Archive for the ‘harassment’ Category

Some Interesting Facts on Teens, Online Media, and Cyberbullying

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Yesterday I blogged about the Define the Line website, which is headed up by McGill professor Shaheen Shariff. Here’s a few other interesting things I found on the website:

Shaheen Shariff’s “Define the Line” Website on Cyberbullying

Monday, July 15th, 2013
headshot of Shaheen Shariff

(Photo: McGill)

Shaheen Shariff is a professor with the Faculty of Education at McGill University and is also associated with the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism at McGill’s law school. She works on social media issues, with a particular focus on cyberbullying. I had the pleasure of meeting Shaheen at the affiliates meeting of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society last week where she gave a very interesting presentation.

Shaheen takes an approach to the topic of cyberbullying that is at once balanced, scholarly, and practically oriented. You can see this reflected in a website that Shaheen directs, Define the Line, which has a wealth of information on educationlegislation, and policy.

The website’s mission is “clarifying the blurred lines between cyberbullying and digital citizenship.” The concept of “digital citizenship,” is, I think, quite a useful one. Here’s how Define the Line explains it:

The concept of digital citizenship is premised on encouraging and developing learning opportunities for youth to develop their online proficiency, engagement and creativity, rather than focusing exclusively on the ways in which digital media can be used detrimentally. A microscopic focus on the negative aspects of digital communication usage among youth ignores the potential benefits of digital media, and the possibility for youth to engage in socially responsible digital behaviour.

Well said.

 

U.S. v. Michael Upholds Indictment for Facebook Threat to Police

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Venkat Balasubramani at Technology & Marketing Law Blog has a good analysis of U.S. v. Michael, (S.D. Ind., Oct. 9, 2012), a case which rejected a Facebooker’s attempt to dismiss an indictment for threatening posts directed at the DEA. (That’s “Drug Enforcement Agency” for our overseas readers). Read Balasubramani’s post for background. Here I want to add my opinion.

I agree with Balasubramani that there has been “a disturbing number of cases that involve criminal liability for these types of statements posted online.”

But I’m less troubled by the indictment in this particular case.

Here’s what Michael posted to Facebook, broken down:

These guys will get whats coming to them … My master assures me that the DEA will be exterminated and humiliated before the end is over …

No true threat there. It sounds like Michael is “threatening” the DEA with the a return of Christ. That’s not a real threat, and it should be protected speech. Next:

WE R COMING FOR YOUR PIG ASS. The only thing the DEA knows how to do is lie and deceive … Its time we answered there crimes with bloodshed and torture.

We are getting closer to a true threat here. But nonetheless, I think that this is sufficiently general that it should be protected speech. For most crazy anti-law-enforcement speech, including the above statements, I think the correct response – and the one the law ought to sanction – is to get a warrant and monitor the person. But then there’s this:

I’ll kill whoever I deem to be in the way of harmony to the human reace … Policeman all deserve to be tortured to death and videos made n sent to their families … BE WARNED IF U PULL LE OVER!! IM LIKE JASON VOORHEES WITH A BLOODLUST FOR PIG BLOOD.

This is where I think we have something that the government ought to be able to prosecute. Michael has indicated a desire to kill a law enforcement officer at a traffic stop. That is something that could happen instantly, without further warning. And while the feds might be monitoring Michael and thus would not be caught flatfooted, a local police officer might not be. Using threat laws prophylactically to take a person off the street under such circumstances seems to me a reasonable means to avoid a tragedy. Moreover, the speech value of this particular language is low.

Threats directed at the government ought to be accorded more tolerance than threats directed at a private person. For a private person, the threat itself can constitute a significant psychological harm. When it comes to threatening speech directed at the government, I am more comfortable if threat laws are used in a preventative capacity.

Admittedly, threat laws are not closely calibrated to a preventative role. Once the threat is dissipated, the conviction will remain. Threat laws punish speech. And that being the case, I continue to find them concerning. But their application in this circumstance, at least, seems appropriate to me.

By the way, I had to look up Jason Voorhees. He’s the hockey-mask wearing Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. I guess I’m out of it – at least when it comes to 1980s-spawned horror franchises – but I, personally, was thrown off by the use of his last name.

Australia’s Attempts to Curtail Twitter Bullies Ineffectual

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

The Canberra Times is reporting that the leader of New South Wales is asking the Australian federal government for tighter controls on what are called Twitter “trolls.”

The request is in response to an incident in which a star rugby player received an anonymous vulgar Tweet regarding his mother, who died of pancreatic cancer.

To put this in context, online abuses that get almost universal disapproval here in the United States – but that are protected speech under the U.S. Constitution – are actually out of bounds under Australian law, according to the newspaper:

A Twitter user or troll found to ”menace, harass or cause offence” using the social networking medium could be jailed for up to three years.

A person can be prosecuted under this section if they use a ”carriage service” – essentially, any communication device – to pressure another person, in a way that would be regarded by ”reasonable persons” as being ”menacing, harassing, or offensive”.

