judge's Signatures

from the sign-here-to-self-destruct dept

Juicing your SEO? Don't like what turns up during vanity Googling? There are a few right ways to solve this problem and apparently about a million wrong ones.

Doing the wrong thing could easily make things worse. Bogus DMCA notices tend to result in Streisandings, which leads to even more negative comments and contents clogging up your search results. Bogus legal threats issued by stupid lawyers or using stupid, compliant lawyers' letterhead tend to have the same result.

You could get more imaginative and start filing bogus defamation lawsuits to fraudulently obtain court orders for delisting. Again, once you've been rousted, the best case scenario is some more Streisanding and negative ROI. At worst, you're looking at paying legal fees and/or possibly facing sanctions for defrauding the court.

If you want the worst results and the worst punishment, you could do what this jewelry company CEO did:

In 2011, sapphire jewelry company CEO Michael Arnstein was desperate to salvage the Google results for his company. According to a lawsuit for defamation he filed in 2011, a former contractor for the Natural Sapphire Company who was fired for selling them buggy software launched a personal crusade to destroy the Natural Sapphire Company's Google search results. The defendant never showed up in court, so in 2012, a federal judge in New York granted Arnstein a default judgment along with an injunction to de-index 54 Google results.

But more fake reviews kept popping up. So Arnstein did something extremely ill-advised. According to the feds, Arnstein rounded up the bad Google results and forged new court orders to send to Google.

Some sympathy for Arnstein is warranted. Negative reviews -- even the fake ones -- are hard to remove from the web. This isn't necessarily the fault of sites hosting them, but the actions of a few hundred aggrieved companies and individuals who have tried nearly everything (legal or illegal) to have negative content and comments removed, even if they're guilty of what's being alleged in them.

But nuking yourself from orbit is never the answer. It wasn't enough for Arnstein to have successfully (if fraudulently) cleaned up his search results. Nope. He just had to tell others. The feds collected multiple instances of Arnstein informing others how to fix their SEO problems USING THIS ONE ILLEGAL TRICK. From the complaint [PDF]:

No bullshit: if I could do it all over again I would have found another court order injunction for removal of links (probably something that can be found online pretty easily) made changes in photoshop to show the links that I wanted removed and then sent to ‘’ as a pdf — showing the court order docket number, the judges [sic] signature — but with the new links put in,” Arnstein wrote in a July 2014 email, according to his criminal complaint. “Google isn’t checking this stuff; that’s the bottom line b/c I spent $30,000 fuckin thousand dollars and nearly 2 fuckin years to do what legit could have been done for about 6 hours of searching and photoshop by a guy for $200., all in ONE DAY.

Here's another ill-advised Arnstein statement from Courthouse News, which first reported the indictment. It opens with an unforgettable disclaimer… and ends with a statement that might make it tough for Arnstein to find representation:

“I think you should take legal advice with a grain of salt,” he allegedly wrote on Sept. 4, 2014. “I spent 100k on lawyers to get a court order injunction to have things removed from Google and Youtube, only to photoshop the documents for future use when new things ‘popped up’ and google legal never double checked my docs for validity… I could have saved 100k and 2 years of waiting/damage if I just used photoshop and a few hours of creative editing… Lawyers are often worse than the criminals.”

Arnstein wanted to clean up bogus complaints and comments from a pissed off contractor. I guess that goal has been achieved. But those results will be replaced with his criminal indictment, fraudulent behavior, and his failure to get away with it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2017 @ 6:34am

NY Judge Says Prior Restraint Is America's Best Defense Against Internet 'Chaos'

from the as-American-as-baseball,-apple-pie,-and-microfiche dept

A Long Island judge is swiftly making a (terrible) name for himself with a (terrible) ruling in a defamation lawsuit. The ruling making Acting Supreme Court Justice John Galasso look like an unconstitutional idiot has nearly nothing to do with the defamation claims, but rather his granting of the plaintiff's unconstitutional wish to have unflattering "memories" of himself pre-erased before the underlying lawsuit even gets going.

Here's a bit of background: Jessica Pelletier, an employee at a medical marijuana company, Tikun Olam, sued her co-worker Eric Lerner, as well as her supervisor, for sexual harassment and retaliation.

Pelletier, 23, of Rocky Hill, Conn., charged she was demoted and then fired after complaining to her bosses about alleged raunchy treatment from her colleagues.

Her suit charged she was sexually harassed, taunted about her fight with breast cancer — and ridiculed for her Catholic faith.

She was let go after 20 months with the company. According to her lawsuit, Tikun Olam management charged that she had “an attitude” by reacting badly to the inappropriate comments of her bosses.

The New York Daily News ran an article about the lawsuit, naming everyone involved, including Eric Lerner. This is something newspapers do, especially when the lawsuit covers public interest subjects like workplace harassment. This is something newspapers have every right to do, as filed lawsuits are public records and any coverage of filed suits is very definitely covered by the First Amendment.

Eric Lerner filed a countersuit against Pelletier roughly six months after she filed her harassment suit. Lerner's suit alleges Pelletier has defamed him with false claims, both in and out of court. (How some of those claims will manage to survive a motion to dismiss is unknown, considering statements made in courtroom filings are generally impervious to libel litigation. Statements made in court documents are almost aways given absolute immunity from civil actions.)

Before the defamation suit even got going, Lerner asked the court to grant him a restraining order against Pelletier to prevent her from distributing the Daily News article Eric Lerner is so concerned about. This is already an unconstitutional request, but it gets worse. He also requested his name and picture be removed from the New York Daily News' article about the harassment lawsuit.

Unbelievably, both of these have been granted by Judge Galasso. The Daily News wasn't a party to the defamation lawsuit, nor was it asked to make an appearance to defend its interests. It was informed the day before the injunction hearing, however, and its representative argued (to no avail) that the requested order was prior restraint -- something that's blatantly unconstitutional. Here's the pertinent part of the order, which instructs the Daily News to alter an article based on obtained court documents -- in other words, completely factual:

pending the hearing and determination of this motion [which is to be decided May 16] … the Daily News shall remove plaintiff Lerner’s name and photograph from the Article and its associated keywords and Facebook posts.

The Daily News argued several things, all of which were heard, but ignored, by Judge Galasso. First off, its legal rep points out the article in question is six months old, which makes Lerner's demand for an immediate injunction illogical. From the hearing transcript [PDF] (which also contains the granted injuction):

Another important detail to note is that this article was published on October 7, 2016, nearly six months or more than six months ago. The Daily News is therefore perplexed as to why this extraordinary relief and Order to Show Cause has been brought because it's not apparent how there could be the kind of immediate and irreparable harm that would warrant preliminary injunctive relief for defendant -- for plaintiff. Plaintiff in this case has been aware of the article for six months.


We find it difficult to believe that Mr. Learner [sic] will be able to make a cognizable showing of irreparable harm given that he's waited six months to bring these proceedings [rather than] when the article was first published if the harm was really so immediate and irreparable…

Judge Galasso's answers to all the Daily News' legitimate First Amendment assertions is "because the internet."

The issue here too is that the internet has changed dissemination of information. It's always there. If people want to check somebody, it comes up all the time. Prior, a newspaper article is printed, that was the end of it. You had to go to a library or try to research it to try and get that out.

And this unbelievable word salad where Galasso gets going about the internet, harassment, the First Amendment, and what he believes America is --- and it apparently isn't searchable online newspaper articles:

Even on other aspects, Facebook, something gets published on Facebook or Twitter and something like that, even if it's false, people are harassed out of their houses, they are chanted in stores. This is not what America is about, and it has to be decided by a higher authority, all of this set aside. Nobody wants to limit the First Amendment rights from freedom of speech, but you don't want chaos either.

This incomprehensible statement allows Galasso to grant the order to silence part of the "chaotic" internet while simultaneously allowing him to wash his hands of it. It's up to the appeals court now -- no longer his problem. But the order remains in place. Not that it matters to the Daily News, which released this editorial in response:

A judge on Long Island has ordered the Daily News to remove the name of a defendant in a civil lawsuit from our website.

Supreme Court Justice John Galasso, who wants us to scrub the man’s name from an October 2016 story, must have missed the day the Constitution was taught in law school.

The defendant’s name is Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Eric Lerner. Furthermore, Eric Lerner.

Maybe Galasso would have been better staying in his lane, as Scott Greenfield points out:

Lack of familiarity with the First Amendment is one thing. But jurisdiction? The Daily News wasn’t subject to his jurisdiction. While some judges seem to have a general impression that their powers extend wherever they want them to extend, they have certain fairly obvious limits. Foremost among them is they can’t issue orders requiring non-parties to do anything. Not good things. Not bad things. Nothing. They are not within the ambit of their jurisdiction just because the judge says so.

Not only did Galasso order a non-party to do something unconstitutional, but he did so before any of the facts were in. Lerner's defamation accusations have not been proven. In fact, nothing has been discussed thus far but how to censor a newspaper's article about Lerner being named as a defendant in public court documents.

Galasso overstepped here, not just in terms of the Constitution, but in terms of jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the overreach that resulted in the stupid granting of an unconstitutional request may also limit the Daily News' options when it comes to appealing the order.

