Saturday, February 23, 2013

Solving Cold Cases

The Boston Globe today features in its G section a story on amateur web sleuths who help solve cold cases.  As soon as I saw the headline, I thought - Boy! would librarians be good at this sort of research.  But you also need to have the motivation.  Read the story if you think you might be interested.  There is some push-back from some police, who are uncomfortable at having amateurs involved in researching these cold cases.  Also, if you become serious about identifying unknown bodies from clues in the file, you will eventually end up looking at some gruesome images, and heartbreaking stories.

But I cannot help but think it would be a job where a librarian would excel, and would truly make a difference.  The folks involved have formed an online website and group, the Doe Network, where they communicate and share information that helps them solve cases, and just form a community.  The Doe Network website has lots of links, but notes on the home page that they are celebrating 11 years of work linking unidentified bodies to the missing persons in cold case files.

There is also a new National Institute of Justice database, apparently inspired by the Doe Network, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs.  There are 3 components to this database:

1)  the Missing Persons database, where anybody can enter information about someone they have lost;

2) the Unidentified Persons database, where coroners or medical examiners enter information about bodies they cannot identify;  and, a recently added

3) Unclaimed Persons database, for dead persons who have been identified but for whom no family member, or next of kin have been identified to claim the body.

 The Doe Network has links to the NamUs database, and they obviously work to match the persons in the first 2 databases to identify bodies, and help bring closure to the families.  They may also help close the 3rd sort of cases by locating family members as well.

I think it takes a certain sort of person. The Globe article notes that many folks  in the Doe Network burn out, so they have a rotating crew.  Some few hang in there for a longer time, though.  Kudos to them!  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Edwin Mellen Press suing blogger and new employer over critical post

The Edwin Mellen Press has filed a lawsuit against Dale Askey, now university librarian at McMaster University in Ontario.  They also name McMaster, even though when Askey wrote the blog post in question, he was employed at Hale Library as  --> an associate professor at Kansas State University.  Mellen claims $3 million in damages from Askey and from McMaster University!  They originally just sued Askey, but quickly refiled to include deeper pockets.  It is interesting to note that the blog post was from September, 2010, and Mellen's initial notice to sue came  shortly after Mr. Askey moved to Canada to take his job with McMaster, in June, 2012!  Read farther down about the difference in U.S. state law compared to Canadian law for something interesting to think about the timing of Edwin Mellen's suits!

The post in question has been removed from Mr. Askey's personal blog, Bibliobrary, but can be easily located by reading the Edwin Mellen legal petition, here, kindly supplied by the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians, who strongly support Mr. Askey. They supply a link to a petition in support, and a partial list of the various other academic organizations which have rallied in his support. 

 The blog post was titled "The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press," and Mr. Askey blogs, in relevant part, (handily underlined by Mellen's counsel for us):
 Edwin Mellen has been on my radar as a dubious publisher for over a decade now, and given that libraries monographic budgets are ever-shrinking, I find myself amazed by the durability of Mellen. 

    ... No, they are not technically a vanity publisher, since apparently they earn enough from libraries with their egregiously high prices to avoid asking for subsidies from authors. But at the end of the day, so much of what they publish is simply second-class scholarship (and that is being kind in some cases), and in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures. ...

 ... The dirty little secret of libraries is that such purchases are rarely evidence of careful consideration, but rather a sign of how much of the work of acquisitions we outsource to vendors, who supply these books on approval.  Why? Well, since those suppliers take a cut of sales, it is in their interest to sell as many high-priced volumes as possible, and in that scenario, a publisher such as Mellen is a golden goose.  ....
     A few commentators suggest that this may be a SLAPP suit, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  In a SLAPP law suit, the plaintiff does not actually expect to win the suit, but files the petition in hopes of silencing a critique by burdening them with the costs of litigation. In some U.S. jurisdictions, depending on statutory law or court precedent, if a judge concludes that the petitioner has mis-used the court system in order to intimidate the defendant, he or she may 

*  Dismiss the complaint at an early-stage motion; recover damages; challenge subpoenas and protect defined personal information; and protect privileged publication and participation in public proceedings and litigation.   (California)

*  Or, more relevantly, NY, where Edwin Mellen's U.S. offices are located. New York's Anti-SLAPP laws require the defendant to first show 2 things:

1)   First, you must show that the plaintiff suing you is a "public applicant or permittee."  The statute defines a "public applicant or permittee" as an individual or entity that has obtained or is seeking "a permit, zoning change, lease, license, certificate or other entitlement for use or permission to act from any government body." The term could include real estate developers, mining companies, garment manufacturers, and private landowners looking to build new structures on their land, among others. In essence, to meet this requirement, you will have to show that the party suing you requires some sort of government license to operate or proceed with a project.  See the excellent link above.

