Law and Legal

Opinion – Data Brokers Are a Threat to Democracy

Wired – “Unless the federal government steps up, the unchecked middlemen of surveillance capitalism will continue to harm our civil rights and national security…Enter the data brokerage industry, the multibillion dollar economy of selling consumers’ and citizens’ intimate details. Much of the privacy discourse has rightly pointed fingers at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, which collect users’ information directly. But a far broader ecosystem of buying up, licensing, selling, and sharing data exists around those platforms. Data brokerage firms are middlemen of surveillance capitalism—purchasing, aggregating, and repackaging data from a variety of other companies, all with the aim of selling or further distributing it. Data brokerage is a threat to democracy. Without robust national privacy safeguards, entire databases of citizen information are ready for purchase, whether to predatory loan companies, law enforcement agencies, or even malicious foreign actors. Federal privacy bills that don’t give sufficient attention to data brokerage will therefore fail to tackle an enormous portion of the data surveillance economy, and will leave civil rights, national security, and public-private boundaries vulnerable in the process. Large data brokers—like Acxiom, CoreLogic, and Epsilon—tout the detail of their data on millions or even billions of people. CoreLogic, for instance, advertises its real estate and property information on 99.9 percent of the US population. Acxiom promotes 11,000-plus “data attributes,” from auto loan information to travel preferences, on 2.5 billion people (all to help brands connect with people “ethically,” it adds). This level of data collection and aggregation enables remarkably specific profiling…”

Categories: Law and Legal

How to keep your retirement investments gun-free

Mashable: “Despite a year-long pandemic in which Americans were asked to stay indoors, gun violence is on the rise in the United States. In 2020, almost 20,000 Americans died by gun violence, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (this number doesn’t include self-inflicted gun violence). The organization has already reported more than a hundred mass shootings in 2021with seven of them happening in the span of just seven days, CNN reports.  Activists and legislators are pushing for stronger gun legislation, and advocates have called for additional solutions to address gun violence through mental health resources and decreased police presence in neighborhoods. But you might not know of another way you can make an impact: your retirement investments. Stock holdings in gun companies are extremely common, and, if you’re not looking closely, might slip into your retirement portfolios. Moving your money away from these holdings can make a difference in the fight to change the way guns are purchased and distributed in this country.  Andrew Behar is the CEO of the nonprofit As You Sow, a watchdog and investor advocacy group that provides resources for those interested in more socially responsible investing. As You Sow’s Invest Your Values tool helps investors rate and reference where their money is going, and covers a wide range of topics: environmentally-friendly investing, gender equality funds, prison-free funds, and gun and other weapon-free funds…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Better than the best password: How to use 2FA to improve your security

ZDNET – “You are one data breach away from having your entire online life turned upside down. The problem is passwords, which are hopelessly fragile ways to secure valuable resources. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the belief that creating a longer, more complex, harder-to-guess password will somehow make you safer online. You can create a password that is so long and complex it takes you five minutes to type, and it will do nothing to protect you if the service where you use that password stores it improperly and then has their server breached. It regularly happens. Everyone needs a password manager. It’s the only way to maintain unique, hard-to-guess credentials for every secure site you and your team access daily. And even with reasonable policies in place (complexity, changed regularly, not reused), people are still the weakest link in the security chain. Social engineering can convince even intelligent people to enter their credentials on a phishing site or give them up over the phone. The solution is two-factor authentication, or 2FA. (Some services, being sticklers for detail, call it multi-factor authentication or two-step verification, but 2FA is the most widely used term, so that’s the nomenclature I’ve chosen to use here.) A 2019 report from Microsoft concluded that 2FA works, blocking 99.9% of automated attacks. If a service provider supports multi-factor authentication, Microsoft recommends using it, even if it’s as simple as SMS-based one-time passwords. A separate 2019 report from Google offered similar conclusions…

