A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for March, 2017

It is Against the Law to Publish the Law

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Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse so everybody must be free to acquire copies of the law to ensure they’re in compliance with it, right? Not in Georgia. In Georgia there are two sets of published laws. The first set is the freely accessible one. The other set is an annotated version copyrighted by the State of Georgia. Carl Malamud dropped over $1,000 to acquire the annotated version so he could publish it for the world to see. This made the State of Georgia very unhappy so it took the matter to court. Not surprisingly, the State’s court sided with the State:

Open-records activist Carl Malamud bought a hard copy, and it cost him $1,207.02 after shipping and taxes. A copy on CD was $1,259.41. The “good” news for Georgia residents is that they’ll only have to pay $385.94 to buy a printed set from LexisNexis.

Malamud thinks reading the law shouldn’t cost anything. So a few years back, he scanned a copy of the state of Georgia’s official laws, known as the Official Georgia Code Annotated, or OCGA. Malamud made USB drives with two copies on them, one scanned copy and another encoded in XML format. On May 30, 2013, Malamud sent the USB drives to the Georgia speaker of the House, David Ralson, and the state’s legislative counsel, as well as other prominent Georgia lawyers and policymakers.

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In Georgia’s view, there were two separate works at issue: the actual text of the laws, which were available to the public, and the annotations, which were copyrighted and owned by the state. The annotated code includes things like judicial decisions related to particular sections.

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Now, the case has concluded with US District Judge Richard Story having published an opinion (PDF) that sides with the state of Georgia. The judge disagreed with Malamud’s argument that the OCGA can’t be copyrighted and also said Malamud’s copying of the laws is not fair use. “The Copyright Act itself specifically lists ‘annotations’ in the works entitled to copyright protection,” writes Story. “Defendant admits that annotations in an unofficial code would be copyrightable.”

Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse but knowing the law is only possible if you’re willing to pay a sizable fee for a copy. If that isn’t a catch-22 targeting poor individuals I don’t know what is.

What makes this decision even more egregious is that the copyrighted material was funded by tax victims. The laws themselves are created by politicians who are paid with tax dollars and the annotations include things like judicial decisions, which are created in courts funded with tax dollars. Georgians are paying the State of Georgia to create these documents and then have to pay again if they want to actually read them. It’s a good example of double-dipping.

Mr. Malamud is appealing and it’ll be interesting to see where his case goes.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 31st, 2017 at 11:00 am

When the Gloves Come Off

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Most governments make some attempt to appear to have the people’s best interests in mind. These attempts usually take the form of giving the people the illusion of having power over the government by granting them permission to petition, vote, and publicly criticize the government. But when a government feels that its power is being challenged it reveals its true nature. Venezuela is in the midsts of economic collapse. Even basic necessities like food and toilet paper are hard to come by. This has made the people unhappy with the government and that has caused the government to feel threatened. In response it has taken its gloves off:

On Thursday the Venezuelan Supreme Court seized power from the opposition-led legislature, a move that could essentially allow it to write laws itself.

The court justified the move by saying the National Assembly’s lawmakers were “in a situation of contempt” after allegations of electoral irregularities by three opposition lawmakers during the 2015 elections.

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The move is the latest example of the socialist President Maduro tightening his grip on power, which critics say he has been doing for months, amid a deepening economic crisis in the country.

The socialist government has finally had enough of its troublesome opposition. With a court ruling the illusion of power, the National Assembly, has been rendered irrelevant. As you can imagine, this isn’t setting well with the people but if they don’t quiet down the next step the government will likely take is unleashing its police and military forces on anybody who dares question it.

This is the true nature of every government.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 31st, 2017 at 10:30 am

Private Solutions to Government Created Problems

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Earlier this week the United States Congress decided to repeal privacy protection laws that it had previous put into place on Internet Service Providers (ISP). While a lot of people have been wasting their time begging their representatives masters with phone calls, e-mails, and petitions, private companies have begun announcing methods to actually protect their users’ privacy. In the latest example of this, Pornhub announced that it will turn on HTTPS across its entire site:

On April 4, both Pornhub and its sister site, YouPorn, will turn on HTTPS by default across the entirety of both sites. By doing so, they’ll make not just adult online entertainment more secure, but a sizable chunk of the internet itself.