2)  Second, you must show that the plantiff's claim against you is an "action involving public petition and participation." The statute defines an "action involving public petition and participation" as one that involves a public applicant or permittee (above) seeking damages from a defendant on the basis of the defendant's efforts "to report on, comment on, rule on, challenge or oppose" the application to the government. For example, the definition would include a garment manufacturer's lawsuit against a public interest organization campaigning to have the manufacturer's state registration revoked. For another, the definition would include a real estate developer's lawsuit against a blogger who reported on the developer's attempts to secure a building permit, or who called upon local citizens to oppose the application.
      If you meet these 2 standards, you can file a motion to dismiss.  This does not allow you to halt discovery (unlike California, above). But if you prevail on the motion to dismiss, then the defendant in a NY SLAPP case can be awarded costs and attorneys' fees if the case was without basis in fact. If they can show they suffered harm, the defendant can be awarded compensatory damage in the amount to make them whole.  And if they can show that the ONLY reason for the lawsuit was to injure their rights, the NY SLAPP defendant may also be awarded punitive damages.

       Kansas does not have any SLAPP statute or case law.  However, if Edwin Mellen brought suit against Mr. Askey in the U.S., I wonder if Askey might have been able to remove the suit to New York state, where the suit might have become far more dangerous to Mellen?
      You can check Mr. Askey's blog dated Feb. 21, 2013, to see his thanks to a very long list of organizations which have come out in support.  There have been a number of articles about this as well:

Chronicle of Higher Education

Inside Higher Education

Library Journal (which notes that Mr. Askey is currently paying his lawyer expenses for both suits, which are both continuing, out of his own pocket!  McMaster is only covering the costs of the suit against the University.)

InfoDocket blog, (from Library Journal) with an excellent list of links for supportive comments and news stories.

     I was interested to read in several of these stories that Edwin Mellen Press had filed a similar suit for libel against the well-regarded journal Lingua Franca in 1993.  They lost that law suit, though Lingua Franca is now defunct, apparently from other causes.  There is even a book about the suit, The Edwin Mellen Press versus Lingua Franca: A case study in the law of libel, by Paul H. Reid, Jr.  Published by Edwin Mellen Press -- somebody either has no shame or a huge sense of either humor or irony!  

     The decoration is from an article in the Economist online paper dated Jan. 8, 2009, "Libel Tourism," which is interesting in itself. It appears that at least for a while, British citizens were suing non-Brits in British court, often very wealthy Brits against very humble non-Brits, over claims of libel. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

US Border Control Agents May Seize Laptops & Other E-devices

The US Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Office for Civil Rights and Liberties says that US border agents may seize electronic devices without a warrant or even suspicion of illegal activity. The agents may hold the device for more than 40 days after seizing it! 

You can imagine the havoc this wreaks on business travelers and academics alike!

The DHS office released an executive summary of its findings in which it concluded that, "imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits," but adds that "recording more information about why searches are performed would help managers and leadership supervise the use of border search authority." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the office's full report, which was completed sometime during the 2012 fiscal year. 

An article in the New York Times about ACLU challenges to these seizures is interesting. It reports  DHS statistics showing the digital device seizures happen about a dozen times a day,out of 36,000 daily 'secondary screenings.' The cases are not entirely complete yet, but the DHS seems to be getting some push-back on at least some aspects of this from the courts. For instance, the District Court in Massachusetts says, "What is up with holding those devices for 49 days, guys?!"

Tip of the OOTJ hat to my daughter who passed along this heads up to all who travel!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Struggle Between Lubavitchers and Moscow Ensnares Library of Congress and Others


The Library of Congress is the latest of many cultural organizations to be pulled into the destructive orbit of a long-running dispute between the Hasidic group Chabad-Lubavitch and the Russian government.  The Lubavitchers left behind a large ibrary of manuscripts and books which they considered sacred to their spiritual movement when they fled Soviet Russia in the 1930’s.  According to an article in The Art Newspaper by Sophia Kishkovsky, published online May 7, 2012, “Russia and US Continue to Discuss Cultural Standoff,” 

The objects in dispute include more than 12,000 books and 50,000 religious documents, usually referred to as the Schneerson library and archive, gathered by five generations of rabbis of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement. Most ended up in the Russian State Library and the Russian Military Archive after being seized at various times by the Bolsheviks, the Nazis and the Soviet Red Army.