The flip side of a judge issuing an order to a non-party to do something is that they’re a non-party when they want to challenge the judge’s order. The News would first need standing to intervene, which means they would have to obtain the court’s approval for sticking their nose into somebody else’s litigation.

But the judge ordered them to do something, so how could that be possible? Darn good question, and that’s the sort of questions that arise when a judge does something beyond his authority, outside the law and for which there are no procedures.

The only thing guaranteed is that when all's said and done -- no matter how Lerner's defamation case turns out -- this is all that will be remembered about it: a defendant with a countersuit and the unconstitutional dream of living an untroubled internet existence until vindicated (possibly twice!) in court.

For Judge Galasso, it's much, much worse:

Eric Lerner doesn’t like his name associated with this sordid story of a 23-year-old woman claiming sexual harassment? Who would? Win the case and the problem is solved, but the one thing you can’t accomplish is forcing a newspaper to remove your name because, hey, it’s unpleasant.

The Daily News isn’t going to do it. If anything, this will Streisand Lerner’s name across the internet. And Justice John Galasso’s too, which is going to make it really hard when he has to get a new job after everyone knows how badly he sucked at his current one.

Galasso's order -- and his "this is all up to other people except for the part where I granted the injunction" flailing -- is the judicial equivalent of leaving a flaming bag of feces on the Appeals Court's front door step. All it can hope to do is extinguish it without having to scrape too much off of its shoes.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2017 @ 3:28am

The US Charging Assange For Publishing Documents Would Be An Unprecedented Attempt To Chill A Free Press

from the I-guess-we're-'opening-up'-the-First-Amendment-now dept

Obama waged a war on whistleblowers during his eight-year run. Sure, it was done under a sunny facade of "transparency," but the former president set the gold standard for whistleblower prosecutions, performing more than every other president until then… combined.

Punishing whistleblowers is for amateurs. The Trump Administration will show everyone how it's done.

US authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, US officials familiar with the matter tell CNN.

For what, you may ask? Publication of leaked documents? Well, there's a little more to it than that.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

Hmm. But the Washington Post, Intercept, Guardian, and New York Times also did this. There's been some online speculation this actually refers to Assange's Russian-host-maneuvering and flight plan assistance -- that brief moment where journalists and g-men packed a plane to Cuba only to find themselves Snowden-less. But Ellen Nakashima's article for the Washington Post digs a little deeper into the proposed charges, citing evidence in Chelsea Manning's trial, where Assange assisted Manning with password cracking to sweep up digital breadcrumbs. (A 2012 DOJ warrant gives a bit more insight into the possible charges, which include espionage, CFAA violations, and "conversion" of stolen documents.)

But, again, this is nothing out of the ordinary for journalists who publish leaked documents. As Nakashima points out, helping sources erase their digital footprints is just something good journalists do. Prosecuting Assange for these efforts would set a terrible precedent.

[J]ournalists routinely employ methods — or tell sources to employ methods — that will help them avoid being identified. Justice Department officials in the previous administration believed that prosecuting Assange or other members of WikiLeaks could open the door to prosecuting news organizations and journalists who published classified information, and so they opted instead to target people, such as Manning, who had clearances to access such information and gave it to reporters.

Obama may have gone after a bunch of whistleblowers, but he was unwilling to cross the First Amendment line by punishing those who published leaked documents. Apparently, Trump and his DOJ have no such qualms.

Prosecutors have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange, but now believe they have found a way to move forward.

And they may have, without amending the First Amendment. But it will take a whole lot of cooperation to bring Assange in. The Ecuadorian embassy has managed to hold off Sweden for years and the country's government isn't exactly best friends with the US nor is it exactly respectful of US law.

Assange isn't a US citizen, so he's not automatically guaranteed First Amendment protections, even if the distribution of leaked documents is very much a journalistic enterprise. The US government doesn't automatically refuse to extend constitutional protections to foreign citizens, but it might be able to pick and choose which of those it wants to extend to Assange (though if he's charged in the US, he does get the benefit of all Constitutional protections). Even if the current DOJ can find a lawful way to prosecute Assange for still-unnamed charges related to leaked documents, this is an extremely dangerous direction for the federal government to be moving in.

This unofficial announcement by the DOJ is an implicit threat to journalists everywhere. You may hate Assange and/or Wikileaks, but it may be your favorite leak-friendly news sources facing charges next. Distinguishing your favorite source from Wikileaks is not nearly as easy as you might think.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 April 2017 @ 10:42am

More Shady Libel Lawsuits Resulting In Dubious Delisting Court Orders Uncovered

from the self-serve-RTBF dept

Now that Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy has dipped into bogus lawsuits and DMCA notices targeting supposedly-libelous reviews and comments, he's apparently stepped up his detective work. Volokh and Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen managed to expose the person behind a series of bogus lawsuits aimed at cleaning up clients' search engine reputations. (Pissed Consumer has also uncovered some of the same tactics.)

Volokh has uncovered more questionable lawsuits, which have led to more questionable court orders being sent to Google to delist content. As Volokh points out, these lawsuits may be slightly more legitimate, but they still bypass a great deal of the adversarial process.

Here’s another twist, which some people have used to try to deindex mainstream news articles (though without any success, to my knowledge, because Google seems skeptical of these particular requests) — they (a) sue the people quoted in the articles, (b) get stipulations from the people recanting their allegations, (c) get court orders based on those recantations and then (d) try to use those court orders to deindex an entire article.

Even if it's granted that the stipulations are genuine (a possibility, but not a probability), there's still the problem of who's being cut out of the loop. While it's true the correct target for a libel lawsuit is the person making the defamatory statements, filing lawsuits in such a way that the publications themselves remain unaware of the legal proceedings can harm these new entities indirectly. When content starts vanishing from Google, news sources are left with unlisted stories based on questionable assertions. Their integrity suffers damage when they're not made aware a story's source may have lied to them.

When a plaintiff sues the source, though, gets a stipulation and submits the order to Google with a deindexing request, the plaintiff is trying to short-circuit the news organization’s review of the matter. Instead, the plaintiff wants to just get the original story hidden, with no independent evaluation of whether the story was and continues to be correct.

There's no review option and the continued publication of the story could possibly see the new organization facing a defamation lawsuit of its own. (Probably not a successful one, but one it would still be compelled to defend itself against.) Not only that, but individuals may be more susceptible to legal bullying than new agencies. This is perhaps what these plaintiffs are counting on.

Volokh covers two different cases following the same M.O. in his post. Both plaintiffs managed to obtain a stipulation from the alleged defamers and obtained court orders to delist content, despite there never being an examination as to whether the statements were truly actionable. To its credit, Google has refused to delist content based on court orders obtained this way, most likely due to the recent increase in bogus libel lawsuit activity.

As I mentioned, fortunately today Google (and other search engines to which these orders are submitted) can decline to implement such deindexing requests, taking the view that a stipulated judgment based on a source’s recanting (under legal pressure) is no reason to vanish a news story that relied on the source.

Unfortunately, Google's "opt out" may not last for long. As Volokh points out, the California Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case that could, if the lower court's decision is upheld, force Google to comply with these orders, whether or not they were obtained legitimately.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 April 2017 @ 9:40am

DHS Boss Calls For More Fear, Less Encryption

from the Frightened-States-of-America dept

The Trump administration is rebranding the country: Make America Fear Again. In response to a national crime wave that doesn't exist, the head of the DOJ is rolling back police reform and replacing it with extra "toughness." Under the new regime, law enforcement officers will have the full (and, apparently, unconditional) backing of the White House.

The DHS is joining the DOJ in flexing its new muscle. DHS Secretary John Kelly has already stated he's looking to turn requests for visitors' social media/email account information into demands, which would include the mandatory relinquishment of account passwords.

Both agency heads have expressed a desire to do battle with US citizens by revitalizing the fed's war on marijuana, despite legalization referendums being passed by popular vote in several states.

Kelly... course-corrected on a previous statement he made regarding the dangers of marijuana.

Calling it “a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs,” Kelly vowed that DHS personnel would continue to investigate and arrest those involved in illegal trade of the drug.

That comes after Kelly on Sunday told “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd that marijuana was “not a factor” in the war on drugs, arguing that solving the nation’s drug problem does not involve “arresting a lot of users.”

These comments came during Kelly's first major public speech since taking office. His "course-corrected" statement echoes DOJ head Jeff Sessions' take on marijuana, a drug only found dangerous by agencies whose budgets rely on marijuana being viewed as a threatening "gateway drug."

Both are also looking to toss more immigrants out of the country, theorizing that stricter immigration control will somehow curb drug cartel violence -- almost all of which is contained completely in other countries. Kelly mentioned Salvadoran drug cartel MS13 in passing, claiming it was responsible for acts of violence and stateside human trafficking.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was even less kind in his appraisal, delivering comments that made it sound as though the only thing standing between the US and societal collapse was American law enforcement:

When we talk about MS-13 and the cartels, what do we mean? We mean criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders. Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings.

It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.

The DHS head is also capitalizing on Trump's dark -- and deeply-inaccurate -- view of national security. His speech portrayed the country as being under ceaseless attack from innumerable evil forces.

