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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..." Cory 10

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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