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April 2019
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Good News From The EU For A Change: A Strong Directive To Protect Whistleblowers

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A lot of bad stuff has been coming out of the EU lately, notably the awful Copyright Directive with its upload filters. So it makes a pleasant change to report on the passing of strong legislation to protect whistleblowers revealing breaches of EU law, a move which the Pirate MEP Julia Reda describes as "One of the greatest successes of this mandate!". Its scope is wide. Areas covered include public procurement, financial services, money laundering and terrorist financing, product safety, transport safety, environmental protection, nuclear safety, food and feed safety, animal health and welfare, public health, consumer protection, and -- of particular interest to Techdirt readers -- privacy, data protection and security of networks and information systems. Two key components of the new directive are "safe reporting channels" and "safeguards against retaliation", as the European Parliament's press release explains:

To ensure potential whistle-blowers remain safe and that the information disclosed remains confidential, the new rules allow them to disclose information either internally to the legal entity concerned or directly to competent national authorities, as well as to relevant EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.In cases where no appropriate action was taken in response to the whistle-blower's initial report, or if they believe there is an imminent danger to the public interest or a risk of retaliation, the reporting person will still be protected if they choose to disclose information publicly.The law explicitly prohibits reprisals and introduces safeguards to prevent the whistle-blower from being suspended, demoted and intimidated or facing other forms of retaliation. Those assisting whistle-blowers, such as facilitators, colleagues, relatives are also protected.Member states must ensure whistle-blowers have access to comprehensive and independent information and advice on available procedures and remedies free-of-charge, as well as legal aid during proceedings. During legal proceedings, those reporting may also receive financial and psychological support.
There is now one final vote by EU ministers, expected to proceed without the drama that accompanied the similar vote for the Copyright Directive. Once passed, there will be a two-year period during which EU Member States need to implement the directive in their national legislation.The general consensus among activists in the digital sphere seems to be that the new directive is probably as good as it could be given the past resistance of some governments to the idea of protecting those who reveal their wrongdoing. It is particularly welcome against the background of the Copyright Directive's upload filters, which will create a convenient mechanism on the main Internet services for blocking documents obtained by whistleblowers. What we need now are the creation of more online sites that are not subject to the Copyright Directive -- because they are not for profit, for example -- willing to host material from whistleblowers encouraged to act by the legal protection afforded by the new EU directive.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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posted at: 12:00am on 24-Apr-2019
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Australian Prosecutors Trying To Throw Reporters In Jail For Accurately Reporting On Cardinal George Pell's Conviction

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As we've covered over the past few months, Australian courts put an absolutely ridiculous gag order on anyone trying to report about the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, the former CFO of the Vatican (often described as the 3rd most powerful person in the Vatican). Pell was convicted of sexually molesting choir boys in Australia in the 1990s. This is obviously quite newsworthy, but the courts used what's known as a "suppression order" in Australia to bar anyone from revealing the information. The reasoning was that there was still another trial for Pell over different accusations, and knowing he was convicted for one might somehow unfairly influence a jury. Of course, in the US we've long dealt with this through a process of vetting potential jurors on their familiarity, and then simply barring just that juror pool from doing any further research on the issue -- and that system works mostly fine, without keeping the public in the dark about important news, and without stifling a free press.Eventually the suppression order was lifted, after prosecutors decided to drop the second trial (which, at the very least, suggests that all this fuss to protect the sanctity of said second trial was silly all along). And, yet, prosecutors then sent out a bunch of threatening letters to journalists -- most of whom did not report publicly on the case, but who did complain about the suppression order.And now, to show just how far Australian prosecutors will go to spit on free speech and a free press, they are now seeking jail time for members of the media over this whole mess:

Australian prosecutors are seeking jail and fines for dozens of journalists and media outlets for alleged contempt of court over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell's child sex abuse trial last year, a court summons showed on Tuesday.The Director of Public Prosecutions in Victoria has asked the state's Supreme Court to send journalists to jail or impose fines for breaching a suppression order on coverage of the trial, aiding and abetting overseas media's contempt of court, and scandalizing the court.
The only things "scandalizing" here are (1) George Pell's actions for which he was convicted, and (2) the prosecutors now going after journalists for their free speech.Apparently there will be a hearing on April 15th for 23 journalists and 13 media organizations. It appears that it includes some of the top media organizations in Australia (The Age, Australian Financial Review, News Corp, etc.) and some fairly prominent journalists, including Michael Stutchbury, the editor-in-chief of the Australian Financial Review.One hopes that prosecutors would come to their senses earlier, but now we have to hope a judge has more sense about this. Unfortunately, given other free speech cases in Australia over the years, I have little faith that this will end up well. Australia is making quite a name for itself as a country that believes in heavy handed censorship, and is against free speech.