“We are under attack from people who hate us, hate our freedoms, hate our laws, hate our values, hate the way we simply live our lives. And we are under attack every single day,” he warned. “The threats are relentless.”

Kelly covered a wide swath of issues — from transnational criminal organizations to cyberattacks to homegrown violent extremism, often using graphic descriptions of human suffering to illustrate the dangers.

The speech harkened back to President Trump’s inaugural address to Congress, in which he described “American carnage” outside of the Beltway.

No agency benefits more from the perception of an insecure homeland than the Department of Homeland Security. But the trickle-down effect of fear-based policy-making helps other agencies as well.

In his speech, Kelly tacitly aligned himself with the only Obama holdover Trump seems to like: FBI director James Comey.

He warned that proliferating encrypted communications technology would soon make it “impossible” to track terrorist threats.

Kelly had more to say on that subject in relation to Trump's still-unseen cybersecurity executive order. Supposedly, an updated version of the draft released in February is due any day now, and no matter what's in it, Kelly fully supports it.

“I’m standing by with bated breath,” Kelly said when Frank Cilluffo, director of the university’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, asked if there was any news on the order. “I can’t wait.”

Presumably not referencing the FBI's counterterrorism sting operations with the phrase "homegrown terrorism," Kelly again pointed to encryption as being part of the problem.

“What’s feeding homegrown terrorism is the Internet. They publish revolting how-to manuals,” Kelly said. “Thanks to proliferating encryption devices, these individuals are becoming harder and harder to detect. Our nation’s youth are prey to these predators.”

Between John Kelly, AG Jeff Sessions, and CIA head Mike Pompeo, the administration seems interested in sacrificing citizens' freedoms and protections on the altar of national security. All three are hoping loaded, hyperbolic language will convince more Americans to give up these protections willingly. Those who don't will probably be viewed as enemies of the nation -- and that includes any legislators who appear reluctant to give these agencies everything they want. Kelly again:

“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce — then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws. Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines,” Kelly said, to a burst of applause in the auditorium.

This is wonderful stuff if you're a fan of authoritarianism. Shut up and show your support. It's a message that's been sent several times by the new president. Now, it's being echoed by his top officials.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 April 2017 @ 3:29am

Cop Arrested, Fired After Wife Captures His Abusive Actions On His Own Body Camera

from the accidental-sting-operation dept

This is one of the strangest "but for video" cases ever. We know many cops are hesitant to clip body-worn cameras on themselves for a variety of reasons. The official statements always express concern about privacy, as though people interacting with public servants somehow believe these interactions are private. Others show concern for police officers' privacy, as though the public is really hoping to FOIA footage of officers sitting in the break room or using the restroom.

Deep down, everyone knows the cameras are a tool of accountability, albeit one that's far from perfect. Body camera footage frequently goes "missing" when force is deployed questionably. And it's completely possible to make the footage subjective with strategic body positioning and constant yelling of exonerative phrases like "Stop resisting!"

So, it's accountability in its infancy, run through a layer of law enforcement-friendly filters (footage is controlled by police officers and often sheltered from FOIA requests). But it's much better than what we had before, where all action had to take place in front of stationary dashboard cameras.

Still, there are plenty of bugs -- both those inherent to the system and those created by law enforcement resistance -- to be worked out. We've seen cops damned by their captured footage and we've seen officers exonerated by footage that contradicts arrestees' complaints.

What we haven't seen before is a camera being activated by someone other than the cop in possession of it. And we definitely haven't seen any situations where the footage captures off-duty violence. This is a new one, and it's likely to lead to another "privacy" discussion by the time it's all sorted out. (via

A North Charleston Police officer was arrested for assaulting his wife Sunday after police say the incident was captured on his body camera. Hanahan Police say the officer, Nicholas Palumbo was arrested early Sunday morning.

According to an incident report, Palumbo's wife told him she wanted a divorce. The report states Palumbo became very irate and pushed his wife to the ground in their kitchen. Police say after the altercation started Palumbo's wife went into the bedroom and turned on his body camera.

According to the report, Palumbo came into the room, pinned his wife to the bed and threatened to strike her in the head with his fist while shaking her. His wife told investigators she was in great fear for her safety and the safety of her children. The report states she did not know where her husband had gone and was afraid he would return home and cause physical harm to her.

I'm not sure which part is more amazing: the forethought of the abused spouse to activate the camera or the fact that the footage was actually viewed by someone at the police department.

We know officers protect officers first. Perhaps being the wife of an officer grants you more attention and respect than a random civilian with a list of allegations. Whatever the case is, the department viewed the footage and arrested the officer. Even more surprising, the officer was immediately fired. I guess this decision was made easier by his bail requirements, which forbade him from possessing guns or ammo -- something every on-duty cop generally has on them or easy access to.

It's a petard-hoisting of sorts and definitely an anomaly in the pantheon of body-worn cameras. No doubt other cops with the same domestic issues will be keeping a closer eye on their issued gear during their off-duty hours. And there will definitely be challenges to the evidence, should this go to trial.

Arguments will be made about surreptitious recordings being used to fire a police officer, but those shouldn't get too far. South Carolina is a one party consent state when it comes to recordings. The fact that it was recorded in a private home (rather than in a public area) makes it a bit more complicated, but the recording should be treated no differently than the spouse's oral testimony. The recording just makes it a lot tougher to challenge the spouse's domestic abuse allegations.

Whatever happens, it's one for the "but for video" record books: body worn camera as the prosecution's star witness in a domestic assault case.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 April 2017 @ 3:21pm

NYPD Finally Comes Up With A Body Camera Policy, And It's Terrible

from the more-tech,-less-transparency dept

Nearly four years after the NYPD was ordered by a federal judge to implement body cameras, the department is finally getting around to finalizing its rule set for deployment. Part of the delay is due to the NYPD seeking input from the public -- input it has apparently decided to ignore.

As Scott Greenfield notes, the NYPD gets everything wrong about its policies, applying guidelines that directly contradict the responses received from everyone in New York City not wearing a blue uniform.

The first “big” question is when will cops be required to turn their body cams on, since having them doesn’t actually serve much of a purpose if they’re turned off.

Notice anything peculiar? Like the public wants them on a lot, and the cops, not so much? But this belies the problem: if body cams must be on for “use of force,” will cops call a “time out” when a situation develops where they decide to tune up a guy who isn’t sufficiently compliant so he can flip the switch? Sure. Who doesn’t honor the sacred “time out”?

But then, the “it depends” on witness interviews is somewhat disconcerting. After all, why record witness interviews, since they might say something inconsistent with the cop’s recollection or their testimony in court? That could be unpleasant.

The public also wants expansive footage release policies. Unsurprisingly, NYPD officers do not. From the NYPD's body-worn camera report [PDF]:

Officers and the public were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “If a person has an interaction with an officer wearing a  body-worn camera, the NYPD should be required to show that person the footage upon request.” Here is how they responded:

Here are the responses for a similar question, but involving third parties like journalists and advocacy groups making requests for footage:

The split is obvious. The public wants access. The NYPD wants sole control. The "compromise" is this:

[T]he NYPD is refusing to take this step. Instead, it will require footage requesters go through the slow and ill-suited Freedom of Information Law public records process — the same one you’d have to use to get, say, the mayor’s travel records.

To date, when people have used the FOIL process to request footage from the tiny number of body cameras already deployed in an experiment, the NYPD has stood in the way, charging the public exorbitant fees and claiming broad exemptions.

When it comes to New York's open records law, approaching the NYPD for documents is an exercise in futility. The department has been called "worse than the FBI, CIA, and NSA" when it comes to responding to records requests. FOIL lawsuits are minimally effective, as the NYPD is as comfortable with slowly bleeding plaintiffs dry as it is ignoring their requests entirely.

The other twist is this: if you're facing criminal charges and want access to footage of your arrest, etc., you're not going to get any preferential treatment. You also will be forbidden from joining the FOIL line and hearing your request will be ignored in the order it's received. Scott Greenfield breaks this down:

But certainly the defendant is entitled to the video, right?

"There is an important exception with respect to release of body-worn camera footage: if a person is arrested and has a pending criminal case, and seeks body camera footage related to his or her arrest, he or she may not come to the NYPD to circumvent the standard discovery process between the prosecution and the defense. Discovery is governed by New York State Criminal Procedure Law. Criminal defendants are entitled to these recordings under the law, but such requests are handled by prosecutors in accordance with existing criminal discovery practices and procedures."

Discovery? That same criminal procedure process that has been the target of reform for decades because it’s nearly useless?

Unbelievably, the NYPD camera policy gets even worse, and even further away from the public's preferences. Here are the responses given to the question of when officers should be given access to body camera footage. Note that the largest split involves the viewing of camera footage before writing reports.

The NYPD policy sides with the 91% of officers who stated they should be given access before writing reports or issuing statements. The explanation of its decision to run contrary to public opinion cites two things:

1. Plenty of other law enforcement agencies have similarly bad camera policies.

The NYPD body-worn-camera working group has reviewed the body-worn camera policies of nearly 30 police departments. All of them allow officers, without restriction, to review body-worn camera video prior to filling reports when there has not been a significant use of force.

