When the cookie meets the blockchain

Freedom to Tinker - 8 hours 25 min ago

Cryptocurrencies are portrayed as a more anonymous and less traceable method of payment than credit cards. So if you shop online and pay with Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, how much privacy do you have? In a new paper, we show just how little.

Websites including shopping sites typically have dozens of third-party trackers per site. These third parties track sensitive details of payment flows, such as the items you add to your shopping cart, and their prices, regardless of how you choose to pay. Crucially, we find that many shopping sites leak enough information about your purchase to trackers that they can link it uniquely to the payment transaction on the blockchain. From there, there are well-known ways to further link that transaction to the rest of your Bitcoin wallet addresses. You can protect yourself by using browser extensions such as Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin, and by using Bitcoin anonymity techniques like CoinJoin. These measures help, but we find that linkages are still possible.


An illustration of the full scope of our attack. Consider three websites that happen to have the same embedded tracker. Alice makes purchases and pays with Bitcoin on the first two sites, and logs in on the third. Merchant A leaks a QR code of the transaction’s Bitcoin address to the tracker, merchant B leaks a purchase amount, and merchant C leaks Alice’s PII. Such leaks are commonplace today, and usually intentional. The tracker links these three purchases based on Alice’s browser cookie. Further, the tracker obtains enough information to uniquely (or near-uniquely) identify coins on the Bitcoin blockchain that correspond to the two purchases. However, Alice took the precaution of putting her bitcoins through CoinJoin before making purchases. Thus, either transaction individually could not have been traced back to Alice’s wallet, but there is only one wallet that participated in both CoinJoins, and is hence revealed to be Alice’s.


Using the privacy measurement tool OpenWPM, we analyzed 130 e-commerce sites that accept Bitcoin payments, and found that 53 of these sites leak transaction details to trackers. Many, but not all, of these leaks are by design, to enable advertising and analytics. Further, 49 sites leak personal identifiers to trackers: names, emails, usernames, and so on. This combination means that trackers can link real-world identities to Bitcoin addresses. To be clear, all of this leaked data is sitting in the logs of dozens of tracking companies, and the linkages can be done retroactively using past purchase data.

On a subset of these sites, we made real purchases using bitcoins that we first “mixed” using the CoinJoin anonymity technique.[1] We found that a tracker that observed two of our purchases — a common occurrence — would be able to identify our Bitcoin wallet 80% of the time. In our paper, we present the full details of our attack as well as a thorough analysis of its effectiveness.

Our findings are a reminder that systems without provable privacy properties may have unexpected information leaks and lurking privacy breaches. When multiple such systems interact, the leaks can be even more subtle. Anonymity in cryptocurrencies seems especially tricky, because it inherits the worst of both data anonymization (sensitive data must be publicly and permanently stored on the blockchain) and anonymous communication (privacy depends on subtle interactions arising from the behavior of users and applications).

[1] In this experiment we used 1–2 rounds of mixing. We provide evidence in the paper that while a higher mixing depth decreases the effectiveness of the attack, it doesn’t defeat it. There’s room for a more careful study of the tradeoffs here.

Categories: Research

NYT – Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:44

We decode the symbols of hate that white supremacists, Nazis and alt-right groups display at their marches, including the violent gathering in Charlottesville, Va….a broad lexicon of far-right terminology…has become important to understanding American politics during the Trump administration. Many of these terms have their roots in movements that are racist, anti-Semitic and sexist. Here is a brief guide to the meaning of those expressions and others used by white supremacists and far-right extremists….”

Categories: Research

Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of Practical Obscurity

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:27

Ardia, David S., Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of Practical Obscurity (August 4, 2017). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2017, No. 5, 2017. Available at SSRN:

