Law and Legal

Pete Recommends – Weekly highlights on cyber security issues, January 3, 2020

Via LLRXPete Recommends – Weekly highlights on cyber security issues, January 3, 2020 – 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: Zoom scam alert: Never click on this kind of invite; The Most Dangerous People on the Internet in 2020; She didn’t know her kidnapper. But he was using Google Maps — and that cracked the case; and CISA updates SolarWinds guidance, tells US govt agencies to update right away.

Categories: Law and Legal

Surprise Ending for Publishers: In 2020, Business Was Good

The New York Times – “With people stuck at home and so many other activities shut down, a lot of reading — or at least a lot of book buying — happened this year. ” Like everybody else, book publishers will be happy to see the end of 2020. But for many of them, the year has brought some positive news, which has been as welcome as it was surprising: Business has been good. With so many people stuck at home and activities from concerts to movies off limits, people have been reading a lot — or at least buying a lot of books. Print sales by units are up almost 8 percent so far this year, according to NPD BookScan. E-books and audiobooks, which make up a smaller portion of the market, are up as well. “I expect that at the end of the year, when you look at the final numbers,” Madeline McIntosh, chief executive of Penguin Random House U.S., said of the industry, “it will have been the best year in a very long time.” When the United States slammed shut in March, book sales dropped sharply, but the dip didn’t last. While some parts of the industry have continued to struggle, like bookstores and educational publishers, publishing executives say that demand came rushing back around June. Many of these sales went to Amazon, but big-box stores, especially Target, also did well. As essential businesses that sold things like groceries, they were allowed to stay open through the lockdowns. Dennis Abboud, chief executive of ReaderLink, a book distributor to major chains like Walmart, Target and Costco, said his company’s online sales nearly quadrupled over last year. “It was really a tale of two cities,” Mr. Abboud said. “The beginning of the year was mega soft, and the end of the year was mega strong.” Even though the number of people commuting has plummeted this year, audiobook revenue is up more than 17 percent over the same period in 2019, according to the Association of American Publishers, and e-book sales, which had been declining for the past several years, are up more than 16 percent…But the strength in the general-interest publishing market has gone beyond a few titles and categories. New books, which in industry-speak are called the frontlist, have sold well, but so have older titles…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Understanding the origins of COVID-19

New York Magazine – The Intelligencer: “What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed. Many thoughtful people dismiss this notion, and they may be right. They sincerely believe that the coronavirus arose naturally, “zoonotically,” from animals, without having been previously studied, or hybridized, or sluiced through cell cultures, or otherwise worked on by trained professionals. They hold that a bat, carrying a coronavirus, infected some other creature, perhaps a pangolin, and that the pangolin may have already been sick with a different coronavirus disease, and out of the conjunction and commingling of those two diseases within the pangolin, a new disease, highly infectious to humans, evolved. Or they hypothesize that two coronaviruses recombined in a bat, and this new virus spread to other bats, and then the bats infected a person directly — in a rural setting, perhaps — and that this person caused a simmering undetected outbreak of respiratory disease, which over a period of months or years evolved to become virulent and highly transmissible but was not noticed until it appeared in Wuhan.

There is no direct evidence for these zoonotic possibilities, just as there is no direct evidence for an experimental mishap — no written confession, no incriminating notebook, no official accident report. Certainty craves detail, and detail requires an investigation. It has been a full year, 80 million people have been infected, and, surprisingly, no public investigation has taken place. We still know very little about the origins of this disease. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth offering some historical context for our yearlong medical nightmare. We need to hear from the people who for years have contended that certain types of virus experimentation might lead to a disastrous pandemic like this one. And we need to stop hunting for new exotic diseases in the wild, shipping them back to laboratories, and hot-wiring their genomes to prove how dangerous to human life they might become…”

Categories: Law and Legal

CRS – Russian Cyber Units

CRS In Focus – Russian Cyber Units, January 4, 2021: “Russia has deployed sophisticated cyber capabilities to conduct disinformation, propaganda, espionage, and destructive cyberattacks globally. To conduct these operations, Russia maintains numerous units overseen by itsvarious security and intelligence agencies. Russia’s security agencies compete with each other and often conduct similar operations on the same targets, making specific attribution and motivation assessments difficult. Congress may be interested in the various Russian agencies, units, and their attributes to better understand why and how Russia conducts cyber operations.”