2. NYPD internal investigations are probably the most thorough, serious investigations in the history of internal investigations.

The propriety of this approach requires some understanding of how serious use-of-force investigations proceed in New York City… [two pages of Complicated Hypothetical Situation…]

So, the NYPD will join the 21st century, already in progress, with 1,000 cameras and policies that benefit no one but the officers wearing them. The presumption for footage will be nondisclosure and the only people guaranteed to see the footage will be those who can tailor their narratives to recordings after the fact. The NYPD believes it's the best police force in the nation, if not the world. But it's still far behind several smaller agencies, both in terms of tech adoption, as well as transparency and accountability.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 April 2017 @ 3:22am

Court: No Immunity For Federal Agent Who Made Elderly Woman Stand In Urine-Soaked Pants For Two Hours While He Questioned Her

from the tough-on-(moon-related)-crime dept

The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has affirmed a lower court's stripping of a federal officer's qualified immunity in a… moon rock sting case. This is a thing. Relatives and friends of NASA personnel have received what they believe are gifts from them -- items containing moon rock pieces, or heat shield fragments, or whatever. The problem here is the government believes it owns anything related to its exploration missions.

It's not always illegal to be in possession of these items, but as Lowering the Bar's Kevin Underhill explains, it's almost always going to be treated as illegal by the federal government.

[I]f you have or even claim to have any lunar material, or some other piece of Apollo memorabilia, the government is quite likely to treat you as a criminal if it finds out—even if, as in this case, it had no proof at all that the suspect got it illegally (or even that it was what she claimed).

The "she" here is Joann Davis, whose late husband worked on the Apollo program. He was given two Apollo souvenirs by Neil Armstrong -- paperweights containing pieces of a moon rock and a heat shield, respectively. Davis was looking to sell the items to a collector to defray her son's medical expenses. She asked NASA for assistance, which turned out to be a mistake. NASA sent the feds after her.

Davis may have told the government what she was up to, but the government didn't return the favor. Instead, it decided to engage in sting operation, because that's obviously the best way to deal with a 74-year-old woman trying to pay medical expenses -- and who had made the government fully aware of her NASA-related items and her planned sale of them.

"Jeff," the government's undercover man posing as an interested buyer, met with Davis at a Denny's. Outside were six armed federal agents. The only person with Davis was her 70-year-old friend, Paul Cilley. From the opinion [PDF]:

Once Davis, Cilley, and “Jeff” were seated in a booth inside the restaurant and exchanged pleasantries, Davis placed the paperweights on the table. “Jeff” said he thought the heat shield was worth about $2,000. Shortly thereafter, Conley announced himself as a “special agent,” and another officer’s hand reached over Davis, grabbed her hand, and took the moon rock paperweight. Simultaneously, a different officer grabbed Cilley by the back of the neck and restrained him by holding his arm behind his back in a bent-over position. Then, an officer grabbed Davis by the arm, pulling her from the booth. At this time, Davis claims that she felt like she was beginning to lose control of her bladder. One of the officers took her purse. Both Cilley and Davis were compliant. Four officers escorted them to the restaurant parking lot for questioning after patting them down to ensure that neither was armed.

If this itself seems excessive, well… hold the government's beer.

Davis claims that she told officers twice during the escort that she needed to use the restroom, but that they did not answer and continued walking her toward an SUV where Conley was waiting. Davis subsequently urinated in her clothing. Although their accounts differ in some respects, Conley and Davis agree that he knew she was wearing urine-soaked pants as he interrogated her in the restaurant parking lot. Davis claims that she was not allowed an opportunity to clean herself or change her clothing, despite communicating to Conley several times that she was “very uncomfortable.”

Conley is Norman Conley, the federal agent whose immunity remains stripped. For whatever reason, Conley appeared to believe it wasn't enough to have both the disputed property in hand and a fully-compliant suspect who had already informed NASA about her plans to sell them.

Conley then proceeded to question Davis for one-and-a-half to two hours, during which time Davis remained standing in the same place.

In urine-soaked pants, lest we forget.

Conley apparently felt he just wasn't threatening enough. He brought more muscle for the urine-soaked, Denny's parking lot interrogation of a 74-year-old woman.

[W]hile Conley questioned her, another officer wearing a flack jacket stood behind her and pushed her each time she shifted her weight or stepped backwards. During the questioning, Conley kept Davis’s purse and car keys and told her repeatedly that “they still really want to take you in,” and that she needed to give him more information before he could release her. She was kept from going to her car. At least ninety minutes had passed when Conley told Davis she was free to leave.

Here's the depressing coda:

After the sting operation was complete and NASA lunar experts were able to confirm the moon rock’s authenticity, Conley opened a full investigation. The investigation was closed when the U.S. Attorney in Orlando, Florida, formally declined to prosecute Davis. Davis’s son died seven months after the incident.

As the appeals court points out, Conley's own admissions cancel out his qualified immunity defense.

At the time of the detention, Conley was aware of several facts that color the reasonableness of his actions. First, Conley knew that Davis was a slight, elderly woman, who was then nearly seventy-five years old and less than five feet tall. Second, he knew that Davis lost control of her bladder during the search and was wearing visibly wet pants. Third, he knew that Davis and Cilley were unarmed and that the search warrant had been fully executed by the time Davis was escorted to the parking lot. Fourth, Conley knew that Davis had not concealed possession of the paperweights, but rather had reached out to NASA for help in selling the paperweights. Finally, because all but the first of the phone calls between Davis and “Jeff” were recorded, Conley knew the exact content of most of those conversations, including that Davis was experiencing financial distress as a result of having to raise grandchildren after her daughter died, her son was severely ill and required expensive medical care, and Davis needed a transplant. Those conversations also revealed Davis’s desire to sell the paperweights in a legal manner and her belief that she possessed them legally because they were a gift to her late husband.

If Conley didn't want to be held accountable for civil liberties violations, the court says he probably shouldn't have violated them so thoroughly.

Because the moon rock paperweight had been seized and both Davis and Cilley had already been searched for other weapons and contraband, Conley had no law enforcement interest in detaining Davis for two hours while she stood wearing urine-soaked pants in a restaurant’s parking lot during the lunch rush. This is precisely the type of “unusual case” involving “special circumstances” that leads us to conclude that a detention is unreasonable. Conley’s detention of Davis, an elderly woman, was unreasonably prolonged and unnecessarily degrading.

There are multiple ways this could have been handled and Conley chose the path most likely to result in a civil rights lawsuit. Maybe he thought Davis would never go so far as to sue him. Maybe this is just how Agent Conley handles everything: with as much force and intimidation as possible, even if nothing about the situation warrants it. Whatever the case, Conley will now have to face Davis' allegations in court, with no shield in front of him. Hopefully, he'll find the experience to be nearly as uncomfortable as what he put Joann Davis through.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2017 @ 6:14pm

Arizona Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Into Law, Raising Evidentiary Burden For Law Enforcement

from the LEO-tears-at-11 dept

Some more forward progress has been made against civil asset forfeiture, this time in Arizona. Governor Doug Ducey put his signature on a reform bill late last week, raising the evidentiary bar for seizures in the state.

House Bill 2477 restricts police and prosecutors from abusing the civil forfeiture process by requiring them to show “clear and convincing evidence” that certain property was linked to a crime before the seizure or forfeiture of any assets. Under current law, prosecutors are only required to show a “preponderance” of the evidence.

The move drew bipartisan support from nearly all members of the Legislature, with only one vote lodged against the measure.

While it doesn't go so far as to establish a conviction requirement, it does make it a little more difficult for law enforcement agencies to walk off with citizens' possessions. Unfortunately, not much has been done to address the terrible recourse process, which dumps the burden of proof back on the citizen whose possessions have been taken.

Navigating this particular legal thicket often requires a lawyer and there's a good chance the best possible outcome will be a partial release of the property seized. Fortunately, going the lawsuit route will be a little less risky in the future: the new law also ensures legal fees will be awarded to winning parties who manage to litigate the return of seized property.

Even if Governor Ducey had been opposed to the reform bill, he wouldn't have been able to defend a veto in the same way Idaho Governor Butch Otter did when shooting down a popular reform effort there. There's plenty of evidence the state's asset forfeiture laws have been abused.

After analyzing more than 1,300 quarterly financial reports filed by agencies detailing seizures and expenditures from fiscal years 2011 through 2015, AZCIR found that the state commission tasked with compiling statewide civil asset forfeiture figures omitted roughly $20 million, or 16 percent of overall spending, from its reports.


And when it comes to tracking what law enforcement agencies are seizing and from whom, virtually no data is available other than aggregate totals of the amounts seized.

Along with zero transparency and questionable accounting, there are a few small law enforcement agencies where seizing stuff is basically all they do.

[S]anta Cruz County [...] agencies seized more than $5 million during the past five years. All but $90 came from auctioning forfeited property, such as cars and houses. Considering the total, along with the small population, the county also had the highest seizure rate – more than three times the state average.

Agencies in La Paz County, with a population of 20,500, seized $1.6 million during the past five years, the second highest rate in the state – $955,000 of that in 2015 alone.

