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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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Jonathan Corbett

Jon Corbett is a civil rights advocate known for filing the first lawsuit against the deployment of TSA nude body scanners, as well as defeating the body scanners live in "How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners." Presently a law student, he continues to advocate for travel and privacy rights. Twitter: @_JonCorbett, Web: https://professional-troublemaker.com/

NYPD Union: City Complaint Agency “A Disgrace” for Fourth Amendment Tweet

In New York City, garden-variety complaints of police officer misconduct can be filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a city-run agency with the power to investigate complaints and recommend sanctions to the police commissioner when warranted.  The existence of the CCRB provides an avenue for the public to report problems other than to the courts — probably saving the city a fortune every year in judgments, settlements, and legal fees.

On May 4th, the CCRB tweeted about the Fourth Amendment, with a link to report to them police violations of the same.  This was apparently too much for the NYPD’s Sergeants Benevolent Association, who responded on Twitter with this gem:

 

And cops wonder why the NYPD is, er, unpopular, with the people: they think they are above the law because they have a difficult job.  Accountability and respect are not mutually exclusive, and the NYPD must stop this childish us-vs-them mentality with those who demand the former as a prerequisite to the latter.

It’s not a surprise that this is the #1 most liked reply on the SBA’s tweet:

  

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part VIII — Appeal to N.Y. High Court)

This is the eighth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected),Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed), Part V (appellate briefing complete), Part VI (N.Y. Appeals Court Not Interested in Ending NYPD Corruption), Part VII (Corruption? You Can’t Prove It!).


 

Motion for Leave to Appeal to N.Y. Court of AppealsThe U.S. Supreme Court has made pretty clear that a “total ban” on any particular gun right is unconstitutional.  They seem to be pretty clear that it doesn’t matter whether the total ban is only on the carrying of weapons, or on all ownership, or even on certain classes of weapons.  No total bans.

But, what is a “total ban?”  According to the appellate court that denied my appeal last month, “New York’s handgun licensing scheme does not impose any blanket or near-total ban on gun ownership and possession.”  But if an ordinary citizen with no criminal record is denied a license, denied an administrative appeal, denied a court petition, and denied an appeal of that denial, how does that not amount to a total ban for me and for every other ordinary citizen with no criminal record?  What, exactly, would the state have to do to have a “total ban” in the eyes of N.Y. Supreme Court, Appellate Division?

Yesterday I asked the highest court in the state, the N.Y. Court of Appeals, to settle the matter.  The court appears to have passed on pretty much every gun licensing case sent its way since the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2008 that gun ownership is an individual right that requires no militia membership, and clarified in 2010 that the Second Amendment applies to the states.  The Court of Appeals’ failure to consider the issue in about a decade, after important changes in constitutional law at the federal level, have resulted in a patchwork of decisions from the trial and appellate courts, all of which have invented their own rules.

Appealing to the high court of New York is actually a pleasant experience compared to New York’s intermediate appellate court, which requires 8 copies of every document with special tape binding, a PDF version with digital bookmarks, and a $315 fee, among other weird requirements.  And it’s a daydream compared to the U.S. Supreme Court, which requires 40 copies (!!) of everything, a $300 filing fee, and a garbage bag (really).  The Court of Appeals requires only 7 copies (double-sided ok), a $45 filing fee, and no choice of drawstring or twist-tie.

In the meantime, the federal criminal trials of several officers in the NYPD’s Licensing Division for taking bribes in exchange for gun licenses continues.  One officer has pled guilty and is testifying on behalf of the feds:

David Villanueva, an ex-supervisor in the NYPD’s License Division, said he and other cops — including officers Richard Ochetel and Robert Espinel and Lt. Paul Dean — were on the take for years from so-called gun expeditors.

In exchange, the officers doled out pistol permits like candy — even to people who should not have had them, Villanueva said.

One expeditor, he said, may have had ties to organized crime. Another got help with 100 gun permits over the years — “none” of which should have been approved.

Source: New York Post

Here’s to hoping that while the Court of Appeals clarifies New York law, it also takes up my invitation to end the corruption in the Licensing Division.

Corbett v. City of New York IV – Motion for Leave to Appeal (.pdf)

Flash Factory Pays $10K to Settle Groping Lawsuit

Flash Factory SettlementGoing out on a Friday night shouldn’t involve having a security guard grab you between your legs “for your safety.”  And when nightlife security does it without obtaining the informed consent of each patron before the search, it’s sexual assault.

