Court Says the FTC Can Slap Companies for Getting Hacked – ANDY GREENBERG 08.24.15. 4:51 PM

Guests look out from inside their rooms in the Wyndham Hotel in Pittsburg. STEPHANIE STRASBURG/TRIBUNE REVIEW/AP

For companies like the dating site Ashley Madison or the health insurer Anthem, financial loss, customer anger and professional embarrassment aren’t the only consequences of getting massively gutted by hackers. Now a court has confirmed that there’s a three-letter agency that can dish out punishment, too.

In a decision published Monday, a U.S. appellate court ruled that the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to sue Wyndham Hotels for allowing hackers to steal more than 600,000 customers’ data from its computer systems in 2008 and 2009, leading to more than $10 million in fraudulent charges. The ruling more widely cements the agency’s power to regulate and fine firms that lose consumer data to hackers, if the companies engaged in what the FTC deems “unfair” or “deceptive” business practices. At a time when ever-more-private data is constantly getting breached, the decision affirms the FTC’s role as a digital watchdog with actual teeth.

‘This Is a Major Deal’

The FTC originally sued Wyndham in 2012 over the lack of security that led to its massive hack. But before the case proceeded, Wyndham appealed to a higher court to dismiss it, arguing that the FTC didn’t have the authority to punish the hotel chain for its breach. The third circuit court’s new decision spells out that Wyndham’s breach is exactly the sort of “unfair or deceptive business practice” the FTC is empowered to stop, sending Wyndham back to face the FTC’s lawsuit in a lower court.

“A company does not act equitably when it publishes a privacy policy to attract customers who are concerned about data privacy, fails to make good on that promise by investing inadequate resources in cybersecurity, exposes its unsuspecting customers to substantial financial injury, and retains the profits of their business,” reads the court’s ruling.

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Poaching, Drugs, and Murder in Costa Rica: Shell Game (Part 1) – Vice News Published on Jun 16, 2015

Since sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica began in the 1950s, conservationists and poachers have peacefully shared the beach. But the murder of the environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval in 2013 shocked the eco-friendly country and brought attention to a violent overlap between conservationism and drug trafficking in Costa Rica’s abundant national parks and untouched coastlines.

With five percent of the world’s biodiversity, the unique geography of Costa Rica is a hotspot for eco-tourism and conservation work. However, it is that same geography that makes the country so vulnerable to the violent drug trade that surrounds its borders. Costa Rica has become a major transshipment point for drug traffickers, with deadly consequences for those caught in the middle.

In part one of our three-part series, VICE News joins conservationists, poachers, and law enforcement in their struggle to maintain the unwritten law that governs egg gathering on the beach: finder’s keepers.

FIFA, Freddie Gray and the New Power of the Prosecutor – By Benjamin Wallace-Wells May 31, 2015 10:50 p.m.

Marilyn Mosby. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP/Corbis

Marilyn Mosby. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP/Corbis

One reason that prosecutors are often such theatrical, grandiose types (Preet Bharara, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie) may be that the role naturally fits a particular quixotic self-image, the state’s attorney against the world. In the press clippings the prosecutor is not just a distributor of retributive justice, the official sent to ensure a mugger goes to jail, but the means by which the state takes on broader conspiracies and corruptions: The mafia, Islamic terrorists, rings of insider traders embedded within banks, hedge funds and corporations. The vanity of the state’s attorney is often that he is not just delivering individual justice but taking down corrupt and criminal institutions — that he is practicing modernization politics by other means.

Since 9/11 many liberals have worried about the powers that prosecutors were acquiring to monitor email and phone traffic, to trace the flows of money. The past couple of weeks have served as a reminder of how much a powerful state, in the hands of a progressive prosecutor, can do. First, Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore announced manslaughter and murder charges against the police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. Then in the space of the last few days Loretta Lynch first announced that four banks had agreed to pay $2.5 billion in fines for rigging the foreign exchange markets, and then revealed indictments against fourteen of the planet’s most senior soccer officials, describing a pattern of corruption and bribery that has been endemic within FIFA for decades.

The image that cohered in these two African-American women was that of the prosecutor as social justice warrior, with smoke-filled rooms evaporating before her. In the same press conference Lynch denounced the old boys club that had corrupted the World Cup and made the case for renewing a key provision of the Patriot Act. One interesting question, should a Democrat win election in 2016, is whether liberals will be more comfortable with an expansive state if that state is also an activist, progressive one.

