Law and Legal

Civc Pulse – a new tool for monitoring government websites

MuckRock -“Last week, we saw a lot of progress on our new tool for monitoring government agency websites. Building off data from the MuckRock API, it checks and grades agency web pages on criteria such as privacy, accessibility, and speed. For previous site improvements, check out all of MuckRock’s release notes, and if you’d like to get a list of site improvements every Tuesday – along with ways to help contribute to the site’s development yourself – subscribe to our developer newsletter here.

…We’re working on a website that scans government websites to check on how well they’re doing on a number of important factors, ranging from mobile friendliness and accessibility to ease of contacting them. Since we already have a database of over 10,000 agencies and an API to access information about them, this gives us a chance to do more with data we’ve just had sitting around collecting dust (and, er, FOIA requests).

Categories: Law and Legal

How Often Has the U.S. Supreme Court Struck Down a Federal Law? Part II

More often than you might thinkKeith Whittington |The Volokh Conspiracy: “As I noted last week, there once was a robust political and scholarly debate over the answer to the question of how often the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down a provision of a federal statute. The question was thought to matter because the history implied something about how legitimate the power of judicial review might be and how aggressively the courts should use it. The answer was disputed because neither the Court nor Congress kept track of how often a law had been struck down and the correct count was not obvious…I decided to start from scratch and read thousands of U.S. Supreme Court cases that could plausibly have said something about the constitutional limits to the legislative power of Congress. From that, I have constructed a new Judicial Review of Congress database that tries to provide a comprehensive list of every instance in which the U.S. Supreme Court substantively reviewed the constitutionality of the application of a provision of a federal statute, identified the constitutional boundaries of the legislative power of Congress, and either upheld the statute against constitutional challenge or refused to apply the statute due to constitutional defect….

The Judicial Review of Congress Database is now publicly available. It includes a list of all the cases in which the Court has substantively reviewed the constitutionality of an act of Congress from 1789 through the spring of 2018, as well as a variety of associated information such as identifying information about the statute that was reviewed, a measure of its importance, and the length of time between the passage of the statutory provision and its review by the Supreme Court. The details of the standard for case selection and the process of identifying instances of judicial review are elaborated in the appendix to my book, Repugnant Laws. Over time I expect to update the database, add new variables, and create some more reader-friendly lists of the some 1300 cases in which the Court exercised the power of judicial review over Congress…”

Categories: Law and Legal

The Indian Law That Helps Build Walls

The Supreme Court’s legal abuse of Native Americans set the stage for America’s poor treatment of many of its vulnerable populations. By Maggie Blackhawk. Ms. Blackhawk is an assistant professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania. “The first two years of the Trump administration have brought us horror story after horror story about our government: children separated from their families, men and women detained without due process, communities punished because of their faith. These horrors may seem new, but in fact these abuses — and in particular the law that authorizes them — have been part of our constitutional order since the founding of this country. In many ways, America is just beginning to reckon with slavery and Jim Crow segregation. But at least we have reformed the laws that allowed these abuses. We have overruled the Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson court decisions, banishing the doctrines of overt racism and “separate but equal” from our law, if not from our society. No government would cite these doctrines to justify its actions today.

But we have not yet fully dismantled the legal infrastructure that permitted abuse of Native Americans. On reservations starting in the mid-19th century, the United States established military-run detention camps where the executive branch held limitless power. In these camps, children were forcibly separated from their families and sent to federally run boarding schools that used violence to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” as Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, founder of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, put it in 1892. Native Americans were incarcerated for practicing their faith. Naming ceremonies were forbidden for children, whose hair was cut at the schools, where they were also forced to practice Christianity.

