Boing Boing 

Oakland to decriminalize pinball

Pinball Flippers Demolition Man

Yes, pinball is illegal in Oakland, California. But this week, the 80-year-old law, tied to anti-gambling ordinances, will be reversed.

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Happy Mutant congressman: if Bitcoin should be banned, why not dollar bills?


Senator Joe Manchin delivered a grandstanding, technologically clueless, facepalm-inducing request to the Treasury Department to ban Bitcoin. In response, Rep Jared Polis (who proudly wears Boing Boing tee-shirts in his spare time, and rocks some snazzy duds on the floor of Congress) wrote a mock-serious request for dollar bills to be removed from circulation, pointing out that practically every objection that Manchin raised over Bitcoin applies equally well to paper money.

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Survivors of the Florida School for Boys return to the site of legal kidnapping, torture and murder of children


Mother Jones has published a heartbreaking story about the survivors of the Florida School for Boys; children who were, basically, kidnapped by southern cops and sent to a hellhole where backbreaking labor, torture, and murder were the order of the day. A state court has finally given the go-ahead to exhume the graves of the children who were killed and buried in anonymous, unmarked graves by their jailers. The survivors returned for a press-conference, but found themselves with almost no press to speak to.

Mike Mechanic writes, "Johnny Gaddy, 68, still doesn't understand how he landed at Florida's Dozier reform school. When he was 11, the police showed up at his front door. 'They told me the judge wanted to talk to me,' he recalls. 'I'll never forget it as long as I live. I was watching 'The Lone Ranger' on TV. My mama said, 'The officer going to take you down, the judge going to talk to you.' I said, 'Mama, why's he going to talk to me?' She said, 'Go ahead.' He took me to the police station, told me to get in a cell. I never saw a judge. I wasn't sentenced for anything as far as I know. I was handcuffed all the way to Marianna.'

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Tell Congress to legalize unlocking your phone


Sherwin from Public Knowledge writes, "The Copyright Office and the Library of Congress think that copyright law and the DMCA make it illegal to unlock your phone and take it to a new carrier. This is plainly ridiculous: a year ago, 114,000 Americans wrote the White House to tell them that, and the White House agreed. So did the FCC. And, eventually, so did the phone companies, who say they'll work to unlock most consumers' phones for them. But the law has stayed the same. It's still illegal for you, even if you've paid off your entire contract, to take it upon yourself to unlock your own phone."

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Save the Internet: Stop Fast Track

Evan from Fight for the Future writes, "Want to help save democracy? The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a super-secretive trade agreement that threatens everything you care about. It's been negotiated behind closed doors with ample input from over 600 corporate lobbyists -- but no access for journalists or the public. Sound bad? It gets worse. The corporate interest groups pushing for the TPP are the same folks that brought us SOPA, ACTA, and NAFTA."

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Silk Road prosecution: how does the US criminal justice system actually work?


Popehat's Ken White (a former federal prosecutor) uses the arrest of alleged Silk Road founder Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht to explain how the criminal justice system works, including the difference between a grand jury indictment and a criminal charge, and how to understand sentencing guidelines and "maximum possible sentences." It's a great way to use current events to deepen your understanding of important, complicated systems.

If you enjoy that, you should also check out Ed Felten's post that contrasts the Silk Road story with the shut down of Lavabit to explore how crypto does -- and doesn't -- change the criminal justice system.

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Middle school vice principal says students who made fun of him on social media guilty under CFAA, RICO

In Matot v. CH, et al, a middle school assistant principal named Adam Matot asked a court to find that two students who'd set up parody social media accounts mocking him had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and when the court laughed that out the door, asked the court to find that the students had violated the RICO Act and were engaged in organized crime. Thankfully, the court understood that this was raw sewage disguised as legal theory [PDF] ("Congress did not intend to target the misguided attempts at retribution by juvenile middle school students against an assistant principal in enacting RICO.") and found for the kids. Here's some trenchant analysis from Venkat Balasubramani:

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Top UK cop calls for end to war on drugs, legalization of Class A substances

Pity the British establishment. Like their American counterparts, they keep insisting -- against all evidence -- that they're winning the war on drugs, that drugs are an unimaginable scourge and far worse than tobacco or booze, and that the real problem is that we're not jailing enough addicts for long enough. Despite this, well-informed, respected people continue to publicly state that the war on drugs is a public health, economic, and legal disaster. Last time, it was UK Drugs Czar David Nutt, who called banning marijuana and psychedelics "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo" and wrote an amazing book about the awful state of drug policy.

