Saturday, January 28, 2012

Poland signs copyright treaty and gets street protests

What about the USA? Has Communism made Poles more wary of threats to their liberty?

Poland on Thursday signed an international copyright agreement which has sparked days of protests by Internet users who fear it will lead to online censorship.

Poland's ambassador to Japan, Jadwiga Rodowicz-Czechowska, signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, in Tokyo, she told the all-news station TVN24.

Later in the day, hundreds of people took to the streets of the eastern city of Lublin to express their anger over the treaty.

ACTA is a far-reaching agreement that aims to harmonize international standards on protecting the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion, and a range of other products that often fall victim to intellectual property theft.

It shares some similarities with the hotly debated Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S., which was shelved by lawmakers last week after Wikipedia and Google blacked out or partially obscured their websites for a day in protest.

Poland was one of several European Union countries to sign ACTA Thursday, but it appeared to be the only place where support for the agreement has caused outrage and protests by Internet activists.

Rodowicz-Czechowska said other countries that signed included Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Greece. Several other industrialized countries, including the United States, Canada and South Korea, signed the agreement last year.

Poland's support for ACTA has sparked attacks on Polish government websites by a group calling itself "Anonymous" that left them unreachable for days, as well as street protests in several Polish cities.

ACTA aims to fight the online piracy of movies and music, and those opposed to it fear that it will also lead authorities to block content on the Internet. Critics also say governments have negotiated the agreement in secret and failed to consult with their societies along the way.

Thousands of people took to the streets in past days across Poland to voice their outrage over ACTA. Some taped their mouths shut in a sign that they fear their online freedom of expression will be hampered by it.

In reaction to the widespread opposition, Polish leaders have been struggling to allay fears over it. Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski defended his government's position in a TV interview Wednesday evening, arguing that ACTA is not as threatening as young people fear.

But he said the Internet should not be allowed to become a space of "legal anarchy." "We believe that theft on a massive scale of intellectual property is not a good thing," Sikorski said.


The U.S. signature to the treaty would have to be ratified by the Senate to come into effect so public protests could stymie that


Obama's Justices vs. Obama

Obama has appointed to the Supreme Court people who don't entirely share his taste for aggressive statism

Barack Obama, the law professor who railed against the Bush administration's disdain for privacy, has been to civil liberties what the Hindenburg was to air travel: an unexpected debacle. Time after time, he has chosen to uphold government power at the expense of individual protections.

Warrantless wiretapping in national security cases? For it. Detaining citizens indefinitely without trial? Sure. Assassinating Americans abroad without making public the evidence or the legal rationale? Done. In October 2010, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero pronounced himself "disgusted" with the administration's record.

But there is one big redeeming item on his record: He has appointed to the Supreme Court people who don't entirely share his taste for aggressive statism. In two recent major decisions, both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan have declined to indulge ominous encroachments on personal freedom and privacy.

Their latest stand came in a case where police put a Global Positioning System on a suspect's car and monitored his every move for nearly a month -- without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution bars "unreasonable searches and seizures." But the Justice Department said that's irrelevant because attaching the device did not amount to a search.

At that point during oral arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States" -- a prospect he likened to the totalitarian surveillance depicted in George Orwell's "1984." The government's lawyer did not contradict him.

Obama's Supreme Court appointees recoiled at that prospect -- along with the rest of the court, in a rare unanimous verdict. Both also indicated a willingness to put tighter constraints on police than some of their colleagues might prefer.

Kagan signed onto an opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito taking the view that modern technology demands a new interpretation of what constitutes a search. In this instance, police can acquire far more extensive information about far more people than would have been imagined two centuries ago, when the Fourth Amendment was written.

In cases like this, Alito said, "society's expectation of privacy has been that law enforcement agents and others would not -- and indeed, in the main, simply could not -- secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual's car for a very long period."

To do that without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. The same, he suggested, might hold true for other new sources of information, such as outdoor video cameras and automatic toll equipment. Kagan agreed with all this.

Sotomayor took an even warier view of police use of modern data-collection systems. Under past Supreme Court decisions, you can unwittingly surrender your privacy by doing business with a bank, insurer or other company. The government can commandeer those records without a warrant -- on the odd theory that they are not private because you've already let someone see them.

Of course, the fact that you have to contract with a cell phone provider to function in the modern world doesn't mean you have no stake in keeping your call log strictly between you and Verizon. Sotomayor said the existing, government-enabling doctrine "is ill suited to the digital age." Her position, if shared by other justices, could lead to sensible new constraints on cops.

The Obama justices also firmly rebuked the government when it trampled on freedom of religion. The administration had taken the side of a religion teacher at a religious school who claimed she had suffered employment discrimination.

Ministers and other religious leaders are normally not covered by such laws, on the theory that the government has no business telling sectarian bodies who should lead the faithful. But the Justice Department not only said the teacher was not covered by the "ministerial exception"; it said there should be no such exception.

How did that argument work out? During oral arguments, Kagan called it "amazing," and the court rejected it 9-0. The religion clauses of the First Amendment, it said, "bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers."

Obama would like to extend the government's reach into that as well as other places that were once off-limits. When he tries, though, he can't assume his justices will have his back.



