opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, April 20, 2002
google, altavista, remove railway saboteur links
In response to an email from Deutsche Bahn AG (the German National Railway), Google and Altavista have removed links to the web site of a group that published documents on how to sabotage the railway system in Germany. The search engines agreed to remove the links because the web site the documents were being hosted upon is no longer accessible.
public access to court records
Should court records be something that everyone can access online? If you've been involved in criminal cases, or civil cases, how would you feel if your neighbors could access that information with just a few clicks of a mouse? What about potential employers viewing that information? Or possible landlords? Or stalkers? Or people interested in stealing your identity? Keep in mind that this is information that is often already accessible to people with a visit to a local courthouse.
If you were a potential employer, or landlord, or creditor, it might be helpful if this type of information was readily at your fingertips. It's public information, and it should be something that you can find out, without having to deal with too much red tape and a trip to a courthouse during an inconvenient time. The Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN) already has a database of information online that many other states are thinking about imitating and implementing, to one degree or another.
On Friday, a Computers Freedom and Privacy Conference focused on a debate over how much public information should be available to the public online, and how it should be presented. Privacy advocates took on free speech advocates:
Privacy experts said they fear the exposure will lead to increased identity theft, stalking or worse. Free-speech advocates, on the other hand, maintain that open records are an integral part of maintaining a free society.Both sides raise very good points.
One aspect of this debate, which makes it very timely, is that the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has been accepting comments on how much access to information should be provided to people. While the NCSC doesn't directly set policy for courts, they are respected nationwide by court policy makers, and administrators. Their pages on Public Access to Court Records contains more information on this subject. They have a draft Model Policy on Public Access to Court Records (pdf) online which will probably be rewritten after comments are reviewed, and a public hearing is held.
It's uncertain whether the NCSC is accepting more comments at this time. The cnet article linked above states that they will accept comments for another two weeks. The NCSC page indicates that the subject will be open for comments until April 15th, which has already passed. If you feel that your views should be included, it wouldn't hurt to send an email asking about the time for comments. The final model policy will likely be read by many people in positions to make decisions about the information available to the public online.
free, unencrypted ebooks increase sales?
Eric Flint has been making a point of releasing editions of his books in ebook format for free at the same time that the paperback edition has been released. He has received hundreds of responses from people telling him that they purchased his books as a result of the chance he gave them to read unencrypted copies of the books online through the Baen Free Library. If you like science fiction, give them a visit. There are twenty authors involved in the library at this time, including Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Mercedes Lackey, David Drake, and Rick Cook. If you read something there, and go out and purchase one of the authors' books, send Eric Flint an email, and let him know.
Friday, April 19, 2002
that pesky first amendment
Deutsche Bahn announced earlier this week that they would be filing a lawsuit against Google on Wednesday because the search engine provides: "links to a Web site that offers instructions on how to sabotage railway systems." Similar suits might also be filed against Yahoo, and Altavista.
Deutsche Bahn recently sent letters to all three U.S. search engine operators asking them to remove the hyperlinks to the online copies of two articles from the German-language, left-wing extremist publication Radikal, which has been outlawed in Germany. The articles detail how to cut power on parts of the railway system.The suits would proceed against the companies' German based subsidiaries rather than in the US, because of that gosh-darned first amendment:
Deutsche Bahn will file suit in Germany, where all three search engine companies have subsidiaries, because it feels it wouldn't stand a chance in a U.S. court because of the freedom of speech allowed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.Deutsche Bahn successfully sued Radikal's ISP in Amsterdam District Court to block access to those documents on a server there. The links on the search engines still exist, however, and that is why they announced suits against Google, Yahoo, and Altavista.
Are the search engines pointing to someone yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre? Maybe Deusche Bahn should be spending their money fixing the weaknesses in their rail system rather than pursuing these lawsuits. Regardless of whether they cover the problem up, it will still exist.
chocolate and slavery
After reading about how chocolate is harvested in the Ivory Coast of Africa, I'm not so certain that I'll be snacking on candy bars for a while. But it looks like the chocolate industry in the U.S. is trying to take some steps to make changes. They can't happen fast enough.
is it a duck?
A California jury awarded a police officer $549,762 in a racial discrimination suit. They found that he had been passed over for a promotion because of his race, and that a lesser qualified person of the "right race" was given the job instead. Discrimination...pure and simple. Racial bias. Why do some people insist on calling it "reverse discrimination". There is nothing reverse about it. It is discrimination.
music copyright infringement
The Columbia University Law Library has put together an outstanding web site on music copyright infringement decisions in US courts. They tell us that most of these types of cases settle out of court, and that there are fewer than 100 published judicial opinions on the subject since the mid 1900s. The section on individual cases includes some audio clips of songs in dispute, allowing you to make a decision based upon your own listening. The discussion section is tailored to give law students and lawyers a good understanding of some of the many issues involved in this type of problem, but anyone interested in writing music may also find this site worth a visit. (via metafilter)
whitehouse e-identification initiative
There's some speculation that the federal government might turn to Microsoft, and their passport software to provide authentification of a user's identity when people visit a federal government website to perform such tasks as paying taxes.
A story in the Christian Science Monitor on recycling in Rhode Island might hold some ideas, and some warnings for Delaware. One town charges $1.20 for every bag of garbage, but doesn't charge for recycled materials. They've also simplified the recycling bins so that there are two different types instead of dozens. Recycling rates in that town typically reach over 40%.
