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Appeals court orders Obama administration to disclose the legal theory for assassination of Americans

The Obama administration has lost a high-stakes lawsuit brought against it by the New York Times and the ACLU over its refusal to divulge the legal basis for its extrajudicial assassination program against US citizens. The Obama administration declared that it had the right to assassinate Americans overseas, far from the field of battle, on the basis of a secret legal theory. When it refused to divulge that theory in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Times and the ACLU sued. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has found in the Times's and ACLU's favor.

The Obama administration had insisted that the legal memo in question was protected as a national security secret. However, the court found that because the administration had made statements about the memo, assuring the public that the assassinations were legal, it had waived its right to keep the memo a secret. There's no work on whether the administration will appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.

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Everything is a Remix vs Patent Trolls

Adi from EFF writes, "Engine Advocacy worked with artist Kirby Ferguson (of Everything is a Remix fame) to create this great primer on patent trolls. It beautifully and succinctly lays out the patent problem, which is one of the hottest topics on the Hill right now. EFF, Public Knowledge, and Engine are pushing for people to call their senators to demand strong patent reform, and we have a handy tool at fixpatents.org for all you to do so!"

Prosecutors wage war on judges who insist on fairness

When South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty told a convention of prosecutors that judges would not permit "unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence," prosecutors revolted, vilifying him. They're following the lead of San Diego prosecutors, who boycott judges who are to "pro-Fourth Amendment." And in Arizona, prosecutors are fighting an ethics rule that would require them to disclose "new, credible, and material evidence" of wrongful convictions. Cory 24

Stop-and-frisk as the most visible element of deep, violent official American racism


Christopher E Smith is the white father of a black, biracial son, and it is through his son's experience of being black in America that he has learned just how pervasive and humiliating and violent officialdom is to black Americans, a fact embodied perfectly through New York City's notorious, racist stop-and-frisk program. Smith describes how his son, interning on Wall Street, has been repeatedly stopped by police, once made to lie face down on the filthy sidewalk in his best suit while police went through his pockets (former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was a staunch supporter of this program). He describes the experience of his black in-laws, who are stopped by police-cars en route to family gatherings, who have guns aimed at their heads, and who are then released with a shrug and a nonsensical excuse. He describes how driving over the US/Canadian border with his son is totally different from driving on his own, and how the customs guards routinely stop the two of them, and make them wait out of sight of their car while it is searched.

As an aside, I've experienced this myself. I've driven across the US/Canadian border literally dozens of times and the only time I was stopped was when I gave Nalo Hopkinson and David Findlay -- who happen to be black -- a ride to a Clarion reunion at Michigan State University. At both border crossings, the car was searched from top to bottom, with officers taking out books and shaking the pages to look for contraband. It's never happened since. The only difference between that drive and all the others was that there were some brown-skinned people in evidence.

Smith proposes a thought experiment in which stop-and-frisk searches were mandatorily applied in keeping with overall demographics, so for every three black people that the NYPD pull over and humiliate without warrant or suspicion or probable cause, they would have to do the same to ten white people -- and suggests that this would end the program of stop-and-frisk in a heartbeat.

I think he's right.

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Why I don't believe in robots

My new Guardian column is "Why it is not possible to regulate robots," which discusses where and how robots can be regulated, and whether there is any sensible ground for "robot law" as distinct from "computer law."

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Podcast: Collective Action - the Magnificent Seven anti-troll business-model


Here's a reading (MP3) of a my November, 2013 Locus column, Collective Action, in which I propose an Internet-enabled "Magnificent Seven" business model for foiling corruption, especially copyright- and patent-trolling. In this model, victims of extortionists find each other on the Internet and pledge to divert a year's worth of "license fees" to a collective defense fund that will be used to invalidate a patent or prove that a controversial copyright has lapsed. The name comes from the classic film The Magnificent Seven (based, in turn, on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai) in which villagers decide one year to take the money they'd normally give to the bandits, and turn it over to mercenaries who kill the bandits.

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Big Data Kafka: US Government Watchlists and the secrecy whose justification is a secret


In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.

The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.

In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.

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FDA rules make it nearly impossible for beer makers to give their grain to farmers for feed


Joe sez, "There's a new FDA rule that will make it nearly make it financially impossible for small craft brewers to give their grain away to farmers for animal feed. I work for a small brewery and all of us there are very upset about this and the general disregard for sustainability. At the end if the article linked there's direct FDA links that cover their proposal."

