Law and Legal

Whose Genes Are They, Anyway?

Penn State University [via Pete Weiss] “You’ve seen the ads from companies that promise to tell you, based on your DNA, where your ancestors came from. You’re eager to trace your family’s roots, so you order a test kit, send in your sample, and await the results. Your involvement with the company may end there, but two Penn State researchers say that for your DNA sequence—your genome—the journey has just begun. What you may not realize is that when you get your DNA sequenced, in most cases you don’t own the sequence in a legal sense. The company that sequenced it does, or at least, in our current legal framework, it can act as if it does: It can sell or give your data to other organizations, which often are not bound by the agreement you signed with the sequencing company. Even if you pay for just the basic service that will allow you to sketch your ethnic background, the company may sequence your entire genome—and then pass that information along to others.The problem is that when dealing with your genetics, it’s never just about you, says Gray. “The DNA for your blood relatives is very similar to yours, so when you put your data in the system, you’re not only exposing yourself, you’re also exposing your progeny, your parents, uncles and aunts, and other people in your family, who did not sign a waiver. Your child may have a rare disease, but your brother’s family may not want the data to be available. How does the family make that decision?”

Then there’s the possibility of being identified in ancestry databases even if you’ve never had your own DNA sequenced. In early 2018, police identified the serial rapist-murderer known as the Golden State Killer by comparing DNA from crime scenes with genome information and family trees in a publicly-available ancestry website. The genome data came from relatives who had had their DNA sequenced for genealogy purposes. Several other cases have been solved in a similar way but to less fanfare…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Is There An Annotated European Union Code?

DipLawMatics Dialogue, Is There An Annotated European Union Code? “I have an EU directive, and I need to find some cases that interpret it.” First, having just taught a class on U.S. statutory legal research, I’m thrilled that a student thought to use an annotated code to find cases interpreting legislation. There isn’t a European Union code, not exactly. But the European Union does have a classification system for its law, and there are sources for finding cases on a particular EU directive, from the European Court of Justice and from national courts. The student was looking for cases on Directive 98/44/EC on patents for biotechnological inventions. Although European Union law isn’t codified, the closest thing to a codification would be the Directory of Legal Acts on EUR-Lex. It arranges EU legislation in force by subject and includes consolidated acts incorporating amendments. Directive 98/44/EC is classified with Intellectual Property legislation at 17.20, but with a general heading at 17 of “Law relating to Undertakings,” I’m not sure I would have found it without already having found the Directory Classification. There is also the EuroVoc thesaurus for browsing legislation (and caselaw) by subject. Either the thesaurus terms or the Directory codes can be used in the EUR-Lex Advanced Search, along with text and other criteria (including type of legislation). In this case, a text search for “biotechnology AND patents” worked just as well…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Drafting Only Men for the Military Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

The New York Times: “A military draft that applies only to men is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Houston has ruled, saying that excluding women is no longer justified because they can now serve in combat roles just as men do. Judge Gray H. Miller of Federal District Court in the Southern District of Texas took note of the Supreme Court’s 1981 ruling that the exclusion of women from the draft was “fully justified” because women then were not allowed to serve in combat. But the Pentagon abolished those restrictions in 2015, opening the way for women to serve in any military role for which they could qualify. “While historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now ‘similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,’” Judge Miller wrote in his ruling. “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed.” Though no one has been conscripted into the United States military in more than 40 years, the Military Selective Service Act requires all American men to register when they turn 18, in case a draft is reinstated; they remain eligible through age 25. Men who do not register can be fined, imprisoned and denied services like federal student loans.The ruling came in a case brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group, which argued that drafting men exclusively violates the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Bike Commuters Are Dying in Record Numbers

Outside: “According to a report from the League of American Bicyclists released last month, 2016 went down in the record books as the deadliest year for U.S. cyclists since 1991. The report cites data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which recorded 840 cycling fatalities in 2016—the first time the annual death toll has crept above the 1991 figure of 836. That the United States has a problem keeping its cyclists safe is no surprise. A broader look at federal data reveals that the number of cyclists who die each year has hovered between 600 and 800 for the past several decades, with an average of 800 per year from 2006 to 2016. (The league’s report didn’t include data from 2017, when deaths dropped incrementally to 783.) Across the country, mayors of big cities have declared ambitious efforts to put an end to biker and pedestrian deaths. Vision Zero initiatives have popped up in places like New York, Denver, Austin, and Los Angeles, and with them have come new bike lanes, bike-friendly road designs, increased signage, and other attempts to make roads safer for cyclists. Clearly, though, it’s not enough to put a dent in the death tolls. As we reported last year, three years into its Vision Zero plan, Los Angeles saw a 5 percent increase in the number of cyclist and pedestrian deaths. Then there are the 840 people killed nationwide in 2016…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Mail and Wire Fraud: A Brief Overview of Federal Criminal Law Updated

Via FAS – Mail and Wire Fraud: A Brief Overview of Federal Criminal Law Updated, February 11, 2019.