The Pornhub announcement comes at an auspicious time. Congress this week affirmed the power of cable providers to sell user data, while as of a few weeks ago more than half the web had officially embraced HTTPS. Encryption doesn’t solve your ISP woes altogether—they’ll still know that you were on Pornhub—but it does make it much harder to know what exactly you’re looking at on there.

As the article points out, your ISP will still be able to tell that you accessed Pornhub, since Domain Name Server (DNS) lookups are generally not secured, but it won’t be able to see what content you’re accessing. As for DNS lookups, solutions are already being worked on to improve their security. Projects like DNSCrypt, which provides encrypted DNS lookups, are already available.

If you want to protect your privacy you can’t rely on the State’s regulations. First, the State is the worst offender when it comes to surveillance and the consequences of its surveillance are far worse. Sure, your ISP might sell some of your data but the State will send men with guns to your home to kidnap you and probably shoot your dog. Second, as this situation perfectly illustrates, government regulations are temporary. The government implemented the privacy regulations and then took them away. It may restore them again in the future but there’s no guarantee it won’t repeal them again. Any government solution is temporary at best.

Cryptography offers a permanent solution that can protect Internet users from both their snoopy ISP and government. HTTPS and DNSCrypt will continue to work regardless of the state of privacy regulations.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 31st, 2017 at 10:00 am

Defense and the State

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A common objection made by statists about anarchy is that the anarchists would quickly be conquered by a neighboring state. Apparently the only way to defend ourselves from criminal gangs is to have a criminal gang of our own. Except, as Robert Higgs points out, such objections are based on two flawed presumptions:

This thinking presumes at least two critical ideas: first, that defense of a population requires a government that rules that population; and, second, that if a government has the power to take over another country, it will do so.

As for the first assumption, it seems clear that a national government may prove an ineffective means of defense in any event, as many governments have demonstrated through the ages. Moreover, it is certainly conceivable that decentralized measures of defense, such as pervasive guerrilla groups operating more or less independently, might prove effective in preventing a foreign takeover.

As for the second assumption, the persistence of many small countries with weak governments, even in today’s world, certainly calls into question the idea that effectively defenseless countries cannot persist. Surely Brazil has the means to conquer Uruguay, but it does not do so. Surely Germany or France has the means to conquer Belgium, but neither does so. And so forth in regard to many other countries. Governments have various good reasons for refraining from such possible conquests.

The apocalyptic scenario predicted by statists should be playing out today since there are many states easily able to conquer their neighbors. Unless, of course, the statists are claiming that colored pieces of cloth hanging from poles have some kind of magical power to repel invaders. But even if that’s the case, each anarchist in an stateless society could fly their own piece of colored cloth to keep neighboring states off of their property.

The threat of military invasion as a justification for having a state may be one of the flimsiest arguments against anarchism. We have very good examples of a militarily inferior force holding a military superior force at bay in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries in the Middle East and Africa. Hell, the North Vietnamese showed the United States how successful guerrilla warfare is against a militarily superior force. Lacking a formal military doesn’t make a particular chunk of dirt more vulnerable to invasion. If anything, it makes that chunk of dirt more dangerous because there’s no centralized force to take out to break the inhabitant’s will to continue fighting.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Gun Control is Futile

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I know that I’ve beaten this horse to death but people still call for gun control so I have to keep pulverizing the equine’s carcass. Today we’re going to travel to Brazil, where gun control laws are pretty strict.

