Monday, September 1, 275760

Random Disclaimer: This is a blog.

9/23/14 EDIT: For in-depth video game information for various obscure RPGs, check out my gaming blog at

5/29/12 EDIT: I've just created a new blog exclusively for ponies and pony-related news, WITHOUT the stressful news articles on this blog.  It's no Equestria Daily, nor will it ever be, but it's still a pony blog. Feel free to check it out if you please...

If you're a brony and a Final Fantasy fan, and you want to play a game that combines ponies with Final Fantasy, I just thought you might like to know that an excellent fan game called Pony Fantasy 6 was released a few days ago.

If you are interested in this game, and would like to give it a try, please follow this link...

This blog contains some controversial posts concerning certain political issues and depressing news stories. If you find some of the content on my blog too controversial for your liking, or you're simply interested in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, go to That is my DailyMotion channel that is filled with every episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic so far. If a new epsisode of MLP:FiM comes on, expect to see it on there within a few hours. It might help to take the edge off from hearing or seeing too much stressful stuff (i.e. some of the posts on my blog), and you may walk away with the realization that not ALL things pertaining to My Little Pony suck. In fact, in the case of FiM, it's AWESOME.

BTW, since DailyMotion absolutely ADORES putting ads all over the place, often ruining perfectly good videos by placing ads at the beginning, end, and occasionally, even the MIDDLE of many videos, please consider installing Adblock Plus for maximum pony enjoyment. DailyMotion can be a great deal better and more enjoyable than YouTube, but only if you use Adblock to get around the horribly annoying ads.

If you're interested in MLP:FiM, but you don't want to go to DailyMotion, either because of the annoying random ads or because the videos play slower there than on other sites, there are dozens, if not hundreds of channels on YouTube that have the entire first and second seasons uploaded to their channels, and they're all ad-free, too. I was planning on creating another YouTube channel to upload pony videos to, but it wouldn't allow me to upload videos past 15 minutes unless I gave a mobile phone number, and I don't have a mobile phone, and I'm NOT breaking these videos into parts.

If ponies aren't your thing, I understand. At any rate, I cannot stress enough that there are PLENTY of depressing pieces of news and controversial opinions about certain subjects on here. But if you can get past this disclaimer, you might find that this blog is fairly interesting and informative. I do my best to post interesting articles from various news sources, many of which provide a glimpse into the harsh realities of the world. Some of them may be easily accessed by searching your favorite news site or clicking on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc, whereas some other news stories are less known for various reasons.

BTW, I've noticed a few people have been searching for "Rainbow Dash Attack", basically a ponified version of the popular Adult Swim Flash game "Robot Unicorn Attack". If you want to play "Rainbow Dash Attack", follow the link below.

If you just want to play the original version, Robot Unicorn Attack, feel free to follow this link...

Saturday, December 31, 275555

A veritable encyclopedia of important links, including search engines, Pastebins, proxies, alternative news sources, etc.

Alternative Search Engines
009  (google)
011  (file search)
012  (library search engine)
019  (file search)
020 (free books)
021  (file search)
022 (file search)
025 (hide my ass)

Friday, January 3, 275000

A Comprehensive List of Suicide Crisis Hotlines across America

If you are feeling suicidal for any reason, please don't throw your life away. Instead, talk with someone you're close to or contact your local suicide hotline. Here is a comprehensive list of all the suicide hotlines across all 50 states.

 Information taken from . If you need more detailed information on the subject of suicide and how to deal with it, please go to the URL and check out any of the links on the left side of it. If you or a loved one or friend is expressing suicidal ideations or behavior, contact the hotline on the list that is nearest to you immediately.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rap mogul ‘Suge’ Knight arrested for murder after fatal LA hit-and-run

The founder of one of America’s biggest record labels has been arrested for murder. Marion ‘Suge’ Knight, the creator of Death Row Records, is being held following a fatal hit-and-run incident in Los Angeles.

Sergeant Diane Hecht from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Knight was arrested at 03:00 local time and is being detained at West Hollywood sheriff’s station on $2 million bail.

The music producer handed himself into police earlier Friday and was interviewed by detectives. Police were treating the incident as homicide, in which one man was killed and another left needing hospital treatment after a red pick-up truck struck the men, ages 51 and 55, on Thursday afternoon in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in the district of Compton.

Lieutenant John Corina, from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said: "Looks like he drove backward and struck the victims and drove forward and struck them again. The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act.”
A witness, who saw Knight involved in a quarrel with two men said, "To see the argument happen, it's one thing," 17-year-old Robert Smith, who was eating in the restaurant. "Seeing the car incident, that was shocking," AP reported.

Knight’s lawyer, James Blatt, said he ran over a friend who died from his injuries, and another man who was taken to hospital as he tried to flee attackers.

“We are confident that once the investigation is completed, he will be totally exonerated," Blatt told AP by telephone.

"He was in the process of being physically assaulted by two men and in an effort to escape he unfortunately hit two [other] individuals," the lawyer said. "He was in his car trying to escape," his attorney added.

In August, Knight, who helped to develop the careers of music legends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, was shot six times at a MTV awards party in Los Angeles. He was released from hospital just three days later.

He also suffered gunshot wounds in 2005, at a party hosted by rapper Kanye West.

US lacks intelligence to continue waging indiscriminate drone warfare in Yemen

Houthi rebels have blinded the US drone program targeting Al-Qaeda in Yemen, having seized vital installations on the ground previously providing intelligence data. The scuffle in Saudi Arabia’s underbelly threatens the key US ally in the region.

Yemen’s military and intelligence agencies are no more capable of providing on-the-ground intel to stage drone missile attacks against the leaders of the regional branch of Al-Qaeda, US officials said, as quoted in an exclusive Reuters report.

US intelligence has been forced to rely on spy satellite imagery, surveillance drones and electronic eavesdropping rather than on “human intelligence” on the ground, an official with direct knowledge of the operations told Reuters anonymously.

The White House and the Pentagon insist the counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen are not going to be deterred.
“We do continue to have an ongoing security relationship with the national security infrastructure in Yemen. Some of which, much of which, is still functioning,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
“As a new part of Yemen's leadership, the Houthis will have many reasons to talk with the international community,” White House spokesman Alistair Baskey said.

Houthi fighters have constructed checkpoints at the entrances to security institutions and have deployed gunmen inside the facilities, claim Yemeni officials. Homes of the defense minister and the head of the National Security Bureau have also been blocked by the rebels.

The Houthis, a Shiite group with alleged ties to Iran – Saudi Arabia's archrival – swept through Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, penetrating key government institutions and military installations.
Houthis inhabiting north of Yemen represent Shia minority of the country, whereas majority Sunni Muslims live in the south of Yemen.

