Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Link Roundup – 04/25/13

Milo Yiannopoulos has some concerns about Google Glass.

In the future, robots will grade your college essays.

The IRS can probably read your email without a warrant.

The ATF, not wanting to be left out, would like to know more about you, and find it all out more easily.

UC Irvine law dean Erwin Chemerinsky thinks the only way to eliminate inequality is compulsory public schooling, and the outlaw of private schooling.

The NSA data center in Utah will be able to store a truly mind-boggling amount of data. Data on, you know, all of us… But hey, at least it’ll create jobs.

The EU becomes increasingly intolerant of free speech.

The Federalist Society has begun Executive Branch Review, a website keeping tabs on the acts of regulatory agencies (which, fun fact, produce some 90% of laws).

Jonathan Adler takes issue Rickie Solinger’s accounting of the effect of Roe on abortion statistics.

Lawmakers, having decided that what’s good for you is bad for them, are looking to exempt themselves from the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

In other stupidity, the Obama administration thinks it would be a rather good idea to do the exact thing that eventually brought us the “economic downturn.”

And finally, in a rare bit of good news, a federal magistrate has refused a government request to compel decryption of a hard drive.

 

Privacy Link Roundup – 02/09/13

Your password is bad and you should feel bad. Seriously, review your passwords.

Facebook’s ‘Graph Search.’ Making something already horrifying slightly more horrific.

Speaking of Facebook, you do know they monitor, record, and turn over to police the things you write, right? Just making sure.

Your WiFi-enabled smartphone could be used to track where you go in stores, in the not-that-distant future. But maybe it’s not really that bad.

The NSA pinky-swears that there’s no domestic spying.

The DEA would very much like to snoop through the medical records of Oregon residents without the hassle of a warrant.

In a two-page paper, devoid of argument or analysis, the DHS concludes that it may seize travelers’ electronic devices for any reason at all. This power apparently extends 100 miles inland as well, which covers the entirety of Florida, Hawaii, several states in the northeast, and more than a handful of large cities.

Firearms Link Roundup – 02/09/13

Firearms controls don’t work nearly as well as politicians would like.

Moorfield Storey Blog has a couple of articles examining firearm ownership and homicide rates.

It seems a draft proposal for tighter restrictions in New York was draconian enough that a Democratic legislator urged his Republican counterpart to keep the proposal a secret.

San Diego police chief William Lansdowne thinks that with the right laws, Americans could be disarmed within a generation, and that would be just great. I’d suggest he read some Small Arms Survey publications, and see how well that idea has worked in other parts of the world.

The California Senate Democrats seem to be on board with him, though.

On the flip side, various counties and cities are looking to nullify any bans.

And enforcement might require an IT overhaul.

Wyoming legislators are looking to criminalize any enforcement of a federal ban.

And finally, in home-state news, right-to-carry reforms are advancing through the Kansas legislature.

Drone Link Roundup – 02/09/13

Charlottesville, Virginia becomes the first U.S. city to ban drones, though they admit the move is essentially symbolic.

The Oregon Senate aims for somewhat less symbolic regulation, but the FAA may well take issue with a claim of state control of airspace.

The Volokh Conspiracy rounds up more drone memo reactions.

Use drones to try and keep those pesky illegals out? Sure, why not. Will it be effective? Probably not.

Ilya Somin’s take on the drone memo.

Constitutional Originalism and Drone Strikes.

A Closer Look at the NBC Drone Memo

Commentary and analysis concerning the Justice Department “white paper” is just pouring in.

All those links are good reading, and more thorough analysis than I will do at this time, when there’s not yet much new to say. But for the link-averse, here are a few of the highlights:

Killing an American can happen if the citizen is “a senior operation leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force.” While not amorphous, that’s pretty vague. What is an associated force, exactly? That’s not defined, so I guess it’s whatever the government wants it to be.