Lynch and Mosby made their activism easy to see. In these three cases the prosecutors were more or less explicit that they were not just interested in jailing a few criminals but in changing a corrupt culture — of the police in Baltimore, the banks, institutional soccer. If politics were working perfectly, we wouldn’t need their intervention; criminal indictments wouldn’t be required to fix these institutions. But because they are, there is a tension at the heart of all these cases. What the prosecutor can do is to indict criminals for criminal behavior. What we want the prosecutor to do is not just put a few villains on parade but to make Wall Street more responsible, the police less brutal, soccer television rights more transparently marketed. Sometimes one leads naturally to the other. Not always.

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High court appears split over EPA air quality rule – By Lydia Wheeler – 03/25/15 12:29 PM EDT

The Supreme Court appeared split Wednesday over a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever limits on mercury, arsenic and acid gases emitted by power plants, slated to take effect next month for some plants.

The court is tasked with determining whether EPA unreasonably refused to consider costs in deciding whether it was appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric power plants under the Clean Air Act.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with EPA, but twenty-three states and more than two dozen industry and labor groups argue that the agency unreasonably refused to consider costs before imposing the mercury regulations on coal- and oil-fired electricity generating units.

Chief Justice John Roberts said compared to the cost, the benefit “raises a red flag.”

The EPA estimates the rule would cost $9.6 billion and produce between $37 billion and $90 billion in benefits, preventing up to 11,000 premature deaths annually.

But challengers say the benefits of controlling the utility emissions of mercury, which ends up in fish that’s eaten, only amount to $4 million to $6 million annually and that the rest of the benefits come from the reduction of particle pollution, which is regulated by other EPA mandates.

“The benefit from the mercury is what, $4 million?,” Roberts asked EPA’s attorney Donald Verrilli Jr.

“Well…” Verrilli said.

Though Roberts went on to say it’s a good EPA’s regulation has other benefits, such disproportionate figures create cause for concern.

“You begin to wonder whether it’s an illegitimate way of avoiding the quite different limitations on EPA that apply in the criteria program,” he said.

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Ferguson city manager John Shaw resigns – BBC News 10 March 2015 Last updated at 23:02 ET

The chief executive of the US city of Ferguson, Missouri has resigned after a federal report alleged widespread racial bias in the city police department and court system.

John Shaw (centre) has been city manager of Ferguson since 2007

John Shaw (centre) has been city manager of Ferguson since 2007

As Ferguson’s city manager, John Shaw, 39, held the legal power to make personnel and policy changes in the police department.

The city council voted unanimously to accept his resignation on Tuesday.

The city’s municipal judge has also resigned as a result of the report.

The city came under investigation after a white police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August, sparking weeks of unrest.

A St Louis County grand jury and the US Justice Department found that Officer Darren Wilson acted in self-defence when he shot Brown.

But a US Department of Justice investigation found overwhelming racial bias in the town’s policing practices. The report, released last week, detailed how Ferguson officials used the city’s police and court system to generate revenue.

Mayor James KnowlesFerguson Mayor James Knowles has been the public face of the city government

After Brown’s death, Mayor James Knowles has been the public face and voice of Ferguson’s city government.

But Mr Knowles is a part-time employee while Mr Shaw ran day-to-day operations of the city full-time.

“I believe that the city of Ferguson has the resolve to overcome the challenges it faces in the coming months and emerge as a stronger community for it,” Mr Shaw said in a statement.

The Justice Department report repeatedly cited Mr Shaw’s role in encouraging his police force to aggressively ticket motorists as a means to generate revenue.

Mr Shaw said in a statement on Tuesday that his office “never instructed the police department to target African Americans, nor falsify charges to administer fines, nor heap abuses on the backs of the poor”.

A federal judge just put the brakes on Obama’s immigration actions – Updated by Dara Lind on February 17, 2015, 1:52 a.m. ET

  1. Federal judge Andrew Hanen just ruled that the Obama administration has to temporarily halt implementation of its executive actions on immigration.
  2. The ruling comes right before the administration was going to open up applications for immigrants older than 30 who came the US as children to apply for protection from deportation and work permits. It also affects a program that was supposed to open later this spring, for parents of US citizens and permanent residents.
  3. The injunction means Hanen thinks there’s a substantial chance that he’s going to ultimately rule that the executive actions were made illegally, siding with the 26 states that have sued the administration.
  4. The Obama administration is expected to file to keep the injunction itself from going into effect; the Fifth Circuit will take up the question in a few weeks.

Relief is delayed for millions of people

Here’s what this means: Until this ruling is reversed or a different ruling comes down in the future, the federal government isn’t allowed to do anything to implement either of the new programs President Obama announced in November to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

Between the two programs, millions of immigrants were supposed to be eligible for deferred action (three years of protection from deportation) and work permits. Neither of those programs had actually started accepting applications yet, although one was supposed to start on Wednesday. Now they won’t be able to start until further notice.

