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 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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Sharing an “Objectionable Publication” Gets You 14 Years in New Zealand

The mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand shocked the world a few days ago with approximately 50 killed by a white supremacist who, in brief, explained that he considered Muslim immigrants to be invaders.  As part of his attack, he shared a livestream of the carnage, which has been re-posted around the Internet literally millions of times.

Because using tragedies to strengthen the government’s authority over its people is the thing to do in such situations, New Zealand has begun a crackdown not just on guns (already heavily regulated) but also free speech.  According to local police, who arrested a 22 year old citizen for one of the millions of shares of the video, “[t]he live stream video of the shootings in Christchurch has been classified by the Chief Censor’s Office as objectionable.”  The penalty for anyone who “knowingly makes or knowingly trades, distributes, or displays an objectionable publication via the Internet” is apparently up to 14 years in prison.

Chief Censor’s Office?  Yes, they really have one.

As an American, I get upset whenever my countrymen call to ban “hate speech,” to limit access to Internet and financial infrastructure to Web sites that have extreme views, or to demand that social media companies decide what is and is not “fake news” and remove such content.  Many of us do not know how privileged we are to not have a “chief censor” who can drag us out of our home for sharing something deemed to be too violent or otherwise “objectionable.”

“But why do we need to share such despicable acts?”  Because to outlaw doing so would be to hide reality.  To insulate us from the horrors of the world, as if it makes those horrors go away.  I’ve not seen the video nor do I have any desire to see it, but for the millions who chose to watch, they have a right to see the world as it is, and in doing so have allowed us all to have more confidence that we’re not being spoon-fed bullshit propaganda by a government “censor.”  Just as we should not allow China to hide the atrocities of Tiananmen Square, nor should we allow our own government to hide the gruesome photos of Vietnam, Waco, Abu Ghriab, etc., New Zealand is doing a service to no one by protecting its citizens from reality.

NYPD: Alerting Others to DWI Checkpoints is “Criminal Conduct”

Waze Checkpoint FeatureThe stopping of random drivers to check for sobriety without cause is a search that barely meets constitutional muster.  In 1990, the U.S Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 split decision that sobriety checkpoints are legal (Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990)), but part of its decision considered that drivers were free to avoid those checkpoints by making a u-turn.  About a dozen states have outlawed the practice.

If a part of the constitutionality of a search depends on one’s ability to avoid it (just like the “if you don’t like it, just don’t fly” argument in favor of TSA nonsense), then a means for obtaining knowledge of an impending search is necessary. Subsequent cases have made clear that citizens have the right to warn others of police activity: for example, judges in Florida, Kansas, and others have ruled that there is a constitutional right to flash headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps.

Yet, New York police have always had a thing for arresting citizens for “interfering” with them verbally, despite New York law (and possibly the Constitution, absent some pretty compelling circumstances) quite clearly stating that such a charge requires physical interference, intimidation, or interference with telecommunications systems (case ruling against the police when interference is non-physical, listing other cases where police lost the same arguments time and time again).  It’s therefore no surprise that an NYPD attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to Waze, the driving directions app that allows you to flag checkpoints:

Individuals who post the locations of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws. The posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving. Revealing the location of checkpoints puts those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk.

Irresponsible?  Maybe criminal?  Given that the Supreme Court has, to date, not allowed secret checkpoints. that seems far-fetched.

The letter was written by Ann Prunty, who lists herself as “Acting Deputy Commissioner, Legal Matters.”  A review of State Bar records shows that she is a licensed attorney, which means she has the duty to avoid sending out letters like this without a good-faith basis for her assertions.

Of course, Ms. Prunty declined to respond to my request for clarification.  I’ll take that as an indication that she’s full of shit.

One silver lining: if the police do actually arrest someone for using Waze, this letter makes not just the individual officer, but the City itself, liable for the false arrest, since it’s now the official policy (“pattern or practice,” if you will) of the government.  Perhaps Ms. Prunty should think before she speaks and puts the taxpayer’s dollars on the line.

TSA Calls In Sick, But No Terror Attacks

This blog has been quiet as I study for the February 2019 California Bar Exam, but I couldn’t help but notice the buzzing around how the government shutdown has affected the TSA.

CNN is now reporting that 10% of TSA screeners are calling out sick, while on a random day that number is in the 3% range.  That doesn’t quite give the full picture.  At some airports, the call out rate is much higher, and management has been forbidden from releasing statistics for specific airports while begging airports with lower call out rates to ship their employees around the country.