Houthis are believed to be equally hostile towards both the US drone attacks and Al-Qaeda.

A week ago the rebels overtook the capital Sanaa after several days of clashes and ousted the Yemeni
president from office.

READ MORE: Yemeni president resigns after standoff with Shia rebels
The US State Department has been forced to evacuate most of the personnel and close the American embassy to the public over security concerns.

A general view of the U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa January 27, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)
A general view of the U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa January 27, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

The US personnel continue monitoring the Al-Qaeda group from an intelligence post at the southern al-Anaad air base.

The CIA, which conducts the majority of assault drone operations in Yemen, operates unmanned aircrafts from airfields in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti.

Last week the US officials informed Reuters that a number of counter-terrorist operations against
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have also been suspended until further notice. The AQAP is believed to be the most lethal branch of the terrorist organization.

READ MORE: Al-Qaeda in Yemen claims directing Paris attacks as ‘revenge’ – reports

The US has been using drones to eliminate Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen for years, starting from November 2002. Last September, President Barack Obama praised US-Yemen counter-terrorism cooperation as a model one.

READ MORE: Unmanned, unregulated & on White House grounds: Obama says drones need rules

Attacks with Hellfire missiles from Predator drones have never been precise and always been accompanied with a large number of civilian casualties.

READ MORE: It takes 28 civilian lives to kill a single terrorist leader – UK human rights group

Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Former US drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant told RT that “People need to know the lack of oversight, the lack of accountability that happen.”

READ MORE: ‘We didn’t even really know who we were firing at’ – former US drone operator

Data collected by the human rights group Reprieve and presented last November maintains that attempts to kill 41 targeted individuals across Pakistan and Yemen in recent years resulted in the deaths of some 1,147 people, the vast majority civilians and families.

The US authorities claim they do everything to avoid civilian casualties, yet the risk of “collateral mage” is always there.

"There must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set," Baskey said.

According to the New America Foundation, there were 19 US drone strikes in Yemen in 2014, which killed 124 militants and four civilians.

The latest drone attack in Yemen took place last Monday, when an attack on a car in eastern province killed three alleged Al-Qaeda militants.

Reddit’s first transparency report reveals compliance with 58% of user info requests

Reddit has released its first transparency report, revealing that the social news site complied with 58 percent of user information requests and 31 percent of takedown notices from authorities in 2014.

In a blog post on Thursday, the content-sharing giant said that it routinely fields requests from federal and state government agencies for user data in addition to requests to remove content. Private individuals and organizations also sometimes send requests, most often through subpoenas.
The report made clear that as a US-based company, Reddit does not turn over information to foreign governments, unless ordered to do so by a US court.
The company also noted that it successfully fought two civil subpoenas which sought information on more than a dozen users.

In its report, Reddit – which boasts more than 174 million users – said that in 2014 the company received only 55 requests for user data involving 78 user accounts. The company complied with 32 of them. Facebook and Google – both of which released similar reports – received 35,000 and 32,000 such requests, respectively, in just the first six months 2014.

Reddit noted that it tries to inform users when their data is requested.

"At Reddit, we believe transparency about our privacy practices encourages trust and more user expression," the company wrote.

"We take all requests for the disclosure of user information seriously. When we receive a request, we make sure it is legitimate and not overbroad, and we provide advance notice to affected users unless prohibited by a court order or where we decide delayed notice is appropriate based on clear criteria described in our privacy policy," the report states.

The company also received 218 requests to take down content, 176 of which were for copyright infringement. Nine of the requests involved trademarks, while the other 33 were for unspecified reasons. The company complied with 68 of those requests. The report also states that “real humans” review each takedown request.

Reddit is known for its pro-privacy stance. The site allows users to register without listing an email address or real name.

Efforts to curb police brutality 'met with more force’ – pepper-sprayed teacher

Jesse Hagopian, a high school history teacher who was pepper-sprayed by a police officer in an unprovoked attack, says that what happened to him is reflective of the police brutality that is rampant across the United States.

Hagopian – an activist promoting black causes in the Seattle area – was pepper-sprayed by a police
officer after speaking at a Black Lives Matter rally on Martin Luther King Day. He was walking away from the gathering, on a sidewalk, when he was suddenly pepper-sprayed in the face.

He has decided to sue city authorities and the police for $500,000 in damages.

In video footage of the incident – which was filmed by a bystander, and where Hagopian is clearly visible – a small crowd is standing on the sidewalk and in the road.

READ MORE: Seattle faces $500k suit for pepper-spraying school teacher (VIDEO)

A female officer in a line of other officers appears to drastically overreact to the situation. She screams at the people facing her – who do not appear to be any threat whatsoever – to move back. She pepper-sprays them just as Hagopian is walking past at a normal pace while chatting on his mobile phone. The other officers remain calm and silent, but do not intervene to stop what appears to be an overreaction by their colleague.

READ MORE: New video shows white Seattle cop arresting 70yo black veteran for carrying golf club
The pepper-spray left Hagopian with searing pain in his eyes, ears, and face.

The history teacher said city authorities have not commented on the incident, even though it happened almost two weeks ago.

“We still don’t have the name of the officer...I hope the city will respond rapidly to address this incident and others like it. I’m not the only one who’s faced this type of overreaction from the police here in Seattle,” he told RT.

He explained that the police officer's actions in Seattle are reflective of the wider problem of police brutality in the US.

“Every effort to curb police brutality seems to be met with more force,” Hagopian said.

Alaska community officer accused of Tasering 2 young kids because they asked him to

Alaska State Troopers are investigating allegations that a Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) used a stun gun or Taser on two young boys after they asked the officer to do so.

The mother of one of the boys, Terry Ward, said the incident occurred last December when a group of about eight or 10 children were getting ready to play a game of kickball outside the Boys and Girls Club in Kake, Alaska, local media reported.

The club is situated next to the VPSO office. When one of the officers walked by the boys, Ward’s 11-year-old son and one of his friends reportedly asked the policeman to use his Taser on them.
“They were talking about being Tased, and my son did ask to be Tased, and he Tasered him on his arm or his wrist,” Ward told the local Juneau Empire newspaper.

She said she didn’t know if the weapon he used was a Taser or a stun gun. A Taser shoots barbs into a person’s skin, whereas a stun gun is just put next to the skin.

Although the boy wasn’t harmed in the incident, Ward worries that there may be a lasting psychological or emotional effect, and says that a VPSO officer should know better than to Taser a child.
“I’m just not happy about the situation. To me this is considered child abuse,” she said.

Ward is also concerned about the fact that she was not properly informed of the incident by the authorities. She only found out about the incident from a friend about a month later.
“She was asking me how my son was doing after the incident, and I was like, 'What is she talking about?'” Ward said.