We have not yet reformed the laws that allowed for such abuse of Native Americans. For example, the Dred Scott of federal Indian law, United States v. Rogers (1846), has not been explicitly overruled. Rogers — drafted by the same infamous justice, Roger Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision — established the “plenary power doctrine.”…

Categories: Law and Legal

CRS – The Federal Bureau of Investigation: Just the Facts

The Federal Bureau of Investigation: Just the Facts – May 12, 2017: “The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has more than 36,000 employees and describes itself as an “intelligence-driven, threat-focused national security organization.”It is a part of the Department of Justice and the Director of the FBI reports to the U.S. Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. Broad changes to FBI operations and structure since the September 11, 2001,terrorist attacks in the United States (9/11)have underscored its dual law enforcement and intelligence missions, among which counter terrorism is the first priority…”

See also the Washington Post – James Comey – former director of the FBI and a former deputy attorney general:  No ‘treason.’ No coup. Just lies — and dumb lies at that. “It is tempting for normal people to ignore our president when he starts ranting about treason and corruption at the FBI. I understand the temptation. I’m the object of many of his rants, and even I try to ignore him. But we shouldn’t, because millions of good people believe what a president of the United States says. In normal times, that’s healthy. But not now, when the president is a liar who doesn’t care what damage he does to vital institutions. We must call out his lies that the FBI was corrupt and committed treason, that we spied on the Trump campaign, and tried to defeat Donald Trump. We must constantly return to the stubborn facts.

Russia engaged in a massive effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Near as I can tell, there is only one U.S. leader who still denies that fact. The FBI saw the attack starting in mid-June 2016, with the first dumping of stolen emails. In late July, when we were hard at work trying to understand the scope of the effort, we learned that one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers knew about the Russian effort seven weeks before we did…”

Categories: Law and Legal

While you’re sleeping, your iPhone stays busy snooping on you

Washington Post – Apple says, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” Our privacy experiment showed 5,400 hidden app trackers guzzled our data — in a single week.

“…You might assume you can count on Apple to sweat all the privacy details. After all, it touted in a recent ad, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” My investigation suggests otherwise. IPhone apps I discovered tracking me by passing information to third parties — just while I was asleep — include Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Washington Post and IBM’s the Weather Channel. One app, the crime-alert service Citizen, shared personally identifiable information in violation of its published privacy policy.

And your iPhone doesn’t only feed data trackers while you sleep. In a single week, I encountered over 5,400 trackers, mostly in apps, not including the incessant Yelp traffic. According to privacy firm Disconnect, which helped test my iPhone, those unwanted trackers would have spewed out 1.5 gigabytes of data over the span of a month. That’s half of an entire basic wireless service plan from AT&T…”

Categories: Law and Legal

You’re Not Alone When You’re on Google

The New York Times – We know that. But the “privacy paradox” means we still act like we are. “…To fully apprehend our vulnerabilities as digital creatures would require far too much time and energy. More than that: It would require an entirely new set of instincts, a radically different cognitive framework from the one we now possess…So we carry on. Even though everyone is mutely collecting our queries, preferences, fetishes, anxieties. Google. Amazon. Facebook. YouTube. Pandora. Pinterest. The Weather Channel. Reddit. Wikipedia. Major League Baseball. PornHub. Zillow. Your newspaper. Your bank. Your phone carrier. Everyone. Danah Boyd, the founder of the Data & Society Research Institute, perhaps put it best when she wrote we are “public by default, private through effort.”…

Categories: Law and Legal

Did Congress read the Mueller report?

Washington Post – More than a quarter of these key lawmakers won’t say. “Rep. Justin Amash broke ranks with fellow Republicans when he said special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report shows that President Trump took actions that “meet the threshold for impeachment,” arguing that the stark partisan divide over the findings was because “few members of Congress have read the report.” While it’s common for politicians to draw very different conclusions from the same set of facts, the Michigan congressman’s suggestion in several tweetstorms this past week is bolder — that most lawmakers simply ignored Mueller’s report.

o how many lawmakers actually read the entire 448-page, redacted report released on April 18? A Washington Post canvass of House and Senate members on the relevant committees — the Judiciary and Intelligence committees in both chambers — found most saying they have read the publicly released report in its entirety, but over 3 in 10 declined to respond to five yes-or-no questions after repeated contact attempts, offered unclear answers or said they have not read the full report. Three out of the four Republican chairmen or ranking GOP members on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees did not respond when asked how they reviewed the report, while one senior Democratic senator said he has read the executive summaries but not the full report with redactions…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Center on National Security and the Law Launches Online, Searchable Database of Foreign Intelligence Law Collection

“On May 23, Georgetown Law’s Center on National Security and the Law launched the Foreign Intelligence Law Collection — a publicly available, online searchable database of all declassified and redacted U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and Court of Review opinions; all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) statutes; legislative history; associated regulations, guidelines, executive orders, and presidential directives; all publicly available reports on FISA implementation, and more.