In Arizona, law enforcement agencies are allowed to spend seized funds directly on employee salaries, which has led to this sort of thing being common:

The Attorney General’s Office spent more on personnel than any other agency at $6.4 million, which funded 50 positions, according to an August 2016 budget proposal document provided to AZCIR.

When your paycheck depends directly on successful seizures, there's no way you won't be performing as many seizures as possible.

This new law doesn't make dramatic changes to existing forfeiture statutes, but any chance, no matter how small, always appears to be unacceptable to the agencies affected. Here's Chief Deputy (Mohave County Attorney's Office) James Schoppman's reaction:

In a letter to the governor pleading the county’s case, Schoppmann wrote, “If HB 2477 is enacted, Mohave County will suffer because of an overreaction to the misdeeds of a very small percentage of others and the result will be a net loss to our community and a net gain for drug traffickers.”

Apparently, it's a net win for the community when criminals go free but their money goes to pay DA's office salaries. The statement is complete crap. Arizona law enforcement agencies are handfuls of cash from hundreds of victims and doing almost nothing to make a dent in drug cartel operations. This systemic abuse won't be stopped by the new law, but it will be slowed. Arizona law enforcement will just have to exercise a bit more discretion when separating citizens from their property.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2017 @ 9:25am

Hypocritical CIA Director Goes On Rant About Wikileaks, Free Speech

from the doesn't-seem-to-care-much-for-either dept

The current administration is back to threatening free speech. On his way to being elected, Trump's passion for bogus defamation suits led him to declare he would "open up" libel laws to make it easier for him to sue people for saying things he didn't like.

This continued after the election. Trump tweeted his opposition to "fake news," calling out pretty much any major network that wasn't Fox News and calling them "enemies of the people." His new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, is similarly threatening the First Amendment. In his remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo went on a rant about Wikileaks -- one no doubt motivated by the site's recent data dumps on CIA computer exploits.

WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations.

It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.

This is an interesting change of heart for Pompeo. Last year, when he was running for re-election in Kansas, he seemed pleased with Wikileaks and its ability to obtain damning documents.

If you can't read/see the embedded, since-deleted tweet by Pompeo, it reads:

Need further proof the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC leaked by Wikileaks.

So, Wikileaks is a non-hostile intelligence service when it serves Pompeo's ends, but not so much when it puts CIA hacking tools on public display. This was only part of Pompeo's rant, though. Once he was through being hypocritical, he went after the First Amendment. Here's Glenn Greenwald's take on Pompeo's comments:

Trump’s CIA Director stood up in public and explicitly threatened to target free speech rights and press freedoms, and it was almost impossible to find even a single U.S. mainstream journalist expressing objections or alarm, because the targets Pompeo chose in this instance are ones they dislike – much the way that many are willing to overlook or even sanction free speech repression if the targeted ideas or speakers are sufficiently unpopular.

Decreeing (with no evidence) that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” a belief that has become gospel in establishment Democratic Party circles – Pompeo proclaimed that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” He also argued that while WikiLeaks “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice,” but: “they may have believed that, but they are wrong.”

He then issued this remarkable threat: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.” At no point did Pompeo specify what steps the CIA intended to take to ensure that the “space” to publish secrets “ends now.”

Pompeo is now willing to go after publishers of secrets. No doubt he intends to go after whistleblowers and leakers as well, but he has publicly stated a desire to attack the messengers. Making this worse is Pompeo's hypocrisy, which means any targeting of publishers he attempts to engage in will be based on the content of the publications. Stuff he doesn't like will be targeted. Everything else will remain unaffected.

Of course, Pompeo's in the wrong branch of government to be engaging in First Amendment issues. The CIA is a foreign-facing intelligence agency. It should have nearly nothing to do with domestic whistleblower/leaker incidents, unless it happens to be CIA documents that are released. Even then, his agency won't be able to do anything more than an internal investigation. It's not a law enforcement agency, nor is it supposed to be engaged in domestic surveillance.

But Pompeo is the president's pick. He may think he's only speaking for himself and his agency, but his words echo the president's antipathy towards speech he doesn't like. And he has his president's hypocrisy: someone who loves Wikileaks when it's publishing documents that hurt the other team, but not so much when the leaks implicate people, parties, and agencies they hold dear.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 April 2017 @ 3:23am

Microsoft Latest Service Provider To Pry A National Security Letter Free From Its Gag Order

from the slow-drip-transparency dept

Microsoft is the latest to publish a National Security Letter, following Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Calyx, Cloudflare, and… the Internet Archive. Microsoft's NSL [PDF] was issued by the FBI (of course) and demanded the usual subscriber info.

In the post accompanying the disclosure, Microsoft points out the USA Freedom Act is the only reason it's been able to release the NSL. This is one of the benefits of the recent law: a better, faster way to compel review of NSL gag orders, which used to take place almost never.

In addition, Microsoft notes FISA orders are on the rise. Of course, its reporting is limited to useless "bands," so the only thing that can definitely be determined is Microsoft's FISA interactions have at least doubled.

For the latest Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) data reported, Microsoft received 1,000-1,499 FISA orders seeking content disclosures affecting 12,000-12,499 accounts, compared to the 0-499 FISA orders seeking disclosure of content impacting 17,500-17,999 accounts reported for the previous period.

What's included in the NSL is more of the same: demands for subscriber info backed solely by the authority of the FBI agent who typed it up. No judicial approval needed. What isn't in there are demands for a bunch of info the FBI has no business asking for, like in those served to Yahoo. In one of Yahoo's NSLs, the government demanded the service provider go above and beyond statutory requirements and hand over everything from subscriber phone numbers to "upstream providers" associated with the named account.

It also contains the old, pre-USA Freedom Act boilerplate about challenging the gag order -- something the FBI continued to append to post-USA Freedom Act NSLs until the Internet Archive shamed it into admitting it was using outdated language.

Going forward, the government should expect the challenges to continue. Microsoft notes it's currently in court contesting the feds' increasing use of gag orders -- something it justifies using a law meant to protect the privacy of electronic communications: the ECPA.

The trickle of un-gagged NSLs is encouraging. Even if the releases trail far behind issuances (both in number and elapsed time), the fact that we're seeing any at all remains a small miracle. If service providers are enjoying these very occasional forays out from under gag orders, they might want to consider sending a few fruit baskets Snowden's way.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2017 @ 1:23pm

Alabama Sheriff In Court For Starving Inmates, Paying Critic's Grandson To Install Keylogger On Her Computer

from the just-make-it-out-to-'cash'-and-save-everyone-the-hassle dept

A number of statutes and practices have created perverse incentives for law enforcement, but none are nearly so blatant as this Alabama state law governing the feeding of inmates. The law, passed over 100 years ago, says law enforcement personnel -- mainly sheriffs -- can keep whatever's left over from state and federal inmate food stipends. This doesn't mean the leftover money is routed to a general fund or used to defray law enforcement/jail-related expenses. No, this means the money flows from taxpayers, (mostly) bypasses prisoners, and ends up in sheriffs' personal checking accounts. (via Radley Balko)

This legalized skimming has resulted in the obvious: underfed inmates and sheriffs with overfed bank accounts. The law first received national attention in 2008, when Morgan County sheriff Greg Bartlett found himself in federal court, defending himself against a lawsuit brought by his prisoners. Inmates were dropping weight and going hungry while Bartlett increased his personal income by $212,000 over three years, taking home a great deal of the $1.75 per prisoner per day state funds. (Federal prisoners housed in state jails are allowed $3 per day, which can also be rerouted to sheriffs' checking accounts.)

This resulted in Bartlett spending one night in his own jail. Even then, Sheriff Bartlett was violating an earlier consent decree with the federal government, which ordered his office to use *all* food funds for feeding inmates. The agreement Bartlett reached with the court (after a night in jail) promised his office would do the same thing: spend all the funds on food, rather than diverting them for personal use.

Even with two consent decrees in place and a previous sheriff being hauled into court for personally profiting from inmates' hunger, another Morgan County sheriff (Ana Franklin) has repeated her predecessor's misdeeds.

At that hearing, the sheriff's attorneys are expected to argue that a years-old consent decree in a lawsuit against the county does not apply to Franklin and she shouldn't be held in contempt. The decree says the Morgan County Sheriff must spend all food funds on inmate meals. The decree was issued in 2009 after Franklin's predecessor was jailed for contempt. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was dubbed "Sheriff Corndog" because he profited more than $200,000 while inmates ate corndogs twice a day for weeks. The consent decree stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit against the county and then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe by inmates decrying conditions inside the jail.

A court hearing was scheduled last month when the Center filed a motion saying Franklin should show cause for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of the decree. The center argued that Franklin should have been held in contempt after removing $160,000 from the inmate food account. The sheriff loaned $150,000 of the money to a now-bankrupt, corrupt used car dealership, Priceville Partners, LLC, that was co-owned by Greg Steenson, a convicted felon.

Franklin is trying to convince the court she should be allowed to continue starving inmates and financing criminal business ventures. While Sheriff Franklin was helping prop up localbusiness corruption, inmates were dealing with this reality:

The [Southern Center for Human Rights] is arguing Franklin should not be allowed to keep any of the food funds and has included in court documents statements from inmates who describe inadequate food portions and unappetizing or hazardous servings. Inmates reported finding rocks, a nail and mold in food served at the jail.