Categories: Law and Legal

Online platforms: Economic and societal effects

European Parliamentary Research Service Report – Online platforms: Economic and societal effects: “Online platforms such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook play an increasingly central role in the economy and society. They operate as digital intermediaries across interconnected sectors and markets subject to network effects. These firms have grown to an unprecedented scale, propelled by data-driven business models. Online platforms have a massive impact on individual users and businesses, and are recasting the relationships between customers, advertisers, workers and employers. This has triggered a public debate on online platforms’ economic dominance and patterns of pervasive data collection. This study presents an analytical synthesis of the literature, to assess the effects of online platforms on the economy and society. The report provides evidence of positive impact, and documents a set of important issues not fully addressed by existing European Union regulation and enforcement. The consensus is that there is a need to strengthen the current law enforcement and regulation of the platform economy. This report welcomes the proposed digital markets and digital services acts, and offers a series of policy options for competition and innovation, working conditions and labour markets, consumer and societal risks, and environmental sustainability…”

Categories: Law and Legal

The Environmental Protection Agency is cleaning up its image

The Verge – After years of turmoil, the EPA looks for a fresh start: “…Even though Trump’s term is over, the “brain drain” that the EPA has suffered for years could still pose real harm to the environment and people the agency is tasked with protecting. And after years of tumult at the agency, potential recruits might not see the well-oiled government machine Chen expected to join. But under new leadership, the agency is attempting to rebrand and rebuild. It’s selling itself as a workplace with a revitalized mission. It’s tackling perhaps the most existential environmental threat the agency has ever faced: climate change. The agency’s leadership has also homed in on environmental justice as a new focus for the agency, a quest to end the unequal burden of pollution on marginalized communities. “You’re going to hit the ground running in this startup, EPA,” says Betsy Southerland, former director of science and technology at the EPA Office of Water. “And you’re either going to be assigned to do damage repair, from all the damage the Trump administration did, or you’re going to be assigned brand-new initiatives on climate change and environmental justice. Now how exciting is that?”…

Categories: Law and Legal

How to Use Tech to Prepare for Travel in a Pandemic

The New York Times – Even as vaccines make it safer to travel, planning a trip is becoming increasingly complicated…Yet some of us will travel this year, whether it’s for work or for emergency reasons. So here’s a special pandemic edition of how to use tech to prepare for your trip.”

Categories: Law and Legal

One in Five Still Shun Vaccine

“About 1 in 5 American adults remain unwilling to get the Covid vaccine, even as more people are getting the shot. The Monmouth University Poll also finds that President Joe Biden continues to get positive job ratings overall as well as high marks for his handling of the pandemic. Nearly half of the public feels the country is heading in the right direction, which is an eight-year high in Monmouth’s national polling. A rapid increase in Covid vaccinations over past month has not made much of a dent in the number of Americans who remain opposed to getting the shot. Currently, 21% of Americans claim they will never get the vaccine if they can avoid it, which is down a statistically insignificant 3 points from prior polls (24% in both January and March). However, the number who say they want to let other people get it first to see how it goes before getting it themselves has dropped – from 21% in March to 12% now. [Note: Interviewing for this poll was completed before federal authorities called for a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.]..”

Categories: Law and Legal

Poverty in the United States in 2019

CRS – Poverty in the United States in 2019, April 13, 2021: “Calendar year 2019 was the last full year before the start of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and the last year of the economic expansion since the Great Recession. The strength of the U.S. economy in 2019 was reflected in low poverty rates—the percentage of the population living in poverty (economic hardship characterized by low income)—for the nation and by demographic group. While the 2019 poverty estimates do not reflect people’s incomes during the pandemic, the pandemic affected survey data collection for that year, which took place February-April 2020. Instead of a combination of in-person interviews and telephone interviews, only telephone interviews were conducted due to social distancing restrictions. That affected the estimates because some respondents were harder to reach by phone than in person, less likely to respond to a telephone interview than an in-person interview, or less likely to respond for other reasons. The increased rate of non response affected persons with low incomes to a greater degree than persons with high incomes. That means that while poverty in 2019 was at or close to a historic low, it was likely not as low as the official estimates suggest..”