The reason gun control is futile is because a gun is something that can be easily built with a few modest tools. Police in Brazil recently confiscated a homemade machine gun. Unlike a lot of homemade guns, this one is actually pretty nicely finished and decently designed:

The pistol shown above, chambered to the .380ACP round, has an unusually decent overall finish and came with a very large capacity (30-round +?) box magazine. The tubular receiver extends to a muzzle area extension made of a brass-like material. The magazine housing just ahead of the trigger guard is a box-like structure, the ejection port being vertically-located there. Since no fire-selector or applied safety devices are visible, it would seem that the contrivance is a full-auto-only gun (confirmed in one of the videos), as it’s often the case with such DIYs. Sights? Who needs them?

Truth be told, guns aren’t unique in being impossible to control. Anything that has been created can be copied. But the simple the device is the more easily it can be copied. Trying to control the spread of any technology is futile and it only becomes more futile with simpler technologies.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Difference Between Criminal Gangs and the State

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What’s the difference between a criminal gang and the State? Scope:

The Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of drug activity over the last decade, but $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns.

In total, the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures. Those figures do not include other property, such as cars and electronics, which are favorite targets for seizure by law enforcement.

All of this is possible through civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property if they suspect it’s connected to criminal activity, without having to file criminal charges against the owner. While law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug traffickers and organized crime, the Inspector General’s findings echo the concerns of many civil liberties groups, which say asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize property.

Civil forfeiture is a euphemism for armed robbery. With the exception of a few states, assets stolen via civil forfeiture don’t have to be tied to a crime in order to remain in the State’s possession. This is because civil forfeiture is based on the concept of being guilty until proven innocent. Unless you can prove that the stolen property wasn’t tied to a drug crime, an impossible feat, the State will keep it.

In eight years the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stole $4.15 billion in cash and that figure doesn’t even include all of the other property stolen by the agency. All without having to find anybody guilty of a crime.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Everything is Stand Your Ground Law Now

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If three armed individuals break into your home and you shoot them does that fall under stand your ground doctrine? According to our friends across the pound it does:

The intruders – who police say were armed with brass knuckles and a knife – were shot by a 23-year-old man in an act of “self-defence”, officers said.

The son may not face charges due to so-called stand your ground laws.

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Two of the teenagers died inside the home and one ran outside before dying in the driveway.

I understand that learning what stand your ground doctrine means takes a whole 30 seconds of Google searching and that’s a lot of time when you’re trying to get your article in front of people who have the attention span of a goldfish. Still, it would benefit everybody if the facts being reported were accurate. In that sprit I will clarify the difference between castle doctrine, what the author was probably thinking of, and stand your ground.

Castle doctrine states that an individual has the right to defend themselves in their home without a duty to retreat. Stand your ground doctrine states that an individual has a right to defend themselves wherever they are, assuming they have a right to be there, without a duty to retreat. This case would fall more under castle doctrine than stand your ground.

But even in the absence of either law, assuming the facts currently being reported are accurate, this case looks like a pretty clear example of regular old self-defense. Three armed individuals wearing masks smashed a sliding glass window to gain entry into the home. That signals intentions that aren’t good for the homeowner.

You don’t find Girl Scouts smashing sliding glass windows to sell homeowners cookies. Even Jehovah Witnesses don’t go that far. So it’s fairly safe to assume that somebody breaking into your home doesn’t have good intentions.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 29th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Incompetency Will Solve Everything

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Computer security has become a hot topic, which I appreciate since it was almost completely ignored for such a long time. Unfortunately, as with any hot topic, politicians are forcing themselves into the conversation. Two members of Congress have come up with the wonderful idea of putting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in charge of regulating computer security:

Two Democrats in Congress are imploring FCC head Ajit Pai to address cybersecurity issues in the United States, arguing vulnerabilities in cellular networks infringe on citizens’ liberties and pose a “serious threat” to national security. Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Ted Lieu penned a letter to Pai laying out known issues in modern communications systems and asking the FCC to step in. However, that’s unlikely to happen.

Putting an agency of one of the single most incompetent organizations, one with networks that are supposedly too old to secure, on Earth in charge of computer security? What could go wrong!

