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18 Oct 19:39

STET

by Sarah Gailey

Edited by Julia Rios

October 2018

Content Note:

This story contains references to the death of a child.

18 Oct 19:16

The Decline Of Congressional Expertise Explained In 10 Charts

by Zach Graves and Daniel Schuman

When Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify earlier this year, the world was shocked by Congress’s evident lack of basic technological literacy. For many, this performance illustrates the institution’s incompetence. After all, if our elected representatives have trouble understanding how Facebook works, how capable are they of understanding the complexities of the federal government, or crafting legislation across a range of technical subjects?

For those of us who live and work in the “swamp,” the Zuckerberg hearings were no great surprise. Just this year, we’ve seen Congress struggle with technology issues such as quantum computing, cryptocurrencies, and the governance of online platforms. Indeed, it seems effectively incapable of tackling major technology policy issues such as the debate over online privacy, election cybersecurity, or artificial intelligence.

This state of affairs is the product of decades of institutional deterioration, sometimes referred to as the “big lobotomy.” While scholars of American government may offer various books or white papers chronicling this decline, the pattern is evident from a few trends that this post will highlight.

The decline of congressional support agencies

Members of Congress typically come from professional backgrounds in business, law or finance rather than science or technology (for instance, there are currently twice as many talk radio hosts as scientists). To help them understand technical policy issues, Members of Congress and their staff rely on expert advisors in legislative branch support agencies such as the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and formerly the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

Of the congressional support agencies, CRS is the primary analytical workhorse that supports day-to-day operations, producing digestible reports and timely memos at the request of congressional offices. Unfortunately, the capacity of CRS has declined precipitously in recent decades. From 1979 to 2015, CRS’ staff has shrunk by 28% – a loss of 238 positions.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-8.

While CRS serves Congress with responsive memos and digestible reports, it also used to have an agency that conducted deep authoritative technical research. This agency was the Office of Technology Assessment, which for over two decades helped Congress understand the nuances of complex science and technology issues. In 1995, Congress eliminated funding for OTA, creating a gap that has not since been filled.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-8, and Future Congress Wiki.

In addition to needing analysis related to the nuances and tradeoffs of particular regulatory policies, Congress also needs help understanding its $4 trillion in annual federal spending and the sprawling administrative state. To help rein in waste, fraud and abuse, Congress relies on the Government Accountability Office – which is empowered to conduct audits and investigations in the federal government. GAO boasts a savings of “$112 for every dollar invested.” Yet, from 1979 to 2015, its staff has been cut by 44% – a loss of 2,314 positions.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-8.

The decline of congressional committees

A critical source of policy expertise in Congress lies within congressional committees. Yet, like support agencies, committee staffing levels have declined significantly over time. From 1979 to 2015, the number of full-time standing committee staff has shrunk by 38% – a loss of 1,361 positions.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-1.

Key committees for technology policy reflect a similar trend. For instance, from 1981 to 2015 (note: 1979 data for House committees was unavailable), the House Energy and Commerce Committee went from 151 to 83 full-time staff. From 1979 to 2015, its Senate counterpart, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, went from 96 to 64 staff. Similarly, from 1981 to 2015, the House Judiciary Committee went from 75 to 61 full-time staff. From 1979 to 2015, its Senate counterpart went from 223 to 91 staff.

With the decline in staffing, committees and subcommittees have also spent much less time conducting hearings, deliberating on policy, and developing legislation. From the 96th Congress (1979-1980) to the 114th Congress (2015-2016), the aggregate number of committee and subcommittee meetings across both chambers decreased by 66%.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 6-1 and 6-2.

Additionally, as shown by Casey Burgat and Charles Hunt, committees are also increasingly shifting resources to communications positions over policy roles.

Personal office staff resources are shifting to constituent services

With the rise of new digital tools and a growing population, Congress has been bombarded with a torrent of new communications from constituents and advocacy groups. Per a Congressional Management Foundation study, Congress received four times as many communications in 2004 than in 1995. Responding to this influx, more staff have shifted from policy to constituent relations and communications roles. Legislative staff may also be called more often to assist with constituent work.

This trend can be seen in the percentage of personal office staff based in district and state offices. From 1979 to 2016, the percentage of personal office staff based in district offices in the House of Representatives went from 35% to 47%.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-3.

In the same period in the Senate, the percentage of personal office staff based in state offices has gone from 24% to 43%. Since overall legislative branch staffing and budgets have declined over this period, this trend means fewer resources for retaining policy experts.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-4.

From 1979 to 2015, the total number of personal office staff has gone from 10,660 to 9,947. Senate numbers have remained relatively stable, since Senate office budgets are tied to population and distance. In the House of representatives, the total number of personal office staff has declined by 15% – a loss of 1,037 positions.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Brookings Institution, Vital Statistics on Congress, Table 5-1.

The decline of legislative branch compensation

In congressional offices, legislative analysis and other policy work falls on a variety of different staff positions. While titles and roles vary by office, these include “legislative correspondent,” “legislative assistant,” “legislative director,” and “chief of staff.” To varying extents, these roles are involved in other activities, such as constituent services, administrative work, and communications.

While cost of living in DC has gone up in recent decades (making it one of the most expensive cities in the country), the overall inflation-adjusted compensation for congressional policy staff has declined.

Source: Original chart based on data from the Congressional Research Service.

The median salary for a lawyer in the House of Representatives in 2015 was $56,000. In the private sector in DC, lawyers can easily earn several times that (an attractive exit for many congressional staff). Congressional salaries also fall significantly short of their executive branch counterparts, contributing to an expanding compensation gap. In short, compensation for working in Congress is far below the level needed to attract top talent.

Congressional staff do not believe they have access to sufficient resources or expertise

In a Congressional Management Foundation survey, a group of senior congressional staff were asked about their perspectives on institutional capacity issues. Therein, they rated a range of different areas as either “very important”/”very satisfied” or “somewhat important”/”somewhat satisfied.”

In one question, 81 percent said that access to policy expertise was “very important,” but only 24 percent said they were “very satisfied” with the status quo – a gap of 57 percentage points.

Source: Original chart based on survey data from the Congressional Management Foundation.

In another question, 67 percent said having adequate time and resources for Members of Congress to consider and deliberate on policy was “very important.” However, only 6% reported that they were “very satisfied” with the status quo.

While congressional capacity has declined, the need for it has increased

The Constitution sets up Congress as the first among three equal branches of government, intending it to lead on policy and provide a check on the executive branch’s potential for waste, fraud and abuse. Unfortunately, Congress has ceded much of its policymaking power and oversight responsibility to the administrative state. As Congress has shrunk over the past few decades, the size and scope of the federal government overall has expanded significantly. For instance, between 1979 and 2014, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations grew from 98,032 pages to 175,268. Over the same period, inflation-adjusted federal discretionary spending grew from $810 billion to $1,220 billion (in 2017 dollars).

When most of our timeline data begins in 1979, it was just a year after the first computers were installed in the White House. It would still be several years before the introduction of 3 ½-inch floppy disks – which people today only know through the save icon. And it would still be over a decade before the launch of the World Wide Web.

Needless to say, since the late 20th century, the number and complexity of science and technology policy challenges have increased at an accelerating rate. These include issues such as infrastructure cybersecurity, election hacking, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, CRISPR, data privacy, and more. If we’re to maintain America’s lead in innovation and meet the policy challenges of the 21st century, we’ll need to rebuild a capable and expert legislature.

If you’re interested in working on the solution, check out the Future Congress project. This is a new coalition and resource hub working to improve science and technology expertise in the legislative branch.

Zach Graves is head of policy at Lincoln Network. Daniel Schuman is policy director at Demand Progress.



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18 Oct 18:57

A Pharmacist Refuses to Give Medication to Woman Having Miscarriage Because He's a 'Good Catholic Male'

A woman named Rachel Peterson from Ionia, Michigan, says that a Meijer pharmacist refused to give her medication to complete her miscarriage due to his personal religious beliefs, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Peterson was requesting misoprostol, used to induce labor, to finish a miscarriage after finding out her fetus had died. Before she could get to the store she received a call from the pharmacist, telling her he was a “a good Catholic male” who objected to giving her the medication because “it’s used for abortions” (misoprostol is one of the medications used in the “abortion pill,” the other is mifepristone.) After Peterson explained that the fetus was not viable anymore, he didn’t believe her, and refused to transfer the prescription to a different pharmacy. Thankfully The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter to Meijer arguing that the pharmacist’s refusal actually violated public accommodation laws.

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A Meijer spokesperson declined to comment on the specific incident, but told the Detroit Free Press that pharmacists are allowed to abstain from filling a prescription due to religious beliefs, but they have to ask another pharmacist to do it in their place and to transfer it to a different pharmacy if there is no one else there to help.

This keeps happening, though perhaps not at the same rate as women who are denied the morning-after-pill. A similar incident happened in June of this year with a woman who was denied misoprostol at a Walgreens in Arizona, and in 2015 a woman was turned away at a Walmart pharmacy for the same drug as well.

18 Oct 18:21

DOJ Rings Up Another Leaker, Nailing Financial Investigation Official For Handing Docs To Buzzfeed

by Tim Cushing

Another government employee has been charged with leaking sensitive info. This time it's a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) official -- one who apparently handed dozens of suspicious activity reports (SARs) to Buzzfeed.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who was picked by Trump to replace Preet Bharara’s deputy Joon Kim, denounced BuzzFeed’s accused source.

“Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior-level FinCEN employee, betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information contained in Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to an individual not authorized to receive them,” Berman said in a statement Wednesday announcing the charges.

The leaked SARs dealt with alleged money laundering by Russian diplomats, as well as transactions possibly related to the purchase of hacked Hillary Clinton emails by a GOP figure. These were supposedly the basis for nine Buzzfeed articles over the last year, with the most recent article cited in the complaint appearing only a few days ago (October 15).

The complaint [PDF] itself is an interesting read. It makes it clear investigators don't necessarily need to see the content of a person's messages to draw inferences about their behavior.

18. Based upon my training, experience, my conversations with other law enforcement agents with training and experience in cyber technology, and my conversations with law enforcement agents who have reviewed records received in response to a judicially-authorized pen register and trap and trace order for the EDWARDS Cellphone (the "EDWARDS Pen"), I have learned, among other things, that:

a.The EDWARDS Cellphone utilized a mobile messaging service that utilizes end-to-end encryption (the "Encrypted Application"), that is, a method of secure communication that prevents third-parties from accessing data, including the companies that host the end-to-end services, and law enforcement.

b. On or about August 1, 2018, within approximately six hours of the EDWARDS Pen becoming operative--and the day after the July 2018 Article was published--the EDWARDS Cellphone exchanged approximately 70 messages via the Encrypted Application with the Reporter-1 Cellphone during an approximately 20-minute time span between 12:33 a.m. and 12:54 a.m.

c.Between on or about July 31, 2018 and August 2, 2018, the EDWARDS Cellphone and the personal cellphone of CC-1 exchanged dozens of messages via the Encrypted Application.

d. On or about August 2, 2018, approximately one week prior to the publication of the First August 2018 Article, the EDWARDS Cellphone exchanged approximately 541 messages with the Reporter-1 Cellphone via the Encrypted Application.

e. On or about August 10, 2018, the day of the publication of the First August 2018 Article, the EDWARDS Cellphone and the Reporter-1 Cellphone exchanged approximately 11 messages via the Encrypted Application.

It doesn't appear investigators were able to access the content of the messages until they examined Edwards' phone.

Throughout the course of 2018, EDWARDS engaged in hundreds of electronic communications with Reporter-1, many via an encrypted application. A review to date, pursuant to a judicially-authorized search warrant executed today, of EDWARDS's personal cellphone has revealed that that cellphone contains the substance of many of these communications, including, as described in greater detail below, communications in which EDWARDS transmitted or described SARs or other protected information to Reporter-1.

So much for going dark. Presumably the information obtained with the pen register order was enough to secure a warrant to search a cellphone and flash drive owned by Edwards. "Reporter-1" is likely Jason Leopold, who wrote or co-wrote every article named in the DOJ complaint. This also means the DOJ likely has a whole bunch of conversations between a journalist and his source, although obtaining them from the source makes it far less of a First Amendment issue.

The other interesting part of the complaint is this: Edwards viewed her leaks as whistleblowing and had pursued a whistleblower complaint in the past.

During the interview described herein, EDWARDS told the Interviewing Agents, in sum and substance, that she is a "whistleblower" who provided the SARs to Reporter-1 for "record keeping." Based on my participation in this investigation and my conversations with other law enforcement agents, I am aware that, prior to the SARs Disclosures, EDWARDS had previously filed a whistleblower complaint unrelated to the SARs Disclosures, and that EDWARDS had also reached out to congressional staffers regarding, among other things, her unrelated whistleblower complaint.

These leaked SARS may have been one of the "other things" she spoke to staffers about. It appears she felt these SARs would just be buried by the administration. Or she felt these were of enough public interest they should be publicly-disclosed. Or it just may be the excuse she gave investigators during the interview.

Whatever the case, one thing remains clear: the Trump Administration is definitely interested in punishing whistleblowers, self-described or otherwise. As Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation points out, this is the fifth time journalists' sources have been charged with felonies since Trump took office. If he keeps it up, Obama's record-setting persecution of whistleblowers will be viewed with fond remembrance usually reserved for misremembering America's halcyon days of segregation and post-war baby making.



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18 Oct 17:01

How the Mercator Projection Distorts the True Sizes of Countries on Maps

by Jason Kottke

Data scientist Neil Kaye made this map to show how much the popular Mercator projection distorts the sizes of many countries, particularly those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Mercator Adjusted

The distortion in the animated version is even clearer. Key takeaway: Africa is *enormous*.

See also the true size of things on world maps.

True Size Map

Tags: maps   Neil Kaye
18 Oct 16:41

YouTube partners with Eventbrite to sell concert tickets below music videos

by Julia Alexander

YouTube and Eventbrite have partnered to give fans a direct way to purchase tickets to artists’ live shows.

A button will now appear below videos for musicians with official Artist Channels (like Post Malone, Ariana Grande, and Drake), which fans can use to purchase tickets directly through Eventbrite. YouTube will continue to add more artists and venues as the partnership expands. The company previously partnered with Ticketmaster to provide a similar retail experience. Eventbrite and Ticketmaster’s relationship with the video service means that “YouTube now covers more than 70 percent of the US ticketing market,” according to a blog post.