Obama's game plan: Do nothing?

Toward the end of his State of the Union speech, President Obama observed that Washington politicians should learn from the example of the U.S. military: "When you're marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails."

Obama recalled the successful Navy SEAL mission, which under his watch took out Osama bin Laden, and observed, "the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other - because you can't charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there's someone behind you, watching your back."

At first blush, it seemed like a stirring call to action. But when you look at the speech as a whole, and in context, it was a sad admission. Obama constantly carps about his lack of support from the Republican-led House. I think the president has decided that he cannot succeed in the face of political opposition. So he is not charging up those stairs.

Unless Washington walks in lockstep behind Obama, he's not going to try to get anything done.

Consider the White House decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week the administration announced that the president denied the project because of "a rushed and arbitrary deadline" of Feb. 21 embedded in a two-month extension of the 2011 payroll-tax holiday. "I'm disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision," the president lamented.

Obama also lauded the military toward the beginning of his address. "They focus on the mission at hand. They work together," he noted. " Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example."

I can imagine it, but what I see is a president who nixed a shovel-ready job-rich pipeline project that had been under review since 2008, and had passed State Department vetting twice - without exhausting every effort to approve the pipeline, or extend the deadline.

Ryan Lizza wrote an illuminating piece on Obama's "post-post-partisan presidency" in the current New Yorker. As Lizza reported, in 2004 and 2008 Obama framed himself as a Democrat who was above hyper-partisanship. Yet a year into his presidency, a Gallup poll showed Obama to be "the most polarizing first-year president in history - that is, the difference between Democratic approval of him and Republican disapproval was the highest ever recorded."

Lizza wrongly, I think, concludes: "At this political juncture, there appears to be only one real model of effective governance in Washington: political dominance, in which a president with large majorities in Congress can push through an ambitious agenda."

Last month Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Politico that extending the two-month payroll-tax holiday "is essentially the last must-do item of business" the president has with Congress. After that, "in terms of the president's relationship with Congress in 2012 ... the president is no longer tied to Washington, D.C."

In other words, Obama can only govern if Democrats control both houses. Until then, he has taken his marbles and gone home. As Steve Jobs described his dealings with Obama to biographer Walter Isaacson, "The president is very smart. But he kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done."




Google announces privacy settings change across products; users can’t opt out: "Google said Tuesday it will require users to allow the company to follow their activities across e-mail, search, YouTube and other services, a radical shift in strategy that is expected to invite greater scrutiny of its privacy and competitive practices. The information will enable Google to develop a fuller picture of how people use its growing empire of Web sites. Consumers will have no choice but to accept the changes."

Judge: Fifth Amendment doesn’t apply when that would be inconvenient to prosecutors: "A judge on Monday ordered a Colorado woman to decrypt her laptop computer so prosecutors can use the files against her in a criminal case. The defendant, accused of bank fraud, had unsuccessfully argued that being forced to do so violates the Fifth Amendment's protection against compelled self-incrimination."

Pentagon to cut Air Force drone program: "Officials say Pentagon budget cuts will end the Air Force's long-range surveillance drone known as the Global Hawk, but keep the Navy's version of the unmanned aircraft. Defense analyst Loren Thompson says defense officials have decided to rely on the less expensive, high-altitude U-2 spy plane, which has a shorter range but has been used in Asia, particularly to keep an eye on North Korea."

IN: Senate OKs people resisting police “unlawful entry”: "The Indiana Senate today passed a bill 45-5 that would clarify the right of people to resist the unlawful entry into a dwelling by police under certain conditions. ... A person can use force, though, if the officer hasn't identified himself or herself, is not wearing a badge or uniform, and isn't engaged in the execution of duty. But physical force is only permitted if there is no adequate alternative. The legislation is in response to a 3-2 Indiana Supreme Court decision in May that Hoosiers can't resist unlawful police entry into their homes."

Mexico: National voter IDs part of culture: "Office worker Ana Martínez lined up at 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday to renew her voter credential, a document required at a polling station to vote. But voting was not the main reason she was getting it. The free photo ID issued by the Federal Electoral Institute had become the accepted way to prove one's identity -- and is a one-card way to open a bank account, board an airplane and buy beer."

An unconscionable threat to conscience: "In May 2009, President Obama delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame where he proclaimed, to naïve applause: 'Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics ...' What a difference a few semesters make. Last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ordered most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. Taxpayers and premium payers are complicit in paying for these 'preventive health services' whether they object or not."

Paul Krugman is wrong about capital gains taxes: "Capital gains are a wonderful, beautiful, magical thing allowing millions of Americans to change their status in life, and live the American Dream. They aren’t just for Mitt Romney. They are for anyone who ever wants to become Mitt Romney. Or, wants their kids to do better than the last generation."

Gingrich rise is triumph of style over substance: "Gingrich has an enviable rep as a one-man think tank, but in his wilderness years, he made a sweet living as a 'forceful' pitchman for utterly conventional center-left policies: Medicaid expansion, the individual mandate, cap and trade, 'clean energy' subsidies, and the like. Newt does a great impression of a red-state firebrand, but when it comes to policy, 'the color is blue.'"



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


No comments: