Law and Legal

A facial recognition ban is coming to the US, says an AI policy advisor

MIT Technology Review: “San Francisco and Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts, have outlawed certain uses of facial recognition technology, with Portland,  Oregon, potentially soon to follow.  That’s just the beginning, according to Mutale Nkonde, a Harvard fellow and AI policy advisor. That trend will soon spread to states, and there will eventually be a federal ban on some uses of the technology, she said at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference. Which uses will face a ban, it’s not yet clear: while some cities have banned use by police departments, Portland’s focus is restricting use by the private sector. And the debate is not confined to the US. In the UK, there is growing concern over the use of live facial recognition after it emerged that a property developer had been collecting images of people’s faces in an area of London for two years without informing them. We still don’t know how that data was used, Daragh Murray, a human rights lawyer at the University of Essex, said on stage. “There will be legal challenges, and there will eventually be regulation,” he predicted…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Why Americans Don’t Fully Trust Many Who Hold Positions of Power and Responsibility

Members of Congress and technology leaders are rated lower in empathy, transparency and ethics – “Public gives higher scores to military leaders, public school principals and police officers…”

“People invest their trust in institutions and those who have power for a variety of reasons. Researchers have found that people’s confidence in others and organizations can include their judgments about the competence, honesty and benevolence of the organizations or individuals they are assessing, as well as factors such as empathy, openness, integrity and accountability. These perceptions can be seen as building blocks of trust. Taking account of those insights, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that people offer different judgments about these building blocks of trust when it comes to eight groups of people who hold positions of power and responsibility in America: members of Congress, local elected officials, K-12 public school principals, journalists, military leaders, police officers, leaders of technology companies and religious leaders…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Be Prepared: Find the ER You Want to Go to Before an Emergency Happens

ProPublica: “To be prepared in the event of an emergency, you can use our newly updated ER Inspector (formerly called ER Wait Watcher) to help you evaluate the emergency rooms near you. Using data from the federal government, our interactive database lets you compare ERs on both efficiency measures, including how long patients typically spend in the ER before being sent home, and quality measures, such as how many violations related to ER care a hospital has had…” [h/t Pete Weiss]

Categories: Law and Legal

3 Billion North American Birds Have Vanished: ‘It’s Just Staggering’

The New York Times – “The number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970, scientists reported on Thursday. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago. The analysis, published in the journal Science, [thank you Barclay] is the most exhaustive and ambitious attempt yet to learn what is happening to avian populations. The results have shocked researchers and conservation organizations. In a statement on Thursday, David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, called the findings “a full-blown crisis.” Experts have long known that some bird species have become vulnerable to extinction. But the new study, based on a broad survey of more than 500 species, reveals steep losses even among such traditionally abundant birds as robins and sparrows…”

See also: NYT Opinion, The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All – “The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being…” Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Peter P. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

Categories: Law and Legal

Facebook plans launch of its own “Supreme Court” for handling takedown appeals

ars technica – Surely this initiative will create meaningful change…”Facebook, which has managed to transcend geographic borders to draw in a population equal to roughly a third of all human life on Earth, has made its final charter for a “Supreme Court” of Facebook public. The company pledges to launch this initiative by November of next year. The new Oversight Board will have five key powers, according to a charter (PDF) Facebook released yesterday. It can “request that Facebook provide information” it needs in a timely manner; it can make interpretations of Facebook standards and guidelines “in light of Facebook’s articulated values”; and it can instruct the company to allow or remove content, to uphold or reverse a decision leading to content being permitted or removed, and to issue “prompt, written explanations of the board’s decisions.” “If someone disagrees with a decision we’ve made, they can appeal to us first, and soon they will be able to further appeal this to the independent board,” company CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a letter (PDF). “As an independent organization, we hope it gives people confidence that their views will be heard and that Facebook doesn’t have the ultimate power over their expression.”