Alaska State Troopers, who supervise the VSPOs, are now investigating the incident. Kake is a small remote community about 100 miles south of Juneau, the capital of Alaska.

The VSPO is the only permanent law enforcement presence in the town.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, Megan Peters, based in the city of Anchorage, told the Juneau Empire that the VSPO officer concerned is Mac McGonigal, who was assigned to Kake in 2013.

The Empire reported that it attempted to get his side of the story, but that no one was at the office on Friday despite multiple visits.

However, Peters maintained in an email that the “Parents or the guardians of the involved children were contacted.”
Ward says this was not the case, claiming she was only contacted a week ago by the head officer in Kake, James Smith, who asked her to come to the office. She refused unless a lawyer was present.
VSPO officers are trained to deal with public service emergencies and basic law enforcement. They do not carry firearms.

ISIS video claims beheading of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto

Islamic State (IS) militants have beheaded captive Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, claims a video purportedly released by the terrorist group on Saturday. It comes after Tokyo said that negotiations with IS had reached a “deadlock.”

The Japanese government said it is trying to authenticate the video, which shows a hooded man standing over another man – apparently Goto – with a knife held to his throat. It then shows footage of a body with a head placed on it.

Earlier on Saturday, Yasuhide Nakayama – the head of Tokyo’s emergency response team in the Jordanian capital of Amman – told journalists that there had been no progress in attempts to negotiate the release of Goto and Maaz al-Kassasbeh, a first lieutenant in the Jordanian Air Force.

In the clip, the man – who calls himself Jihadist John and speaks in English with a British accent – addresses the Japanese government, blaming Tokyo for the slaughter. He said that Japan started an “unwinnable war,” and threatened its government with more violence.

People holding placards take part in a vigil in front of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, January 30, 2015.(Reuters / Toru Hanai)
People holding placards take part in a vigil in front of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, January 30, 2015.(Reuters / Toru Hanai)
Previously, Tokyo agreed with the militants on an exchange of Goto for Sajida al-Rishawi, the Iraqi woman who killed 60 people in a 2005 Jordan bombing. A Jordanian government spokesman has also said that Amman is prepared to free Rishawi if its pilot is freed in return. Al-Kasasbeh was captured by the Islamic State in late December after his plane came down during an air raid by the US-led coalition.

READ MORE: Japan says won’t pay hostage ransom to ISIS as deadline looms
Goto was captured by IS militants in October 2014 when he returned to Syria to search for his friend, 
Japanese national Haruna Yukawa. The latter was taken hostage by extremists in August.

On January 20, the militants published a video on several jihadist websites showing the two Asian men wearing orange fatigues and standing on their knees, while a masked man in black holds a knife. In the video, the militant group demands a $200 million ransom to be paid for the hostages' lives within 72 hours – the same amount of money that Japan had pledged to pay to the US-led campaign against IS.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will stand by his country’s commitment not to pay ransoms, adding that “this policy is unshakable and we won’t change it.”

As the 72 hours expired, IS released a video where Goto shows a picture of the beheaded body of his fellow captive on January 24. In the message addressed to the Japanese government, Goto said that the jihadist group now wants the release of Iraqi suicide bomber Rishawi.

The US said it “strongly condemns” the actions of IS, and is working to confirm the authenticity of the video.

Friday, January 30, 2015

New Michigan FOIA Caps Per Page Fees, Drops Costs Further If Agencies Miss Response Deadlines

If all goes according to plan, this sort of thing won't be happening in Michigan anymore.
It's not at all clear if the police in Michigan are using the full extent of these [cellphone data-slurping] tools, and that's what the ACLU was curious about. So, it filed a Freedom of Information Act request on the matter... and was told that it would cost $544,680 to get that information. That doesn't sound like "freedom" of information, now does it?
A new state FOIA law [pdf link], signed recently by Governor Rick Snyder (and shepherded through the 2-year process by then-State Rep., now Senator Mike Shirkey), puts a limit on how much government agencies can charge to fulfill requests.
Public records will become cheaper and easier to access under changes to Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.

Government agencies will not be allowed to charge more than 10 cents per page for copies of public records; they can face increased fines for delaying responses, and people seeking the records now can sue if they consider the fees to be exorbitant.
This capped per-page amount should prevent entities like the ACLU being charged a half-million dollars for a records request. Not to single out the Michigan police, but it seems to be one government agency that treats FOIA requests like get-rich-quick schemes.
Case in point is the corruption scandal involving Speaker Jase Bolger (R – Marshall) and Rep. Roy Schmidt (R – Grand Rapids).

The police report was some 2,000 pages of text messages, bank statements, and interviews surrounding the Speaker’s election rigging scheme in Grand Rapids, and the Michigan State Police Post in Ionia told anyone who wanted a copy of that report to pony up $1,896.30, including $73.83 in hourly compensation for a detective to pull the records.
This cap would turn $1800 into about $20.00. This isn't going to sit well with government agencies who have used high fees to reduce their transparency. Expect those to address the "problem" by chalking up more hourly fees to make up for the "lost revenue." This, too, is addressed in the law's language, which forbids the charging of "arbitrary or capricious fees." But at the end of it all, there's nothing in the punishments section that will actually deter agencies from doing exactly that.
The law allows requesters who believe they are being overcharged for records to sue and ask a court to lower the fee. If the court concludes the public body arbitrarily and capriciously charged an unreasonable fee, the court must assess $1,000 in punitive damages.

The new law also increases punitive damages from $500 to $2,000 on public bodies that arbitrarily and capriciously break the law by refusing or delaying the release of public records.

It also requires courts to fine public bodies $2,500 to $7,500 for willfully and intentionally failing to follow the law. The fines are paid to the state.
When the state collects a fine from a state agency, it's little more than money being passed back and forth under the disapproving glare of an overseer. In some cases, the money may transfer from a city to the state, but in no case will it ever pass from the person authorizing the forbidden behavior to the taxpayers. This isn't even a hand slap. It barely rises to the level of a disappointed sigh.

On the other hand, it does work out a little better for the citizens making the requests. If the court finds in the requester's favor, they may be awarded damages. On top of that, the law adds an additional requirement tied to agencies' pockets that should expedite request fulfillment.
If a government misses a deadline for responding to a request, it must discount the fees charged by 5% for each day the response is late. The maximum discount is 50%.
It looks pretty good on paper, but the implementation may not be as smooth. Without a doubt, any request that makes its way into the court system can expect several rounds of challenges and appeals. The same goes for any agency's stalling tactics. While this law does apply a much-needed cap, it still leaves room for abuse and its deterrents will do little to stop arbitrary fees and long, expensive court battles -- the latter of which use taxpayer funds to defend the withholding of taxpayer-funded documents from taxpayers.