“It was built as a resource for…anyone and everyone seeking to know more about foreign intelligence law,” said Nadia Asancheyev, the center’s executive director. The practitioners and academics who came to inspect the product clearly welcomed the new resource, which will also be useful to journalists, government lawyers, members of Congress and their staffers. Adjunct Professor Carrie Cordero, senior fellow and general counsel of the Center for a New American Security — who moderated the discussion with Professor Laura Donohue and Research Librarian Jeremy J. McCabe — called the collection “an incredible public service.”

“I was a FISA practitioner, and if only there had been a resource like this…,” Cordero said, adding that the practitioners, those who practice before the court, the judges, the law clerks…”not even to mention the academic and scholarly community, and journalistic community [will] be interested in this valuable collection.”…

Categories: Law and Legal

The Digital Public Library of America has re-released the Mueller Report as a well-formatted ebook instead of a crappy PDF

BoingBoing: “Back in April, Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly wrote a column deploring the abysmal formatting in the DoJ’s release of the Mueller Report, and publicly requesting that the Digital Public Library of America produce well-formatted ebook editions, which they have now done! Albanese writes,

To me, this is an important development, because with the DPLA’s publication, a major barrier to access has been eliminated: unlike the DOJ’s poor quality PDF, the DPLA e-book edition is a good reading experience, flowing on any digital device, fully functional, searchable. And, of course, it’s free. I can’t imagine why every media outlet that links to the DOJ version, wouldn’t link to this version instead if they are actually interested in having people actually read the report.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of how important of The Mueller Report will turn out to be. And citizens can now turn to the place they’ve traditionally turned when they need access to important, trustworthy information—the library. To me, this is a pretty big deal, that libraries have picked up where the government slacked off. I mean, we live in the e-book age. The technology is cheap, and ubiquitous. There is really no excuse for bad pdfs to be the standard for how important government information like this is released.

Mueller Report [Digital Public Library of America]”

Categories: Law and Legal

MegaPixels – an art and research project investigating the ethics, origins, and individual privacy implications of face recognition datasets created “in the wild

MegaPixels is an art and research project first launched in 2017 for an installation at Tactical Technology Collective’s GlassRoom about face recognition datasets. In 2018 MegaPixels was extended to cover pedestrian analysis datasets for a commission by Elevate Arts festival in Austria. Since then MegaPixels has evolved into a large-scale interrogation of hundreds of publicly-available face and person analysis datasets, the first of which launched on this site in April 2019.

MegaPixels aims to provide a critical perspective on machine learning image datasets, one that might otherwise escape academia and industry funded artificial intelligence think tanks that are often supported by the several of the same technology companies who have created datasets presented on this site. MegaPixels is an independent project, designed as a public resource for educators, students, journalists, and researchers. Each dataset presented on this site undergoes a thorough review of its images, intent, and funding sources. Though the goals are similar to publishing an academic paper, MegaPixels is a website-first research project, with an academic publication to follow.

One of the main focuses of the dataset investigations presented on this site is to uncover where funding originated. Because of our emphasis on other researcher’s funding sources, it is important that we are transparent about our own. This site and the past year of research have been primarily funded by a privacy art grant from Mozilla in 2018. The original MegaPixels installation in 2017 was built as a commission for and with support from Tactical Technology Collective and Mozilla. The research into pedestrian analysis datasets was funded by a commission from Elevate Arts, and continued development in 2019 is supported in part by a 1-year Researcher-in-Residence grant from Karlsruhe HfG, as well as lecture and workshop fees….”