“Court records present a conundrum for privacy advocates. Public access to the courts has long been a fundamental tenant of American democracy, helping to ensure that our system of justice functions fairly and that citizens can observe the actions of their government. Yet court records contain an astonishing amount of private and sensitive information, ranging from social security numbers to the names of sexual assault victims. Until recently, the privacy harms that attended the public disclosure of court records were generally regarded as insignificant because court files were difficult to search and access. But this “practical obscurity” is rapidly disappearing as the courts move from the paper-based world of the twentieth century to an interconnected, electronic world where physical and temporal barriers to information are eroding. These changes are prompting courts — and increasingly, legislatures — to reconsider public access to court records. Although this reexamination can be beneficial, a number of courts are abandoning the careful balancing of interests that has traditionally guided judges in access disputes and instead are excluding whole categories of information, documents, and cases from public access. This approach, while superficially appealing, is contrary to established First Amendment principles that require case-specific analysis before access can be restricted and is putting at risk the public’s ability to observe the functioning of the courts and justice system. This article pushes back against the categorical exclusion of information in court records. In doing so, it makes three core claims. First, the First Amendment provides a qualified right of public access to all court records that are material to a court’s exercise of its adjudicatory power. Second, before a court can restrict public access, it must engage in a case-specific evaluation of the privacy and public access interests at stake. Third, per se categorical restrictions on public access are not permissible. These conclusions do not leave the courts powerless to protect privacy, as some scholars assert. We must discard the notion that the protection of privacy is exclusively the job of judges and court staff. Instead, we need to shift the responsibility for protecting privacy to lawyers and litigants, who should not be permitted to include highly sensitive information in court files if it is not relevant to the case. Of course, we cannot eliminate all private and sensitive information from court records, but as long as courts continue to provide physical access to their records, the First Amendment does not preclude court administrators from managing electronic access in order to retain some of the beneficial aspects of practical obscurity. By minimizing the inclusion of unnecessary personal information in court files and by limiting the extent of electronic access to certain types of highly sensitive information, we can protect privacy while at the same time ensuring transparency and public accountability.”

Categories: Research

Gallup – 2017 Global Law and Order Report

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:02

2017 Global Law and Order Report:…” the latest findings from Gallup’s Law and Order Index, a worldwide measure that reveals how safe — or insecure — people feel in their neighborhood and how confident they are in their local police…the poll offers leaders a glimpse of how close or far countries are from achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of “promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.”

Categories: Research

Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 22:48

“The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University today released a comprehensive analysis of online media and social media coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. The report, “Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” documents how highly partisan right-wing sources helped shape mainstream press coverage and seize the public’s attention in the 18-month period leading up to the election.

“In this study, we document polarization in the media ecosystem that is distinctly asymmetric. Whereas the left half of our spectrum is filled with many media sources from center to left, the right half of the spectrum has a substantial gap between center and right. The core of attention from the center-right to the left is large mainstream media organizations of the center-left. The right-wing media sphere skews to the far right and is dominated by highly partisan news organizations,” co-author and principal investigator Yochai Benkler stated. In addition to Benkler, the report was authored by Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, Bruce Etling, Nikki Bourassa, and Ethan Zuckerman.

The fact that media coverage has become more polarized in general is not new, but the extent to which right-wing sites have become partisan is striking, the report says.  The study found that on the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations. Robert Faris, the Berkman Klein Center’s research director, noted, “Consistent with concerns over echo chambers and filter bubbles, social media users on the left and the right rarely share material from outside their respective spheres, except where they find coverage that is favorable to their choice of candidate. A key difference between the right and left is that Trump supporters found substantial coverage favorable to their side in left and center-left media, particularly coverage critical of Clinton. In contrast, the messaging from right-wing media was consistently pro-Trump.” Conservative opposition to Trump was strongest in the center-right, the portion of the political spectrum that wielded the least influence in media coverage of the election.  In this recently-emerged universe, Breitbart stands at the center of a right-wing media ecosystem and is surrounded by sites like Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed, according to the report’s analysis.”

Categories: Research

Petition of the day

SCOTUS Blog - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 22:22

The petition of the day is:

S. S. v. Colorado River Indian Tribes 17-95

Issues: (1) Whether the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 1912(d) and 1912(f), applies in a private severance action initiated by one birth parent against the other birth parent of an Indian child; and (2) whether, if the sections apply in such an action, this de jure discrimination and separate-and-substandard treatment of Indian children violate the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The post Petition of the day appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Categories: Research

Heritage Foundation reports plan replacement of fed experts with AI

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 21:21

Derek B. Johnson: “The Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, is calling for increased reliance on automation and the potential creation of a “contractor cloud” offering streamlined access to private sector labor as part of its broader strategy for reorganizing the federal government. Seeking to take advantage of a united Republican government and a president who has vowed to reform the civil service, the foundation drafted a pair of reports this year attempting to identify strategies for consolidating, merging or eliminating various federal agencies, programs and functions. Among those strategies is a proposal for the Office of Management and Budget to issue a report “examining existing government tasks performed by generously-paid government employees that could be automated…Private firms can automate on their own schedule. However, major structural changes to the civil service will require congressional approval. At an Aug. 15 Heritage panel on government reorganization, former associate director at the Office of Management and Budget Robert Shea said he does not anticipate the passage of workforce legislation anytime soon…”

