Law and Legal

The FOIA Charade: A Brief Case Study

Kelley Green Law Blog , Joseph Green, July 20, 2019: “With the release last month of proposed new EPA regulations on how the agency intends to handle responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), critics have raised concerns about provisions that would give authority to senior management officials (i.e., political appointees) to issue final determinations, including on “whether to release or withhold a record or a portion of a record on the basis of responsiveness or under one or more exemptions under the FOIA, and to issue ‘no records’ responses.”  While these critics question whether political appointees have sufficient knowledge of the scope of potentially responsive records as career staff supposedly do, this assumes that the current status quo is working to produce timely and substantive responses to FOIA requests. In my experience, that is simply not the case.  The status quo is mere kabuki theater, with government officials going through the bureaucratic motions to dismiss FOIA requests without providing the requested data, even in circumstances in which the release of such data is mandated and clear under existing FOIA guidelines…”

Categories: Law and Legal

What Americans Know About Religion

Pew Report – U.S. adults generally can answer basic questions about the Bible and Christianity, but are less familiar with other world religions – “Most Americans are familiar with some of the basics of Christianity and the Bible, and even a few facts about Islam. But far fewer U.S. adults are able to correctly answer factual questions about Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and most do not know what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials. In addition, large majorities of Americans are unsure (or incorrect) about the share of the U.S. public that is Muslim or Jewish, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that quizzed nearly 11,000 U.S. adults on a variety of religious topics. Our surveys often ask people about their opinions, but this one was different, asking 32 fact-based, multiple-choice questions about topics related to religion (see here for full list of questions). The average U.S. adult is able to answer fewer than half of them (about 14) correctly. The questions were designed to span a spectrum of difficulty. Some were meant to be relatively easy, to establish a baseline indication of what nearly all Americans know about religion. Others were intended to be difficult, to differentiate those who are most knowledgeable about religious topics from everyone else. The survey finds that Americans’ levels of religious knowledge vary depending not only on what questions are being asked, but also on who is answering. Jews, atheists, agnostics and evangelical Protestants, as well as highly educated people and those who have religiously diverse social networks, show higher levels of religious knowledge, while young adults and racial and ethnic minorities tend to know somewhat less about religion than the average respondent does…”

Categories: Law and Legal

LC Report – Initiatives to Counter Fake News

“This report examines the legal approaches of 15 countries, representing all regions of the world, to the emerging problem of manipulation with “fake news” using mass and social media, especially the impact of fake news on ongoing political processes and elections, and the legislative measures undertaken to counteract the dissemination of false information. With the exception of Japan, the widespread distribution of false information and its impact on decision making and democratic processes is becoming a challenge worldwide. The individual country surveys analyze current and proposed initiatives to limit the spread of false information undertaken at the national level, each country’s challenges associated with these efforts, and efforts undertaken by national governments to secure the validity and accuracy of legal information.” Full Report April 2019.

Categories: Law and Legal

New York Review of Books – Real Americans

Joseph O’Neil – August 15, 2019 Issue – Reviewing: This America: The Case for the Nation by Jill Lepore Liveright, 150 pp., and This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto by Suketu Mehta Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 306 pp.

“A poignant quality of anachronism threatens these exigent, idealistic books by the writer-professors Jill Lepore and Suketu Mehta. The product of admirable research and serious reflection, they appear at a time when the very project of carefully acquiring and disseminating insights about the world, and the United States in particular, has been marginalized by the historic momentum of Republican authoritarianism. Presumably these manuscripts were completed by January 2019. Since then, things have moved at an extraordinary speed into extraordinary terrain. The House of Representatives, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Office of Special Counsel, the Office of Legal Counsel, the United States Geological Survey: each of these historically sturdy institutions has been stunned by the Trump administration like a cow in a slaughterhouse; numerous states have criminalized abortion services; the US Navy has proved willing to conceal the name “McCain” from the sight of the president.

These and other autocratic advances have been met by an anguished storm of theories and speech acts—including the very words you are reading. Countless books, think pieces, Twitter threads, comedy shows, and podcasts have scrutinized the diseased body politic down to its smallest, rottenest internal part. The insight industry is booming. Interesting forms of expertise and cultural capital have been developed. Stars of analysis, wit, and protestation have been born. We are alert as never before to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, the rules of Congress, racial and economic injustice, the techniques of propaganda, the elements of malignant narcissism. The ship may be about to hit the iceberg, but we have excellent hypotheses about the captain’s complex childhood and the shortcomings of the hull design. We know who the commerce secretary is…”

Categories: Law and Legal

LC Report – Limits on Freedom of Expression

“This report examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in 13 selected countries. In particular, the report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. The report also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments. The terms “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” as used in this report are interchangeable.” Full Report Prepared June 2019.