There are also laws at state level that can be used to stamp out offensive online behaviour.

But there’s one major caveat. Because these “trolls” set up bogus accounts to do their dirty deeds and then deactivate them quickly, it seems that no one has actually been prosecuted for their Twitter behavior.

Practical Advice for Protest Reporting from Web Chat with Law and Journalism Experts

Friday, August 17th, 2012

I attended yesterday’s web chat about reporting at political convention protests. The chat,
sponsored by Harvard’s Citizen Media Law Project, the International News Safety Institute, and the Free Press organization, was chock full of practical advice served up with a generous helping of what-it’s-like personal accounts.

Natasha Lennard, who has worked for the New York Times and now writes for Salon.com, described how she was among 700 people kettled and arrested in the Occupy Wall Street protests. She said that for the NYPD, if you are in the wrong place, it doesn’t matter if you are press.

“If you stick with the crowd which is what you feel you should do to get the story, you end up in a very precarious situation yourself,” Lennard said.

Andy Sellars, an attorney with Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, made the point that when the police are ordering people to move, it helps in many cases to self-identify as a member of the press, but it might make reporting more difficult as you may wind up getting moved far away from the action.

For unaffiliated citizen journalists, Sellars said that it may be a good idea to use a homemade credential. But he warned not to copy anyone else’s credentials. Using credentials intended to look like they were issued by the police, for instance, may be unlawful in itself and, at any rate, is likely to make you a special target of for officers.

John Knefel, an independent journalist who has a radio show with his sister on Radio Dispatch, described his arrest at Occupy Wall Street. After being thrown to the ground, he was arrested and held for about 37 hours.

It was an ordeal, and Knefel singled out New York’s jail food for special scorn. While the arrest didn’t deter Knefel from attending and reporting from events, he said, it make him less likely to rush to a specific location where arrests were happening.

“Clearly it’s meant to have a chilling effect,” Knefel said. “That’s the goal here. It’s to make activists want to stay home. It’s to make journalists want to not cover things or to not cover them as directly or as intimately as they may want to.”

With a view toward the upcoming major-party political conventions in Charlotte, N.C. and Tampa, Fla., Sellars noted that local laws prohibit certain items. In Florida, prohibited items include tripods and bipods. There are also prohibitions on glass, ropes, and masks.

Natasha Lennard’s practical advice included going the site early to give yourself an internalized map of the relevant portions of the city. Knowing what side street you can duck into could help you avoid getting stuck, she said. She also rattled off a list of items to bring with you. She recommended packing milk of magnesia for cleaning away pepper spray, a bike helmet to wear if the batons come out, a bandana to pull out in the case of tear gas, and a lawyer’s phone number – inked on your forearm.

Lennard noted that you should not expect your cell phone to work if things get heated. Cell sites could get overloaded precisely when you most want to make a call or get information out.

Another web chat on the same topic is scheduled for Thursday, August 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern. To attend, go to the Free Press website. You don’t need to sign up in advance.

CMLP Hosting Talk on Reporting at the Political Conventions

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

CMLP logoThe Citizen Media Law Project has announced that its Digital Media Law Project, along with the International News Safety Institute and an organization called “Free Press,” will be hosting live web chats about legal issues involved in doing reporting/blogging at protests of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The talks will be tomorrow, August 16 at 7 p.m. (I’m guessing that means Eastern Time), and then again next Thursday, August 23 at 8 p.m.

CMLP notes that almost 90 people have been arrested in the United State while doing reporting at protests. The webcasts will include journalists relaying their personal experiences, presented along with legal analysis.

It’s free and there’s no advance signup necessary. Go to the Free Press website to participate.

Free Webinar from RCFP on Covering Protests

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press logoThe good folks at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press are putting on a free webinar for reporters and photographers who are covering events, such as protests, where they could be blocked from reporting or detained by the police. Examples include the Occupy protests as well as the upcoming political conventions in Charlotte and Tampa. Or, you know, if you are in Los Angeles, your local elementary school science fair.

The one-hour webinar will be held May 9, 2012 from 1:00 p.m. EDT. (That’s 12 noon Central, which is my time zone and the time zone where the next big opportunity for reporter-police interaction will be: Chicago, May 20-21, for the NATO Summit.)

The webinar will be lead by Lucy Dalglish, RCFP Exec Director and Gregg Leslie, Legal Defense Director. It looks like they will be giving both a theoretical perspective on where your journalist rights come from as well as practical advice on what to do when confronted or detained by the police.

Excellent stuff! I am signed up and looking forward to it.

To reserve your own place:

https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/941031095

ACLU Sues School After Girls Suspended for “Homicidal” FB Posts Blasting “Ugly” People

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Griffith Public Schools logoGriffith Public Schools expelled three 8th grade girls for Facebook posts evincing a desire to kill ugly students at school. The ACLU has filed suit against the district.