YouTube has become a music hub, with 60 percent of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54...

Continue reading…

18 Oct 16:08

Square launches Terminal, an all-in-one device for card and mobile payments

by Dami Lee

Square is launching a new point-of-sale hardware device called Terminal, which can accept credit card and mobile payments through Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and NFC. Square Terminal is a portable all-in-one device that can process payments over Wi-Fi and print out receipts, signifying the company’s focus on expanding its services to more types of sellers and buyers.

Square’s goal with Terminal is to get businesses to replace their legacy payment terminals with Square Payments point-of-sale software. Business owners can charge customers by manually inputting a payment amount, or by selecting from the inventory displayed on the screen. Sellers can add items and track sales through Square software, which they can set up on their...

Continue reading…

18 Oct 15:14

Morgan Knutson on Working as a Designer on the Google Plus Team

by John Gruber

Morgan Knutson on Twitter:

Now that Google+ has been shuttered, I should air my dirty laundry on how awful the project and exec team was.

I’m still pissed about the bait and switch they pulled by telling me I’d be working on Chrome, then putting me on this god forsaken piece of shit on day one.

Air some dirty laundry indeed. This whole thread is kind of nuts — you just don’t see former employees expose dysfunctional workplaces like this very often. Here’s a real eye-opener — teams across Google were effectively bribed to integrate Google Plus, regardless if such integration made sense for their products:

If your team, say on Gmail or Android, was to integrate Google+’s features then your team would be awarded a 1.5-3x multiplier on top of your yearly bonus. Your bonus was already something like 15% of your salary.

You read that correctly. A fuck ton of money to ruin the product you were building with bloated garbage that no one wanted. No one really liked this. People drank the kool-aid though, but mostly because it was green and made of paper.

18 Oct 14:54

A closer look at the U.S.-Mexico border

by Nathan Yau

The Washington Post provides a flyover view of the barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a combination of satellite imagery, path overlays, and information panels as you scroll. It gives an inkling of an idea of the challenges involved when people try to cross the border.

Tags: border, satellite imagery, Washington Post

18 Oct 13:18

Finger length 'could be clue to sexuality'

Women whose left index and ring fingers are different lengths are more likely to be lesbians, a study suggests.

Scientists measured the fingers of 18 pairs of female identical twins, where one was straight and the other gay.

On average, the lesbians, but not the straight twins, had different sized index and ring fingers, typically a male trait, but only on the left hand.

This may be the result of exposure to more testosterone in the womb, the University of Essex researchers said.

The scientists also measured the fingers of 14 pairs of male identical twins, where one was straight and the other gay, but found no link.

Person showing fingers on both hands Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In women, typically the index (second) and ring (fourth) fingers are a similar length, while in men there is a larger difference between the two

Both men and women were exposed to the "male" hormone, testosterone, in the womb - but some may be exposed more than others, the scientists said.

Study author Dr Tuesday Watts, from the psychology department at Essex University, said: "Because identical twins, who share 100% of their genes, can differ in their sexual orientations, factors other than genetics must account for the differences.

"Research suggests that our sexuality is determined in the womb and is dependent on the amount of male hormone we are exposed to or the way our individual bodies react to that hormone, with those exposed to higher levels of testosterone being more likely to be bisexual or homosexual.

"Because of the link between hormone levels and difference in finger lengths, looking at someone's hands could provide a clue to their sexuality."

The findings are published in Archives of Sexual Behaviour.

18 Oct 13:16

My boyfriend gave me HIV - here's how I got justice

Diane Reeve and Philippe Padieu Image copyright Diane Reeve

Diane Reeve didn't expect to find love again after her 18-year-long marriage fell apart. But in 2002, at the age of 50, she did. It turned out, though, that her new partner, Philippe Padieu, was sleeping around - and had given her HIV.

I'd kind of given up on love, but then a couple of people convinced me I was too young to do that and said I should get back out on the market - they suggested online dating. It was pretty brutal and I was just about to give up when I got an enquiry from Philippe.

It was just a brief, "I like your profile, would like to meet," but I was intrigued. He was French and very nice looking, and I thought, "OK, one last time, and that's it."

We met at my martial arts school - he was also a martial artist - and then we went over to a local restaurant and had drinks and appetisers and sat for an hour and talked. I was fascinated and I guess he was too.

He had cool stories and told me a lot about himself. That was kind of refreshing because usually it's the other way around, where the woman does all the talking, and I found that exhausting.

On that first date I was pretty interested in him, but I couldn't really tell if he was feeling the same thing. But then he made this one flirtatious comment and I thought, "Oh, OK, he is interested," and it went from there, we started dating fairly regularly.

Image copyright Alyssa Vincent Photography
Image caption Diane and Philippe shared an interest in martial arts

Philippe was a security analyst for a large company but he was laid off a year after we started dating. While he was looking for a new job I asked him to help me out at the school.

When he was teaching for me we'd usually go out after work and then spend the night together. We had had the talk about being exclusive pretty early on in the relationship, so I was seeing him three or four times a week and the rest of the time I was busy with the school.

I was happy, he was happy, it was good, and we were together for four-and-half years.

In 2006 my daughter was getting married and we had a wonderful ceremony.

Philippe was there - he took a video of the big family occasion - and we were all going for a family dinner afterwards. But then he called me from his cellphone and said, "I can't go, I'm not feeling well."

Image copyright Diane Reeve

He didn't call from his home phone, which made me suspicious, and I was furious because the dinner was very important to me.

I went by myself, but on my way home I thought I'd go by Philippe's and check on this poor sick man who couldn't make it to my family dinner.

The door was locked, the house was dark, and his car wasn't there. I sat in the driveway and cried for a long time, and then I started to get angry.

Because I'd been paying for his cellphone I was able to get into his voicemail. Two different women had left him messages and it was obvious from the voicemails that these were women that he had plans with.

I waited for a good hour-and-a-half or more and then finally I saw him coming around the corner.

When he saw my car he immediately sped away - he knew that something was up - so I followed him up and down the neighbourhood streets until he finally got on the highway. He was going 90 mph and I was right behind him. I thought, "I can chase you all night, I got a full tank of gas."

Eventually he pulled over. I yelled and screamed and accused him of cheating. He said, "You shouldn't have hacked into my voicemail!" and it went back and forth. He was so angry and started beating on the car and that scared me, so I decided that was it.

Find out more

Diane Reeve spoke to Jo Fidgen on Outlook on the BBC World Service

You can listen again here

We broke up on a Saturday. The following Monday I had a well-woman examination and when the results came back there were some anomalies in the cervical cells.

They said it was human papilloma virus (HPV). I'd never had that before so I knew that he had given it to me. That shocked me and made me afraid - I had to have surgery to remove the abnormal cells and I didn't know if it would progress into cancer or not.

I wondered if I should warn the other two women. I went back through the nine months' of Philippe's cellphone records that I had, trying to find them again. I would call numbers and whenever a woman answered, I would ask, "Are you seeing Philippe Padieu?" and if they said "Yes," I would say, "Well, I need to talk to you a little bit."

I found nine other women who were also seeing him that way.

Some of them were angry, some of them hung up on me, some of them were very interested, and some of them were appreciative - I got all kinds of different responses.

A lady who had been seeing Philippe, who lived close to him, was so angry that she and I decided to meet with another couple of women. We had quite an interesting lunch comparing notes and we took a picture of ourselves making an obscene gesture and sent it to him.

There was another woman who I contacted later on. We met at a little jazz bar. She'd been seeing Philippe three times a week for about a-year-and-a-half.

She did not have an exclusive relationship with him, but she was waiting for that to happen, I think. I told her everything that had happened to me - how romantic things had been with us for years, how we were building a house together, how we were going to move in together but then broke up. I told her about the HPV and that I was continuing to have health problems.

She listened very intently to what I had to say.

I said, "This is your decision and if you want to continue to see him then that's your business," and I thought that would be the last time we would talk.

Three months later I got a call from the health department who said that I needed to come in for testing. I panicked because I had been having a lot of health problems in addition to the abnormal cervical smear.

I had kept Philippe's phone in case somebody called and I could warn them too. I looked at it again after I was contacted by the health department and noticed that the last person to call it was the woman that I'd met at the jazz bar.

I called her and I said, "I just got a call from the health department, what can you tell me about this?"

She said four words that I will never forget: "We need to talk."

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionDiane Reeve describes the moment she learned that her partner had infected her with HIV

She had continued to see Philippe after we'd met but she'd then decided to break it off. She'd started to worry about sexually transmitted diseases and had gone to get tested. Her doctor had called her and told her that there was bad news, she was living with HIV.

At that point I just knew that everything that I had gone through over the last six months - the health problems, not having any energy, things that I had attributed to getting a little bit older - all these puzzle pieces fitted together and I knew what I was facing.

The next day I had an appointment with my gynaecologist and they took some blood. The following day they called me with the results.

"Diane, I'm sorry. It's positive."

I dropped the phone and fell to my knees. I thought I was going to die.

I had not followed HIV closely - I remembered when there was no cure, and I knew that there was medicine now, but I didn't really know how effective it was. And I knew that I was really, really sick.

Image copyright Alyssa Vincent Photography
Image caption Diane Reeve today

That was January 2007.

When I went for further testing I found out that I had Aids. That means that your immune system is damaged to the point that you are very vulnerable to illness. Your body just won't fight back because the virus has damaged the cells which fight off infection.

I had health insurance because I was self-employed; I had just changed policies about two months before I got the diagnosis. There was a disclaimer at the end of the policy which said, "Please be aware that we do not cover HIV," which I had signed happily, because I knew I didn't have HIV. Except two months later I found out that I did.

So I had insurance that did not pay for HIV and the medicine was about $2,000 (£1,500) a month and I couldn't afford it.

Almost immediately after getting the results I went to counselling. I really needed some help to process things. I was terribly depressed, I was very fearful and I was homicidally angry.

I decided to talk again to the woman I'd met at the jazz bar. We cried together, and we got angry together. When she had got her diagnosis she'd immediately called Philippe to let him know. He'd said: "Hey, no big deal, everybody dies of something. Why don't you just go and live your life and leave me alone?"

It was a very odd reaction for someone who should have been shocked.

We suspected that Philippe had given it to both of us and we thought there had to be something that could be done about it. We did some research and within weeks of my diagnosis we decided to file a police report.

We wanted the police to stop him. We wanted them to find out if he actually did carry the virus and we wanted to find out if there was something that we could do to keep him from hurting other women.

The police were very sympathetic and understanding but said that because there were only two of us we weren't going to be able to prove it. But if four or five women came forward, they said, then they might be able to get the district attorney to take a look.

Image copyright Diane Reeve

We went back through the cellphone records. The first person I called was the woman who lived in Philippe's neighbourhood that I'd met earlier. She got tested and was also diagnosed with HIV.

She helped us by watching the house and writing down licence plate numbers of cars that were in Philippe's driveway overnight. We were kept pretty busy because he was with a different woman every night, it was incredible.

I had a friend that could run the licence tags and get a name and address, and once we had that we would go and visit them.

Altogether, we found 13 women who were diagnosed with HIV.

I was devastated that this had been going on for so long. I'd been seeing Philippe since 2002, but some of the women I talked to pre-dated me and with a different car in the driveway every night countless women had been exposed.

As the case progressed, the police department and the DA started to get involved.

To try to prove that Philippe knew that he had been diagnosed the police set up what is called a pretext phone call. I sat at the police station and called him to try to get him to admit that he knew that he was living with HIV. It didn't go very well.

He said, "How the BLEEP did you get this number?" and it went downhill from there.

I said, "Hey, I heard that you weren't feeling well and I was just calling to check on you," and he hung up on me.

There was a lady at the health department who was helping us track down the women. I'd asked her, "Have you ever seen this guy?" but nothing rang a bell.

Then I remembered that Philippe sometimes used an alias, the name Phil White, and she remembered that. The timeframe that she'd seen him was around the same time that I remembered sending him to the doctor because he felt like he had kidney stones.

I thought, "I wonder if that's when he got that diagnosis?"

It was 2005, about a year-and-a-half before we broke up. He had gone to the doctor and had some tests done.

I had paid for that medical treatment so I pulled those cheques and took them to the district attorney - that was the first time I ever saw her smile. The cheques gave her "probable cause" to subpoena the medical records - which she did. Without that it would have been very difficult if not impossible to obtain them, due to privacy laws - and that's how we proved that he'd been diagnosed with HIV.

Of the 13 women we found who were diagnosed with HIV only five agreed to testify in court, because of the stigma associated with the virus. We formed a support group and were able to meet at my house on a routine basis. We all got through it together.

One motive for going through with it was that the state of Texas will pay for medical care that is needed as a result of a crime, and they were prosecuting Philippe for "assault with a deadly weapon".

It was a long process, five to six months, of us tracking down women. Just about every day of the week we were on stake-out. It was exhausting - I still had Aids - but we were determined to stop him doing this to anybody else.

The trial finally began in 2009, three years after Philippe and I had broken up and two years after my diagnosis.

The district attorney had warned us that we would be raked over the coals, that anything that Philippe knew about us that was dirty laundry would be aired in public. Although I was prepared for it, I didn't know that it was going to be as brutal as it was - I was on the stand for about an hour, but I got through it.

After the sentencing, we gathered all of our friends and families together and we celebrated because we knew he was not going to be able to hurt anybody else again.

Philippe never took responsibility. He said that it was me that gave everybody HIV, which was obviously ludicrous - we found a woman in Michigan who he had transmitted HIV to in 1997. And we also did a DNA study that was very well controlled and scientifically proven that showed that the virus that was in each of us had a common source - and Philippe was the common source.

I suspect that he had knowingly been transmitting HIV to women for years before I met him, and that the 2005 diagnosis was not his first.

I have struggled with the forgiveness thing, but I'm at peace about it because, frankly, I took a lemon situation and made it into lemonade.

But one of the things that I resent most about what Philippe did to me and the other women is that he destroyed my ability to trust and that makes relationships really hard. I'm working my way past it, but it's been a long struggle.

I'm really lucky that I have a good relationship now with somebody who understands and loves me and accepts me. We first started seeing each other in 2008 and I disclosed to him on the second date. I started crying and he held me and said, "It's OK, my brother died of Aids," and that was a very healing experience for me.