Categories: Law and Legal

The presence of Superfund sites as a determinant of life expectancy in the United States

Kiaghadi, A., Rifai, H.S. & Dawson, C.N. The presence of Superfund sites as a determinant of life expectancy in the United States. Nat Commun 12, 1947 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22249-2: “Superfund sites could affect life expectancy (LE) via increasing the likelihood of exposure to toxic chemicals. Here, we assess to what extent such presence could alter the LE independently and in the context of sociodemographic determinants. A nationwide geocoded statistical modeling at the census tract level was undertaken to estimate the magnitude of impact. Results showed a significant difference in LE among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites. The presence of a Superfund site could cause a decrease of −0.186 ± 0.027 years in LE. This adverse effect could be as high as −1.22 years in tracts with Superfund sites and high sociodemographic disadvantage. Specific characteristics of Superfund sites such as being prone to flooding and the absence of a cleanup strategy could amplify the adverse effect. Furthermore, the presence of Superfund sites amplifies the negative influence of sociodemographic factors at lower LEs…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Domestic Terrorism Cases on the Rise in February Following January 6 Breach of Capitol

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse  – “In February 2021, according to federal internal case-by-case records on prosecutions obtained after successful court litigation by TRAC, there were 57 prosecutions of domestic terrorism filed in the federal district courts. The majority of these prosecutions—54—were filed in the District of Columbia following the storming of the Capitol on January 6. With a total of 144 charges of domestic terrorism filed in just the first five months of FY 2021, this year continues the sharp uptick in domestic terrorism cases that began last year when a record high of 183 were filed across the country. While concern about domestic terrorism has heightened recently, in fact government internal case-by-case records indicate that except for three years following the attack on the twin towers, domestic terrorism prosecutions have outpaced those for international terrorism since federal prosecutors began systematically tracking terrorism cases twenty-five years ago. Over this span of time there have been over a thousand more domestic terrorism prosecutions than those for international terrorism. Prosecutions of international terrorism in the latest full fiscal year were among the lowest since before 9/11.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community

Office of the Director of National Intelligence: “This annual report, April 2021 of worldwide threats to the national security of the United States responds to Section 617 of the FY21 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 116-260). This report reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community (IC), which is committed every day to providing the nuanced, independent, and unvarnished intelligence that policymakers, warfighters, and domestic law enforcement personnel need to protect American lives and America’s interests anywhere in the world.This assessment focuses on the most direct, serious threats to the United States during the next year. The order of the topics presented in this assessment does not necessarily indicate their relative importance or the magnitude of the threats in the view of the IC. All require a robust intelligence response, including those where a near-term focus may help head off greater threats in the future, such as climate change and environmental degradation. As required by the law, this report will be provided to the congressional intelligence committees as well as the committees on the Armed Services of the House of Representatives and the Senate.Information available as of 9 April 2021 was used in the preparation of this assessment…”

Categories: Law and Legal

How to zoom in on small details in PowerPoint

Tech Republic – Use this zooming effect to draw attention to a small or important detail in your next PowerPoint presentation. “Some Microsoft PowerPoint slides have a lot going on. There’s might be a lot of small details or some important content, and editing that content isn’t practical. When this happens, you can create a zoom shape and use the grow animation to zoom in on the detail or content you’re talking about. Doing so allows you to retain the big picture, both visually and conceptually, while focusing on the heart of the discussion. In this article, we’ll create a zoom effect by animating a special shape, which I’ll call the zoom shape..”