According to the complaint and the Northwest Indian Times, the Facebook discussion began one eighth girl updated her Facebook status to reflect that she had cut herself while shaving her legs. The status update was after school and was visible to those in the students’ “friends” circle:

[Girl 1 status update:] … I hate when I’m shaving my legs and I get he tinyest, microscopic, little [expletive] cut and it bleeds so much and makes me lose like 1/3 of the blood in my body – _ -

The following are excerpts of the conversation that followed:

[Girl 2:] thee only people that make me mad, are 7th graders who dont move out of thee way. & ugly people liike[name][name][name][name] [name]…etc.

[Girl 1:] I would say kill all the ugly people at school than. But I don’t wanna die.

[Girl 3:] i wanna kill people.

[Girl 2:] ii wiish yu wouldnt get caught, cos shiit, half thee school would be gone by now…

[Girl 1:] I need new best friends. All of mine are homicidal.

In case you’re wondering, the district got the Facebook exchange from a classmate’s mother.

Missing from the mainstream-media write-ups of this is what it says about the ACLU itself to be involved in this case. It sure looks like the ACLU has put itself firmly on the side of the popular, beautiful people. I kind of always thought to ACLU attorneys as recovering junior-high nerds. You know, the kind of kids who were on yearbook and took it really seriously. Maybe that’s just what I wanted to believe …

More:

Rights of Photojournalists to Take Photos in Public

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

People who like to take random photos in public places (like these unfortunate ACLU plaintiffs) are subject to harassment by law enforcement. They shouldn’t be. But they are.

While there is a fair amount of material providing general legal guidance focused on the writing side of blogging (such as at CMLP and EFF), there is a paucity of material advising you on what you can and can’t get away with using a camera.

The best resource I’ve found – although about six years old – is this legal memorandum [pdf] from Kurt Wimmer and John Blevins at the law firm of Covington & Burling, done for the National Press Photographers Association. From the memo:

In summary, we find that there is no federal law that justifies the broad prohibitions that are being imposed on photography in public areas. There is no new federal law, including the Patriot Act, that restricts photography of public buildings and installations on the basis of concerns over terrorism. Restrictions of photojournalism that proceed on this basis may constitute violations of journalists’ First Amendment right to gather news.

I’ll think I’ll print out a copy and put it in my camera bag.

More:

ACLU Sues to Stop Sheriff Harassment of Photographers

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Mosaic of photographs of random thingsSome of the thousands of photographs I’ve taken which, I am sure, the LASD would consider to be without aesthetic value. (More where those came from on Flickr.)

I’m always taking photos of random things. I think it’s fun. And photos are valuable for illustrating blog posts, among other things.

But a lot of law enforcement agencies consider photography to be a “suspicious activity.” You can be seriously harassed for street photography.

Happily, the ACLU is stepping in to do something about it. The ACLU is now suing to challenge a policy of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that considers as “terrorism-related” the activity of taking “pictures or video footage with no apparent esthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.”

If I had a buck for every photo I’ve taken of “security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.,” then I would have a huge wad of cash. Enough to buy a full-frame digital SLR and maybe even get a sweet L-series 400mm telephoto lens.

And I’d run out and use it to take pictures of traffic lights, building entrances, and other stuff like that. And then I’d probably have to call the ACLU for help, because I could get into trouble like their latest plaintiffs Shane Quentin and Shawn Nee.

Quentin was targeted when he was taking photographs of refineries at night in south Los Angeles at night. (I’ve been meaning to do this myself the next time have some extra time down there. The refineries at night are stunning – fortresses of light, flame, fog, and exhaust. Highly photogenic in my book.) Well for his efforts, Quentin was frisked and placed in the back of squad car. He was kept there for about 45 minutes before he was let go.

It could have been me.

Nee’s misadventures are even harder to fathom. LASD deputies detained and searched plaintiff Shawn Nee when he was taking pictures turnstiles at an L.A. Metro station. This gives you an idea of where they were at: They asked Nee if he was planning to sell the photos to al-Qaeda.

Really. I’m not making that up. I mean, not only are they imply that he was in league with al-Qaeda, but that he was doing it for the money.

Then the LASD officers threatened to stick Nee on an FBI “hit list.” Okay, that’s absurd. Everyone who watches USA network knows that the CIA is in charge of assassinating terrorists on U.S. soil. But I digress.

On a separate occasion, sheriff’s deputies ordered Nee to refrain from taking photos along the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, outside the W Hotel. I mean, holy heck. If you aren’t safe taking pictures there – smack-dab in the middle of freaking Hollywood – where are you?

You can tell I’m upset. I’m using far too much italics.

The ACLU’s complaint [pdf], unlike this blog post, is a model of legal writing. For one, it’s written with a literary flair, yet it refrains from crossing the line into floweriness. Like this:

Photography is not a crime; it is a means of artistic expression. In public spaces, on public streets and from public sidewalks, no law bars Los Angeles residents and visitors from photographing the world around them, from documenting their own lives or using their lenses to find the sublime in the commonplace.