Categories: Law and Legal

Libraries Act as Cooling Centers in Heatwaves

Book Riot – “If you needed yet another reason to love libraries: they help during heatwaves. Libraries in Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Oregon, and other places have been providing refuge from searing heat and humidity. Visitor numbers are up as a result…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Never-Googlers: Web users take the ultimate step to guard their data

Washington Post – As reports surface regarding how the online advertising giant tracks consumers, some try to reclaim their online footsteps. “…Kelly is one of a hearty few who are taking the ultimate step to keep their files and online life safe from prying eyes: turning off Google entirely. That means eschewing some of the most popular services on the Web, including Gmail, Google search, Google Maps, the Chrome browser, Android mobile operating software and even YouTube. Such never-Googlers are pushing friends and family to give up the search and advertising titan, while others are taking to social media to get word out. Online guides have sprouted up to help consumers untangle themselves from Google. These intrepid Web users say they’d rather deal with daily inconveniences than give up more of their data. That means setting up permanent vacation responders on Gmail and telling friends to resend files or video links that don’t require Google software. More than that, it takes a lot of discipline.

People like Kelly are trying to build barriers to Google and other tech giants largely due to increasing concerns about the massive data collection. A series of privacy scandals showing how these companies collect and use consumer data has raised alarm bells for many people about how much they’ve traded for customization and targeted ads. For example, a Washington Post investigation last month found more than 11,000 requests for tracking cookies in just one week of Web use on Google’s Chrome browser…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Legal Research Software Battle II: AI Goes to Washington

Artificial Lawyer – Guest Post by Jake Heller, CEO, Casetext, the AI-driven legal research platform – “This article follows an invitation to several other legal research companies to do a live side-by-side comparison versus Casetext. Last year, Casetext invited ROSS, this time they invited Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw, BloombergLaw, and LexisNexis. As no rivals turned up, Casetext did their own reviews of the other systems (see video posted in this article) and compared them to their CARA system. This all took place at the Washington DC meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries. It follows a similar event last year that came to be known in a light-hearted way as the ‘Legal Robot Battle‘…”

Categories: Law and Legal

You Are What You Watch? The Social Effects of TV

The New York Times – There’s new evidence that viewing habits can affect your thinking, political preferences, even cognitive ability. “Other than sleeping and working, Americans are more likely to watch television than engage in any other activity. A wave of new social science research shows that the quality of shows can influence us in important ways, shaping our thinking and political preferences, even affecting our cognitive ability. In this so-called golden age of television, some critics have pointed out that the best of the form is equivalent to the most enriching novels. And high-quality programming for children can be educational. But the latest evidence also suggests there can be negative consequences to our abundant watching, particularly when the shows are mostly entertainment. The harm seems to come not so much from the content itself but from the fact that it replaces more enlightening ways of spending time. Cognitive ability is a complex characteristic that emerges from interactions between biological dispositions, nutrition and health, parenting behaviors, formal and informal educational opportunities, and culture. Studying the connection between intelligence and television consumption is far from straightforward, but researchers have developed compelling ways to isolate the effects of television…” [Note – I stopped watching TV in 2008 (true) – for some very good reasons – it takes hours each evening (after work) to research and post BeSpacific, walk with the collies, and of course, cycle.]

Categories: Law and Legal

Plain View Project

“The Plain View Project is a database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers from several jurisdictions across the United States.  We present these posts and comments because we believe that they could undermine public trust and confidence in our police. In our view, people who are subject to decisions made by law enforcement may fairly question whether these online statements about race, religion, ethnicity and the acceptability of violent policing—among other topics—inform officers’ on-the-job behaviors and choices. To be clear, our concern is not whether these posts and comments are protected by the First Amendment. Rather, we believe that because fairness, equal treatment, and integrity are essential to the legitimacy of policing, these posts and comments should be part of a national dialogue about police…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Libraries contest lynda.com learning site privacy issues with new owner LinkedIn

Boing Boing: Linkedin to libraries: drop dead – “For years, libraries across America have paid to subscribe to lynda.com for online learning content; four years ago, lynda.com became a division of Linkedin, and this year, the company has informed libraries that they’re migrating all lynda.com users to Linkedin Learning, which would be fine, except Linkedin only allows you to access Linkedin Learning if you create and connect a Linkedin profile to the system. If libraries accept this change, it will mean that any patron who uses this publicly funded service will also have to have a publicly searchable Linkedin profile. Linkedin’s explanation of why this is OK is purest tech-bro PR bullshit, condescending and dismissive.

