Pluralistic: 23 Jul 2020

Today's links

Canadian judge invalidates Safe Third Country Agreement (permalink)

Remember during the Muslim Ban, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted those heart-warming words of support for refugees brutalized by American border-thugs….

And then failed to do a single fucking thing to help those people?

I mean, yeah, JT has never met a progressive policy he wasn't willing to endorse provided he didn't have to expend a single nanogram of political capital in its service.

But where the Prince of Canada would not go, Canada's Federal court has. Today, A Federal Canadian Court invalidated the 16-year-old US-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement, so asylum seekers denied entry to the US can try again in Canada.

The court found that – as was obvious to every non-sociopath in either country – the fact that the US illegally imprisons asylum-seekers means that the US is not "safe" for asylum seekers.

I mean, in case there was any doubt, the US is also run by a violent, brooding narcissist with chronic logorrhea who routinely declares that it is not a safe country for asylum seekers (bit of a fucking giveaway, that).

58,000 people have crossed from the US into Canada, seeking asylum, only to be turned away because good ole JT couldn't be arsed to turn his high-flown sentiments into law (I mean, if only he knew someone who could affect Canadian policy!).

"It is my conclusion, based upon the evidence, that ineligible STCA claimants are returned to the US by Canadian officials where they are immediately and automatically imprisoned by US authorities.

"I have concluded that imprisonment and the attendant consequences are inconsistent with the spirit and objective of the STCA and are a violation of the rights guaranteed by section 7 of the [Charter of Rights and Freedoms]" -Federal court judge Ann Marie McDonald

Supreme Court poised to destroy machine learning security research (permalink)

US lawmaking has a distinctive failure mode: because of the Constitution's absolute language and extensive jurisprudence, lawmakers can please their base by enacting bad, overreaching or stupid laws and then hope the courts will narrow or overturn them before they detonate.

This moral hazard is not evenly distributed: if you are the party that decries "activist judges" and campaigns on the idea that governments are bad at everything, then enacting bad laws and then having them overturned serves your cause especially well.

On a totally different subject, let's talk about Ronald Reagan. After Reagan saw Matthew Broderick's classic technothriller WAR GAMES, he became convinced that America needed a far-reaching cybercrime bill, something Fed prosecutors had been demanding for years.

That's how the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) came into being: it's a maddeningly badly drafted, overreaching, vague law that potentially felonizes any act that "exceeds your authorization" on someone else's computer system.

Private firms have taken the extreme position that since their terms of service define your "authorization" on their computers, that any violation of the terms of service is a jailable felony.

In practical terms, that means that if you violate a company's terms of service – a sprawling garbage-novella of deliberately impenetrable legalese – they can send you to prison, for a very long time. This is really bad.

Most of the time, of course, Fed prosecutors don't like to charge people criminally for violating ToS, but when they have someone they want to punish for petty reasons they can find a ToS violation and charge them criminally.

That's the Aaron Swartz story: Aaron violated MIT and JSTOR's terms of service, and a prosecutor that Aaron had previously humiliated by beating a bullshit charge was able to re-charge Aaron with 13 felonies and threaten him with 35 years in prison.

(Background: Aaron published a trove of paywalled, public domain court records from PACER, the feds' legal repository. He embarrassed the legal system by showing that these court records that anyone could get at $0.10/page were improperly redacted and exposed crime victims)

(Aaron later scraped a bunch of scientific journal articles he was allowed to access via MIT's network; but the system's ToS said he had to access them manually, not via a small script that downloaded them automatically – this was the felony)

(After using legal maneuvers to draw out the case until Aaron and everyone he could tap was broke, the PACER prosecutors were steaming towards a prison sentence for Aaron; he hanged himself rather than face incarceration)

Over the years the CFAA has had many court cases, and these have produced a "circuit split," with some US courts interpreting CFAA narrowly, and others taking a dangerous, expansive view of its text.

Ever heard the phrase "hard cases make bad law?" The thing about overreaching, vague laws like CFAA is that they can be shaped to criminalize ANY conduct, so if there's someone who did something objectively terrible, vague laws give prosecutors an easy path to "justice."

Nathan Van Buren is an accused dirty cop who sold access to license plate databases to his confederates. Prosecutors decided to charge him under the CFAA, which could indeed mete out severe punishments for this kind of bad behavior.

But that punishment comes at a high price: a precedent that could be wielded against ANYONE who violated Terms of Service, something that all of us do, a hundred times a day, without noticing it. It would give prosecutors leeway to do what they did to Aaron, over and over.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Van Buren, and, as is customary in this kind of high-stakes hearing, different groups are racing to file amicus ("friend of the court") briefs explaining the knock-on effects of a bad ruling.

In support a briefs, a group of legal, security, AI, and human rights scholars published "Legal Risks of Adversarial Machine Learning Research," exploring the potential impact of Van Buren on the critical work of analyzing machine learning models.