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COVID-19, Death Records and the Public Interest: Now is the Time to Push for Transparency

Sanders, A. K. (2020). COVID-19, death records and the public interest: Now is the time to push for transparency. Journal of Civic Information, 2(4), 1-22. “As the U.S. has grappled with COVID-19, the government has resisted repeated requests to follow open records laws, which are essential to transparency. Current efforts to reduce access to death records and other public information amid the pandemic jeopardizes government accountability and undermines the public’s trust. Given that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income Americans, incarcerated populations and people of color, access to government-held data has serious implications for social justice. Importantly, those goals can be met without violating personal privacy. After analyzing state open records laws, court decisions and attorney general opinions, the author has developed a set of best practices for advocating access to death records to provide journalists and government watchdogs with important public health information that’s squarely in the public interest.”
Categories: Law and Legal

This clever attachment makes any bike an e-bike in just seconds

Fast Company – “When product designer Somnath Ray started commuting to work by bike to lower his carbon footprint, most of the ride was easy—but a few steep hills were so challenging that he realized that the effort might discourage other people from making the same transportation choice. He started working on a new solution: a simple attachment that temporarily converts any bicycle into an electric bike. The new design, called Clip, attaches to the front wheel of a bike in seconds. Two arms lock around the bike’s fork, and the other end connects with the front of the wheel. A tiny controller attached to the handlebars has a button that you can push to boost your bike’s speed as you pedal up a hill (its maximum speed is 15 miles per hour). The whole thing is streamlined and weighs seven pounds; a tiny, 450-watt motor sits on the front end, and the batteries are housed in the arms of the device. It’s small enough to fit inside a backpack…Clip, which will be on the market in the coming months and is available for preorder now, sells for $399, which the company hopes will make it more accessible to riders who otherwise couldn’t afford to switch to an electric bike. It also isn’t as heavy as conversion kits that have to be permanently attached, and if someone wants to use it only for certain rides, it’s easy to leave at home. The company is also in talks with bike-share companies that may lease the device to subscribers, avoiding the expense and logistical difficulties of adding electric bikes to their fleets…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Google launches Question Hub for US publishers

Search Engine Land:  “Google Question Hub, accessible at, is now open for US-based publishers to sign up for. In 2018, Google launched Question Hub in regions where the company found it did not have enough content in its search index to answer searchers’ questions. Google then started showing this box to searchers last year but told us it was for COVID related queries, but it was much broader than COVID queries.

What is Question Hub? Google says “Question Hub is a tool that enables creators to create richer content by leveraging unanswered questions. Question Hub collects these unanswered user questions and surfaces them to bloggers, writers, and content creators like you.” It is basically a way for Google to enable searchers to tell it that the search results provided are not answering the query. Then, Google takes those questions and feeds them to publishers, who, in turn, can create content that does answer the query…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Maximizing the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals In All Law

A free webinar on the IFLP on January 13, 2021. It’s open to AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) and non-AALL members, but you must register: Wednesday, January 13, 2021 (12pm – 1pm ET). There will be a post at the IALL (International Association of Law Libraries) website for more information. See also these two HeinOnline Blog posts: Discover the Power of AALL’s Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals and Tips from the Experts for Using the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. (via Lyonette Louis-Jacques, University of Chicago Law School)

Categories: Law and Legal

Facts won’t fix this: experts on how to fight America’s disinformation crisis

The Guardian – “Trump’s false claims about the election and coronavirus are taking a dangerous toll. Can the divide be healed? At the beginning of 2021, millions of Americans appear to disagree about one of the most basic facts of their democracy: that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. The consequences of Donald Trump’s repeated, baseless claims of voter fraud will come in several waves, researchers who study disinformation say, even if Trump ultimately hands over power and leaves the White House. And there is no quick or easy way to fix this crisis, they warn. Because when it comes to dealing with disinformation, simply repeating the facts doesn’t do much to change anyone’s mind. In the short term, Trump’s false claims about election fraud have weakened Biden’s ability to address the coronavirus pandemic. “If only 20% of the population is like, ‘You’re not my president, I’m going to double down on my mask resistance,’ or ‘I’m going to continue to have parties over the holidays,’ that means we are going to be even less likely to bring this thing under control,” said Whitney Phillips, a professor of communications at Syracuse University. Over the longer term, the president’s falsehoods may also undermine Biden’s overall governing capability, just as the racist “birther” conspiracy theory, another false claim spread by Trump, helped fuel political resistance to Barack Obama’s presidency. And the damage to Americans’ basic trust in their democracy may have effects far beyond electoral politics.

What does it look like if we don’t have a shared sense of reality?” said Claire Wardle, the executive director of First Draft, a group that researches and combats disinformation. “We’ve seen more conspiracy theories moving mainstream. There’s an increasing number of people who do not believe in the critical infrastructure of a society. Where does that end?”…

Categories: Law and Legal

The surprising grammar of touch

Linguistic Society of America. “The surprising grammar of touch: Language emergence in DeafBlind communities.” ScienceDaily, 30 November 2020. “A new study [Feeling Phonology: The conventionalization of phonology in protactile communities in the United States] demonstrates that grammar is evident and widespread in a system of communication based on reciprocal, tactile interaction, thus reinforcing the notion that if one linguistic channel, such as hearing, or vision, is unavailable, structures will find another way to create formal categories. There are thousands of people across the US and all over the world who are DeafBlind. Very little is known about the diverse ways they use and acquire language, and what effects those processes have on the structure of language itself. This research suggests a way forward in analyzing those articulatory and perceptual patterns — a project that will broaden scientific understanding of what is possible in human language..”

