You won’t get privacy on the Republican party line.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, there are also serious implications for security: If ISPs look to sell consumer data, “internet providers will need to record and store even more sensitive data on their customers, which will become a target for hackers.” Even if they anonymize your sensitive data before they sell it to advertisers, they need to collect it first—and these companies don’t exactly have a perfect track record in protecting consumer data. In 2015, for example, Comcast paid $33 million as part of a settlement for accidentally releasing information about users who had paid the company to keep their phone numbers unlisted, including domestic violence victims.

This is all made much more difficult for consumers by the dearth of broadband competition. More than half of Americans have either one or even no options for providers, so if you don’t like your ISP’s data collection policies, chances are you won’t be able to do much about it, and providers know that. It’s highly unlikely that providers, particularly the dominant companies, will choose to forego those sweet advertising dollars in order to secure their customers’ privacy, when they know those customers don’t have much choice. […]

All is not completely lost. Your ISP still has to allow you to opt out of having your data sold, so you can call them or go online to find out how to do that. (If you do that, let us know how it went.) But today’s news is devastating for privacy overall. Consumers could have had more control over their privacy; your data could have been safer. Things could have been better, if Congress had done what it usually does and done nothing. Instead, they made things worse for anyone who doesn’t run an internet company or an advertising agency.

–Libby Watson, Congress Just Gave Internet Providers the Green Light to Sell You Browsing History Without Consent

 

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“I think people should feel reassured that the rules cannot be violated”

Look, I think it’s important to understand that these minimization procedures are taken very seriously, and all other agencies that are handling raw signals intelligence are essentially going to have to import these very complex oversight and compliance mechanisms that currently exist at the NSA.

Within the NSA, those are extremely strong and protective mechanisms. I think people should feel reassured that the rules cannot be violated—certainly not without it coming to the attention of oversight and compliance bodies. I am confident that all of the agencies in the U.S. intelligence community will discharge those very same obligations with the same level of diligence and rigor, adhering to both the spirit and the letter of the law.

–Susan Hennessey, interviewed by Kaveh Waddell for the Atlantic

Not my president, quoth the constitutional lawyer

Donald Trump ran on a platform of relentless, thoroughgoing rejection of the Constitution itself, and its underlying principle of democratic self-government and individual rights. True, he never endorsed quartering of troops in private homes in time of peace, but aside from that there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments he did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.

Like an admissions officer at Trump University, he offered Americans a bag of magic beans and asked them in exchange to hand over their rights and their form of government.

Smiling, nearly 60 million complied.

I deny their right to give Trump my rights or those of others who cannot defend themselves. No result is legitimate that threatens the Constitution its very promise of the “blessings of liberty.” No transient plurality, no matter how angry, has the power to strip minorities of equal status and protection; no mass of voters, no matter how frightened, has the power to vote away the democratic future of their children and their children’s children. […]

The role of a professorial figure in crisis is to cluck reassuringly, note that something similar happened during the Taylor administration, and remind citizens that America is a favored nation and all will be well as we muddle through under God’s beneficent providence. But there is no evidence that any of that is true. The Constitution is broken, and I don’t know how, or whether, it will be fixed.

But I know this as well: Trump was elected President on November 8.

But he is not my president and he never will be.

–Garrett Epps, Donald Trump Has Broken the Constitution

So: the Constitution is broken and Donald Trump will never be the president and the 60 million American people who didn’t vote the way Epps wanted them to don’t actually have the right to vote. Glad we got that settled. Now that Epps has effectively liberated himself from the rules of law and social reality, he is (at last!) on the same ideological footing as Donald J. Trump. What wonders can such men achieve in dialectical tandem, free of such paltry constraints? We shall see, dear reader. We shall see…

“He appealed to common sense.”

The end of the six-week trial for seven people who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon can be summed up in two words: not guilty.

A 12-person jury found occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy not guilty Thursday of the government’s primary charge: conspiracy to impede federal officers by force, threat or intimidation. Their five co-defendants — Jeff Banta, Shawna Cox, David Fry, Kenneth Medenbach and Neil Wampler — have all been found not guilty as well.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on Ryan Bundy’s theft of government property charge.

Lisa Ludwig, standby counsel for pro se defendant Ryan Bundy, said her client and the rest of the defense attorneys had a simple approach.

“He appealed to common sense,” Ludwig said.

This is what passes for common sense in Oregon? A bunch of armed thugs took over a federal facility and prevented federal employees from doing their jobs. Were these facts even contested? A man who was part of this takeover died resisting arrest. Well, whatever. The jury has spoken. Rule of law and all that. The following says it all:

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown — whose coffee mug appeared to read “It is what it is” — began by reading out the not guilty verdict for Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation.

“Did I read the verdict correctly?” Brown asked the jury for confirmation.

“The Supreme Court should represent all of us.”

Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court, from last night’s debate:

You know, I think when we talk about the Supreme Court, it really raises the central issue in this election, namely, what kind of country are we going to be? What kind of opportunities will we provide for our citizens? What kind of rights will Americans have?

And I feel strongly that the Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful corporations and the wealthy. For me, that means that we need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens United, a decision that has undermined the election system in our country because of the way it permits dark, unaccountable money to come into our electoral system.