Categories: Research

Ivy Stacks employee with UVa’s offsite shelving facility seriously injured in Charlottesville

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 21:12

Chronicle of Higher Education: “Tyler D.R. Magill, an employee with the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library, suffered a stroke Tuesday that may be related to injuries he sustained in a violent melee with white supremacists on the university’s Lawn Friday night, a friend of his family confirmed Wednesday. Mr. Magill was admitted around 10 a.m. Tuesday to the university’s medical center, where doctors found that his carotid artery was partially dissected, causing a clot that resulted in a stroke, Mr. Magill’s wife confirmed to The Chronicle through a family friend. Doctors at the medical center suspect that the stroke is the result of blunt force trauma to the neck, the source told The Chronicle. A spokesman for the university’s medical center said Wednesday that Mr. Magill was in fair condition at the hospital. Mr. Magill, 46, works in the university’s library as an liaison with Ivy Stacks, UVa’s offsite shelving facility. He drew attention when a video surfaced recently in which he followed Jason Kessler, an organizer of the “Unite the Right Rally,” as state police escorted Mr. Kessler away from a press conference outside Charlottesville City Hall. Mr. Magill called Mr. Kessler responsible for the death of Heather D. Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was fatally struck by a vehicle that rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters Saturday…”

Categories: Research

Roku Gets Tough On Pirate Channels, Warns Users

Slashdot: Your Rights Online - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 19:20
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Earlier this year Roku was harshly confronted with this new piracy crackdown when a Mexican court ordered local retailers to take its media player off the shelves. While this legal battle isn't over yet, it was clear to Roku that misuse of its platform wasn't without consequences. While Roku never permitted any infringing content, it appears that the company has recently made some adjustments to better deal with the problem, or at least clarify its stance. Pirate content generally doesn't show up in the official Roku Channel Store but is directly loaded onto the device through third-party "private" channels. A few weeks ago, Roku renamed these "private" channels to "non-certified" channels, while making it very clear that copyright infringement is not allowed. A "WARNING!" message that pops up during the installation of these third-party channels stresses that Roku has no control over the content. In addition, the company notes that these channels may be removed if it links to copyright infringing content. "By continuing, you acknowledge you are accessing a non-certified channel that may include content that is offensive or inappropriate for some audiences," Roku's warning reads. "Moreover, if Roku determines that this channel violates copyright, contains illegal content, or otherwise violates Roku's terms and conditions, then ROKU MAY REMOVE THIS CHANNEL WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Categories: Research

Animal Welfare: Information on the U.S. Horse Population

beSpacific - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 18:47

Animal Welfare: Information on the U.S. Horse Population, GAO-17-680R: Published: Jul 17, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 2017. “There could be as many as 9.2 million domesticated equines—including horses, burros, and mules—in the United States, and at least 200,000 free-roaming equines on federal and tribal lands.

  • Managing equine populations poses several challenges, including Affording care for them
  • Finding new homes for unwanted equines
  • Protecting equine welfare, including when they are in transit for commercial slaughter
  • Controlling population growth
  • Addressing the potential environmental effects of free-roaming equines

We collected information on equine welfare to help federal and state agencies and nongovernmental stakeholders address some of these challenges.”

Categories: Research

YouTube Has An Illegal TV Streaming Problem

Slashdot: Your Rights Online - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 17:20
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mashable: Most people turn to Netflix to binge watch full seasons of a single TV show, but there could be a much cheaper way: YouTube. You might be surprised to learn that you can watch full episodes of popular TV shows on YouTube for free, thanks to a large number of rogue accounts that are hosting illegal live streams of shows. Perhaps the most shocking thing about these free (and very illegal) TV live streams might even make their way into your suggested video queue, if you watch enough "random shit" and Bobby Hill quote compilations on the site, as Mashable business editor Jason Abbruzzese recently experienced. He first noticed the surprisingly high number of illegal TV streaming accounts on his YouTube homepage, which has tailored recommended videos based on his viewing habits. Personalized recommendations aren't exactly new -- but the number of illegal live streams broadcasting copyrighted material on a loop was a shocker. When we looked deeper into the livestreams, the number we found was mindblowing. Many of these accounts appear to exist solely to give watchers an endless loop of their favorite shows and only have a few other posts related to the live streamed content. "YouTube respects the rights of copyright holders and we've invested heavily in copyright and content management tools to give rights holders control of their content on YouTube," a YouTube spokesperson told Mashable in an email. "When copyright holders work with us to provide reference files for their content, we ensure all live broadcasts are scanned for third party content, and we either pause or terminate streams when we find matches to third party content."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Categories: Research