This is the problem with letting people who are clueless about a subject talk seriously about regulating it. I’ll at least give Mr. Lieu some credit for having a degree that involves computers. But a computer science degree alone doesn’t make one an expert in computer security and, as far as I know, Mr. Lieu didn’t work in the industry so his knowledge on the subject, if he has any, is likely entirely theoretical.

But we live in a democracy, which means that whatever the plurality of voters, in this case members of Congress, say is literally law. It doesn’t matter how unqualified the voters are. It doesn’t matter how idiotic the idea being voted on is. The only thing that matters is whether the majority of voters say yay or nay.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 29th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Capitalism Cannot Give Consumers Taste

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It was brought to my attention that an Internet meme managed to nail a multi-million reality television show. This news didn’t surprise me because she became an Internet meme by being trashy and trashy television sells. Some people aren’t happy about this because they think everybody should watch highbrow television (i.e., whatever television show they like). But the market has spoken and while the market can’t give consumers taste, it does at least give them a choice:

According to reports, Danielle Bregoli, the 14-year-old girl who became a popular internet meme this year due to a failed intervention on the Dr. Phil show, has signed a deal for her own reality television show. On a personal level, there is much to find offensive in Bregoli’s fame, in spite of her obvious marketing prowess. She is, after all, internet-famous simply for her improper English, toxic personal behavior, and apparent lack of respect for anyone around her. On an economic level, however, her rise is an interesting example of how capitalism rewards the interests of the masses, regardless of the opinion of the cultural elite.

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Capitalism cannot give consumers taste, just as democracy cannot give voters wisdom. What capitalism does do, however, is give consumers choice — and creates the incentives necessary for producers to meet the desires of the people. Democracy simply offers the masses the ability to enforce the whims of the majority against the wishes of the minority. In America no one will be forced to watch a minute of a reality show about Danielle Bregoli, but should it find commercial success, its viewers will have the ability to shape American policy going forward.

A lot of people believe that their preferences should be everybody’s preferences. State socialism is the ultimate expression of their attitude because the State controls all means of production and therefore dictates what will and will not be provided to consumers. Whoever controls the State, in that case, controls what options consumers have.

Markets work the other way. Anybody can possess means of production and therefore bring options to consumers. Whether one wants media that forces a particular viewpoint down consumers’ throats, show epic space battles, or feature annoying teenage girls being jackasses, they can have their show under a market economy. So while I might judge your for your tastes, the market won’t.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 29th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Political Solutions Don’t Work

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A lot of people here in the United States are flipping out because the rulers are voting to allow Internet Service Providers (ISP) to sell customer usage data:

A US House committee is set to vote today on whether to kill privacy rules that would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers. Planned protections, proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have forced ISPs to get people’s consent before hawking their data – are now at risk. Here’s why it matters.

It amazes me that more people seem to be upset about private companies selling their usage information for profit than providing their usage data to law enforcers so the wrath of the State’s judicial system can be brought upon them. Personally, I’m far more concerned about the latter than the former. But I digress.

This vote demonstrates the futility of political solutions. At one point the privacy laws were put into place by the State. The process of getting those laws put into place probably involved a lot of begging and kowtowing from the serfs. But Congress and the presidency have been shuffled around and the new masters disagree with what the former masters did so all of that begging and kowtowing was for nothing.

The problem with political solutions is that they’re temporary. Even if you can get the current Congress and president to pass laws that will solve your particular problems, it’s only a matter of time until Congress and the presidency changes hands and undoes the laws you begged so hard to have passed.

If you want a problem solved you have to solve it yourself. In the case of Internet privacy, the best defense against snoopy ISPs is to utilize a foreign Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider that respects your privacy and is in a country that is difficult for domestic law enforcement to coerce. Using a VPN will deprive your ISP, and by extent domestic law enforcement, of your usage data.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 28th, 2017 at 11:00 am