Law and Legal
The New York Times – “Google and Facebook collect information about us and then sell that data to advertisers. Websites deposit invisible “cookies” onto our computers and then record where we go online. Even our own government has been known to track us. When it comes to digital privacy, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We’re mere mortals! We’re minuscule molecules in their machines! What power do we possibly have to fight back?…” David Pogue offers good suggestions – remember – they will not work unless you implement them, and update them often.
Pete Recommends – Weekly highlights on cyber security issues, October 5, 2019 – Privacy and security issues impact every aspect of our lives – home, work, travel, education, health and medical records – to name but a few. On a weekly basis Pete Weiss highlights articles and information that focus on the increasingly complex and wide ranging ways technology is used to compromise and diminish our privacy and security, often without our situational awareness. Four highlights from this week: EU can force Facebook and social media platforms to remove content globally; How to Set Your Google Data to Self-Destruct; The whistleblowing process, explained; and ABA Tech Report 2019.
The Atlantic – American officials classify too much information, from the trivial to the politically inconvenient. The overreliance on secrecy invites abuse. “That the U.S. government has a problem with classifying information—the process of identifying and protecting documents and discussions that must be kept secret to preserve national security—was established long before President Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal returned the subject to the headlines. Eight blue-ribbon U.S. government commissions have addressed the subject since World War II, Elizabeth Goitein, a veteran transparency advocate, told me. Each of them deemed that overclassification, as she put it, “is rampant.” Classifying information is a key part of how the U.S. government functions and is able to carry out sensitive tasks, but the problem is that too much national-security information—from the trivial to the politically inconvenient—gets labeled “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret,” meaning that only those with the corresponding government clearance can access it…Then there are the many scandals that were shielded from view—not just from the public, but from government officials who might have put a stop to them—at least in part by classification. The higher the classification on a piece of information, the fewer people in government who can access it. Goitein, who directs the national-security program at the Brennan Center, called this “a time-honored technique of keeping other agencies or other officials out of something in order to minimize resistance.”…
Mashable: “Hacking email accounts doesn’t have to be a sophisticated affair. We are reminded once again of this fact thanks to a report released Friday by the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center detailing how a group of hackers targeted the email accounts of journalists, government officials, and the campaign of a U.S. presidential candidate. And here’s the thing, the bad actors didn’t use some fancy 1337 computer skills, but rather employed the oldest trick in the book: the password reset. According to Microsoft, over a 30-day period in August and September of this year, hackers likely affiliated with the Iranian government went after 241 email accounts and successfully compromised four. The MTIC dubbed the group Phosphorous, and explained how the team operated. “Phosphorous used information gathered from researching their targets or other means to game password reset or account recovery features and attempt to take over some targeted accounts,” reads the blog post. “For example, they would seek access to a secondary email account linked to a user’s Microsoft account, then attempt to gain access to a user’s Microsoft account through verification sent to the secondary account.” Importantly, MTIC writes that the four compromised accounts were not tied to the U.S. presidential campaign. But, still, this isn’t good. Password-reset features come in many forms, from questions about where you went to high school or your mother’s maiden name to sending a link or code to a secondary email address or phone number. The former opens victims up to attack by anyone who knows how Google works, while the latter makes your primary email only as secure as your linked secondary email or cell phone…”
The Atlantic – “They can be identified by their independent-bookstore tote bags, their “Book Lover” mugs, or—most reliably—by the bound, printed stacks of paper they flip through on their lap. They are, for lack of a more specific term, readers. Joining their tribe seems simple enough: Get a book, read it, and voilà! You’re a reader—no tote bag necessary. But behind that simple process is a question of motivation—of why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t. That why is consequential—leisure reading has been linked to a range of good academic and professional outcomes—as well as difficult to fully explain. But a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it. The size of the American reading public varies depending on one’s definition of reading. In 2017, about 53 percent of American adults (roughly 125 million people) read at least one book not for school or for work in the previous 12 months, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Five years earlier, the NEA ran a more detailed survey, and found that 23 percent of American adults were “light” readers (finishing one to five titles per year), 10 percent were “moderate” (six to 11 titles), 13 percent were “frequent” (12 to 49 titles), and a dedicated 5 percent were “avid” (50 books and up)…”