The board will launch with at least 11 members and should eventually get up to 40. The entity will contract its services to Facebook. Participants will serve a maximum of three three-year terms each and will be paid for their time. Their decisions will “be made publicly available and archived in a database of case decisions,” with details subject to certain data or privacy restrictions. Facebook can also contact the board for an “automatic and expedited review” in exceptional circumstances, “when content could result in urgent real world consequences,” such as, for example, if a mass-murderer is livestreaming his crimes…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Biglaw Firm Announces Nationwide Buyout Program

Above the Law – Which major firm wants to trim its payroll, and how generous are the buyouts being offered? – “We recently received word that Morgan Lewis & Bockius will be offering voluntary buyout packages for all of its legal secretaries, across the country. Sources say that the firm’s separation package is extremely generous, and that those who take the deal will receive 2 weeks’ salary for each year of service, up to 52 weeks’ pay. Compared to the six-month cap we’ve seen at many Biglaw firms, longtime legal secretaries at Morgan Lewis could be walking away with a huge payday should they choose to leave. We reached out to MLB for confirmation, and a spokesperson shared this statement:

As we continue to focus on technology innovation and cost effective solutions for our clients, as well as the practice needs of our lawyers, we have decided to offer our U.S.-based legal secretaries a voluntary separation opportunity. This is a purely voluntary offering, and we have no current plans for a group involuntary separation program, regardless of the level of participation in the voluntary offering…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Border fence construction could destroy archaeological sites, National Park Service finds

Washington Post : “Bulldozers and excavators rushing to install President Trump’s border barrier could damage or destroy up to 22 archaeological sites within Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in coming months, according to an internal National Park Service report obtained by The Washington Post. The administration’s plan to convert an existing five-foot-high vehicle barrier into a 30-foot steel edifice could pose irreparable harm to unexcavated remnants of ancient Sonoran Desert peoples. Experts identified these risks as U.S. Customs and Border Protection seeks to fast-track the construction to meet Trump’s campaign pledge of completing 500 miles of barrier by next year’s election. Unlike concerns about the barrier project that have come from private landowners, churches, communities and advocacy groups, these new warnings about the potential destruction of historic sites come from within the government itself…”

Read the full National Park Service report

Categories: Law and Legal

How to make a book last for millennia

MIT News – Study of Dead Sea Scroll sheds light on a lost ancient parchment-making technology. “First discovered in 1947 by Bedouin shepherds looking for a lost sheep, the ancient Hebrew texts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the most well-preserved ancient written materials ever found. Now, a study by researchers at MIT and elsewhere elucidates a unique ancient technology for parchment making and provides new insights into possible methods to better preserve these precious historical documents.The study focused on one scroll in particular, known as the Temple Scroll, among the roughly 900 full or partial scrolls found in the years since that first discovery. The scrolls were found in jars hidden in 11 caves on the steep hillsides just north of the Dead Sea, in the region around the ancient settlement of Qumran, which was destroyed by the Romans about 2,000 years ago. The Temple Scroll is one of the largest (almost 25 feet long) and best-preserved of all the scrolls, even though its material is the thinnest of all of them (one-tenth of a millimeter, or roughly 1/250 of an inch thick). It also has the clearest, whitest writing surface of all the scrolls. These properties led Admir Masic, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Department of Materials Science and Engineering faculty fellow in archaeological materials, and his collaborators to wonder how the parchment was made. The results of that study, carried out with former doctoral student Roman Schuetz (now at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science), MIT graduate student Janille Maragh, James Weaver from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, and Ira Rabin from the Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing and Hamburg University in Germany, were published today in the journal Science Advances [full text no paywall]. They found that the parchment was processed in an unusual way, using a mixture of salts found in evaporites — the material left from the evaporation of brines — but one that was different from the typical composition found on other parchments…”

Categories: Law and Legal

How to erase your personal information from the internet (it’s not impossible!)

