Back in February, we brought you the delightful news that the Chicago police department was rather broadly known to be operating what was essentially a CIA-style black site within the neighborhood of Homan Square. This facility, located in a rough West Side neighborhood of the city, featured such practices as off-the-books detention, lawyer-less interrogations, and the occasional fatality. This place, where detainees would disappear for hours or days, seemed to be a vacuum of civil liberties and instead operated under the theory that Chicago police were rulers over all, and were owed whatever they demanded. The original Guardian link detailed a number of witness stories from those who had been detained at Homan Square, but very little information was available about exactly how widely the facility was being used.
Thanks to the Guardian's FOIA efforts, however, we have some clarity on how much Homan Square is used and how the police detain people there, and, well, it's extremely chilling to anyone with a modicum of interest in civil liberties. At least 3,500 Americans have been detained inside a Chicago police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility, newly uncovered records reveal. Of the thousands held in the facility known as Homan Square over a decade, 82% were black. Only three received documented visits from an attorney, according to a cache of documents obtained when the Guardian sued the police.
Despite repeated denials from the Chicago police department that the warehouse is a secretive, off-the-books anomaly, the Homan Square files begin to show how the city’s most vulnerable people get lost in its criminal justice system. I wasn't a math major, but three out of thirty-five hundred detainees receiving visits from counsel is something like not-enough-percent. And before anyone goes off on the dangers of the West Side of Chicago or goes off prospecting for dirt on those detained, a review of the charges against many of those detained at Homan Square are laughably mundane. And that's when charges were filed to begin with. Documents indicate the detainees are a group of disproportionately minority citizens, many accused of low-level drug crimes, faced with incriminating themselves before their arrests appeared in a booking system by which their families and attorneys might find them. The CPD response to this, even after the initial story broke months ago, has been that Homan Square isn't a black site, it's simply an undercover base for Chicago police, which, you know, you say tomato, I say black site. Either way, the city's long-running denial maintains that all those arrested are indeed processed through the booking system and can be found by attorneys and families, except the detainees at Homan Square aren't arrested until they're booked at another station, so that doesn't mean anything at all. The Guardian's review of the records show that most of these detentions have occurred under the watchful gaze of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, most of those eventually charged with a crime were charged with anything from traffic violations to drug possession, and under ten-percent of detainees were white, despite whites making up a third of the city's population. And these records only go back to 2004. Homan Square has been in operation since 1995.
After the facts are presented, the article includes the usual quotes from civil rights leaders who lament their own lack of surprise at all of this and who wonder blissfully if anyone will do anything about Homan Square this go around. To hell with that. If you have a brain cell to spare on civil rights for an entire city's population, this ought to both shock you and make you very, very angry.
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This week, we saw yet another example of police trying to get away with flagrant abuse as the deputy who left an unresisting suspect with broken bones and torn ligaments sought immunity, claiming he didn't use excessive force. That One Guy won most insightful comment of the week by pointing out how insane and disturbing this is on every level:If this is how they treat someone who /isn't/ putting up a fight...
Broken leg, bruised bloody and battered face, permanent muscle damage, and how does the cop in question and his precinct respond?
By claiming that he didn't use excessive force.
Just think about what they are claiming here. They're honestly arguing that broken bones and permanent bodily harm is seen by at the very least one precinct as acceptable, for the 'heinous' crime of unintentionally spitting a cigarette in the general direction of an officer.
Yet again the police show why you would have to be an utter fool to trust them, or even want them anywhere near you.
Meanwhile, Universal Music was employing its own brand of excessive force with a series of anti-piracy ads depicting the severed extremities of artists supposedly destroyed by piracy. With a double-win, we've got That One Guy again, this time comparing the campaign to other famously ineffective attempts to brainwash kids:D.A.R.E. to download a car
Funny thing about 'educational' campaigns like this: Kids are actually pretty good at spotting lies and ridiculous hyperbole, and they don't respond well to either.
Telling kids that trying drugs(or downloading music) just once is enough to ruin your life(or the career of a musician) works great as a scare tactic... right up until they see someone who has tried drugs and seems to be just fine, or see a musician who is absolutely swimming in money, despite the constant claims about how piracy is 'destroying music'.
