September 15, 2008

A Privacy Decision Facing An Uphill Fight [9:42 am]

Judge Limits Searches Using Cellphone Data (pdf)

The government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause of criminal activity before directing a wireless provider to turn over records that show where customers used their cellphones, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, in the first opinion by a federal district court on the issue.

Judge Terrence F. McVerry of the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected the government’s argument that historical cellphone tower location data did not require probable cause.

The ruling could begin to establish the standard for such requests, which industry lawyers say are routine as more people carry cellphones that reveal their locations. Around the country, magistrate judges, who handle matters such as search warrants, have expressed concern about the lack of guidance.

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[9:31 am]

The Washington Post has a two article series based on Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, focusing on his role in leading the surveillance program

  • Conflict Over Spying Led White House to Brink (pdf)

  • Cheney Shielded Bush From Crisis (pdf)

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Exporting Rights [8:14 am]

A story that’s been written up many places, but a succinct presentation of another kind of “chilling effect:” ‘Libel Tourism’ - When Freedom of Speech Takes a Holiday

The lawsuit is a case of what legal experts are calling “libel tourism.” Ms. Ehrenfeld is an American, and “Funding Evil” was never published in Britain. But at least 23 copies of the book were sold online, opening the door for the lawsuit. When Ms. Ehrenfeld decided not to defend the suit in Britain, Mr. bin Mahfouz won a default judgment and is now free to sue to collect in the United States.

The upshot is a First Amendment loophole. In the Internet age, almost every American book can be bought in Britain. That means American authors are subject to being sued under British libel law, which in some cases puts the initial burden on the defendant to prove the truth of what she has written. British libel law is so tilted against writers that the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized it last month for discouraging discussion of important matters of public interest.

Why it’s not just called “jurisdiction shopping” is beyond me.

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Facebook? MySpace? Why Not Go All Out! [8:07 am]

Spit Parties for Folks Who Want to Break Their Own DNA Code

COMPREHENSIVE DNA tests may one day be a normal part of medical care, but right now 23andMe’s efforts to make genetic testing an impulse buy disturbs many researchers.

“People think if you have money to spend on this, why not buy a test instead of a model train for Christmas,” said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. “It can be neat and fun, but it can also have deep psychological implications, both for how you view yourself and how others view you, depending on who else has access to the information.”

Ms. Wojcicki and Linda Avey, the company’s other founder, say their chief goal is to advance science by compiling a database of genetic information that medical researchers can tap (while protecting customers’ anonymity). Customers cannot opt out of having their information anonymously shared, but they can refuse to participate in surveys focusing on specific traits.

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OT: Technologies and Evidence [8:03 am]

A bizarre one: India’s Novel Use of Brain Scans in Courts Is Debated

Now, well before any consensus on the technology’s readiness, India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question.

For years, scientists have peered into the brain and sought to identify deception. They have shot infrared beams through liars’ heads, placed them in giant magnetic resonance imaging machines and used scanners to track their eyeballs. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has plowed money into brain-based lie detection in the hope of producing more fruitful counterterrorism investigations.

The technologies, generally regarded as promising but unproved, have yet to be widely accepted as evidence — except in India, where in recent years judges have begun to admit brain scans. [...]

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Musings on John McCain’s Facebook Page [7:59 am]

Asking the natural question: Facebook Politics?

Nonetheless, she persists, and the (presumably) American posters take great pleasure in teaching her the ropes of speedy American political debate, even as they wonder what she’s doing on this particular wall.

In fact, that question seems to haunt the whole crowd. What are we doing here? Clearly, it could go either way. What they’re doing on John McCain’s Facebook page — debating, joking, cooking up homemade propaganda about war, poverty, taxation, sexuality, immigration, religion — is, depending on who’s talking and what day it is, either just another online waste of time or the most important thing they’ve ever done in their lives.

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How Convenient! [7:32 am]

In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion

Federal agencies have rushed to embrace the Internet and new information technology, but their record-keeping efforts lag far behind. Moreover, federal investigators have found widespread violations of federal record-keeping requirements.

Many federal officials admit to a haphazard approach to preserving e-mail and other electronic records of their work. Indeed, many say they are unsure what materials they are supposed to preserve.

This confusion is causing alarm among historians, archivists, librarians, Congressional investigators and watchdog groups that want to trace the decision-making process and hold federal officials accountable. With the imminent change in administrations, the concern about lost records has become more acute.

[...] When President Bill Clinton left office, the National Archives preserved snapshots of agency Web sites as they existed on or just before Jan. 20, 2001. The Archives decided recently that it would not take such snapshots at the end of the Bush administration. “Most Web records do not warrant permanent retention,” because they do not have “long-term historical value,” the Archives said.

Many historians disagree. Several university libraries and the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library based in San Francisco, are starting to do what the federal government refuses to do: copy government Web sites, so they remain available after Mr. Bush leaves office.

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More On Textbooks [7:31 am]

Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free

In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.

“This market is not working very well — except for the shareholders in the textbook publishers,” he said. “We have lots of knowledge, but we are not getting it out.”

See earlier The Open Source Text

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