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Yeri "tuinslak" Tiete has been contacted by Belgian ICT minister Vincent Van Quickenborne -- on Twitter. The minister has invited Tielte to come discuss the NMBS/iRail issue with him, and states that "NMBS should be happy with your initiative."

As a recent expat I'm still learning my way around the complexities of Belgian politics, but it's very nice to see this kind of rapid, personal response -- especially from a prominent member of a party as large as Open VLD (who have slipped in power in the last few years, placing fourth among Flemish parties in the recent elections, but are still very much a going concern). I don't know how much influence Van Quickenborne has in his party, but if he can convince Open VLD as a whole to support open access to public data -- which fits in well with the party's emphasis on encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship -- that could very well lead to increased support at the polls. I'm looking forward to seeing how this continues to unfold.
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...but getting that across to NMBS is taking some doing.

Let me explain. Here in Belgium we have a public railway service in the technical sense of the term: the National Railway Company of Belgium (abbreviated NMBS in Flemish, SNCB in French) is wholly owned and operated by the government. It's an "autonomous government company", a bit like Ma Bell in the old days, but crucially, it is a nationalised system.

Up until fairly recently, an enterprising young student, who goes by the handle tuinslak, operated a site called It was a rather popular mobile site which offered transit and routing information formatted for mobile phones, and did a far better job in that space than NMBS' own routeplanner (which has never been usable on mobile phones, and up until very recently was a crash-prone Web 1.0 monstrosity; it's much nicer on a regular computer now, but still not great). tuinslak informed NMBS back in 2008 that he was putting together a routeplanner for mobile users; they ignored his email until about a week ago, when they sent him a cease-and-desist order.

What burns me up is the claimed basis for the C&D. NMBS claims (translated) that i-rail "reuses the data of NMBS. This violates [NMBS'] intellectual property rights, as well as copyright and database rights."

So let me get this straight -- a nationalised company, which is to say, a company owned part and parcel by the citizens of Belgium, is claiming that a Belgian citizen's use of data generated by NMBS is in violation of intellectual property rights? By virtue of being a Belgian citizen, tuinslak has those rights himself. Whose intellectual property rights is he violating? His own?

I'm looking forward to seeing this one go before the courts. I'm not sure if tuinslak is planning on fighting it (though I'm going to contact him and find out); it's clearly something that the EFF should be interested in, and if he doesn't have a legal defense fund in place then I want to get one started.

Relatedly, Lorin Parys has an op-ed in De Standaard, calling for NMBS to put effort into a developers' API for its public information and to quit wasting time and taxpayers' money on an in-house replacement for a third-party mobile routeplanner site that clearly made a lot of people happy. I particularly liked this bit of rhetoric (again, translated):
If we can make non-personally-identifiable information from government and businesses public, we can unlock a stream of creativity and entrepreneurship. The government must lead the way, not lock the door.
maradydd: (Default)
I have a favour to ask of all of you. It will take about half an hour to an hour of your time in the next week, though first, for context, you should go read about what happened to Peter Watts.

TL,DR: Canadian science fiction author is accused by Michigan border guards, while he's on the way back to Canada, of having assaulted them. In court, it came out that although the guards struck Watts several times, Watts never raised a hand against the guards. However, he was still found guilty because the law places "failure to comply with a lawful command" -- in this case, a guard's ordering him to lie down -- as "obstructing a federal officer," and "obstruction", by the wording of the law, is considered to be as much of a crime as assault is.

Yes, Americans, Michigan just convicted a man for not lying down and groveling fast enough. The jury, at one point during deliberation, sent a question to the court: "Is failure to comply sufficient for conviction?" It doesn't get a lot clearer than that. And one thing that's especially clear to me is that this is a jury that had no idea what jury nullification is.

See, one thing the American court system has fallen all over itself to hide from the people in the last several decades is the fact that jurors are not only triers of fact: they are also triers of law. The jury is charged not only with determining whether the facts of the case indicate that the defendant did what he was charged with or not, but determining whether the law is a valid one or not. If the jury decides that the law is unconstitutionally vague, or unjust, or applied unjustly, the jury has the right and the authority to find the defendant not guilty, whether the facts of the case support the allegations against the defendant or not.

Jury nullification is one of the oldest components of the common-law tradition upon which US law is based; it dates back to at least the 1500s and probably earlier. It has been applied in the United States both before and after the country was founded; it has been used to acquit Underground Railroad conductors accused under the Fugitive Slave Act, bootleggers during Prohibition, and, less admirably, whites accused of murdering blacks during the era of the Civil Rights movement. (It's a tool. Like a hammer or a gun, it can be used for good or for evil, but the tool itself is morally neutral.)