Now, Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, one of the UK's most senior police officers, has published an editorial in the Observer comparing the war on drugs to the American alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and 1930s. He calls for drugs to be legalised, so that their sale will no longer fund criminal gangs, and for the NHS to distribute drugs -- including Schedule A drugs (cocaine, morphine, mescaline, LSD, oxycodone, psilocybe mushrooms, and many others).

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Public Resource kickstarting free, open publication of the world's safety standards

We've written often about Carl Malamud, the rogue archivist who has devoted his life to making the world's laws, standards, and publicly owned information into free, accessible, beautiful online documents. Now, I'm pleased to help him launch an ambitious, vital Kickstarter project aimed at raising at least $100,000 to turn the world's public safety codes into thoroughly linked, high-quality HTML documents (presently, many of the 28,040 public safety codes that Carl and public.resource.org have put online exist as scanned bitmaps that can't be searched or linked). The project involves a careful re-typing of all that scanned material and re-tracing of images and formatting them as vector-based SVG files.

Carl and his colleagues have fought in the courts for their right to publish the law that we, the people, are expected to follow. They have passed on lucrative careers in the private sector to devote themselves to public interest, public spirited work that makes the sourcecode for the world's governments available at our fingertips. The work they are doing unlocks untold billions in value -- from being able to ensure that your weekend DIY rewiring project meets code and won't burn down your house, all the way up to giving workers in deadly factories in Bangladesh access to the laws that are supposed to be honored in their workplaces.

$115 gets you a copy of their giant, amazing book of global safety standards, but there are interesting and awesome premiums at price-ranges from $10 (public acknowledgement on the Wall of Safety) to $475 (the Big Box of Propaganda!). I've put in my $115 -- not for the book, but as a way to thank Carl and co for the amazing work they do, and as a means of funding more of it. I hope you'll give, too.

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Adding some evidence to copyright's "evidence-free zone"

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Sarah Laskow looks at the empirical research on whether, and how, copyright works. From Christopher Buccafusco et al's experimental work on the motivations for creative work to Paul Heald's work on copyright term-extension, which showed that the negative impact of extending copyright on most works -- as their copyright terms extended, they simply disappeared. Bill Patry's amazing How to Fix Copyright and James Boyle's wonderful The Public Domain both make a case for copyright policy as an "evidence-free zone," and this is a timely reminder of just how true that is.

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Terms and Conditions May Apply: documentary about abusive license terms, privacy and surveillance

Cullen Hoback's documentary "Terms and Conditions May Apply" is a scathing look at the abusive, lengthy fine-print that dominates our online lives. If the YouTube trailer and the non-embeddable Guardian trailer are representative, this is an important and timely film. I do quibble with one point -- the movie doesn't distinguish between the stupid license agreements that are a function of a stupid law (for example, requiring LinkedIn users to license the stuff they give to LinkedIn so that LinkedIn can display it) and the ones that are pure greed and venality (AT&T making you agree to extrajudicial wiretapping).

Hoback has an op-ed in today's Guardian where he sets out his thesis with great clarity, and draws the important connection between Patriot Act surveillance and fine-print "agreements." Unfortunately, the video itself seems to be exclusively available through Itunes, which has some pretty dreadful license terms, and mandatory DRM to boot.

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EFF's guide to NSA reform bills

As the Snowden leaks (and the materials that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has compelled the DoJ to publish) show, the NSA is out of control. The laws that supposedly limit its activities are routinely flouted; the court that is supposed to oversee its activities is a rubber-stamp machine; and the supposed Congressional oversight of its activities are kept in the dark and denied any real authority.

Ten lawmakers in the Senate and the House have proposed eight bills to reform American surveillance laws. While it's nice that Congress has woken up to the dangers of all this spying, that's still a lot of legislation to keep track of! Thankfully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mark M. Jaycox, a policy analyst and legislative assistant, has compiled a cheat sheet with commentary on each of the bills, showing how they relate to one another. Can't tell the players without a scorecard!

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Timeline of Net Neutrality


Michael from Public Knowledge sez, "Today the DC Circuit Court is hearing Verizon's challenge to the FCC's net neutrality rules. It has been a while since net neutrality was in the news, so we created this interactive timeline to remind people of all of the twists and turns of net neutrality so far."