Comcast Caught Ghost Writing Politicians' Merger Support Letters

In a recent blog post, Comcast's top lobbyist David Cohen proudly proclaimed that Comcast has been seeing a "wide variety" of support for the company's $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable. Though most people worry that an even larger Comcast means more usage caps, greater anti-competitive leverage in content negotiations, less media diversity and worse customer service than ever before, Cohen crowed that 70 mayors, 80 chambers of commerce and business organizations and over 60 other state and local officials think the deal is a wonderful idea.

What Cohen accidentally forgot to mention is that in most instances, that support is paid for and, quite frankly, entirely phony. The Verge this week did a nice job using public records requests to highlight how Comcast has been busy ghost writing merger support letters for lazy politicians. Said letters, as you'd expect, ignore the company's abysmal customer service reputation and downright disdain for the American consumer, instead insisting that Comcast is a pillar of the community. Like this gushing missive from Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Georgia, which The Verge notes was actually written by a Comcast VP of External Affairs:
"When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through," Wood's letter explained. "This is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company," the letter asserts, "our residents are happy with the services it has provided and continues to provide each day."
Of course, this is something happening in every industry, every day, though Comcast's behavior is getting extra attention of late because the company's extreme unpopularity has become a hit magnet for many technology blogs (kind of the reverse Apple effect). When asked about the practice, Comcast would only state that it's not that big of a deal because the recipients of these letters have the choice to edit them or not use them at all:
"In response to a list of questions from The Verge, Comcast emphasized that it did not have final say in the substance of the letters. "We reached out to policy makers, community leaders, business groups and others across the country to detail the public interest benefits of our transaction with Time Warner Cable," Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokesperson, said in an email. "When such leaders indicate they’d like to support our transaction in public filings, we’ve provided them with information on the transaction. All filings are ultimately decided upon by the filers, not Comcast."
In other words, throwing campaign contributions at politicians and doing the thinking for them isn't a big deal because it's up to those specific politicians not to be used in such a fashion. Everyone feel better about the state of the union?

Comcast probably should tread carefully if it values the deal it has spent the last year pitching. When AT&T was trying to acquire T-Mobile, we noted how the company went completely off the rails when it came to using astroturf and other farmed support to try and convince regulators that eliminating T-Mobile would somehow create jobs and increase competition. Regulators found themselves so awash in bogus enthusiasm and phony math that it actually contributed to a rejection of the deal. AT&T executives of course learned nothing from the experience and kept lying after the fact.

Both mergers highlight how giant telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have been so pampered by government for so long, they know the rules (of logic or otherwise) simply do not apply to them. As such they've been writing not only letters but law for corrupt state legislatures for more than a generation, and have seen absolutely no repercussions for decades of distortions and outright falsehoods. Thanks to the recent rise in digital activism, the press and public have started paying closer attention to telecom issues, though companies like AT&T and Comcast have pretty clearly failed to notice.

DEA Collecting Massive Database Of Your Driving Habits In Secret, Using License Plate Readers

What is up with the DEA? For all the focus on the NSA, the CIA and even the FBI, it really seems like the agency that is absolutely out of control is the DEA. In just the last few months, we've written about the DEA having its own giant database of metadata on phone calls (with less oversight than the NSA), how it has embedded telco employees who are able to snoop on subscribers in real-time for the DEA, how the DEA is deeply involved in parallel construction (using intelligence info collected under questionable means to arrest someone and then to hide or lie to judges about that information), how it paid a secretary at Amtrak $850,000 to give them all of Amtrak's passenger lists, how it was (with the NSA) recording every single phone call in the Bahamas and, finally, how it was impersonating people on Facebook.

And now, the latest is that the DEA has been building a massive database of your travel habits using automatic license plate readers. These license plate readers have been used increasingly by law enforcement, and the ACLU has been tracking their growing usage for years. A year ago, we wrote about Homeland Security putting out a call for a national license plate reader program, resulting in public outrage. While it eventually scrapped those public plans, we noted at the time that DHS still had access to plenty of other databases of license plate reader data, including one in ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement).

But the latest news is that the DEA also had a huge database of this info as well:
The new DEA records that we received are heavily redacted and incomplete, but they provide the most complete documentation of the DEA’s database to date. For example, the DEA has previously testified that its license plate reader program began at the southwest border crossings, and that the agency planned to gradually increase its reach; we now know more about to where it has grown. The DEA had previously suggested that “other sources” would be able to feed data into the database; we now know about some of the types of agencies collaborating with the DEA.
The documents uncovered by our FOIA request provide additional details, but their usefulness is limited by the DEA’s decision to provide only documents that are undated or years old. If the DEA’s collection of location information is as extensive as the agency has suggested in its limited comments to legislatures, the public deserves a more complete and comprehensive explanation than the smattering of records we have obtained can provide.
These records do, however, offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country. With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that. If license plate readers continue to proliferate without restriction and the DEA holds license plate reader data for extended periods of time, the agency will soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of our lives (particularly if combined with other data about individuals collected by the government, such as the DEA’s recently revealed bulk phone records program, or cell phone information gleaned from U.S. Marshals Service’s cell site simulator-equipped aircraft ). Data-mining the information, an unproven law enforcement technique that the DEA has begun to use here, only exacerbates these concerns, potentially tagging people as criminals without due process.
Among the information the ACLU's new documents show, is that the DEA already taps into other agencies' license plate reader databases, including local law enforcement and federal agencies like those in DHS. The records the ACLU obtained note that there were over 343 million records in the database (but the redactions on the document obscure the date of that finding, so it's likely much larger today).

Oh, and then there's this: one of the main points of the program is to help law enforcement steal seize things from the public:
And, of course, the DOJ is trying to downplay the whole thing:
A spokesman for Justice Department, which includes the DEA, said the program complies with federal law. “It is not new that the DEA uses the license-plate reader program to arrest criminals and stop the flow of drugs in areas of high trafficking intensity,’’ the spokesman said.
That's a bullshit response on any number of levels. It may not be new that the DEA is using the technology, but the extent of its usage, and the efforts it has taken to keep it secret are new. On top of that, the fact that its primary purpose is to help with seizures is a pretty big deal, especially given the rest of what the DEA has been doing lately. It makes you wonder if there's any oversight at all on this stuff.

DOJ's Attempt To Turn 4th Amendment Into A 'Useless Piece Of Paper' Called Out By Justice Sotomayor

The Supreme Court's recent track record on the Fourth Amendment has been inconsistent, to say the least. For every win -- like the warrant requirement for cellphone searches incident to arrest (Riley v. California) -- there's been a loss -- the court's granting of permanent forgiveness for officers who predicate stops on nonexistent laws (Heien v. North Carolina), as long as the mistake is determined to be "objectively reasonable."