Nicely said. The complaint also is filled with footnoted references to essays, art reviews, and books. It’s very well-researched. A model pleading. Kudos to the ACLU. What’s more, this is a lawsuit that is badly needed to push back against an unhealthy trend. As the complaint says:

Over the past several years, law enforcement agencies across the country have implemented “suspicious activity reporting” programs, under which officers are trained to report certain categories of behavior believed to be potential indicators of terrorism. Many departments include photography as one such ‘suspicious activity’ that should be reported.

Mickey H. Osterreicher said in a letter to L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca that the aim is to get “at least” the L.A. Sheriff’s Department to revise departmental policy and instruct deputies correspondingly.

“Safety and security concerns should not be used as a pretext to chill free speech and expression or to impede the ability to gather news,” Osterreicher said.

More:

Mobile App Legal Guide for Occupy

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Apple iPhone with stick figure elements, shown running awayThe good folks at the Citizen Media Law Project have introduced a mobile app for their legal guide to citizen reporting on Occupy. I wanted to make sure to make a note of that on Blog Law Blog because (1) it may be of help to on-the-go bloggers at Occupy, and (2) it gives me another chance to use the graphic I worked up for when Apple lost another iPhone prototype.

Hey: reduce, reuse, recycle.

State v. Turner: Incitement to Violence and Jurisdictional Questions

Friday, October 21st, 2011
Mugshot of "Hal" Turner from the Connecticut State Capitol Police

Connecticut State Capitol Police mugshot of blogger Harold Turner

As a new feature here at Blog Law Blog, I’m publishing selected court opinions in their full form.

The first opinion I am putting up is State v. Turner, a new trial court opinion out of Connecticut.

In this criminal matter, blogger Harold Turner (“Hal Turner”) is alleged to have violated Connecticut’s incitement statute with material he posted to his Turner Radio Network or “TRN” blog (which Google’s Blogger has taken offline).

Upset by a pending bill in the Connecticut legislature regarding finances of the Catholic church, Turner, while being located in New Jersey, is alleged to have blogged:

TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. To that end, THIS WEDNESDAY NIGHT ON THE “HAL TURNER SHOW” we will be releasing the home addresses of the Senator and Assemblyman who introduced bill 1098 as well as the home address of Thomas K. Jones of OSE. …

It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die.

If any state attorney, police department or court thinks they’re going to get uppity with us about this, I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too …

Turner was arrested after this post and before the home addresses were released.

Turner claimed he was protected by the First Amendment and that, as a jurisdictional matter, the Connecticut statute shouldn’t apply to blogging he did in New Jersey.

On the extraterritorial jurisdiction issue, the court quoted precedent to hold that since the threatened action was “closely tied to the public welfare of” and was “intended to produce … detrimental effects within” Connecticut, the court had jurisdiction under the statute.

On the First Amendment question, the court applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard announced in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). Under that case, in order to qualify as incitement, and therefore be denied First Amendment protection, the speech at issue must be “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” In other words, the keys are imminency and likelihood.

The court held that blogging Tuesday about “THIS WEDNESDAY NIGHT” qualified as imminent.

As to likelihood, one might wonder how likely it really was that such a blogged rant would actually produce action. Indeed, it does seem a little dubious to believe that Turner had some reader out there ready to do his bidding. But the court held – properly I think – that this issue should go to the jury. In sum, the judge’s reasoning was: These are crazy times and there are lots of crazy people out there. In the court’s own words:

Of course, most Connecticut Catholics or other citizens would not have been persuaded by the defendant’s message to take up arms and attack state officials with physical force. However, the court cannot overlook the fact that we live in an age of terrorism and violence, including violence concerning difference in religious doctrine, and that there are unstable individuals with access to firearms … One need only go back approximately ten years from today’s date to recall the devastation that religious fanaticism can produce in this country.

The full court opinion:

More:

UK Anti-Terrorism Law Invoked Against Dad Who FB’d Photo of Daughter Eating Ice Cream in Mall

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Four-year-old girl eating ice cream on a seat fashioned like a pink Vespa scooter

The face of terrorism? (Photo: Chris White)

Chris White used his cell phone to take the adorable photo at right of his 4-year-old daughter eating ice cream in the Braehead Shopping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland. And with that, Mr. White took his fateful step toward becoming a terrorist – or so it would seem in the view of authorities who then swooped down on him.

To be entirely frank, I would understand authorities accusing me of terrorism for bringing my 3- and 6-year-old boys into a shopping mall. They go berserk in public spaces. Generally, you can’t capture a non-blurry photo of my boys with a cell phone – they move too fast. Often they are moving fast in a way that constitutes an immediate threat to property and person. But this photo of Chris White’s daughter seems to me to have nothing-to-do-with-terrorism written all over it.

