Mayhem at the Jefferson Memorial

There are some law enforcement agencies I just don’t expect to be seen in a bad PR light, that I honestly would trust to do a decent job. And the US Park Police was on that list. I emphasize was, because I watched this YouTube video:

A report at WTOP.com has a bit more information on exactly what’s going on here, and some of the background information. Some of the other stories about this mention an Adam Kokesh as one of the protesters. Most disturbing are these two facts, quoted from the WTOP story, taken together:

The officers remain on regular duty during the investigation, said Schlosser.

[…]

The videos [of the incident] show protesters being forcefully restrained, and in at least one case driven to the ground.

But there’s more to it than the usual First Amendment and police brutality issues: starting at 2:16 in the video one of the officers confronts the camera man taking this video and tells him “you’re not allowed to video record in here” and “if you continue to record you will be arrested.” It’s suspicious that it would suddenly become not allowed to record video in the face of a police brutality incident. The cops had to walk past several people taking video to make these arrests; it was not like some of the video cameras were exactly small (one was huge, of the size I’d expect an ENG camera rig to be). And obviously, someone holding a flip phone with the back of the phone aimed at the action is not looking for how many bars of signal they get inside the memorial.

Why are these officers still on their regular beat after this, when it’s documented on video that they exhibited needless brutality?

It’s time for the US Park Police to clean up their act. And I don’t mean litter patrol.

Additionally, I find it ironic I’m writing this on Memorial Day. I am grateful for the job our soldiers do, and I hope their efforts in defending our country and our freedoms was not in vain.

The medical profession and censorship of opinion

Health care professionals are supposed to do no harm, per the Hippocratic Oath. Who would ever have thought that some of these so-called “professionals” would partake of censorship?

Timothy Lee’s recent article on arstechnica.com highlights a dentist who is in fact doing exactly this:

I needed a new dentist, and Yelp says Dr. Cirka is one of the best in the Philadelphia area. The receptionist handed me a clipboard with forms to fill out. After the usual patient information form, there was a “mutual privacy agreement” that asked me to transfer ownership of any public commentary I might write in the future to Dr. Cirka. Surprised and a little outraged by this, I […] refus[ed] to sign and [the receptionist] show[ed] me the door.

The story goes on to say this is actually part of a template issued by an organization quite ironically and idiotically called Medical Justice. Indeed, Timothy has likely stumbled upon just the tip of the iceberg, and there are probably several doctors and dentists blindly relying on the advice of Medical Justice to protect their practice against slander and libel, when in fact these provisions not only do no such thing but instead do more to make those doctors and dentists look bad.

My advice to Dr. Cirka, and for that matter any doctors and dentists facing similar problems: don’t censor your patients, and let your good work speak for itself. Have an attorney review any “legalese” in the forms you have new patients fill out and sign; don’t blindly follow the advice of organizations such as Medical Justice.

“First do no harm” applies to free speech rights, too. At least, it should in any sane society.

Dumping “John Doe”: A Federal judge that’s had enough

A recent Ars Technica story highlights the recent actions of Judge Milton Shadur (who I’m going to refer
to as Judge Milton) against two cases filed by copyright lawyer John Steele. Steele had the misfortune of two
similar cases landing in Judge Milton’s court, both copyright infringement cases involving pornography, and both identifying the defendants as “John Doe” with only IP addresseses.

From the article:

On May 6, Steele dismissed the case he had brought only two days earlier. But Shadur wasn’t  going to let Steele just slink away. Though federal courts can indeed be slow, it took Shadur only three days from the case assignment to issue a memorandum order that opened with these words:

It seems that attorney John Steele (“Steele”) might be well advised to stay away from Las Vegas or other casinos, because his current filing on behalf of plaintiff Boy Racer, Inc. has—despite odds in the range of 25 to 1—been assigned at random to the calendar of this District Court, which had previously been the recipient of another random assignment of a Steele-filed action (that one being CP Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-300, No. 10 C 6255). This Court had ended up dismissing the CP Productions action for the reasons stated in its February 7, 2011 memorandum order and its February 24, 2011 memorandum opinion and order, which (among other reasons) rejected attorney Steele’s effort to shoot first and identify his targets later.