Categories: Law and Legal

How to record separate audio for each person in a Zoom call

Tech Republic – “Recording a Zoom meeting can be helpful for lots of reasons, and creating separate audio files for each participant can make post-meeting editing much easier than trying to parse one big file. Let’s say you’re in a Zoom meeting. Someone says something profound or important about the topic at hand, but the moment passes without any record of what was said. Hopefully someone wrote it down, but if not, there could be an important piece of institutional knowledge lost the moment it was uttered.  Luckily, Zoom has the option to record meetings, both in audio and video format. There are a lot of reasons why someone would want to do so—creating a permanent record, easing the work of whoever is taking meeting minutes, giving participants or other employees the chance to watch it at another time or any number of additional cases…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Book Review of Pierre Schlag and Amy J. Griffin, How to do Things with Legal Doctrine

Little, Laura E., A Taxonomy of Taxonomies (Book Review of Pierre Schlag and Amy J. Griffin, How to do Things with Legal Doctrine (2020)). __ Journal of Legal Education __ (2021 Forthcoming), Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-14, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3795406

“This book review celebrates a new book’s adroit categorization of various legal analysis techniques. In doing so, the book review summarizes how authors Schlag and Griffin present an intriguing combination of jurisprudence and practical advice. Although the review makes light of the authors’ tendency to complicate and to create filigreed categories (as fair-minded lawyers tend to do), the book review largely praises the book’s usefulness for law professors, legal practitioners (and — to a lesser extent – law students) in opening minds to the various techniques for spinning and deploying legal doctrine. For those interested in understanding, describing, and channeling creativity, the review lays out the book’s description of important legal analytical techniques, such as using contrasting frame-shifts on an issue, segmenting or combining elements of a disputed transaction, demonstrating how varying levels of abstraction from specific to general can affect a result, and the like. The review translates the book’s references to classic jurisprudential texts, ultimately praising HOW TO DO THINGS WITH LEGAL DOCTRINE for accomplishing so much in one mercifully short and elegant volume.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Scope of CDC Authority Under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act

CRS Report – Scope of CDC Authority Under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), April 13, 2021: “Since the beginning of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, all levels of government have grappled with how to stem the spread of the disease. Until the recent authorization of several COVID-19 vaccines, community mitigation activities(such as social distancing and use of face covering), combined with traditional tools of communicable disease control(such as testing, contact tracing, quarantine,and isolation)—have been the primary strategies used to reduce or prevent COVID-19 transmission. Under the United States’ federalist system, states and the federal government share regulatory authority over public health matters, with states traditionally exercising the bulk of authority in this area.Consistent with this framework, states and localities have been at the leading edge of the United States’ pandemic response in many respects. For instance, to varying degrees, they issued mandates aimed at promoting the relevant public health measures, including temporary stay-at-home orders, restrictions on public gatherings, requirements to wear face coverings under specified circumstances, and quarantine requirements for out-of-state travelers. Because adherence to some of these measures—particularly ones that place restrictions on business operations—resulted in income losses for their residents and businesses, states have also issued orders aimed at alleviating the pandemic’s associated economic impact. For example, many states temporarily halted evictions or provided other housing support to assist households that have experienced pandemic-related income losses that rendered them unable to pay rent. The federal government’s pandemic response to date includes providing support to states through guidance, technical assistance, and funding, as well as providing certain direct assistance to private entities and individuals, including through several pandemic relief legislations…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Capitol Police Told to Hold Back on Riot Response on Jan. 6

The New York Times – “The Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the Jan. 6 attack than were previously known, including the potential for violence in which “Congress itself is the target.” But officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob, according to a scathing new report – Review of the Events Surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, Takeover of the U.S. Capitol, by the agency’s internal investigator. In a 104-page document, the inspector general, Michael A. Bolton, criticized the way the Capitol Police prepared for and responded to the mob violence on Jan. 6. The report was reviewed by The New York Times and will be the subject of a Capitol Hill hearing on Thursday. Mr. Bolton found that the agency’s leaders failed to adequately prepare despite explicit warnings that pro-Trump extremists posed a threat to law enforcement and civilians and that the police used defective protective equipment. He also found that the leaders ordered their Civil Disturbance Unit to refrain from using its most powerful crowd-control tools — like stun grenades — to put down the onslaught. The report offers the most devastating account to date of the lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries…”

Categories: Law and Legal

What Plants Can Teach Us About Politics

Outside – “In his new book, ‘The Nation of Plants,’ botanist Stefano Mancuso suggests that human democracies may have something to learn from the world’s trees and flowers..