I will let Mr. White explain what happened in his own words:

Walking down the shopping mall a man approached me from behind as I was carrying my daughter in my arms. He came from behind me, cutting in front of me and told me to stop. That was quite a shock as I am wary of people with crew cuts and white shirts suddenly appearing in front of me [Me too. –EEJ], but then realised he was a security guard. He then said I had been spotted taking photos in the shopping centre which was ‘illegal’ and not allowed and then asked me to delete any photos I had taken. I explained I had taken 2 photos of my daughter eating ice cream and that she was the only person in the photo so didn’t see any problem. i also said that I wasn’t that willing to delete the photo’s and there seemed little point as I had actually uploaded them to facebook. He then said i would have to stay right where I was while he called the police …

The older police officer … said that there had been a complaint about me taking photos and that there were clear signs in Braehead shopping centre saying that no photographs were allowed. I tried to explain that I hadn’t seen any clearly displayed signs and that I had taken 2 photos of my daughter. … He then said that under the Prevention of Terrorism Act he was quite within in his rights to confiscate my mobile phone without any explanation for taking photos within a public shopping centre[.] … He then said on this occasion he would allow me to keep the photos, but he wanted to take my full details. Name, place of birth, age, employment status, address. … The police officer also said that the security guard was within his rights to now ask me to leave Braehead Shopping Centre and bar me from the premises which I was happy to oblige.

The UK Prevention of Terrorism Act apparently allows the UK’s Home Secretary or a court to issue a “control order” that can restrict a terrorist suspect’s liberty in various ways, including prohibiting the person from possessing a mobile phone. I don’t see in the act where it allows a police officer to exercise that power on the spot when confronting a person the officer believes to be a suspect. But maybe someone who understands UK law better can chime in on that.

Well, after Mr. White started a Facebook page called Boycott Braehead, the story was picked up by the BBC, and within hours the management of Braehead was apologizing and announcing a change in policy so that people will be able to take photos of friends and family. They are also saying they will implement the change at all 11 centers owned by the same company.

Meanwhile, the Boycott Braehead page has 22,381 likes. Check that: 22,475. (It’s going up as I write this.) Now it’s 22,498.

More:

Naomi Goodno: How Public Schools Can Constitutionally Halt Cyberbullying

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Naomi Goodno of the Pepperdine University School of Law has posted to SSRN How Public Schools Can Constitutionally Halt Cyberbullying: A Model Cyberbullying Policy that Survives First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Due Process Challenges.

Here’s the abstract:

There have been all too many recent cases where children are taking their lives because of cyberbullying. One hearbreaking case involved Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, who leaped to his death after his roommate secretly taped him having a “sexual encounter” with another young man and posted it on the Internet. Schools, courts, and legislatures are struggling with how to deal with such tragedies.

Imagine two public school students, Joe and Jane. Joe punches Jane during class. The school is certainly within its legal rights to discipline Joe. Assume, instead, Joe punches Jane while both are walking home from school. The school cannot discipline Joe because the act took place off-campus. Now, assume instead, that Joe, while at home and using his own laptop, creates a website about Jane stating that he wished she were dead and inviting other students to join in with him to punch Jane. Over one hundred students log on to and blog about Joe’s website. Jane finds out about it and is too scared to attend school. If no assault of Jane takes place at school, can the school do anything? Can the school discipline Joe for his off-campus behavior? If the school does take action, would that violate Joe’s First Amendment right to free speech? Can the school search Joe’s personal laptop when he brings it to school, or would that violate Joe’s Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures? Indeed, should the school do anything at all?

These are the questions facing legislatures, courts and public schools, and there are no laws or cases that give succinct answers. This article analyzes current precedent and provides guidance on how these issues can be approached. It tackles three of the biggest constitutional challenges: how to create a public school cyberbullying policy that ensures schools are safe without trampling on students’ First Amendment, due process, and Fourth Amendment rights.

This article proposes a novel analysis concerning the First Amendment issue. In order to protect students’ right to free speech, courts and school officials should first consider the reach of a public school’s jurisdiction to regulate speech that occurs off-campus. Even if jurisdiction is proper, the school must also analyze whether it can regulate the substance of the speech. Next the article tackles the due process issues and problems with vague and overbroad constitutional challenges. Finally, the article addresses when school officials can search a student’s personal electronic device when there is suspicion of cyberbullying. No other article has fully addressed this set of constitutional issues.

As part of this analysis, I have drafted a proposed cyberbullying policy that would likely survive constitutional scrutiny.

Prosecutor Michael C. Green Should Resign

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Monroe County District Attorney Michael C. Green (Photo: Monroe County)

Prosecutors have dismissed their case against Emily Good, who was arrested for video recording Rochester, N.Y. police officers during a traffic stop. Good, who was doing the filming while on her own property, was charged with “obstructing government administration.”

The entire affair was a rank abuse of power.

The police involved should be disciplined. Many have chimed in to call for that, and an internal review is pending. But what I have not seen much discussion of is the role of the DA’s office in this.