The medicine has come so far that it's one pill a day now for most people - I've been on one pill a day for a long time. I have undetectable viral load which means the virus is not detectable in my blood. It's been shown that if you are a living with HIV and you have an undetectable viral load consistently over six months there is zero transmission risk - that was a game changer for all of us.

I'm still in contact with a lot of the other women. I went to the Grand Canyon on vacation with one of them last year - the woman from the jazz bar.

If I had not met her she would have never thought to get tested and if she had not given my name to the health department I would have never gotten tested. We seriously saved each other's lives.

Written by Sarah McDermott

Philippe Padieu was convicted of six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon - his bodily fluid - and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Standing Strong: An Unlikely Sisterhood and the Court Case that Made History by Diane Reeve is published by Health Communications.

More from BBC Stories

Pauline Dakin's childhood in Canada in the 1970s was full of secrets, disruption and unpleasant surprises. She wasn't allowed to talk about her family life with anyone - and it wasn't until she was 23 that she was told why.

Read: 'The story of a weird world I was warned never to tell'

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18 Oct 13:09

Weinstein accuser told to delete phone info

Film producer Harvey Weinstein leaves Manhattan Criminal Court of New York, 11 October 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex

One of Harvey Weinstein's accusers was told by police to delete any files from her phone that she wanted to keep private, prosecutors have admitted.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said the complainant was told by a detective to "delete anything she did not want anyone to see".

Mr Weinstein's lawyer said the development "undermines" the case.

The Hollywood producer faces charges involving alleged sex assaults on two women. Mr Weinstein denies the charges.

"My office had asked Complainant 2 to produce any and all cell phones that she might have used during the time she interacted with the defendant," Ms Illuzzi-Orbon wrote in a letter to Mr Weinstein's lawyer, Ben Brafman.

She adds, however, that the woman said she was then advised to remove files "before providing the phones to our office".

Despite this advice, the woman still provided the phones used to communicate with Mr Weinstein "without any deletions", Ms Illuzzi-Orbon said.

Mr Brafman later released a statement in response to the letter, saying the news "further undermines the integrity of an already deeply flawed indictment of Mr Weinstein".

He earlier requested that the entire case be dismissed.

Last week a charge against Mr Weinstein by actress Lucia Evans was dismissed by a judge in New York after she was said to have given a differing account of events.

Mr Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 70 women.

The accusations against him helped awaken the #MeToo movement, which has seen hundreds of women accusing high-profile men in business, government and entertainment of sexual abuse and harassment.

Mr Weinstein has agreed to wear a GPS tracker and to surrender his passport.

He also faces additional investigations in Los Angeles and London, and by the US federal government.

The 66-year-old, who has been on $1m (£750,000) bail since his arrest in May, denies having non-consensual sex, his lawyers have previously said.

18 Oct 12:59

2 (more) caught with guns at DC-area airport checkpoints | WTOP

3D rendering of X rays scanners at security check point on an airport.

The TSA said firearms can only go on aircraft if they’re unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided case separate from any ammunition, in checked baggage and if you declare that you're bringing a gun when you check the case.

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday announced that two more people were caught with guns at security checkpoints at D.C.-area airports, in what’s shaping up to be a banner year for people ignoring the rules.

On Oct. 12, the TSA said in a statement, a 22-year-old Hagerstown, Maryland, man was stopped at a checkpoint at BWI Marshall Airport when security officers found a collapsible .40-caliber rifle in his carry-on bag.

The gun wasn’t loaded. The man said he didn’t know the gun was there because his mother packed his bag.

Someone or his mom thought this was a good thing to put in a carry-on bag. (Courtesy TSA)

“That excuse just doesn’t fly,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. It will likely not come as a shock that he was arrested on weapons charges by the Maryland Transportation Authority police anyway.

And in a separate statement, the TSA said an Arlington, Virginia, woman was stopped at a checkpoint at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday with a loaded 9 mm handgun in her carry-on bag. There were 14 bullets in the handgun, including one in the chamber. She was cited by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police.

The TSA said it was the 13th gun caught at Reagan National so far this year, tying the total for all of last year. The rifle at BWI Marshall is the 20th of the year; there were 26 all of last year.

“The most common excuse we hear is ‘I forgot I had my gun with me,’ and more than 80 percent of those guns are loaded, so people are telling us that they forgot they had a loaded handgun with them,” Farbstein said.

TSA officers detected this loaded 9 mm handgun at a DCA checkpoint Oct. 16. (Courtesy TSA)

Farbstein reminded travelers Wednesday morning that guns are not allowed at security checkpoints. Not if you have a permit. Not if they’re not loaded. Not if your mom packed your bag. Not ever.

“The idea is that nobody should have access to a gun in the cabin of a plane,” Farbstein said.

The typical penalty for a first offense (which the TSA has the authority to impose itself, no courts required) is $3,900, and can range up to $13,000, the agency said. And when agents find a gun in a bag they have to shut down that security line, and all the other travelers have to shift into a different one.

“You don’t want to be That Guy,” Farbstein said.

The TSA said in the statement firearms can only go on aircraft if they’re unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided case separate from any ammunition, in checked baggage and if you declare that you’re bringing a gun when you check the case. And that’s just their rules — the airline you’re flying on, and the state you’re traveling from or to, might have more restrictions.

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18 Oct 12:57

Half of beginner guitarists in US and UK are female, survey says

From singers to drummers, roadies to rock critics, music is an industry still overwhelmingly dominated by men – but perhaps not forever. A new study of those taking up the guitar has found that half of new learners are women and girls, suggesting that the future of rock, metal and indie might just be 50% female.

The survey by the guitar manufacturer Fender found that in the US and UK, a phenomenon it had originally assumed was a short-lived blip inspired by the popularity of Taylor Swift was in fact enduring and worldwide.

Similar results from a previous, smaller study in 2016 had initially been ascribed to the “Swift factor”, Fender CEO Andy Mooney told Rolling Stone magazine.

“In fact, it’s not. Taylor has moved on, I think playing less guitar on stage than she has in the past. But young women are still driving 50% of new guitar sales. So the phenomenon seems like it’s got legs, and it’s happening worldwide.”

Fender’s UK team had been surprised that half its sales were to girls and women, he said, “but it’s identical to what’s happening in the US”.

Following the previous US study, Fender changed its tactics to target millennial women, launching a new range of guitars in 2016 and enlisting the female-fronted indie bands Warpaint and Bully in its marketing campaigns.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of those picking up the guitar did so because they wanted to gain a life skill or better themselves, according to Fender’s survey of 500 new and aspirational guitarists, with 42% saying they viewed the guitar as part of their identity.

There were some differences in how women and girls in the UK and US liked to play; half of all British respondents said they preferred to play privately, 18% more than in the US. But not all wanted to be rock stars: across the board, 61% said they simply wanted to learn songs to play socially or by themselves, rather than make it big on stage.

Despite the success of bands such as Wolf Alice, whose lead singer Ellie Rowsell plays guitar and who recently won the Mercury music prize, live music in the UK remains overwhelmingly dominated by men, with a Guardian study last year finding that two-thirds of live acts had no female members.

There is no shortage of female guitarists and female-fronted guitar bands who have received commercial and critical success, including Brit award winner Laura Marling, the Californian band Haim and PJ Harvey, the only artist to win the Mercury music prize twice. But many say they still have to battle in a male-run industry.

“I don’t think it’s a particularly good time [for women in bands],” said James Hanley, senior staff writer at Music Week. “That’s borne out by the festival line-ups that get filled with [male performers].”

To the music critic Caroline Sullivan, the increase in women taking up guitar might be explained by millennial women wanting to play an assertive instrument “whose whole basis is: look at me”.

“It doesn’t surprise me that a lot of young girls are taking up the guitar, because playing guitar seems much cooler and more dominant than doing the traditional female thing of standing behind a keyboard looking pretty.

“Back in the day, girls wanted to sleep with the musicians. It’s much easier now to say, I want to do what he’s doing.”

With the notable exceptions of Swift and Ed Sheeran, on the whole, guitars have become less prominent in popular culture as pop and rap have come to dominate the charts. The kind of rock and indie bands that sold millions of records in the 20th century are now a relatively marginal concern.

A potential problem for the guitar manufacturing industry was identified by Fender in 2016, when it found that 90% of first-time guitar buyers stopped playing within a year, curtailing the market for multiple purchases. Gibson Guitars, the second-largest guitar brand in the US after Fender, entered bankruptcy proceedings earlier this year, though its financial troubles were largely attributed to overextending into personal audio products.

But – perhaps driven by women – there is evidence that guitars are making a comeback: the research firm IBISWorld found earlier this year that sales had been growing for five years and were projected to keep growing into 2022.

18 Oct 12:54

Gabrielle Hamilton, April Bloomfield, and the Problem with Leaving Women to Clean Up the Mess

Last June, Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman, the chef-owners of the revered New York restaurant Prune, announced that they were partnering with the restaurateur Ken Friedman to take over his West Village gastropub the Spotted Pig. In a disarmingly candid profile in this week’s “Women’s Power” issue of New York, Hamilton and Merriman explain, for the first time, why that arrangement, which ended in September, so quickly fell apart. It wasn’t because of their distaste for the restaurant’s history as a viper’s nest of sexual misconduct, or because of the enormous public backlash to their planned involvement, or because of creative disagreements over the menu or the décor. It was because Friedman, the restaurant’s majority owner, who was the subject of a blistering investigation in the Times last December, wouldn’t give up his monthly paycheck. Though he has not been on site at the Pig for months, Friedman was pulling in a regular income for “overseeing the restaurant,” in an amount large enough to materially undermine the beleaguered restaurant’s already precarious bottom line. Hamilton told New York that she wasn’t able—“ethically, financially”—to operate with Friedman on the payroll, but he had refused to budge. So she and Merriman, unable to proceed in the manner they wished, peaced the hell out.

When Hamilton first announced that she and Merriman, her wife and business partner, were pursuing a partnership with Friedman and the Spotted Pig—a person and place that have been linked to some of the most grotesque examples of restaurant-industry harassment that have come to light in the past year (Friedman has denied the claims against him)—she framed herself and Merriman as white knights, good actors with the confidence and know-how to turn a toxic workplace into a model of integrity. In a statement, Hamilton seemed to be trying to preëmpt the accusations of complicity, betrayal, and hubris that, almost instantaneously, swelled to meet the news: “We can tell you assuredly and confidently that we are not coming to partner with Ken to be his ‘fence,’ ” she said. “We see ourselves helping the Spotted Pig, helping the industry at large, helping April”—April Bloomfield, Friedman’s former business partner, and the chef who earned the Spotted Pig a Michelin star—“helping our longtime friend Ken, and helping ourselves.” Merriman, in an interview with Eater, reiterated the idea that they would be challenging Friedman, involving him in the work, but not protecting him. “It’s not my job to clean up Ken’s mess,” she said.

But cleaning up messes seems to be, for many women, an inevitable burden. The first phase of the #MeToo reckoning in the restaurant world was focussed on removing the chefs and restaurateurs accused of abuse. We watched them retreat from public affiliation with their businesses, one after another, taking a sort of self-imposed shame-leave in the hope that the stories about them would fade from public consciousness. Most of these men adopted a strategy that was equal parts performative gesture and survival tactic: throw a woman out in front of the business. The restaurant groups run (or formerly run) by Mario Batali, John Besh, and Charlie Hallowell (all of whom have denied aspects of the allegations against them) have announced new, female leaders, who must undertake the daunting work of rebuilding employee loyalty, customer trust, and media goodwill. In the meantime, the men who got the companies into these messes in the first place do, well, whatever it is that they’re doing when they take “time away” from work—while, in many cases, retaining significant financial involvement and reward.

Shannon White, a former operations manager, has taken over as the C.E.O. of what used to be known as the Besh Group, and has spent the past year overhauling the thousand-employee company. Donna Insalaco, who is newly installed as the managing partner of Hallowell’s four-restaurant Oakland empire, has been tasked with implementing an ambitious twelve-point plan to reform the restaurants’ culture. Nancy Silverton and Lidia Bastianich, both legendary chefs in their own right, were elevated to vague “leadership roles” in Batali’s former company, the B&B Hospitality Group, a change that was announced in the same press release that stated that Batali would no longer be involved in operations. Silverton and Bastianich are better known as culinary titans than as workplace-inclusion experts, yet dismantling the company’s culture of harassment has fallen explicitly to them. “They are intent on making sure that no one experiences sexual or any form of harassment,” the release read. In April, the Times reported that one of Batali’s ideas for his post-scandal life was to launch “a new company led by a powerful woman chief executive,” as if that alone were a rehabilitative business plan.

Insalaco’s promotion at Hallowell’s restaurants was announced last week, by way of a fifteen-hundred-word email sent to a list of thousands. Despite Insalaco’s new role as the de-facto head of the company, with an ownership stake and control over Hallowell’s salary, the message was written by Hallowell, and focussed on his own decision to reënter daily business operations after what he has deemed a sufficient amount of time away. Hallowell states explicitly that he elevated Insalaco because of her gender, “in order to ensure that women are at the forefront of making decisions about the business and empowered to create a safe space for other women.” (He also boasts about having an “all-female board of advisers” and general managers who are women.) In an apt metaphor for Insalaco’s role as his apparent human shield, the sender of the message was “Charlie Hallowell,” yet the actual e-mail address was hers—any responses, complaints, or criticisms will land in her inbox, not his.

Watching all this unfold, it’s hard not to feel a mixture of hope and disappointment. The restaurant industry, despite modest gender parity among the rank-and-file, is sorely, urgently in need of more women leaders, and it is good to see a few stepping into high-profile positions. But, coming in the wake of scandal, too many of these promotions feel like cynical twists on a narrative of empowerment and progress. As Hamilton explained in her June statement, part of the appeal of joining forces with Friedman was the opportunity to pair meaningful action with recognition and remuneration: to be “women in the business of increasing power and to get paid for our impeccable work.” It’s an admirable goal. And yet, as Hamilton and Merriman found—and as other women charged with rehabilitating damaged businesses may learn as well—the gender of the person nominally at the top of the org chart matters little if the underlying structures (and systems of financial reward) remain unchanged.

In the end, installing women to fix broken companies excuses men from engaging directly with problems they have created. It also fallaciously assumes (or, perhaps, maliciously asserts) that women are well-equipped to lead healthy workplaces simply by virtue of their femininity. The Spotted Pig is proof that this is not always the case. For fourteen years, April Bloomfield was Ken Friedman’s partner at the restaurant, and at nearly a dozen other properties. For much of their affiliation, which lasted until June of this year, she was ostensibly an equal partner in their business. Yet, in the Friedman exposé in the Times, many former employees claimed that Bloomfield was aware of her partner’s persistent predatory behavior, and did nothing to stop it. (In a statement, Bloomfield apologized and said, “I feel we have let down our employees.”)