The oral arguments in Rodriguez v. United States [pdf link] deal with another attempted expansion of law enforcement powers at the expense of the Fourth Amendment. Here's a the backstory, as summarized by Evan Bernick of HuffPo (and the Institute for Justice):
On March 27, 2012, Nebraska police officer Morgan Struble stopped Dennys Rodriguez for swerving once towards the shoulder of the road. After questioning Rodriguez and issuing him a written warning, Struble asked permission to walk his drug-sniffing dog around the outside of Rodriguez's vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble made him exit the vehicle and wait for backup to arrive. Roughly eight minutes later, a second officer showed up, and Struble led his dog around the car. The dog gave an "alert" for illegal drugs, and a subsequent search turned up a bag of methamphetamine.
A previous decision by the Supreme Court (Illinois v. Caballes) concluded that the use of a drug-sniffing dog during a regular traffic stop was not a Fourth Amendment violation, provided the stop was not prolonged past the point of "completing that mission [the traffic stop]." Prolonged stops have been argued before, but in this particular case, there was no question that the "mission" had been "completed." It was only after the officer told Rodriguez he would let him off with warning that he brought up the subject of searching the vehicle.

The DOJ's lawyer, Ginger Anders, argued that officers should have some leeway in determining the "sequence of the stop." Applied to this situation, the DOJ is basically arguing that a cop can tell you you're free to go and then ask you to wait while he brings in a drug dog to search your vehicle. Anders' theory is that this contradictory sequence still respects the Fourth Amendment so long as the length of the stop doesn't exceed the nebulous standard of "routine time needed."

It's this slippery "routine time" that most of the argument is focused on. Both sides attempted to determine where that lies exactly on the space-time continuum, but Rodriguez's lawyer (reasonably) pointed out that the key issue should be the "completion of the mission," not the amount of time it takes to reach that point.

This attempt to reduce the Fourth Amendment to a specific number of minute-hand movement reaches its simultaneous zenith/nadir during this exchange with the DOJ's lawyer.
JUSTICE BREYER: Okay. But that's where ­­ I thought that position that I've tried to -- ­­let me state it more clearly, I think. It is unlawful to have the dog sniff where the dog sniff unreasonably prolongs the stop, is that -- ­does --­­ is that okay if I write with the government -- ­­ if I write those words in an opinion?

MS. ANDERS: That's right. But we don't think that a dog sniff performed right after the ticket per se unreasonably prolongs the stop. And if I could give you a hypothetical that ­­--

JUSTICE BREYER: Ah. Well, how ­ if the ticket­writing is over and there is nothing else to do and the policeman says, hey, this is over, at that point has it not unreasonably prolonged the stop if the sniff takes place afterwards?

MS. ANDERS: I don't think so. I mean, just imagine ­­--


JUSTICE SCALIA: Because that takes only two minutes and that's not unreasonable, right?

MS. ANDERS: That's right. And it doesn't take into account how he stops ­­--

JUSTICE SCALIA: Big deal. The dog walks around the car for two minutes. That's ­­--

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It's only a violation of the Fourth Amendment for two minutes, right?

Presumably, Scalia was being facetious. But the underlying thrust of the government's position is clear: it wants the leeway to perform extraneous searches so long as it can fit it in under a vague time limit determined by an even vaguer "reasonable standard."

And if that's not feasible because the 2005 Caballes decision theoretically limits stops to a "reasonable" length of time, the government proposes another solution: just stick a K-9 in every cop car. Justice Sotomayor steps up to shut down this line of thinking.
MS. ANDERS: So the hypothetical that I propose is that if you imagine you have two officers conducting a stop and the first officer is explaining the ticket and what's happening with the ticket to the person, to the driver. While he's doing that, the second officer is performing the dog sniff around the car. If the officer who's explaining the ticket ends first and the dog sniff takes another 30 seconds, I don't think there's any reason to say that that stop, which maybe lasted a total of ten minutes has -- has gone on for longer than reasonably required to complete the traffic ticket.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, I have a ­­-- I have a real fundamental question, because this line drawing is only here because we've now created a Fourth Amendment entitlement to search for drugs by using dogs, whenever anybody's stopped. Because that's what you're proposing. And is that really what the Fourth Amendment should permit?

MS. ANDERS: I don't think it's an entitlement, Justice Sotomayor. I think once the Court said in Caballes that ­-- that it is permissible in some circumstances to perform a dog sniff during a traffic stop, then ­­--

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, in some circumstances. So why don't ­-- why don't we keep it cabined to Caballes, which is when it's being done simultaneous with writing the ticket. If it's not, then it's unlawful.

MS. ANDERS: Well, because that leads to arbitrary results as I was explaining with Justice Breyer, I think in that hypothetical ­­--

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: It's not arbitrary. The Fourth Amendment is arbitrary by its nature. It says you can't search unless you have probable cause to search.
Later on, as this particular angle is argued further, Sotomayor comes down even more harshly on the government's assertions, noting that what it's attempting to do is grant itself more power at the expense of citizens' rights.
But the way Justice Breyer has said this -- what he's saying is you can't unreasonably prolong. You can't hold a person any -- any measurable time that would allow to get the dog. And, yes, it has to do with the resources of the police department, but we can't keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement. Particularly when this stop is not -- is not incidental to the purpose of the stop. It's purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper.
This appears to be the DOJ's goal, if its arguments in this case -- and previous cases like Riley -- are to be believed. In its eyes, the Fourth Amendment is something that should be subject to law enforcement's needs and wants, rather than something to be respected and complied with.

Shady Customer Complaint Site Charges $10,900 For Attempted Removals Of Negative Reviews

Running a consumer complaint site has its problems. For one, unhappy companies and individuals will use a variety of methods to get negative reviews taken down, including bogus defamation and copyright claims. So, you safeguard against that by refusing to take reviews down for any reason. Companies will also make threats against reviewers, so you block that by taking that option away from reviewers.

But this all has to be enforced within the limitations of the law. Fortunately, Section 230 deflects a lot of this potential damage by shielding sites from being held liable for third-party content. It's not bulletproof, but it's a start. Of course, some complaint sites go overboard. RipoffReports has itself been criticized for leveraging these protective policies into a revenue stream by charging users high fees for complaint removals.

But not every complaint site exists to provide a valuable service to consumers. Some are just there to provide a soapbox for anyone unhappy about anything. There's no focus, no attempt to vet reviews or reviewers and nothing indicating there's any real oversight of the platform.

ComplaintsBureau is one of the latter. Here's the "review" that was sitting at the top of the page when I visited it on Jan. 25th.

