April 19, 2015

FBI overstated forensic hair matches in nearly all trials before 2000

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.
Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’slargest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.
The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.
The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.
The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.
In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”
“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.
Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”
While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespreadproblems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.
“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.

Ohio Cop Refuses to Resort to Deadly Force: 'I Wanted to Be Absolutely Sure'

A rookie Ohio cop is being praised for "great restraint and maturity" after he held off using deadly force against a double murder suspect who charged at him, his police chief said.
In a confrontation Thursday with a man accused of killing his fiancee and his best friend, New Richmond Police Officer Jesse Kidder is heard on his body-camera video yelling, "No man, I'm not going to do it!" and ordering the suspect to get down on the ground.
The suspect rushes toward him shouting, "Shoot me, shoot me!"
"Back up!" screams Kidder, holding his gun out. The man finally crumples to the ground just feet away from the officer in the video taken in the Cincinnati suburb of Elsmere, Kentucky.
Investigators say Michael Wilcox, 27, killed his fiancee in their Brown County, Ohio, home, then killed his best friend in Elsmere, reported NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati, which first obtained the body-camera video. A Brown County investigator spotted Wilcox Thursday night at about 8 p.m. and attempted to stop him, but Wilcox claimed he had a gun and drove away, officials said.
He was then followed by New Richmond police on a car chase through multiple counties on the Ohio-Kentucky border before Kidder caught Wilcox and arrested him. 
The nonviolent confrontation caught on video has been highlighted as a positive example of police officer encounters nationwide. Their actions have been blemished by shootings of unarmed men, including a deadly officer shooting earlier this month in South Carolina.
Officers' use of force has been the subject of protests since last August, when white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Wilson was not wearing a body camera, which raised questions about what exactly led him to shoot and whether all police officers should be outfitted with the tiny video recorders. 
In the Kentucky case, the suspect was believed to be armed and is heard threatening the officer on the video.
"For him to make the judgment call that he did shows great restraint and maturity," New Richmond Police Chief Randy Harvey told WLWT about Kidder, who's been on the force for a year. "This video footage, it eliminated all doubt that this officer would have been justified if in fact it came to a shooting."
Kidder, who did two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine and is a Purple Heart recipient, told WLWT that a relative had given him a body camera to use at work after the Ferguson shooting.
During the confrontation Thursday, 911 dispatchers told Kidder that Wilcox could have a gun under his seat and may be threatening suicide-by-cop, according to WLWT. Kidder said since he knew backup was coming shortly, he held off shooting Wilcox.
"I was trying to open a dialogue with him. 'I don't want to shoot you, get on the ground,' but he wasn't having it. He kept repeating, 'Shoot me.' At one point, he said 'Shoot me or I'll shoot you,'" Kidder told WLWT.
The situation escalated: Wilcox put his hand in his pocket and again charged at Kidder — who is seen on the video tripping and falling backwards.
"He got towards my face right as I lost balance," Kidder told WLWT. "I'm thinking at this point that if he goes into attack me, that I'll have to use deadly force to defend myself."
But he waited.
"Law enforcement officers all across the nation have to deal with split-second decisions that mean life or death. I wanted to be absolutely sure before I used deadly force," he said.

More Americans favor gun rights over gun control for first time

Americans’ opinions on gun rights have flipped. For the first time, more Americans value gun owners’ rights than they do gun control.
According to Pew research, the percentage of Americans who thought gun rights were more important was only 29-34 percent during the 90s. In the 00s, that number shot up and down between the 32 and 45 percent. Around the turn of the current decade, the numbers were roughly even for several years, but in December 2014 the number of Americans who value gun rights surpassed those who prefer gun control for the first time. The numbers are currently 52 percent and 46 percent. 
Another of Pew’s findings was that the percentage of Americans who say that they feel safer with a gun in the home has risen even more steadily. Thirty-five percent said they felt safer in ’00. Today, 63 percent say they feel safer.
Pew suggested two reasons that might be behind the change in favor of gun owners’ rights: Republicans have pushed for gun rights during the Obama years, they noted, but also, more Americans perceive that crime is on the rise today than they did decades ago.
But, Pew noted, unlike previous decades when more Americans believed high crime should be dealt with by strictening gun control laws, today more American’s believe crime should be dealt with by increasing gun ownership.