Adversarial Machine Learning is the vital process of systematically testing machine learning models to reveal security defects, bias, and other problems. It is high-stakes work: without AML, you can trick car autopilots into steering into oncoming traffic!

AML is also key to revealing racial bias in risk analysis software, facial recognition, predictive policing, hiring algorithms, and a host of other areas in which peoples' freedom, prosperity, safety and very lives are at stake.

The authors explain in admirably plain language how a bad decision in Van Buren puts this enterprise at risk – how it could leave us (literally) flying blind, forced to rely on self-serving assurances of vendors when we trust their systems with every aspect of our world.

This is the worst possible outcome of the moral hazard in American lawmaking: not merely that lawmakers will promulgate bad laws to feed their base in the hopes that courts will strike them down and give them fresh grievances to campaign on.

But rather that these laws will become institutionalized, that they will give rise to questions so technical and nuanced that they slide through the courts and end up enshrined in our justice system.

Depending on the outcome of Van Buren, the CFAA could become an enduring tool for thin-skinned corporate execs and petty, vengeful prosecutors to imprison anyone that displeases them – including the security researchers we rely on to vet our increasingly automated world.

Where Will Everyone Go (permalink)

The looming climate emergency will actually be a mesh of mutually accelerating emergencies: droughts, fires and famines; pandemics; mass extinctions; floods and erosion; and all of this will drive waves of refugee crises.

"Where Will Everyone Go?" is the most ambitious attempt yet to model the migration patterns of the climate emergencies. Baruch College geographer Bryan Jones was commissioned by Pro Public and the New York Times to model 5 scenarios.

I. Optimistic: "climate impacts are rapidly reduced on a global scale, there is regional convergence toward higher levels of development"

II. Pessimistic: "climate change impacts are on the high end of current plausible scenarios with significant challenges to development"

III. Climate-friendly: Progress on climate mitigation, no progress on development

IV. Development-friendly: Little action on climate, lots of progress on development

V. Moderate: some of each

The scenarios were run on a supercomputing cluster over a course of days, using sophisticated models with billions of inputs:

The outcomes were then turned into a series of vital narratives that tell the real stories of Mexican and Central American climate refugees, and use these to explore the five scenarios.

The takeaways are both brutal and energizing. There's no question that we are facing mass-scale displacement as farmland becomes unproductive, and, in some cases, uninhabitable – literally lethal in a matter of hours to unprotected humans.

But how much of this displacement takes place is entirely in our hands. There's huge variation between the degradation in the scenarios based on how seriously we take climate mitigation.

Likewise, the human cost of displacement is in our hands: as displacement drives mass urbanization, we can abandon migrants to crime and deprivation, or create thriving prosperous cities, resilient to climate-based emergencies: floods, pandemics, fires, extreme weather.

The model does what a model should: shows us the costs and benefits of different approaches. The costs of inaction are brutal, an existential challenge to our civilization and species.

The benefits? We live and thrive.

The choice is ours.

BLM footage censored by copyright bots (permalink)

Exactly one year ago today, people started toying with the idea of suppressing the spread of Nazi rallies by playing copyrighted music in the background, so that Big Tech's copyright filters would automatically censor them.

At the time, I predicted that this would end badly: that the copyright filters would become a major barrier to the spread of progressive messages and even become a way to suppress footage of police violence and other human rights abuses.

Boy was I right.

The Lumen Database of copyright takedowns rounds up the many ways in which footage of Black Lives Matter demonstrations has been censored, downranked and demonetized thanks to copyright complaints.

Because if your rally includes someone playing Marvin Gaye's "Let’s Get it On," 2Pac's "Keep Ya Head Up," Beyonce's "Freedom," Kanye's "Power" or Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" it is prone to disappearing from the net.

These are accidental takedowns, dolphins in the tuna net – but you can use this tactic to go dolphin fishing, too: "These removals are all accidental, in the sense that they are false positives, there is the possibility of deliberately leveraging these flaws in the system."

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Copyfighter to trademark bully: I own "freedom of expression"

#5yrsago Universal's agents send Google a censorship demand for ""

#5yrsago When scientists hoard data, no one can tell what works

#1yrago J Michael Straczynski's "Becoming Superman": a memoir of horrific abuse, war crimes, perseverance, trauma, triumph and doing what's right

#1yrago Facebook's alleged growth is largely coming from countries where Facebook says it has a fake account problem

#1yrago From #TelegramGate to #RickyLeaks: Puerto Rico is on ?!

#1yrago Steve Bannon used nonconsensually harvested location data to advertise to people who'd been to a Catholic church

#1yrago Women are much more likely to be injured in car crashes, probably because crash-test dummies are mostly male-shaped

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Today's progress: 513 words (40751 total).

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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