Kaja Robinson is 53 and has a daughter about to go off to college, but she is still embroiled in bizarre, kafkaesque disputes over the $17,000 student loan she took out in the 1980s: for decades, she has had to set aside whole days to call debt collectors and try to get them to acknowledge the payments she's made -- for which she has paperwork, but which the lenders lost track of, causing her loans to balloon to $49,000.
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The American Law Institute is a group of 4,000 judges, law profs and lawyers that issues incredibly influential "restatements" of precedents and trends in law, which are then heavily relied upon by judges in future rulings; for seven years they have been working on a restatement of the law of consumer contracts (including terms of service) and now they're ready to publish.
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The IRS is shut down, along with much of the rest of the federal government, but unattended servers running on autopilot are sensing that no progress has been made on taxpayers' attempts to clarify disputed and overdue bills, and so they are initiating asset seizure proceedings.
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David Cerny (previously) created this wonderful kinetic sculpture of Prague's own Franz Kafka. Read the rest
Limor "ladyada" Fried (previously) is one of the great hardware hackers of her generation and is the co-founder of the pioneering open source hardware company Adafruit; she's also not allowed on Facebook anymore. Read the rest
In 1980, Lal Bihari, a man from the poor Indian state of Uttar Pradesh whose cousins had bribed a local official to have him declared dead in order to steal the one-fifth acre of land he owned, founded Mritak Sangh, the "association of the living dead," for similarly situated people who spend decades (and sometimes their entire lives) trying to resurrect themselves in the eyes of the national bureaucracy. Read the rest
Among those caught in the crossfire of last weekend's Muslim ban were lawful immigrants and permanent residents who were in the air when the rules changed; when these people landed, they were told that since they had arrived at the US in violation of the rules, they were being deported, and were banned from entering the USA for the next five years. Read the rest
Pteryxx writes, "Writer who has spent 30+ years in solitary has his own published writing censored from reaching him - and his unpublished manuscript was destroyed in moving him to a different facility. " Read the rest
Ewan writes, "In Septempber of last year, American YouTube musician Kina Grannis embarked on a tour of Asia. As usual, her social media presences detailed the process beautifully (I've interviewed Kina myself and have called her the gold standard among YouTube musicians on more than one occasion). Read the rest
In the 1980s, "controversial Republican art collector" Vincent Melzac donated 29 abstract paintings from the Washington Color School to the CIA, which now hang on the Agency's walls, but when asked for details about them, the CIA goes mum, claiming that the paintings are top secret. Read the rest
Stephen Harper's government has spent millions of tax dollars advertising the upcoming Canada Day celebration with the slogan "Strong, proud, free," which also happens to be awfully close to their election slogan. Read the rest
David Cameron wants social media companies to invent a terrorism-detection algorithm and send all the "bad guys" it detects to the police -- but this will fall prey to the well-known (to statisticians) "paradox of the false positive," producing tens of thousands of false leads that will drown the cops. Read the rest
There are no effective legal limits on when and to whom police can disclose unproven charges against you, 911 calls involving mental health incidents, and similar sensitive and prejudicial information; people have been denied employment, been turned back at the US border and suffered many other harms because Ontario cops send this stuff far and wide. Read the rest
The NSA is supposed to be America's offshore spy agency, forbidden from spying on Americans. But as an important article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Nadia Kayyali points out, the FBI, DEA and other US agencies have closely integrated the NSA into their own efforts, using the NSA's mass surveillance to gather intelligence on Americans -- as Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide discloses, the NSA isn't a stand-alone agency, it is part of an overarching surveillance state. Read the rest
Writing in the Guardian, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison recounts the events that led to his decision to shutter his company in August 2013. Lavabit provided secure, private email for over 400,000 people, including Edward Snowden, and the legal process by which the FBI sought to spy on its users is a terrifying mix of Orwell -- wanting to snoop on all 400,000 -- and Kafka -- not allowing Levison legal representation and prohibiting him from discussing the issue with anyone who might help him navigate the appropriate law.
Levison discloses more than I've yet seen about the nature of the feds' demands, but more important are the disclosures about the legal shenanigans he was subjected to. In fact, his description of the legal process is a kind of bas relief of the kind of legal services that those of us fighting the excesses of the global war on terror might need: a list of attorneys who are qualified to represent future Lavabits, warrant canaries for the services we rely upon; and, of course, substantive reform to the judicial processes laid out in the Patriot Act. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
Wade Hicks Jr. got a standby flight on an Air Force jet from Gulfport, Miss to visit his wife, a U.S. Navy lieutenant stationed in Japan. But when the jet set down in Hawai'i, he was not allowed to board it again. He had mysteriously been landed on the FBI's no-fly list, and was stranded in Hawai'i, unable to fly anywhere. Five days later, without comment, the FBI removed him from the list.
Those Feebs, huh?
From Audrey McAvoy in the AP:
"I said, `How am I supposed to get off this island and go see my wife or go home?' And her explanation was: `I don't know,'" Hicks said.
Hicks said he was shocked and thought they must have had the wrong person because he doesn't have a criminal record and recently passed an extensive background check in Mississippi to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
But the agent said his name, Social Security number and date of birth matched the person prohibited from flying, Hicks said. He wasn't told why and wondered whether his controversial views on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks played a role. Hicks said he disagrees with the 9/11 Commission's conclusions about the attacks.
Don't worry, they're on it. Oh, wait:
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A Homeland Security spokesman referred questions to the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the report. A spokesman for the center declined to comment on Hicks' case. The government doesn't disclose who's on the list or why someone might have been placed on it.