Shadur went on to say that he doesn’t want to see any more of these “John Doe” cases that bring a huge list of IP addresses against people who may or may not even live in Illinois. […]

 

And kudos to Judge Milton (Shadur) for standing up to this abusive lawsuit tactic. To be fair, though, there’s a bit more to it than that: according to this previous story, Judge Milton had received way too many motions to quash from way outside his jurisdiction on the first case that Steele filed (the CP Productions case), as far away as New Jersey and Texas. So this is a case of “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

And Counselor Steele really has no excuse for being this sloppy. (Note: the following explanations get a bit technical.) Running a simple whois command on an IP address will tell you the administrator of the ARIN registry for that address block. Sometimes, one will get lucky and get something like:

Speakeasy, Inc. SPEAKEASY-5 [...]
HOU BRIDGED CIRCUITS SPEK-HOU-BR-0 [...]

which makes it pretty obvious the IP address is in the Houston, TX, area. Other times, it’ll be more generic. Sometimes traceroute (misspelled as tracert on Windows for reasons known only to Microsoft’s developers) is a useful tool for clues on what jurisdiction an IP address might be in. An example follows:

traceroute to www.chicago.com (66.102.105.219), 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
[...]
 5  ae-43-90.car3.Dallas1.Level3.net (4.69.145.197)  325.347 ms  327.186 ms
329.107 ms
 6  4.68.110.62 (4.68.110.62)  332.383 ms  333.537 ms  334.881 ms
 7  te7-4.mpd01.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.7.45)  336.787 ms
te9-1.mpd01.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (66.28.4.173)  113.547 ms
te2-4.mpd01.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.6.65)  116.247 ms
 8  te0-4-0-1.mpd21.mci01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.5.126)  128.580 ms
te9-1.ccr02.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (66.28.4.133)  39.069 ms
te0-2-0-1.mpd21.mci01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.5.218)  118.223 ms
 9  te0-2-0-3.mpd21.ord01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.30.106)  133.125 ms
te0-0-0-1.ccr22.mci01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.2.230)  122.922 ms  123.194 ms
10  te0-4-0-3.ccr22.ord01.atlas.cogentco.com (66.28.4.34)  138.868 ms
te0-0-0-3.ccr22.ord01.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.30.102)  141.094 ms  143.230 ms
11  te4-2.ccr01.ord07.atlas.cogentco.com (154.54.31.250)  145.647 ms  148.089
ms  150.223 ms
12  mail.chicago.com (66.102.105.219)  151.922 ms  154.586 ms  156.312 ms

Looking at the hostnames for the cogentco.com hops, a pattern emerges: xxx.xxx.(airport-code)(numbers).atlas.cogentco.com. So, indeed, this website is probably hosted somewhere in the Chicago, IL, area. We aren’t worried about the hops where they are routed through Kansas City and Dallas/Fort Worth, but bonus points if you noticed the route goes through those cities on its way to the Windy City.

(Also, at the time I did this trace, the route was apparently unstable, switching between different paths across Cogentco’s network during the time of hops 7-10. Sometimes this happens but it should not be confusing in the end; just remember to look from the bottom up.)

Of course not every example will be this clean-cut and some backbone ISPs now put less geographic information in their hostnames under the guise of “security.” But between traceroute and whois, one should get enough information to get the city (and thus the proper court to file in) right about 95% of the time, and this shouldn’t take much longer than a couple of minutes per IP address. Yes, it’s a bit more time, but any competent attorney should have no problem with spending a couple of extra hours doing what amounts to due diligence work to keep judges like Judge Milton happy.

Media giant vs. media non-profit: Comcast’s mistaken snap decision

A recent Ars Technica story simply must be read to be believed. The official Twitter account for the non-profit Reel Grrls, based in Seattle, WA, posted a tweet highly critical of Comcast, and particularly FCC Commissioner Merideth Baker’s acceptance of a lobbyist position immediately after approving the Comcast-NBC merger.