I have major disagreements with my opponent about these issues and others that will be before the Supreme Court. But I feel that at this point in our country’s history, it is important that we not reverse marriage equality, that we not reverse Roe v. Wade, that we stand up against Citizens United, we stand up for the rights of people in the workplace, that we stand up and basically say: The Supreme Court should represent all of us.

That’s how I see the court, and the kind of people that I would be looking to nominate to the court would be in the great tradition of standing up to the powerful, standing up on behalf of our rights as Americans.

And I look forward to having that opportunity. I would hope that the Senate would do its job and confirm the nominee that President Obama has sent to them. That’s the way the Constitution fundamentally should operate. The president nominates, and then the Senate advises and consents, or not, but they go forward with the process.

Damon Linker:

On the Supreme Court, Clinton said, in effect, that she thinks the Court should serve as a second legislative body in which liberals hold a majority of the seats and exercise veto power over the other branches of government.

The market: a product, not a way out, of politics

In the end, Brennan’s argument for markets over politics is a moral one. Supporting regulation, he tells us, means supporting violence, because violence is what the state ultimately deals in, whether it is enforcing fair employment laws or sending people to war. It’s bracing to be reminded of this, but Brennan is wrong in drawing such a stark contrast between the coercion of politics and the informed consent of market transactions. The fact is that markets bring their own share of state violence. Supporting private property means endorsing violence against determined trespassers. Supporting market-based health care means endorsing violence against people who try to get the care they need without money—or, more plausibly, letting them suffer and die. Supporting the repayment of public debts over political calls to repudiate them, as the European Union has done in Greece, means endorsing violence against those who try to get food for their children in a country where reports of widespread malnutrition are growing. These are not intended to be sentimental arguments: They are precisely as rigorous as Brennan’s point that political regulation implies violence. There may be good reasons to support the market in some, even all, of these circumstances, but the market will always be a product of political and legal decisions, with legislatures and courts behind it and a policeman at its side. The market is not a way out of politics, but one of the products of politics.

–Jedediah Purdy, “Votes of No Confidence”

“Gawker delenda est.”

But observers seem eager to push the wrong message about that brokenness. The scary part of the story isn’t that the occasional vengeful billionaire might break the system and overwhelm even a well-funded target with money.  Such people exist, but getting sued by them is like getting hit by lightning. No, for most of us the scary part of the story is that our legal system is generally receptive to people abusing it to suppress speech. Money helps do that, but it’s not necessary to do it. A hand-to-mouth lunatic with a dishonest contingency lawyer can ruin you and suppress your speech nearly as easily as a billionaire. Will you prevail against a malicious and frivolous defamation suit? Perhaps sooner if you’re lucky enough to be in a state with a good anti-SLAPP statute. Or perhaps years later. Will you be one of the lucky handful who get pro bono help? Or will you be like almost everyone else, who has to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect your right to speak, or else abandon your right to speak because you can’t afford to defend it?

–Ken White, Gawker, Money, Speech, and Justice

Unified, lawful, intelligent

It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?–Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.–It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

—Abraham Lincoln, The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. January 27, 1838.

Improve the world, become famous, and/or make money

NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed. Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain. These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in embryos.

–Francis Collins, Statement on NIH funding of research using gene-editing technologies in human embryos

To me, the biggest likely change in our world from CRISPR-Cas9 and other genomic editing methods won’t be in humans but in the non-humans we use the methods to modify. As it gets cheaper and easier to modify genomes, non-human genomes offer freedom from a lot of regulation, liability, and political controversy, while offering plenty of opportunities to improve the world, become famous, or make money – with combinations of all of the above.

Want to end malaria? Come up with a modified version of Aedes aegypti that can’t transmit yellow fever, dengue fever, or chikungunya viruses to humans and will outcompete and eventually eliminate the wild type. Want to make a really economical biofuel? Take an algae and modify its genome in thousands of ways to optimize it for producing hydrocarbon fuel. Want to bring back the passenger pigeon? Use CRISPR-Cas9 to modify the genomes of existing band tail pigeons to match, more or less, the genomes sequenced from specimens on the extinct passenger pigeon. What to corner the market in high-end gifts? Start playing around with horse genomes adding in bits and pieces from other species in an effort to produce actual unicorns. What to make a splash as an artist? Use CRISPR-Cas9 to make a warren of truly glow-in-the-dark rabbits.

In fact, on the same day Science published the moratorium call on-line, it published on-line an article on one very successful “gene drive” system, using CRISPR-Cas9, that could spread a chosen genetic variant very quickly through an entire population. (See the news story in the next day’s magazine here.)

It is these kinds of uses of genomic engineering that could reshape the biosphere. As the ability to make carefully engineered genomic changes becomes more widely accessible, the possibility of insufficiently controlled or considered experiments increases dramatically. And so, of course, does the chance of more controlled interventions. I would like to see much more focus on this issue, of great practical importance, instead of so much attention on the sexier issue of germline genome modification in humans.

-Hank Greely, Of Science, CRISPR-Cas9, and Asilomar

Context and links via Vox.

On a related note, over the holidays I read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003) for the first time. I suggest you do the same.