Twitter moves non-US accounts to Ireland away from the NSA: Twitter Inc is governed by US law, it is obliged to comply with NSA-driven court requests for data. Data stored in Ireland is not subject to the same obligation

Twitter has updated its privacy policy, creating a two-lane service that treats US and non-US users differently. If you live in the US, your account is controlled by San Francisco-based Twitter Inc, but if you're elsewhere in the world (anywhere else) it's handled by Twitter International Company in Dublin, Ireland. The changes also affect Periscope.
What's the significance of this? Twitter Inc is governed by US law, it is obliged to comply with NSA-driven court requests for data. Data stored in Ireland is not subject to the same obligation. Twitter is not alone in using Dublin as a base for non-US operations; Facebook is another company that has adopted the same tactic. The move could also have implications for how advertising is handled in the future.
Ireland is widely recognized as having the most relaxed privacy laws in Europe, and this is something which is important for any company looking to monetize user data through advertising. While data that is processed in Europe may be beyond the immediate reach of the NSA, the policy change could also be seen as a way of trying to sidestep future legislation which may make it more difficult for US-based companies to share data about European users with advertisers.
The changes kick in on 18 May 2015 and Twitter briefly explains them in a policy update post:
If you live outside the United States, our services are now provided to you by Twitter International Company, our company based in Dublin, Ireland. Twitter International Company will be responsible for handling your account information under Irish privacy and data protection law, which is based on the European Union’s Data Protection Directive.
If you live in the United States, the services will continue to be provided to you by Twitter, Inc., based in San Francisco, California, under United States law.
Of course avoiding the NSA or making advertising easier are not quite how Twitter explains the reason for the change:
As more people around the world use our services, we’ve expanded our operations to improve how we support our users globally.


April 18, 2015

"Members of Congress—most of whom can’t secure their own websites, and some of whom don’t even use email—are trying to force a dangerous 'cybersecurity' bill down the public’s throat. Everyone’s privacy is in the hands of people who, by all indications, have no idea what they’re talking about."

 Members of Congress - most of whom can’t secure their own websites, and some of whom don’t even use email - are trying to force a dangerous “cybersecurity” bill down the public’s throat. Everyone’s privacy is in the hands of people who, by all indications, have no idea what they’re talking about.
Leaders are expected to bring its much-maligned series of “cybersecurity” bills to the floor sometime in the next couple weeks - bills that we know will do little to help cybersecurity but a lot to help intelligence agencies like the NSA vacuum upeven more of Americans’ personal information. The bills’ authors deny that privacy is even an issue, but why we’re trusting Congress at all on this legislation, given their lack of basic knowledge on the subject, is the question everyone should be asking.
Just look at Congress’ own cybersecurity practices. None of the members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee - the most influential cybersecurity oversight body in Congress - have websites that use HTTPS encryption, which isincreasingly becoming the standard for websites who want to provide basic security protections for the people who visit them (Google and others have had it for years).
It’s such a vital tool that the executive branch recently promised to move all its websites over to HTTPS within two years - many of its agencies, though not all, have already made the switch. But there’s not even a hint that Congress is attempting to do the same. (The website of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is in charge of cybersecurity oversight on the Senate side, also looks like itwas designed in 1996.)
An overlooked but important Politico article published in January examined Congress’ own cybersecurity practices when it comes to defending their networks. Reporter Tal Kopan quoted several Congressional staffers saying Congress barely does anything to protect itself from cyberattacks, despite being a juicy target for foreign intelligence agencies. “Few could remember any kind of IT security training, and if they did, it wasn’t taken seriously”, Kopan reported
And how many Congressional staffers and their bosses protect their emails or phone calls with encryption? ACLU’s Chief technologist Chris Soghoian told me yesterday that using any sort of encryption tools “is the exception rather than the norm.” He said: “Most members of Congress and most congressional staff use unencrypted email and unencrypted telephones. Their communications are undoubtedly targeted by foreign intelligence services, just as the NSA targets the communications of foreign political leaders and their staff.” Not exactly encouraging.
Consider the qualifications of the members who are in charge of cybersecurity oversight and who are leading the push for these invasive new laws. The man in charge of the subcommittee on cybersecurity and the NSA in the House, Representative Lynn Westmoreland, has a background in construction and is best known for trying to pass a Ten Commandments law (while only being able to name three of them). His actual expertise in cybersecurity is anyone’s guess, besides having an NSA facility in his district.
It gets worse. The Congressman who oversees the appropriation of billions of dollars in cybersecurity funding for the Department of Homeland Security, Representative John Carter, said this about cybersecurity and encryption recently: “I don’t know anything about this stuff”. Yes, that is an exact quote.
And of course there’s Senator John McCain, who has been one of the loudest voices pushing several invasive “cybersecurity” spying bills and wants control ofcybersecurity oversight to be placed under his Armed Services committee. McCain, who doesn’t even use email, has been consistently demanding more cybersecurity powers, but maybe he should try to fix his own cybersecurity problems first before moving on to everyone else’s. This is the security error message I got when trying to access his website on Thursday and Friday:
The only thing McCain seems to know a lot about when it comes to cybersecurity is hyperbole. He declared the Sony hack an “act of war” and called the voluntary, slight delay in the release of The Interview “the greatest blow to free speech that I’ve seen in my lifetime probably.” He also claimed that Sony’s negligent security practices were somehow Obama’s fault, though doesn’t seem to mind that Sony’s approach to security (termed “a complete joke” by one former employee) was so lax that they’re now being sued.
Congress never really bothered to ask actual security experts whether these bills really make sense. Earlier this week, 65 actual security professionals and academics signed a letter slamming these “info-sharing” bills as both unnecessary and dangerous.
Congress doesn’t have to be completely ignorant about technology issues. They used to have a whole office which would give them all the expert advice they asked for. It was called the Office of Technology Assessment and it gave Congress nonpartisan advice on technical matters. Newt Gingrich killed it when he became speaker of the House of Representatives in the mid-1990s. As Vox’s Timothy Lee explained, when Representative Rush Holt, a member of Congress who knew a thing or two (he was a nuclear physicist), tried to revive it, his plan was voted down almost 2-1.