The vice president of communications for Comcast, Steve Kipp, took exception to this. So much exception, in fact, that he immediately sent an e-mail to the non-profit slamming Reel Grrls for “shaming us on Twitter” and stating Comcast’s funding to the nonprofit was withdrawn. Comcast’s spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice then says this was a mistake:

“At the corporate level, we had no information on this action taken by a single employee in Seattle,” Fitzmaurice told Ars. In a released statement, Fitzmaurice noted that Comcast apologized sincerely for the “unauthorized action” of their employee.

In the end, Reel Grrls decided to pursue other funding sources, rather than rely on money which could again be withdrawn when the organization says something else Comcast doesn’t like. From the article:

“We appreciate Comcast’s desire to rectify this situation and hope to encourage them to craft a corporate policy that clearly defends freedom of expression in order to ensure that this situation does not arise again,” said Teresa Mozur, administrative manager of Reel Grrls in a statement. “[I]t is exactly this type of public debate that can be squelched by mergers that threaten to raise the price for access to information, limit consumers’ choices in entertainment and news and give large media corporations the power to decide which opinions will see the light of day.”

I applaud Teresa for this decision on principle. It is difficult for a non-profit, particularly an arts-related non-profit, to be in a position to turn down funding. However, I also feel Teresa should never have been in the position to have to make such a choice.

It goes back to Mr. Kipp’s actions on behalf of Comcast, whether approved at the corporate level or not, and which I find to be absolutely despicable and patently devoid of respect for the mission of the non-profits which Comcast claims to support. This kind of heavy-handed action is exactly the reason I’m leery of making blogs like this one entirely funded by advertising or sponsorship.

(Note that by “like this one” I am referring to controversial, on-the-edge, not-for-the-easily-offended posts. As a marketing/PR consultant, I am obviously not averse to advertising in general; I did add advertisements to my other blog Quinn’s Big City in hopes of making it at least a break-even operation by the end of the year. As the topic of QBC is completely different, I endeavor to keep it as close to controversy-free as feasible; alienating advertisers is thus far less of a concern on that blog as it is here.)

Here’s hoping next time Comcast supports a non-profit, they really mean it, and don’t decide on a whim to defund that non-profit over justified criticism. Actually, I have even better advice for Comcast: don’t hire someone straight out of the FCC to be your lobbyist if you don’t like the criticism so much.

DHS takes a whack at the Mozilla Foundation

Harvey Anderson, a Mozilla employee in charge of legal and business affairs, recently blogged about a request by the Department of Homeland Security to take down the MafiaaFire add-on. The apparent issue DHS has with the plug-in is that it redirects the users from one domain to another automatically, which is usually not a big deal. Except that in this case, it’s a tool to circumvent domain name seizures.

[Mozilla’s] approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order.  Thus, to evaluate Homeland Security’s request, we asked them several questions similar to those below to understand the legal justification:

  • Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)
  • Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.
  • Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down the Mafiaafire add-on is based?

The fact that DHS is requesting takedowns from third parties as far detached as Mozilla shows just how much the (losing) legal battle to stop copyright infringement has gotten out of hand. I’m glad we have people willing to step up and call the bluff of the DHS. Last I checked, there is nothing illegal about circumventing the seizure of a domain name, and in essence all MafiaaFire does is say “oh, here’s a request for seizedexampledomain.com, let’s redirect it to thenewdomaintheyjustregistered.net.” (In some cases, maybe it’s just the old or a new IP address bound to the old name; I haven’t really looked at how this plugin works.)

I see no reason why the list of these domains, and the information how to get to the same site despite the domain being hijacked, is protected speech. MafiaaFire could just as easily be used by Chinese citizens to circumvent government blocking. It’s an anti-censorship tool, and I take a dim view of those who attempt to censor the publishers of an anti-censorship tool.

I can accept that the DHS doesn’t like being shown up in such a fashion. But telling Mozilla to take down this plugin won’t make it go away. It’s out there, and the plugin authors will undoubtedly find somewhere else to post it.