Category Law

Dems’ SOPA support risky in 2012

Ryan Rainey:

The technology industry might be crucial for the economy of Wisconsin’s second-largest city, but our congressional delegation has been reluctant to heavily contribute to the debate about SOPA and PIPA. It took until Wednesday’s online “blackout,” in which The Badger Herald participated, for Madison’s own Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin to release a statement announcing she would not support the legislation.

Last Tuesday, Baldwin’s press representative said she had “some reservations” about the legislation. Baldwin still was staying unusually quiet about the issue.

Baldwin has rightfully earned her title as one of the most effective progressive voices in the House of Representatives. However, her reluctance to be one of the major progressive voices to come out early against SOPA and PIPA exposes several important aspects of her position in Congress, her campaign for Senate and the disappointing representation of Congress’ Democratic caucus.

Ever since her first Congressional victory in the 1990s, Baldwin has essentially been a shoo-in to win Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District. Still, she needs donations to keep her biannual campaigns afloat, and she predictably receives large donations from trade unions and equal rights advocacy groups.

A brief scan of the history of donations to Baldwin’s campaign committee might explain her reluctance to oppose SOPA immediately. In 2010, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association donated $10,000 to Baldwin’s campaign, tying it with three other unions as the top donor to the Baldwin campaign. Unsurprisingly, the NCTA is one of the many organizations affiliated with the entertainment industry that supports SOPA.

Remembering Gordon Hirabayashi

Dorothy M. Ehrlich, Deputy Executive Director, ACLU:

Gordon Hirabayashi was an American-born student at the University of Washington in 1942, when he was ordered in his senior year to report to an internment camp in northern California. He refused.

Only a handful of remarkably courageous individuals defied the internment orders. Hirabayashi was not only the youngest; his decision was a clear act of civil disobedience based on his deeply held pacifist beliefs.



In every respect, Hirobayashi’s defiance made him a civil rights hero. He died last week in Edmonton, Alberta, at the age of 93.



Some 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned in America’s concentration camps — a shameful act of wartime hysteria based on racial prejudice. Hirabayashi challenged the curfew he was subject to and the internment order.

“If I were to register and cooperate… I would be giving helpless consent to the denial of practically all of the things which give me incentive to live,” he said then. “I must maintain the democratic standards for which this nation lives. I am objecting to the principle of this order which denies the right of human beings, including citizens.”

Stopping SOPA


The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy. Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is. If we do nothing, Congress will likely pass the Protect IP Act (in the Senate) or the Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House), and then the President will probably sign it into law. There are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet, and a few months ago many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.

We’ve seen some amazing activism organized by redditors at /r/sopa and across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelming voices from the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit on January 18th from 8am–8pm EST (1300–0100 UTC).

Finally, a Judge Stands up to Wall Street

Matt Taibbi:

Federal judge Jed Rakoff, a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office here in New York, is fast becoming a sort of legal hero of our time. He showed that again yesterday when he shat all over the SEC’s latest dirty settlement with serial fraud offender Citigroup, refusing to let the captured regulatory agency sweep yet another case of high-level criminal malfeasance under the rug.

The SEC had brought an action against Citigroup for misleading investors about the way a certain package of mortgage-backed assets had been chosen. The case is very similar to the notorious Abacus case involving Goldman Sachs, in which Goldman allowed short-selling billionaire John Paulson (who was betting against the package) to pick the assets, then told a pair of European banks that the “designed to fail” package they were buying had been put together independently.

This case was similar, but worse. Here, Citi similarly told investors a package of mortgages had been chosen independently, when in fact Citi itself had chosen the stuff and was betting against the whole pile.