Good was arrested May 12. It took until yesterday, June 27, for the DA’s office to get rid of this case. That is, they waited until after a media firestorm and protests erupted. The fact is, Good never should have been charged. The DA’s office in Monroe County, N.Y. failed in its obligation to protect the public trust. Instead, the district attorney’s office used its resources to intimidate a citizen obviously exercising constitutionally protected rights.

Monroe County DA Michael C. Green should tender his resignation immediately.

Unless there is something big that I’m missing – such as Green being in a coma for the last month – he bears the responsibility for the lion’s share of this disgrace. The police arrested Good. But it was the DA’s office who pursued the case.

The Monroe County DA’s office is a big place, and I understand that, but there is no way this could have escaped Green’s attention early on. Green should have taken action immediately to dismiss the charges and set this right. Instead, by pursuing the case as far as he did, Green – who is an elected official – sent a clear message that he will use the power of his office to protect local government from citizen scrutiny and intimidate its critics.

And, by keeping this going, he forced Good to hire a lawyer to defend herself from these sham charges. Someone had to pay for that. And no citizen should have to endure it. Absolutely outrageous.

Shame on Mike Green.

More:

School Assembly Shocker: Student’s Social Media Skimmed for Slideshow

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Lynde Point Lighthouse near Old Saybrook, Conn. (Photo: Robert J. Beyus, NPS)

A high school in Connecticut illustrated a slideshow on internet privacy with photos of the school’s students, taken from Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Kashmir Hill called the ploy a “clever lesson,” and she gave “[k]udos to the Connecticut high school employee who came up with this dramatic lesson on Internet safety.”

Some students at Old Saybrook High School, however, reacted angrily, saying it invaded their privacy.

Do the students have a point? Legally speaking, yeah, maybe.

I think this would probably not make for an ultimately successful lawsuit for copyright or right-of-publicity infringement. But there’s probably enough on both of those causes of action to file a complaint that isn’t frivolous. And hey, publicity rights have been getting crazy lately, so you never know.

So far no word on whether Righthaven is trying to sign up students for copyright lawsuits.

According to the New Haven Register, principal Oliver Barton said the pictures selected were publicly accessible and thought unlikely to embarrass anyone.

But that didn’t stop the backlash.

For me, I just can’t believe school administrators thought this was a good idea. What a great way to peeve off parents. While I question their sense of judgment, it does look like their lesson is working. Check out this passage from the New Haven Register article:

“They told us we were going to watch something about Internet safety, and they said they personalized the slide show, ” said a freshman named Kayla, who didn’t want to use her last name.

Did you catch that? Kayla didn’t want to use her last name!

Lesson learned.

First Circuit Case on Right to Video Police in Public Places

Friday, March 18th, 2011
Boston skyline over the Charles River (Photo: EEJ)

Boston skyline over the Charles River (Photo: EEJ)

The First Circuit Court of Appeals is considering Glik v. Cunniffe, et al (10-1764), a case that has big-time implications for American bloggers and other members of the citizen media with a bent toward gathering news where it happens.

As the Citizen Media Law Project reports on its blog, Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, the CMLP, and a coalition of other organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several big media companies, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief recently in the case. The amici urged the court to uphold a First Amendment right to gather news in public places.

Here’s the brief: [pdf]

An attorney, Simon Glik, used his cellphone to make a video recording of Boston Police officers arresting a homeless man in downtown’s Boston Common, a big public park. Obviously, the police were annoyed. Glik was then arrested. The charge was an interesting one – criminal wiretaping.

Yes, really.

Glik was charged with a violation of the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99). Here’s the most relevant bits of the law:

B. Definitions. As used in this section—

2. The term “oral communication” means speech, except such speech as is transmitted over the public air waves by radio or other similar device.

3. The term “intercepting device” means any device or apparatus which is capable of transmitting, receiving, amplifying, or recording a wire or oral communication other than a hearing aid or similar device which is being used to correct subnormal hearing to normal and other than any telephone or telegraph instrument, equipment, facility, or a component thereof, (a) furnished to a subscriber or user by a communications common carrier in the ordinary course of its business under its tariff and being used by the subscriber or user in the ordinary course of its business; or (b) being used by a communications common carrier in the ordinary course of its business.

4. The term “interception” means to secretly hear, secretly record, or aid another to secretly hear or secretly record the contents of any wire or oral communication through the use of any intercepting device by any person other than a person given prior authority by all parties to such communication; provided that it shall not constitute an interception for an investigative or law enforcement officer, as defined in this section, to record or transmit a wire or oral communication if the officer is a party to such communication or has been given prior authorization to record or transmit the communication by such a party and if recorded or transmitted in the course of an investigation of a designated offense as defined herein.