A Timeline of Net Neutrality (Thanks, Michael!)

Surveillance State Repeal Act

Alan sez, "A Representative from New Jersey, Rush Holt, has introduced the aptly named 'Surveillance State Repeal Act' with the goal of rolling back some of the worst excesses of the NSA regime. Holt correctly points out that these are spy agencies, not 'screw every company so people don't want to buy our software products' agencies. The chain of unintended consequences from the NSA's overreach is only beginning to be understood. Now if only we had a president who would sign such legislation..."

Which States guarantee your right to use a clothesline in the teeth of an uptight homeowner's association?

People in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, or Wisconsin are allowed to use clotheslines, even if their homeowners' association objects. In other States, Big Pecksniff has successfully lobbied to allow bans of environmentally friendly clotheslines, citing "unsightliness" and "strangulation hazard." Seriously.

According to the report, a Washington legislator considered a clothesline-protection bill after a bunch of high-school students proposed it, but dropped the idea when lobbyists "came to Olympia intent on crushing the idea." In addition to the argument that hanging underpants outdoors is unsightly and lowers property values, which seems like a reasonable argument, the associations also appear to contend that the lines "pose a strangulation hazard," which doesn't, really. I don't think children could reach them. I guess you could strangle yourself on one if you tried, but I'd like to see the statistics on clothesline strangulations, if any, before making a decision.

These things would definitely impair my ability to ride my motorcycle freely through my neighbors' backyards, which I see as my God-given right as an American, so there is that.

Washington May Join 19 Other "Right to Dry" States

(Image: Clothesline c. 1974, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from sskennel's photostream)

Bill to cut off funding to schools that ban brandishing a pastry in a gun-like manner


Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation that would cut off funding to schools whose zero tolerance policies lead them to punish children for brandishing pastries in the manner of a gun, for making gun-fingers and saying "bang" (or similar), for pointing pretend guns that are smaller than 2" in length, drawing a picture of a gun, making a gun out of legos or pencils or whatnot, or wearing a t-shirt "that supports Second Amendment rights."

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Act now to stop the UK Leveson press-regulations from applying to blogs and individuals online!

I've written here before that the impending UK press-regulation rules coming in as a result of the Leveson report will inadvertently end up treating bloggers and other everyday Internet users as though they were newspapers, exposing them to the threat of arbitration proceedings where they will have to pay the legal costs of people who want to silence them, and be subject to "exemplary damages" -- enormous statutory fines that grossly exceed any actual harm caused.

Now the Open Rights Group has started a campaign to warn party leaders about this in the three days we have left before Leveson becomes law. We need your help now, or bloggers and the open Internet will become collateral damage in the campaign to control Britain's awful tabloids.

Jim from ORG writes, "The Leveson regulations are being applied to UK websites -- in ways that could catch more or less anyone who publishes a blog. Ordinary bloggers could be threatened with exemplary damages and costs. If this happens, small website publishers will face terrible risks, or burdensome regulation -- and many may simply stop publishing."

Cameron, stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill (Thanks, Jim!)

(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am proud to volunteer on its advisory board)

Telcos lobby North Carolina to make community Internet illegal, then abandon the state to second-worst Internet in the country


Christopher sez,

A lot of people were frustrated in 2011 when the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by Time Warner Cable to revoke local authority to build community-owned networks. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause explains how Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink bought their bill.

In the two years since, the big companies have refused to invest in better networks and AT&T just announced layoffs for some call center workers. Meanwhile, the state is tied with Mississippi for last place in the US in the number of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband connection" according to the FCC. Perhaps these decisions should be made locally and not by corporate lobbyists?

The Empire Lobbies Back: Killing Broadband Competition in NC

Congressman calls for ban on 3D printed guns


Well, that was predictable: days after a 3D printed gun fired a few rounds, Rep Steve Israel has called for a ban on of Wiki Weapons. The congressman points out (correctly) that all-plastic 3D printed weapons would not be easy to spot using traditional methods, such as metal detectors.

However, what Rep Israel doesn't say is how he hopes to accomplish his goal. Firmware locks for 3D printers? A DMCA-like takedown regime for 3D shapefiles that can be used to generate plastic firearms (or parts of plastic firearms?). A mandate on 3D printer manufacturers to somehow magically make it impossible for their products to print out gun-parts?