Vox – Your shopping habits, your family members’ names, even your salary is out there for anyone to see. But you can take back control. “…Before you can get a handle on digital privacy, you first have to understand what is out there. Start by Googling yourself with your browser in private or “incognito” mode — which prevents some tracking and autofilling from your own internet use — and look for social media profiles and data brokers. (Google and its popular Chrome browser hold a wealth of data, too.) This will allow you to see what a stranger would find if they began looking for your information online. For most of us, social media profiles populate the first few search results on Google. Next, find the data brokers. These companies scrape information from public records and compile it into a database. Then, as the name might suggest, they sell it. (This is technically legal, though shady.) Oftentimes, they’ll have things like your birthday, phone number, home address, salary, as well as names of neighbors and family members. This information can be used to hack into other online accounts by giving people hints on how you might answer security questions. Popular brokers include Spokeo, Intelius, BeenVerified, Whitepages, MyLife, and Radaris, but you can find many others on privacy company and reputation management firm Abine’s free library. This audit won’t be comprehensive. Rob Shavell, Abine’s chief executive, says that when his company was founded in 2012, employees removed about 1,000 pieces of information per customer over a two-year period. Today, that number has reached 1,900. This amount of information is too much for the average person to comprehend or completely erase — but you can certainly make it harder for others to find by getting it off common websites…”

Categories: Law and Legal

NOAA Climate Change Web Portal

“How climate changes in response to increases in man-made greenhouse gases is one of the foremost questions for the scientific community, policy makers and the general public. A key approach for examining climate, especially how it will change in the future, uses complex computer models of the climate system that include atmosphere, ocean, sea ice and land components. Some models also include additional aspects of the earth system, including chemistry and biology. The Climate Change Portal is a web interface developed by the NOAA ESRL Physical Sciences Division to access and display the immense volumes of climate and earth system model output that informed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). Users can access two components of the portal that focus on: Land and Rivers; Oceans and Marine Ecosystems; North West Atlantic Dynamical Downscaling.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Gov.UK – Get information about a company

Gov.UK – Get information about a company – You can get some details about a company for free, including:

  • company information, for example registered address and date of incorporation
  • current and resigned officers
  • document images
  • mortgage charge data
  • previous company names
  • insolvency information
Categories: Law and Legal

WIPO Global Brand Database

“…The WIPO IP Portal is a new WIPO initiative aimed at harmonizing our services and simplifying your work. It is a one-stop shop for our full range of online intellectual property (IP) services. The underlying business processes will stay the same, so the way you conduct your interactions with WIPO will not change…Perform a trademark search by text or image in brand data from multiple national and international sources, including trademarks, appellations of origin and official emblems.” [h/t bizrefdesk]

Categories: Law and Legal

How juries are fooled by statistics

TED Talk – “Oxford mathematician Peter Donnelly reveals the common mistakes humans make in interpreting statistics — and the devastating impact these errors can have on the outcome of criminal trials.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Climate Change Could Erase Human History. These Archivists Are Trying to Save It

Motherboard – Climate change making the word hotter, more humid, and more stormy—all conditions that put sensitive paper archives at risk. This problem is forcing us to ask, which histories will we choose to remember?

“This problem prompted archivists Eira Tansey, Ben Goldman, and Whitney Ray to complete the Repository Data Project, a growing database that currently catalogs more than 25,000 archives in the United States, including major university libraries, small museums, corporate archives, and art facilities. The reason for making this database, Tansey told Motherboard, is to figure out which facilities are at risk of sea level rise and worsened storm surges over the next 100 years. If we know what’s at risk, theoretically, we can plan and prepare for the worst. Or alternatively, we can at least know which facilities need help when the next disaster strikes. The study brought up an uncomfortable question. What happens if we abandon culturally rich areas? What will happen to the archives in these areas, to the history stored in them? “As there will be inevitable migration and abandonment of certain areas, the only traces that will be left of some places is in the archives,” Tansey said. “And so, we have a large amount of responsibility for what it looks like to do our work in the context of climate change.” But of course, the Repository Data Project isn’t just about archivists taking cultural stock. The project, at its core, forces us to ask difficult questions. In a changing world, one where climate change will change the way coastlines look and likely the way governments function in upcoming decades, who and what will we choose to remember?…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Here’s Who Owns the Most Land in America

