2013 in Review

When I was little my da used to subscribe to The Economist and The New York Times.  I remember learning what USSR stood for when I was seven because of The Economist.  Today, my da and I share a subscription - he likes the print copies and I like the digital - and I proudly hang the t-shirts in my closet.

Every December I look forward to The Economist's review of the year.  While I find them a bit slow with groundbreaking news, the articles they write are always well written and well thought out.  For an end of the year review, they are my favourite for this reason.  The Economist needs time to put together good articles, like old-fashioned journalism.  In the modern world with fast paced technology, this causes them to lag behind; but for an end of the year review, they truly excel.

And so I conclude all my rambling on with a link to The Economist.  I hope it works for everyone; I am doing this on my mobile while on holiday (my boyfriend is currently otherwise occupied).  Happy New year, everyone.  2013 was a year of many things, both good and bad.  May 2014 be epic in the best ways possible.

The Economist | The world this year http://www.economist.com/news/world-week/21591909-world-year?frsc=dg%7Cb via @theeconomist

Happy Holidays!

As you may or may not have noticed, I have been disturbingly absent from the important areas of the internet for the past few weeks.  There are some very good reasons for this.

First, law school exams went until 19 December.  Then, I had to clean the entire house for my parents to arrive.  At the same time, there were issues with getting the licence plates for my new car - which postponed my holiday.  And yes, then there was (is) my Christmas holiday.  At present I am visiting my boyfriend in another state, so until I return home after Hogmany I am on holiday.  Don't expect anything from me.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

ENDA

This afternoon the US Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with votes 64-32.  For those who are unfamiliar with ENDA, this Act will officially protect employees from discrimination for being LGBT.  There still is a lot of work - both politically and socially - to be done before all people are actually treated equal, regardless of gender, sex, orientation, etc., but this is a very important step in the right direction.

Congratulations, America, for (finally) recognizing all people are created equal though not the same and deserve the same respect in the workplace.

Privacy group demands spy details from telecom firms

The NSA collects its metadata from telecom firms.  They are obligated to the government and rarely will deny requests for information.  This has been going on longer than the Snowden issue and in 2006 there was a whistleblower lawsuit against AT&T.

BBC News - Privacy group demands spy details from telecom firms:

'via Blog this'

BBC News - Germany allows 'indeterminate' gender at birth

Very excited about this.  It is a small step towards acceptance of non-binary individuals, but it is a very important one.  Other countries need to follow suit and recognize that a gender-based system is not inclusive.  People who do not fall into traditional genders are still people.  We say it does not matter if one is male or female, but what if one is neither?  Why should we treat such an individual any differently when we are, at the same time, trying to say gender does not matter?

BBC News - Germany allows 'indeterminate' gender at birth:

'via Blog this'

Who Has The Right To Know Where Your Phone Has Been? : All Tech Considered : NPR

Who Has The Right To Know Where Your Phone Has Been? : All Tech Considered : NPR:

'via Blog this'

Surveillance and Civil Liberties

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar by Shayana Kadidal titled “Surveillance and Civil Liberties.”  Kadidal is the senior managing attorney of the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative Center for Constitutional Rights.  This is based on the notes I took during the seminar about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance.  The telecom procedural history has been left out because I am not sure I fully understand it.

After the Watergate scandal during the Nixon era, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  This allowed the government to legally acquire warrants for covert surveillance within the United States.  Since covert surveillance must be – prepare to be shocked – covert, such permissions could not be acquired through normal methods requiring disclosure as this would defeat the entire purpose.  To get such a warrant under FISA, a select panel of judges would have to approve the warrant ex parte, ideally so such surveillance could not be used all willy-nilly on everyone.  Also of relevance, certain communications were privileged and could not be recorded.  Lawyer-client conversations, for example, would require the surveillance team to stop recording and check back every minute to see if the conversation had moved past privileged material.  Sounds invasive, right?  The government can get a warrant ex parte and spy on someone without their knowledge.  Of course, if they knew they were being spied upon they may take precautions to avoid anything incriminating.  Now think of national security and terrorism.  Still feel like this is invasive?  Let us keep going, then.