Now-defunct New York City nightclub Flash Factory learned this lesson the hard way as it agrees to pay out a $10,000 legal settlement to civil rights advocate and yours truly Jonathan Corbett, and co-plaintiff Elise Domyan, on top of a $50,000 default judgment already levied against its security contractor Ward Security Inc., owned by Walter Degolyer of Lake Grove, N.Y.  A motion is pending before New York County Supreme Court to hold Mr. Degolyer personally liable in the 2017 lawsuit.

Ms. Domyan relayed the following to me in response to the case closure:

“Sexual assault happens every day, and it is quite common for survivors to feel like they don’t have any recourse or a chance for justice.  I know that one lawsuit won’t change the world, but maybe it will give nightclub owners and security firms a moment’s pause in the future, or encourage other survivors to pursue legal action against their attackers.”

The settlement and judgment indeed offer strong incentive for bars and clubs to respect the physical autonomy of their patrons.  Hiring an independent security company does not absolve the establishment of liabilitynot in the Court of Yelp, and not in a court of law.  It is unclear why Flash Factory owners Michael Satsky and Brian Gefter closed, and then sold, their establishment late last year, but having a 2 out of 5 rating due to abusive staff, absurd lines for pre-paid ticket-holders, and $18 drinks, probably didn’t help.

As for Ward Security and Mr. Degolyer, who also go by Alpha 1 Security Group, Inc. and “AAA Security,” so far we’ve collected $10,000 from their surety bond, which New York requires from all security companies, and we work to collect the remaining balance through a variety of means available.  (If I were Mr. Degolyer, I’d be getting in touch to work out a settlement of the matter ASAP.)

U.K. “Knife Control” Gone Wild: Stop & Frisk Arrives in London to Confiscate Your Pointy Things

Confiscated Hand Tools
“Oi! You got a permit for those pliers?”  (Yes, this is a real Tweet)

The ordinary citizen, and even most police officers, in the U.K. cannot legally own a gun.  As a result, gun crime is fairly low, yet murder in London has still reached record highs, surpassing New York City, as a result of stabbings.

Their response?  To implement tight “knife control” and start stopping-and-frisking people on the streets to find people carrying around anything pointy.

Police departments all over England are bragging on social media about the “weapons sweeps” they are conducting.  The recoveries have included ordinary scissors, screwdrivers, pliers, a file, and even a butter knife.  When questioned (well, mocked) about the butter knife on Twitter, Hackney Police said, “Thanks for your insightful & original retort. The fact remains, a ‘butter knife’ in the chest will kill as surely as a bayonet.”

Butter Knife
“Oi! You need a loicense to butter that toast!”  (Also a real Tweet)

What’s worse, they’re bragging about what they call “stop-and-search,” their version of the mostly-defunct “stop-and-frisk” that the NYPD used to unconstitutionally search 800,000 people in one year alone, finding weapons less than 2% of times.  The NYPD insisted that the program was responsible for a drop in crime until they were ordered to stop by a federal judge and crime stats in New York continued to improve.

 

It seems difficult to find the rules describing the circumstances under which English police may search an individual on the street, but as far as I can gather — and knowing they have no constitutional amendment against unreasonable search — it’s whenever an officer has reason to be suspicious.  (I welcome corrections if anyone can find an official policy.)  And good Brits will bend over and take it, because as this retired British police officer mused:

We hear the statistics that suggest intelligence led stop and search gets positive results in a third of all cases, but what we don’t know is what happens when an officer decides not to stop and search someone they are suspicious of. Does that person then go on to do something terrible?

No, actually, police are suspicious of everyone, and most will not go on to commit crimes with concealed screwdrivers.

Here in the States, I think there is reform we can do to make it more difficult for people who shouldn’t have a gun to get one.  But today we hear useful idiots like Larry King and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens call for a full repeal of the Second Amendment — literally calling for the government to take our guns.

Apparently, that doesn’t stop murder: people are really good at finding ways to kill each other.  The correct solution is to remove the desire, whether motivated by mental illness, religious hatred, or otherwise.  The incorrect solution is what has led the U.K. on a path to tyranny and dry toast.

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part VII — Corruption? You Can’t Prove It!)

This is the seventh installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed), Part V (appellate briefing complete), Part VI (N.Y. Appeals Court Not Interested in Ending NYPD Corruption).