Bloomberg – The 100 largest private landowners in the U.S. own 40 million acres—an area the size of Florida. “The top 100 private landowners have property in 39 states for any number of purposes—investment, conservation, tax benefits or just the bragging rights that come with owning big pieces of America. [The map in this article] shows approximately 35 million acres of their holdings, or 87% of the total, across 31 states, based on a Bloomberg analysis of local property records and data from Pitney Bowes and Acre Value…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Poll: Two-thirds of Americans want to break up companies like Amazon and Google

Vox: “Americans are pretty on board with breaking up Big Tech, especially if it means companies such as Amazon and Google stop showing them search results they make money off of first. Nearly two-thirds of Americans would support breaking up tech firms by undoing recent mergers, such as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, if it means ensuring more competition in the future. Another tech company issue appears to strike a chord with people even more: Almost seven in 10 Americans say it’s a good idea to break up big tech companies when the content they’re showing people is ranked depending on whether the company is making money off of it or not. Basically, when you search for a suitcase to buy on Amazon, it might show you options from its proprietary AmazonBasics line instead of from a company it doesn’t own. That’s according to polling from progressive think tank Data for Progress in partnership with YouGov Blue shared exclusively with Vox. And the results hold across most age groups, education levels, demographics, and political ideologies…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

The New York Times – Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?  “…The Hunters Point Community Library is one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century… Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century. It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper? Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water. On dark days and evenings, its enormous, eccentric windows will act like inviting beacons of light, attracting eyes and feet. They carve whimsical jigsaw puzzle pieces out of a cool, silvered-concrete facade. That facade is a load-bearing structure, allowing the library’s liberated interior to spiral some 60 feet upward and outward from a shallow canyon-like lobby, unfolding in elevation as a sequence of tiered desks, book stacks and social spaces. The inside is mostly warm bamboo, with spectacular views…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Immigration Court’s Active Backlog Surpasses One Million

Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse: “The Immigration Court’s active backlog of cases just passed the million case mark. The latest case-by-case court records through the end of August 2019 show the court’s active case backlog was 1,007,155. If the additional 322,535 cases which the court says are pending but have not been placed on the active caseload rolls are added, then the backlog now tops 1.3 million. During the first eleven months of FY 2019, court records reveal a total of 384,977 new cases reached the court. If the pace of filings continues through the final month of this fiscal year, FY 2019 will also mark a new filing record. While much in the news, new cases where individuals have been required to “Remain in Mexico” during their court processing currently make up just under 10 percent (9.9%) of these new filings. These MPP cases comprise an even smaller share – only 3.3 percent — of the court’s active backlog. As of the end of August, a total of 38,291 MPP cases had reached the court, of which 33,564 were still pending. For the full report – including links to online query tools where readers can drill into countless additional details covering all 4.5 million court filings since FY 2001, the recent MPP component of these filings, and the court’s over 1 million active case backlog – go to

Categories: Law and Legal

Do Elected and Appointed Judges Write Opinions Differently?

Harvard Library Innovation Lab – “Unlike anywhere else in the world, most judges in the United States today are elected. But it hasn’t always been this way. Over the past two centuries, the American states have taken a variety of different paths, alternating through a variety of elective and appointive methods. Opponents of judicial elections charge that these institutions detract from judicial independence, harm the legitimacy of the judiciary, and put unqualified jurists on the bench; those who support judicial elections counter that, by publicly involving the American people in the process of judicial selection, judicial elections can enhance judicial legitimacy. To say this has been an intense debate of academic, political, and popular interest is an understatement…”

Categories: Law and Legal


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