In the ten months since that story was published, Bloomfield has largely remained out of the public eye. On Tuesday, in an interview in the Times, she addressed her partnership with Friedman, and claimed, among other things, that she had confronted him with complaints more often than she has been given credit for. Friedman, through a spokesperson, agreed, but made a point of adding that those discussions also addressed “Ms. Bloomfield’s erratic behavior and verbal abuse.” (See, again, how our attention is directed away from the accused man and toward the choices of the woman associated with him?) Bloomfield, in the Times, described her dynamic with Friedman in ways that evoke an abusive relationship; she described enduring Friedman’s verbal harassment, manipulative tactics for isolating her, and threats to revoke his sponsorship of her work visa. “I felt like I was in a position where he held all the cards,” she said. “He had so much control, and he was so dominant and powerful, that I didn’t feel like if I stepped away that I would survive.”

A similar intractability seems to have characterized Friedman’s behavior during his failed negotiations with Hamilton. But, perhaps because their power was more symmetrical than Friedman’s with Bloomfield, or because of the brevity of their partnership, or because she was the agent of her own departure, Hamilton seems more angry at Friedman than scarred by him. She seems resentful, in particular, of his inability to see the grandness of what she and Merriman offered him: faith, based on friendship, that the two women could help bring the disgraced man back into the light. Instead, Friedman dug in his heels. He didn’t want to make the sacrifices that real change would have required—and why would he? That’s what he brought the women in to do.

18 Oct 11:50

Just As Expected: GDPR Has Made Google Even More Dominant In Europe

by Mike Masnick

Oh, the EU, will you ever learn? Over the last few years, the EU has been screaming about the awfulness of evil large tech companies in the name of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (sometimes called "GAFA"), though in reality, their biggest concerns are focused almost entirely on Google and Facebook. The EU keeps popping up with ridiculous laws, all of which are designed to hit Google and Facebook. The GDPR was a big one, and the latest is the EU Copyright Directive. And there are more as well. Some of us keep pointing out to the EU that if these laws are designed to go after Google and Facebook, they're going to miss their target quite a bit, because they'll mostly serve to lock in those companies as the dominant providers. That's because they're big enough to manage the regulatory burden, whereas startups and smaller competitors will not be able to and will suffer.

The first bit of data is in on the GDPR and of course it shows that the big winner under the GDPR is... Google. The biggest losers? Smaller competitors to Google. A bit surprisingly, Facebook did see its adtech marketshare decline (while Google's grew), but relative to everyone else, Facebook sill beat out all other competitors.

Now, the report does note that there are fewer ad trackers for users in the EU -- which is certainly a win for users -- but the fact that this is further cementing the dominant position of Google and Facebook should be a massive concern to people who value competitive markets and innovation.

This shouldn't be a surprising result at all. But if part of the goal of the EU is to reduce the reliance on Google and Facebook, the exact opposite is occurring. Just like lots of us predicted.



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18 Oct 11:49

As FBI Whistleblower Terry Albury Faces Sentencing, His Lawyers Say He Was Motivated by Racism and Abuses at the Bureau

by Alice Speri

Update: October 18, 2:25 p.m. EDT:
On Thursday, Judge Wilhelmina Wright sentenced Albury to 48 months in prison, telling him that his disclosure “put our country at risk.”

Burhan Mohumed was home alone one afternoon in July 2016, when two FBI agents knocked on his apartment door in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis and asked to be let in. They wanted to talk to him, they said through the door, about “radicalism in the community.” In three days, Mohumed was set to co-host a community event about the government’s controversial Countering Violent Extremism program, which many in Minneapolis’s large Somali-American community saw as surveillance and harassment of Muslims under the guise of outreach. Some of Mohumed’s friends had already received visits from the FBI, and he knew they were on a quest to recruit informants. Without opening the door, he took his phone and started recording.

“You got a warrant?” he asked. “We don’t need a warrant,” one of the agents replied. “You could just make this easier or make this hard.”

“I was really nervous,” Mohumed told The Intercept during a recent interview. “I’m thinking, they could knock the door down, they can plant something, I could be set up. … The power they held over the situation is what scared me. They could literally do anything to me.”

Mohumed, invoking his constitutional rights, refused to let the agents in. “It’s kind of scary to have two white guys coming into the neighborhood looking for people,” he told them.

“I’m not white, brother,” one of the agents replied.

That agent — who only told Mohumed his name was “Terry” — was Terry Albury, a 17-year veteran of the FBI and the only black agent in the Minneapolis field office. Last April, Albury pleaded guilty to two federal charges of violating the Espionage Act after he was accused of taking dozens of FBI documents, including several that were classified, and leaking some to the press. Court documents filed against Albury did not identify the news outlet he was accused of leaking to, but reports linked the charges to a series of stories published by The Intercept regarding secret guidelines for the FBI’s use of informants, surveillance of journalists, and other topics.

Albury’s sentencing is scheduled for Thursday. The government wants him imprisoned for 52 months; Albury’s attorneys say that his was an “act of conscience” and have asked the judge for no time.

Albury, his attorneys say, was driven to his actions by the racism he witnessed throughout his career at the FBI, both within the agency and in the ways in which the bureau interacted with the communities it policed — particularly the Somali-American community Albury was tasked with surveilling in Minneapolis.

That day in 2016, Albury and his colleague left Mohumed’s home without entering or giving him their full names or business cards. They later showed up at his workplace, and Mohumed ultimately turned to Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for legal representation. According to a sentencing memo filed by Albury’s attorneys, “This was an every-day encounter for Mr. Albury. He comported himself in this setting as a model FBI agent. But the conflict and depression generated by these routine but soul-destroying events took its toll.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein, center with microphone, speaks to growing Somali community concerns about the proposed government-initiated Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program during a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Minneapolis. Muslim groups and civil rights activists across the nation are calling for greater transparency in the program by President Barack Obama's administration. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein, center with microphone, speaks to growing Somali community concerns about the proposed government-initiated Countering Violent Extremism program during a news conference on Aug. 6, 2015, in Minneapolis.

Photo: Jim Mone/AP

Last April, at the time of Albury’s plea, I reached out to members of Minneapolis’s Somali-American community — including Mohumed, who had by then changed his name to Burhan Israfael Isaaq. At the time, neither he nor I knew that Albury was one of the agents who had paid him an unannounced visit two years earlier. “I think he did a great service to the citizens of this country and especially to the people who are vulnerable to harassment from the FBI,” Mohumed told me then. “More power to him. People are definitely grateful.”

Today, Mohumed is less forgiving, and says he’s “adopted a more radical understanding.”

“I do think what he did as a matter of public record is great, I think it really shed light for people,” he said. “But the FBI in and of itself is too problematic. Anyone who involves themselves with it and who naively thinks that they can do good work for them, do community work, is misled and misguided.”

In court filings, his lawyers described Albury as “a consummate professional,” a devoted husband and father of two small children with an impeccable record and little time left to a comfortable retirement. “Why would someone with such a stellar career, a history of probity, young children, and just three years from a pension, jeopardize all he had?” they wrote in a sentencing memo. “The answer lies in the FBI’s own checkered history with race.”

“His objective in disclosure was to alert the U.S. public to practices and procedures that he believed represented both a systemic departure from the FBI’s proper mission in counterterrorism, and abuses of the enormous investigative authority the FBI has been granted since 9/11,” the lawyers argued.

In an online fundraiser set up to help cover his legal fees, friends of Albury wrote that, at the FBI, “he soon found himself immersed in an institutional culture that, in his view, demeaned, demonized, harassed, and intimidated the very people he was sworn to protect and serve.”

“Worse yet,” they added, “Terry was required to implement FBI investigative directives that sanctioned the use of race and religion as basis for targeting wide swaths of communities throughout Minnesota, and other locations in which he served.”

The government, for its part, has argued that Albury was a criminal, who, over an 18-month period, stole information from more than 70 documents, including about 50 classified ones, taking photographs and copying and pasting them in order to avoid detection. The FBI claims, offering no specifics, that his actions could harm national security.

“This case is not about race. Nor is it about blowing any whistles,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. “What it is about is the unlawful transmission and retention of classified national defense information by someone who fully understood how wrong his conduct was.”

Albury’s attorneys declined to make him available for an interview.

sentencing-memo-defense-1539804804

Source: Defense Position on Sentencing

“A Passion for Justice”

Albury was born in Santa Rosa, California, the son of an Ethiopian political refugee. His maternal grandfather, a general in Haile Selassie’s army, was executed in an infamous 1974 massacre, and other relatives were imprisoned — an experience that Albury’s attorneys say was reflected in the democratic values and sense of justice that were instilled in him since childhood, as well as in his mother’s devotion to the United States, the country that had welcomed her as a refugee.

According to court documents, Albury and his two siblings were raised in the Bay Area, but his mother struggled to make ends meet and wanted to get the children away from their neighborhood’s poverty and crime, so when Albury was 13, she sent them to Mountain Mission School in Virginia, a Christian charity boarding school for children in need. In letters of support, friends and teachers remembered Albury as a “quiet and sensitive boy, with considerable empathy for anyone who was hurt or vulnerable.” Albury later studied at Berea College, a tuition-free school in Kentucky, where he volunteered as a Big Brother with children in unstable homes, and where he first showed an interest in law enforcement’s relationship with the community, researching a paper about the local department’s community policing initiative — an approach that years later he would try to apply to his work at the FBI.

In college, Albury grew into what a former professor described as a “young man of great intelligence, with a passion for justice, and possessing exemplary moral judgement.” He interned at the FBI before his senior year and later applied and was accepted to join the bureau after graduation. Working at the FBI, Albury believed, “would allow him to do good and help others,” his attorneys wrote. “The FBI were the ‘good guys’.” In the agency, a professor wrote in a letter of support, “he believed he had found an organization in sympathy with his own high values.”

But the FBI soon proved to operate far below those values.

Albury started training with the bureau in September 2001 — just as the 9/11 attacks rocked the nation and precipitated a global war on terror that manifested, at home, in a law enforcement campaign against Muslims that has yet to subside. Albury had hoped to work in the violent crime and human trafficking units, but was assigned instead to counterterrorism work – mostly the surveillance of Muslims.

He worked for the agency in Northern California, in a jurisdiction widely criticized for its surveillance and profiling of Muslims post 9/11. As the bureau came under constant pressure to bolster the number of its investigations and informants, Albury grew increasingly uncomfortable that the investigations were based on weak evidence — but when he tried to raise his objections, he was repeatedly told that the legitimacy of the cases the bureau was pursuing was “not his concern.” During that time, his attorneys wrote, “he began to feel personally responsible for, and thus deeply conflicted by, his participation in surveillance of civilians that he viewed as unduly invasive and harassing.”

Between 2009 and 2010, Albury worked with the FBI in Iraq, where he witnessed the agency’s anti-Muslim and anti-Iraqi sentiments. Tasked with interrogating Iraqi detainees, Albury became convinced that he had been indirectly complicit in torture on two separate occasions: once when a detainee was brought in, blindfolded, shackled, and visibly in pain, by CIA officers working with Iraqi special forces, and once when he expressed frustration to a military officer about a detainee, and the officer “assured him the prisoner would be more cooperative at the next interrogation.”

Those experiences in Iraq left him “haunted,” his attorneys say.

Albury moved to Minnesota in 2012, where again he was given the job of using community outreach as a front for intelligence-gathering. While in Minneapolis, he grew “deeply conflicted by his involvement in raids and interrogations that he increasingly saw as unjustified and ineffective,” his attorneys wrote. Albury tried to make a case for a different approach to policing — at one point writing a white paper suggesting that the field office adopt a “beat cop” approach to FBI work. “The ultimate goal of this initiative,” he wrote, “is to engender trust, mutual respect, and build sustainable long-term relationships with a cross section of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Islamic community.”

According to his lawyers, Albury considered submitting the proposal to his superiors, but several incidents “convinced him that it would fall on deaf ears and potentially brand him as a traitor,” so he never did. Instead, Albury’s alienation was compounded by the “racial jokes and slurs” he witnessed at the bureau, particularly directed at the Somali community. “Mr. Albury felt increasingly isolated and sickened by the racism he experienced within and without his squad,” his lawyers wrote. “He grew depressed, anxious and lonely.”

Patriot vs. Traitor

Albury pleaded guilty to unlawful transmission and unlawful retention of national defense information, which under the Espionage Act could earn him 10 years in prison each. Albury was specifically charged with leaking two documents to the media — one that highlighted FBI methods for recruiting informants and another that was about threats from an unspecified Middle Eastern country — and retaining another. In a search warrant affidavit released at the time of his plea, the government said that Albury had also accessed other documents published by the news outlet.

In January 2017, Albury was assigned by the FBI to be an airport liaison, working to recruit informants at the border. According to the government sentencing memo, he continued to take FBI documents home from the airport — though he never shared them with anyone. When law enforcement raided his home, in August 2017, they found the documents on a storage device in a shirt pocket in his closet, wrapped in a note with a reporter’s phone number of it.

Prosecutors wrote that Albury acted with “clear disrespect for the law and his profession” and that his actions “put us all at risk.”

While they maintained that “motive is irrelevant to the offenses,” they called into question whether Albury was driven by “social conscience,” and said that he was no whistleblower because, in their view, the matters he exposed don’t constitute abuse. “Were the defendant truly troubled or disturbed or at odds with FBI policies or practices, he could have walked away,” they wrote. “Ultimately, he chose instead to engage in criminal conduct for 18 months rather than engage any process to remedy the ills he perceived against others or felt against himself.”

Albury’s attorneys pushed back, calling Albury’s motivation “patriotic” and noting that “his disclosures have not caused actual harm to the United States.”

“No actual investigation has been put at risk; no undercover agent or source exposed or put in danger; no specific community or diplomatic relationship compromised,” the wrote. “Mr. Albury engaged in whistleblowing activities deliberately and surgically,” they added, arguing that his disclosures to the media were carefully curated. “His goal was to expose abuses and counter-productive strategies in the FBI’s counter-terrorism initiatives … and as a seasoned FBI agent, he knew how to do this without putting individuals in danger or compromising any specific investigation.”