Immigrants who are older than 30 but who came to the US as children or teenagers (and meet other requirements) were supposed to be able to apply for deferred action starting on February 18, an expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Now they’ll have to wait. That’s about 230,000 immigrants who’ll remain vulnerable to deportation.

There are also the 3.7 million unauthorized immigrants who are parents of US citizens or permanent residents who’d benefit from another program: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. Applications were supposed to open this spring, but the government still hasn’t put out the official application requirements and fee; it won’t be able to finalize that, or announce it, under this ruling.

Why this is a serious threat to Obama’s immigration policy

There’s going to be continued legal wrangling over whether or not Hanen’s ruling is upheld, and what the final outcome of the case is (see below for more on that). But even if this ruling is quickly overturned, and the administration is allowed to move forward with granting deferred action, the success of the relief programs might be in jeopardy.

When the administration created the first deferred-action program in 2012, for young unauthorized immigrants, they discovered the success of the program relied on people signing up — and on the ground, organizers learned that finding eligible immigrants and getting them to apply was the hardest part. Now, community groups are trying to educate a much larger, more diffuse immigrant population about the new deferred-action programs, and persuade them that it’s safe to apply. But news and misinformation about the lawsuit is spreading confusion and fear among the very people these groups are trying to reach.

Organizers are worried about a “chilling effect”: by the time applications do open for deferred action, immigrants will have been intimidated out of applying, because they won’t believe the program is safe or permanent.

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Judge rules for NSA in warrantless search case – Al Jazeera February 11, 2015 2:40AM ET

A U.S. judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of the National Security Agency in a lawsuit challenging the interception of Internet communications without a warrant, according to a court filing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at Feb 11, 2015 1.49

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland said the plaintiffs in the case — AT&T customers — had not shown that all AT&T customers’ Internet communications were currently the subject of a “dragnet seizure and search program, controlled by or at the direction of the Government,” and they therefore did not have standing to file a lawsuit under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against warrantless searches and seizures.

White said the plaintiffs’ understanding of the key parts of the data collection process was “substantially inaccurate.”

Additionally, even if the plaintiffs had standing, White said a Fourth Amendment claim would have to be dismissed to protect secret information that would damage national security if released. He granted partial summary judgment for the government.

“The Court is frustrated by the prospect of deciding the current motions without full public disclosure of the Court’s analysis and reasoning … ,” White wrote in his ruling. “The Court is persuaded that its decision is correct both legally and factually and furthermore is required by the interests of national security.”

The ruling is the latest in litigation over the government’s ability to monitor Internet traffic, and how it balances national security priorities against privacy. NSA surveillance programs have provoked worldwide controversy since they were disclosed by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.

An attorney for the plaintiffs said that the judge’s ruling did not end part of the case concerning telephone record collection and other mass surveillance.

“It would be a travesty of justice if our clients are denied their day in court over the ‘secrecy’ of a program that has been front-page news for nearly a decade,” said attorney Kurt Opsahl, who is deputy general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which brought the suit in 2008, in a statement on the EFF website.

The Department of Justice declined to comment.

Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the judge’s ruling was disappointing.

“What we want is a court to rule on the merits of the NSA’s program,” he said. “Is what they are doing legal? Is it constitutional? The court didn’t do that. It didn’t say `yes’ or `no’.”

Feds say marijuana has no medical value. Obama’s new surgeon general seems to disagree. Updated by German Lopez on February 4, 2015, 2:10 p.m. ET

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at Feb 5, 2015 4.21

The nation’s top doctor on Wednesday told CBS News that “marijuana can be helpful” for some medical conditions and symptoms.

“We have to see what the science tells us about the efficacy of marijuana,” said US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who President Barack Obama nominated to the position in 2013. “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful. I think that we have to use that data to drive policy-making. I’m very interested to see where that data takes us.”

Some marijuana legalization and medical marijuana advocates quickly seized on Murthy’s comments, pushing their agenda for the federal government to loosen restrictions on pot.

“Dr. Murthy’s comments add to a growing consensus in the medical community that marijuana can help people suffering from painful conditions,” said Tom Angell, head of the pro-legalization Marijuana Majority. “It’s crazy that federal law still considers marijuana a schedule 1 drug, a category that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value. In light of these comments from his top medical adviser, the president should direct the attorney general to immediately begin the process of rescheduling marijuana.”

Marijuana is currently in the same category as heroin and an even higher restriction than cocaine.

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Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado over legal marijuana 18 December 2014 Last updated at 16:53 ET

Nebraska and Oklahoma have asked the US Supreme Court to nullify a 2012 law that made marijuana legal in the US state of Colorado.