Kishkovsky explains that a Moscow court actually ruled in 1991 that the materials should be returned to the Lubavitchers, who are now headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.  But before the Russians complied with the order, the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the players and the order was rescinded.  Now the Russian authorities say that the materials are the cultural property of Russia under Russian law.   They say that the members of Chabad are welcome to come and study the materials where they are held, in

a reading room of the Russian state library’s Centre for Oriental Literature, where functional, glass-covered bookcases hold rows of volumes, with stamps and other markings reflecting centuries of use. The centre is in a pre-revolution mansion across the street from the state library’s Stalin-era headquarters.

So, how are U.S. cultural institutions being dragged into the whirlpool of this sad story?  Chabad-Lubavitch filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Washington, D.C. against the Russian government to retrieve their library and manuscripts in 2004.  In 2010, the court issued an order that the Russian government should return the materials to Chabad, and that they be fined $50,000 per day for failing to comply.  Now, on January 16, 2013, the court issued another order, per another Art News article, despite pleas from the Obama administration to stay out of the matter (yet another Art News article here). 

When the lawsuit was first filed, the Russian cultural envoy was still working with American counterparts and organizations to try to smooth things over. But Russian museums and other lenders of valuables began to withdraw offers.   For instance, Chabad had to file with the court undertakings not to seize any items loaned to nonprofit organizations such as museums.  Some shows were delayed, and other museums had shows cancelled:

Houston Museum of Natural History, which had to delay indefinitely the opening of “Treasures from the Hermitage: Russia’s Crown Jewels”, originally set to open 20 May, and the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, where 37 icons from Moscow’s Andrei Rublev Museum were dramatically pulled at the last minute.

A few American museums began to counter-punch.   When Russia refused to lend a painting for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cezanne show in 2011, they countered by refusing to lend items for the Pushkin Museum’s Dior show.  Despite Chabad’s promise not to seize cultural artifacts on loan to museums or libraries in satisfaction of the court order, the Russian government and cultural institutions continue to express unwillingness to lend to American institutions.  Cultural interchange for some years has been a victim of the Chabad lawsuit.

Now, according to Art News, the Russian news agency Pravda reports that the Russian Foreign Ministry is recommending two agencies to sue the Library of Congress in retaliation for the $50,000/day fine levied in the Chabad suit.  The fine is clearly not enforceable, and neither is Chabad’s judgment from the D.C. District Court.  But the Russians clearly feel the need to reciprocate.  So they have uncovered an interlibrary loan of 7 books made from the Russian State Library to the Library of Congress on behalf of Chabad in 1994.  The books were never returned, and Russia is suing the Library of Congress as the library of record.  

Tip of the OOTJ had to my terrific colleague Terry Martin, who passed along this story.  The image at the top is just one of several from a blog post about the Lubavitch Library of materials that ARE here in the NY collection, and shows the sort of handwritten details that mean a lot to those who would study the items left behind in Russia.  See the interesting blog post at Crown Heights Info, Chabad News  July 18, 2007. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Italy Jails Former Officials for Extraordinary Rendition

The New York Times reported Feb. 12, 2013 that an appeals court in Milan, Italy sentenced Italy's former military intelligence chief, Niccolo Pollari, to a 10 year prison sentence for his part in the U.S. plot for extraordinary rendition kidnapping of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in 2003.  Recall that extraordinary rendition was used by the U.S. government to kidnap people suspected of terrorism and whisking them away to a territory where torture is common for questioning. Three Italian secret service officials who were involved in the plot were also sentenced to serve six years each.

Twenty-three Americans, including the former CIA base chief in Milan were tried in absentia in this case in 2009 and convicted.  Three other Americans in that case were acquitted as having diplomatic immunity, including the former CIA station chief in Rome.  This appeals court vacated the acquittals this month and convicted those three in absentia.

The 2009 decision was the first case successfully prosecuting rendition as a crime, and was viewed as a very courageous decision.  In that earlier decision, Mr. Pollari was given only 8 years' sentence, and the others got five year sentences. So the sentences on this appeal were raised, as well as adding more.

I know I was deeply troubled by my government's efforts at extraordinary rendition.  Now the drones are a somewhat similar ethical problem. According to a Justice Department memo, the President has authority to send drones to assassinate citizens.  The government, un-checked by courts, and behind closed doors, is declaring death sentences on citizens and non-citizens alike, and using unmanned drones to carry them out. There is also the use of drones for surveillance against citizens. The ACLU has filed suit to stop drone killings and drone surveillance.

I find several several federal and state bills to also stop drone surveillance within their borders --  Rand Paul's bill in the Senate; Fox news story that lists Virginia, Montana, California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma.  Here is a balancing story from the ACLU with some useful links noting that Florida's legislation seems the closest to passing as of Feb. 4, 2013.