In a memo submitted to the court by prosecutors, E. W. Priestap, an assistant director in the FBI Counterintelligence Division, wrote that disclosures like Albury’s “have the potential to reveal FBI sources and methods” — but, as the defense noted, he failed to provide any examples of whether and how Albury’s disclosures actually did so, and framed all of his claims in the conditional. “By definition, information classified at the SECRET level is information ‘the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security,’” he wrote.

Albury’s attorneys countered that the federal government has a well-documented problem with overclassification — and that just because something is classified does not mean that its content is not in the public interest, or that a disclosure would harm national security.

That argument was supported by an amicus brief filed by 17 First Amendment scholars. The group wrote that between 2 to 3 million U.S. officials have the authority to classify information, and that last year, they made more than 49.5 million classification decisions — a 10 percent increase over 2016. Reviews of classification practices have regularly concluded that the procedure is widely abused, that classifying information is too easy, and that there is no consequence for misclassification. A former director of the Information Security Oversight Office cited in the scholars’ brief reported that information “published in third-grade textbooks” is classified. Further revealing just how arbitrary the process can be, fired FBI Director James Comey’s memos of his meetings with President Donald Trump, which were leaked to the media earlier this year, opened with his assessment of the level of classification they should hold. “I am not sure of the proper classification here so have chosen SECRET,” Comey wrote. “Please let me know of [sic] it should be higher or lower than that.”

“Overclassification is rampant,” the scholars concluded. “A great deal of nonsensitive information is classified simply because disclosure would embarrass powerful officials or expose government misconduct.”

An American flag flies outside the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. FBI and Justice Department officials got a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate by misleading a surveillance court judge, House Republicans contend in a newly released memo that Democrats have dismissed as a contrived account intended to protect the president. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An American flag flies outside the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 2, 2018.

Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Everything to Do With Politics and Nothing to Do With Justice”

The legal scholars argued that First Amendment protections that shield reporters from prosecution are becoming obsolete, as surveillance technology makes tracking leaks increasingly easy — which in turn makes the prosecution of whistleblowers, rather than that of journalists, the battlefield for First Amendment fights to come.

They also wrote that the use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers has dangerous implications for free speech and is a far cry from the act’s original intent, when it was enacted during World War I, to target foreign spies and enemies. The act was not used to prosecute leaks to the media until 50 years later, but those prosecutions skyrocketed under the Obama administration, and then tripled under Trump.

Trump has made no secret of his desire to aggressively pursue who he calls “lowlife leakers” — and prosecutors in Albury’s case wrote that “individuals similarly situated to the defendant need to know that anyone who breaks his or her oath to protect classified information will be punished accordingly.” Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor who pleaded guilty earlier this year to leaking a secret government report on Russian meddling in U.S. elections, received a 63-month sentence — the longest ever imposed in federal court for an unauthorized release of government information to the media. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice filed criminal charges against a Treasury Department official, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who it accused of leaking confidential “suspicious activity reports” about Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort to a BuzzFeed reporter. Agents said they found messages that Edwards exchanged with a reporter after searching her cellphone, and that they found her in possession of thousands of documents on a thumb drive.

But as The Intercept has reported before, not all accused leakers receive the same treatment, and while leaks, including those of classified documents, are ubiquitous in government, there are enormous imbalances in the ways in which leakers are pursued. Some of those facing the harshest consequences for leaking are, like Albury, lower-level employees and people of color. Government agencies also tend to respond more harshly to whistleblowers whose disclosures embarrass them than to those who put national security at risk.

Perhaps the most famous example of the arbitrary and unequal nature of leak prosecutions is that of former CIA Director David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor — and served no jail time — for sharing his highly classified journals with his biographer and lover, and then lying to the FBI about it.

“All administrations leak profusely from the top, meaning that they leak politically convenient information,” Heidi Kitrosser, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and one of the authors of the amicus brief, told The Intercept. “When that is coupled with a historically unparalleled use of the Espionage Act to go after lower-level employees for leaking classified information, it becomes a powerful weapon for the government to pick and choose what they want the people to know.”

“It’s heart-wrenching to see folks like Reality Winner, who was an anonymous contractor, and Terry Albury, who was a decorated FBI agent, punished for acting on their consciences and disclosing information that is not at all clear should have been classified in the first place,” she added. “While we see higher-level leaks that are politically convenient for the administration happening as business as usual.”

Reality Winner, charged with leaking U.S. secrets to a news outlet, walks into the Federal Courthouse in Augusta, Ga., Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

Reality Winner walks into the Federal Courthouse in Augusta, Ga., on June 26, 2018.

Photo: Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP

In their sentencing memos, Albury’s lawyers wrote that the prosecution and punishment of leakers is too arbitrary and unequal for his sentence to serve any real purpose of deterrence. “The punishment imposed in any situation involving unauthorized disclosure is so completely inconsistent, arbitrary, and unpredictable — or if it is predictable, for all the wrong reasons (ie. The power of the person disclosing, the political advantage gained from disclosure, or the political exercise of the pardon authority) — that it is impossible for any particular case to provide the basis for general deterrence.”

The lawyers note that while Albury’s prosecution was underway, the DOJ’s Inspector General issued a report about the unauthorized disclosures, and later lying under oath, by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who revealed details of an FBI probe of Hillary Clinton to a reporter.

More recently, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., made a stunt of his decision to violate Senate rules when he disclosed confidential emails during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. “The emails being withheld from the public have nothing to do with national security,” Booker said, when reminded that disclosing the emails would be equivalent to disclosing classified information. “I come from a long line, as all of us do as Americans, of understanding what that kind of civil disobedience is, and I understand the consequences.”

Of course, it was highly unlikely that Booker would face any consequences, and while McCabe was dismissed from the FBI, he was never charged.

The lawyers also quoted Jesselyn Radack, a former DOJ lawyer and whistleblower, saying that “higher-level officials routinely leak sensitive — sometimes even classified — information to advance their own personal interests and rarely face serious consequences. But if a whistleblower leaks sensitive information of public interest, the hammer comes down.”

Prosecution, Radack added, has “everything to do with politics and nothing to do with justice.”

“The Right Thing to Do”

In their amicus brief, the group of legal scholars recalled a 2011 exchange between an intelligence official and the then-executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, about the subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen, who is now at The Intercept.

That subpoena to force a reporter to disclose his source — which Risen refused to do — would be “one of the last you’ll see,” the official said at the time. “We don’t need to ask who you’re talking to. We know.”

In fact, the scholars argue, First Amendment protections extended to reporters have become all but useless now that officials can easily track their sources without them. “Given technological advances, the administration simply no longer needs to rely on subpoenaing reporters the way they used to,” Kitrosser told The Intercept. “They have surveillance cameras, call logs, third-party subpoenas, and many other means less available to them in the past to track down sources without having to go to the reporter. This poses a new and very scary threat to the ability of the press to cover information of great public importance.”

The prosecution of leakers has already significantly chilled sources’ willingness to risk their jobs and freedom, several reporters have said, with devastating impact on public discourse. In punishing Albury, the legal scholars pleaded, the court should consider “the benefits to the public and to democratic deliberation” that resulted from his disclosure, “as well as the damage that a severe sentence would inflict on the constitutionally-protected interest in the flow of information to the citizenry on matters of public importance.”

In their letters to the judge, Albury’s friends made that point more simply — describing him as both a man with “an unparalleled sense of honor and duty” and one whose “integrity” was perhaps greater than the law.

A family friend wrote that once, when Albury’s wife’s car broke down, he went over to help her but didn’t give her a ride to work because he was driving his work car, “and it was against the policy to let his wife ride in his vehicle, even for a few minutes,” the friend wrote. “He is a person of integrity who follows the rules.”

“Whatever he did it was because of his passion and strong belief for a better future,” another friend wrote. “People like Terry make our society better,” said another. And a former teacher, speaking of Albury’s younger days but seemingly sending a message about his more recent actions, wrote to the judge: “He did the right thing because it was the right thing to do.”

Top photo: Terry Albury.

The post As FBI Whistleblower Terry Albury Faces Sentencing, His Lawyers Say He Was Motivated by Racism and Abuses at the Bureau appeared first on The Intercept.

17 Oct 20:14

Black Senior Citizens in Georgia Ordered Off Bus Taking Them to Vote

Photo: Photo by Jessica McGowan (Getty Images)

On Monday, the first day of in-person early voting in Georgia, dozens of black senior citizens were ordered off a bus taking them to a nearby polling station to cast their ballots. A county clerk for Jefferson County, Ga., had ordered a senior center to take about 40 of its residents—all of whom are black—off the bus because local officials felt “uncomfortable” with allowing the seniors onto a bus with an “unknown third party.”

That third party? Black Voters Matter, a non-partisan group that arranged for the bus to take the seniors to vote.

As Think Progress first reported, Black Voters Matter has been conducting voter outreach and engagement throughout the state in the lead up to the midterm elections. After an event at the nearby Leisure Center in Louisville (also in Georgia) extolling the importance of voting, Black Voters Matter invited the seniors onto their bus to head to their polling place.

But as they were preparing to leave, a director for the senior center ordered the eager would-be voters off the bus. A Jefferson county administrator had called the center, which is county-operated, with concerns, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

County Administrator Adam Brett said in a statement to the AJC, “Jefferson County administration felt uncomfortable with allowing senior center patrons to leave the facility in a bus with an unknown third party.”

“No seniors at the Jefferson County senior center were denied their right to vote,” Brett claimed.

But LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said the move was an intimidation tactic.

“Even in the absence of law, they will use tactics like intimidation and voter suppression,” Brown told Think Progress. “Somebody called the county commission, but there was nothing illegal or inappropriate.”

Brown told the AJC that Black Voters Matter had secured permission from the senior center for the voter outreach event. While it was originally planned to help rally and encourage seniors to vote, Black Voters Matter say some of the seniors asked whether they could be taken to an early-polling site once the event ended.

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On Nov. 6, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams could turn the nation’s political map inside out and…

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The news comes amidst growing concern over voter suppression tactics in Georgia. In a hotly-contested governor’s race, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams has called on Republican candidate and Secretary of State Brian Kemp to resign as the state’s election chief. Her call follows an AP report that found Georgia put a hold on more than 53,000 voter registration applications because they didn’t meet the state’s “exact match” standard.

Nearly 70 percent of the deferred applications belong to black residents, the AP writes.

Fortunately, the senior citizens remain undeterred, and simply plan on casting their ballot later.

“The seniors were so resolved. They said: ‘We’re going to vote. Nobody’s going to stop us,’” Brown told the AJC. “It wasn’t the first time someone has denied them or tried to prevent them from voting.”

17 Oct 20:02

Telecom lobbyists investigated over fake net neutrality comments

by Makena Kelly

The New York Attorney General’s Office subpoenaed over a dozen different telecommunications lobbying groups on Tuesday to help determine whether they were behind an estimated 9.5 million fraudulent comments posted in support of the rollback of net neutrality, according to a report from The New York Times.

The investigation was launched last November, only a month before the Federal Communications Commission was set to vote on a proceeding that would roll back the open internet regulations instated under the Obama administration. Millions of comments were filed prior to that vote, and according to the attorney general’s office, 9.5 million of those may have been fraudulent.

“My office will get to the bottom of what happened and hold...

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17 Oct 19:43

Wrong

by Reza

17 Oct 18:53

Meet Helm, the startup taking on Gmail with a server that runs in your home

by Dan Goodin
Meet Helm, the startup taking on Gmail with a server that runs in your home

Enlarge (credit: Helm)

There’s no doubt that Gmail has changed the way we consume email. It’s free, it gives most of us all the storage we’ll ever need, and it does a better job than most in weeding out spam and malware. But there’s a cost to all of this. The advertising model that makes this cost-free service possible means some of our most sensitive messages are being scanned for clues about who we are, what we care about, and what we do both online and offline. There’s also the possibility of Google either being hacked or legally compelled to turn over contents.

On Wednesday, a Seattle-based startup called Helm is launching a service designed to make it easy for people to securely take control of their email and other personal data. The company provides a small custom-built server that connects to a user's home or small-office network and sends, receives, and manages email, contacts, and calendars. Helm plans to offer photo storage and other services later.

With a 120GB solid-state drive, a three-minute setup, and the ability to store encrypted disk images that can only be decrypted by customers, Helm says its service provides the ease and reliability of Gmail and its tightly coupled contacts and calendar services. The startup is betting that people will be willing to pay $500 to purchase the box and use it for one year to host some of their most precious assets in their own home. The service will cost $100 per year after that. Included in the fee is the registration and automatic renewal of a unique domain selected by the customer and a corresponding TLS certificate from Let's Encrypt.

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17 Oct 18:52

Another Massive Credit Reporting Database Breached By Criminals

by Tim Cushing

Lots of companies like gathering lots of data. Many do this without explicit permission from the people they're collecting from. They sell this info to others. They collect and collect and collect and it's not until there's a problem that many people seem to feel the collection itself is a problem.

The Equifax breach is a perfectly illustrative case. Lenders wanted a service that could rate borrowers quickly to determine their trustworthiness. This required a massive amount of data to be collected from numerous creditors, along with personally-identifiable information to authenticate the gathered data. The database built by Equifax was a prime target for exploitation. That this information would ultimately end up in the hands of criminals was pretty much inevitable.

But Equifax isn't the only credit reporting service collecting massive amounts of data but failing to properly secure it. TransUnion not only collects a lot of the same information, but it sells access to cops, lenders, private investigators, landlords… whoever might want to do one-stop shopping for personal and financial data. This includes criminals, because of course it does.

From January to June 2018, seven members of [Tony] Da Boss’ gang pleaded guilty to various identity theft charges. In total they had caused about $1.2 million in damage, using stolen identities to buy luxury cars and iPhones and to lease apartments in Charlotte. Both they and their crimes would have been quickly forgotten as garden variety larceny were it not for the way they stole those identities.

Cops alleged Da Boss and his co-conspirators had access to the Holy Grail for any Internet-age scam artist: a surveillance technology that police and debt collectors use to track most of the United States’ 325 million inhabitants via their Social Security numbers, license plates, address histories, names and dates of birth. The mass-monitoring tech, called TLO, is a product of the Chicago-based credit reporting giant TransUnion, which last year had revenues of nearly $1.9 billion. One brochure for the service promises access to a startling amount of personal data drawn from myriad sources: more than 350 million Social Security numbers of dead and living Americans, 225 million employment histories and four billion address records. Add to that billions of vehicle registrations and call records and you have one of the largest commercial surveillance databases in existence.