Symposium: In sports-betting case, the Supreme Court should bet on federalism

SCOTUS Blog - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 15:06

Jonathan Wood is an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, an adjunct fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, and a blogger for He represents a coalition of libertarian-leaning groups as amici supporting New Jersey in Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Can Congress dictate to states what their own laws must be? The Supreme Court agreed to decide that question in Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the latest iteration of New Jersey’s years-long effort to legalize sports betting and have the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s decision will have wide-ranging implications for federalism, particularly cooperative federalism, and political accountability.

The present conflict began in 2011 when New Jersey voters approved a referendum, by a whopping 2-1 margin, favoring the legalization of sports betting. Thanks in part to PASPA, which forbids states from “authoriz[ing]” this type of gambling, it is illegal to bet on sports in almost every state. Only those states that allowed sports betting in 1992, basically just Nevada, may retain it.

The federally compelled state bans are widely and flagrantly violated. Illegal sports betting is likely a $100 billion dollar enterprise. Across the country, people openly gamble on the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball tournament and many other sports events. President Barack Obama bragged about violating these laws during an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Even the commissioner of the National Basketball Association has called for PASPA’s repeal.

In response to the popular referendum, New Jersey initially tried to replace its state prohibitions with a licensing and permitting regime, which was challenged by the NCAA and four professional sports leagues. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that this reform violated PASPA, rejecting New Jersey’s argument that PASPA violates the equal-sovereignty doctrine by discriminating among the states (Nevada can have sports gambling but New Jersey can’t). The court also rejected New Jersey’s argument that PASPA unconstitutionally commandeers state law, interpreting “authorize … by law” to forbid states from affirmatively licensing or permitting gambling but not from repealing their own prohibitions. The Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

So New Jersey accepted the 3rd Circuit’s invitation and partially repealed its prohibitions on sports gambling at casinos and racetracks, without replacing them with any affirmative authorization or permit. Sports leagues challenged that too. This time, the en banc 3rd Circuit, abandoning the limits it had recognized earlier in order to avoid the commandeering problem, interpreted PASPA to forbid states from repealing their own prohibitions as well as from affirmatively authorizing gambling.

Nevertheless, the court of appeals once again rejected New Jersey’s commandeering arguments, construing commandeering to apply only when federal law compels states to adopt and enforce a new policy. “PASPA does not command states to take any affirmative actions,” the court held, but merely forbids states from amending policies they had previously, voluntarily adopted. The court suggested that PASPA may allow some repeals but refused to explain what those might be, leading the dissent to question whether, under the majority’s rationale, any “repeal of any kind will evade [PASPA’s] command.”

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the 3rd Circuit’s narrow view of the commandeering doctrine is correct. Its past commandeering cases suggest that it will reject that view.

The Supreme Court has twice found federal laws to commandeer states unconstitutionally. In New York v. United States, the court considered a federal law that required states to either regulate radioactive-waste disposal according to standards set by Congress or accept ownership of the waste. States had no option to do nothing and cede the issue to the federal government, but were forced to adopt as state policy one of two options imposed by the feds. Although the Supreme Court had previously referred to commandeering as a constitutional limit on Congress’ power, this was the first time it had found that a federal law actually “commandeered the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.” Under New York, if Congress wants a policy enforced, it can encourage states to voluntarily participate (so-called cooperative federalism) or it can enforce the policy itself directly on individuals, but it cannot simply dictate policy to states.

Printz v. United States extended the protections of the commandeering doctrine to state officials. The Brady Act required local law-enforcement officers to perform background checks for prospective gun sales. The United States argued that New York should be limited to situations in which Congress requires states to affirmatively enact policies set by Congress, arguing that “the constitutional line is crossed only when Congress compels the States to make law in their sovereign capacities.” But the Supreme Court rejected any limitation of the commandeering doctrine based on the “distinction between ‘making’ law and merely ‘enforcing’ it, between ‘policymaking’ and mere ‘implementation.’” Once again, the court emphatically concluded that the federal government “‘may not compel the States to enact or administer’” federal policy.