“FBI viewed more positively; deep partisan divide over ICE – Despite historically low levels of public trust in the federal government, Americans across the political spectrum continue to overwhelmingly express favorable opinions of a number of individual federal agencies, including the Postal Service, the National Park Service, NASA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And majorities of both Republicans and Democrats now express favorable views of the FBI, reflecting a rebound in GOP perceptions after a decline in recent years. Of the 16 agencies asked about in a national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 5-16 among 2,004 U.S. adults, 14 are viewed more favorably than unfavorably by the public. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the sole agency asked about in the survey viewed more negatively (54% unfavorable) than positively (42% favorable), while the public is divided in its view of the Department of Education (48% favorable, 48% unfavorable). Attitudes toward ICE continue to largely break along partisan lines: While 70% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have a favorable view of the agency, just 19% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the same…”
Earth and Space Science News (EOS) – “Climate change isn’t just captured by thermometers—grapes can also do the trick. By mining archival records of grape harvest dates going back to 1354, scientists have reconstructed a 664-year record of temperature traced by fruit ripening. The records, from the Burgundy region of France, represent the longest series of grape harvest dates assembled up until now and reveal strong evidence of climate change in the past few decades. Science with Grapes As far back as the 19th century, scientists have been using records of grape harvest dates to track climatic changes. “Wine harvest is a really great proxy for summer warmth,” said Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York not involved in the research. “The warmer the summer is, the faster the grapes develop, so the earlier the harvest happens…”
“Rare books, artist’s books, miniature books, zines, oddities, and daily life from the University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives. Expect GIFs! Visit our other Tumblr pages…”
“Today’s Document started as a small feature on the Archives.gov website several years ago, as a way to highlight interesting documents in our holdings—both the well-known and the obscure—and to observe historical events (usually the significant events but sometimes just the curious ones). Today’s Document is now a popular feature and has inspired a new mobile App and even an independent tribute site. Over the years we have received suggestions and requests for new documents and started this blog as a way to collect and discuss those ideas. We’ll select the most highly rated documents and use them to populate future dates…”
SCOTUS Blog – “The Supreme Court was already scheduled to take on a range of high-profile and potentially controversial issues in the next few months, including federal protection for LGBT employees, the Trump administration’s decision to end the program known as DACA, and gun rights….the Supreme Court’s new term, which starts [Monday October 7, 2019], became even more momentous, with the announcement that, for the first time since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court will tackle the hot-button issue of abortion. The justices agreed today to hear a challenge to a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to have the right to admit patients at a nearby hospital. In a late-night order last February, Chief Justice John Roberts provided the fifth vote needed to block the state from enforcing the law until abortion providers could file a petition seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upholding the law…” [See the October 2019 Docket via SCOTUS]
Vox: It’s going to be a blockbuster term for the Court – “While the headlines are all about the battle between the House and the President, the biggest and longest lasting stories over the next few months could come from another branch of government. Massive cases involving abortion, LGBTQ rights, and immigration are all on the docket…”
Slate: This Supreme Court Term Will Launch a Conservative Revolution. “As Congress remains deadlocked and the White House melts down, SCOTUS has become the only fully functioning branch of the federal government. It has taken on the role of policymaker, obligated to resolve many of the battles that engulf the political branches.”
Rep. Adam Schiff – Representing California’s 28th Congressional District. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee via @RepAdamSchiff – “After receiving a trove of important documents from the first of the state department witnesses, my fellow chairs and I highlight some of those deserving of the most attention and what is at stake. Read them here.”
News Release: [October 3, 2019] “the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs received testimony from Ambassador Kurt Volker, former State Department Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, as part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry. Following the interview with Ambassador Volker, Committee Chairs Adam B. Schiff, Elijah E. Cummings, and Eliot L. Engel updated members of their respective Committees on the inquiry. In a letter to their colleagues, the Chairmen wrote, “This week, current and former State Department officials have begun cooperating with the impeachment inquiry by producing documents and scheduling interviews and depositions. Based on the first production of materials, it has become immediately apparent why Secretary Pompeo tried to block these officials from providing information.” Regarding the President’s continued efforts to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election, the Chairmen wrote, “This is not normal or acceptable.It is unethical, unpatriotic, and wrong. American Presidents should never press foreign powers to target their domestic political rivals. Engaging in these stunning abuses in broad daylight does not absolve President Trump of his wrongdoings—or his grave offenses against the Constitution.”….