This killing will be hunky-dory when:

  1. An informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States
  2. capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and
  3. the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

Let’s talk about (1):

Who is making the decision as to whether a given American citizen is a terrorist? Oh, you know… somebody. They’ll be “informed” and “high-level.” Don’t worry about it, they know what they’re doing. Is there any oversight or review to this decision? Doesn’t seem to be, so I guess we’ll just have to trust whomever makes the call to not make any mistakes, because there’s no clear recourse available should that happen.

But hey, at least we know that should it come to this, at least we’ll know there was an imminent threat against our nation. Well… you know how sometimes you have to interpret a word liberally to make it work in context?

“Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. [. . .] [A]n ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack [. . .] does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

That’s certainly a non-traditional definition of the word.

Also, this totally wouldn’t be an assassination in violation of Executive Order 12333, because it’s an act of “national self defense” against an imminent threat. By which they mean a threat that lacks any clear evidence of its existence, any known target, or any particular time that it might occur. Also, let’s not box ourselves in… the Terrorist might not even be plotting anything at the moment, but if he’s “recently been involved in activities posing an imminent threat”, and there’s no evidence he’s turned in his membership card and gone home, we can infer that he’s still hard at it. That assumption is probably generally accurate, but when coupled with the Justice Department’s new-and-improved definition of “imminent,” it appears to open the time-frame up to such a degree as to render it basically meaningless.

(2):

“[C]apture would not be feasible if it could not be physically effectuated during the relevant window of opportunity or if the relevant country were to decline to consent to a capture operation. Other factors such as undue risk to U.S. personnel conducting a potential capture operation also could be relevant. Feasibility would be a highly fact-specific and potentially time-sensitive inquiry.”

Part of that sounds pretty reasonable. You can’t capture someone who cannot be reached during a given period of time. That’s just physics, and such. The country in which they reside might not want U.S. forces running around looking for the target (but naturally they’ll be fine with drones dropping bombs within their territory). And whether or not this is feasible would be fact-specific and time-sensitive, which looks a lot like a roundabout way of saying it’s just a judgment call, and one with little in the way of definite criteria. “If you can capture ’em, maybe do that, as long as it’s not too much trouble.”

And what, if anything, does it really mean that “the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible”? The three-point criteria dictate when it’s legal to bomb an American citizen, so I suppose the U.S. will continue to monitor whether capture is becomes feasible, right up until our “person of interest” is exploded?

(3):

The paper asserts that all of this is definitely legal, at one point analogizing the action of bombing a declared terrorist to a police officer shooting a dangerous suspect who’s attempting to flee the scene. For reasons illustrated on Lowering the Bar’s commentary, I don’t really think this analogy works. Another argument states, basically, that since this declared terrorist would be an American, it might be argued that killing them would be murder or manslaughter, but those terms only apply to “unlawful killings,” and since the government would be exerting “public authority” then it can’t be unlawful. In short, it would sure be illegal if we weren’t the one’s defining what illegal means. This section is long on assertions, and short on clear analysis.

The whole paper buries the reader in arguments that depend on you acceptance of either questionable propositions or the very conclusions they  purport to reach.

NBC Acquires Justice Department Drone Memo

It is being reported that NBC has acquired a Justice Department white paper which purports to provide legal justification for targeted killings (read: assassinations), using drones, of American citizens abroad.

Initial commentary suggests that some key terms used in the justification are being used in a somewhat “innovative” fashion, shall we say.

When I’ve a few moments to dedicate to it, I’ll give the memo a real read, form a semi-coherent opinion, and announce said opinion here. Yes, really. Two days, tops.

For now, you can read the memo yourself here.

(Hat tip to the Volokh Conspiracy)

I’m Back (-ish)

After starting law school, this blog got put on the very farthest back burner, with nothing in the way of explanation to my (very few) readers. Having emerged from the shadow of my first semester, and entered the fray of my second, I now hope to shoe-horn in some time every few days to post something, even if it’s only a collection of links to articles or posts elsewhere. All apologies for the months of unexplained silence.

The Individual Mandate: My 2¢

Firstly, this isn’t a legal analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision. For that, please direct yourself to The Volokh Conspiracy. Go on, go. You can come back here after you’re done.

