Fighting Evil Corp. There’s an App For That!

“Robot Fight” by Ariel Waldman used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license 2.0 United States

By Spocko

I’m a crappy chess player. This became clear to me when my 8 year-old nephew beat me while explaining, “The horsey piece can only move in an “L” way Uncle Spocko!”

One of the things they say you learn from chess is thinking several moves ahead, anticipating your opponent’s responses and acting accordingly. I learned this skill from life experience.

Right now I’m watching Mr. Robot. They are looking at the personal reasons people fight big institutions, as well as the human cost of those fights. That’s the part people don’t see, and it can be exhausting.

When I went about the process of defunding RW talk radio, I knew I needed to anticipate how they would respond to my actions. Then, how they would respond to my responses.

When I started alerting advertisers to the violent rhetoric, sexism and bigotry coming from the RW radio hosts I knew the radio station would use multiple excuses to keep the advertisers. First they discredited me, and then the information. Next, threats of arrest from law enforcement agencies, then hints of exposure of my identity. Finally legal threats, which they carried out. They threw around phrases like libel, tortuous interference with contract and copyright violation before they settled on a bogus copyright violation action.

I had read some books on the topics to prepare, but the smartest move I made was talking to a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Following that conversation, I made sure what I wrote and posted on my blog would meet the four factors of Fair Use.

Even though I met both the spirit and the letter of the law, ABC/Disney lawyers still sent an cease and desist letter to my ISP, 1&1 Hosting, who folded like a cheap umbrella.

Lawsuits: PR Gifts, Personal Nightmares or Both?

People who have money and power have easy access to lawyers and “fixers.” They see lawsuits and threats of lawsuits all the time. They use them as tools. They know when to dismiss them as “saber rattling” or when to use them as opening shots in a longer game.

But for normal people getting threatened with a lawsuit from one of the largest media corporations in the world is the stuff of stress nose bleeds and very un-Vulcan like floods of tears.

Following my victory over KSFO/ABC/Disney I made sure everyone I talked to who wanted to use the Spocko Method understood the law, how it might be used against them and how to prepare for the attacks. (Right now my friends in #stoprush are seeing personal attacks vs. legal attacks. He doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on so uses other methods. Power players don’t like it when you interfere with their revenue streams. Corporate bullies don’t always back down when they are wrong. They will play dirty.)

The good news is that for advocates who want to use copyrighted material to educate, critique, challenge or parody powerful groups, there are new tools.

Today I spotted a great app, The Fair Use App it was made by an organization called New Media Rights. It helps you figure out if your content meets the four factors of Fair Use.

“The Fair Use App”, by New Media Rights, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States

I would have liked to have had that when I was planning my action and preparing for the reaction, but I still would have needed the help of actual human lawyers.

I thought my case was clear cut fair use, but that didn’t mean I still wouldn’t be threatened with a suit. It means little to them to send a threatening legal letter, but it was a huge deal to me. That is why someone having your back is so important.

Big institutions and ideological groups use multiple tools to stay in power and enforce their will. These days, the corporations use automated tools to protect themselves and take action. It’s hard to reason with a DCMA take down bot. You need to understand its criteria before the fight because if you try to fight it during a hot issue, the opportunity might pass.

Activists need all the help they can get. If you donate to groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation or New Media Rights you might just be helping the next Mr. Spocko battling Evil Corp.

Journalist Sues US Government for Records on ‘Kafkaesque Harassment’ by Security Agents During Travel

Laura Poitras, 2010

Laura Poitras is a journalist and documentary filmmaker, who recently won an Academy Award for the documentary on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called Citizenfour. But, between July 2006 and April 2012, Poitras was “subjected to ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection,” detained and questioned at the United States border on every international flight she took” to the US, according to her recently filed lawsuit.

When traveling from the US, when she was outside the US traveling internationally, and even when she was traveling within the US, Poitras was “occasionally subjected to secondary security screening.” More than 50 times she was given this designation, which allowed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to subject her to extra scrutiny.

On January 24, 2014, Poitras filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and TSA for “all agency records concerning, naming, or relating to Ms. Poitras.” She also submitted requests to the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Poitras has, to date, received no records in response to her requests and alleges agencies are wrongfully withholding records [PDF].

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the US border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras explained in a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.”

“I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”

One of those individuals, who Poitras may be referring to, is Jacob Appelbaum. He is a journalist, Tor developer, and WikiLeaks volunteer, who has been stopped and harassed at the US border multiple times. (He has also had his personal data connected to services, such as Twitter and Google, targeted as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into WikiLeaks.)

Airport security agents have previously informed Poitras that she had a “criminal record,” even though that is not true. She has been informed her name was in a “national security threat database.” During one stop, she was told she was on the “No Fly List.” Her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and her notebooks have been seized and copied. One time when she attempted to take notes while she was detained by agents, she was threatened with being put in handcuffs. The agents pretended to fear that she might use the pen as a weapon so she could not create a record of their interaction.

Poitras is not the first to challenge this abuse. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have challenged suspicionless laptop searches by DHS through a lawsuit filed in 2010.

Detaining Journalists, Abusing Families, and Humiliating American Muslims

Abuse by US security agents at the border has become increasingly common. In February 2014, the podcast, On the Media, aired an episode called “Secrecy on the Border.” The episode focused on how Homeland Security violates the rights of people and refuses to provide any explanations. (more…)