Federal bills, from the 112th Congress, which have now been superseded by the 113th Congress.  Nothing comes up in the 113th Congress yet on the topic of drones (search Thomas website by text "drones").  Keep in mind that past bills can give you an idea of future bills.:
 1.  HR 6199 ( --> Preserving American Privacy Act of 2012, currently referred to both the House Judiciary, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees) 
2.   HR 5925 ( --> Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012 (Introduced in House, passed from the House committee on Judiciary to the House Committee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Has a companion bill in the Senate).
3.  S 3287 ( Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012 (Introduced in Senate - IS, -- This is Senator Rand's bill.  Read twice and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee).
4.  HR 5950 (NADA of 2012 or No Armed Drones Act of 2012;  Referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees and then to the subcommittee on Aviation.)
5. HR 6676 (Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2012; Referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and in addition to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, then to House Transportation and Infrastructure, then to House Energy and Commerce, and finally to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, where it simply ran out of time on Dec. 19, 2012.)
 6.  HR 3467 ( --> To establish a moratorium on aerial surveillance conducted by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. (Introduced in House - IH; This is related to the other drone limitation bills, but not quite the same in that it is aimed at a specific agency.  Read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. )

Here is a very handy link to the Drone Journalism Lab website which is tracking each state that introduces legislation to limit drone surveillance.  

It seems so ironic that this President used to teach Constitutional law and received a Nobel Peace Prize! The image at the top of the blog post is the shadow of a drone across the U.S. Constitution, of course.  Courtesy of Hammer of Truth blog post, Drones Across America.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pew Internet Library Report

The Pew Internet and American Life Project issued a report January 22 on "Library Services in the Digital Age." The report is really aimed at public libraries, but it's interesting for all librarians, I think. Here is a snippet of the summary: 

The internet has already had a major impact on how people find and access information, and now the rising popularity of e-books is helping transform Americans’ reading habits. In this changing landscape, public libraries are trying to adjust their services to these new realities while still serving the needs of patrons who rely on more traditional resources. In a new survey of Americans’ attitudes and expectations for public libraries, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that many library patrons are eager to see libraries’ digital services expand, yet also feel that print books remain important in the digital age.

But what you get when you follow the link to Pew is a summary of the study.  Writing at Salon, Laura Miller, somewhat annoyingly titles her essay, "Bring back shushing librarians."  She points out that if you go to the entire Pew study, you will discover that while the summary tells you that the top 3 preferences among public library users are: 

  • 80% of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
  • 80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
  • 77% say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries.
That a very close 4th, at 76%, is a QUIET place to study for adults and children. This is of interest to academic and law libraries as well as public libraries, I think.  I know of a number of law libraries that try to implement a "quiet" area, including banning clicking laptops from the area.  One of the things that is easy for us to forget, as adults who have our own, controlled living spaces, is that many of our students have roommates, or young children, and may have difficulty getting quiet study space at home.  Sometimes libraries can become quiet loud, between teaching 1-Ls how to research, explaining things to questioners from the reference desk, socializing among the tables and (disapproved) cell phone use! 

Maybe we DO need to bring back shushing librarians, after all.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In Praise of the Aeron Chair

Anyone who suffers from back pain knows that sitting, especially for long periods of time, can be excruciating.  You try anything that might make sitting more comfortable.  I have lost count of the number of cushions, pads, pillows, heating pads, and other products I have bought in an attempt to make my back pain go away, mostly to no avail. I have also tried a variety of chairs, both at home and at the office, that claimed to be ergnomically friendly.  Those too have delivered more hype than help.

This changed about six years ago when my library embarked on a major renovation project, which included new task chairs for the students.  We looked at a number of chairs, and finally settled on the Herman Miller Aeron chair.  To say it has been popular with our students is an understatement.  We could not afford to replace all of our student seating at once, so some areas of the library still have the older task chairs.  Last summer, during the bar exam study period, the library elevator was broken.  Notwithstanding this situation, students began carrying the Aeron chairs up and down the stairs so that they could use them in the areas of the library where they liked to study.  Once I realized what was happening, I tried to put a stop to it for fear that the students would injure themselves.  Ultimately, however, I capitulated, and the Buildings and Grounds staff scattered the Aeron chairs around so that there would be some on every one of the library's five levels.  I try to buy a few more Aeron chairs every year if I have any extra money.     