If the jury in the Watts case had known about jury nullification, they could have said, "It's ridiculous to convict someone of a felony for not lying down fast enough; the law is worded unjustly, and we're not going to convict, on those grounds."

"But, Meredith," I hear you say, "how do you know that the jury didn't know about nullification?" I don't, but I'd put the chances at greater than 80%. The easiest way to get removed from juror selection is to let it slip to the judge or the prosecutor that you know that jury nullification exists. In 1969 and 1972, the Fourth Circuit and the District of Columbia (respectively) ruled that the court may deny the defense the ability to instruct the jury about the possibility of nullification, and in 1988 the Sixth Circuit (which unfortunately includes Michigan1) upheld a judge's instruction that "there is no valid jury nullification".

Let me spell that out again: the court has recently granted itself the right to refuse to even let the jury know about one of its powers that has a tremendous ability to affect the outcome of a case. The courts are deliberately depriving jurors of one of their most traditional rights, and deliberately depriving defendants of one of the most traditional, if rarely exercised, opportunities for acquittal.

However, the fact that the courts want to put jury nullification down the memory hole doesn't mean that it's going to go there quietly. We have the ability to keep it alive, but we're going to have to work for it.

So here's what I want you to do.

This week, I want you to find three people who don't already know about and understand jury nullification, and explain it to them. They can be Americans, Canadians, Britons, Australians, or anyone else who lives under a legal system derived from the British common law. You don't have to get them to agree with it; just get them to understand it, and to understand that this is a legal right, enshrined in over 400 years of jurisprudential history, that the courts have attempted to dispose of in the last 40 years. You can send them an email or link them to this post if you want, but it's best to do it in person. And get them to promise that they will also find three more people who aren't familiar with jury nullification, bring them up to speed on it, and get those people to spread the word. And so on, and so on.

It is said that rights exist only so long as they are exercised, but more fundamentally than that, a right can only be exercised if people know it exists. I am not asking you to exercise the right; I am asking you to help make sure that this right is not banished into oblivion by such an odious little thing as ignorance.

If you will do this, please leave a comment.

1I still need to read the decision in U.S. v. Krzyske, whence comes that ruling. If a Michigan jury were to nullify a law, must a mistrial be declared? If subsequent juries continue to nullify, does that mean that they just have to keep retrying and retrying until someone runs out of money?

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This work by Meredith L. Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


Mar. 5th, 2009 09:17 pm
maradydd: (Default)
Wow, that was a really tiring three hours -- but so rewarding! Thanks to the California Channel and SFGTV for broadcasting the proceedings of the arguments. [ profile] joedecker, the ACLU, quite a few other Twitterers and I had a rousing discussion going the entire time, and a big thanks to the folks at Twitter for providing us with such a great platform for discussion!

I'm going to go catch the last showing of Watchmen tonight, but after that, I've got a big post brewing on my take on the proceedings. A lot of the endgame arguments dealt with what constitutes an inalienable right and what doesn't; one of the Justices in fact framed it as a dispute between the right of the California people to amend their Constitution and the right of individuals to enjoy equal protection under the law.

Protip: One of these rights is inalienable and the other one isn't. Pop quiz for my readers: which is which, and why does it matter?

Discuss in the comments. I'll be back in a few hours.
maradydd: (Default)
Sorry for the late announcement, folks, but I wanted everyone to know -- the California Channel will be broadcasting (and webcasting) the oral arguments in the three Prop 8 cases, starting at 9am Pacific time. (That's about an hour from now.)

You can follow the live stream on the web, and [ profile] joedecker and I will be Twittering the proceedings at Come join in the dialogue!

(No, I will not be LoudTwittering anything back here.)

ETA: If the Cal Channel isn't working for you, SFGTV2 will also be broadcasting. Go here and click on the SFGTV2 link. (At the moment I'm watching the Black History Month Kickoff Celebration -- uh, a month late? -- and at 9am the Prop 8 coverage starts. Shanaka Hodge is a good poet, btw.)
maradydd: (Default)
I did not realise, until [ profile] evelien mentioned it, that if you are a non-US citizen and are travelling to the US, even if you are a citizen of a country covered by the Visa Waiver Program, you must now apply for entry to the US online at least 72 hours before you travel. Yes, even if you are only there for a short time. Yes, even if you are only transiting through the US on your way to another country -- that's right, even if you never leave the airport.

Seriously, State Department, what the fuck? US-VISIT wasn't enough of a pain in the ass, so you shut it down and put together an even more annoying program?

I do have to wonder how long this is going to last; this will without a doubt increase the number of deportees (thanks to people who don't find out about the need to apply for authorization, or who forget to do it, or who don't realize that infants who are flying without a ticket still have to have an authorization, &c, &c), and the airlines are going to be extremely nonthrilled about having to mule them all back home.