This whole transaction actually combined a number of Goldman-style misdeeds, since the bank both lied to investors and also bet against its own product and its own customers. In the deal, Citi made a $160 million profit, while its customers lost $700 million

We Are All Just Data

Jack Kaufman:

Recently for English, we had to write a quick paragraph using a bunch of vocabulary words we had learned while reading American literature. I chose to write about a potential conversation that I would love to have with Larry Page. Here it is:

“I sat down in the theater for what would become an arduous, yet interesting conversation with Larry Page, one of the founders of Google. I started off by asking him if the new social network Google had been working on was received with much approbation. He said it was doing great, with tens of millions of users and active engagement with everyone on the site, though Facebook’s new Timeline feature and Open Graph would require Google’s vigilance to come up with new innovations in the social space. My next question led to a change in his disposition, as I asked him whether “free” products such as the ones from Facebook and Google were artifices to gather immense amounts of data to give marketers super-focused ad placement. He then said that the usurpations I was alleging were incredibly false, that I was an insidious person, and that he was going to leave.”

Let’s gaze upon the corpse of the Fourth Amendment

Fabius Maximus:

Summary: Most of the Bill of Rights has been de facto voided, as Courts sometimes — or often — rely on specious logic to ignore the word’s plain meaning. A few phrases retain their force, giving us the illusion of liberty (eg, we are well-armed sheep). Over time the dead area probably will continue to expand, the arrival of the inevitable again surprising us. Here we look at the corpse of the fourth amendment.
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away …

Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.

On the historic context of institutionalized gathering of personal data

Tom O’Doherty:

As Dediu acknowledges, this in itself is not a new insight — there has been plenty of coverage of privacy controversies at Facebook, Google and other companies. What was interesting, however, was that he linked this to a larger historical context, referring to the process of institutions (state and private) gathering information about individuals over the last few centuries. This reminded me of an interview that Cabinet Magazine conducted with Valentin Groebner in 2006, about the medieval and pre-modern tracking of individuals.

Groebner,? Professor of History at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland, is the author of Who Are You?: Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe, and his interview with David Serlin talks about the history of passports, in the context of larger historical surrenderings of privacy in the last two hundred years.

It is possible that the current wave of institutional data-hoarding may in effect be the last. The companies who are leading it are far more efficient than previous authorities — historically, state and church authorities. They are taking the data from people who are apparently far more willing to give it than in previous eras. And they are going to be able to analyse and process personal data far more finely than anyone else ever has. This is not really an alarmist conclusion — although the situation itself is alarming — but simply an acknowledgement of existing reality. Dediu’s comment that “this will become a political question” and that “these things are doomsday issues for some” is interesting in the context of the recent successes of the privacy-advocating Piratenpartei (Pirate Party) in the 2011 Berlin state elections.

As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines

Gary Fields & John Emshwiller:

For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a “guilty mind.”

This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.

As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time. When the police came to Wade Martin’s home in Sitka, Alaska, in 2003, he says he had no idea why. Under an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, coastal Native Alaskans such as Mr. Martin are allowed to trap and hunt species that others can’t. That included the 10 sea otters he had recently sold for $50 apiece.

Wikileaks Founder: Facebook is the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented

Matt Brian:

Despite awaiting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still the subject of much media interest.
Russia Today (RT) interviewed Assange, getting his viewpoint on political unrest in Egypt and Libya, particularly probing what the Wikileaks founder makes of social media’s roles in the recent revolutions in both countries. In his interview, Assange focuses particularly on Facebook calling it the “most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented”.

Seven tricky questions for Mr Buffett

Andrew Hill:

Until this week, only one topic was off-limits for questions to Warren Buffett at Saturday’s annual gathering of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in Omaha: how serious is the Dave Sokol affair?
On Wednesday, however, the company issued an 18-page report from its audit committee about the former star executive’s trading in shares in Lubrizol, a chemicals group later bought by Berkshire, and declared open season for all questions to Mr Buffett.
Here are my seven:
1. How serious is the Dave Sokol affair?
You are the world’s most famous long-term investor. Recently, Berkshire’s shares have lagged behind the S&P 500, but your record of outperformance over more than four decades speaks for itself. Even big, conservative bets, such as the 2009 investment in Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, have been well timed. But Mr Sokol was a frontrunner to succeed you as chief executive. You lauded him regularly in your annual letter to shareholders. His abrupt resignation and the circumstances surrounding it seem to suggest that this is more than just a blip.
2. Do you love some of your managers too much?