Commandeering is perhaps easiest to recognize in contrast to pre-emption cases. In the latter, Congress may give states an option of adopting some sort of state regulatory program or cede the issue to the feds. It has done so many times in the environmental arena: If states do not regulate up to federal standards, the federal government directly imposes those standards on individuals.

PASPA is a unique statute in two significant respects: It regulates states as states (and discriminates among them), and it gives states no option to cede the issue of sports betting to federal enforcement. PASPA does not contain a federal prohibition on sports betting (probably because that would have been a political nonstarter with Nevada). Instead, it forbids states from legalizing sports betting and individuals from placing bets pursuant to any state legalization effort.

The Supreme Court has previously identified two principal justifications for the commandeering ban: (1) Commandeering would frustrate the Constitution’s system of federalism; and (2) commandeering would frustrate political accountability. Both also cut against PASPA and the 3rd Circuit’s rule.

Limiting the commandeering doctrine to save PASPA would pose significant federalism problems. Most obviously, it would make cooperative federalism much more difficult, if not impossible. If Congress can compel states to continue enforcing policies forever as long as the initial adoption was voluntary, a state would have to think long and hard before participating in any cooperative federalism arrangement. If a state initially agreed to participate, the federal government could bind the state forever, no matter how expensive, unpopular or ineffective the policy proved. To do so, it would only need to enact a statute like PASPA forbidding the state from “authorizing” any activity prohibited by the policy.

PASPA also undermines traditional federalism principles by denying states the ability to experiment with novel solutions to vexing public policy problems. Consider the recent federalism revolution on the issue of marijuana. Because of the failed federal war on drugs, many states have experimented with more relaxed regulations or wholesale legalization of the drug. If PASPA is constitutional, Congress could stop this federalism experiment (or any other) in its tracks by forbidding any more states from “authorizing” anything that was previously forbidden.

This kind of commandeering would also frustrate political accountability. When the federal government dictates policy to states, accountability is diminished at both the state and federal level. The federal government is less accountable because it can adopt feel-good policies but shift the hard questions of how to implement and pay for them to states. And accountability at the state level will be undermined because voters will reasonably punish state politicians for these policies if they prove unpopular, even though the politicians are powerless to do anything about them. We have seen this play out in New Jersey, where the voters adopted a state referendum calling for state-law reform, apparently in the mistaken belief that the state had any say in what state law should be.

It’s easy to underestimate this political accountability concern. Won’t voters realize what’s going on and vote accordingly, especially when the issue has received as much attention as PASPA has? Although intuitively appealing, this is a too-cheery view of politics. Because people’s time and attention are limited, and the likelihood that a single vote will affect an election is incomprehensibly small, voters are rationally ignorant on political issues. Only 42 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government. Hitting more closely to home for SCOTUSblog fans, only 34 percent can name a single Supreme Court justice. Expecting voters to understand the ins and outs of a relatively obscure statute like PASPA is out of the question.

The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the question of PASPA’s constitutionality is a welcome sign. Letting the 3rd Circuit’s decision stand would risk Congress using a similar approach to undermine federalism and political accountability in other policy areas. By deciding the constitutional question now, the Supreme Court can set the necessary limits on commandeering while only PASPA is at stake. It would be harder for the court to take this step if PASPA’s approach, currently confined to a failed statutory regime, spread to other, more politically sensitive issues.

The post Symposium: In sports-betting case, the Supreme Court should bet on federalism appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Categories: Research

Symposium: Congress’ bet against equal sovereignty

SCOTUS Blog - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 10:27

Zachary S. Price is an associate professor at UC Hastings College of the Law.

Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association presents the question whether the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act impermissibly commandeers state legislatures by preventing them from “authoriz[ing]” certain sports gambling.

Another question, however, lurks in the background of that one: Are PASPA’s restrictions invalid because they apply only to some states and not others? Whatever the correct answer to the commandeering question, the answer to this second question is no. Doubts about PASPA’s overall validity should play no role in the Supreme Court’s decision in this case, because PASPA’s selective application to a subset of states is perfectly constitutional.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court famously embraced a principle of state equal sovereignty in Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, the court invoked a supposed “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty among the states” to invalidate the coverage formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That law required covered states to obtain federal approval before enacting laws relating to voting. Characterizing this measure as “strong medicine,” the Supreme Court deemed it suspect because it applied only to some states and not others. Shelby County went on to hold that Section 5’s discrimination among states was insufficiently justified by “current conditions,” even though the Supreme Court had upheld the provision at other times in the past.