Appellate Division: Affirmed.Yesterday the Appellate Division of the N.Y. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling dismissing my challenge to New York’s corrupt practice of issuing gun licenses only to those whom the NYPD feels have a “good reason” to have a gun — a practice that has resulted in corruption for a century now.  This result is, of course, not surprising: as the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), approaches its 10 year anniversary, New York courts still petulantly resist the mandate that firearm ownership is a right — not a privilege, and not requiring membership in a “militia” — subject to intermediate scrutiny or higher.

In this case, the Appellate Division has finally used “intermediate scrutiny” by name, which is a slow step towards acceptance of Heller.  Intermediate scrutiny is the lowest level of scrutiny that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed for gun laws since Heller, and it requires that a regulation be: 1) substantially tailored, 2) to an important government interest.

As should be obvious, that’s a 2-part test, and while the “important government interest” part is easily satisfied (it’s certainly reasonable for the government to want to protect its citizens from gun violence), the Appellate Division has plugged their ears to the second part of the test.  During oral arguments, I specifically asked the judges to require that the most vague, invasive, and irrelevant questions on the gun license application, all of which ask if you have ever done something (e.g., taken a prescription painkiller under doctor supervision) be narrowed by temporal or other boundaries:

Justice Sweeny: “[The disputed questions are] not the be all and end all.  It could very well be the basis for further investigation.  Why is that not relevant?”

Jon: “Right, because they could narrowly tailor it.  They could say, ‘have you used [prescription painkillers] for more than a week?’  Have you done it within the last 5 years?  Any of these things would allow them to more narrowly tailor it.”

[Watch Oral Arguments] [More Details About Oral Arguments]

Their decision, of course, is silent on the matter, stating that the rules “are justified because they serve to promote the government’s” interest without any thought to tailoring.  In affirming the court below, the Appellate Division has made it clear that they refuse to set any boundaries whatsoever on gun license restrictions in this state.

Further, the court continues to ignore the persistent corruption in the NYPD Licensing Division:

“Petitioner has not established that the denial of his application was the result of corruption or other impropriety”

This ignores the fact that my original case in the lower court was dismissed before I had a chance to gather or present any such facts.  I got no period of “discovery” or any other procedure by which I could demand the turning over evidence.  Meanwhile, officers literally in the office where and when I submitted my gun license application have pled guilty to federal corruption charges, admitting they accepted cash in exchange for approval of gun licenses.  Under these circumstances, due process is lacking whether I can prove that my individual case was affected or not.

I look forward to petitioning New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to hear this case.

Microsoft Bans “Offensive Language” from Skype

Update to the Microsoft Services Agreement E-mailThis morning, I got the kind of e-mail that most of us ignore: “Update to our terms of service” from Microsoft.  But I love waking up to read a good contract in the morning, so I had a look at the summary of changes to the “Microsoft Services Agreement,” which applies to things like Skype, Office 365, OneDrive, and a whole list of other services.  The summary turned out to be a 27 bullet point document of mostly bland changes — except for point 5:

5. In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited. We’ve also clarified that violation of the Code of Conduct through Xbox Services may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licenses, Xbox Gold Membership time, and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.

Looking through the full text of the new agreement, I found the relevant change in Section 3(a)(iv):

Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).

So wait a sec: I can’t use Skype to have an adult video call with my girlfriend?  I can’t use OneDrive to back up a document that says “fuck” in it?  If I call someone a mean name in Xbox Live, not only will they cancel my account, but also confiscate any funds I’ve deposited in my account?  (And are we no longer allowed to shoot people in Call of Duty?  Animated violence doesn’t really get any more “graphic” than this Microsoft-approved video game offers.)

And how are they going to enforce this ban?  Are they going to be looking through my Skype sessions?  Section 3(b):

When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue.

Got it.

What’s clear here is that Microsoft is reserving the right to cancel your account whenever they feel like it.  They do nothing to define “offensive language” (or “graphic violence,” for that matter) and in 2018 when anyone can be offended by anything, these terms allow Microsoft staff to play unrestrained censor if and when they choose.  Given that Google’s YouTube uses that power to remove politically “sensitive” videos (like those on legal firearm modifications), should we expect that Microsoft will also be removing content and users to earn PR points with the politically correct movement du jour?

What’s also clear is that they reserve the right to go through your private data, and these terms seem to pretty clearly allow them to watch and listen to your Skype calls, so long as they are “investigating” something.  The terms don’t appear to require any complaint to be filed against you — just that an employee decide that they want to “investigate.”