Others are run-of-the-mill complaints about bad businesses, bad tenants and other unsatisfactory entities. But it's ComplaintsBureau's actions in retaliation for takedown attempts that really sets it apart from the Yelps of the internet. Adam Steinbaugh recently tweeted out the following link to a Better Business Bureau complaint about (sort of) ComplaintsBureau:

Charged monthly membership - did not honor cancellation.

Experian online Credit( offers a $1 Credit Report &Score. I did that & then same day cancelled my membership - Nine days later (two days after the free trial membership) they charged me a $19.95 monthly fee and when I called on 11/20/2014, they won't refund. With Only 2 days into what they are calling my membership month - and they wont even consider a partial refund. This is slimmy and false advertising...membership programs are such a scam!!!

Desired Settlement


Business Response

****** *********

Re: Case XXXXXXXX / **** *****

We have tried to go to the BBB site there is no where to post, the url you sent us for that complaint don't work.

This was clearly a false complaint by **** *****. **** ***** was billed for $10,900.00 USD for filing a false DMCA complaint, Complaints Bureau did file a DMCA counter-notification to have the complaint restored. Then Complaints Bureau has sent her bill to Experian on 10/16/2014 that was pass due

Peridocally, we recieve thousands of DMCA takedown requests. Because of people not liking what they read on the site, they attempt less-than-effective ways of trying to get them removed. Many even try to simply file DMCA, without following through with the process. You must validate who you are and your exact information, if you want action to be taken, in your favor. Every piece of information- including photos, videos, text and everything else, is automatically copyrighted when it is submitted to complaints bureau and also becomes the property of complaints bureau, as per our Terms of Use. If you file a DMCA request, you must follow through completely to the very end of the process, otherwise, complaints bureau will file a counter notice to all major search engines and hosts, to have it restored. We will then bill you for $10,900.00. for these costs. Should you violate this clause, as determined by in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the DMCA request, in question. If the DMCA remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $10,900.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be sent to our collection agency and will be reported to all consumer credit reporting agencies until paid
The reponse has nothing to do with the complaint, but it appears ComplaintsBureau's owner -- Scott Breitenstein -- rejected a DMCA takedown notice and billed the sender $10,900, following it up by reporting this person to Experian. What it has to do with this particular complaint remains open for debate, but Breitenstein's standard MO prizes aggression over intelligence. The "response" quotes CB's policy in full, as noted under its "Non-Disparagement" heading on its "DMCA Procedures" page (for reasons only known to Breitenstein).

While it's good to know the site will stand up to bogus takedown requests ("If you would like to show up at a jurisdiction of Federal District Court , I would be more than happy to meet you in a courtroom, just bring a toothbrush for the prison sentence." [LOL]), its other practices are more questionable, including its legally-unsound issuance of a bill for $10,900 for rejected DMCA takedowns. This ridiculous amount -- coupled with reporting to credit agencies -- puts ComplaintsBureau in the same shady company with others who have inserted dubious non-disparagement clauses in their Terms of Service pages.

But that isn't the extent of the site (and site owner's) questionable behavior. Steinbaugh notes that a bogus review of him went up shortly after Breitenstein found out Steinbaugh planned to write about the ComplaintsBureau owner's foray into the revenge porn field. Under the infamous "STD Carriers" tag, there's a "review" that includes nude photos of a supposed "carrier." An angry email from the person "reviewed" demanding the removal of these photos was met with this response from Breitenstein:
Subject: DMCA-CASE#979968-Notice of unauthorized use of Rebekah Wells
From: "Scott Breitenstein" <>
Date: Tue, June 17, 2014 9:45 pm
Priority: Normal

As pertaining to your balls being bigger than mine, we can see that this is true, by looking at your photos!!! By the way, you didn't send an electronic signature with the proper DMCA notice.You also didn't include your home address, so we can file the proper paperwork, for submission. This makes this notice invalid. If you want to send it to the proper address, send it to :

Normally, all content is copyrighted, when submitted to complaints bureau. If you file a DMCA takedown, you need to follow through completely because complaints bureau will file a counter-claim to have it restored and you will be billed $10,900.00 for the costs. Once you file a DMCA, you have 10-14 days to file suit against complaints bureau. If you fail to file, within this time frame, the complaint will be restored, forever. You will be billed $10,900.00 for the costs. You then have 30 days to pay this. If you don't pay in this time frame, we will submit it to a collection agency, thereby affecting your credit. It will also be reported to all of the major credit bureaus.

We are not anything like other site's, that you have had complaints removed from. We are a real and genuine Complaints Bureau. We will not back down to idle threats and pressure to simply remove content. You also might want to consult an attorney, before you make a bad move. We will publish this email, under our legal threats section.

Site against woman whos against revenge porn

Go fuck yourself.

Polite as usual,
Dzianis Mohamed
Complaints Bureau
Note that the signature (Dzianis Mohamed) doesn't match the email header. Breitenstein appears to use multiple names in an attempt to portray his site as being more legitimate than it actually is -- i.e., an entity with several employees. The response posted to his own site doesn't even bother to strip the telltale email header.

The preemptive strike masquerading as a review of Adam Steinbaugh claimed (among other things) that he destroyed the apartment he was living in and had been arrested for molesting a minor. None of these things are true, but they live on at ComplaintsBureau, as related by the obviously fictional landlord "Sharon Eakins." Steinbaugh noted the oddly coincidental timing of one of his tweets and this review's appearance in his response to the bogus review.
Third, a mere three days before this was posted, I posted Mr. Breitenstein's photo on my Twitter feed and noted that I was going to be writing about this site, because Mr. Breitenstein had the classy idea of running a revenge porn forum here.
It would be the next logical step for the "STD Carriers" tag, considering most of them feature links to, a site bordering on revenge porn, but lacking the volume of explicit photos needed to push it firmly into that territory. It's a "revenge" site alright, but the "porn" part is very limited.

The site's confrontational tone has mistaken "being an aggro asshole" for "protecting consumers' rights." The STD section serves no purpose other than to give some people an excuse to drag others' names through the mud (with pictures). Sure, Section 230 protects ComplaintsBureau, but it won't do much for those posting defamatory reviews on Breitenstein's site.

Between the fake rep names, the fake reviews, the revenge porn-esque "STD Carrier" tag and its own bogus legal threats/defenses (see also: the Dayton, OH-located Breitenstein pretending to be a French company in response to a takedown request), ComplaintsBureau is a disaster masquerading as a consumer's champion. There's a lot of shadiness here, including its $10,900 non-disparagement fee that has very little to do with disparagement and everything to do with heading off people who might have legitimate removal requests. To top things off, ComplaintsBureau claims to be owned by "Vestron Video Media," a defunct home video distributor that ceased operations more than 20 years ago. (Meanwhile, its site registration data lists a company called "The Council of Complaints Bureau, Inc." as the Admin Organization.)