"Many grievances note that entire cell blocks were fed reduced or watered-down portions -- a tiny amount of soup, a spoonful of grits, five or six green beans or carrot slices as a vegetable serving, a sandwich with half of a slice of cheese on it, and the like -- because the kitchen lacked enough food to serve everyone the portions listed on the menu," according to court records filed by the Center.

Starving prisoners to fund personal business ventures isn't the only thing Sheriff Franklin's accused of doing, though. A longtime critic of Franklin -- blogger/business owner Glenda Lockhart -- has also filed a lawsuit against the sheriff, alleging a number of constitutional violations.

The lawsuit accuses Franklin of illegally obtaining information to convince a judge to issue a search warrant for Lockhart's home and business. Franklin has said her office seized computers and various other devices during an investigation into fired jail warden Leon Bradley, who has been accused of leaking documents to Lockhart for publication on the blog.

Lockhart's blog was where Sheriff Franklin's payments to the corrupt car dealership first appeared. In apparent retaliation, the sheriff allegedly engaged in some incredibly underhanded -- and illegal -- tactics in her attempt to obtain the blogger's personal communications.

Lockhart claims Franklin illegally gathered information for a search warrant by paying an informant to break-in, hack and steal data from her home and business offices. Lockhart owns Straightline Drywall and Acoustical, LLC in Falkville.

The informant, Lockhart's grandson Daniel, said in a sworn statement that he was paid to install keylogger software on his grandmother's computer. The software, he said, was provided by the sheriff's office, according to a transcript from a November 2016 deposition.

Daniel Lockhart's statement also said the sheriff told him she was only interested in going after the former warden who was leaking documents and that Daniel's grandmother wouldn't be targeted. His statement also points out he was paid directly by the sheriff and one of her deputies a total of $500 to perform this "investigative" work for them.

There appears to be corruption all over the place in Morgan County, Alabama. But it all starts with a bad law state lawmakers are in no hurry to take off the books. Despite multiple federal lawsuits stemming from sheriffs' starve-and-skim tactics, the incredibly perverse incentive remains intact. There are probably plenty of taxpayers who don't like the idea of their money being used to food and house convicted criminals, but I doubt any of those taxpayers are happier knowing they're padding sheriffs' bank accounts and investing in shady businesses.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2017 @ 9:17am

Trump Administration Kills Open.Gov, Will Not Release White House Visitor Logs

from the beat-it,-serfs dept

It will never be said that the Trump presidency began with a presumption of openness. His pre-election refusal to release his tax returns set a bit of precedent in that regard. The immediate post-election muffling of government agency social media accounts made the administration's opacity goals… um… clearer.

So, in an unsurprising move, the Trump administration will be doing the opposite of the Obama administration. The American public will no longer have the privilege of keeping tabs on White House visitors. (h/t Alex Howard)

The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday.

The administration is justifying this reversal with the usual: favorable interpretations of FOIA lawsuit rulings and "national security" mumbling.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Yes, it's sadly true. The administration can use this ruling to lock the public out of this small layer of transparency. The rest of it, however, is bullshit.

Whatever "national security risks" may exist during White House visits should be addressed by intelligence agencies and the Secret Service rather than being withheld from the public. The White House hosts top foreign government officials all the time and it is always a "national security risk." Disclosing who's visited the White House AFTER THEY'VE ALREADY LEFT does zero damage to national security.

Additionally, there are likely several visitors to the White House every year that aren't logged for security reasons, and if it's really that much of a concern, the administration could release the logs with redactions, like Obama did.

As for visitors who aren't government officials (domestic or foreign), it's pretty imaginative to assume visits to the most well-known home of public servants in the free world carry with it some form of unbreachable privacy.

On top of everything else, it's extremely hypocritical for the administration to pretend this is about privacy and security when the president has been hosting government official get-togethers at resorts -- a place where logs aren't kept and "national security risks" seem to be less of a concern than how many holes Trump can fit in between government business.

So, to further distance himself from the people he serves (and the people who elected him), Trump and his administration have shut down the transparency portal put in place by the previous Commander-in-Chief:

White House officials said the Administration is ending the contract for, the Obama-era site that hosted the visitor records along with staff financial disclosures, salaries, and appointments.

The administration can't even perform this move without meaningless, self-justifying dissembling. It's not about keeping secrets, of course. It's about saving taxpayers money [eyeroll]:

An official said it would save $70,000 through 2020 and that the removed disclosures, salaries and appointments would be integrated into in the coming months.

Thanks, Trump. I love the phrase "coming months," which means anytime between 2018 and never. The smart money's on not seeing any financial disclosures until nearly a year from now, at the earliest. The only way we'll see anything sooner is if some White House cabinet scandal manages to dislodge it first. Plus, there's this, from Trump himself, who obviously has no idea his past tweets are accessible by everyone:

If you can't see the tweet, it's Trump calling out Obama for doing the same thing Trump is now doing: rolling back a predecessor's openness.

Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something?

President Obama was better talking about transparency than engaging in it. President Trump, on the other hand, has expressed zero interest in transparency and appears to be rolling back anything "open" Obama grudgingly put into place. Maybe it's better to have White House animosity towards openness and accountability right there on the surface. But right now, it really doesn't feel like an improvement.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2017 @ 3:22am

Latest Exploit Dump By Shadow Brokers Contains Easy-To-Use Windows Exploits, Most Already Patched By Microsoft

from the menu-driven-God-Mode dept

The Shadow Brokers -- having failed to live up to half their name -- released more NSA exploits last week when it became apparent no one was willing to purchase the exploits from them. This dump was far more interesting than previous releases, as it contained a large number of Windows exploits and -- for some -- a very handy, easy-to-use front end for malware deployment.

This dump probably ruined a few Easter weekends at Microsoft, but not nearly as many as was first presumed. While the exploits targeted older versions of Windows, they would have caused trouble for government and corporate networks still relying those versions. Those targeting unsupported versions are the most dangerous, as those holes will never be patched. They're also the ones with the smallest user bases, so that mitigates the damage somewhat.

As Marcy Wheeler points out, the NSA had plenty of time to warn Microsoft about unpatched holes prior to the Shadow Brokers' latest dump.

That’s a critical detail for the debate going on on Twitter and in chats about how shitty it was for SB to release these files on Good Friday, just before (or for those with generous vacation schedules, at the beginning of) a holiday weekend. While those trying to defend against the files and those trying to exploit them are racing against the clock and each other, it is not the case that the folks at NSA got no warning. NSA has had, at a minimum, 96 days of warning, knowing that SB could drop the files at any time.

The big question, of course, is whether NSA told Microsoft what the files targeted. Certainly, Microsoft had not fully responded to that warning, as hackers have already gotten a number of these files to work.

Unlike the CIA dump happening at Wikileaks, the NSA had a pretty good idea what was contained in the Shadow Brokers stash. Microsoft, however, says it was never contacted by the NSA or "any agency" about the exploits ahead of their release.

Despite this statement, the exploits appear to have already been patched by Microsoft.

Today, Microsoft triaged a large release of exploits made publicly available by Shadow Brokers. Understandingly, customers have expressed concerns around the risk this disclosure potentially creates. Our engineers have investigated the disclosed exploits, and most of the exploits are already patched.

The most interesting patch on the list is MS17-010, released March 14th. It patched several remote code execution holes in older Windows versions. These patches weren't applied to test machines, resulting in the mistaken conclusion these vulnerabilities hadn't been fixed.

But the patch notes say nothing about who disclosed the vulnerabilities, which makes it an anomaly. Microsoft's denial, combined with its blank "acknowledgements" page, suggests the NSA itself warned the company about the vulnerabilities. It seems unlikely Shadow Brokers would have given Microsoft a heads up, as it hadn't warned any other affected vendor up to this point.

If so, the Vulnerabilities Equity Process sort of works. I mean, the NSA held onto these as long as it could, but finally informed the affected party when it became apparent it might have to share its "exclusive" exploits with the rest of the world. Better late than never, and certainly better when delivered ahead of a very public disclosure.

What's in the latest dump is now mostly useless. But not completely useless. There are still plenty of machines running older Microsoft software that are still vulnerable, many of them possessed by corporations and government agencies. If the software is old enough, the security holes are permanent.

Not that those with the latest and greatest should rest easy. The NSA hasn't stopped producing and purchasing exploits. The SB stash was a few years old. Current Microsoft software remains under attack from state intelligence agencies and criminals. But this dump of tools shows just how powerful the NSA's toolkit is -- one made even more dangerous by its apparent ease of use. It makes exploit delivery possible for anyone, not just those with a very specific skillset.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 April 2017 @ 3:44pm

Oregon Cop's Inability To Keep His Hands Off A Resident's Phone Costs Taxpayers $85,000 In Legal Fees

from the stop-touching-other-people's-stuff dept

Oregon residents will be opening up their wallets and handing out $85,000 to a citizen and her ACLU representation, thanks to a police officer being the only cop on the scene unable to handle being filmed while effecting an arrest.