Marijuana in Washington

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two US states to legalise the sale of recreational marijuana

Nebraska and Oklahoma have asked the US Supreme Court to nullify a 2012 law that made marijuana legal in the US state of Colorado.

The two states allege that Colorado’s law is in violation of federal law.

They say that they are suing just Colorado, and not Washington state where marijuana is also legal, because they do not share a border with Washington.

Colorado’s attorney general said their suit was without merit.

“Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana,” said Nebraska attorney general Jon Bruning in a press release.

“Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the US Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles.”

Colorado’s attorney general John Suthers said in a statement that the state had been expecting legal action after Nebraska and Oklahoma complained about marijuana grown in Colorado coming into their states.

But he said he would vigorously defend Colorado’s law as “it appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado”.

Colorado’s citizens voted to legalise marijuana in 2012, and earlier this year the state became the first in the US to offer marijuana for sale for recreational use.

Already, Colorado has collected $7m in taxes from marijuana sales, adding a valuable revenue stream to the state’s coffers.

Washington state passed a similar measure in 2012, but marijuana only went on sale for recreational use there this past summer.

Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia recently voted to legalise marijuana in November.

Industry trade groups criticised the legal action.

“Colorado has created a comprehensive and robust regulatory programme for the sale of marijuana in Colorado,” said Mike Elliott, the director of the Marijuana Industry Group.

“If Nebraska and Oklahoma succeed, they will put the violent criminal organisations back in charge.”

Forced To Seat Blacks, Ala. Restaurant Complied With History – ANDREW YEAGER December 13, 2014 9:42 AM ET

Ollies Barbecue was a Birmingham, Ala., landmark where where white plumbers and electricians sat next to white doctors and bank presidents,” but in 1964, blacks weren't allowed to eat there.

Ollies Barbecue was a Birmingham, Ala., landmark where where white plumbers and electricians sat next to white doctors and bank presidents,” but in 1964, blacks weren’t allowed to eat there. Courtesy Ollie McClung Jr.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at Dec 13, 2014 10.48

At Lena’s, a diner in Birmingham, Ala., the cashier hands a customer a plastic bag with food which he carries out of the restaurant. There’s nothing noteworthy about it now, but that action — taking out the meal — is a faint echo of the Jim Crow South.

Fifty years ago Sunday, the Supreme Court effectively ended segregation in restaurants. Before that ruling, restaurants were segregated, but some white establishments would serve black customers take-out.

Washington Booker, eating breakfast at Lena’s, remembers the routine.

“Some restaurants would let you come in, go up to the counter and order,” Booker says. “You had to have a certain kind of posture. You had to just stand there, couldn’t just be looking around. And then, when your sandwich came, you took it and you left.”

Booker grew up in Birmingham and was a teenager in the early ’60s. He says the restrictions in restaurants and the downtown department store lunch counter stung.

“You may not remember all the other discrimination, but the fact that you couldn’t go into Newberry’s and sit at that counter and get you a banana split kind of bothered you,” he says.

Congress banned such discrimination in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Many restaurants complied — but not all.

Ollie McClung Jr. remembers that time. He and his father owned a restaurant, Ollie’s Barbecue, a Birmingham landmark founded by his grandfather. McClung says it was the kind of place where white plumbers and electricians sat next to white doctors and bank presidents. Bible verses hung on the walls. McClung says the staff could take on a lunch crowd that often stretched out the door.

Ollie McClung Sr. hands religious tracts to employees. Most of Ollie's Barbecue's employees were black.i

Ollie McClung Sr. hands religious tracts to employees. Most of Ollie’s Barbecue’s employees were black.

Courtesy Ollie McClung Jr.

“We had wonderful waitresses,” McClung says. “Many of them were with us 30 and 40 years. They never wrote anything down. In fact, that was one of the highlights of people coming in the place.”

The majority of Ollie’s employees were black, and McClung says they had some regular black customers, but as was the norm when segregation was the law, they were only served take-out. When the Civil Rights Act went into effect, McClung and his dad were concerned that seating blacks would drive away white patrons. So they sued.

“Most people going to say the heart of the matter was the rights of black people,” he says. “The real heart of the matter was, now wait a minute, the federal government can’t come in and tell us what to do. We’re a local business.”

At the time, Southern politicians often used a states’-rights defense to justify segregation. A three-judge panel in Birmingham initially sided with the family, but on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against them. Southern politicians were up in arms about a decision they felt was unconstitutional.

“But I think amongst constitutional scholars there was simply, virtually no doubt whatsoever that the Congress had the power to do this,” says Richard Cortner, a retired University of Arizona political science professor who wrote a book about the case.