Tech Report 2019 – Cloud Computing – Law Technology Today: “…To keep it simple, the 2019 Legal Technology Survey has focused on the basic concept of a “web-based software service or solution,” including SaaS. In practical terms, you can understand cloud computing as software or services that can be accessed and used over the internet using a browser (or, commonly now, a mobile app), where the software itself is not installed locally on the computer or phone being used by the lawyer accessing the service. Your data are also processed and stored on remote servers rather than on local computers and hard drives. Cloud applications might also be referred to as “web services” or “hosted services.” Cloud services might be hosted by a third party (most commonly Amazon or Microsoft) or, more commonly in the legal profession, by a provider running its services on Amazon, Microsoft, or another cloud data center provider. It’s also possible, though unlikely, that a law firm could host and provide its own private cloud services…The 2019 Legal Technology Survey shows that for a small, but slowly growing, majority of lawyers and firms, cloud services are now part of the IT equation. Overall, reported growth in cloud use stayed relatively flat in 2019. The continuing lack of actual attention to confidentiality, security, and due diligence issues, however, remains a serious and disturbing concern, especially with the growth in mobile apps running on cloud services. The results on security procedures will continue to fuel client concerns about whether their outside law firms are making adequate efforts on cybersecurity, and the numbers indicate that they should be worried…”
Slate – “…In June, the American Library Association stripped a familiar name from one of its top leadership honors: the Melvil Dewey Medal. As you may recall from grade school, Dewey was the man behind the Dewey Decimal Classification system, the schema of numbers and subject areas used at libraries around the world to categorize books. Founder of the nation’s first library school, co-founder of the ALA itself, and onetime director of the New York State Library, he’s usually revered as a library icon, his name perhaps the one most strongly associated with the institution. So what drove librarians to erase it from their own award? As it turns out, despite the wholesome associations Dewey has accrued in the public imagination since his death in 1931, the man was no saint…What does this shift portend for Dewey’s intellectual contributions? The DDC might be the world’s most widely used library classification system, but like the man himself, it’s not without controversy. Critics say the subjects are heavily Eurocentric and favorable to Christianity. The 200s of the DDC, for example, are devoted to the subject of religion. But the subcategories are nearly all focused on Christianity, with one section for “other religions.”
Poynter: “For the fourth time in history, a United States president faces an impeachment. But this marks the first time an investigation like this will take place amid a tsunami of false news on social media. Fact-checkers have built creative strategies to surf this wave. On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that President Donald Trump would be investigated for allegedly having pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesky to track the relationship between the family of former Vice President Joe Biden with a gas company in Ukraine. According to preliminary data revealed by a whistleblower, Trump told Zelesky that the Bidens were involved in corruption cases and should be investigated. Three days after the impeachment process was announced, the amount of misleading information around the case was so overwhelming that some of the most important U.S. fact-checkers decided to launch objective strategies to deal with it.
PolitiFact, The Washington Post Fact Checker and CNN, for example, have created unique pages on their websites where they will add all the fact checks they will do in the about Trump’s impeachment process. This means that they will have a single URL circulating on social media with all the true and false pieces of content they find. In one week, PolitiFact listed 17 stories, The Washington Post four and CNN nine. PolitiFact and The Washington Post took a second step. They launched online forms (here is PolitiFact‘s and here is WP‘s) so any citizen can request a fact check about a statement, a photo, a video or even an audio file they see regarding the case…”
The second National Task Force report on the Rule of Law & Democracy outlines how to curb political interference in government science and fix a broken appointments process. “In recent years, the norms and expectations that once ensured that our government was guided primarily by the public interest rather than by individual or partisan interest have significantly weakened. There are now far fewer constraints to deter abuse by executive branch actors. This report focuses on two distinct areas: the growing politicization of government science and research and the breakdown of processes for filling key government positions [emphasis added]. Objective data and research are essential to effective governance and democratic oversight. But over the last few decades, the safeguards meant to keep government research objective and publicly accessible have been steadily weakening. Recent administrations have manipulated the findings of government scientists and researchers, retaliated against career researchers for political reasons, invited outside special interests to shape research priorities, undermined and sidelined advisory committees staffed by scientists, and suppressed research and analysis from public view — often material that had previously been made available. In many cases, they have appeared to pay little political price for these missteps. This trend has culminated in the efforts of the current administration not only to politicize scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves…”