By perceiving plants as being much closer to the inorganic world than to the fullness of life, we commit a fundamental error of perspective, which could cost us dearly,” warns the Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso in his latest book, The Nation of Plants. Mancuso is director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology at the University of Florence and a leader in the emerging study of what he calls plant intelligence. Some biologists say that since plants lack neurons, plant neurobiology is an oxymoron. They dismiss the field as much ado about nothing—like the famous but ultimately debunked 1973 work The Secret Life of Plantswhich had everyone playing Mozart for their ferns but is now seen as a confused and wishful attempt to endow plants with a sentience they just don’t have.

Yet research by Mancuso and others has shown that plants communicate, perceive, and respond to each other and their environment, and can even exhibit something like memory. Plants may lack brains, but, as Mancuso has argued in popular books like Brilliant Green (coauthored with journalist Alessandra Viola in 2015), they’re in no way inferior in biological sophistication or evolutionary ingenuity to animals. In The Nation of Plants, Mancuso half-seriously suggests that they may even be smarter than humans when it comes to the way they live together…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Revealed: the Facebook loophole that lets world leaders deceive and harass their citizens

Julia Carrie Wong – A Guardian investigation exposes the breadth of state-backed manipulation of the platform. “Facebook has repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing. The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more than 30 cases across 25 countries of politically manipulative behavior that was proactively detected by company staff. The investigation shows how Facebook has allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small and non-western countries in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect the US and other wealthy countries. The company acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico, and much of Latin America. “There is a lot of harm being done on Facebook that is not being responded to because it is not considered enough of a PR risk to Facebook,” said Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist at Facebook who worked within the company’s “integrity” organization to combat inauthentic behavior. “The cost isn’t borne by Facebook. It’s borne by the broader world as a whole.” Facebook pledged to combat state-backed political manipulation of its platform after the historic fiasco of the 2016 US election, when Russian agents used inauthentic Facebook accounts to deceive and divide American voters. But the company has repeatedly failed to take timely action when presented with evidence of rampant manipulation and abuse of its tools by political leaders around the world…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Explore Congressional Reactions to Historic Events on Congress.gov

In Custodia Legis: “The Congress.gov team has received feedback requesting that we add content from prior congresses to the Congressional Record and public law text collections. We are pleased to announce that we have made substantial progress on this request. The Bound Congressional Record collection now goes back to the 82nd Congress (1951-1953) and the full text of public laws now dates back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1975). This content is not only useful for those who need the full text of public laws and debates of Congress from these periods; it also allows you to pick a historic event and research the congressional reactions to it. For example, you might want to research the congressional reaction to the launch of the first satellite into space in 1957, the Soviet satellite known as Sputnik…”

Categories: Law and Legal

FCC Encourages Public to Use Its Speed Test App

FCC: “In today’s world, it is critical that families and businesses across the country have access to broadband. As work, education, healthcare, and many other activities have moved online, broadband is no longer nice to have. It’s need to have for everyone. In order to better determine where high speed internet services are currently unavailable, we need precise, accurate, and up-to-date broadband mapping data. The FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force is developing the necessary tools to gather this information. This is a complex, data-driven effort that will involve building new systems, process, and supporting materials. These new tools will enable the FCC to create maps that display fixed broadband availability for individual locations and mobile broadband availability with more accuracy. The program will also provide a way for consumers, as well as Tribal, state, and local governments, to challenge and improve the accuracy of the maps by sharing data with the FCC. More accurate maps will enable broadband funding programs to target support for broadband services to the areas most in need…You can test the performance of your mobile and in-home broadband networks by downloading the FCC’s Speed Test Application on your mobile device(s). In addition to showing your network performance test results, the app also provides the test results to the FCC as part of our Measuring Broadband America Program. The program gathers crowdsourced data on broadband network performance across the United States…”

Categories: Law and Legal

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