Saturday, June 29, 2013

DOMA §3 struck down in U.S. v. Windsor

I was trying not to keep putting up same sex marriage news here, but I cannot keep my mouth shut over the news that the Supreme Court has ruled DOMA unconstitutional in U.S. v. Windsor. (see SCOTUSblog for all documents, they just don't have the decision linked yet; also see, which will provide documents as well).  (sorry, California friends -- I am glad for you, too!)

But what really influenced me was a heartfelt essay from one of my great colleagues at Suffolk, Sarah Boonin, who wrote about her personal reaction to the decision, at the Huffington Post.  Read Sarah's moving essay to understand better what the decision will mean to the affected parties.  Perhaps readers will understand, too, why it's a ludicrous thing to say that being gay or lesbian, bi- trans or anything along the LGBQT spectrum is a lifestyle choice, or that it is so attractive that children and young people are seduced into it. It's hideously difficult to live this life. It is not a choice. It's being authentic to who you were born.

You will see why I believe that same sex marriage is the civil rights issue of our time.  I am so proud of the justices who wrote this decision the way they did. It took some courage for Justice Kennedy to write this, and it will be a very important decision.

Public libraries to the rescue! Helping sign folks up for health insurance

You may have seen a short piece about the Obama administration turning to public  libraries to help educate the public and sign people up for the health insurance options available to them under the federal insurance law.  Here is a bit longer AP piece that probably underlies the short TV and newspaper bits. According to the article, up to 17,000 libraries nationwide may be recruited in the effort. Tomorrow, Sunday, there will be an official announcement at the ALA conference in Chicago.

The article notes that there are already informal efforts underway at many libraries, of course.  Librarians are already linking people to the information they need, using the computers available.  But the article estimates that the federal program will enroll about 7 million new people for insurance coverage next year.  People without access to the Internet, and without the skills to search will be unable to reach the Web portals that are key for this sign-up effort.  Public libraries will be important to bridge the gap for those people.

The ever-fabulous Super Librarian image is courtesy of New Jersey State Library and New Jersey Library Network.  Whatta cool image! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Oh, have you heard the rumor about "Happy Birthday" being copyrighted, and the copyright is held by a grasping old woman?  There is a wonderful, witty blog post on about a class action law suit in the Southern District of New York, Good Morning to You Productions, Corp., v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.  It turns out that Warner/Chappell, the huge music company claims the copyright, and has been collecting royalties from commercial use of the song for some years.  The complaint asserts that the song, the tune for which was written in 1893, has been in the public domain for years.

From the blog post,

The history behind the song, and the relevant legal arguments, are set forth exhaustively in this excellent 2010 article by Robert Brauneis (PDF) a law professor at George Washington University. It’s a really interesting read even—maybe especially—if you are only interested in the history. It explains that the song was written for kindergarten students by two sisters in the late 19th century. Originally it was called “Good Morning to All,” and was first published in 1893. The words were different, obviously, but the melody was the same (each can get separate copyright treatment). At some point, the lyrics mutated to the familiar “happy birthday” ones, and Brauneis says the old melody and the new words then formed a new work for copyright purposes. Who owns that, though, if anyone, is not clear. To cut to the chase, Brauneis concludes in his article that the song has probably been in the public domain since 1963 at the latest. 
Apparently, Prof. Brauneis' article may become key to the class action case! The complaint lays out carefully the murky history of this most-recognizable song, and so does the article.  Something interesting to watch!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to collect those pesky overdues - the Grim Book Reaper

From , where "maddymooster" posted this with the header: Ever year my school's librarian dresses up as a book reaper to collect overdue books.

Tip of the OOTJ hat to Eli Senesh, who kindly passed this along!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

First BeenVerified, Now NSA, FBI, and the rest of the Feds... do you feel a bit surveilled?

The news broke in just the last day or two, about the large tech companies and telecommunications companies reluctantly acceding to government requests for vast amounts of user data.  The Boston Globe ran a nice report that summarizes the history of the group of programs involved in the news. It's an even-handed article that quotes from President Obama's comments about the need for balance if we want to catch terrorists while trying to protect civil liberties. It also quotes from Mark Rumold, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticizing the extent of the surveillance programs.  (See order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requiring Verizon to turn over telephone data acquired by the British Guardian; not clear how they got this since it's marked Top Secret do not declassify until 12 April 2038.)

The Globe article, "What Surveillance Can Uncover About You," (available in print at A1, A7, by Matt Viser, Noah Bierman and Bryan Bender) includes a Surveillance programs fact sheet (A7 in print), that does a very nice job of listing in a general way, what data the government collects under two different programs from the various major players.