Categories: Law and Legal

Survey of Law Library Plans for Print Collections

Via Library Boy: Primary Research Group, a New York-based publisher of research reports and surveys about law libraries, is surveying law libraries in the USA and Canada about their plans for their print materials collections.

“Survey data is aggregated and respondents are not identified in open ended questions unless they identify themselves. We do encourage you to identify yourself by starting the open ended question with the name of your institution if you would like readers to know your identity.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Louisiana State Univ will terminate comprehensive subscription deal with Elsevier

Inside Higher Education: “Citing unsustainable price increases, leaders at Louisiana State University have decided to walk away from their comprehensive subscription deal with Elsevier.  Louisiana State University will terminate its “big deal” with publisher Elsevier at the end of this year, joining the growing list of U.S. institutions that have recently decided not to renew their bundled journal subscription deals with the publisher. LSU is just the latest of several U.S. institutions, including the University of California system, Temple University and Florida State University, to announce its intentions to end its business relationship with Elsevier in the last two years.
“For decades, LSU has subscribed to a package of some 1,800 electronic journal titles from Elsevier,” Stacia Haynie, LSU’s provost, said in a statement [May 20, 2019]. But “dramatic increases” in subscription costs have made the deal unsustainable, she said. Renewing LSU’s current five-year contract, which is due to end in six months’ time, would cost the institution at least $2 million annually, said Haynie. Instead, the institution will allocate $1 million to subscribe individually to a smaller number of Elsevier journals on a one-year contract basis.

To access journals LSU no longer subscribes to, the library will offer two options — an interlibrary loan service that takes about 24 hours and incurs no cost to the library, or an expedited delivery service called Reprints Desk, which takes about two hours and costs the library a fee. The fee is less than what it would cost to purchase a journal article from the publisher directly, which is typically around $30, said Stanley Wilder, dean of LSU libraries….”

Categories: Law and Legal

EPA wants to triple level of rocket fuel chemical allowed in drinking water

Think Progress – “The Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to raise the threshold for a chemical found in rocket fuel to triple the previous limit allowed in drinking water supplies. This is the first new drinking water rule introduced by the agency since the George W. Bush administration. In the EPA’s latest move to weaken environmental and health protections, it released a notice on Thursday requesting public comment on its proposal to raise the maximum level allowed for the chemical perchlorate — which is linked to thyroid problems — to 56 micrograms per liter. This is three times higher than what the EPA previously recommended as a safe level for drinking water (15 micrograms per liter). The previous recommendation was just an advisory to help guide states, as opposed to an enforceable limit, which is what the agency is now proposing…”

Categories: Law and Legal

X Marks the Spot Where the Personal Information is Stored

X Marks the Spot Where the Personal Information is Stored: Avoiding Common Mistakes in Data Mapping – “With new global privacy laws requiring consumer access to specific pieces of personal information and documentation of processing generally, organizations are now finding themselves having to go on treasure hunts for buried personal information within the company. Between the explosion of cheap electronic storage methods and expansion of the definition of personal information in new laws, these “data mapping” exercises often feel as cryptic and fabled as a treasure hunt.

Conducting a fruitful data mapping exercise requires strategic planning, partnership between legal teams and IT, and a toolbox of technological tools designed to facilitate the process. Even then, the clues may be difficult to decode. DWT can help you avoid these five common mistakes…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Misinformation and Disinformation

“Giorgi Revishvili discusses the issues of misinformation and disinformation. Revishvili is a fellow at the Sunlight Foundation participating in the Professional Fellows Program, which is funded by the U.S Department of State and operated by the American Councils. Hailing from Georgia — the country in the South Caucasus, not the U.S. state — he works for the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the International Relations Department. Previously he was a researcher at the Media Development Foundation, specializing in Russian disinformation and conducting media literacy trainings. He has BA and MA degrees in International Relations from Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. The opinions expressed in the blog are solely his and do not represent official views of the Ministry or any other organization…” [includes text and a podcast]

Useful sources for fact-checking include:

If you want to understand more about current disinformation campaigns, check out the following websites, which provide in-depth information about disinformation, and place individual invented stories in the context of larger disinformation campaigns:

Categories: Law and Legal

Legislative Purpose and Adviser Immunity in Congressional Investigations

CRS – Legislative Purpose and Adviser Immunity in Congressional Investigations May 24, 2019: “The Trump Administration has recently questioned the legal validity of numerous investigative demands made by House committees. These objections have been based on various grounds, but two specific arguments will be addressed in this Sidebar. First, the President and other Administration officials have contended that certain committee demands lack a valid “legislative purpose” and therefore do not fall within Congress’s investigative authority. This objection has been made not only in response to investigations seeking information relating to the President’s personal finances, including his financial records and federal tax returns, but also to challenge a subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee for the complete version of Special Counsel Mueller’s report along with underlying evidence and materials. Second, the President has made a more generalized claim that his advisers cannot be made to testify before Congress, even in the face of a committee subpoena. This position, based upon the executive branch’s longstanding conception of immunity for presidential advisers from compelled congressional testimony regarding their official duties, was recently put into effect by the White House in a letter announcing that the President directed former White House counsel Don McGahn not to appear at a scheduled House Judiciary Committee hearing. The letter asserted that Mr. McGahn, now a private citizen, “is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President.”

While the particulars of any given information access dispute between the executive and legislative branches are important, existing legal precedent would suggest that these types of objections to Congress’s exercise of its constitutionally based investigatory powers will likely face an uphill battle…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Investigating the Impact of Gender on Rank in Resume Search Engines

Investigating the Impact of Gender on Rank in Resume Search Engines. CHI ’18 Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Paper No. 651.
“In this work we investigate gender-based inequalities in the context of resume search engines, which are tools that allow recruiters to proactively search for candidates based on keywords and filters. If these ranking algorithms take demographic features into account (directly or indirectly), they may produce rankings that disadvantage some candidates. We collect search results from Indeed, Monster, and Career Builder based on 35job titles in 20 U. S. cities, resulting in data on 855K job candidates. Using statistical tests, we examine whether these search engines produce rankings that exhibit two types of indirect discrimination:individual and group unfairness. Furthermore, we use controlled experiments to show that these websites do not use inferred gender of candidates as explicit features in their ranking algorithms.”

Categories: Law and Legal

ALA releases new Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census

“Today the American Library Association released the Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census, a new resource to prepare libraries for the decennial count of every person living in the United States.

“Next year, when people begin to receive mail asking them to complete the census, we know that many of them will have questions about it. ALA’s new Guide is to make sure library workers have answers,” said ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo. “Working to ensure a fair, accurate, and inclusive census aligns with our professional values and the needs of the diverse communities we serve.”

…With support from ALA’s 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force, ALA teamed with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality to develop the Guide, which includes:

  • basic information about the census process;
  • highlights of new components in the 2020 Census, such as the online response options;
  • frequently asked questions;
  • a timeline of key Census dates;
  • contact information and links to additional resources…”
Categories: Law and Legal

Online identification is getting more and more intrusive

The Economist [paywall] – Phones can now tell who is carrying them from their users’ gaits

“…LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an American analytics firm, has catalogued more than 4 billion phones, tablets and other computers in this way for banks and other clients. Roughly 7% of them have been used for shenanigans of some sort. But device fingerprinting is becoming less useful. Apple, Google and other makers of equipment and operating systems have been steadily restricting the range of attributes that can be observed remotely. That is why a new approach, behavioral biometrics, is gaining ground. It relies on the wealth of measurements made by today’s devices. These include data from accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors, that reveal how people hold their phones when using them, how they carry them and even the way they walk. Touchscreens, keyboards and mice can be monitored to show the distinctive ways in which someone’s fingers and hands move. Sensors can detect whether a phone has been set down on a hard surface such as a table or dropped lightly on a soft one such as a bed. If the hour is appropriate, this action could be used to assume when a user has retired for the night. These traits can then be used to determine whether someone attempting to make a transaction is likely to be the device’s habitual user…”

Categories: Law and Legal


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