“The mail and wire fraud statutes are exceptionally broad. Their scope has occasionally given the courts pause. Nevertheless, prosecutions in their name have brought to an end schemes that have bilked victims out of millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars. The statutes proscribe (1) causing the use of the mail or wire communications, including email; (2) in conjunction with a scheme to intentionally defraud another of money or property; (3) by means of a material deception. The offenses, along with attempts or conspiracies to commit them, carry a term of imprisonment of up to 30 years in some cases, followed by a term of supervised release. Offenders also face the prospect of fines, orders to make restitution, and forfeiture of their property. The mail and wire fraud statutes overlap with a surprising number of other federal criminal statutes. Conduct that supports a prosecution under the mail or wire fraud statutes will often support prosecution under one or more other criminal provision(s). These companion offenses include (1) those that use mail or wire fraud as an element of a separate offense, like racketeering or money laundering; (2) those that condemn fraud on some jurisdictional basis other than use of the mail or wire communications, like those that outlaw defrauding the federal government or federally insured banks; and (3) those that proscribe other deprivations of honest services (i.e., bribery and kickbacks), like the statutes that ban bribery of federal officials or in connection with federal programs. Among the crimes for which mail or wire fraud may serve as an element, RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) outlaws employing the patterned commission of predicate offenses to conduct the affairs of an enterprise that impacts commerce. Money laundering consists of transactions involving the proceeds of a predicate offense in order to launder them or to promote further predicate offenses…”

Categories: Law and Legal

CRS – U.S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress

Via FAS – U.S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated February 14, 2019. – “…The overall issue for Congress is how to respond to recent developments regarding the U.S. role in the world. Potential key issues for Congress include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Is the U.S. role changing, and if so, in what ways?
  • Should the U.S. role change?
  • Is a change of some kind in the U.S. role unavoidable?
  • How are other countries responding to a possibly changed U.S. role?
  • Is a changed U.S. role affecting world order?
  • What implications might a changed U.S. role in the world have for Congress’s role relative to that of the executive branch in U.S. foreign policymaking?
  • How might the operation of democracy in the United States affect the U.S. role in the world, particularly in terms of defending and promoting democracy and criticizing and resisting authoritarian and illiberal forms of government?
  • Would a change in the U.S. role be reversible, and if so, to what degree? Congress’s decisions on this issue could have significant implications for numerous policies, plans, programs, and budgets, and for the role of Congress relative to that of the executive branch in U.S. foreign policymaking..”
Categories: Law and Legal

CRS Social Security Primer

Via FAS – Social Security Primer Updated, February 7, 2019

“Social Security provides monthly cash benefits to retired or disabled workers and their family members, and to the family members of deceased workers. Among the beneficiary population, almost 83% are retired or disabled workers; family members of retired, disabled, or deceased workers make up the remainder. In December 2018, approximately 62.9 million beneficiaries received a total of $84.4 billion in benefit payments for the month; the average monthly benefit was $1,342. Workers become eligible for Social Security benefits for themselves and their family members by working in Social Security-covered employment. An estimated 94% of workers in paid employment or self-employment are covered, and their earnings are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. Employers and employees each pay 6.2% of covered earnings, up to an annual limit on taxable earnings ($132,900 in 2019)…”

Categories: Law and Legal

The first library on another celestial body

Arch Mission Foundation: “The Lunar Library represents the first in a series of lunar archives from the Arch Mission Foundation, designed to preserve the records of our civilization for up to billions of years. It is installed in the SpaceIL “Beresheet” lunar lander, scheduled to land on the Moon in April of 2019. The Lunar Library contains a 30 million page archive of human history and civilization, covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres, and time periods. The Library is housed within a 100 gram nanotechnology device that resembles a 120mm DVD. However it is actually composed of 25 nickel discs, each only 40 microns thick, that were made for the Arch Mission Foundation by NanoArchival. The first four layers contain more than 60,000 analog images of pages of books, photographs, illustrations, and documents – etched as 150 to 200 dpi, at increasing levels of magnification, by optical nanolithography. The first analog layer is the Front Cover and is visible to the naked eye. It contains 1500 pages of text and images, as well as holographic diffractive logos and text, and can be easily read with a 100X magnification optical microscope, or even a lower power magnifying glass…”

Categories: Law and Legal

How important is your privacy?