Leftover brewing grains have been fed to livestock since the dawn of agriculture, so this is a pretty radical shift. The proposed new requirements for animal feed handling stipulate that the feed has to be dried, analyzed and packaged before being donated to farmers (the spent grains are generally given away at the end of the brewing process), at substantial expense.

It's clear that food safety is important, but I'm not convinced that the stringency of this rule is commensurate with the risk.

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Professor attacked during lecture

Professor and pundit Tyler Cowen was lecturing about vigilantism yesterday, only to be pepper sprayed in class by a man trying to place him under citizens' arrest. The attacker, who was arrested, appears not to have been a student. Rob 44

Duke Nukem goes to court

Two companies, actual registered companies with people working for them, people with dreams and aspirations and fragile human hopes, are going to court to fight for ownership of Duke Nukem. [Rock Paper Shotgun] Rob 8

Reflections from sketching courtrooms


Molly Crabapple sez, "In the past three years, I've sketched many courtrooms and seen the "widget factory" that is the criminal justice system firsthand. Courtrooms are a violent theater. The violence happens off-scene. The courtroom itself is the performative space, the stage where the best story triumphs, and where all parties, except (usually) the defendant, are just playing parts."

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UK tax authority used anti-terror law to spy on whistleblower who disclosed sweetheart deal for Goldman Sachs


The UK tax authority HMRC abused the country's controversial anti-terrorism law to spy on a whistleblower and journalists at the Guardian after it was embarrassed by the revelation that it had given a sweetheart deal to Goldman Sachs. Osita Mba revealed a government oversight body that HMRC forgave GBP10M in interest owed by Goldman Sachs after a failed tax-evasion scheme, and in the ensuing public furore, HMRC's top executives invoked RIPA, the country's anti-terror law, to spy on its employees and on Guardian journalists in order to discover the identity of the leaker. Under RIPA, HMRC is able to spy on the nation's emails, Internet traffic, text messages, phone records and other sensitive data.

Lin Homer, the head of HMRC has appeared before a Parliamentary committee to explain its use of anti-terror spying powers to uncover the identity of a whistleblower whose personal information is protected by legislation, and was unrepentant, and would not rule out doing it again in the future.

Margaret Hodge, the committee chair, expressed shock at this. But it was under her party's last government, the Blair regime, that RIPA was put into place, over howls of protest from campaigners who predicted that it would be used in just this way.

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Inside America's illegal "Little Guantánamos"

Prisoners in America's notorious communication management units (called "CMUs" or "Little Guantánamos") are making great strides in their legal action against the US government over the prisons' illegal status, the illegally discriminatory detention of people in CMUs based on their political or religious beliefs, and their inhumane treatment of prisoners.

In this long, excellent piece, Annie P Waldman tells the story of how the CMUs were opened illegally, without the requisite public comment period, and how they've been used as a gulag to punish political and religious prisoners -- more than 70 percent of those imprisoned in CMUs are Muslim -- under inhumane conditions.

Waldman profiles one of the CMU prisoners, Yassin Aref, who has only held his youngest daughter twice since she was five. A Kurdish anti-Saddam Iraqi refugee, he served as an imam after migrating to the USA, and was caught in an FBI terrorism sting in which he agreed to witness a loan involving an paid FBI informant who had told the counterparty (but not Aref) that the money originated with an arms sale. Aref is serving 15 years in the CMU under conditions amounting to

Aref is one of the CMU prisoners who are the named plaintiffs in a surprisingly successful lawsuit against the US government.

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Judge tells porno copyright troll that an IP address does not identify a person

In Florida, District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro has dismissed a suit brought by notorious porno-copyright trolls Malibu Media on the grounds that an IP address does not affirmatively identify a person, and so they cannot sue someone solely on the basis of implicating an IP address in an infringement. This is a potentially important precedent, as it effectively neutralizes the business-model of copyright trolls, who use IP addresses as the basis for court orders to ISPs to turn over their customers' addresses, which are then inundated with threatening letters. The porno copyright trolls have a distinctly evil wrinkle on this, too: they threaten their victims with lawsuits that will forever associate the victims' names with embarrassing pornographic video-titles, often with gay themes.

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