The only thing surprising about this is that it only resulted in $1.2 million in damage. The database -- originally designed to help hunt down child predators -- promises users a "360-degree profile of virtually any person, business or location in the US." In addition to the wealth of personal and financial data, the database also includes surveillance cam photos and license plate numbers, which makes it even more attractive to government agencies and the occasional criminal.

One of the charged suspects worked for a debt collection firm, selling off personal info to criminals for $100/victim. The rest of the gang's access relied on swiped credentials. TransUnion is making millions authenticating US residents who can't even opt out of its collection. But it's not doing much to ensure only authorized users are accessing its system.

Live by the tech, die by the tech.

In June last year, Postal Service investigator Berkland obtained a warrant ordering Google to hand over all the data related to [the gang's Nest] cameras. The company complied, shipping surveillance footage back, along with personal details of its owners. It’s the first known case in the United States in which a federal law enforcement agency has demanded information from a Nest provider, and it has obvious implications for anyone who has purchased a smart home appliance that contains a camera or a microphone.

Unhappily, TransUnion told Forbes this wasn't the first time criminals have gained access to its TLO database. And it certainly won't be the last, either. The privacy and security of Americans is in the hands of companies who collect this information without their permission and which can seldom be bothered to treat this massive stash of personal info with the respect it deserves.



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17 Oct 18:52

GM’s data mining is just the beginning of the in-car advertising blitz

by Andrew J. Hawkins

It wasn’t until The Detroit Free Press reported on General Motors’ radio-tracking program — which monitored the listening habits of 90,000 drivers in the Los Angeles and Chicago areas for three months in late 2017 — that it became clear that the future of targeted advertising in cars is… well, it’s practically already here.

GM used the Wi-Fi signal built into its vehicles to capture minute details such as station selection, volume level, and ZIP codes of vehicle owners. The goal was to determine the relationship between what drivers listen to and what they buy and then turn around and sell the data to advertisers and radio operators. And it got really specific: GM tracked a driver listening to country music who stopped at a Tim Horton’s...

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17 Oct 18:06

Anonymous Microsoft and Amazon employees speak out on Medium

by Colin Lecher

When Jeff Bezos took the stage at a Wired conference this week, he told the audience that it was part of a business leader’s job to make potentially unpopular decisions, like working with the military.

One day later, on Tuesday, an Amazon employee explained exactly why those decisions might be unpopular. In a public letter posted to Medium, an anonymous worker at the company outlined concerns about Amazon’s facial recognition tool, Rekognition. The product has been under fire since May, when the ACLU revealed that the company was offering it to police departments, raising serious civil liberties concerns.

“We know Bezos is aware of these concerns”

“We know Bezos is aware of these concerns and the industry-wide conversation happening...

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17 Oct 16:43

PEN America Sues Donald Trump For 1st Amendment Violations In Attacking The Press

by Mike Masnick

PEN America, the well known human rights group that focuses on protecting freedom of expression for writers has now sued President Trump for a bunch of different attacks on the First Amendment -- using Trump's repeated tweets and threats as the key evidence in making these claims. The complaint lists out a bunch of different statements and actions by the President that PEN America argues all violate the 1st Amendment. There are four separate actions by the President described in the lawsuit, and let's go through them one by one.

First up is the President issuing an executive order about raising postal rates in retaliation against Jeff Bezos and Amazon, because Bezos (not Amazon) owns the Washington Post, and the Washington Post has been doing pretty strong reporting in revealing all sorts of Presidential misdeeds.

Defendant Trump has repeatedly threatened to use the U.S. Postal Service (“Postal Service”) and its rate structure to retaliate against Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post (also referred to as “the Post”), whose coverage he dislikes.

On April 12, 2018, he followed through on his threats by signing an Executive Order directing the Postal Service to review its rates. This Order, on information and belief, was aimed at Bezos’s company, Amazon, and was motivated by Defendant Trump’s displeasure at the reporting of Bezos’s other company, the Washington Post.

From the beginning of his campaign for President, Defendant Trump has repeatedly attacked the Post for its coverage of him, calling it biased, fictitious, and “a disgrace to journalism.” In a 2016 interview, he called the Post “a political instrument” that was writing “bad” and “wrong” stories “with no proper information,” and accused its reporters of writing a “false” book about him. He has routinely called the Washington Post “fake news” and personally attacked its writers.

During his presidency, when the Washington Post published unflattering stories about the inner workings of his Administration, Defendant Trump frequently responded with pointed denunciations of the accuracy of the Post’s work. On April 8, 2018, for example, after the Post ran a story about John Kelly’s frustrations as Chief of Staff, Defendant Trump tweeted: “The Washington Post is far more fiction than fact. Story after story is made up garbage - more like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not names), many of which do not exist. Story on John Kelly isn’t true, just another hit job!”

Defendant Trump has turned his ire over the Washington Post’s coverage into a vendetta against its owner Bezos, targeting Bezos’s main asset, Amazon, by issuing a series of threats to take governmental action that would harm Bezos and Amazon, and which were eventually acted upon.

During his campaign, Defendant Trump repeatedly threatened future action against Amazon, regularly tied to objections over the Post’s coverage. On information and belief, he did this to signal to Bezos and Amazon shareholders that he could – and would – use his official powers to adversely impact Amazon’s tax status and subject it to antitrust enforcement. As candidate Trump put it at a rally on February 26, 2016, while referring to Bezos and Amazon: “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

There's a lot more along those lines... and then it talks about Trump's threats concerning the postal rates:

On December 29, 2017, following a Washington Post story on the Administration’s internal deliberations on how to handle “worries of a tough year ahead,” and a satirical end-of-year piece entitled “Was 2017 the end of something or just the beginning,” Defendant Trump tweeted that the Postal Service should be charging more to deliver Amazon’s packages: “Why is the United States Post Office [sic], which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!”

On information and belief, Defendant Trump has since repeatedly been told by his staff that his assertions about Amazon’s harmful impact on the Postal Service are incorrect, but he continues to repeat them.

Defendant Trump recently renewed and escalated his threats of action against Amazon following unflattering reporting in the Washington Post detailing the damage done to Trump’s family businesses by allegations involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election. Defendant Trump repeated his false claims about costs to the Postal Service and his threats to raise Amazon’s shipping rates. Once again, he left no doubt that his motivation was animus against the Post, again calling it a “lobbyist” and “weapon” for Bezos.

In a series of tweets from March 29, 2018 to April 3, 2018, Defendant Trump made repeated false statements about Amazon and issued repeated threats to raise its postal shipping rates. Over the course of these threats from President Trump, Amazon sustained a $60 billion dip in market value.

On information and belief, Defendant Trump’s attacks on Amazon were motivated by animus toward Bezos and the Washington Post on account of its coverage of him and his Administration. For example, in an April 13, 2018 article by Maya Kosoff, Vanity Fair quoted White House sources as saying that President Trump “has zero respect” for the Washington Post and wants to “[f--k] with” Bezos as a result.

On April 12, 2018, Defendant Trump followed through on his retaliatory threats, issuing an Executive Order directing a review of the Postal Service’s “unsustainable financial path.” The order included several provisions directed at Amazon, including an order to review the “expansion and pricing of the package delivery market.”

On information and belief, President Trump had by this time repeatedly and personally directed the Postmaster General to raise Amazon’s rates.

Even during the pendency of the review, Defendant Trump continued to threaten further action against Bezos and Amazon and linked his motivation clearly to the Washington Post’s coverage. On July 23, 2018, immediately following reports in the Post that President Trump was unhappy with the progress of talks with North Korea, the President tweeted that “[t]he Amazon Washington Post has gone crazy against me ever since they lost the Internet Tax Case in the U.S. Supreme Court,” i.e. South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. He then renewed his threats to take antitrust action against Amazon and to raise its postal delivery rates. President Trump tweeted “Next up is the U.S. Post Office [sic] which they use, at a fraction of real cost, as their ‘delivery boy’ for a BIG percentage of their packages. . . In my opinion the Washington Post is nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune) lobbyist for Amazon. Is it used as protection against antitrust claims which many feel should be brought?”

On October 11, 2018, the Postal Service announced proposed rate hikes for its services, to include rate increases of up to 12 percent for the Parcel Select service used by Amazon. On information and belief, this action by the Postal Service would not have been taken but for the President’s clearly expressed desire to punish Amazon for the reporting of the Washington Post.

This really seems like a case where Trump's own words and tweets could potentially sink him. Normally, it would be pretty difficult to directly link something like raising postal rates on Amazon to direct retaliation for coverage in the Washington Post, but as the complaint lays out, because Trump himself has directly (incorrectly) argued that Amazon and the Washington Post are the same, and that the effort to raise rates was to punish Bezos and the Post, it seems like there's a stronger argument here.

The larger issue may be standing. There appear to be strong arguments here for the Washington Post and possibly Bezos himself and/or Amazon to have better standing, but PEN America is a tougher one. The organization tries to get around this by arguing that its members write for the Washington Post and that this has the potential to harm them. That seems like the key point that will be challenged in court. If they can get over the standing question, then it seems like they have a strong argument, mainly because Trump can't keep his mouth shut.

The second issue seems like more of a long shot to me. It's about the DOJ's effort to block the AT&T takeover of Time Warner (that effort has mostly failed). PEN America's suit argues that the DOJ's antitrust enforcement here was really about Trump's well-known animus towards CNN. And he did sometimes mention the merger, as detailed in the complaint:

Defendant Trump has done far more than exercise the right to make known his dislike of CNN’s reporting. At a rally during the 2016 campaign, Defendant Trump threatened to block a proposed merger between Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, and AT&T, once he gained control of the DOJ, and made clear his retaliatory motive for doing so. On October 22, 2016 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he denounced the AT&T–Time Warner merger, telling his audience that CNN was part of the media “power structure” trying to suppress his votes. “AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN,” Defendant Trump said, declaring it “a deal we will not approve in my administration.”

Once in office, Defendant Trump followed through on this threat. On information and belief, during the pendency of the AT&T–Time Warner merger review process, advisers to President Trump discussed using the merger approval application as “a potential point of leverage over [CNN].”

On information and belief, DOJ demanded the sale of CNN as a condition of its approval of the merger, leading a source close to the merger process to opine that “[t]his has become political . . . It’s all about CNN.”

This claim seems much weaker than the first. To be clear, it has the same standing issues as the first, but even if we get past those, vague threats to use antitrust action here doesn't mean that's actually what happened. Obviously, the discovery process here would be a big deal, and perhaps they can turn up a smoking gun. But there were plenty of legitimate antitrust reasons to block this merger, so the direct causal line here does seem tough to prove.

Separate from that, however, are threats to use DOJ enforcement powers against Google and other social media companies over the (made up) claim of political bias in search and recommendations. Here, as we've argued, the DOJ appears to be directly positioning the First Amendment-protected moderation and ranking decisions of internet companies as some sort of anti-trust violation. That's clearly in violation of the First Amendment, and the PEN America complaint highlights this as well:

Defendant Trump’s threats to use the DOJ to influence the flow of information to the public is not limited to CNN. On August 28, 2018, he complained, via Twitter, that:

Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of . . . results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!

Hours later, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, standing outside the White House, threatened that the Trump Administration is “taking a look” at imposing regulations on Google.

On September 5, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his intention to convene a meeting of Republican state attorneys general to discuss a possible federal investigation of whether Google, Facebook, and other social media companies are violating antitrust and free speech laws.

On September 22, 2018, the White House leaked a draft Executive Order that would instruct federal law enforcement and antitrust agencies to open investigations into social media companies. This leak was intended to, and did, have a negative market impact on these companies. The intent of leaking this information was to show these companies and other speakers the President dislikes that his White House has the power to significantly injure them with a simple leak if it dislikes their content. The intent of leaking this information was also to incentivize investors to pressure these companies to modify their content to be more to the liking of the President in order to avoid retaliatory actions that could impact the investors’ bottom line.

Once again, the standing issue is a big one here that may be difficult for PEN America to get past. But this kind of activity has clear First Amendment problems. We detailed out a bunch of cases that highlighted how the courts have ruled against politicians and government officials who use the power of their office to intimidate companies into publishing (or not publishing) protected speech.

Next up is Trump's semi-regular threats to "pull" the licenses from major TV networks over negative coverage of his Presidency. He does this every so often even though there aren't any such licenses to pull. Even networks like NBC, ABC and CBS have local licenses for their affiliates, but not a general license for their parent companies -- and Trump can't "pull" those non-existent licenses anyway.

Minutes later, Defendant Trump followed that tweet with another threatening NBC’s broadcast license. “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

Later the same day, Defendant Trump broadened his threat to more outlets: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

Beyond the standing question (again), the issue here will be the lack of action. It's just Trump venting stupidly on Twitter, and again such licenses don't even exist. Obviously, PEN's argument here is that the local affiliate licenses do exist, and these threats to pull general licenses may be interpreted by them as a threat to pull the local licenses -- and that could impact and influence coverage at the local level. But... that seems like much more of a stretch than the other claims.

Next up are attempts to limit the access of White House reporters to information in the White House.

Defendant Trump’s behavior in denying journalist critics access to information from the White House and about his Administration is a pattern dating back to his campaign. Prior to the election, on August 25, 2015, Defendant Trump had Jorge Ramos, Univision’s lead anchor, removed from a press conference after Ramos tried to ask Defendant Trump a question about immigration policy.

While on the campaign trail, Defendant Trump barred reporters from several news organizations, including the Washington Post, from obtaining press credentials at his rallies, news conferences, and other events.

As President, Defendant Trump has continued to threaten journalists whose coverage or questioning he found unfavorable to him or his Administration with revoking their access to official Administration and White House events.

On information and belief, Defendant Trump has repeatedly directed White House staff to ban reporters critical of his Administration from covering official events or to take away their press credentials. This included reporters from the Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News, and Defendant has specifically told his staff to consider blacklisting Jim Acosta of CNN and April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks in retaliation for their coverage, of which he disapproves.

Again, there's a standing issue here, and I'm a bit surprised PEN America didn't find a journalist to be a co-plaintiff at least on this claim, as that would make it stronger. Beyond that, there are some questions about what standards the White House uses in favoring some journalists over others, that could potentially raise some First Amendment issues. If the decisions are specifically based on their coverage and if it's positive or negative, then there's a stronger case there. The White House, of course, will likely suggest there are other reasons for limiting access to certain journalists.