I’ll be setting my Skype account not to renew itself.

[Update 1 – Welcome to those new to the blog!  Professional Troublemaker primarily focuses on civil rights issues, especially privacy rights, and you may recall my work publicly embarrassing the TSA for their flawed body scanners and other failures.  If keeping our government — and occasionally large corporations — in check when they refuse to check themselves interests you, please hit that Follow button at the bottom of the page or follow on Twitter!]

[Update 2 – I’ve been banned from Reddit’s /r/Microsoft for sharing this story…

Banned from /r/Microsoft

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part VI — N.Y. Appeals Court Not Interested in Ending NYPD Corruption)

This is the sixth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed), Part V (appellate briefing complete).


 

Courtroom at N.Y. Appellate Division, First Department
This is seriously the courtroom. Budget for stained glass dome? Yep. Budget to notify litigants when their cases are scheduled for oral arguments? Eh, that sounds pricey.

A few weeks ago, I checked the calendar of the N.Y. Appellate Division, First Department, and noticed my gun licensing case — challenging the constitutionality of allowing the NYPD to decline licenses for failing to provide a “good reason” to grant them amid a plague of cash-for-licenses corruption scandals — was scheduled for oral arguments.  In any other court, I’d have received an e-mail or a letter noting the request for my presence, but apparently the First Department doesn’t roll that way.

Oral arguments in appeals are a fun exercise.  Appeals are 95% done in writing (“briefs”), and oral arguments are usually at the discretion of the court.  By the time oral arguments, if granted, come around, both sides have had their full say on paper.  And, in theory you come prepared with an argument, but about 15 seconds after you open your mouth in front of the group of judges looking down on you, you’ll hear, “Counselor, …” followed by continuous questions for the rest of your allotted time.  And, these questions are no softballs: they almost exclusively ask you about the parts of your brief that they feel were, well, less than convincing.

So, while it is a surprise that the court has the technical capacity to live stream the arguments, it’s no surprise that they didn’t go easy on me.  But one thing I did find a bit unusual: the judges had no interest in hearing the corruption aspect of the case:

Jon: I’m asking for two things in this case: number one, for the court to end a 100-year tradition of corruption in the NYPD licensing division…

Justice Gesmer: I don’t see how that issue is before us.

Jon: Your Honor, the issue was thoroughly briefed.  Essentially…

Justice Gesmer: Well I understand it’s briefed, but there’s no factual record before us.

There’s no “factual record” — that is, evidence presented in the lower court — at all, because the lower court dismissed my petition before any fact gathering could take place.  The record from the court below is literally just the City’s motion to dismiss, my opposition to that, and the rubber-stamping of that motion in one of the most poorly written opinions I’ve personally had issued against me in nearly a decade of litigating civil rights issues.

The correct decision for the Appellate Division would be to remand my case to the lower court to develop that factual record.  I’ve properly alleged a denial of due process (an official who takes bribes clearly cannot adjudicate fairly), and I should be entitled to prove it, via a period of discovery where I can depose the officers of the licensing division.  But realistically, I don’t expect any relief from this court.  The decision from this court may take a couple of months, and then in all probability it’s on to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Cancun Airport Attempts “Man-in-the-Middle Attack” On Web Connection

Warning: This post is technical.  The non-technical tl;dr is that the airport lounge network in Cancun attempted to hack my Internet connection to work.


Mera Business Lounge @ CUN AirportIf my flight is in the evening on a weekday, I’ll often show up at the airport early, work from the airport lounge, and catch my flight.  They tend to have reliable Internet, I get to spend the day eating and drinking for free, and I don’t have to worry about traffic or making my flight on time.

I sat down in the “Mera Business Lounge” in CUN’s Terminal 3 last week and went to log into my work server via “SSH” — a secure protocol commonly used to interact with Linux computers — and was somewhat surprised to see this:

$ ssh -i xxxxx jon@127.0.0.1 (not the actual address)
@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
@ WARNING: REMOTE HOST IDENTIFICATION HAS CHANGED! @
@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
IT IS POSSIBLE THAT SOMEONE IS DOING SOMETHING NASTY!
Someone could be eavesdropping on you right now (man-in-the-middle attack)!
It is also possible that a host key has just been changed.
The fingerprint for the RSA key sent by the remote host is
SHA:256:wS09c2yexsr6pbxFdUUJBSsYykAbo02oDxfGV4ctD1Q…

No big deal — I assume someone at work has just changed around something on the server, like the message suggests after the scary warning part.  But, nonetheless, my standard practice is to connect to a VPN and repeat the attempt.  This mitigates any man-in-the-middle attack on the local side of the network, because although an attacker might be between Cancun and my work, if I have a VPN provider attempt the connection for me, the attacker no longer sits in the middle.  If the VPN attempt reports the same key mismatch, it’s probably not an attack.