NSA surveillance as we know it became a public issue when the New York Times published an article on the topic in late 2005.  Back then, if one party was out of the US and one was in the US and either party had suspected ties to terrorism, the NSA had permission to monitor the call without a warrant.  It is not entirely clear why the Bush administration sanctioned such drastic measures, but it probably means they wanted conversations outside of what would have been allowed under FISA.  Post-September 11th fears were high and with the goal of preventing another terrorist attack the government could get away with pretty much anything.  Not only did this new monitoring pose a concern for any person with foreign ties, it also created issues for lawyers.  Remember how lawyer-client conversations were off-limits?  Not anymore.  So for lawyers to ensure their conversations with their clients were not being monitored – in this case, trust issues are a good thing – they had to make sure conversations happened face-to-face.  As one can imagine, these counter-measures cost a lot in both monetary and other ways.  In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit because of this NSA chilling effect.  The same year, a similar case was brought forth by a small Islamic group who had proof they were under NSA surveillance – the government accidentally gave them a top secret document which turned out to be a transcript of an international telephone conference with board members and lawyers.  When they brought it forth as evidence, the government seized the document claiming it was a state secret and that even if they were guilty of a crime, this evidence could not be used.  With the government able to have any proof dismissed as state secrets, the case fell apart.  So too did the ACLU`s attempt – the judge required proof but the government was willing to have any proof removed as evidence.  A catch-22, if you will.

In 2008 the Bush administration passed the FISA Amendment Act, which gave the government greater authority but claimed to have safeguards to protect American citizens.  One hour after the Act was signed into law the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Act and took the issue up to the Supreme Court.  Despite valiant attempts to once more argue against all this NSA surveillance, the ACLU lost in a 5-4 vote.  The Supreme Court declared the issue would come up later in a criminal case and would be decided then.  Has this happened yet?  Of course not.  Similar surveillance programs have been running under different names with different legal authorities for decades.  Essentially, the focus keeps shifting like a shell game (three shells, one small object, mix them up and guess where it is).  If the program was turned down by a judge, the NSA would just go to Congress and have the law changed.  Now, with the Patriot Act, the government has the right to a lot more.

The most common data collected is metadata – essentially, all your communication records.  Telecom companies have been recording this for decades, and now the government has full access to who you called, when, and for how long.  All they do not have access to is the content of your conversation.  Think of it like an envelope – everything on the outside is fair game, on record, and can be accessed without a warrant.  If this is not enough, the government can seize corporate records under Section 215.  This means all your phone, internet, credit, banking, email, cloud storage, etc. records can be accessed so long as the government can convince the corporation to grant them access.  All the government needs is a subpoena.  The government does not believe the fourth amendment applies to metadata because of third-party data – and therefore your permission is not needed.  Are there any clear lines to mark out the boundaries of third-party data?  No.  There is a lot of contention about this issue with no resolution in sight.

As recent media reports have shown, there is no clear idea of who and what the government is after.  For civilians, this is more than vaguely reminiscent of Big Brother or those dreaded Communist states of the Cold War.  But more importantly, what about protected conversations like lawyers and clients or journalists and their sources?  In these relationships – perhaps more than most – trust is required.  How can there be trust when the government is monitoring every conversation?  Only when a client is under indictment is the conversation with their lawyer privileged.  Compare this back to the post-Watergate FISA.  At least then they had to have some proof of terrorist connections and reason to go after specific people.

The most common excuse for not caring is that Americans have nothing to fear.  However, polling data indicates that while the public is apathetic towards surveillance targeted at foreign nationals and potential terrorist threats, people are outraged by the idea the government would spy on them.

Can there be a more chilling message to conform than “America is not open to spying on ordinary people”?



Some more reading on the topic (from the ACLU)



Returned South Koreans 'entered North Korea via China'

This is yet another case of "escaped" North Koreans returning to North Korea.  Not that long ago, I read an article about a man who was shot by South Koreans trying to swim back to North Korea.  My reaction then and now is, "Why?"  I thought North Korea was a place people did whatever they could to escape, not a place people tried to return to later.

Why is this?  Why would people want to return to North Korea?  Is it - perhaps - that North Korea is not as bad as we in the "free West" believe?  Or is it a psychological factor we have not yet taken into account?  Perhaps it is something else altogether.  Quite frankly, I am baffled.

If anyone has any idea why this is, please tell me.  Honestly, I am very intrigued by this but have not found sufficient information on the matter.

BBC News - Returned South Koreans 'entered North Korea via China':

Homeless Veterans

There is no purple heart for post-traumatic stress.

Nothing pains me more than seeing homeless veterans.  In the morning I boot up my computer and open my web browser to read the news - BBC, NPR, Twitter, Human Rights Watch.  My day starts with how people are destroying each other around the world.  Yet, nothing upsets me more than homeless veterans.

Veterans are the brave men, women, and other individuals who fought for their country.  Whether or not I support the war or the reasons they fought, I support the individuals.  The way they are treated when they return home is more than disturbing.  They need help - lots of help.  War is traumatic and assistance veterans receive when they return is inadequate.


I would continue on this subject but I have an episode of Bones running in the background and it is one where they are trying to identify the remains of a homeless man.  They discover he actually perished from the injuries he sustained on September 11 when he helped save three lives at the Pentagon.  He was a homeless veteran of the first Iraq war who suffered brain damage from being in a munitions depot that blew up.  His friends died; he was the only survivor.  September 11 always makes me cry, as do soldiers.  And it makes me wonder about the people we as a society overlook.

Racing Pigeons Doped

This is not at all related to human rights.  In fact, this is not really all that relevant to a whole lot.  But, it is rather hilarious and today is Thursday, so happy Thursday!

In Belgium, racing pigeons were doped before races.  I kid you not.  Belgium has racing pigeons.  They race pigeons.  According to the BBC, it is a very lucrative sport.  Yea.  Racing pigeons.  I do not know about you, but when I see a flock of pigeons the idea of seeing which one is the fastest does not cross my mind.  But hey, that is just me.

Pigeons race.  Okay, it is a strange sport but why not.  No one gets hurt, like in dog fighting - right?  Well, no.  Apparently, they are being drugged before the races.  Yes, people are giving their pigeons performance-enhancing drugs.  Namely, cocaine and painkillers.

This raises a couple of questions for me.  First, who does that?  Second, what had to happen for someone to realize the pigeons were being doped?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24658278

The Arms Treaty Matters

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

This is true, but it is much easier to dodge a rock than it is to dodge a rocket launcher.  If you remove a lot of the dangerous weapons and arms militant, terrorist organizations use around the world then guess what!  Less people will be killed with them!  Does this mean they will stop killing people?  No, no it does not.  But does this make it a lot harder to inflict the same kind of death toll as they do now?  Yes, yes it does.

Imagine, if you will, a situation like the one in the Kenyan mall in which the attackers did not have guns.  They still could have inflicted a lot of damage, death, and pain with other weapons - a machete, for example - but they would have to get a lot closer to the victims first.  They would have had a much better chance at getting out alive.

So tell me now, why does the Arms Treaty not matter?

http://controlarms.org/en/

  

The Arms Treaty Matters

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

This is true, but it is much easier to dodge a rock than it is to dodge a rocket launcher.  If you remove a lot of the dangerous weapons and arms militant, terrorist organizations use around the world then guess what!  Less people will be killed with them!  Does this mean they will stop killing people?  No, no it does not.  But does this make it a lot harder to inflict the same kind of death toll as they do now?  Yes, yes it does.