.   .   .   .

And you’re back. Now don’t you feel smarter?

Good.

So, as you know by now, the Supreme Court upheld almost everything in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in a 5-4 decision. I’ve yet to read the Court’s opinions myself, as they’re quite long, but it seems as though things could probably have gone much worse. Yes, the individual mandate was upheld, but it was construed as a tax. This means that Congress’ power to do whatever the hell it feels like hasn’t been expanded to nearly the degree it would have been had the act been upheld on the basis of the ‘Necessary and Proper’ clause, or God forbid, the Interstate Commerce clause.

So, what then?

This isn’t the End of Democracy™, the Death of the Republic™, or any other such fiery polemics espoused by well-paid pundits. It is unfortunate, but by no means the most unfortunate thing that’s happened in recent memory.

*clears throat, and proceeds in a booming voice*

And ye, the assembled politicians stirred from their Scotch-soaked napping, and they didst see: Health care was eye-watteringly expensive, and insurance companies didn’t want to take on customers who were likely to be a net loss. They were a little concerned with the human suffering, and a lot concerned that said humans would find them somehow accountable. What was to be done, they asked, while dramatically wringing their hands and photogenically weeping for the plight. Discovering the reasons for the expense, and correcting the system would be an enormous task, and more importantly won’t be done before the next election. So that’s out. They could, in their magnanimity, provide public health insurance, but no… that’s some commie horseshit. Well, what if they just forced everyone to buy private health insurance? That was some corporatist horseshit, and that’s exactly the kind of horseshit they loved.

And so it was. Instead of attempting to fix the system, there was simply a demand for all and sundry to buy into it. A band-aid for a gunshot wound.

*becomes less dramatic*

Right then…

I don’t think the ACA is going to fix what its creators and supporters hope it will fix. Simply forcing people to buy insurance, and forcing companies to insure those with preexisting conditions is not going to magically make the American health care system not a huge disaster. A system of socialized medicine, perhaps even one built only for those who were unable to get private insurance, may indeed be some “commie horseshit,” but it would be a fair sight more honest than the end run around of compelling everyone to buy insurance, thereby “taxing” the healthy for the benefit of the sick, and for the even greater benefit of the insurance companies. Health care needs fixed, but this isn’t the way to do it. And now that the law has passed through SCOTUS essentially unscathed, we’ve created interest groups who will fight tooth and nail against any efforts to change or repeal it. We’ve done nothing but made things more complicated.

Link Roundup – 06/28/12

IT World has an article about web tracking, and who’s doing the most of it.

Facebook is being sued for $15 billion over their privacy practices.

Wired reports on legislation in New York to ban anonymous online speech.

Rhode Island has just repealed a 1989 law which made lying online illegal.

The CBSA has been directed to put on hold their plans to monitor Canadians’ at airports with cameras and microphones.

Iran is again blaming the U.S. and Israel (And the U.K. as well, why not?) for computer attacks and disruptions of the nuclear program.

Senator Charles Schumer is concerned with Google and Apple’s attempts to survey the world for their mapping services. Is it the invasion of privacy? Why, no. He’s concerned that Terrorists™ will use this information to do terroristy things.

Foreign workers are being advised to keep their papers on them when in Arizona.

American fundamentalist Christian schools are using the Loch Ness Monster to prove evolution is an evil secularist lie perpetrated by godless scientists, or something like that. I’m confident they’re proving something, but I don’t think it’s what they think they are.

Netflix may be compelled to provide closed-captioning on all their programming.

Jimmy Carter states what should be obvious: The United States’ policy of drone warfare, with its regular and numerous collateral victims, is a violation of various human rights, and undermines any claim we might have as a beacon of morality.

They Shan’t be Content Till We’re All Naked and Tagged

“They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.” – Frédéric Bastiat

Or, perhaps another quote would have sufficed; “Who watches the watchmen?”

