Here’s a Friday afternoon head-scratcher: What will legal systems look like in 1,000 years? No, really. If our arbiters of right and wrong become more highly automated, will we be smoothing over the imperfections of Lady Justice, or placing our respective fates in the hands of heartless machines. What will sentencing guidelines be like after the singularity?
If it’s not clear yet, we’ve been reading an account of a Peter Thiel guest lecture in a Stanford Law School course on legal technology. This is not for the faint of heart.
“So the set of all intelligent machines would be the superset of all aliens,” write Blake Masters in an essay describing the lecture. “The range and diversity of possible computers is actually much bigger than the range of possible life forms under known rules.”
In other words, who the hell knows. But also, probably we would be better in the hands of computers, and maybe here’s how:
Our human-based legal system is dependent on the arbitrariness of the actors, that’s sometimes bad, and sometimes good. Bad in the case of a biased jury or a pissed off judge. Good because if we all got hauled into court every time we broke the law we’d spend our lives shuttling back-and-forth from jail.
But if automated legal technology means fewer law-breakers escape the long arm, something will have to give:
If uniformly enforcing current laws would land everyone in jail, and transparency is only increasing, we’ll pretty much have to become a more tolerant society.
In which case, we may join Mr. Thiel in looking forward to a Hal of justice.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge presiding over litigation spawned by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill has dismissed all claims against the manufacturer of a chemical dispersant that was used to break up crude gushing from BP’s blown-out well.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled last week that federal laws shield Illinois-based Nalco Co. from liability over the government’s use of Corexit after the 2010 spill.
Nalco didn’t decide whether, when, where, how or in what quantities Corexit would be used in response to the spill, Barbier noted. And the judge said it wouldn’t be proper for him to second guess the federal on-scene coordinator’s decision to use the dispersant.
Lawyers for cleanup workers and coastal residents exposed to the dispersant had argued Nalco isn’t immune from claims it supplied a defective product that wasn’t safe for use in the Gulf.
But the judge said the claims would create an “obstacle to federal law” if he allowed them to proceed.
More than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant were used in responding to the spill. It was last used four days after BP capped the well in June 2010.
A 2010 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Corexit, when mixed with oil, is no more toxic to aquatic life than oil alone. But congressional investigators have claimed the U.S. Coast Guard defied a federal directive to use the chemical sparingly and routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of Corexit per day.
Records newly released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation reveal the federal government has approved dozens of licenses for unmanned aerial surveillance drones all across the United States.
“These records, received as a result of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),” the EFF reports, “come from state and local law enforcement agencies, universities and – for the first time – three branches of the U.S. military: the Air Force, Marine Corps and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).”
Some of the records show drones used for purposes as sensible as helping the U.S. Forest Service fight forest fires.
Others purposes, such as performing aerial observation of houses when serving warrants or covert surveillance of drug sales, however, have prompted the EFF to question privacy issues.
“Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nev., and in areas of California and Utah,” EFF reports. “This drone uses ‘Gorgon Stare’ technology, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone … capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city.’ … This technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.”
The use of military drones further raised flags in a New York Times report earlier this year, when reporter Mark Mazzetti joined a group of observers watching drone use at Holloman Air Force Base in remote New Mexico and discovered the military was practicing for foreign missions by spying on American vehicles.
“A white S.U.V. traveling along a highway adjacent to the base came into the cross hairs [of the drone’s view] and was tracked as it headed south along the desert road,” Mazzetti wrote. “When the S.U.V. drove out of the picture, the drone began following another car.
DARPA autonomous flying robot uses retractable claw to grasp objects
“‘Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?’ a reporter asked,” according to Mazzetti. “One Air Force officer responded that this was only a training mission, and then the group was quickly hustled out of the room.”
The EFF clarified that while the U.S. military doesn’t need an FAA license to fly drones over its own military bases (these are considered “restricted airspace”), it does need a license to fly in the national airspace, which is almost everywhere else in the U.S.
“And, as we’ve learned from these records,” EFF reports, “the Air Force and Marine Corps regularly fly both large and small drones in the national airspace all around the country.”
In fact, compiling the various approved applications for military, educational and law enforcement use enabled EFF to create a map of drone locations in the records they’ve received so far:
Drone usage revealed thus far by EFF’s FOIA request
For example, Montgomery County, Texas, sought approval to use the thermal imaging abilities of a ShadowHawk drone to support SWAT and narcotics operations by providing “real time area surveillance of the target during high risk operations.”
Yet some applicants sought FAA approval for multiple drone uses, a potential problem EFF worries could lead to “mission creep.”
“For example, the University of Colorado (which the FAA said has received over 200 drone licenses) requested a license in 2008, not just to study meteorological conditions but also to aid ‘in the study of ad hoc wireless networks with [the drone] acting as communication relays,’” EFF reports. “And Otter Tail County, Minnesota, wanted to use its drone, not only for ‘engineering and mapping’ but also ‘as requested for law enforcement needs such as search warrant and search and rescue.’”
The sheriff’s department of Queen Anne County, Md., stepped up its drug battles by partnering with the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and Navy to apply for permission to use a WASP II drone for a variety of purposes.
“The WASP II will be used for surveillance missions,” the FAA records state, “for example, search[ing] farm fields for marijuana (the operator would be stationed on the farm and would use the WASP to see the crop growth from the air), conducting search and rescue in remote areas (QA’s County has a state park. Searching the river and coves can be difficult because of the high grasses. An aerial view would be of significant help), surveillance of people of interest (watching open drug market transactions before initiating an arrest), providing aerial observation of houses when serving warrants.”