Cops Charge Man With “Destruction of Police Property” for Bleeding on Their Uniforms After They Beat Him

A black man who claims he was charged with destruction of police property for bleeding on Ferguson police officers’ uniforms during a brutal jailhouse assault asked a federal appeals court Thursday to revive his case.
It will be five years this summer since Henry Davis sued Ferguson and police officers Michael White, John Beaird and Kim Tihen, claiming that the officers used excessive force by attacking him in his jail cell and that Beaird then falsified affidavits to charge Davis with the destruction of property. 
Urging the 8th Circuit to revive due-process claims, attorney James Schottel told the panel Thursday that Beaird changed his story about the blood on the police uniforms several times amid an investigation into the officers’ affidavits.
The attorney explained in an interview after the hearing: “A couple days afterward, the officer filled out these affidavits saying my client bled on their officers’ uniforms, which later he denied that that ever occurred.”
“And as I stated at the argument in the trial he had a different story that he just filled out those affidavits at the instruction of a sergeant,” Schottel said. “So he changed his story multiple times.”
Peter Dunne, the attorney for Ferguson and the police officers, claimed that the due-process claim became moot when Davis accepted a plea deal.
“Regardless of what Officer Beaird personally saw … none of that mattered,” because of the guilty pleas Dunne told the court.
The 8th Circuit is also considering whether to revive the excessive-force claim based on the fact that the alleged assault occurred before Davis had been booked on charges.

Once a person is considered a pretrial detainee, he is subjected to an Eighth Amendment analysis, which gives more leeway to jail authorities to use force compared with a Fourth Amendment analysis, setting a tougher standard for the plaintiff.
Judge James Loken questioned Schottel about the line of demarcation.
“What case holds that booking is the line between the Fourth and Eighth Amendment,” Loken asked.
Schottel said in an interview after the hearing that he would file a supplemental brief on this point.
“There is a case that states that a person becomes a pretrial detainee after the booking process and there’s what’s called a legal twilight in there,” Schottel told Courthouse News.
Dunne, the attorney for Ferguson, meanwhile argued that the booking process had begun, and that Davis had already been transferred to a secure part of the jail when he refused to cooperate with a lawful order. 
“The plaintiff, by his own admission, was given an order to enter a cell and refused to do it,” Dunne told the court.
Because Davis ignored instructions, “the question of whether any force could be used disappears,” Dunne added.
The case stems from an early morning traffic stop on Sept. 20, 2009.
Ferguson police claim they stopped Davis’ vehicle going more than 100 mph, and that they “smelled alcohol” in the vehicle. They claim he refused to take a breathalyzer and “became combative” when told to enter a jail cell.
Davis, who now lives in Mississippi, claims it was raining hard and he missed his highway exit coming home from a friend’s house and pulled off the road in Ferguson. He was allegedly never asked to take a sobriety test and told he was being arrested on an outstanding warrant. Denying that he was combative with police, Davis says he only raised his arms over his head to protect himself. 
The incident happened nearly five years before the Michael Brown shooting, which made Ferguson ground zero in the nationwide debate over racism and excessive police force. The Brown shooting prompted a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice outlining a pattern of racism within the Ferguson Police Department.

Can You Solve This Moral Dilemma from a Real Job Interview?