Monthly Archive: June 2006

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The Longest Pending FOIA Request

In 1989, William Aceves, a graduate student at USC, requested information under the Freedom of Information Act about a federal “Freedom of Navigation” program. Seventeen years later, the request is still pending. Since making the request, William Aceves finished graduate school (presumably having found a different topic) and law school and he is now a tenured professor at California Western School of Law.

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More Data Lost: 1.3 Million Student Loan Recipients

From CNET:

About 1.3 million customers of a Texas provider of student loans are at risk of ID fraud, after a contractor lost computer equipment with sensitive information on them.

The equipment, which was not identified, contains the names and Social Security numbers of the borrowers, the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan company said in a statement Tuesday. The hardware was lost by an employee of Hummingbird, a enterprise software company hired to prepare a document management system, it said.

This follows a similar pattern to the way that the Veteran’s Administration lost 26 million records — some employee takes home the data and it promptly gets lost or stolen. Security tip: Don’t let your employees go home with the data! The government seems to be able to figure this out when it comes to top secret information; companies have figured it out when it comes to trade secrets. But when it comes to personal data belonging to others, it seems as though employees can just waltz out the door with it.

Hat tip: Deven Desai

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Internet Shaming in China

shame2a.jpgThe New York Times has a fascinating and frightening article on Internet shaming in China. From the article:

It began with an impassioned, 5,000-word letter on one of the country’s most popular Internet bulletin boards from a husband denouncing a college student he suspected of having an affair with his wife. Immediately, hundreds joined in the attack.

“Let’s use our keyboard and mouse in our hands as weapons,” one person wrote, “to chop off the heads of these adulterers, to pay for the sacrifice of the husband.”

Within days, the hundreds had grown to thousands, and then tens of thousands, with total strangers forming teams that hunted down the student, hounded him out of his university and caused his family to barricade themselves inside their home.

It was just the latest example of a growing phenomenon the Chinese call Internet hunting, in which morality lessons are administered by online throngs and where anonymous Web users come together to investigate others and mete out punishment for offenses real and imagined.

In recent instances, people have scrutinized husbands suspected of cheating on their wives, fraud on Internet auction sites, the secret lives of celebrities and unsolved crimes. One case that drew a huge following involved the poisoning of a Tsinghua University student, an event that dates to 1994 but was revived by curious strangers after word spread that the only suspect in the case had been questioned and released.

Even a recent scandal involving a top Chinese computer scientist dismissed for copying the design of an American processor came to light in part because of Internet hunting, with scores of online commentators raising questions about the project and putting pressure on the scientist’s sponsors to look into the allegations.

While Internet wars can crop up anywhere, these cases have set off alarms in China, where this sort of crowd behavior has led to violence in the past. Many draw disturbing parallels to the Cultural Revolution, whose 40th anniversary is this year, when mobs of students taunted and beat their professors. Mass denunciations and show trials became the order of the day for a decade.

In one incident, a husband caught a college student (using the pseudonym Bronze Mustache) having an affair with his wife. He posted the student’s real name online, and what happened next is startling:

Read More

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Homeland Security Funding–Again

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would allocate homeland security grants among states and cities based on an assessment of their vulnerability to attack.

That sounds obvious but it represented a big change. In prior years, a pork barrel formula had funneled a share of funds to everyone—with the result that some towns, facing little risk, used the money to buy snow blowers, while high-risk locales scrambled to find the resources to keep their residents safe.

This week, DHS announced the recipients of 2006 homeland security grants under the new risk-based approach. New York City, which received $207 million from DHS last year, will get $124 million in funds.

New York officials are rightly outraged by this strange result. The City spends some $5 million per week on counter-terrorism.

In assessing risk, DHS, instead of convening impartial experts to figure out sensible numbers, relied upon input from governors, mayors and local homeland security officials around the country. In deciding that New York City was not so vulnerable, these folks concluded that the City has no national monuments or icons to attract the interests of terrorists.

As I have argued at length in a law review article, homeland security funding needs to be completely overhauled.

Rather than leave things in the hands of DHS bureaucrats (the same people who bungled the Katrina response), Congress, in accordance with its constitutional duties to protect the states and cities, should reimburse states and cities for all of the reasonable counter-terrorism costs they incur. This is how things were done for much of the history of the Republic.

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Lots Worth Reading At Is That Legal

Eric Mulller, over at Is That Legal, has been very busy for the last few days. First he offered a trenchant critique of Pope Benedict’s talk at Auschwitz last week. (“The Pope’s Disasterous Speech At Auschwitz.”) Then he engaged Dean Esmay over what he frames as Esmay’s propogation of ” the revisionist myth of a terrorized German populace whose will was overborne.” You know the world is topsy-turvy when John Leo is citing Eric approvingly.

Now Eric’s writing about an interesting development in Wilmington, North Carolina: a legistlatively authorized commission has concluded that an 1898 race riot there was a political coup d’etat that reversed the fortunes of the city’s African-American community for years to follow. The committee offered recommendations “to repair the moral, economic, civic and political damage wrought by the violence and discrimination resulting from a conspiracy to re-take control of city, county, and state governments by the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaign.” The executive summary is here.

This report will presumably be of great interest to Al Brophy, who served as counsel to the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. You can find a number of links to Tulsa Race Riot materials here.

On a more self-interested note, we’re very excited that Eric will be visiting with us here at Co-Op starting in a couple of weeks!