Well, with VPN enganged…

$ ssh -i xxxxx jon@127.0.0.1
Welcome to Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS…

I actually couldn’t believe it, so I disconnected from VPN, repeated, re-connected to VPN, repeated.  Same result: fingerprint mismatch, no fingerprint mismatch.

A lookup of the external IP address of the lounge showed the network was run by an ISP called “G TEL” —

% Joint Whois – whois.lacnic.net
% This server accepts single ASN, IPv4 or IPv6 queries

inetnum: 148.243.37/24
status: reallocated
owner: G TEL Comunicacion, S.A.P.I. de C.V.
ownerid: MX-GTCS-LACNIC
responsible: Sergio Antonio Bravo Garcia
address: DR. ATL, 2084, Int. 606, Zona Urbana Rio Tijuana
address: 22010 – Tijuana – BC
country: MX

I attempted contacting their LACNIC point of contact and the standard “abuse” e-mail address, but received no reply as of the date of this article.  It’s unclear whether the attacker had access only to the airport lounge local network, or was at G TEL, or somewhere else on the Internet. I also have no reason to assume that I was targeted specifically (instead of, say, targeting everyone who was on the network). But it’s clear that my connection was indeed attacked.

Watch yourself out there!  While “sophisticated” attacks like MitM are uncommon for the everyday Internet user, they apparently happen.  If you ever see those “certificate not valid/trusted” warnings, take them seriously, and understand that if you proceed, any credentials that you’ve put into that Web site — in the future or in the past, as they’ll be taking your authentication cookies — are now in someone else’s hands.

Full session…

MitM Attack @ CUN

$50K Judgment Awarded Against NYC Nightclub Security Firm for Groping During “Security Search”

Default Judgment against Ward Security Inc.A year ago yesterday, I filed suit against now-defunct New York nightclub “Flash Factory” and their security firm “Ward Security Inc.” (of New York, no apparent relation to same-name security firms in Florida and England) for an invasive door search policy that involved full-hand grabbing of the genitals of male attendees and inside-the-bra searches for female attendees, all with no advanced warning of the nature of the search.  A girlfriend and I were shocked to encounter their “actually worse than TSA” pat-down on the way into a music event in December 2016 and were groped before we had a chance to refuse consent.  A search of the Internet showed at least a dozen complaints about this by others and they refused our attempts to try and settle the matter with a policy change, so we took it to the courthouse.

Last week, N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Gerald Lebovits awarded my co-plaintiff and I a default judgment of $50,000 against Ward Security after they refused to show up in court despite repeated service and notice.  The order, dated January 11th, 2018 but entered on February 8th, 2018, thanks to the efficiency of the New York court system, further orders that the case continue against Flash Factory itself, which has shown up to court and appears to be using the, “it’s not our fault what our own security did” defense.  As I previously posted, this defense simply doesn’t work, even if you call your security “independent contractors” and shut your eyes to what they do.  It doubly doesn’t work when you’re on notice that a dozen other people have complained about the same thing.

Our goal is to get these practices to stop, and the only tool at our disposal is a request for money damages, as an order requiring them to stop would require us to show potential future harm to us.  But, money damages have the same effect, as once one party gets a judgment, the company knows that if it doesn’t stop, it will have more of the same.

“I’m thankful for this partial victory. It’s good to know that someone is listening to us, but we’re not done fighting by any means. These practices have to change, and venues like Flash Factory need to know that.”

~ Elise Domyan, Co-Plaintiff

A word to the wise: if your business gets sued and has any assets, including accounts receivable (that is, it’s still doing any business whatsoever), ignoring a lawsuit is a bad way to go.  New York law allows a process for collection against businesses similar to the garnishment of wages against individuals, whereby I can require Ward Security’s clients to withhold payment for services, but the process against a business requires them to withhold 100% of the pay instead of a fraction as they do in wage garnishment.  Security firms are also required to post a surety bond at the time they apply for a license — I’ll be taking that, thank you very much.

Corbett & Domyan v. Flash Factory – Default Judgment Granted against Ward Security, Inc. (.pdf)

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