At that point, most of them are going to realize that they've been lied to, and it won't matter if some of what you told them was in fact true, your credibility is now destroyed, and at best they'll probably ignore anything you have to say from that point onward, whether drug or piracy related.
Remember, just because it works on politicians doesn't mean it will work on children, as the latter group is much smarter and and much more able to spot when they're being lied to.
The RIAA was waging its own war against piracy, futilely targeting BitTorrent while exposing a total misunderstanding of how the technology works. From there we get our first editor's choice from insightful — an anonymous comment that scored high on the funny side of things as well:Dear Mr Shipbuilder
We have noticed that you make schooners. Schooners are sometimes used by pirates. Please add this technology to your schooners that will render them unusable by pirates (and most other users).
Next, we head to the insane suggestion from NSA supporters that Apple's encryption could be material support of terrorism based on the fact that they could reasonably foresee the risk of encryption aiding terrorist groups. Chris Brand expertly turned this idea around:"Reasonable and foreseeable risk"
So we know that identity theft and the like happen all the time. By this argument, if my iPhone gets hacked and I suffer a loss, I can go after Apple for *not* encrypting the data, because they made it easier for the hackers.
For first place on the funny side, we return to Universal's gruesome campaign where Michael found a deeper level of irony:Artists that cut off their ear never amount to anything.
For second place, we cycle back round to the story of police violence, where a commenter adopting the moniker Deputy Burgess offered a parody of the sort of defense you so often hear from officers and police apologists:go fuck yourselves
hey people, you don't know the stress of my job. For all I know his cigarette might have contained explosives ricin or child porn, or all three. Think of the danger the public could have been in if he had succeeded. His own actions led to my prompt response in protecting the community and had I not succeeded, the result could have been 9/11 times a thousand. So fuck y'all and Bubba lets go out tonight and keep America free.
For editor's choice, we start by returning one last time to the Universal campaign, where a joke about pirating eyes and fingers led to a discussion about the fact that people absolutely will do that if medical 3D printing is accessible but the necessary blueprints are locked down by copyright. Just Another Anonymous Troll followed this line of thinking to its inevitable and ironic conclusion:...and it's still copyrighted, so you're a pirate and the RIAA will kick down your door and rip your 3-D printed eye out of your skull, ironically forcing you to wear an eyepatch.
Last but not least, though I never expected a top comment to come from one of our Daily Deals posts, the recent offer of an HDTV antenna led to this Aereo callback that's surely worthy of note:The cable is only 10 ft long. That is great! I don't want to be involved in any law suits for using an antenna with too long of a cable.
That's all for this week, folks!
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Five Years Ago
This week in 2010, we called attention to the Campbell Soup Company's positive 1964 reaction to Andy Warhol's art, and wondered how that same situation might play out today (with the smart bet being "cease and desist"). As it happened, we got plenty of examples of aggressive takedowns and legal attacks that very same week: NAMCO demanded the takedown of a kid's project recreating Pacman in a simple learning language, Pilsbury sent its lawyers after the "My Dough Girl" bakery for its mild similarity to the famous Dough Boy, the FBI claimed Wikipedia can't display its agency logo, the RIAA was going after people for sharing Radiohead's free In Rainbows album, the Beach Boys were making a ridiculous copyright claim over Katy Perry's California Gurls... The list goes on and on. At least one ridiculous threat was squashed by public reaction: George Lucas backed down from his threats against Wicked Lasers for daring to be compared by others to lightsabers.
The blocking game was being played at the highest levels around the world, too: while the UAE and Saudi Arabia were moving to ban Blackberries, Australia was grappling with attempts to make ISPs responsible for stopping piracy, and Indonesia was just going ahead and ordering all ISPs to block all porn within two weeks.
Ten Years Ago
Five years before that, some US Senators were more interested in taxing online porn than banning it — though the bill was clearly, undeniably unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in what's become a long-running tradition, America was using a trade agreement (this time the CAFTA) to export the worst parts of copyright law.
The Sprint-Nextel merger was approved while Mozilla was in the process of building its corporate subsidiary; newspapers were still figuring out how to do online news and not always building great websites, while Rupert Murdoch was buying up online media companies. Perhaps the most notable of those purchases was MySpace, a site that was already showing the cracks in its popularity and usefulness.