Imagine, if you will, a situation like the one in the Kenyan mall in which the attackers did not have guns.  They still could have inflicted a lot of damage, death, and pain with other weapons - a machete, for example - but they would have to get a lot closer to the victims first.  They would have had a much better chance at getting out alive.

So tell me now, why does the Arms Treaty not matter?

http://controlarms.org/en/

  

The Arms Treaty Matters

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

This is true, but it is much easier to dodge a rock than it is to dodge a rocket launcher.  If you remove a lot of the dangerous weapons and arms militant, terrorist organizations use around the world then guess what!  Less people will be killed with them!  Does this mean they will stop killing people?  No, no it does not.  But does this make it a lot harder to inflict the same kind of death toll as they do now?  Yes, yes it does.

Imagine, if you will, a situation like the one in the Kenyan mall in which the attackers did not have guns.  They still could have inflicted a lot of damage, death, and pain with other weapons - a machete, for example - but they would have to get a lot closer to the victims first.  They would have had a much better chance at getting out alive.

So tell me now, why does the Arms Treaty not matter?

http://controlarms.org/en/

  

Drone Strikes in Pakistan

Today the world is talking about the US drone strikes in Pakistan as the Prime Minister is visiting the US president.  This is not because the PM is visiting - though the timing does coincide rather nicely - but rather drones are blowing up the news feeds (pardon the pun) because Amnesty International released a report calling for the investigation of potential war crimes.

War crimes.  Yes, that terrible, heinous accusation we usually save for dictators has been lobbied against the US president for the use of unmanned drones.  Two days ago the fear was drones are becoming the dreaded robots of sci-fi stories; now we are back to discussing the killing of civilians.

As you may or may not know, not ever drone strike hits an appropriate target.  Whether this is planned or not I have no comment or statement; I am only going by the reported evidence.  In case you were focused on other important issues over the past few months - the world has been busy violating human rights everywhere - there have been several drone strikes that killed civilians.  Some of them even seem to have been targeted.  Now, the US president has assured the world drone strikes will only be used against members of terrorist organizations (like Al-Qaeda) and the purpose is to reduce casualties, etc.  To an extent, this sounds reasonable, but of course the greatest fear was and still is accuracy.  What if the target is wrong?  There is no pilot to make a last minute judgement call and avoid a strike; this is all done remotely.  If civilians get in the way, well, too bad for them.

Is this fair at all?  No.  Not at all.  Civilians should never be caught in the cross-fire of war.  They already have to suffer the social, economic, and other consequences of war - why must we add a fear of being killed by a remote controlled robot to the list?

Killing civilians is a war crime.  If a dictatorship did the exact same thing, the world would be up in arms against it.  The US does it, and now we have people calling for an investigation.  Will this happen?  I do hope so.  If such atrocities are occurring - and I do seriously hope they are not - they must be investigated and prevented.  It matters.  So US, please do something about this.  Look into it.  Make sure it never happens again.

USA must be held to account for drone killings in Pakistan | Amnesty International:

'via Blog this'

Drone Strikes in Pakistan

Today the world is talking about the US drone strikes in Pakistan as the Prime Minister is visiting the US president.  This is not because the PM is visiting - though the timing does coincide rather nicely - but rather drones are blowing up the news feeds (pardon the pun) because Amnesty International released a report calling for the investigation of potential war crimes.

War crimes.  Yes, that terrible, heinous accusation we usually save for dictators has been lobbied against the US president for the use of unmanned drones.  Two days ago the fear was drones are becoming the dreaded robots of sci-fi stories; now we are back to discussing the killing of civilians.