Carrie Medina sued the city of Portland in early 2015 after an officer seized her camera and ended her livestream of an arrest two years earlier. The lawsuit [PDF], filed by the ACLU, contains the full conversation between Officer Taylor Letsis and Medina during the livestream's premature conclusion.

It contains some choice highlights in law enforcement overreach and the assertion of nonexistent authority. The confrontation starts with Officer Letsis claiming Medina's phone probably contains "evidence of a crime," and continues on through to Letsis claiming his seizure and search of the phone is neither a seizure or a search but is very definitely something he has the "legal jurisdiction" to do.

After some back and forth with Medina about his supposed "legal jurisdiction," Letsis decided to seize the phone and view the recording of the arrest. And by "seize," I mean "rip Medina's phone out of her hand."

According to the lawsuit, Medina had offered to provide the video footage to the officer if he gave her a subpoena. After he grabbed the phone, a prompt popped up on the Ustream app to archive the video. Medina, concerned the officer wasn't going to save the video, urged him to archive it. He did, and she then walked him through the process of posting it to a social media site, the suit says.

The officer handed the phone back to Medina and ordered her to show him the video and she complied, since he had posted it for her on social media.

Then he seized it again.

"As soon as Ms. Medina pressed 'play' to start the video, Officer Letsis grabbed the phone from her a second time,'' the suit says. "Officer Letsis did so without warning, and without the consent of Ms. Medina, despite the absence of any probable cause - or any reason at all - to suspect either that Ms. Medina had committed a crime, that the phone contained evidence of a crime, or that the evidence (which he himself had just archived to the Ustream web server) was in any danger of being destroyed.''

The lawsuit goes on to point out Gresham police officials dug their own hole with their post-incident statements, which claimed nothing illegal had occurred and no department policies had been violated.

On approximately February 15, 2013, KGW television published a report on the incident. During the report, a person identified as Gresham police spokesman Claudio Grandjean asserted that Officer Letsis' conduct during the encounter had been legal. Officer Grandjean stated:

“He wasn't doing something illegal. Now, was he inappropriate, or... or or a little rough, or officious or whatever? We can look at that, but that's not nearly as important as was he doing something illegal."

Thus, three days after the incident, the Gresham Police Department took a clear and public position that the actions of Officer Letsis were lawful.

And this, from the police chief, issued nearly a month after the incident:

In the March 5, 2013 memorandum, the Chief stated that "I highly discourage the seizing of property, or the arresting of persons, for simply recording your official actions without your knowledge."

In the March 5, 2013 memorandum, the Chief stated that "I support the reasonable actions of officers to seize cell phones when there is probable cause to believe the recording contains evidence of a crime and there are exigent circumstances to seize the cell phone to prevent the destruction or loss of the evidence," but went on to warn that "[i]f no exigent circumstances that place the property at risk of destruction, you must obtain a search warrant to download the video."

According to the ACLU, these statements indicated officers had not received proper training in respecting the First and Fourth Amendment rights of citizens. That pretty much nailed things down case-wise, as proving "failure to train" is a key element in lawsuits seeking to hold government agencies and employees accountable for their constitutional violations.

Understandably, the three entities being sued decided to settle [PDF] rather than see this debacle rack up even greater monetary losses in front of a jury.

The settlement agreement stipulated that Portland and Gresham must adopt new police policies and training regarding the public’s right to film police activities. The City of Gresham’s new policy under the settlement went into effect in May 2016 and the City of Portland’s new policy went into effect in October 2016. The City of Gresham was also required to pay $85,000 in legal fees to Medina.

The victim of police misconduct only asked for legal fees, which she has donated to the ACLU which represented her pro bono. More important to Medina (and the ACLU) was the establishment of department and city policies recognizing the public's right to hold their public servants accountable through public recordings.

The ACLU notes, however, that the new policies don't appear to have reached every officer covered by them.

Oregon law is now clear that the public has the right to record law enforcement doing their jobs in public, but dos Santos says the ACLU of Oregon still hears from people who have been hassled, detained, or arrested, or who have had their devices confiscated for filming the police, including an incident in Portland last November involving another local activist, Benjamin Kerensa.

“We still see arrests, detentions, and seizures simply for filming the police,” dos Santos said. “With this settlement, we hope that law enforcement across the state will finally respect the public’s right to record. Otherwise, we’ll see them in court again.”

Old habits die hard. And the oldest habits always seem to be the worst ones. The sooner these are broken (or, conversely, the sooner those who can't break them are forced out of jobs), the less expensive it will be for Oregon's taxpayers.

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Posted on Techdirt - 13 April 2017 @ 11:56am

Taser Seeking To Lock Down Body Camera Market With 'Free' Camera Offer To Law Enforcement Agencies

from the locked-in/locked-out dept

Taser -- manufacturer of law enforcement's favorite electronic battle weapon and the "I'm not a doctor but I play one in courtroom proceedings" creator of arrestee-specific medical condition "excited delirium" -- is branching out and (sort of) rebranding.

It's not like Taser doesn't have the less-lethal market sewn up. Its titular device is in the latter stages of genericide -- a catch-all term for any sort of stun gun. It's been busy building a new market: law enforcement body cameras. Under the name Axon, Taser has introduced a number of body-worn cameras, some of them with more advanced feature sets that tie their activation to weapon deployment by officers.

Now, Axon is hoping to increase its dominance of the body camera market. Its latest move is to offer free cameras and footage storage to any law enforcement agency that requests it. The pay-nothing-now offer lasts for a year. Once the offer expires, agencies are free to look elsewhere for cameras.

But will they? It seems unlikely. Axon claims it will make it easy to migrate stored recordings from its access platform, but data migration of this type is easier said than done. Add to that the fact that this is no ordinary data. It includes footage needed as evidence in criminal trials, etc. Sticking to a system officers and supervisors are already used to would seem like the most prudent move, even if it's not the most affordable option.

Axon has gathered a lot of positive press over the past few days. The offer allows cash-strapped law enforcement agencies the opportunity to get into the accountability and transparency business with no initial investment. But this push to deploy "free*" cameras isn't really about cameras. Matt Stroud -- who has tracked Taser/Axon for years via FOIA requests -- points out at The Daily Dot that this business model is nothing new. Axon has been giving away cameras for a few years now. The real moneymaker is access, storage and licensing.

Stroud's FOIA work has uncovered multiple cases where agencies have received free cameras. Axon is only charging agencies for usage. Albuquerque's police department received $500,000 worth of cameras for free. But it's paying $223,000 a year just for access to Storage provided by Axon also comes at a premium: $1.50/GB. More cameras means more storage, which means this part of the revenue stream will just keep growing. On top of that, there's a yearly licensing fee that increases with the number of cameras in use.

It's an interesting approach: one that gives away the finite (cameras) but charges a premium for the infinite (licensing, access, storage). But here's the actual insidiousness of the deals Axon's making:

In an email, Utility’s CEO, Ted Davis, told me that Axon’s announcement was a “‘Venus Flytrap’ marketing campaign” because it was designed to lure police departments into an Axon contract for the “free” bodycams, only to then overwhelm those departments with storage and licensing fees later on. “The campaign targets an unsophisticated buyer, [but] most larger departments will not fall for this ploy,” Davis wrote. “After all, all of the competitive bidding for body cameras incorporate a total cost of ownership over a five-year or longer lifecycle. Sophisticated buyers wisely measure the cost vs the capability of the product offering, and determine the best fit for the need.”

Yes, law enforcement agencies know they're in for a hard sell once the free trial expires. No one would expect anything less.What this free offer does is undercut the competitive bidding process. This process is supposed to keep governments from ending up locked in to uncompetitive deals. But how many cash-strapped governments will turn down "free*" cameras for their cops? Once cops are hooked on, opening the process to an actually competitive process means possibly putting the saved footage at risk. At best, it will be stored locally by departments while fielding bids for cameras/storage/access. At worst, the footage will be almost-useless: a bunch of unsearchable files, no longer organized, sorted, or tagged.

If Axon distributes enough of these free cameras, competitors will be driven from the market. And when the competition exits, all the ancillary costs will increase, perhaps exponentially. Governments will no longer have the option to take their business elsewhere. An open bidding process preserves options. Accepting Axon's literally unbidden offer does a whole lot of damage to that process. Agencies may not pay now, but they'll be paying plenty later.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 April 2017 @ 11:37am

City Officials Step Up After DOJ Told To Stop Worrying About Civil Rights Violations By Law Enforcement Agencies

from the bold-'us-vs.-them'-strategy-to-prop-up-flagging-LEO-morale dept

It appears the DOJ will no longer be in the business of policing the police. A memo issued by every cop's new best friend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, states the DOJ will be doing more to empower police and will conduct fewer civil rights investigations of law enforcement agencies. On one hand, it makes sense to have the locals handle their own problems. On the other hand, the locals have repeatedly shown a willingness to ignore abusive policing until the feds are forced to step in.

It may be difficult to roll back DOJ agreements and oversight of investigated agencies immediately. It may, in fact, be impossible. Those consent decrees that have made their way through the court system on the way to being put into force would take some serious litigating to roll back. It's not clear the DOJ's interested in attempting an expensive clawback of police oversight and policy changes.