In the end, this should be an interesting First Amendment case to follow, though I do think the standing question will be a tough hurdle for PEN America, without specifically naming individuals or organizations directly harmed by these actions (some of which do appear to raise big First Amendment questions).



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17 Oct 16:42

Apple will now let US users download all of their data

by Russell Brandom

Starting on Wednesday, Apple will allow US users to download all of their data from the company, following a GDPR-mandated feature for EU citizens that launched in May. The download tool is accessible from the company’s Data and Privacy page, and it encompasses device-syncing data like iCloud bookmarks as well as iTunes purchases and retail-level information like your Apple Care support history. Users will have to authenticate with their Apple ID before receiving the data.

The new availability comes as part of the launch of a revamped privacy page, which emphasizes Apple’s data-retention policies and differential privacy efforts. The new page encourages users to turn on two-factor authentication and gives them the option to opt out of...

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17 Oct 16:42

OnePlus is launching a new backpack alongside the OnePlus 6T

by Vlad Savov
<em>OnePlus Explorer backpack.</em>

Last summer, OnePlus released the excellent Travel Backpack alongside its OnePlus 5 flagship smartphone, and this fall, the company looks set to do it again with the upcoming launch of the new OnePlus 6T and OnePlus Explorer backpack. I’ve just received the 18L Explorer for review, and it’s a major departure from OnePlus’ existing bag. Slicker, smaller, and more stylish, the Explorer is evidently an effort to appeal to a more image-conscious demographic. I’d say OnePlus is also looking to step up to a higher price bracket, but the company isn’t yet revealing the pricing, which makes judging the bag itself kind of impossible.

Still, here’s what I know from a couple of days of use.

The Explorer is all about its side-access pockets. There’s...

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17 Oct 16:42

“Relic of Another Era”: Most People on North Carolina’s Death Row Would Not Be Sentenced to Die Today

by Liliana Segura

In the summer of 2001, North Carolina executed 42-year-old Ronald Wayne Frye, convicted of stabbing and robbing his 70-year-old landlord in 1993. The crime was brutal and there was no question of his guilt. Yet the circumstances of Frye’s trial and conviction would come to shock members of the public — and even members of his own jury — as his execution approached. Two jurors came forward to say that they would not have sentenced Frye to death row had they known then what they had since learned.

Like many who end up on death row, Frye lived a life marked by severe abuse and trauma. This history was never investigated by his defense attorneys, despite the fact that it would have made for powerful mitigating evidence. “A background of neglect and abuse would have changed my decision and my vote,” one juror told the Hickory Daily Record weeks before Frye’s execution. Among the evidence the jury never heard was that Frye’s mother had given him and his brother away to a pair of strangers she met at a gas station when Frye was a young boy. The couple beat Frye and his brother with a bullwhip and forced the boys to beat each other as well.

Frye was reluctant to share this history with his court-appointed lawyers. “I didn’t want my family involved,” he told one reporter. “I felt like I had shamed them enough already.” A competent capital defense attorney would have navigated this challenge to save a client’s life. Instead, Frye was represented by a man named Tom Portwood, a dentist-turned-attorney who had a severe drinking problem. His alcoholism would force him to stop practicing just a few years later. Portwood all but abandoned his client, later admitting that he did no work on Frye’s case outside the courtroom. Portwood’s co-counsel did not speak up until two weeks before Frye’s scheduled execution, writing in a sworn statement that he “chose to believe the best about my friend for as long as I could.”

North Carolina’s legal community was moved to action by Frye’s looming execution. “For the first time in its 35-year history, the 4,000-member N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers asked for clemency for a death-row prisoner,” the Raleigh News and Observer reported in August 2001. If the governor allowed the execution to go forward, the group’s president said, “The right to counsel has lost its meaning in this state.” Nonetheless, on August 31, 2001, Frye died by lethal injection.

Frye-1539718681

Ronald Frye, executed in North Carolina in 2001.

Photo: Courtesy of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation

Frye’s execution came at a flashpoint for capital punishment across the country. In the late 1990s, the American Bar Association had recommended a national moratorium on the death penalty, citing unfair trials, racism, and wrongful convictions as pervasive problems. In North Carolina, activists, lawyers, and lawmakers took up the cause; in 2000, a legislative commission recommended a moratorium on executions in the state. A few months before Frye’s execution, a major study examining data from 1993 through 1997 found new evidence of racism in North Carolina’s death penalty system.

It was in this same era that the North Carolina legislature passed the first in a series of hard-fought reforms to the state’s death penalty system. Among them was the establishment of Indigent Defense Services, a state office that coordinates the representation of people facing the death penalty. Opened in July 2001, it imposed standards to ensure that cases were assigned to competent lawyers who received decent compensation — too late for defendants like Frye, but to the benefit of scores of defendants in the years to come.

The majority of people on death row were tried in a system that was effectively rigged against them.

The overhaul of indigent defense was a game-changer in North Carolina. But it was its combined effect with other systemwide reforms that would transform the landscape of capital cases in the state. This evolution is at the heart of a new report by the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Titled “Unequal Justice: How obsolete laws and unfair trials created North Carolina’s outsized death row,” it reveals how the majority of people on death row were tried in a system that was effectively rigged against them. Of the 141 men and women facing execution in North Carolina, more than 100 — 73 percent — were sentenced before the creation of the indigent defense office. The majority were also convicted prior to laws that prohibit the execution of people with mental disabilities; impose protections against wrongful convictions; and require prosecutors to share evidence against defendants before trial.

The CDPL report shows how the implementation of such reforms has led to a precipitous drop in death sentences. “The death penalty is all but extinct in North Carolina,” the authors write. “Juries have recommended only a single new death sentence in the past four years. Capital trials have become rare. The state hasn’t carried out an execution since 2006.” Although North Carolina’s death row is still among the largest in the country, it “is a relic of another era.”

In Catawba County, where Portwood once practiced, no one has been sentenced to death for 20 years. Yet his legacy lives on. In 2012, the state settled a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Glen Edward Chapman, sentenced to die in 1994 for a double murder he insisted he did not commit. Represented by Portwood, Chapman spent years on death row before a Superior Court judge overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial. He was exonerated in 2008. Another one of Portwood’s former clients, Nathan Bowie, remains on death row. Bowie was 20 years old when he was tried alongside his uncle for a double murder in 1993. Today he is 47.

Bowie is one of a handful of condemned men profiled in detail in the report, which describes his case as “emblematic of capital defense at the time.” Portwood was appointed to represent him despite his well-known drinking problem and assisted by a lawyer with no experience in capital defense. Bowie remembers Portwood showing up to one of their first meetings smelling like alcohol. In the time he represented Bowie, the report notes, Portwood was involved in a car crash and found to have a blood alcohol level sufficient to kill him.

A video on the case of Nathan Bowie featured in the CDPL report.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Portwood and his co-counsel did little investigation into Bowie’s background. As a child, Bowie had experienced poverty, abuse, and bouts of homelessness; he was removed from his home when he was 12 and placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services. At 13, he was sent to Sipe’s Orchard Home, a facility for troubled youths, where he stayed until he was 19. Portwood did not review the records or interview staff from the facility. If he had, he would have discovered evidence of sexual abuse that occurred at Sipe’s, where Bowie kept a stick in his possession that he called his “protector.”

Portwood’s failures were compounded by the conduct of the prosecutor in Bowie’s case, Jason Parker. “His office had prosecuted a Sipe’s staffer for molesting boys there,” the report reveals, yet Parker cast the facility as a wholesome environment before the jury. Arguing for the death penalty, he also emphasized that no one from the facility had appeared at trial on Bowie’s behalf. Yet Parker had actually received a letter from the head of the facility offering to testify on Bowie’s behalf, which he never disclosed to defense.

Parker is now retired. In total, he sent seven people to death row, including Frye and Chapman, the two other people represented by Portwood. Parker said he never saw evidence that Portwood was drunk on the job in the years he tried cases against him. “Everybody knew he would take a drink here and there,” Parker said, “but as far as coming to court drunk, alcohol on his breath, never saw it.” Parker’s personal feelings about the death penalty have not changed, he said. “In certain horrific cases, the death penalty is highly justified.” Nevertheless, he says he would no longer seek death sentences if he were still working as a prosecutor today. “My reason is simple,” he said. “In reality the death penalty does not exist in North Carolina.”

Parker explained that of all people he sent to death row, only one — Frye — has been executed. One man killed himself. Another two died of natural causes. The remaining men — Bowie and his uncle — “have outlived the son of my co-counsel who was born during their trial” and died in a car accident at 24. “My position would be: Why waste my time?”

“Zombie Cases”

More than 40 years since the start of the so-called modern death penalty era in the United States, it has become widely understood that most people sentenced to death are more likely to die awaiting execution than on the gurney. In California, home to the country’s biggest death row population, the last execution was carried out in 2006; only 13 people have been executed since the 1970s. Those who do live to see the death chamber have often spent decades on death row.

The result is what Stephen Bright, founder of the Southern Center for Human Rights, has described as “this very strange situation now, in which these people sentenced to death a long time ago” are coming up for execution in cases that would be highly unlikely to lead to a death sentence today. Bright called them “zombie cases” — convictions that “remind us of just how unfair” the system used to be.

In Georgia, Kenneth Fults was executed in 2016 despite revelations that one of his jurors harbored racist animus against him, telling an investigator, “Once he pled guilty, I knew I would vote for the death penalty because that’s what that nigger deserved.” Veteran death penalty lawyer Thomas Maher, who heads Indigent Defense Services, has written about this disconnect in North Carolina. “The question, then, that policymakers and courts should confront is this: Should we execute scores of inmates for crimes that would not warrant the death penalty if they were tried today?”

Gretchen Engel, director of CDPL, explains that the report was published to “ignite a conversation” about this question. “It speaks to a need for there to be some kind of mechanism that will account for our evolving standard of decency,” she said. Given that most of North Carolina’s death row population would likely not be sentenced to die today, “it’s very hard to justify how we can execute them now.”

QJones-Painting-Engel-1539698288

Gretchen Engel holds a painting by Quentin Jones, a client of hers who was executed.

Photo: Courtesy of CDPL

Engel joined CDPL soon after graduating law school in 1992. “I think when I arrived there were maybe 75 people on the row” in North Carolina, she said. But the 1990s became “just a very bloody, frenzied time.” By the end of the decade, there were more than 175 people on death row.

Part of what drove the surge in capital prosecutions were overzealous prosecutors like Ken Honeycutt, who “celebrated new death sentences by handing out noose lapel pins to his assistant DAs,” as the CDPL report notes. Particularly notorious was Joe Freeman Britt in Robeson County, who attracted national media attention and even a listing in the Guinness World Records as the “world’s deadliest DA.” Britt sent some 38 people to death row over his 14-year tenure. Among them were two teenagers, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who were famously exonerated of murder and rape in 2014.

The impact of overzealous prosecutors has been well-documented where capital punishment is concerned. But in North Carolina, the phenomenon was compounded by a perverse, lesser-known feature of the state’s death penalty system. One of the more startling areas of the CDPL report is a section that explains how prosecutors were essentially coerced into seeking death sentences as often as possible. “In the 1990s, N.C. was the only state that required prosecutors to seek the death penalty for every aggravated first-degree murder,” the report explains, “regardless of other factors that called for mercy.”

Rooted in years of rulings by the state Supreme Court, the sentencing scheme was originally intended to ensure uniformity in the application of the death penalty. But in practice, it curtailed prosecutorial discretion to an absurd degree. Prosecutors were forbidden from arranging plea deals in which a defendant could plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life sentence. Instead, their only alternative was to reduce a charge to second-degree murder.

In 1993, the year Bowie was tried, 33 people were sent to death row in the state.

Parker began handling capital cases in Catawba County in 1990. He recalls seeking the death penalty in numerous cases that he would not have tried capitally had they come later in his career. In the case of Nathan Bowie, Parker actually offered a plea deal for second-degree murder. “That wasn’t the world’s greatest case,” he explains. The witnesses were unreliable — the kinds of people who say one thing in a meeting, then “go out on the stands and they say something entirely different.” But Bowie and his uncle rejected the deal. “So I didn’t have any choice but to try them for the death penalty. Once they turn down that second degree, it was on.”

Alex Charns, Bowie’s current attorney, counters that in fact, Parker did have a choice in Bowie’s case. “It could have been tried as second degree,” he says, adding that most prosecutors would not be inclined to do that. Bowie’s fate speaks to the utter neglect of Portwood in representing his client at every stage of his case, Charns says. But it is also illustrative of a phenomenon known as a “trial penalty,” in which prosecutors come down especially hard on defendants who refuse their plea offers. The notion that a crime could merit a charge of second-degree murder in one minute and a death sentence the next is also emblematic of the arbitrariness so often described by critics of capital punishment.

The lack of prosecutorial discretion in first-degree murder cases was “perhaps the biggest driver of a decade of excessive death sentences” in the state, the CDPL report says. It “propelled North Carolina to one of the highest death sentencing rates in the nation.” In 1993, the year Bowie was tried, 33 people were sent to death row in the state.

In 2001, the North Carolina legislature finally passed a law to address the problem of prosecutorial discretion. “Some DAs were having to try capital cases that they really didn’t want to try,” remembers Rep. Phil Baddour, a Democrat from Wayne County who sponsored the bill. “It went through without a lot of opposition.”

To Engel, it made sense that prosecutors would not oppose the new law. “It increased their power and so they didn’t fight it. I think that’s why it was really probably the least controversial of the reforms.” What she and her colleagues did not necessarily expect was just how dramatic a change would follow. Death penalty prosecutions “plummeted,” from an average of 50 per year in the 1990s to roughly 16 capital trials per year in the decade following the 2001 law.

The drop was no doubt due to prosecutors like Parker, for whom the death penalty became an easy way to force a defendant to plead guilty in exchange for life. “Most of the cases I tried for the death penalty after the law changed were those who rejected the plea offer taking the death penalty off the table.” Still, defendants were inclined to take the deal, he said. “Once you prove that you could put somebody on death row, it was a heck of a tool.”

A Legacy of Racial Violence

“I think if you polled district attorneys, they would all say, ‘Oh yes, the death penalty is very necessary,’” Engel says. But their actions betray the truth. Prosecutors are seeking fewer death sentences and are more willing to accept a plea to a life sentence, she points out. Indeed, as Parker recalls, after the law changed, “I made that offer available in the great majority of first-degree murder cases.”