ComplaintsBureau loves complaining customers (and jilted exes) but doesn't care much for people drawing attention to the terrible tactics it deploys. A legitimate consumer complaints site doesn't need bogus fines and expletive-filled letters to protect its content from outside interference. ComplaintsBureau is all noise and no substance, and of use to only Scott Breitenstein.

Tor Isn't A Pedophile's Best Friend, No Matter What The DOJ Claims

Anything that makes law enforcement's job slightly more difficult is swiftly turned into a pariah. And usually the worst kind of pariah: a child molestor.

Apple and Google both announced encryption-by-default going forward on their mobile phone operating systems. Law enforcement officials swiftly gathered to talk loudly about all of the dead and molested children that would result from this decision.

The same goes for Tor. The use of Tor can obscure criminal activity -- by hiding the perpetrator and the activity itself. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to use Tor (like many internet services and platforms hoovering up tons of data themselves), but because it makes chasing "bad guys" a little harder, it too must go.

The best way for government agencies to get rid of something they don't like is legislation. When a law enforcement official says something like the following, they're not hoping to sway the intelligent and informed members of the public. They're saying it to sway those who can actually do something about it: tech-clueless legislators and those who vote for them.
At the State of the Net conference in Washington on Tuesday, US assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell discussed what she described as the dangers of encryption and cryptographic anonymity tools like Tor, and how those tools can hamper law enforcement…

“Tor obviously was created with good intentions, but it’s a huge problem for law enforcement,” Caldwell said in comments reported by Motherboard and confirmed to me by others who attended the conference. “We understand 80 percent of traffic on the Tor network involves child pornography.
That's a scary number. And it's not even close to accurate.

Wired's Andy Greenberg explains how Caldwell took a statistic from Tor research and twisted it to further the government's agenda.
[A] Department of Justice flack said Caldwell was citing a University of Portsmouth study WIRED covered in December. He included a link to our story. But I made clear at the time that the study claimed 80 percent of traffic to Tor hidden services related to child pornography, not 80 percent of all Tor traffic.
Which is a big difference. "Hidden services" is not just another term for "Tor traffic." Caldwell conflated the two to further the DOJ's push for the end of anything that presents an obstacle to easy access.

The real number is much lower. Greenberg says that most Tor traffic doesn't route to darknet sites. Only about 1.5% of Tor traffic accesses hidden services, and 80% of 1.5% is a number that wouldn't even trouble the most tech-addled Congressperson or the retirement community that repeatedly votes him or her back into office.

At most, a little over 1% of Tor traffic is related to child pornography. That very low number would seem resistant to improvement. How much money and effort should be thrown at 1% of a service in limited use? The answer would appear to be "not very much," but that doesn't tear down Tor's walls or approve budget requests. So, "80% of all Tor traffic" it is, according to the DOJ.

And that 1.2% may even be overstating it. NickM at the Tor Project Blog points out how some hidden service traffic may over-represent the number of people actually searching for certain illicit goods.
A Tor client makes a hidden service directory request the first time it visits a hidden service that it has not been to in a while. (If you spend hours at one hidden service, you make about 1 hidden service directory request. But if you spend 1 second each at 100 hidden services, you make about 100 requests.) Therefore, obsessive users who visit many sites in a session account for many more of the requests that this study measures than users who visit a smaller number of sites with equal frequency...
The greater the number of distinct hidden services a person visits, and the less reliable those sites are, the more hidden service directory requests they will trigger.
He breaks this down later with a hypothetical situation. 1000 people use Tor to access chat rooms while 10 conspiracy theorists use it to dig for information. Chat users may only log in once or twice a day and hang out at the same handful of venues. The ten conspiracy theorists may visit dozens of sites looking for more crazy, while entering and exiting multiple times. To an outside observer, this activity would appear to indicate that 10 conspiracy theorists make up a larger portion of Tor traffic than 1000 chat room users.

Child porn, like regular porn, is generally not one-stop shopping, unlike a favorite chatroom. Multiple site visits and multiple entrances/exits would inflate the percentage of child porn-related traffic relative to the (observable) whole.
Users who use it for obsessive behavior that spans multiple unreliable hidden services will be far overrepresented in the count of hidden service directory requests than users who use it for activities done less frequently and across fewer services. So any comparison of hidden service directory request counts will say more about the behavioral differences of different types of users than about their relative numbers, or the amount of traffic they generated.
In addition, law enforcement and anti-child porn agencies' own investigative efforts could very well be adding to this 1.2% figure.
Also, a very large number of hidden service directory requests are probably not made by humans! See bug 13287: We don't know what's up with that. Could this be caused by some kind of anti-abuse organization running an automated scanning tool?
So, there's a good chance that the non-scary 1.2% number is too high. Sure, the ideal would be 0.0% but law enforcement agencies should actually be pleasantly surprised the number is so low, rather than misquoting stats to make it appear as though anonymization services are child porn enthusiasts' playgrounds.

It isn't just child porn the government is after. There's a whole host of darkweb activities it wants to indict people for. But child porn "sells" better than drugs or prostitution or even the US's latest public enemy no. 1: terrorism. The number the DOJ is using to sell its attack on Tor is blatantly false, as anyone with a minimal amount of Google skills would quickly discover. But the DOJ doesn't care whether you or I believe it. It only needs enough people in Washington DC to believe it. The DOJ doesn't speak to the citizens. It only speaks to those who can assist it in stripping away what minimal personal data-shielding options we have left.

European Commission Wants Collection And Retention Of Passenger Data For Everyone Flying In And Out Of Europe

Another day, another shameless exploitation of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. We've just reported on an EU call for Internet companies to hand over their crypto keys; now the European Commission is trying to push through a requirement for wide-ranging information about everyone flying in and out of Europe to be collected and stored for years. As reported by the Guardian:
The European commission plan to be published on Wednesday would require 42 separate pieces of information on every passenger flying in and out of Europe, including their bank card details, home address and meal preferences such as halal, to be stored on a central database for up to five years for access by the police and security services.
The European Commission calls its plan (pdf) a "workable compromise", and goes on to list revisions that it claims address concerns of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, which rejected the whole idea of blanket retention of "Passenger Name Records" (PNR) back in 2013. Statewatch provides a summary of the main changes:
Changing the scope from "terrorism and serious crime" to "terrorism and serious transnational crime";

Reference to all the offences covered by the European Arrest Warrant is replaced by "a shorter list of offences that a relevant to transnational travel";

Reducing the retention period of the "full PNR" from 30 days to seven days, and changing the longer "depersonalised" retention period to four years in relation to "serious transnational crime" (it remains five years for terrorism);

"establishing stricter conditions for access to PNR data" including "the appointment of a Data Protection Officer within the national units responsible for the processing of PNR data";

"explicitly spelling out the rights of passengers to have access to their PNR data (retained by the PIU) and to request the modification or erasure of their data";
Whether or not these are enough, the Greens MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who is vice-chairman of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, points out a more fundamental problem with the proposal:
"The commission plans are an affront to the critics of the European parliament and the European court of justice who have said that data retention without any link to a certain risk or suspicion isn't proportionate.