Categories: Law and Legal

Google Docs versus Microsoft Word: Attorneys blame ‘technical incompatibilities’ for late filing

ZDNet – “…The American legal system runs on deadlines. As one practicing attorney wrote in an official publication for the American Bar Association, “[M]issing any filing deadline is a lawyer’s worst nightmare.” That’s especially true if you’re representing the plaintiffs in an “Emergency Complaint For Expedited Declaratory And Emergency Injunctive Relief” involving the United States Presidential election before a Federal District Court. For those keeping score at home, that’s two Emergencies and one Expedited in a single motion. All of which makes this weekend’s filing from the plaintiffs’ legal team in Gohmert v. Pence particularly eye-catching:

Plaintiffs’ Unopposed Motion to File Responsive Brief Late – Come now the Plaintiffs, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-1), Tyler Bowyer, Nancy Cottle, Jake Hoffman, Anthony Kern, James R. Lamon, Sam Moorhead, Robert Montgomery, Loraine Pellegrino, Greg Safsten, Kelli Ward, and Michael Ward, by and through their undersigned counsel, and request that this Court allow Plaintiffs to file their responsive brief one hour late. In support thereof, Plaintiffs state: Plaintiffs have employed a team of lawyers to prepare their responsive brief. During the course of preparation, Plaintiffs’ counsel have encountered numerous technical incompatibilities in the software versions between Google Docs and Microsoft Word resulting in editing difficulties and text problems. WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs request an extension of one hour of the deadline for filing their responsive brief. [emphasis added]

I read that and had to rub my eyes and reread it about five more times to make sure I was really seeing a Federal court filing in which the attorneys for a sitting member of the United States Congress, suing the Vice President of the United States, told a Federal District Court that they needed a one-hour extension because they were having trouble getting Google Docs and Microsoft Word to play nicely together…”

Categories: Law and Legal

7 Steps to Tidying Your Digital Life

Wirecutter / The New York Times – “We live our digital lives across a variety of apps, devices, and accounts. On each of those, a breadcrumb connects back to you. The more breadcrumbs you have out in the world, the easier it is to trace your activity, whether for advertising or identity theft. Installing a password manager and enabling two-factor authentication can go a long way. But spending 30 minutes once a year closing accounts and deleting what you don’t need can further prevent any funny business, paving the way not just for improved privacy but better performance as well. In a tweet, infosec blogger John Opdenakker laid out the idea of “security by removal.” In short, the fewer accounts, software, files, and apps we all have, the less potential there is for data breaches, privacy leaks, or security issues. Think of it like data minimalism, a Marie Kondo–style approach to data and security…” [Note – this is an excellent guide with actionable information – with the caveat that nothing will change unless we each take the time necessary to protect our identities and information online.]

Categories: Law and Legal

What I Have Seen Running the FacesOfCOVID Twitter Feed

The Atlantic – “Nearly every day for the past nine months, I’ve spent the last few hours before I go to sleep or the first few hours after I wake up in the morning reading news stories about and personal remembrances of those we’ve lost to the coronavirus pandemic. I then share the stories on the FacesOfCOVID Twitter feed, which I run. I make sure to read everything from start to finish, striving for accuracy as I write the corresponding posts, and, most important, I try to bear witness to the loss of this person from the Earth. I try to find something unique to lift up in each post, with the hope that people will recognize the loved one they are mourning just from reading a few words in a tweet. More than 300,000 people are dead from COVID-19 in the United States. I find their faces scattered across the Obituaries sections of local newspapers, in profiles from local news, and in the wrenching testimonials submitted directly to me. Throughout my more than 250 days chronicling the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., one story at a time—now more than 4,000 and growing by the day—I’ve had the honor of remembering them through the beauty and goodness of the lives they lived…”

Categories: Law and Legal

COVID-19 in Congress

GovTrack – We’re tracking the impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, on the operations of Congress. Below you’ll find information on:

Quarantined and Sick Legislators – In all, 108 representatives and senators self-quarantined or took other action, or no action, after coming in contact with someone with COVID-19 or testing positive for COVID-19 themselves — some multiple times. On December 29, 2020, just a week before he was to take office, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died of covid-19. This page is populated by data from our database. Because the Congressman-elect was not yet sworn in, he won’t be in our database…” [ht/t Pete Weiss]

Categories: Law and Legal

What is “Section 230,” and why do many lawmakers want to repeal it?