C. Offenses.

1. Interception, oral communications prohibited.

Except as otherwise specifically provided in this section any person who—

willfully commits an interception, attempts to commit an interception, or procures any other person to commit an interception or to attempt to commit an interception of any wire or oral communication shall be fined not more than ten thousand dollars, or imprisoned in the state prison for not more than five years, or imprisoned in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one half years, or both so fined and given one such imprisonment.

Do you think what Glik was doing was really “secret”. I kind of doubt it, since he was arrested on the scene.

Specifically, the police noticed what Glik was doing and then asked him whether the phone had audio recording capability. After Glik confirmed that it did, they arrested him.

Why was Glik recording the arrest of the homeless man, by the way? He thought the police were using excessive force. Now you begin to get a picture of just how annoyed these police officers must have been.

Well, the charges were, as you might imagine, quickly dismissed. After that, Gilk filed suit in federal court to vindicate his rights. The district court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and now we are in the Court of Appeals.

Good luck to Glik and the amici!

More:

Sarah Jones Wins Early Motion Against TheDirty.com

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Sarah Jones (Photo, Cincinnati Bengals)

Eric Goldman on Technology & Marketing Law Blog writes about a recent decision in the case of a school teacher and NFL cheerleader against about the meanest blog ever to sail the cyberseas: Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment, 2:09-cv-00219-WOB (N.D. Ky. Jan. 21, 2011).

Jones defeated The Dirty’s §230 safe-harbor defense at the earliest opportunity The Dirty had to bring it up, a motion to dismiss based on the pleadings. But the defense isn’t dead. Now the parties will go through the discovery process – producing documents, undergoing depositions – and we’ll see whether Jones can defeat the §230 defense on the facts.

Goldman doesn’t seem bullish on Jones’ long-term prospects. “Based on what I saw in this ruling, thedirty.com’s editorial contribution beyond the user-submitted content appears to be minimal and probably legally inconsequential,” Goldman writes.

More from me:

WNYC Interview of Previously Censored Tunisian Blogger Lina Ben Mhenni

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Lina Ben Mhenni

Lina Ben Mhenni, photo from her blog

WNYC’s On the Media has run an interview of Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, whose blog, A Tunisian Girl, was banned under now-deposed dictator Ben Ali’s regime.

Ben Mhenni’s influential blog posted pictures of people injured and killed during the recent Tunisian protests.

In the interview, Ben Mhenni says she is currently being followed everywhere and relentlessly harassed by the police, but that there is nonetheless a burgeoning sense of freedom of speech in the country. Journalists are able to work in the open, and her blog is no longer being censored.

While her blog was banned, only foreign audiences were able to read it. Now, she says, her domestic audience is building.

Danielle Citron on Cyber Civil Rights

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. And it reminds me that the relation between blogging and civil rights is one that could use some more exploration.

A paper that discusses many aspects of the relation is Cyber Civil Rights, 89 Boston University Law Review 61 (2009) by the University of Maryland School of Law’s Danielle Keats Citron. [Download from SSRN]

The paper already has 23 citing references on Westlaw. Here is the abstract:

Social networking sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups that attack women, people of color, and members of other traditionally disadvantaged groups. These destructive groups target individuals with defamation, threats of violence, and technology-based attacks that silence victims and concomitantly destroy their privacy. Victims go offline or assume pseudonyms to prevent future attacks, impoverishing online dialogue and depriving victims of the social and economic opportunities associated with a vibrant online presence. Attackers manipulate search engines to reproduce their lies and threats for employers and clients to see, creating digital “scarlet letters” that ruin reputations.

Today’s cyber attack groups update a history of anonymous mobs coming together to victimize and subjugate vulnerable people. The social science literature identifies conditions that magnify dangerous group behavior and those that tend to defuse it. Unfortunately, Web 2.0 technologies accelerate mob behavior. With little reason to expect self-correction of this intimidation of vulnerable individuals, the law must respond.

General criminal statutes and tort law proscribe much of the mobs’ destructive behavior, but the harm they inflict also ought to be understood and addressed as civil rights violations. Civil rights suits reach the societal harm that would otherwise go unaddressed and would play a crucial expressive role. Acting against these attacks does not offend First Amendment principles when they consist of defamation, true threats, intentional infliction of emotional distress, technological sabotage, and bias-motivated abuse aimed to interfere with a victim’s employment opportunities. To the contrary, it helps preserve vibrant online dialogue and promote a culture of political, social, and economic equality.

Is the Tyler Clementi Act a Threat to Free Speech?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

David French in the National Review Online argues that the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act (H.R. 6425) is a threat to free speech.

As I mentioned previously, the bill specifically targets cyberbullying and includes blogging activity within its coverage. My discussion of the bill is here.

French’s argument is that the bill has First Amendment problems because it lacks a requirement that the harassment be “objectively offensive.”

I see his point, but I think he’s off the mark. The text of the bill requires that the harassment be:

sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at an institution of higher education, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment at an institution of higher education

That seems to me to be limiting enough to protect legitimate expressive interests. At the same time it seems specifically tailored to protecting a person’s ability to benefit from a federally funded educational program.