Every one of those measures is a nonsense and worse: unworkable combinations of authoritarianism, censorship, and wishful thinking. Importantly, none of these would prevent people from manufacturing plastic guns. And all of these measures would grossly interfere with the lawful operation of 3D printers.

Rep. Steve Israel urges Congress to renew ‘Wiki Weapon’ ban

Authors get option to take their 35-year-old books back this Jan

This January sees the first cohorts of books whose authors can terminate their contracts with their publishers under a 1978 law that lets authors kill their old deals after 35 years. Given all the interesting stuff happening with backlists and ebooks, expect to see a lot of authors being courted by, say, Amazon with big fat advances for their profitable backlists if they yank their books and make them Amazon-exclusive. And this is going to happen every year from now on.

The law in question is Section 203 of the 1978 Copyright Act which allows authors to cut away any contract after 35 years. Congress put it in place to protect young artists who signed away future best sellers for a pittance.

“People have had 2013 circled on their calendar for a while,” said Andrew Bart, a copyright lawyer at Jenner & Block, in a phone interview...

The 1978 law also means a threat to the back list of titles that are a cash cow for many publishers. The threat is amplified as a result of new digital distribution options for authors that were never conceived when the law was passed — these new options mean authors have more leverage to walk away from their publishers altogether.

Publishers brace for authors to reclaim book rights in 2013 (via Making Light)

Darrell Issa proposes 2-year ban on Internet legislations, will appear in Reddit AMA today to discuss

Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) has pretty good credentials as a friend of the Internet, being one of the early Congresscritters to stand up to SOPA and PIPA (though there's the little matter of sponsoring a corporatist bill to limit open access for state-funded research). He's introduced a bill called the "The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA)" which proposes a two-year moratorium on Internet-related legislation. Presumably, this would give Internet freedom activists a couple years to prepare an offense game, rather than having to always be reacting to pro-surveillance and pro-censorship proposals from Hollywood and the DHS.

Issa's appearing in a Reddit AMA today at 1030h Eastern to discuss the bill.

The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA)

Steven Levy on the patent wars


Steven Levy's Wired magazine feature on the cancerous multiplication of patents has all the hallmarks of Levy's work: excellent, eminently readable, human-scale tech reporting that makes important issues comprehensible.

The rise of trolls came as a result of a court system that seemed to favor them every step of the way. The vagueness of the underlying patents, the ridiculous ease with which plaintiffs could file a suit, the high costs defendants faced, and the unthinkable consequences of losing—all created an environment in which trolls were routinely rewarded for filing frivolous suits. But by the late 2000s, courts and the legislature began slowly chipping away at these factors. In 2003 a company called MercExchange successfully sued eBay over the provenance of its Buy It Now button. When eBay appealed, MercExchange took the common step of asking for an injunction against the defendant, which would have barred eBay from using the disputed technology as long as the case remained open. This was intended to prevent firms from profiting unfairly from someone else’s invention. But all too often it further pressured companies to settle quickly so they could go back to business. Courts could be quick to grant such injunctions, but when the issue came before the Supreme Court in 2006, the justices determined that more care should be taken with that drastic step. This precedent made it harder for challengers to threaten a defendant’s entire business.

The Patent Problem

(Image: Brock Davis)

Australian Attorney General says that public scrutiny of spying bill would not be in the public interest

The Australian government is following the UK, US and Canadian governments' examples and establishing a secretive, no-holds-barred snooping regime. The "data retention" bill that's been prepared by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department requires ISPs to store all communications for two years, and grants wide access to those stored records, as well as allowing snooping on residents' social networking activities. What's more, the Attorney General has denied a Freedom of Information request for a look at the draft legislation from the Pirate Party, saying that public scrutiny of spying laws is "not in the public interest" and would be prejudicial to the decision-making process.

The Pirate Party, which is an activist and political organisation which lobbies to maintain and extend Australians’ digital rights and freedoms, issued a media release this morning noting that it had filed a Freedom of Information request with the department, seeking draft national security legislation which had been prepared in 2010 with respect to the current proposal. The draft legislation had been mentioned by the Sydney Morning Herald in an article in August.

However, the Attorney-General’s Department wrote back to the organisation this week, noting that the request had been denied. Logan Tudor, a legal officer with the department, wrote that he had decided that the draft legislation was exempted from being released because it contained material which was being deliberated on inside the department. “… the release of this material would, in my view, be contrary to the public interest,” Tudor wrote.