Four years earlier, the Supreme Court had floated this “equal sovereignty” idea in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. I published an essay in the NYU Law Review Online arguing that NAMUDNO’s equal-sovereignty principal was bunk. It still is, Shelby County notwithstanding.

Of course, the Constitution does guarantee the states certain forms of equality. Most significantly, it assures every state two senators. Hence, my state of California (with a population of 39 million) enjoys the glorious sovereign equality of Senate representation identical to Wyoming’s (population 590,000). In addition, the Constitution expressly bars unequal “Duties, Imposts, and Excises” and “Preference[s]” for one state’s ports over another’s. The 10th and 11th Amendments guarantee all states the same set of residual sovereign powers and the same sovereign immunity.

Under basic principles of textual interpretation, however, enumerating these specific forms of equality implies that Congress is not otherwise required to legislate equally for all states. What’s more, longstanding pre-Shelby practice and precedent bear out this inference.

As I explained in my essay, although a line of Supreme Court decisions did ensure that every new state entered the union on “equal footing” with its predecessors, the court applied this doctrine to invalidate laws that restrained new states in ways that went beyond what Congress could do to any state (old or new) through ordinary legislation. Thus, for example, in Coyle v. Smith, the court invalidated a state-admission condition that prevented the state from relocating its capital. In contrast, in other cases the court upheld conditions that treated states unequally but were rooted in Congress’ ordinary legislative powers.

As PASPA itself illustrates, many ordinary laws in fact have such unequal effects. For its part, PASPA prohibits sports gambling nationwide and bars states from authorizing it, but it expressly exempts states that had allowed sports lotteries or gambling before the law passed. The statute also gave New Jersey (and only New Jersey) one year to legalize certain sports gambling and thus escape the law’s strictures.

Laws like PASPA – and there are others (my essay and an article by Leah Litman each provide examples) – illustrate the mischief a broad understanding of equal sovereignty could cause. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, given the principle’s incoherence, no one seems to know just what Shelby County means or how it applies to laws other than the VRA.

Some commentary, most notably this thoughtful partial defense of equal sovereignty by Thomas Colby, has suggested that laws like PASPA are indeed suspect. Though rejecting any implication that state equal sovereignty requires “equal treatment in all respects,” Colby argues that the principle recognized in Shelby County should foreclose laws that expressly limit some states’ regulatory authority relative to others’. From that point of view, PASPA is suspect because it allows some states to permit sports gambling while preventing others from doing so. (This more recent essay offers another analysis of PASPA along similar lines.)

For all the reasons addressed earlier, I find this view unpersuasive as a matter of first principles. Congress includes exceptions of various sorts in statutes all the time; the Constitution gives no sound reason to think exceptions for particular states are suspect.

More to the point here, though, it is not at all clear that Shelby County used the term “sovereignty” in such a broad sense. After all, the Supreme Court in that case invalidated a selective restriction on states’ authority to alter voting rules and procedures. As the court emphasized in its opinion, voting laws are a “particularly sensitive area[] of state and local policymaking.” Federal statutes targeting such laws do not simply restrict state regulatory authority. Instead, they restrict state sovereignty in the more specific sense of impairing the state’s capacity to constitute itself as a sovereign governing authority in the first place.

The VRA’s means, moreover, were particularly demeaning to state authority. “States,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, “must beseech the Federal Government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact and execute on their own, subject of course to any injunction [under other provisions of the VRA].”

Shelby County, then, need not imply that every impediment to state regulatory authority impairs state equal sovereignty. The decision might cast doubt only on laws that more directly interfere with selected states’ authority to constitute their own governing structures.

Alternatively, as Leah Litman has argued, the case might be understood to affect only laws that pose a particular affront to states’ equal dignity, as the VRA did by imposing intrusive burdens on particular states based on manifest suspicion of those states’ good faith. Either way, Shelby County’s equal-sovereignty principle does not necessarily call into question laws like PASPA that simply apply different regulatory requirements within different states.

In any event, even if laws like PASPA were suspect on equal-sovereignty grounds, there would be no reason to think the resulting heightened scrutiny should be fatal in fact. The Supreme Court found insufficient justification for the VRA’s coverage formula in Shelby County, but PASPA’s exceptions were generally designed to preserve existing sports betting in states that allowed (or sought to allow) such gambling at the time the federal legislation was adopted. Just as grandfather clauses and other exceptions to protect various forms of private reliance may be justified, a carve-out for states that relied in particularly pronounced ways on prior federal law should be constitutional.

