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The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance and Other Real Laws


Kevin Underhill, the very funny lawyer behind Lowering the Bar, a very funny law-blog, has published a book of weird laws through the ages, called The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance and Other Real Laws That Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced. It's a genuinely funny and extremely weird tour through the world's dumbest rules, starting with the Babylonians (who had a trial-by-ordeal through which you could prove you weren't guilty by jumping into the river and not drowning) up through the Hittites (who had a whole set of rules about whether it was OK to steal your neighbor's door); the ancient Greeks and Romans (who were allowed to go into their friends' houses to search for their stolen property, provided they did so in nothing but a loincloth, to ensure they didn't plant any goods while searching) and modern times, including the notorious "Pi=3.2" state law.

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Apple appeals against e-book verdict

Deepto Hajela with the AP: "Apple filed papers on Tuesday telling a federal appeals court in New York that a judge's finding it violated antitrust laws by manipulating electronic book prices 'is a radical departure' from modern antitrust law that will 'chill competition and harm consumers' if allowed to stand." Rob 4

Chicago PD's Big Data: using pseudoscience to justify racial profiling


The Chicago Police Department has ramped up the use of its "predictive analysis" system to identify people it believes are likely to commit crimes. These people, who are placed on a "heat list," are visited by police officers who tell them that they are considered pre-criminals by CPD, and are warned that if they do commit any crimes, they are likely to be caught.

The CPD defends the practice, and its technical champion, Miles Wernick from the Illinois Institute of Technology, characterizes it as a neutral, data-driven system for preventing crime in a city that has struggled with street violence and other forms of crime. Wernick's approach involves seeking through the data for "abnormal" patterns that correlate with crime. He compares it with epidemiological approaches, stating that people whose social networks have violence within them are also likely to commit violence.

The CPD refuses to share the names of the people on its secret watchlist, nor will it disclose the algorithm that put it there.

This is a terrible way of running a criminal justice system.

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Takei to Arizona lawmakers: we will boycott Arizona if it passes its anti-gay Jim Crow law


George Takei (Facebook)


Sergei sez, "George Takei has written an open letter to Arizona legislators regarding a bill that would allow businesses, based on a 'sincerely held religious belief' to bar LGBT patrons from entering their establishments."

Takei reminds Arizona of the estimated $500M it lost by not ratifying MLK Day, and threatens a supercharged version of the boycott, multiplied by the Internet, if the bill passes.

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Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github

Prior to Whatsapp's $19B acquisition by Facebook, the company sent a large number of spurious takedowns against projects on Github. In a DMCA notice served by Whatsapp's General Counsel to Github, a number of projects are targeted for removal on the basis that they are "content that infringes on WhatsApp Inc.'s copyrights and trademarks."

This is grossly improper. DMCA takedown notices never apply to alleged trademark violations (it's called the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and not the "Digital Millennium Trademark Act"). Using DMCA notices to pursue trademark infringements isn't protecting your interests -- it's using barratry-like tactics to scare and bully third parties into participating in illegitimate censorship.

The letter goes on to demand takedown of these Github projects on the basis that they constitute "unauthorized use of WhatsApp APIs, software, and/or services" -- again, this is not a copyright issue, and it is improper to ask Github to police the code its hosts on this basis. It is certainly not the sort of activity that the DMCA's takedown procedure exists to police.

So what about copyright infringement? In the related Hacker News thread, a number of the projects' authors weigh in on the censorship, making persuasive cases that they software did not infringe on any of Whatsapp's copyrights -- rather, these were tools that made use of the Whatsapp API, were proof-of-concept security tools for Whatsapp, or, in one case, merely contained the string "whatsapp" in its sourcecode.

There may well have been some legitimately infringing material on Github, but it's clear that Whatsapp's General Counsel did not actually limit her or his request to this material. Instead, the company deliberately overreached the bounds of the DMCA, with total indifference to the rights of other copyright holders -- the creators of the software they improperly had removed.

Unfortunately, there are no real penalties for this sort of abuse. Which is a shame, because Whatsapp has $19B in the bank that a smart lawyer who wanted to represent the aggrieved parties could certainly take a chunk out of.

(via Hacker News)

Canadian court rules on copyright trolls: letters can go ahead, under strict supervision

Michael Geist writes, "The Canadian federal court has released its much anticipated decision in Voltage Pictures v. Does, a case involving demands that TekSavvy, a leading independent ISP, disclose the identities of roughly 2,000 subscribers alleged to have downloaded movies without authorization. The case attracted significant attention for several reasons: it is the first major "copyright troll" case in Canada involving Internet downloading (the recording industry previously tried unsuccessfully to sue 29 alleged file sharers), the government sought to discourage these file sharing lawsuits against individuals by creating a $5,000 liability cap for non-commercial infringement, TekSavvy ensured that affected subscribers were made aware of the case and CIPPIC intervened to ensure the privacy issues were considered by the court. Copies of all the case documents can be found here."