Records show applicants had to provide precise details of the areas they wanted to watch with drones, such as the map Queen Anne County developed below:
Map that accompanied Queen Anne County’s application, with drone area circled
The EFF asserts, however, that despite obtaining several thousand pages of information on drone use in America, one glaring hole in the records is evidence the FAA had “any concerns about drone flights’ impact on privacy or civil liberties.”
“The FAA recently announced it wants to slow down drone integration into U.S. skies due to privacy concerns,” EFF said. “We are hopeful this indicates the agency is finally changing its views.”
Yet EFF claims more than half of the information it sought in its FOIA request a year and a half ago has yet to be released, not only leaving the map above significantly incomplete, but also raising questions about what is being withheld.
Today is the seventy-first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an act that brought us into World War II, pushed a reluctant America onto the world stage, and ushered in the age of empire. The official history of that event is that it was a “sneak attack” precipitated by war-crazed Japanese militarists, and that the totally unprepared Americans – kept from arming themselves by evil “isolationists” in Congress and the Republican party – were caught completely by surprise.
There is, however, one big problem with this official history: it’s a lie.
The truth is that, by the winter of 1941, the Americans had decrypted the various Japanese military and diplomatic codes: President Roosevelt, key members of his cabinet, and top military leaders, including Gen. George C. Marshall, US Army chief of staff, had access to this intelligence, which was intercepted, decoded, and transmitted directly to them. We know this because Robert Stinnett, in researching his seminal book, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, obtained heretofore unknown documents under the Freedom of Information Act, which trace the intelligence stream from interception stations throughout the Pacific to the 36 Americans cleared to look through what was, in effect, a window into Japanese plans and preparations for the Pearl Harbor attack. The President and 35 other Americans in top political and military circles knew where the attack was to take place, they knew when it was to take place, and they watched it unfold, step by step, with full knowledge of its import.
It is widely remarked that even on the eve of Pearl Harbor, the vast majority of the American people stubbornly resisted efforts to drag us into the European war. The Court Historians responsible for constructing the FDR cult would have had great difficulty denying the pattern of presidential prevarication that had us effectively fighting the Axis powers long before war was officially declared. So instead of taking on this impossible task, which would have been laughed out of court, they openly valorized him for his expertise at the art of deception. Thomas Bailey, who taught history at Stanford University for 40 years and authored The American Pageant, long a standard US history textbook, extolled the liar and his lie in his 1948 book, The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy:
“Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor. He was like the physician who must tell the patient lies for the patient’s own good…. Because the masses are notoriously shortsighted and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests.”
In a rave review of the Bailey volume on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, a young Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., hailed Bailey’s “candor and good sense” in dealing with “the Roosevelt problem.” “If he was going to get the people to move at all,” wrote the future Official Historian of American liberalism, “he had to trick them.”
CHICAGO (CBS) – The parents of a 15-year old boy who was allegedly strip-searched at a high school last month have filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Public Schools.
In an exclusive interview with CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman, the boy and his outraged parents described what happened.
“He came home crying. So I asked him why he was crying,” said the boy’s father, Anthony Woodman. “And he was like hysterical. He tells me he’s been strip-searched.”
It allegedly happened at Taft High school last month.
His mother, Michelle Woodman said she contacted the CBS2 Investigators “so this doesn’t happen to anyone else. No one should go through what our son went through.”
The student said two security guards, a Chicago police officer and a female assistant principal took him from an room where he was serving an “in school suspension” to a nearby washroom on the second floor.
Asked if the officer or assistant principal said anything, the student said, “They told me they had an anonymous tip. They were looking for drugs.”
He said, while the others watched, one of the security guards put him up against the wall of a bathroom stall so his back was to the guards.
“And then he searched me with my clothes on,” the boy said. “Then he told me to remove my belt. As I undid my belt he pulled my pants and underwear down to my knees.”
After that, “He started grabbing and searching my privates,” the boy said.
He said they did not find any drugs.
Records the Woodmans provided said CPS staff diagnosed their son with an emotional disorder and learning disability. He requires special education services.
Misconduct reports detail behavioral problems leading to numerous suspensions, some contested by his parents.
As for the strip search, his father said “there needs to be consequences for what they did to him.”
Now his parents are suing everyone allegedly involved, and Chicago Public Schools and City of Chicago.
“What we are claiming is that his civil rights were violated when he was strip searched without cause and unreasonably,” said Julie Herrera, the Woodman’s attorney.
“The way it was done was outrageous,” Herrera said. “Having a 15-year-old boy have to have a woman – an older woman – watch him with his pants down, while he is touched by another man. I think is horribly humiliating and embarrassing.”
His mother said it was humiliating for her son, and it has adversely affected him.
“He is very withdrawn. He sleeps with his clothes on. He’s had nightmares,” said Michelle Woodman. “He is very angry. He’s depressed. He is just not the same person.”
The assistant principal who allegedly watched the strip search declined to comment, referring questions to the Chicago Public School’s law department.
A CPS spokeswoman said their policy is that “under no circumstances are strip searches of students allowed on CPS premises.”
The CPS policy manual also prohibits “washroom searches.”
Spokeswomen for both CPS and the Chicago Police Department said they cannot comment on this case until their investigation is complete.