Shelby County’s equal-sovereignty principle deserves the fate of all misguided precedents: a narrow construction that contains the damage and paves the way to overruling. Even taking Shelby County as a given, however, the decision need not cast doubt on PASPA’s validity. As the justices consider the commandeering issue presented in Christie, they should put aside any concerns about PASPA’s unequal application to different states.

The post Symposium: Congress’ bet against equal sovereignty appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Categories: Research

WordPress Bans Fascist Website Linked To Charlottesville Killer

Slashdot: Your Rights Online - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 09:00
tedlistens writes: WordPress has said that it does not censor websites like that of self-proclaimed fascist group Vanguard America. But last night, the group's site was taken offline for violating the company's terms of service. The about-face was likely prompted by Vanguard's participation in last weekend's Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd, killing one person and injuring 19. Fields has claimed allegiance to Vanguard America; the group denies that Fields was a member. For WordPress to drop a site, even a fascist site, is a very big deal; the same is true of GoDaddy's and Google's decision to drop their registration of neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer (another site that GoDaddy previously said would be permitted on free speech grounds). WordPress hasn't explained the shift in its approach to the website: the company's user agreement and terms of service have not changed since Charlottesville. That policy, like that of other tech platforms, has long stood by strict neutrality and freedom of expression. That may now be changing.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Categories: Research

Wednesday round-up

SCOTUS Blog - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 06:39

At BuzzFeed News, Chris Geidner reports that “[o]ne of the country’s top lawyers” has filed a cert petition on behalf of an Arizona death-row inmate who “has been arguing for the past three years that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t do enough to narrow who is eligible for the death penalty, among those convicted of murder.” Additional coverage comes from Tony Mauro in The National Law Journal (subscription or registration required), who reports that “[f]ormer acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal is … asking the court to decide whether ‘the death penalty in and of itself violates the Eighth Amendment, in light of contemporary standards of decency.’”


  • In USA Today, Richard Wolf cites two upcoming Supreme Court cases, Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph Institute, which stems from a challenge to Ohio’s voter-roll purge, and Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which asks whether mandatory-arbitration agreements that deprive workers of their right to collective proceedings are enforceable, as examples of the “Trump administration … switching sides in some of the nation’s most consequential legal battles.”

  • In The Economist, Steven Mazie reports on the pivotal role Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely play in several high-profile cases on the Supreme Court’s docket for October Term 2017.
  • At E&E News, Amanda Reilly reports that “[t]he Trump administration recently weighed in on two complex interstate water disputes in the Supreme Court, in both cases building on the arguments made by the Obama administration,” and that the administration’s “responses … come as the Supreme Court is considering reports issued by special masters assigned to the cases.”
  • At Balkinization, Mark Tushnet weighs in on Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether a federal statute that prohibits New Jersey from repealing its ban on commercial sports betting is unconstitutional, arguing that “Congress has simply preempted state property law on this issue,” and “[i]t can’t be that the anticommandeering doctrine makes all federal laws preempting state property (or contract or tort) rights unconstitutional.”

Remember, we rely exclusively on our readers to send us links for our round-up.  If you have or know of a recent (published in the last two or three days) article, post, or op-ed relating to the Court that you’d like us to consider for inclusion in the round-up, please send it to roundup [at]

The post Wednesday round-up appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Categories: Research

Toyota Patents Cloaking Device To Make Car Pillars Appear Transparent

Slashdot: Your Rights Online - Tue, 08/15/2017 - 21:25
Toyota has patented a cloaking device that aims to make big, chunky car pillars transparent. The "apparatuses and methods for making an object appear transparent" which Toyota just patented uses cleverly placed mirrors to bend light around an object making it visible from the other side. The Drive reports: So you're not really seeing through the pillars, you're seeing around them. This is a much cheaper option than adding more cameras and screens all over the place and much more realistic than Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. The patent was filed with the U.S. patent office by Toyota North America, so if Toyota does go forward with this technology, we can probably expect to see it in cars in the U.S.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Categories: Research

US Institute of Peace – Negotiating Civil Resistance

beSpacific - Tue, 08/15/2017 - 20:11

Negotiating Civil Resistance July 19, 2017. By Anthony Wanis-St. John and Noah Rosen. United States Institute of Peace.