It's not quite clear from the ESTA website what the goals of the program are. The FAQs seem to indicate that they're trying to keep out people who have been convicted of crimes of moral turpitude and people with communicable diseases. Fun fact: six of the eight communicable diseases that are grounds for denying someone entry to the United States are sexually transmitted diseases. This includes HIV.

Now, I don't know about the rest of y'all, but it has never been my experience that foreign nationals view the US as the place to go on mad fucking sprees. Denying an HIV-positive person the ability to enter the US simply because of his or her medical condition is discrimination, plain and simple, and it just isn't right. There is a DHS "final rule", issued last October, which specifically applies to HIV+ folks, under which they can enter the US for a mere 30 days, rather than the 90 days that everyone else gets on a nonimmigrant tourist visa, but this is small comfort: HIV+ foreign nationals are considered second-class persons under these rules.

Here, incidentally, is where things get interesting. The State Department's page on Classes of Immigrants Ineligible to Receive Visas cites Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Sec. 212(a)(1)(A)(i) states that any alien "who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to have a communicable disease of public health significance, which shall include infection with the etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome" (emphasis mine) is ineligible for admission to the US. HowEVah, if you check out Section 212 on the USCIS website, the bit about AIDS isn't there; it's replaced by a footnote. Turns out that the bit about AIDS was amended out on July 30, 2008.

So, in other words, (1) the State Department isn't keeping its own public information documents up to date (no surprise), and (2) the Department of Homeland Security is issuing its own prejudicial rules, simply because it can. Section 305 of H.R. 5501 removed the language about HIV, passed the House and Senate and was enrolled as Public Law No. 110-293. The jackasses at DHS turned right around and turned it into a rule under colour of their own authority, and that rule affects everyone just as much as a law passed by Congress does.

I bitched a lot during the last eight years about the ridiculous power grabs the executive branch has pulled, and this is just another one of them. AIDS activists, gay-rights activists -- if you aren't pissed off about this, you should be. The DHS's style of thinking is benighted, anti-factual and just plain wrong: they're acting like they think HIV can be contracted from casual contact, which is just as absurd as a frat boy who thinks he can catch "the ghey" from talking to a gay man at a bar. We deserve better from our government.

And just remember, folks: this is a "rule" we know about. The DHS and the TSA have a whole laundry list of "secret rules" which they still enforce, as John Gilmore and others have learned to their peril.

Demand transparency from your government. They're supposed to be of, by and for the people. It's up to us to keep them that way.
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I'll say this for the No on 8 crowd -- we don't waste our time. Three lawsuits were filed today with the California Supreme Court, seeking orders blocking enforcement of Prop 8 and aimed at striking it down, and the count isn't even done yet!

"But, Meredith," I hear you say, "this is a constitutional amendment -- aren't the Supreme Court's hands tied?" Actually, due to the approach the plaintiffs are taking, the CA Supreme Court does have the ability to consider this. The legal reasoning behind the lawsuits is interesting, and if you live in California, it's worth your time to understand it.

Probably only of interest to those in California )

Next up: what's happening right now, what the next few months mean to you, and what the hell is going on with existing marriages.

Mad props to [ profile] songblaze for research assistance and getting me thinking about it from this angle.

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This work by Meredith L. Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
maradydd: (Default)
I'm with [ profile] ilcylic on this one. Suck it, San Francisco!

If I weren't off to a hackfest tonight, I'd be going to the range.


[ profile] maradydd, happy gun owner
maradydd: (Default)
As promised, the press office of the Senate Judiciary Committee just sent me their release on the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. (Thanks, y'all!) Below the cut, it's reproduced in full. The first section is a press release, i.e., the who (as in, who's sponsoring it), what (description of the bill), when (today), where (Washington, DC) and why (pull-quotes from the bill sponsors explaining their goals) for journalists to refer to. The second section is a statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy, which (based on its wording) I think is being read before the Senate today.

I especially want to draw attention to the third section in order to head off any possible misinterpretation. The third section is a summary of the bill, not the bill itself. It describes what will be contained in each section of the bill, but the summaries and descriptions are not the bill. So, for instance, the bit in section 2 where it talks about "conditions on eligibility" -- those will be spelled out in much greater detail in the bill itself, which you can look for on THOMAS when it's posted there. I expect it'll be up by tomorrow. (ETA: according to Alex Curtis over at Public Knowledge, the bill numbers you're looking for are S.2913 and H.R. 5889. They have PDFs which you can download, too.)

I'll have some remarks on the bill itself, once the actual text is posted. But for now, enjoy the press kit! (ETA: [ profile] vanbeast tracked down the direct link on Sen. Leahy's site, so you can read it there too.)

And now, what you've all been waiting for )


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