Those that have been showing up clearly have less regard for doing their job.  Screeners at New York’s JFK airport have taken to using the PA system to play rap music.  Those at Washington State’s SEA are busily protesting outside the airport.  And at airports across the country, TSA is literally asking travelers for donations of food, as if they were homeless on a street corner:

homelesstsa

I feel for government employees that are going through tough times right now because we have a President who acts like a child.  (“Let’s get our way on border security by crippling our government, including those who secure the border!”).  The shutdown should be ended and no wall should be funded.

But if there were actually terrorists about to strike our nation but for the TSA, they’d have done so.  It’s almost like the whole premise behind the need for the TSA is manufactured to take our rights and our tax dollars with no proportional benefit to our safety.

(No updates on any of my court cases.  No idea if they’re even being considered during the shutdown.)

Trump Bans CNN Reporter from White House after Firing Attorney General – Nationwide Protests Today

 

This blog is really, really not a political blog.  I’m a civil rights advocate, not a partisan.

However, the President today took two steps that cross a line from “politics I may not like” into “authoritarian behavior we should not tolerate.”

First, Trump demanded, and obtained, the “resignation” of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  A.G. Sessions was a regressive who struggled to concede that heroin was more dangerous than marijuana, and no one on either side of the aisle would be sad to see him go but for the obvious reason for the firing: Sessions had recused himself from the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election instead of shutting down the investigation as Trump wanted.  This crosses the line because a president must not interfere with law enforcement investigations, especially when his own staffers are the subject of those investigations (several of which have already plead, or been found, guilty of felonies).  I couldn’t care less if you think the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt:” allowing an official to stop investigations into his own people is flatly fascist regardless of whether the investigation turns out to show no misconduct.  If Mr. Trump has nothing to hide, then there is no reason to obstruct this investigation.

Second, this evening Trump revoked the clearance of CNN’s White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, resulting in the veteran reporter being unable to step foot on White House property.  The justification given by the Trump administration is that he “assaulted” a woman during a press conference.  Take 20 seconds to watch this alleged assault:

A White House intern attempted to take a microphone from Acosta, reaching over and grabbing at him, and Acosta’s arm grazed hers in the process.  It is clear that Acosta committed no “assault,” but rather that Trump was upset at Acosta’s line of questioning and thus ordered him removed.  The only assault here was Trump’s upon the press and upon the First Amendment, and for this, and for blatantly lying to the American public about what happened, Trump has also crossed a line.

Today, protests will occur across the country focused on Trump’s attempt to obstruct the Mueller investigation.  You may find your local event here.  Whether you vote Red, Blue, or are colorblind, ask yourself if the above is ok, and if not, step outside and let the White House know.

USPTO Grants Registered Trademark on Professional Troublemaker

USPTO Registered Trademark for Professional TroublemakerIt’s been a slow fall here at the Professional Troublemaker blog, as I prepare to finish law school in just 2 more weeks. There haven’t been any substantial updates on any of my lawsuits since the summer, as they work their way through the courts.

But, today I got a letter from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office indicating that they’ve completed the registration of a trademark for “Professional Troublemaker.” Near the beginning of the year, I sent in an application, largely as a way to get some experience with trademark law. Filing trademarks can now be done entirely online and registration of a simple mark comes with a fairly reasonable $225 fee, so long as you complete the process without any paper filings.

I’m not sure I got too much useful experience or learned a whole lot from the process — I spent half an hour submitting online forms, gave them the filing fee, waited about 8 months, and got my mark with no hassle — but it’s always interesting to me to see how another area of law works.

So, watch out, imposter troublemakers: the name is mine!

(Why would I pick the name Professional Troublemaker? What is a “profesional troublemaker?”)

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part IX — N.Y. High Court Won’t Hear)

This is the ninth 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!), Part VIII (appeal to N. Y. high court). 


A brief update: To the surprise of no one, the N. Y. Court of Appeals has denied (.pdf) my motion for leave to appeal my gun license case, this concluding my state-level judicial remedies.  In doing so, the Court has continued a long-standing tradition not of coming out and approving the City’s gun laws, but refusing to even consider the matter.  Since the U. S. Supreme Court clarified a decade ago that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right not tied to militia membership, the N.Y. Court of Appeals has refused every case that has come its way on the matter.

The leading case on gun rights in this jurisdiction is, in fact, a federal case that the N.Y. high court also refused to hear.   And so, this is the way my case will go: the next update will be a pleading filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asking the federal courts to declare that the due process I have received to date has been deficient.  My license app was decided by a corrupt cop, reviewed by a court that applied the wrong standard, and appealed in courts that simply didn’t care.

Let’s fix this.  Stay tuned.

 

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.

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.

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