"It is an open breach of fundamental rights to blanketly retain all passenger data," he added.
Albrecht is referring to the important judgment handed down by the EU's Court of Justice last year, which ruled blanket data retention was "invalid". The European Commission is acutely aware of this issue, and says right at the start of the leaked document:
The proposed compromise takes due account of the judgment of the Court of 8 April 2014 on the Data Retention Directive, as far as the judgment appears applicable to PNR.
However, it is by no means clear that the current proposal would in fact be regarded as "valid" by the court. Moreover, the Commission's document admits that it is anyway likely to meet resistance in the European Parliament:
In case the Commission would adopt its revised proposal without an accompanying Impact Assessment, the [European Parliament] or in any case some political groups would likely express their criticism, given the important implications derived on PNR from the [EU Court of Justice] ruling on [Data Retention Directive].
As that indicates, this move is just part of a larger argument within the European Union about how much surveillance of European citizens is appropriate, how long data about them should be retained and with what data protection safeguards. That, in its turn, feeds into even wider discussions with the US over the Safe Harbor agreement, NSA spying and the inclusion (or not) of a chapter on data flows within TAFTA/TTIP and TISA.

Sheriffs' Association Urges 'Investigation' Of Assistant Attorney General Nominee For Her Pro-Drug Legalization Comments

When it comes to the business of law enforcement, there's one golden rule: thou shalt not derail the money train. Drug enforcement is a multi-billion dollar industry -- not just here in the US, but all over the world. "Industry" is the correct term. Drug busts push people into private prisons. The pursuit of drug dealers and users gives local law enforcement agencies access to federal funding and cheap (or free) military gear. Millions more are spent on "educational" programs like D.A.R.E., which teaches children subtleties like "all drugs are bad" and "so are all drug users." Just Say No, anyone?

These billions are wasted. Four decades into the drug war Nixon formally kicked off by deputizing multiple-substance abuser Elvis Presley as a "Federal Agent at Large" for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and we have nothing to show for it. Drugs are as widely-available as ever, often featuring both higher quality and lower prices.

If law enforcement agencies were honest, they'd admit they want this war to go on forever. It's profitable, plays well with much of the voting demographic, provides them with new toys and it gives them the excuse to claim property that isn't theirs.

That explains this bit of noxious stupidity from the National Sheriffs' Association (the other NSA) [via The Drug WarRant]:
On behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and the 3080 elected sheriffs nationwide, Sheriff John Aubrey, NSA President and Sheriff of Jefferson County, Kentucky wrote today to The Honorable Chuck Grassley to advise him of our strong concerns over the potential nomination of Vanita Gupta as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. NSA believes that Ms. Gupta’s previous statements on a range of issues make her ill-suited for this important post.

If Ms. Gupta is formally nominated, NSA urges Grassley to investigate her previous statements on the legalization of drugs. As recently as 2012, she wrote in the Huffington Post that “states should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs.” Decriminalization of all drugs—including heroin, LSD, cocaine, and more—would have disastrous effects on our communities and our citizens. Communities have been crippled by drug abuse and addiction, stifling economic productivity and destroying families. Ms. Gupta’s short-sighted statements on legalization and her apparent beliefs would put her at odds with the goal of public safety day in and day out. As the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, it is imperative that any nominee understand the challenges faced by law enforcement in protecting our communities.
The NSA "urges" Sen. Grassley to "investigate" statements publicly made by Ms. Gupta. In what reality does that sentence make sense? How do you "investigate" opinions that were offered freely and publicly? What this association wants isn't an "investigation." It just wants to throw some mud and hope it's enough to head off a nominee that might tamper with the money train's tracks.

Look at the wording it uses to describe what's happening because of "drug use and addiction." As if tossing tons of people in prison for violating outdated drug laws doesn't "stifle economic productivity" or "destroy families."

The NSA also completely ignores the fact that four US states have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use and many more are working towards decriminalizing possession. If there's a drug problem in America, at least half the blame lies with the enforcement of drug laws. The US locks up more people per capita than any other country in the world, and has led to an expansion of law enforcement power at the expense of Americans' civil liberties. No-knock raids -- almost all of which are propelled by drug charges -- have placed both citizens and police officers in the line of fire. A cottage industry of law enforcement-focused surveillance technology has sprung up over the past decade, thanks to this constant and narrow focus on one section of criminal law.

These sheriffs want an assistant AG that works for them, rather than for the public. That's the most disgusting message this letter sends. Hopefully, Sen. Grassley will file this in the recycling bin shortly after reading it. Without a doubt, Gupta will be questioned about her views on legalization, but let's hope that's just because there's still too many reactionary, tough-on-crime types circulating Capitol Hill, rather than this self-serving agency being capable of wielding any significant amount of influence.

You Don't Own What You Bought: Drone Maker Updates Firmware On All Drones To Stop Any Flights In DC

You may have heard the news recently about how a drunk employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (can't make this crap up) accidentally flew a DJI Phantom II drone onto White House property, leading to a general collective freakout over the security implications of these personal helicopters. In response to this, President Obama has called for more drone regulations -- which may or may not make sense -- but it needs to be remembered that the FAA has been refusing to actually release any rules for quite some time.

But beyond the call for regulations, the drone's maker, DJI has decided to do a little self-regulation in the form of automatically pushing out some new firmware that blocks the drone from flying in downtown DC:
"The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, DC and extends for a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) radius in all directions. Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace."
Even if you think it's perfectly reasonable to ban drone flights in downtown DC (a different discussion for a different day...), it should be very concerning that the company you bought your product from can magically make it that much less useful on demand without you being able to do a damn thing about it. What if you happen to live in that no-fly zone, and you bought it to use for personal reasons at a local park. You're completely out of luck because an overreaction resulted in the company breaking something you thought you bought.

Sometimes, the fact that devices you buy can be updated on the fly has benefits -- like the stories of Tesla upgrading its cars to make them better even long after people bought them. That's neat. But, it still seems immensely troubling that something you bought can be turned into a paperweight (in certain areas) by the company you bought it from.