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Kansas lawmaker introduces bill to permit teachers to hit children hard enough to bruise


Gail Finney, a Democratic Kansas lawmaker from Kansas, introduced a law that would expand Kansas's already broad protection for teachers who hit their students, making it legal to hit children hard enough to leave a bruise. Finney said that teachers and parents needed to bruise the children in their care because "some children that are very defiant and they’re not minding their parents, they're not minding school personnel."

The research on hitting children is pretty clear: it doesn't work. The bill would allow teachers and administrators to hit children, even those over 18, with permission from their parents -- legalizing the restraint and violent assault of a legal adult by a government agent.

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Will US condemn UK for using terrorism laws to suppress journalism?


Journalist Glenn Greenwald after being reunited with his partner, David Miranda, in Rio de Janeiro's International Airport after British authorities used anti-terrorism powers to detain Miranda. RICARDO MORAES/REUTERS

In a disturbing ruling for democracy, a lower court in United Kingdom announced today that the detainment of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was lawful under the Terrorism Act, despite the fact that the UK government knew Miranda never was a terrorist. This disgraceful opinion equates acts of journalism with terrorism and puts the UK on par with some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Miranda has vowed to appeal the ruling.

Glenn Greenwald has much more on what this means for press freedom, but I’d like to expand on one particular point:

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DoJ report on Montana justice: Don't get raped in Missoula, even if you're only five years old

[Trigger warning]

A letter from the Department of Justice to the Missoula County Attorney's Office in Montana concludes that the state's police and prosecutors ignore and downplay rape complaints, intimidate and blame rape victims, and, most damning, that prosecutors decline to bring cases against accused rapists even when there is an abundance of evidence against them -- including confessions.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg says they're lying. The DoJ says that Van Valkenburg's stalled and ignored their investigation, and failed to reply to more than half a dozen requests for meetings and details. The DoJ reports says that one of the rape victims they investigated was only five years old, and the adolescent boy who assaulted her was sentenced to two years of community service; the prosecutor allegedly told the victim that "boys will be boys."

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NH legislator introduces bill to stop small-town cops from buying tanks

New Hampshire state representative J.R. Hoell has introduced state legislation that will require police departments to get approval from citizens at a town hall meeting before they buy military-style gear. The bill, called the Police Equipment and Community Engagement (PEACE) Act, was prompted by the city of Concord buying its police department an armored assault vehicle, a decision justified in part by the police department's stated need to fight protest groups such as Occupy.

The vehicle in question, a Lenco Bearcat, costs $258,000 and was widely opposed by the people of Concord, a town of 42,000 which has experienced three murders in the past ten years. The decision was justified in part by "recent murders and armed robberies" -- but Concord had no murders in 2012 or 2013, and police responded to 20 armed robberies -- the same number of robberies as the town experienced, on average, for the preceding decade.

Above, a video from a retired USMC colonel explaining why he doesn't want his local cops driving around in tanks.

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London Heathrow customs agent interrogates Edward Snowden's attorney Jesselyn Radack

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who represents NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was detained and interrogated while transiting customs at Heathrow airport in London. Kevin Gosztola reports:

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Anders Breivik threatens hunger strike over "torture" of only getting a PS2

Mass-murderer Anders Breivik has issued a second letter of complaint about the conditions he's endured in a Norwegian prison since killing 77 teenagers attending a conference for the youth wing of a left-wing political party (here's the first, which runs to 27 pages and features a demand for moisturizer). This time around, Breivik is upset that he is forced to use an outdated Playstation 2 and isn't allowed to choose his own games; wants his uncomfortable cell-chair replaced with an armchair or sofa; and more. He threatens a hunger-strike if his 12 demands are not met.

As Lowering the Bar points out, Breivik's demand that his daily searches be ended is somewhat reasonable, especially if he's not mixing with the general population, as these would appear to be more about vindictive punishment than safety. But a hunger strike over being forced to make do with the award-winning 1999 game Rayman Revolution rather than more adult fare is a just grandstanding, as is calling the PS2 situation "torture."

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Indian readers sue Penguin for copyright to book that is to be pulped due to religious fundamentalists' campaign

Robert Sharp writes, "A group of readers have launched a legal challenge to Penguin, saying: 'You're not using your copyright responsibly - please turn it over to us'! They're angry that Penguin is no longer defending a legal dispute against fundamentalists and will pulp remaining copies of the book 'The Hindus'."

The readers are represented by Lawrence Liang and the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum.

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Senator Rand Paul sues US government over NSA spying

Rand Paul has launched a class-action suit against the US government over the NSA's warrantless bulk telephone metadata surveillance. Ars Technica has good analysis of the legal dimension of the suit: basically, Senator Paul isn't really advancing any new arguments, but the suit will put the pressure on the government. Techdirt has reports of outrage from other Republican congresscritters, especially noted shitweasel Rep Peter King (R-NY), who accuses Paul of aiding terrorists. Cory 48

Pensacola bans sheltering from weather with blankets or newspapers

This week, the city of Pensacola, FL will vote on an "anti-camping" ordinance that makes it a crime to protect yourself from the weather with a blanket or a newspaper. Its intention is to criminalize homeless people, but, of course, it also makes criminals out of anyone who holds a newspaper over her head in the rain. Cory 48