From telephone conversations, without a warrant, from U.S. citizens, agencies collect metadata only, not the actual content of the conversations.  The metadata reveal information on:
beginning and end times and thus the length of the call;
place of origin of the call, and place of the receiver;
serial number of the phone placing the call;
phone number of the placing and receiving call;

However, there is a second, top-secret data-gathering program, PRISM, by US and British intelligence on which the British Guardian and the Washington Post, published a slide show provided them by the National Security Agency (NSA). The Post edited and annotated their slides, which is what I have linked here. The Post also provides an article about Prism. According to the material appearing at the Guardian and the Post, with the aid of NSA, the British analogous agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has been sieving the same U.S. tech company data as the NSA in the same ways. This has allowed GCHQ to evade the British laws requiring legal process to acquire photographs, e-mails and videos outside of the country.  From the Post's article:
PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

Congress obliged with the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008,  which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection. PRISM recruited its first partner, Microsoft, and began six years of rapidly growing data collection beneath the surface of a roiling national debate on surveillance and privacy. Late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

(FISA = Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, P.L. 95-511, 92 Stat 1783, 50 U.S.C. Chapter 36 
Protect America Act of 2007 = P.L. 110-55, 121 Stat 552, amending 50 U.S.C. certain sections of Chapter 36
USA PATRIOT ACT = P.L. 107-56, 115 Stat 272, amending MANY U.S.C. sections) The Post includes a separate article with details on how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts work, including statistics on number of requests and number denied during various administrations since the courts were established in 1979.

The Post web link includes in interesting video interview with the reporter who has done most of the work uncovering PRISM here in the U.S.  Besides stressing that the tech companies involved have all denied any knowledge of PRISM, and that the government has said that PRISM only applies to non-citizens, there are several fascinating parts to the conversation.  One is asking the reporter whether he is concerned about repercussions such as those suffered by the Fox News and AP reporters recently who had materials subpoenaed.  The second is asking about his contact within the NSA and whether this whistle blower is prepared for what will happen when or if he is unmasked.  And thirdly, the interviewer mentions receiving an e-mail that simply says "tip of the iceberg."  The conversation goes from there about the size of the data sets available and how unimaginable this was to them before the story broke.

Two organizations which have long been critical of the government's data gathering:

Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has helpful information, explanations and white papers on their website.

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
which also has helpful information, explanations, and links to legal documents on their website. They have explanatory notes, pleadings, rulings, memoranda and briefs in a number of relevant court cases that are still working their way through appeals.  Very helpful.

The American Civil Liberties Union has some links and posts about this issue, but it is one small issue among many for them.

Only a few members of Congress have opposed the relentless expansion of the Executive's power of surveillance.  They have been lonely voices until now.  

The witty decoration for this post comes courtesy of an interesting new citation storage, sharing and organization service,

Saturday, June 01, 2013

BeenVerified - How do YOU spell CREEPY?

Apparently has been thriving in the shadows of the Web since about 2011, and I just didn't know about it.  You go to the site and it offers a default "people search" of public records, but also lists telephone, address, e-mail and professional contacts searches.  They offer a snappy video explaining the sources of their public records, from the government documents, mortgages, bank documents and forms everybody fills out for social media sites, and to register all sorts of purchases, warranties, and so forth.  They explain that their aim is to aggregate all these privately held, but public documents, which have difficult and expensive to access.  It makes it sound so public-spirited and happy -- partly because of the up-beat music.

But there is a GOOD side to how difficult and expensive it has been to gather all that information about people.  It guards privacy.  Now, with, for a low annual or monthly membership fee, you can search as many people as you care to.  Or you can pay a single fee, or a fee to search 2 or 3 individuals.  Your nosy neighbor, in-law, potential employer, child's friend's parent, etc., can search all your "public records."  Background checks....  yes, but who is allowed to do them?!

The website makes a lot of statements that require users to "promise" that they will not mis-use the information they acquire through BeenVerified.  And it's very interesting to contemplate what sort of mess you will have to unravel if the records turn out to have incorrect information.  The agreement you "sign" in the terms and conditions holds BeenVerified harmless.  That clause probably would be interpreted differently in different states.  In Massachusetts, I do not think it would stand up if you suffered a lot of harm due to negligence on the website's part, for instance, in gathering information and linking it to your name. 

Fortunately, you CAN opt out of BeenVerified.  Here is a link.  I was going to actually test BeenVerified by buying a search on my own name, but then I got too paranoid to even give them that much information about myself and to give them my credit card. They do not accept PayPal -- only credit card payments!  So, opt out! 

Librarians may know lots of other spooky ways that gather information on people. There are for-profit commercial databases that are quite high-end.  But there are other, free websites that also are pretty scary.  I used to just have my students in my Advanced Legal Research class Google their own names.  But as the commercial value of this information was recognized, it mostly went behind pay walls of one sort or another.  It was a very sobering class when I did this.  We hand out so much personal information over the course of our lives.  Some of it, we have no choice -- the government requires it of us in order to get our driver's license, or other important documents.  The banks will not lend money without information that makes them feel secure.  But it is very unnerving that it's so accessible now in the wired world, and it angers me that this cheerful little company is selling it.

Sorry.  It's not a public service.  Tip of the  OOTJ hat to Alexa!