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-Mar-2019
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LAPD Watchdog Says Department's Data-Based Policing Is Producing Nothing But Wasted Time And Rights Violations

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The Los Angeles Police Department has just received some bad news from its oversight. It's probably good news for the policed -- many of whom are being disproportionately targeted thanks to biased input data -- but the LAPD can't be pleased that its reliance on expensive, mostly-automated tools hasn't produced worthwhile results.The department relies on a handful of tech tools to aid in its policing, but it doesn't appear to be helping. It has CompStat -- a holdover from the early 2000's when Bill Bratton still ran the department. To that framework, it has added LASER -- a nifty acronym that stands for "Los Angeles' Strategic Extraction and Restoration." The program with the reverse engineered nickname actually relies on input from human analysts to determine where officers should be deployed. But this reliance on data-driven policing isn't making the city any safer, despite LASER's focus on violent crime.Here's what the LAPD's human analysts put together for the department's patrol officers.

In perhaps the most contentious strategy, each of the department’s 21 geographic areas used data to compile lists or “bulletins” of people calculated to be among the top 12 “chronic offenders.”The program assigns people points based on prior criminal histories, such as arrest records, gang affiliation, probation and parole status and recent police contacts.
This strategy received some public blow-back, resulting in the department abandoning it last August. Nothing of value was lost.
[Inspector General Mark] Smith examined data collected prior to the suspension.He found 44 percent of chronic offenders had either zero or one arrest for violent crimes. About half had no arrest for gun-related crimes.
So much for curbing violent crime. All it did was create a loop where cops targeted nonviolent offenders, resulting in another arrest/detention that added more points to the person's LASER record, resulting in even more targeting and, inevitably, more interactions with police officers. It's a feedback loop no one can escape.To make things worse, officers had the power to place people into this damaging loop by "nominating" them for targeting with LASER. The point-based system that was supposed to limit this targeting to just the worst of worst street criminals could be bypassed. Nominated citizens would find themselves rising up the ranks on the LASER lists, racking up points simply by officers performing stops based on faulty inputs.And while the tech is supposedly improving, the quality of policing isn't. CompStat has had nearly a 20-year run in LA, but its results are negligible. Predictive policing -- which has its own bias issues -- isn't doing any better.
Like the other program, Smith found discrepancies with the data collection and could not draw conclusions to “meaningfully evaluate” the program’s overall effectiveness to reduce crime, the report said.
Unfortunately, the report recommends the LAPD stay the course. The LAPD is supposed to spend more time "reviewing" the data that isn't producing results and tailor its outputs with an eye on Constitutional rights. As it stands now, the LAPD is allowing databases to conjure up reasonable suspicion for stops. That can't keep happening. But the way forward can't be more of the same, only at a slightly slower pace.

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-Mar-2019
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Stupid Law Making Assaulting Journalists A Federal Crime Revived By Congress

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As an overreaction to President Trump's mostly-hyperbolic verbal attacks on the journalism profession, a few legislators from the other side of the political fence have revived their stupid idea from last year. Here's the law's author in his own words twit:

If you can't read/see this tweet, consider yourself lucky. Here it is in all its hashtagged glory:
A #freepress is essential to a healthy democracy. We must send a strong, clear message that such violence will not be tolerated – that’s why I introduced the Journalist Protection Act today w/ @SenBlumenthal & @SenatorMenendez.
This dumb law was defended in an inane but noisy statement by Rep. Eric Swalwell.
“From tweeting #FakeNews to proclaiming his contempt for the media during campaign rallies, the president has created a hostile environment for members of the press,” said Swalwell in a statement. “We must protect journalists in every corner of our country if they are attacked physically while doing their job, and send a strong, clear message that such violence will not be tolerated.
Yes. Swalwell's official statement on his zombie legislation contained a hashtag. Here's what the "Journalist Protection Act" [PDF] does: turns an existent crime into a slightly worse crime if the victim is someone the federal government considers a journalist. "Bodily injury" or "serious bodily injury" are the flavors of the felony enhancement, adding 3-to-6 years to violators' sentences respectively.Fortunately, the definition for journalist is broad enough to keep bloggers and livestreamers in the loop. Unfortunately, this just means more people are going to face enhanced sentences for harming members of our nation's newest protected group.Once again: this isn't a good idea for anyone. It's never a good idea to give extra protections to people who practice certain careers, whether they're journalists or cops. Blues Lives Matter laws elevate cops above the people they serve. The Journalist Protection Act makes journalists' lives worth more than those of the people they cover. One set of laws is "justified" by an imaginary "war on cops." The other is "justified" by a bunch of boneheaded public statements by the Blowhard in Chief.In both cases, the only thing happening is legislators scoring easy points preaching to the converted… and hoping the converted remember the stupidity they enacted in their names when reelection time comes around.No real journalist should want this. Unfortunately, a bunch of journalistic groups are acting like it's just the thing this nation's been missing. The Society of Professional Journalists is offering its endorsement. So is the NewsMedia Alliance. Scrolling through the feed of tweets referencing this law reveals a disappointing number of journalist groups buying into this bullshit. This administration does pose a threat to journalism, but it takes the form of a crackdown on whistleblowers and placing journalists under surveillance, if not under indictment. It has very little to do with Trump encouraging physical violence against members of the press.This isn't anything any member of these groups should honestly want, unless they're cool with legislators turning cops, bank CEOs, international arms dealers, bitcoin speculators, or other groups of people a certain percentage of the public finds loathsome into "protected classes." If it's cool for your own kind, you can't bitch too much when it starts elevating exactly the sort of people you don't like.

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posted at: 12:00am on 28-Mar-2019
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