We've written here about Wilmington's sewer system, and how when it rains more than one-tenth of an inch, raw sewage mixes with rainwater, and flows into the Christina, making the City's Riverfront a less than attractive place. So, how are other cities doing, as they struggle with outdated sewers?
Wilmington will spend almost $120 million over the next twenty years. There are at least 772 cities and towns that need to address similar problems, and the pricetag for all of them combined might reach $45 billion. Indianapolis will spend over $1 billion during that same time period. Pittsburgh has a 12 year, $3 billion cleanup plan. Atlanta faces $2 billion worth of drilling, and installing new sewers:
During the next 10 years, the average wastewater bill for Atlanta residents is expected to rise from the current $31 to about $65 a month. In return, taxpayers will get something that may have no price, said David Peters, Atlanta's environmental director.The EPA lists 900 cities in their pages on Combined Sewer Overflows, including a city-by-city list in pdf format. The Delaware town of Seaford also faces a similar problem.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
official state marine animal
Reading the title of a bill that came out of committee from the Delaware House yesterday, I had to ask myself if this was something that our representatives should be spending their time doing. Designating an official state marine animal is all very nice and good, but it doesn't do anything to address some of the budget problems that the state faces. It doesn't seem to address any social concerns, or conflict amongst citizens of the state. What does it do?
For one thing, it really doesn't add much of an expense to the state budget to make this designation. And, upon actually reading the bill itself, I realize that it can help to raise awareness of the importance of the horseshoe crab to Delawareans, and to our ecosystem, and the dangers that they face:
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVESWell, horseshoe crabs. You're being officially recognized. I'm not certain that you all care very much. But, maybe the sea grant annex of the University of Delaware in Lewes will get looking into why the population of horseshoe crabs is dwindling as much as it is. I suspect that agricultural runoff, and ocean dumping plays a role. Will our legislators followup with bills that aid and protect our official state marine animal?
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
twist tie security fence
We are proud of Delaware's new multi-million dollar facility for the criminally insane, the Jane E. Mitchell Building, built in 1999. It is much more clean, pleasant, and secure than its predecessor the Comegys Building, which is now a gravel parking lot. I visit the Mitchell Building about twice a month in my duties as a legal representative of some of the patients at the Delaware Psychiatric Center.
Not long after construction was completed, and on one of my regular visits, I noticed the method of construction of the large green security fence that encloses three sides of the building. Having paid for a 6' high chain link fence for my back yard, I had a vague appreciation for what it takes to put up a 12' security fence (especially the cost). What I noticed, to my disbelief, was that the fence is anchored to the poles with twist ties. The ties are relatively light weight wires, about the same size as a strand of household electrical wire.
And these twist ties are in places (like the juncture of the fence post and the building) where a person could easily reach around the pole and undo the twist tie, and walk away. I wouldn't want this laxity of security at an elementary school, much less at our most secure facility for the criminally insane.
I wrote to the hospital administration, way back then, but I have had no response. Wouldn't $50 worth of hardware and a day's work for a maintenance man at least secure the fence enough to require a tool of some sort? Doesn't the hospital owe that to our community?
justice by proxy?
A jury member unsatisfied with the outcome of a lawsuit has set up his web page to help collect funds for the unsuccessful plaintiff in the case. Will "do you have a blog" become a question commonly heard during jury selection?
Monday, April 15, 2002
bezos gets it
It's good to see someone take a stand like the founder and CEO of Amazon.com has, when it comes to distributors and creators claiming that they are being harmed.
Amazon.com has come under fire from the Executive Director of the Authors Guild, who makes the claim that Amazon's sale of used books on their website is hindering the sale of new books, and causing damages to authors:
As you may have read in the newspapers over the past few days, we've been criticized by the leadership of a small, but vocal organization because we sell used books on our website. This group (which, by the way, is the same organization that from time to time has advocated charging public libraries royalties on books they loan out) claims that we're damaging the book industry and authors by offering used books to our customers. They would have us stop offering used books, or at least put them in a separate section of our store instead of on our high traffic detail pages.Bezos goes on to make some other very good points about the sale of used books, and ends by asking Amazon customers to help out by sending an email to the leadership of the author's guild.
Used books have never had the distribution chain available to them that Amazon provides. I understand that a number of used books have been placed for sale through Amazon only days after a book has made its appearance on the site as a new offering. The fear that the Author's Guild is experiencing is understandable. But, I think that Jeff Bezos makes some great points. One of the things that the Author's Guild has to keep in mind is that Amazon is making more money from the sale of new books than from used books. They are the Authors Guild's partner in selling to the public.
I also like the Amazon founder's tone in this message. He asks:
Please write an email to the Executive Director of the Authors Guild (the leadership of which orchestrated this campaign) explaining how the sale of used books actually helps the entire book industry. Of course, a polite and civil tone is appropriate-- these are good people who haven't had input on all sides of this issue. You may agree with the points above, or you may have your own reasons, but please share them with the Authors Guild. If you make a living from selling used books, please mention that too.If more companies behaved this way, there might be a lot less lawsuits.
justice byron r. white
There may be a number of people who only knew him as a star of college and professional football. I was never aware of the athletic accomplishments of the former Supreme Court Justice Byron Raymond White. My only brush with Justice White was the clear and extremely well reasoned judicial opinions he penned in his 31 years on the bench. Byron White died on Monday morning, of complications from pneumonia.