“Reviewing the literature on negotiation and civil resistance, this report examines the current divide between the two and digs deeper to identify the fundamental convergences. It builds on these findings to illustrate why negotiations and negotiation concepts are essential to the success of civil resistance campaigns. Using historical examples, it then examines the dynamics of negotiation in the context of these strategic domains.

  • Nonviolent uprisings and protest movements can help channel popular discontent into positive political and social change.
  • Negotiation can enable opposition movements to more effectively press for such change.
  • Despite enormous complementarities, civil resistance activists and negotiation scholar-practitioners have tended to develop separate communities of practice and divergent theories.
  • Rights advocates often focus on ends; the conflict resolution community emphasizes processes and methods.
  • Demands of a movement can be structured to make either pragmatic, incremental gains toward justice or peace, or far-reaching, transformative changes to restructure a system.
  • Movement leaders need to recognize the three key purposes of a demand: collectivizing, dramatizing, and generating momentum.
  • Direct action campaigns should increase the social power of a movement by mobilizing key populations and establishing the moral high ground of the movement vis-à-vis the target regime.
  • Effective direct action has a clear target, whether a policy or a regime.
  • Broad-based participation that moves beyond demonstration and becomes transgressive shows the opponent that obedience and compliance cannot be taken for granted.
  • The leverage nonviolent movements have depends on the quality and strength of the negotiated agreements within the coalition and with the regime. Such negotiations are far from a mere formality: the process of unpacking an old regime and rebuilding a functional, harmonious society is usually a process, rarely a definitive end-state.
  • Rather than marking the formal end of a civil resistance campaign, negotiation is essential to successfully initiating, expanding, and sustaining it.
  • Despite clear and important cleavages and divergence between the negotiation and conflict resolution field, on the one hand, and the civil resistance field, on the other, their convergence is promising..”
Categories: Research

Gallup – 2 Reasons Why Employee Engagement Programs Fall Short

beSpacific - Tue, 08/15/2017 - 19:40

Larry Emond – Gallup: “…An employee engagement program needs to be a manager education and development initiative, not a measurement initiative — but many are really just the latter. An annual survey by itself does not help anyone. The survey should be just an audit of whether things are getting better. But the program should be all about providing managers with learning and tools to increase engagement within their teams, week in and week out — through ongoing conversations between managers and their employees….

…Companies are not nearly selective enough about whom they name as their managers, at every level. Most people become managers either because they were top individual performers or because they’ve been around the company a long time. Neither of those two things has ever shown a strong relationship to being a good manager. In fact, Gallup research has found that only 10% of human beings are naturally wired to be great managers — and some others, while not naturally gifted, are teachable. But companies choose candidates with the right talent for the job only 18% of the time….”

Categories: Research

CBO – The Effects of Terminating Payments for Cost-Sharing Reductions

beSpacific - Tue, 08/15/2017 - 19:31

“Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insurers receive federal payments to cover costs incurred when offering plans with reduced deductibles, copayments, and other cost sharing to some people who purchase plans through the ACA marketplaces. If those payments for cost-sharing reductions stopped after the end of this year, participating insurers would raise premiums to cover the costs. CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that ending those payments would increase the federal deficit, on net, by $194 billion from 2017 through 2026, mostly because that change would result in increased costs for premium assistance tax credits. The number of people uninsured would be slightly higher in 2018 but slightly lower starting in 2020.”

Categories: Research

Neo-Nazi Site The Daily Stormer Moves To Dark Web After Shutdown

Slashdot: Your Rights Online - Tue, 08/15/2017 - 19:20
After being shutdown by Google and GoDaddy, prominent neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer has moved their site to the dark web. "The new site is now only available through the Tor network, which allows users to set up their own domains," reports VICE News. "The original site,, is now fully offline." From the report: The homepage, as of Tuesday morning, contained articles that make light of the car ramming attack that claimed the life of 32-year-old Heather Heyer; admonish the "Jew media;" liberally employ various racial epithets; and, in a less offensive post, provided an update on which characters are available on Pokemon Go. In a statement, the site's founder promised to bring his site back online. "The Daily Stormer will be live in internet prison with drug dealers, terrorists and perverts, which is where we've been exiled to, for all time," Andrew Anglin said in a statement sent to VICE News. "We should have a real domain online within 24 hours. If it gets shut down again, people will know we are on the black web."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Categories: Research