In the Pirate Party’s statement, its treasurer Rodney Serkowski described the response by the Attorney-General’s Department as “disgraceful and troubling”.

“They have completed draft legislation, prior to any transparent or consultative process, and are now denying access to that legislation, for reasons that are highly dubious and obviously politically motivated,” wrote Serkowski. “The Department is completely trashing any semblance or notion of transparency or participative democratic process of policy development.”

Govt censors pre-prepared data retention bills (via /.)

Report of working 3D printed gun


Popular Science's John Robb reports on a person who claims that his 3D-printed pistol can successfully fire live ammunition, though not with total reliability. The same person then went on to print a working AR-15 rifle (this is a substantial advance on last year's account of a 3D printable AR-15 automatic conversion kit. This event has raised something of a crisis for Thingiverse, the online repository for 3D printable meshes, which is contemplating whether it will host files that can be printed into "weapons."

An amateur gunsmith, operating under the handle of "HaveBlue" (incidentally, "Have Blue" is the codename that was used for the prototype stealth fighter that became the Lockheed F-117), announced recently in online forums that he had successfully printed a serviceable .22 caliber pistol.

Despite predictions of disaster, the pistol worked. It successfully fired 200 rounds in testing.

HaveBlue then decided to push the limits of what was possible and use his printer to make an AR-15 rifle. To do this, he downloaded plans for an AR-15 in the Solidworks file format from a site called CNCGunsmith.com. After some small modifications to the design, he fed about $30 of ABS plastic feedstock into his late-model Stratasys printer. The result was a functional AR-15 rifle. Early testing shows that it works, although it still has some minor feed and extraction problems to be worked out.

A Working Assault Rifle Made With a 3-D Printer

Why everyone in America should have access to public safety codes: "Show Me the Manual!"

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

One of the big issues we face in trying to make legal documents available to citizens at no charge is a feeling in Washington that "ordinary" people just aren't smart enough to read things like public safety codes. They think charging $850 for a 30-page elevator safety spec or $500 for a water hygiene document is OK because the audience is highly limited.

To counter the "dumb American" theory we hear in Washington, we spent some time out in the field producing a video featuring our local elected officials, the fire marshal, the building inspector, automotive experts, and then went to Code for America to talk to the fellows, Jennifer Pahlka, and Tim O'Reilly, and to MAKE headquarters to talk to Dale Dougherty. The result is a 20-minute video called "Show Me the Manual." I hope you enjoy it!

Show Me The Manual (Thanks, Carl!)

SOPATrack: an app to show connections between campaign donations and voting records

Smita sez,

While there are many resources out there to help citizens learn more about how much money gov't officials are accepting from special interest groups, I wanted to call out SopaTrack as it is the first of its kind that enables people to easily and quickly look up how elected officials are voting on a particular issue, enabling voters to be more educated and aware as they hit the ballots. For this broader issue and problem, for the first time, there is an app for that :)

In a nutshell, SopaTrack highlights how elected officials are voting on specific issues -- with a focus on how often they vote for or against the money. With the recent fight against SOPA demonstrating how potent and motivated the digital community is in holding elected officials accountable, and with CISPA quickly creeping onto the national stage, SopaTrack demonstrates the next way of digital activism and grass-roots campaigning. Originally, SopaTrack was created to help provide facts around the then one-sided discussion around SOPA that was quickly turned around by alarmed citizens like Randy Meech.

The data for this comes from Maplight and Sunlight Labs.

Sopatrack - Check how Congress Votes with the Money

Congress: pizza is a vegetable when it is fed to children


After intense lobbying from frozen pizza makers, and the potato and salt industry, Congress is poised to pass a spending bill whose riders establish that pizza is a vegetable and can be served in school cafeterias in substitute for actual vegetables.

We’re now facing a policy decision that has replaced science-backed common sense with the assertion that pizza ought to count as a vegetable when it’s served to schoolchildren.

(Side note: we’re not even talking about whole-grain pizza loaded with veggie toppings! We’re talking about frozen cheese pizza with tomato paste.)

If you want to take a look at the bill’s language, go for it, but the main takeaway is this: our Congressional leaders are on a fast track to overrule nutrition science in favor of political expediency. This is a dangerous precedent to set and not good public policy.

Pizza Counts as a Vegetable? How the Spending Bill in Congress Could Unravel Progress on School Nutrition (via Reddit)

(Image: Gryfes frozen pizzas - cooked, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from grongar's photostream)