It's those that haven't been formalized through this process that are in danger of being scaled back, if not removed completely. The DOJ has filed a motion asking for time to review its proposed consent decree with the Baltimore PD in light of AG Sessions' memo. The DOJ also just finished wrapping up an investigation of the Chicago PD, but statements made by Sessions and President Trump indicate the White House and DOJ are more interested in solving Chicago's crime problem, rather than its police problem.

Sessions himself has no interest in police misconduct or systemic civil liberties violations and abuse the DOJ has uncovered over the past eight years. He claimed the lengthy investigation the DOJ's civil rights division performed produced nothing more than "anecdotal" evidence. He made this claim while admitting he hasn't read any of the investigative reports.

By not reading the reports, Sessions won't have to deal with contradictory thoughts while shifting the DOJ towards its new position as a law enforcement booster club. Adam Serwer of The Atlantic points out the vast amount of denial Sessions is swimming in.

As attorney general, Sessions said he read a summary, but not the full Ferguson report, which found that “95% of Manner of Walking charges; 94% of all Fail to Comply charges; 92% of all Resisting Arrest charges; 92% of all Peace Disturbance charges; and 89% of all Failure to Obey charges” were filed against black residents. But on the basis of the summary alone, Sessions concluded that the report was “pretty anecdotal” and “not scientifically based.”

The refusal to believe police abuse could be systemic rather than individual is, in the aftermath of all the data collected by the very agency Sessions now leads, a form of denial. Nor can Sessions’s decision be justified by the familiar excuse that police reforms lead to higher crime rates—the notion that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” is a normative standard that would eschew federal oversight of local police regardless of the crime rate or the gravity of any abuse that might occur.

This is a problem that's going to be bigger than just the guy sitting at the head of the DOJ organizational chart. Sessions' memo made it clear he actually believes misconduct and discriminatory policing are the handywork of a "few bad apples." That cannot possibly be true unless it's just a "few bad apples" issuing 90% of the summonses and performing 90% of the arrests. Every investigation by the DOJ turns up systemic abuses. Not one has reached the conclusion that the problems would all go away with a handful of firings.

Sessions' memo is morale booster for bad cops. It states the DOJ will focus on everything but systemic police misconduct and every excuse will be made to clear cops of wrongdoing. The DOJ's civil rights division at least gave people hope that America's policing could be improved, possibly even rising to the level of "constitutional" most of the time. That hope is now gone. As Adam Serwer puts it, Sessions' DOJ is abandoning the public by turning a blind eye to misconduct by public servants.

Sessions’s memo reads as an announcement that it is no longer the business of the federal government if American citizens’ rights are violated by those sworn to protect them and empowered with lethal force to do so. When local governments violate the basic constitutional rights of citizens, Americans are supposed to be able to look to the federal government to protect those rights. Sessions has made clear that when it comes to police abuses, they’re now on their own.

For what it's worth, some cities whose consent decrees might disappear thanks to the DOJ's new marching orders are promising to carry on without the federal government's carrots and sticks. Baltimore officials are saying they're not interested in rollbacks or compromises in the proposed consent decree the DOJ wants more time to examine in light of Sessions' "law and order" memo. [Warning: ad blocker-blocking dead ahead.]

Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish," Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement.

The same goes for Chicago, where a consent decree may never be put in place by the DOJ.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police chief Eddie Johnson have also vowed to press ahead with reforms within the city's police department, noting that a plan has already been drafted in recent weeks.

This is encouraging, even if the statements may end up being more sincere than the follow-through. The discouraging fact is these cities would have likely done nothing about the problems in their law enforcement agencies without the DOJ stepping in. If the DOJ's no longer going to be pursuing investigations of local PDs, it's all in the hands of local officials, and most are willing to ignore issues until they become front-page news around the nation.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 April 2017 @ 6:08am

FBI Tries New Rule 41 Changes On For Size In Fight Against Long-Running Botnet

from the one-warrant;-all-the-computers dept

The DOJ is proud to announce it's flexing its new Rule 41 muscle. The changes proposed in 2015 sailed past a mostly-uninterested Congress and into law, giving the FBI and other DOJ entities permission to hack computers anywhere in the world with a single warrant.

With the new rules, the law has finally caught up with the FBI's activities. It deployed a Network Investigative Tool -- the FBI's nifty nickname for intrusive malware that sends identifying info from people's computers to FBI investigators -- back in 2012 during a child porn investigation and mostly got away with it. It tried it again in 2015 and ran into a bit more resistance.

Rule 41's (former) jurisdictional limitations meant the FBI wasn't supposed to be able to "search" computers all over the US using a single warrant issued in Virginia. This activity was supposed to be confined to the state of Virginia. The aftermath of the Playpen investigation has led to a multitude of conflicting judicial opinions. Some have found the warrant invalid and the evidence obtained worthless. Others have granted good faith exceptions or determined no privacy violation took place. In at least one case, the government has dismissed the charges rather than expose any information about its Rule 41-flouting NIT.

In this case, the FBI isn't hacking computers to uncover child porn site visitors. Instead, it's going to be fiddling with a lot of computers to take down a botnet. The DOJ press release makes particular note of how lawful this all is now, post-Rule 41 amending:

In seeking authorization to disrupt and dismantle the Kelihos botnet, law enforcement obtained a warrant pursuant to recent amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. A copy of this warrant along with the other court orders are produced below.   The warrant obtained by the government authorizes law enforcement to redirect Kelihos-infected computers to a substitute server and to record the Internet Protocol addresses of those computers as they connect to the server. This will enable the government to provide the IP addresses of Kelihos victims to those who can assist with removing the Kelihos malware including internet service providers.

The search warrant [PDF] application leads off with this as well, waving it in front of its unusual request like a wary vampire hunter's cross.

I make this affidavit in support of an application for a warrant under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 to authorize an online operation to disrupt the Kelihos botnet currently under the control of Peter Yuryevich LEVASHOV, a criminal hacker. The operation, which is particularly described in Attachment A and Attachment B, involves the distribution of updated peer lists, job messages and/or IP filter lists, further described in Attachment B, to the TARGET COMPUTERS currently infected with the Kelihos botnet malware in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1030, L343, and 2511, as described in Attachment A. This operation will also obtain the Internet Protocol addresses and associated routing information of those infected computers, and those addresses are evidence of crimes committed by LEVASHOV. A PRTT order has been requested for the purpose of attaining those IP addresses and associated routing information. This operation will not capture content from the TARGET COMPUTERS or modify them in any other capacity except limiting the TARGET COMPUTERS' ability to interact with the Kelihos botnet.

The intent here is to dismantle the botnet by freeing zombie computers. All well and good, except it's not the government pointing victims to malware removal tools, but rather letting themselves into the "house" to size up infections before passing this info on to third parties to actually perform the removals.

This new form of intrusion raised concerns in Congress, but the DOJ insisted the changes were innocuous and please let's all stop talking about this before someone stops the Rule 41 amendments slow roll to tacit approval.

Here it is in action: thousands of computers temporarily hosting digital G-men. We're in unknown territory right now with the FBI's anti-botnet work. The FBI itself doesn't even appear all that sure about the extent of its new Rule 41 powers. As is noted in the warrant, the FBI also applied for a Pen Register/Trap and Trace (PRTT) order [PDF] just in case.

Other than the three elements described above, federal law does not require that an application for an order authorizing the installation and use of a pen register and a trap and trace device specify any facts. The following additional information is provided to demonstrate that the order requested falls within this Court's authority to authorize the installation and use of a pen register or trap and trace device under 18 U.S.C. g 3123(a)(1).

This is the FBI basically saying the law doesn't require this application, but here it is anyway. A CYA PRTT for the interception of communications metadata that might help identify botnet victims. And for all its talismanic waving of Rule 41, the FBI isn't even sure it's really required to seek a warrant to perform this botnet cleanup. From the warrant affidavit:

To effectively combat the P2P structure of the Kelihos botnet, the FBI with assistance of private partners will participate in the exchange of peer lists and job messages with other infected computers. The FBI's communications, however, will not contain any commands, nor will they contain IP addresses of any of the infected computers. Instead, the FBI replies will contain the IP and routing information for the FBI's "sinkhole" server. As this new routing information permeates the botnet, the Kelihos infected computers will cease any current malicious activity and learn to only communicate with the sinkhole. The effect of these actions will be to free individual infections from exchanging information with the Kelihos botnet and with LEVASHOV. This will stop Kelihos's most immediate harm, the harvesting of personal data and credentials, and the transmittal of that data to servers under LEVASHOV's control.

Another portion of the Kelihos job messages is a list, known as the IP filter list. This list functions as a type of blacklist, preventing communication with those IPs contained within the filter list. If necessary, the FBI also seeks authorization to send a filter list to TARGET COMPUTERS to block Kelihos infected computers from continuing to communicate with router nodes.

The footnote attached to this reads:

The law is unsettled as to whether the operation authorized by the proposed warrant constitutes a search or seizure. However, in an abundance of caution, the United States is seeking a warrant.

It looks like the FBI is tentatively exploring its new powers, making sure it has the paper trail it needs to stave off courtroom challenges. If it sticks to disrupting a botnet, it shouldn't face any. If it takes advantage of its new access privileges, it might.

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