Axios: “…A full 81% of consumers say that in the past year they’ve become more concerned with how companies are using their data, and 87% say they’ve come to believe companies that manage personal data should be more regulated, according to a survey out Monday by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. Yes, but: They aren’t totally convinced they should care about how their data is being used, and many aren’t taking meaningful action after privacy breaches, according to the survey. Despite increasing data risks, 71% say it’s worth sacrificing privacy given the benefits of technology…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Researchers break digital signatures for most desktop PDF viewers

ZDNet: “A team of academics from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany say they’ve managed to break the digital signing system and create fake signatures on 21 of 22 desktop PDF viewer apps and five out of seven online PDF digital signing services. This includes apps such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Foxit Reader, and LibreOffice, and online services like DocuSign and Evotrust –just to name the most recognizable names. The five-person research team has been working since early October 2018 together with experts from Germany’s Computer Emergency Response Team (BSI-CERT) to notify impacted services. The team went public with their findings over the weekend after all affected app makers and commercial companies finished patching their products. The reason why researchers were willing to wait months so all products would receive fixes is because of the importance of PDF digital signatures.

Digitally signed PDF documents are admissible in court, can be used as legally-binding contracts, can be used to approve financial transactions, can be used for tax filing purposes, and can be used to relay government-approved press releases and announcements. Having the ability to fake a digital signature on an official PDF document can help threat actors steal large amounts of money or cause chaos inside private companies and public institutions…”

Categories: Law and Legal

A true story about smartphone addiction

The New York Times – Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain – “And if you’re anything like me — and the statistics suggest you probably are, at least where smartphones are concerned — you have one, too. I don’t love referring to what we have as an “addiction.” That seems too sterile and clinical to describe what’s happening to our brains in the smartphone era. Unlike alcohol or opioids, phones aren’t an addictive substance so much as a species-level environmental shock. We might someday evolve the correct biological hardware to live in harmony with portable supercomputers that satisfy our every need and connect us to infinite amounts of stimulation. But for most of us, it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been a heavy phone user for my entire adult life. But sometime last year, I crossed the invisible line into problem territory. My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping. I tried various tricks to curb my usage, like deleting Twitter every weekend, turning my screen grayscale and installing app-blockers. But I always relapsed. Eventually, in late December, I decided that enough was enough. I called Catherine Price, a science journalist and the author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” a 30-day guide to eliminating bad phone habits. And I begged her for help…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Spurring AI Development With a High-Quality Face Dataset

Center for Data Innovation: “NVIDIA has released Flickr-Faces-HQ (FFHQ), a dataset of 70,000 high-resolution images of human faces. The dataset includes faces representing a wide range of ages and ethnicities, and the images also include humans wearing accessories such as eyeglasses, sunglasses, and hats. Researchers can use this dataset for multiple purposes, including training and testing generative adversarial networks. For example, NVIDIA used the dataset to develop StyleGan, an AI tool that generates realistic human faces.” Get the data.

  • See also – A Style-Based Generator Architecture for Generative Adversarial Networks Tero Karras,Samuli Laine, Timo Aila (Submitted on 12 Dec 2018 (v1), last revised 6 Feb 2019 (this version, v2)) – “We propose an alternative generator architecture for generative adversarial networks, borrowing from style transfer literature. The new architecture leads to an automatically learned, unsupervised separation of high-level attributes (e.g., pose and identity when trained on human faces) and stochastic variation in the generated images (e.g., freckles, hair), and it enables intuitive, scale-specific control of the synthesis. The new generator improves the state-of-the-art in terms of traditional distribution quality metrics, leads to demonstrably better interpolation properties, and also better disentangles the latent factors of variation. To quantify interpolation quality and disentanglement, we propose two new, automated methods that are applicable to any generator architecture. Finally, we introduce a new, highly varied and high-quality dataset of human faces.”
Categories: Law and Legal

Mapping Segregation in America At Home and Work

Vox: American segregation, mapped at day and night – The racial makeup of neighborhoods changes during the workday. See how yours changes.

“…By tracking the dramatic shift in segregation from day to night, the researchers hoped to get a fuller understanding of how and where we encounter people of other races. Because they tracked people by neighborhood, they could get a granular understanding of what kinds of places become more diverse during the day. They found that when white people go to work, they are around only slightly more people of color than when they’re in their home neighborhoods. But for everyone else, going to work means being exposed to many more white people — and far fewer people of their own race…”
Categories: Law and Legal

AAAS: Machine learning ‘causing science crisis’

BBC: “Machine-learning techniques used by thousands of scientists to analyse data are producing results that are misleading and often completely wrong. Dr Genevera Allen from Rice University in Houston said that the increased use of such systems was contributing to a “crisis in science”. She warned scientists that if they didn’t improve their techniques they would be wasting both time and money. Her research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. A growing amount of scientific research involves using machine learning software to analyse data that has already been collected. This happens across many subject areas ranging from biomedical research to astronomy. The data sets are very large and expensive. But, according to Dr Allen, the answers they come up with are likely to be inaccurate or wrong because the software is identifying patterns that exist only in that data set and not the real world…”

Categories: Law and Legal


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