CBS News: “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act helped create the modern internet. Now the regulation is at the center of a high-stakes political battle that could reshape how we use social media, mobile apps and the open web. President Donald Trump and some Republicans in Congress have pushed to repeal the law, while Big Tech CEOs have signaled support for modifying it — although no one can agree on how.  Here’s what you need to know about the controversial law, its flaws and why the prospect of killing it off in a fell swoop worries experts…The regulation states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”  What that means in practice is that internet companies — everything from social media platforms to online retailers to news sites — are generally not liable if a user posts something illegal. Backers of Section 230 credit in part for the success of companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which depend on vast amounts of user-generated content. “[It’s] part of the architecture of the modern internet,” said David Greene, senior staff attorney and Civil Liberties Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Everything you do online depends on it.” Before Section 230 became law, internet services were required to be aware of and responsible for everything on their sites. “The existing law could not scale to meet the needs of the internet in 1996 and certainly wouldn’t scale today,” Greene said…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Differential Privacy

Harvard University Privacy Tools Project – “…Differential privacy is a rigorous mathematical definition of privacy. In the simplest setting, consider an algorithm that analyzes a dataset and computes statistics about it (such as the data’s mean, variance, median, mode, etc.). Such an algorithm is said to be differentially private if by looking at the output, one cannot tell whether any individual’s data was included in the original dataset or not. In other words, the guarantee of a differentially private algorithm is that its behavior hardly changes when a single individual joins or leaves the dataset — anything the algorithm might output on a database containing some individual’s information is almost as likely to have come from a database without that individual’s information. Most notably, this guarantee holds for any individual and any dataset. Therefore, regardless of how eccentric any single individual’s details are, and regardless of the details of anyone else in the database, the guarantee of differential privacy still holds. This gives a formal guarantee that individual-level information about participants in the database is not leaked. The definition of differential privacy emerged from a long line of work applying algorithmic ideas to the study of privacy (Dinur and Nissim `03; Dwork and Nissim `04; Blum, Dwork, McSherry, and Nissim `05), culminating with work of Dwork, McSherry, Nissim, and Smith `06. See our educational materials for more detail about the formal definition of differential privacy and its semantic guarantees…”

Categories: Law and Legal

How a torrent of COVID science changed research publishing — in seven charts

Nature: “The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted science in 2020 — and transformed research publishing, show data collated and analysed by Nature. Around 4% of the world’s research output was devoted to the coronavirus in 2020, according to one database. But 2020 also saw a sharp increase in articles on all subjects being submitted to scientific journals — perhaps because many researchers had to stay at home and focus on writing up papers rather than conducting science. Submissions to publisher Elsevier’s journals alone were up by around 270,000 — or 58% — between February and May when compared with the same period in 2019, one analysis found. The increase was even higher for health and medicine titles, at a whopping 92%. The pandemic also fuelled a sharp rise in sharing through preprints (articles posted online before peer review), advanced the output of male authors over female authors and affected review times — speeding them up in some topics but slowing them down in others…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Biological diversity evokes happiness

Science Daily – “A high biodiversity in our vicinity is as important for life satisfaction as our income, scientists found. All across Europe, the individual enjoyment of life correlates with the number of surrounding bird species. An additional 10% of bird species therefore increases the Europeans’ life satisfaction as much as a comparable increase in income. Nature conservation thus constitutes an investment in human well-being. Under the current pandemic conditions, activities out in nature are a popular pastime. The beneficial effects of a diverse nature on people’s mental health have already been documented by studies on a smaller scale. Scientists of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, the iDiv, and the University of Kiel now examined for the first time whether a diverse nature also increases human well-being on a Europe- wide scale. To this end, the researchers used the data from the “2012 European quality of Life Survey” to study the connection between the species diversity in their surroundings and the life satisfaction in more than 26,000 adults from 26 European countries. Species diversity was measured based on the diversity of avian species, as documented in the European breeding bird atlas.

Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives if their immediate surroundings host a high species diversity,” explains the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst, a doctoral researcher at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, the iDiv, and the Goethe University in Frankfurt. “According to our findings, the happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species.” “We also examined the socio-economic data of the people that were surveyed, and, much to our surprise, we found that avian diversity is as important for their life satisfaction as is their income,” explains Prof. Dr. Katrin Böhning-Gaese, director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, and member of the iDiv. This result becomes particularly obvious when both values increase by ten percent. Fourteen additional bird species in the vicinity raise the level of life satisfaction at least as much as an extra 124 Euros per month in the household account, based on an average income of 1,237 Euro per month in Europe…”

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