Law and Legal

White House Produces No Evidence It Considered Public Input on Reorganizing Government

Government Executive: “The White House has no records relating to its categorization or analysis of public input on how it should reorganize government, according to the results of a lawsuit filed by a watchdog group. Following President Trump’s 2017 executive order calling on all federal agencies to reform themselves by shedding workers and restructuring their operations, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney personally called on American citizens to submit their ideas for “making the federal government more efficient, effective and accountable to the American people.” OMB subsequently set up a website for the public to submit those ideas, and later said it had received more than 100,000 submissions and distributed them to relevant agencies. It then took the site down, leading Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the public feedback. PEER, a frequent critic of the Trump administration, sued OMB after it did not hear back. That in turn led OMB’s FOIA office to inform PEER that it had “conducted a search of its files for documents that are responsive to the request and no responsive records were located…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Facebook gave 61 companies access to sensitive user data

WSJ (paywall) – “Facebook Inc. disclosed it gave dozens of companies special access to user data, detailing for the first time a spate of deals that contrasted with the social network’s previous public statements that it restricted personal information to outsiders in 2015. The deals with app developers, device and software makers, described in 747 pages of documents released to Congress late on Friday / govdoc no paywall [June 29, 2018] represent Facebook’s most granular explanation of exemptions that previously had been revealed by The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations. The revelations come as lawmakers have demanded accountability at Facebook for allowing companies access to data on its billions of users without their knowledge, and questioned how far the universe of firms extends. Facebook said in Friday’s document that the special deals were required to give app developers time to become compliant with changes in its policies, and to enable device and software makers to create versions of the social network for their products. The company revealed it was still sharing information of users’ friends, such as name, gender, birth date, current city or hometown, photos and page likes, with 61 app developers nearly six months after it said it stopped access to this data in 2015. Facebook said it gave these 61 firms—which ranged from the dating app Hinge to shipping giant United Parcel Service Inc.—a six-month extension for them to “come into compliance” with the 2015 policy. In addition, five other companies “theoretically could have accessed limited friends’ data” because of access they received as part of a Facebook experiment, the company said in the document…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Whistleblower’s guilty plea and unmistakable trail of watermarks

Axios: “Reality Winner has pleaded guilty: “All of my actions I did willfully, meaning I did so of my own free will,” she told a court on Tuesday, per the New York Times‘ report. The former Air Force linguist earned the distinction of being the first person prosecuted by the Trump administration on charges of leaking classified information under the Espionage Act. Her defense struck a deal with the Justice Department that would have her serve 63 months in prison and three years of supervised release. (A judge must now decide whether to approve the sentence.) Federal authorities accused Winner last year of leaking a classified report concerning Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They believed her to have sent the document to The Intercept, a news outlet funded by Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, which published it online in full. For all its talk of protecting whistleblowers, The Intercept made a rookie mistake: uploading a scanned copy of the original report, which contained telltale, electronic traces all but confirming Winner as the culprit. The pages bore unmistakable watermarks—printer microdots—that identified their source. Although the FBI did not mention the dots in its court filings, the agency did say it was able to determine the leaked document was a printout thanks to crease marks. The dots no doubt clinched the case. Whatever your stance on Winner’s situation may be, her undoing at least provides a valuable lesson to would-be whistleblowers and media outlets: Heed the dots. Indeed, already there are workarounds. A new paper authored by four German researchers at the Technical University of Dresden describes a method for overcoming these watermarks. Having decoded a variety of dot arrangements, the team suggests adding additional dots in precise ways so as to thwart the tagging technique, rendering output anonymous. You can test out the group’s obfuscation tools here…”

Categories: Law and Legal

NYT – How conservatives weaponized the First Amendment

How conservatives weaponized the First Amendment: “…The Citizens United campaign finance case, for instance, was decided on free-speech grounds, with the five-justice conservative majority ruling that the First Amendment protects unlimited campaign spending by corporations. The government, the majority said, has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters responded that the First Amendment did not require allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace and corrupt democracy. “The libertarian position has become dominant on the right on First Amendment issues,” said Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the Cato Institute. “It simply means that we should be skeptical of government attempts to regulate speech. That used to be an uncontroversial and nonideological point. What’s now being called the libertarian position on speech was in the 1960s the liberal position on speech.” And an increasingly conservative judiciary has been more than a little receptive to this argument. A new analysis prepared for The New York Times found that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been far more likely to embrace free-speech arguments concerning conservative speech than liberal speech. That is a sharp break from earlier eras. As a result, liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them. “The left was once not just on board but leading in supporting the broadest First Amendment protections,” said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer and a supporter of broad free-speech rights. “Now the progressive community is at least skeptical and sometimes distraught at the level of First Amendment protection which is being afforded in cases brought by litigants on the right.” Many on the left have traded an absolutist commitment to free speech for one sensitive to the harms it can inflict…To the contrary, free speech reinforces and amplifies injustice, Catharine A. MacKinnon, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in “The Free Speech Century,” a collection of essays to be published this year…”

And an increasingly conservative judiciary has been more than a little receptive to this argument. A new analysis prepared for The New York Times found that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been far more likely to embrace free-speech arguments concerning conservative speech than liberal speech. That is a sharp break from earlier eras.”

Categories: Law and Legal

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