“A Consumer Reports analysis of cable bills found that companies add $37.11 per month in fees to the average bill, raising consumers’ actual costs way above the advertised prices. The $37.11 “in fees created by the cable industry” add 24% to the average base price of $156.71 a month, Consumer Reports said. That doesn’t include another $13.28 in government-related taxes and fees, which raise prices even higher. “With the proliferation of add-on fees, it’s nearly impossible for consumers to find out the full cost of a cable package before they get locked into a contract—and cable companies count on this,” Consumer Reports Senior Policy Counsel Jonathan Schwantes said. Consumer Reports analyzed 787 cable bills from 13 companies for a report released today. Nearly all 787 bills included TV service, while at least 426 of them included Internet service, and at least 282 included phone service, Consumer Reports told Ars. Some of the bills listed the services only as “double-play” or “triple-play,” so it wasn’t always clear which services were included. The bills were collected from 787 volunteers between June and August 2018…”
ZDNet – “…Recent changes to the law made user data a hot topic. New data protection laws like GDPR have forced technology companies to become much more transparent about the ways they use your data and how they are sharing it with global governments. Tech companies publish transparency reports that show where they send their data –- and how many requests for user information that they grant around the world. The Addictive Tips blog has created a set of visualizations covering where the requests are granted -– and which company granted the most requests from 2010 to 2017. Requests have grown from 27,625 in 2010 to 382,242 in 2017. The figure dipped in 2018 due to the introduction of new data protection laws. As our use of the internet has grown, so has the number of information requests from countries around the world. But the US certainly leads the field for data requests. Over a third (35.13%) of requests came from the US in 2017 — and 37.86% of the total requests in 2018. The US had 151,047 data requests granted from 2010 to 2018. Facebook granted 64,351 requests to the US government, out of a total of 75,208 requests to the company…”
GAO WatchBlog: “GAO has launched a new line of science and tech quick reads, 2-pagers providing brief overviews of key topics in the field. To complement our more in-depth evaluations and assessments, these “Science & Tech Spotlights” summarize emerging innovations and the relevant policy context. In today’s WatchBlog we provide a thumbnail sketch of the first 4, released in September. Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies allow users to carry out digital transactions without the need for a centralized authority. These technologies could fundamentally change the way government and industry conduct business, but questions remain about how to mitigate fraud, money laundering, and excessive energy use…” [h/t Pete Weiss]
CRS report via LC – Impeachment Investigations: Law and Process October 2, 2019: “Speaker Pelosi announced last week that the House “is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.” Although the Speaker’s statement did not address precisely how the House will proceed, it is noteworthy not only because the House has so rarely investigated a President for the purpose of impeachment, but also because an impeachment investigation has usually been an early step in a constitutional process that could ultimately result in the removal of the subject of the inquiry from office. This Sidebar identifies procedural options for the House as it proceeds with an impeachment investigation. The Sidebar also describes some of the ways in which an impeachment investigation, as compared to a more traditional investigation for legislative or oversight purposes, might bolster the House’s ability to obtain, either voluntarily or through the courts, information from the executive branch. The Sidebar also briefly describes possible future steps that might follow an impeachment inquiry, including possible action by the Senate.”
POGO – “In the swirl of the news cycle about revelations coming from an intelligence whistleblower and misguided but predictable attacks on them, we want to set some facts straight. The whistleblower’s complaint documented his urgent concern that President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate his political opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. The whistleblower’s allegations were largely corroborated with a summarized partial transcript of the phone call. Given the confusion—and perhaps deliberate disinformation—regarding whistleblower disclosures, and specifically the requirements for intelligence community whistleblowers to make disclosures to the inspector general, it’s particularly important for Congress, as well as the media covering this breaking news, to separate fact from fiction in this complicated area of the law. First, a federal government employee who blows the whistle only needs to have a “reasonable belief” of wrongdoing, as has been codified for decades in federal whistleblower law. Contrary to misinformation being spread by policymakers and pundits in the press, there is no whistleblower law that requires the whistleblower to have firsthand knowledge of the wrongdoing for them to be protected against retaliation for having made the disclosure.
In Caught Between Conscience and Career, the book we coauthored with the Government Accountability Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, we explain the burden of proof for a whistleblower who wants to disclose a prohibited activity, including a violation of a law, rule or regulation, or abuse of authority…”