In fact, the bill’s current limitations seem to be more protective of free speech interests than an “objectively offensive” requirement would be by itself.

An objectively offensive requirement would presumably make a jury issue out of how far the content of the speech deviates from community norms. That sounds to me like a device that could marginalize minority viewpoints and cause more First Amendment problems than it solves.

At any rate, I certainly disagree with French’s assertion that the law’s “primary effect will be a greater chill on free expression.” I think the primary effect would be communicating to gay students society’s revulsion at gay-bashing, as well as our commitment to allowing all students, regardless of sexual orientation, to benefit from America’s educational opportunities.

Federal Law Would Require Colleges to Prohibit Harassment by Blog

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

U.S. Capitol dome in daytimeIn response to the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) have introduced in Congress the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, H.R. 6425.

Clementi killed himself by jumping from the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River after fellow students secretly videotaped an intimate encounter Clementi had with another man and uploaded it to the internet.

The bill specifically targets cyberbullying and thereby brings within its ambit blogging.

If enacted as law, H.R. 6425 would require higher-ed institutions, as a condition of participating in federal financial aid programs, to prohibit “harassment” of students by faculty, staff, and other students, whether that harassment is done on or off campus, and it would include harassment through the use of university computer networks.

Under the bill, “harassment” is defined as:

conduct, including acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility (including conduct that is undertaken in whole or in part, through the use of electronic messaging services, commercial mobile services, electronic communications, or other technology) that –

(I) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at an institution of higher education, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment at an institution of higher education; and

(II) is based on a student’s actual or perceived — race; color; national origin; sex; disability; sexual orientation; gender identity; or religion.

[
some signposting removed]

The bill would also establish a grant program for activities aimed at preventing harassment.

I’m not sure how much good this law would do. Will people sufficiently evil to do what was done to Tyler Clementi be deterred by a campus policy? It seems unlikely. But since you can’t legislate tolerance and compassion, I suppose you do what you can do. If nothing else, a new federal law would be an expression that our society’s self-ascribed moral character is incompatible with bullying young people on the basis of sexual orientation.

More: OpenCongress, NJ.com

My Deacon, My Sheriff

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Mike Masnick at TechDirt has a nice succinct synopsis of the incredibly frightening I-can’t-believe-this-happened-in-America story of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida and the government/church joint venture that came after blogger Tim Rich:

As Masnick says,

A local sheriff’s detective, Robert Hinson, who was (in addition to being a sheriff’s detective) a member of the same church, a provider of security to the church, a deacon at the church and a member of the church’s “disciplinary committee,” used his position in the sheriff’s office to open an official investigation into the blog …

I posted about this case a little while back: Justice for a Blogger Ganged Up On By Sheriff and Church.

N.H. KingCast Blogger Lost His Pre-Election Challenge in Court

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Here’s an update on the crusade of left-leaning New Hampshire blogger Christopher King to be able to attend campaign events of Kelly Ayotte, Republican for U.S. Senate.

The Nashua Telegraph reports today that King lost his pre-election request for a federal injunction that would have permitted him entry to Ayotte’s election-day party.

The party went on without him, and it turned out to be a victory party. The Sarah-Palin-endorsed Ayotte beat Democrat Paul Hodes. That keeps the seat – now held by retiring Republican Judd Gregg – in the column for the GOP.

In recent weeks King was bounced out of a Republican fundraiser by the Nashua police – at the organizers’ request – and was barred from attending Ayotte campaign events.

Despite losing the injunction, King is committed to pursuing the case and its crop of constitutional questions. As the Nashua Telegraph explains:

Those issues involve whether a private event that aggressively seeks media coverage can cherry pick which reporters attend and which don’t.

It is also about whether bloggers – including sharp-tongued partisans like King – will receive the same graces of First Amendment shed on mainstream journalists.

This is a case to watch.

Justice for a Blogger Ganged Up On By Sheriff and Church

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Out of Florida is an extremely interesting story involving religion, police, and anonymity for bloggers. Sandhya Bathija has posted about it on The Wall of Separation: I Sued The Sheriff: Unmasked Blogger Gets Some Justice In Florida. Bathija writes:

What would theocracy look like if it ever came to America? … After an anonymous blogger criticized Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church and its pastor Mac Brunson, Sheriff’s Office Detective Robert Hinson engaged in a crusade to find out the blogger’s identity. Operating at the church’s request, Hinson – a member of the congregation who served on the pastor’s security detail – even secured a subpoena from the State Attorney’s Office ordering the Internet service to provide the information.

The blogger, Tim Rich, ended up filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and an assistant state attorney. That suit has now settled to the tune of $50,000. As part of the settlement, the Sheriff’s Office has agreed to provide better training to its detectives on First Amendment issues.

Rich’s post on the settlement is here: FBC Jax Watchdog: Lawsuit Settled with Eye Toward Making Positive Changes