Engel sees something similar among the general public, which seems to favor the death penalty more in theory than reality. “I think while public support for the death penalty in North Carolina has fallen just like it has nationally, you’d still have a fairly large number of people who would say, ‘Yes, of course, we should execute the worst of the worst.’” Yet “jurors are not returning death sentences, even in really horrendous cases.”

Nevertheless, the stubborn devotion to North Carolina’s death penalty has been on dramatic display for much of the past decade, in the ugly battle over the state’s Racial Justice Act. Passed in 2009, the groundbreaking law provided a way for condemned people to fight their sentences if they could prove that racism played a role in jury selection at their trials.

Four people on death row succeeded in getting their sentences commuted to life without parole before the Republican-led legislature repealed the RJA in 2013. Two years later, the North Carolina Supreme Court vacated the judge’s rulings, sending the four defendants back to death row. It was up to Engel and her office to share the wrenching news. By then, a couple of them had gone to medium custody, she recalls. One, Christina Walters, had completed her GED. “The impact on the families of those clients — to think your [child] is spared from execution and then three years later, oh no, you’re back on death row — it was devastating.”

Collins-scan-Nathan-and-Father-in-Philly-1539697182

Nathan Bowie, left, with his father in Philadelphia circa 1989.

Photo: Courtesy of the Bowie family/CDPL

Nathan Bowie was among those who sought relief under the RJA before its repeal. In a 2012 filing, Charns, his lawyer, details the history of racial violence in Catawba County and the surrounding area. In 1919, the filing noted, a black man named Tom Gwyn died in the electric chair for raping a white girl despite the efforts of a mob that tried to lynch him first. He was still awaiting trial when a local newspaper declared the guilt of the “brute” with “beast-like hands.” An all-white jury convicted him in 10 minutes.

Racism permeated the prosecution of black men in rape cases into the 1970s, Charns points out. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a group called North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence tracked racial intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan in Catawba County. By the time Bowie went to trial before an almost all-white jury in 1993, the county had a black population of less than 9 percent. Parker, who is black himself, appealed to the racist fears and biases of the jury in court. Although there was no evidence that the crimes had anything to do with gang rivalry, Parker attributed the murders to a gang war, invoking Philadelphia, where Bowie came from, and contrasting it with the town of Hickory — “your community.”

Parker demurred when asked about evidence of racism in North Carolina’s death penalty system. And he was dismissive of Bowie’s RJA motion. “All I can say is … you had a black guy trying two black guys for killing two black people,” he said. “So if that’s injustice, fine. You know? I don’t see it.”

The evidence of systemic racism contained in Bowie’s RJA filing — and the aggressive denial that such a thing exists — underscores the broader thesis underlying the CDPL report. It’s not just that North Carolina’s death sentences are a relic dating back to the bad laws of the 1990s. Its death penalty system is inextricable from a history of racial violence rooted in slavery and reconstruction. As in the rest of the South, the same kind of fearmongering propaganda once used to defend lynchings would support state-sanctioned executions, particularly as punishment for rape against white women. The bloodlust extended all across the state; in 1922, 16-year-old McIver Burnett — “convicted in three minutes and 30 seconds,” according to the Daily Free Press — was executed for rape in Raleigh amid a crowd of spectators holding tickets to the execution, a mob dominated by “youths wearing the red caps that distinguish State College freshmen,” according to the News and Observer.

Evidence of enduring racism in capital cases helped pave the way for the landmark 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia. The plurality decision held that the death penalty was arbitrarily and thus unfairly imposed. Some death penalty states responded to Furman by crafting new statutes that would provide for bifurcated trials with a penalty phase to weigh aggravating and mitigating evidence — the system widely in place today. But others decided that the solution was to make the death penalty mandatory for crimes like murder and rape. The first to do so was North Carolina.

Joan Little and one of her defense attorneys, Kern Galloway, right, wait for an elevator in the lobby of the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, N.C., July 14, 1975, where she is on trial in the 1974 stabbing death of a jailer. (AP Photo/Harold Valentine)

Joan Little, left, and defense attorney Karen Galloway in the lobby of the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, N.C., on July 14, 1975.

Photo: Harold Valentine/AP

One of the first people to face North Carolina’s mandatory death penalty was a black woman named Joan Little. The 20-year-old had been charged with first-degree murder after stabbing a white guard to death with an ice pick while being held at the Beaufort County Jail in 1974. She said she had killed the man to stop him from raping her — his body was found naked from the waist down in her cell, with seminal fluid on his leg. Nevertheless, Little faced a mandatory death sentence if she was convicted.

As Little’s trial approached, the case became a cause célèbre — a symbol of the South’s deep-rooted racism and the largely unspoken sexual abuse of black women by white men dating back generations. In 1975, amid demonstrations, a jury acquitted Little. The next year, in Woodson v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s mandatory sentencing scheme.

For Jennie Lancaster, one of the jurors in the case, the Little trial would indelibly shape her perspective on the criminal justice system. As a 25-year-old counselor at a juvenile prison facility in Raleigh, “I had this almost idealistic view of what you could accomplish” within prisons, she recalls. After the Little trial, she went on to become warden of the state’s women’s prison and eventually the Central Region director in the North Carolina Division of Prisons, where she supervised 12 facilities, including the prison in Raleigh that houses death row.

“Racism and sexism. That was prevalent in the whole judicial process within deep eastern North Carolina.”

Among Lancaster’s early responsibilities was presiding over the 1984 execution of Velma Barfield, a white woman convicted and sentenced to die for poisoning four people. As her execution date approached, the case of the “death row granny” became a media circus and political lightning rod; the state set the execution date just days before a major election for Senate. Democratic North Carolina Gov. James Hunt faced incumbent Sen. Jesse Helms. Hunt, who would go on to lose, denied Barfield’s pleas for clemency.

“I got to know Velma,” Lancaster says. “I got to know her family. I got to know what a positive influence she was” at the prison. She also saw the additional ways in which women behind bars were abused and dehumanized. Lancaster recalls having to fight with prison administrators to allow Barfield to wear a bra during her execution. “She was a big-breasted woman and she asked me, ‘Miss Lancaster, if I’ve got to go through this, I would like to have the dignity of wearing a bra.’”

The Barfield execution would eclipse the Little case in North Carolina’s death penalty history. But it was the latter that opened Lancaster’s eyes. “The system was on trial,” she said. “And our role in the criminal justice system was really on trial.” While she was proud at the outcome, the case was only her first look at the rampant abuse within prisons. “It ingrained a stronger sense of responsibility within me, about how we should be caretakers. And how we should not allow, if we’re in a supervisory role, the taking advantage of offenders who are under our care.”

“And also, the amount of racism,” Lancaster added. “Racism and sexism. That was prevalent in the whole judicial process within deep eastern North Carolina.”

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

jennie-lancaster-1539719345

Jennie Lancaster, who served as chief deputy secretary for adult correction in North Carolina.

Photo: North Carolina Department of Public Safety

Today Lancaster is an outspoken critic of the death penalty — and especially of its impact on prison staff. “There’s no training for it,” she says about the psychological and emotional effects of executions. For the public, “executions are out of sight, out of mind,” Lancaster says. People don’t want to deal with it — “they just want it to be over with.” But people who work in the system “can’t go home and talk about it. We can’t talk about it anywhere. We can’t really even talk about it at the prison.” Over the course of her career, Lancaster attended 24 executions.

Parker, the former prosecutor, did not attend the execution of Ronald Frye in 2001. “I gave my ticket to the arresting officer,” he said. Parker said he had developed a certain level of affection for Frye by then. “I thought he has what’s coming to him, but I wasn’t gonna go watch him die.”

I asked Parker if he would feel satisfied if Nathan Bowie were to be executed today, 25 years after he was convicted. Would he consider it justice? Parker paused. “I really haven’t given it much thought,” he said, adding, “I did my job.” He doesn’t miss it. He’s happily retired, playing golf a few times a week, he told me. “I don’t think about it much anymore. I leave it alone.”

Top photo: The execution chamber at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 30, 2005.

The post “Relic of Another Era”: Most People on North Carolina’s Death Row Would Not Be Sentenced to Die Today appeared first on The Intercept.

17 Oct 15:55

USA's infamous 'Tornado Alley' may be shifting east

The USA's infamous "Tornado Alley" may be shifting to the east, a new study reports.

Over the past four decades, researchers found that tornadoes have increased over a large swath of the Midwest and Southeast, including what's been referred to as "Dixie Alley."

At the same time, they've decreased in the central and southern Plains, a region traditionally known as Tornado Alley that includes Oklahoma and Texas.  

“Regions in the Southeast and Midwest are closing the gap when it comes to the number of tornado reports,” said Northern Illinois University meteorologist Victor Gensini, who led the study. 

Although Tornado Alley still remains the top U.S. area for tornadoes, areas to the east are catching up, based on data from 1979 to 2017. This includes portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.

“It’s not that Texas and Oklahoma do not get tornadoes,” Gensini said. “They’re still the number one location in terms of tornado frequency, but the trend in many locations is down over the past 40 years.”

This new research is key for pinpointing future tornado damage in the U.S. "Severe thunderstorms accompanied by tornadoes, hail, and damaging winds cause an average of $5.4 billion of damage each year across the United States, and 10 billion-dollar events are no longer uncommon," the study said.

"Economic losses associated with tornadoes will continue to increase in future years," the study also warned, adding that "the combination of an increase in risk and exposure could lead to a threefold increase in tornado disaster potential."

Overall, about 1,200 tornadoes hit the U.S. yearly, the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) said. NSSL researcher and tornado expert Harold Brooks co-authored the study.

Tornadoes in the Southeast also tend to be deadlier than those in the Plains, due to several factors such as longer, larger tornado paths, expanding population, more moblie homes, and more nighttime tornadoes. 

On average, about 40 people die in the nine states that make up the southeastern U.S. each year. Alabama tallies the highest death toll annually with an average of 14, according to data from the Storm Prediction Center.

Tornado frequency is increasing in states such as Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi but decreasing in Texas.

Tornado frequency is increasing in states such as Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi but decreasing in Texas. (Photo: Adapted by Northern Illinois University from npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, Genseni/Brooks 2018)

The Mid-South, an area with Memphis at its center, is a particular worry, as it "has the greatest potential for increased tornado disasters by the end of the century," the study said.

An average of 10 people die from twisters each year combined in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, three states that make up most of Tornado Alley. Overall, nationwide, about 73 Americans are killed each year by tornadoes, based on data from 1985-2014.

Study researchers also aren't sure if this eastward shift in tornado reports could be due to natural or human-induced climate change.

The study was published Wednesday in the Nature partner journal Climate and Atmospheric Science

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17 Oct 15:24

Mary Bono: USA Gymnastics boss quits after Simone Biles & Aly Raisman criticism

Mary Bono was appointed on Friday after Kerry Perry, who was criticised for her handling of the fallout from the Larry Nassar abuse scandal, resigned in September

The interim boss of USA Gymnastics has resigned after her appointment was questioned by Olympic champions Simone Biles and Aly Raisman.

Mary Bono was criticised after appearing to oppose Nike's advertising campaign with Colin Kaepernick.

She was appointed as interim president and chief executive on Friday.

"My withdrawal comes in the wake of personal attacks that, left undefended, would have made leading USAG a liability," Bono said.

Bono, 56, had also previously worked for a law firm which represented USA Gymnastics and its ex-team doctor Larry Nassar during a sex abuse scandal.

Nassar has been sentenced to more than 300 years in jail for abusing gymnasts.

His victims included 2016 Olympic gold medallists Raisman and Biles.

In a statement confirming her resignation, Bono claimed she had seen "assaulting behaviour" by a coach when she was a young gymnast.

"It is with profound regret, coupled with a deep love for the sport of gymnastics and respect for those who aspire to be great gymnasts, that I today tendered my resignation," Bono said.

"I would have brought a fire in the belly to ensure that no-one as taken with gymnastics as I was at that age, should have to choose between abuse and ambition, or between properly speaking out and promoting personal success."

Simone Biles (right) criticised Bono's tweet, which has now been deleted

What did she say about Kaepernick?

Biles criticised Bono for tweeting apparent opposition to sportswear company Nike making NFL star Kaepernick the face of its new advertising campaign.

In 2016, Kaepernick protested against racial injustice by kneeling during the US national anthem, a gesture which has proved controversial in the country and drew criticism from President Donald Trump.

Bono had tweeted a picture of herself colouring in the Nike logo on her golf shoe.

"With respect to Mr Kaepernick, he nationally exercised his first amendment right to kneel. I chose mine," said Bono.

She said it was an "emotional reaction" while at a tournament for families who have lost members of the armed forces - including her brother-in-law, who she said died while serving as a US Navy Seal.

Alongside a picture of Kaepernick, Nike's advertising campaign used the phrase "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything".

Bono said members of the armed forces who died while serving had "literally sacrificed everything", adding: "I regret that at the time I didn't clarify my feelings.

"That one tweet has now been made the litmus test of my reputation over almost two decades of public service."

Why was Bono criticised by Raisman?

Raisman, who won team and floor gold at London 2012 and team gold at the 2016 Rio Games, said it was the former congresswoman's role at Faegre Baker Daniels that troubled her.

In a series of tweets, she pointed out how lawyers at the firm, although not Bono herself, and sport administrators had been aware of abuse allegations against Nassar in 2015, and yet he had been allowed to continue working - and abusing children.

Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges in December and received up to 175 years in jail on sexual abuse charges in January. He then received a further 40 to 125 years in February for molesting young gymnasts.

Bono's predecessor at USA Gymnastics, Kerry Perry, resigned in September just nine months after taking up her role, having been criticised for her handling of the fallout from the Nassar scandal.

Bono worked on legislative strategies and policies for the firm and was not involved in the Nassar case.

Bono said she "proudly stands behind her body of work" at Faegre Baker Daniels.

USA Gymnastics said accepting Bono's resignation was "in the best interest of the organisation", but that the decision was taken "despite her commitment to the sport of gymnastics and helping the organisation move forward".

"We remain steadfast in our efforts to fundamentally transform the organisation at all levels to ensure athlete safety and well-being is at the heart of everything we do," it added.

The USAG statement continued: "While we have made progress, we have much more work to do."