As you may or may not know, not ever drone strike hits an appropriate target.  Whether this is planned or not I have no comment or statement; I am only going by the reported evidence.  In case you were focused on other important issues over the past few months - the world has been busy violating human rights everywhere - there have been several drone strikes that killed civilians.  Some of them even seem to have been targeted.  Now, the US president has assured the world drone strikes will only be used against members of terrorist organizations (like Al-Qaeda) and the purpose is to reduce casualties, etc.  To an extent, this sounds reasonable, but of course the greatest fear was and still is accuracy.  What if the target is wrong?  There is no pilot to make a last minute judgement call and avoid a strike; this is all done remotely.  If civilians get in the way, well, too bad for them.

Is this fair at all?  No.  Not at all.  Civilians should never be caught in the cross-fire of war.  They already have to suffer the social, economic, and other consequences of war - why must we add a fear of being killed by a remote controlled robot to the list?

Killing civilians is a war crime.  If a dictatorship did the exact same thing, the world would be up in arms against it.  The US does it, and now we have people calling for an investigation.  Will this happen?  I do hope so.  If such atrocities are occurring - and I do seriously hope they are not - they must be investigated and prevented.  It matters.  So US, please do something about this.  Look into it.  Make sure it never happens again.

USA must be held to account for drone killings in Pakistan | Amnesty International:

'via Blog this'

Criminal Law in Three Sentences

"There are some people that we, as society, fear.  In order to control these people that would harm society, we have an outline of statutes that say you cannot do this and if you do we are going to punish you.  We are going to punish you by locking you up and killing you."

This quote is taken directly from one of my criminal law lectures.  It beautifully sums up criminal law in three sentences.

Sudan: Woman at risk of flogging for not wearing headscarf | Blogs | Amnesty International UK

Sudan: Woman at risk of flogging for not wearing headscarf | Blogs | Amnesty International UK:

'via Blog this'

I just wanted to bring this to people's attention.  In all seriousness, I cannot understand why women should have to cover their heads because of men.  The human body is something to be accepted and admired, however it is, and not to be covered up because some people think they have the right to dominate others.  No one has the right to control, dominate, or own anyone else.  The only person you are responsible for is yourself.  End of story.

Delhi Gang Rape: Four Sentenced to Death

It is the mark of a strong man to show mercy.

As you may or may not know, on 16 December 2012 a young woman in Delhi was gang-raped and killed.  This brought on a huge way of protests and an international outcry for women's rights in India.

Today, the court sentenced four men to death by hanging for the rape.

Many support the verdict and feel justice is being served.  Given the brutality of the attack and what happened to the poor woman, I can very easily understand what they mean.  After all, she was gang-raped and died.  There are deaths worse than that, but not that many.  The need to find and punish someone for this makes sense on the very human level of being.  Indeed, the victim's family feels justice has been served.

Obviously the death penalty is legal in India or these men would not be sentenced to death.  Given the brutality of the crime, it makes sense the court would push for for the most severe punishment available.  But the question is - does this make us better than the them?  The whole concept of "an eye for an eye" is an old one and the debate over the death penalty is raging on all over the world.  While it makes us feel better to know they suffered a fraction of what they inflicted upon their victims, does it make us better people?  Is that a question one can ask when dealing with the justice system?  My criminal law professor loves to tell us the legal system is all about revenge - and he is correct, it is.  But my question is, are we solving anything by killing these men?  Would it not be better to let them live a long life knowing what they did?  Truly, is taking the life of a convicted murderer the worst punishment we can inflict upon them?  Is it the most appropriate?

Oscar Wilde said to love your enemies - nothing annoys them more.

BBC News - Delhi gang rape: Four sentenced to death:

Never Give Up

Sometimes it is hard to keep faith in the world when you see so much of it is falling apart.  But still we keep on going, never giving up on the future or the world - because when we give up, we lose hope.  It is not our hope we are getting rid of, it is the hope we have taken from the future.  Think not of how your actions will impact your own life; think of how your actions may help others in the world today and tomorrow.  For what are we, but the legacy we live behind us when we go?  Nameless or not, our actions outlive our memories.

Never give up, never give in, never surrender.