Libraries are fighting back: California State Libraries is recommending that libraries boycott the service, and the American Library Association has publicly condemned the move…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Federal Preemption: A Legal Primer

EveryCRSReport.com: Federal Preemption: A Legal Primer July 23, 2019 R45825 – “The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause provides that federal law is “the supreme Law of the Land” notwithstanding any state law to the contrary. This language is the foundation for the doctrine of federal preemption, according to which federal law supersedes conflicting state laws. The Supreme Court has identified two general ways in which federal law can preempt state law. First, federal law can expressly preempt state law when a federal statute or regulation contains explicit preemptive language. Second, federal law can impliedly preempt state law when Congress’s preemptive intent is implicit in the relevant federal law’s structure and purpose.

This report begins with an overview of certain general preemption principles. In both express and implied preemption cases, the Supreme Court has made clear that Congress’s purpose is the “ultimate touchstone” of its statutory analysis. The Court’s analysis of Congress’s purpose has at times been informed by a canon of statutory construction known as the “presumption against preemption,” which instructs that federal law should not be read as preempting state law “unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.” However, the Court has recently applied the presumption somewhat inconsistently, raising questions about its current scope and effect. Moreover, in 2016, the Court held that the presumption no longer applies in express preemption cases…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Government breaches – can you trust the US Government with your data?

Comparitech: “The US government suffered 443 data breaches since 2014, with 2018 being the worst year so far, according to a new study by Comparitech. Data breaches are often associated with the private sector—hackers break into databases owned by businesses to steal user data and other valuable information. But the government is also a frequent target of breaches, often compromising much more sensitive data. Comparitech analyzed the last four years of US government breaches. These are not only limited to database breaches, but also other electronic and even paper breaches. These can range from stolen laptops and hard drives to document mailing errors…” Here are the study’s key findings:

  • Since 2014 there have been 443 data government/military breaches involving 168,962,628 records
  • 2018 was the worst year for data breaches with 100 occurring which involved 81,505,426 records
  • 2014 was also a high year for data breaches (90 in total) but these involved far fewer records—9,419,799
  • Electronic breaches by far outweigh data breaches. However, in 2014, a third of all breaches were paper data breaches…”
Categories: Law and Legal

Battling Information Illiteracy

American Libraries – How misinformation affects the future of policy – “…The internet has made it easy for people to be information illiterate in new ways. Anyone can create information now—regardless of quality—and get it in front of a large number of people. The ability of social media to spread information as fast as possible, and to as many people as possible, challenges literacy, as does the ability to manipulate images, sounds, and video with ease. Since the 2016 presidential election, libraries have constructed hundreds of online fake news pathfinders and tools, but the scope of the problem is larger than learning aids alone can handle. The future of information literacy stands at the intersection of literacy and behavior. Self-awareness; decision-making processes for what to access, use, trust, and share; and awareness of potential manipulations of information are central and explicit aspects of information literacy. However information professionals address the spiraling challenges of information literacy and information behavior, that work will be a key part of serving patrons and communities directly and society as a whole. Too much reliance on incorrect information can lead to very poor policy choices…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Proving you deserve $20,000 from the Equifax settlement will be nearly impossible

Follow-up to my previous posting – Equifax data breach settlement: How to file a claim for $125 or free credit reporting, please see the following information [h/t Pete Weiss]:

Wired – “f you’re one of the 147 million people in the United States affected by the egregious Equifax credit bureau hack in 2017, you were probably resigned to getting some free credit monitoring out of it and moving on…”

CNBC: “Equifax will pay $671 million to settle numerous state class-action lawsuits and investigations by the Federal Trade Commission, New York Department of Financial Services and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the company said Monday. The deal, which is still subject to a six-month court approval process, will establish a consumer restitution fund of up to $425 million, which will pay for credit monitoring from all three bureaus and any “out-of-pocket losses related to the breach.” As an alternative, consumers can request a $125 cash payment if they already have been signed up for credit monitoring services that will continue for at least six months. Consumers may also be eligible for payments of up to $20,000 for time they spent remedying fraud or misuse of personal information or out-of-pocket losses.

But that will likely be an uphill battle. As CNBC previously reported and as  repeated several times on a conference call Monday, the data connected with the Equifax breach has never been found for sale on the dark web. Instead, intelligence experts and security executives have told CNBC that the information was likely stolen by a foreign intelligence agency for spying purposes. This means proving your data was misused as a result of the breach would be a difficult fight…”

Categories: Law and Legal

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