Some of the staff also got Aeron chairs.  I was one of the lucky ones, and I can truly say it has changed my life.  Sitting is no longer a punishment, and my back doesn't hurt at the end of the day.  However, according to Cliff Kuang's article in Slate, the fact that the Aeron chair is comfortable is actually not a good thing because it encourages sitting and sitting is bad for us.  According to Kuang, the Aeron enables a "sedentary work life [that] is killing us."  In response, manufacturers are now creating products that Kuang has dubbed the "anti-Aerons"--desks at which one works standing up, exercise balls used as office chairs, desks with attached treadmills, desks with integrated chairs that make sitting difficult.  One designer "actually designed a stool that's too uncomfortable to sit in for long periods."  I just don't see the point of making people uncomfortable.  Isn't it easier just to get up every fifteen minutes or so and walk around? 

P.S., Aaron Swartz

Readers will recall Aaron Swartz's suicide, in apparent reaction to his ongoing prosecution for downloading huge numbers of files from JStor illegally at MIT.  Swartz was an Internet activist who downloaded the files, not for personal gain, but as a stunt to draw attention to his argument that the articles and materials in the files had already been paid for by the universities, in that their faculty created the materials.  He felt that the materials should not be behind pay walls.  But after the prosecution began, Swartz returned the files and JStor dropped civil charges.  MIT to ask the prosecutors to press criminal charges, and the federal prosecutors in Boston did so with great creativity and effort.  Swartz originally faced 4 charges, but finally had 13 felony charges against him, up to 35 years in prison and a million dollars in fines.  The extra charges were derived by creating a separate charge for each date.  Many of the charges were not simply based on violation of copyright, but were under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 USC § 1030 (CFAA).

The CFAA is extremely broad, and allows great latitude to prosecutors. Through the original law and amendments since, it essentially prohibits both the acts and attempts of seven offenses:

1. obtaining national security information,

2. compromising confidentiality,

3. trespassing in a government computer,

4. accessing to defraud and obtain value,

5. damaging a computer or information,

6. trafficking in passwords, and

7. threatening to damage a computer.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing, asking the prosecutors for more information on this prosecution. Here is a link to the letter the Committee has sent to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting more information on the decisions made by the prosecutors in the case. Among other questions, the Committee asks why they made a superseding indictment adding the extra felony counts. The Committee asks whether Swartz's opposition to SOPA or other activism was a factor in the decisions in the case.

Shortly before the Committee issued this request, a Boston Globe columnist, Kevin Cullen, wrote a column about a similar case in Boston 19 years ago, where the same prosecutor, Steve Heymann, brought charges against an MIT student, David LaMacchia, for similar computer hacking. LaMacchia had downloaded $1 million worth of software which he posted to a bulletinboard for anyone to download and use. In that case, however, federal District Judge Richard Stearns dismissed the case just before it went to trial. Judge Stearns ruled: "One might at best describe his actions as heedlessly irresponsible, and at worst as nihilistic, self-indulgent, and lacking in any fundamental sense of values." With that stern dressing-down, the judge sent the sophomore LaMacchia back to his dorm, probably embarrassed, but with his life and future intact. The Globe columnist tells his readers that LaMacchia had contacted Aaron Swartz with an offer to talk when he heard about the prosecution. Swartz never called him back.

It is sad that the judge in Swartz's case did not feel he or she could dismiss the matter. It is also sad that Swartz did not, for whatever reason, feel he could or wanted to, reach out to LaMacchia. I am very grateful that the House Committee is asking some hard questions about the prosecutors' decisions in the Swartz case. And I am also glad that the community is continuing to pressure all those who felt that this case needed to be made into an example. It has been appalling to watch the copyright-holding community make examples of little people time and again in their efforts to secure rights that they feel slipping in an electronic world. We need to keep some sense of proportion, and perhaps this case is the one that will be a wake up call. How sad.

The image is an often-reproduced photo of Aaron Swartz that appeared in the Globe.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Way Overdue

A book was returned recently to the New York Public Library--55 years overdue!  The book in question is The Fire of Francis Xavier by Arthur McGratty, a biography of the Jesuit priest and missionary.  It was checked out of the Fort Washington branch in 1958.  The borrower mailed in the overdue book rather than face the wrath of the library staff.  The library doesn't employ anyone to track down overdue books (certainly no one like library detective Bookman, one of my favorite characters on Seinfeld), but relies on traditional methods.  An article from the New York Magazine Daily Intelligencer provides more details, including books returned 122 and 135 years after their due dates.    

Monday, February 04, 2013

Breaking the stereotypes

Woman attorney in Brockton, MA Alexsandra Magdziak Lopes has an avocation that totally blows my mind.  She is a nationally ranked boxer. The local paper, the Patriot Ledger reports.  The photo is from the article.