Remembering Seamus Heaney | Amnesty's global human rights blog

May he rest in peace.  Seamus Heaney, you were a great man and did great things for this world.  Thank you.

Remembering Seamus Heaney | Amnesty's global human rights blog:

'via Blog this'

Bradley Manning

The Bradley Manning trial has been going on for months.  Last month he was convicted of the charges, and today - 21 August 2013 - Manning officially was sentenced to 35 years in prison.  The maximum sentence was 90 years in prison; the prosecution called for 60 years.  As expected, the defense requested clemency and emphasized the stress of the job, etc.  In the end, the judge settled for 35 years in prison and some other little things like money and dishonourable discharge.

At first, I was fine with this sentence.  After all, Bradley Manning committed a crime and was given a punishment according to the rules.  As a law student I have faith in the law and see that when you start to make exceptions to the legal system, it will lose credibility, and eventually fall apart.  Is it fair?  No, really it is not and I am not naive enough to think otherwise.

A little bit of research has yielded this about US criminal sentencing:

  • if a Class A felony, the duration of the defendant's life
  • if a Class B felony, not more than 25 years
  • if a Class C felony, not more than 12 years
  • if a Class D felony, not more than 6 years
  • if a Class E felony, not more than 3 years
Bradley Manning was convicted of espionage and other charges regarding his leaking of classified information to WikiLeaks.  He did not kill anyone.  He was given 35 years in prison.  Because he was a soldier I do expect the sentence he received to be harsher than if he was a civilian.  Military law is separate for a reason, and members of the armed forces are held to a different code of conduct than the rest of us.  But let us pretend for a moment Manning was a civilian and compare his sentencing to civilian sentencing.  According to my research, only a Class A felony would result in a sentence longer than 25 years imprisonment.  What is a Class A felony, you may wonder?  A first-degree murder.  Second-degree murder would only get one sentenced to 25 years in prison.  Let me once again emphasize that Manning did not kill anyone.  No one died as a result of his actions.  He only wanted to expose human rights violations and other atrocities happening in the war.  His intentions are laudable, but his methods I cannot condone.  As stated, I have to hold fast to a certain amount of belief in the system or my entire existence will fail.  Also, he released diplomatic material and that stuff is supposed to be sacrosanct.

My personal views on what Bradley Manning should or should not have done aside, let us discuss his sentence.  The maximum available was 90 years.  The prosecution wanted 60 years.  He got 35 years.  Compared to what he could have gotten and what the prosecution wanted for him, 35 years really is not a lot.  But compared to civilian sentencing, 35 years is a bloody long time!  Now, Amnesty is calling for US President Obama to commute Manning's sentence to time served.  This would amount to about 3 years, including over 100 days the judge deemed "unlawful detention."  35 to 3 sounds like a huge drop, even giving consideration to his motives.  Now, comparison again.  If Manning was a civilian, 3 years would seem like a decent sentence.  After all, if he was a civilian he would have to murder someone to get the kind of sentence he got.

So is it fair to demand President Obama commute Bradley Manning's sentence?  If I were to poll to public there would be a lot of very emphatic responses for both sides; the sentiment on this issue is very polarized.  Some feel Manning is a hero for what he exposed, others view him as a traitor for exposing military secrets.  In my opinion, it is of far more importance the horrific crimes Manning exposed are investigated and the individuals involved brought to justice.  If you think 35 years is a decent sentence for sharing these secrets, I expect life imprisonment or a call for the death penalty for these individuals.  Will this happen?  Probably not.  Will Manning's sentence be commuted?  Of course not.  Already it is considered very lenient.  Should people raise a hue and cry and put pressure on the government to act?  Most definitely.

Bradley Manning should not be given a longer prison sentence than murderers and rapists.  End of story.

Baby Steps of Acceptance

Baby steps are great - if you're a baby.  Seeing as how we are adults, we need to take bigger steps and move at a faster pace towards accepting non-binary individuals into society at large.