Technology marches on, steadily introducing new avenues for oppression. And it would seem that They won’t rest until the whole of us have been examined, numbered, and cataloged. “They” seems to encompass a variety of people and organizations, all of whom appear to believe that the key to making the world More Decent is just a little less privacy for everyone.

For example, the FBI wants tech companies to provide built-in back doors for government access. Presumably, if you oppose the idea of all your social media and communications software coming set up for government snooping, you probably support Terrorism and/or Child Pornography. The rhetoric nearly always frames these sorts of things as the false choice between either “Giving law enforcement the Tools It Needs” or “Letting the bogeymen win.”

The NSA, as part of their continuing efforts to elevate themselves to the status of comic book villains, informed the Senate’s Intelligence Oversight Committee that they essentially had no idea how many Americans had been spied on, couldn’t devote the manpower to figure this out without hindering their ability to continue spying, and would consider it a violation of citizens’ right to privacy to say, even if they did know. I don’t even know where to begin. I would certainly hope the NSA knows how many Americans it has intentionally spied upon. That should be simple math, counting up the files. I can certainly believe they may not know how many Americans have been accidentally spied upon. This is an agency that is attempting to analyze all communications. All. That they’d be unaware they were listening in on your calls to Aunt Mavis back at the farm until someone told them it was happening is completely believable. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, just that it seems like a very real possibility. But that they would tell the people in charge of their oversight that it would violate Americans’ privacy to know that their privacy was being violated is some kind of insane troll logic. It’s hard to formulate a good reply, because you don’t even know how they could arrive at that conclusion.

Or perhaps we do know how they arrive at these sorts of conclusions. These are the kind of statements and policies put forward by people who firmly believe themselves to be our betters. They’re doing important work; protecting the sloppy masses from the demons that live in this world. Demons we may not even be aware exist. Their power has made them arrogant, and given them a profound sense of entitlement. Good People do Good Things, and they are Good. As such, how could anything they do be Bad? They are the Holy Paladins, who’ve turned into the demons they fight.

Or perhaps they’re just thugs. It’s probably a coin toss.

But at least neither the FBI nor the NSA is advocating that everyone be bar-coded (at least not yet). Elizabeth Moon is suggesting just that. This is one of those fanciful ideas that probably seems just swell to the same sort of people who’d advocate for more surveillance. The idea being that our wise rulers are hampered greatly due to the fact that they’re not omniscient. So, naturally, instead of restricting their powers to minimize the damage they can do, we should instead try and get them as close to omniscience as possible.

Moving right along, a company called IDair has developed a system capable of reading fingerprints from six meters away.  The current customers are, predictably, military. But the creator sees the system being rolled out for civilian purposes, foreseeing, among other uses, being used as a way to purchase things without bringing your wallet. This presupposes a system where your bank account is tied to your biometrics. This is probably one of those things that either bothers your a lot, or not at all. I’m firmly in the first camp.

Perhaps IDair could be used right alongside the cameras being deployed around twenty San Francisco bars. SceneTap is the company installing the cameras, and the goal is apparently to build demographic data so that you know which establishments you’d like to go to, when you’re out on the town. Fair enough. But if we take a stroll down the slippery slope, how soon until a system such as this would be used for more objectionable purposes? Facial recognition linked to biometric databases could be used to determine whether a bar patron is of age. Or perhaps subpoenaed for a divorce case to cast one parent’s visits to the local watering hole as evidence of their unfitness to raise children. Crack open a cold one, and let slip the dogs of well-founded paranoia.

In the name of fighting the never-ending War on Drugs™, the DEA would like to scan the license plates of all vehicles travelling I-15 in Utah. Then they’d like to keep that data for two years. This would create a record of movement that I feel certain wouldn’t stay tied to only drug investigations. Mission creep inevitably sets in, and the data would surely be used for purposes that weren’t initially considered. And when they sort out who you are, they could just track you via your cell phone, even if it’s not GPS-enabled.

Or, as Futurama put it, describing the evil robotic Santa, “He knows when you’ve been sleeping! / He knows when you’re on the can! / He’ll hunt you down and blast your ass from here to Pakistan!”