Also this week in 2005: the ringtone bubble was bursting, people were getting stung by phishing schemes and bad bank security (while the fear of identity theft was great news for the document destruction business), Cisco was learning a tough lesson about attempting security through obscurity, and apparently the astrophysics community was learning a security lesson of its own.
Fifteen Years Ago
The big topic this week in 2000 was e-commerce. Some were questioning whether or not it had any kind of future at all, though others were saying it's doing just fine. The people getting in on the conversation ranged from a small-town mayor who decided e-commerce is evil all the way to the presidential candidates.
Mobile devices were causing all the usual upsets in places people hadn't previously considered them, whether that's bugging people on camping sites or causing mistrials in murder cases. Internet-enabled cellphones were selling well, though it wasn't clear that this had much to do with the under-utilized internet capabilities, and some wondered if PC-dominance in the US was holding back adoption of truly revolutionary mobile devices. But hey, these were the days when a 6-gigabyte MP3 player was news.
Thirty-Eight Years Ago
A couple months ago, we pointed to the release of the Apple II in 1977. Now, hot on its heels, we've got the August 3rd release that same year of the competing TRS-80 Micro Computer System, another major milestone in the history of personal computing.
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Remember the early days of wireless routers, when every city street-corner was home to a dozen unsecured WiFi connections? That was hardly an ideal (or safe) state of affairs, but it did feel rather nice and neighbourly at times, and there was a certain sadness in watching all the open networks get locked down over the years. Today we're looking at Meta Mesh, a project that aims to help communities recapture the good parts of those glory days in a fair, secure and superior manner by building their own distributed bandwidth-sharing networks with ease.
Mesh networking is a powerful idea, and one that embodies the spirit of distributed design and open interconnection that underpins the internet. The basic idea is that by uniting a community on a shared network with no central access point, you can share the huge amounts of unused and inefficiently allocated bandwidth that gets paid for and wasted every day. ISPs, after all, are not doing a good job (or any kind of job) at this allocation: power users pay exorbitant fees and are viewed by ISPs as a problem, low-income users have few if any options for affordable service, and the average person pays for far more bandwidth than they ever use. Few cities can or will offer municipal wi-fi, and those that try often do a pretty poor job of it.
A mesh network lets a community fix all that on its own. The average home or business now has a bunch of powerful wireless networking equipment sitting in a corner to serve a handful of computers and devices — but what if those homes and businesses used that equipment to connect to each other, to turn all their little networks into one big one and extend it throughout the city? The possibilities are huge.
If there's one key reason this isn't already happening in most major cities, it's that it isn't necessarily easy to do. That's what Meta Mesh aims to change by offering a complete guide to setting up mesh networks without a lot of technical expertise, and a web store where people can purchase preconfigured equipment. The necessary gear isn't expensive, and hasn't been for a long time — removing the technical barriers to finding and setting up that gear changes mesh networks from complex projects into simple solutions.
Bandwidth sharing is a critical function of mesh networks, and might be their "killer app" as it were — but the possibilities actually extend far beyond that, which is something I wish Meta Mesh was discussing more. Think of all the other things a community could do with its own ad-hoc network: local versions of geographically-linked services from Craigslist to Uber to Tinder; neighbourhood cryptocurrencies and other tools built on a local blockchain ledger; peer-to-peer sharing that never touches the wider internet. Imagine the possibilities when these networks are extendable and bridgeable. Mesh networks won't just revolutionize how we connect to the internet — they are poised to become a powerful and vibrant part of the the global information network in their own right.
Meta Mesh is a great first step, but I worry that the pitch's focus on bandwidth-sharing makes this sound exclusively like a charitable endeavour, when in fact it's so much more.
Of course, there's little doubt that ISPs will react badly to this. The aforementioned shift from mostly open to mostly locked-down home WiFi networks — though ultimately a good thing for security's sake — didn't happen so rapidly because people started learning about security: it happened because ISPs gave up on their short-lived crusade to stop customers using wireless routers entirely, and started supplying pre-secured ones themselves. You can expect them to be just as crafty in attempting to prevent this kind of bandwidth-sharing too: first by enforcing their anti-sharing terms of service, then if that fails by attempting to take control of the mesh networking world and milk it for every penny (destroying its purpose in the process). It will be a frustrating battle, but one that ISPs are no longer in a position to easily win as more and more people are waking up to the fact that broadband service in this part of the world sucks.
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