Boing Boing readers have good imaginations, so if you can come up with an even worse T-shirt idea than this one, please share it in the comments.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Vernee is a relatively new player in the Chinese smartphone space, but he company made a bit of a splash in March by introducing the Vernee Apollo. The $400 smartphone features 6GB of RAM, a 5.5 inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel display, and 128GB of storage. It has a Helio X20 deca-core processor. Looking for something a […]
A LONG-ANTICIPATED DRAFT of anti-encryption legislation written by the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee circulated late Thursday night and left may critics apoplectic.
The bill, from Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, would force technology companies to either decrypt the contents of their customers’ communications for law enforcement, or hack into their own products to do so — effectively rendering illegal the end-to-end encryption currently offered by some of the heaviest hitters in the business, like Apple, Facebook, Google, and now WhatsApp.
On Friday, Feinstein and Burr told reporters they were still working on the draft and couldn’t comment on the language of an unfinished version.
Feinstein threw down the gauntlet in December, vowing to push for a bill that would mandate breakable encryption even if no one else would, including the White House. Privacy advocates who expected the worst weren’t disappointed.
Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told The Intercept in an emailed statement the draft was concerning. “This legislation says a company can design what they want their back door to look like, but it would definitely require them to build a back door. For the first time in America, companies who want to provide their customers with stronger security would not have that choice – they would be required to decide how to weaken their products to make you less safe.”
“Burr-Feinstein may be the most insane thing I’ve ever seen seriously offered as a piece of legislation. It is ‘do magic’ in legalese,” tweeted Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute studying privacy and technology.
“Well, the Feinstein-Burr bill is pretty much as clueless and unworkable as I expected it would be,” tweeted Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Expert technologists have concluded that you can’t design strong encryption that can be readily dismantled or pierced for law enforcement while still keeping customers’ communications private and secure from others — like criminals and hackers.
“No person or entity is above the law,” reads the beginning of the bill draft. “All providers of communications services and products (including software) should protect the privacy of United States persons through implementation of appropriate data security and still respect the rule of law and comply with all legal requirements and court orders.”
The bill would specifically require companies to decrypt communications “in a timely manner” or provide “technical assistance” in order to override any security measures preventing access to “intelligible” data — precisely what the FBI ordered Apple to do in order to access San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s work phone before finding an alternate way in.
Apple fought the FBI, arguing that in order to override the phone’s security features, the company would have to design a type of software “cancer” that would risk the security of all Apple users.
The FBI in that case cited the All Writs Act as giving it the authority to force Apple to provide “reasonable assistance” to carry out its warrant and unlock the phone. The new draft bill would take the law a step further. “Feinstein-Burr decryption doesn’t require only reasonable assistance: It’s ‘assistance as is necessary’ to decrypt,” tweeted Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University specializing in computer crime.
Providers of all communications “products,” including pretty much any smartphone provider, would also be responsible for third-party applications that provide encryption services on their behalf.
“Not only does this bill undermine our security, it is also a massive internet censorship bill, demanding that online platforms like Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store police their platforms to stop the distribution of secure apps,” wrote Kevin Bankston, director of the Open Technology Institute, in a message to The Intercept. Computer scientist Jonathan Mayer wrote about the dangers of requiring Google to comply, noting that it would be “deeply incompatible with modern software platforms.” And for apps not relying on Google’s native Android, “The jurisdictional obstacles to regulation are insurmountable,” he continued.
The bill attempts to reassure companies that they will not have to redesign their products, “but to comply, Apple would need to do exactly that,” wrote Jonathan Zdziarski, a security researcher and iOS expert, in a tweet.
The post Bill That Would Ban End-to-End Encryption Savaged by Critics appeared first on The Intercept.
Neven Mrgan takes a prescription drug called Cuprimine. Without it, he would slowly die from liver disease. Unfortunately, the price of Cuprimine has gone from $400-$1,700/month to $44,000/month. Curprimine is made by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, run by billionaire J. Michael Pearson. He's stepping down, not because he jacked up the price of Cuprimine and other medications, but because the company's misstated earnings hurt its stock value.
Since its introduction in 2009, Bitcoin has grown exponentially. Now, however, it seems as though its rise in popularity is due to continue in the the United Kingdom after a new report found that a fifth of U.K. employees believe that their organizations will be accepting Bitcoin and similar digital currencies as payment by 2020.
The study, Beyond Digital, by Infomentum looked at the feedback from 1,000 office workers examining how they believe office technology is set to evolve over the next few years. According to the report, during the past five years digital transformation and technological change have seen companies rethink the way they do business, whether on or offline.
In 2014, Infomentum produced a report titled Generating Success with Generation C, enabling businesses to understand the expectations of the connected customer and how those expectations were making their way into the workplace. In 2015, a report called Talking Transformation was released, looking at how CEOs could restructure their organizations before the market disrupted them.
This latest report is aimed at helping businesses look beyond digital transformation as it focuses on what else Generation C ‒ made up of young, tech savvy consumers ‒ wants over the next few years, enabling businesses to prepare their organizations for 2020 based on the analysis and views from leading experts.
According to the report, 91 percent of employees don’t believe that their employer will remain competitive in 2020 in their current form, with 50 percent believing that their employers need to invest in new IT equipment to remain competitive.
In addition, 14 percent of employees would like to see drone deliveries introduced by 2020 while 16 percent of office workers are hopeful that 3D printed “product downloads” will be possible by 2020. Contactless mobile payment is predicted to become the principal payment method in the next few years.
It’s interesting to note how much of an impact Bitcoin is having on the digital world as more companies consider its attributes and how it can make a positive difference for countless companies in the years ahead. Considering that 1 in 5 people would like to see digital currencies introduced by 2020 it demonstrates how office workers and the companies they work for believe what the future of digital transformation and technology will look like.
“As this report highlights, the next five years will see dramatic changes in the current buyer journey,” said Vikram Setia, partner and chief commercial officer at Informentum. “As new technology alters the marketing, sales and delivery process, retailers must be open to innovation and willing to completely rethink their approach.
“By 2020, products may be previewed in AR (augmented reality), paid for in Bitcoin, created to order through 3D printing, and delivered by drone to a customer’s door. All while being monitored and managed through the real-time feedback of social media,” Setia said.
“While this array of new technologies may seem daunting for many businesses, retailers must be prepared to think about how such tools are likely to impact their businesses at a long-term strategic level,” he said. “Those that fail to develop the necessary technology roadmap, will have already fallen behind.”
The post Beyond Digital Study: A Fifth of UK Businesses to Trade in Digital Currencies by 2020 appeared first on Bitcoin Magazine.
Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) lets developers create apps that can run across a range of devices including phones, tablets, desktops, and even the Xbox One game console and upcoming HoloLens wearable computer. The company introduced UWP with the launch of Windows 10 in 2015, and not only do UWP apps run on devices with […]
BACK IN 2014, in an interview with the magazine Chief Executive, General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt explained that starting in the 1980s, “most of us” — i.e. GE executives — “saw it as our task to outsource manufacturing, to move it to low-cost countries. This continued through the 1990s and into the very early 2000s.”
Immelt’s statement of the obvious is relevant because Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said essentially the same thing about GE this week, which triggered an angry response from Immelt.
In a meeting on Monday with the New York Daily News editorial board, Sanders was asked to name a corporation that he believed was “destroying the fabric of our nation.” Sanders said that GE was a “good example” because it had shut down “many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. … That is saying that I don’t care that the workers, here have worked for decades. … The only thing that matters is that I can make a little bit more money. That the dollar is all that is almighty.”
Immelt (or, more likely, his ghostwriter) replied in a Washington Post op-ed that “Sanders says that he is upset about GE’s operations abroad — as though a company that has customers in more than 180 countries should have no presence in any of them.”
This is, of course, intentionally misleading language: Sanders’s criticism was not that GE has established a “presence” in other countries, but that it has moved many of its factories there in order to save money by paying workers less.
As Immelt himself said in 2014, outsourcing became his task because “U.S. labor was expensive and materials were cheap.”
In other words, there’s no actual argument between Sanders and Immelt about the reality of GE’s outsourcing. It’s simply that Immelt believes that a U.S.-based multinational corporation should do everything possible to maximize its profits, even at the cost of its American workers’ jobs, while Sanders does not.
The post GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, Now Slamming Sanders, Once Said It Was His “Task to Outsource” appeared first on The Intercept.
In December, 2014, EFF asked a court to allow it to intervene in a patent case so that we could formally request that certain documents in the court record be unsealed and made available to the public. Yesterday, EFF’s motion to intervene was granted. Our motion to unseal is now pending.
It has been a long road to get even this minor victory. EFF asked the court for permission to intervene almost 1.5 years ago. In a July 2015 order, the court denied EFF’s motion, finding it moot in light of the fact that it decided to unseal some (but not all) documents. We objected to that order last August, and yesterday, the Court reversed itself and allowed EFF to intervene.
This is only a first step in getting the information that the public is almost surely entitled to receive. The patent owner is being given the opportunity to oppose our motion to unseal, and the Court will then have to rule on the issue. In the meantime, the document EFF is seeking to make public—the patent owner’s legal arguments as to why defendant State Farm infringed—is still not public. (State Farm previously told the court that no confidential information about its products is found in the document and that it thinks it should be public.)
Document sealing is a major problem in patent lawsuits. Parties routinely seal everything and anything, possibly because that is simply easier for them. Although EFF understands that certain material may be properly kept from public view, too often we see everything sealed without good reason. This practice frustrates the public’s First Amendment right to access court proceedings. Moreover, as this case proves, it effectively places a burden on the public if they want to exercise this right.
EFF has put significant time and effort into getting this one document in one case unsealed. Unfortunately, it is just one of countless documents that are routinely sealed without good reason in patent cases around the country. Just last week we asked the court in a different patent case to unseal documents that almost surely should not have been completely hidden from public view.
As we wrote when we originally filed our first motion in 2014, improper sealing can be used to make it more difficult to figure out whether a party is making inconsistent statements. Sealing can also make it difficult for a defendant to figure out whether it has certain defenses, such as exhaustion (i.e. the accused products and methods are already licensed). And in this case, sealing prevents the public from understanding what the patent owner believes it owns, thereby preventing the public from designing around the patent or more importantly, figuring out whether they are at risk of a patent lawsuit.
Neither EFF nor the public should have to expend significant time and effort to access court documents as courts are presumptively open. We hope through our publicity of this issue we can help the courts, the parties, and the public better understand how oversealing is harmful.
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BlackBerry’s first Android-powered smartphone may not be a top seller, but by most accounts the BlackBerry Priv is a pretty good phone and one of the only options for folks that want an Android phone with a physical keyboard. The Priv is also pretty expensive. It sold for $699 at launch, and even after a recent […]
Report: BlackBerry will launch two Android phones in 2016 is a post from: Liliputing
The Acer Liquid Jade Primo is a smartphone with a 5.5 inch display, Windows 10 software, and support for Microsoft’s Continuum feature which lets you connect the phone to a keyboard, mouse, and display to run (some) desktop-style apps. It’s one of the first phones from a company other than Microsoft to support Windows 10’s […]
THE 1992 PROSECUTION of Fran and Dan Keller was based on a trifecta of credulousness, hysteria, and bad evidence.
The middle-aged couple was living quietly in Austin, Texas, where they ran a small drop-in day care out of their home, when the unimaginable happened: A little girl occasionally left in the Kellers’ care made a claim of abuse at the hands of the couple. At first, the allegation was simple: Dan Keller had spanked her, the 3-year-old told her mother in the summer of 1991. But rather quickly — in part due to repeated questioning by her mother and a therapist who had treated the girl for behavioral problems before she’d ever visited the Kellers — the allegation morphed into accusations far more lurid.
By the time the Kellers were tried, three children (whose parents were, at least for a time, all regularly communicating about the Kellers) had described a shocking panoply of sadistic abuse: Dan Keller repeatedly sexually assaulted the little girl with a pen and Fran performed oral sex on her; the Kellers dug a grave in their backyard and placed the girl in it; they tortured and killed animals and decapitated and disemboweled a baby; the children had been flown to Mexico where they were abused by military officials; Fran Keller cut off the finger of a gorilla in a local park; the Kellers gave the children blood-laced Kool-Aid; and the couple held a gun to one little boy’s head and forced him to assault his infant sister while they videotaped the abuse — among other alleged acts. There was, however, no evidence to corroborate any of the claims — and scant evidence to suggest the little girl had ever suffered any sexual abuse.
Indeed, what should have been a straightforward abuse investigation became something much more — an investigation into so-called satanic ritual abuse, spurred by a peculiar form of mass hysteria that spread across the country throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The most infamous of the SRA cases is the McMartin Preschool case, from California, where staff at the school were accused of acts eerily similar to those made nearly a decade later against the Kellers. The case still holds the dubious distinction of being the longest criminal trial in the nation’s history. (The owner of the preschool was ultimately acquitted, and after two juries deadlocked, charges against her son were dismissed.)
Today, there are few true believers left who vocally insist upon this history. To many in the criminal justice system, it is now a source of embarrassment that there was ever a time when police and prosecutors were convinced that bands of Satanists had infiltrated the nation’s day care centers in order to abuse young children. Yet in the Kellers’ case, which I investigated for the Austin Chronicle back in 2009, I was startled to hear both a veteran cop and prosecutor say they still believed in even the most absurd of the children’s allegations against the Kellers.
Today, although they were finally freed from prison a few years ago, the Kellers have yet to be officially exonerated — even as the moral panic that led to their conviction has been thoroughly debunked. This is a devastating state of play for the couple. They spent their prime earning years in prison and now live on the most modest of Social Security income — Fran says they have to make regular trips to the food bank to ensure they have enough to eat. Moreover, with accusations of sexual abuse still hanging over their heads — the state has yet to dismiss the charges — they are wary of being around any children, including their own 24 great grandchildren. To make matters worse, the aging couple has chronic medical issues that need tending to — medical problems in part caused by abuses they suffered in prison. Behind bars, those convicted of sexual abuse of children are considered among the lowest of the low and are regular targets of violence by other inmates and even guards, which is exactly what happened to the Kellers.
THE STATE OF Texas had just one meaningful piece of evidence against the Kellers when they went to trial in 1992: statements by a young doctor who examined the girl and said that, in addition to some redness of her outer genitalia (which he said she could have caused herself), her hymen was deformed. According to the doctor, this suggested that she had indeed been sexually abused. When I contacted him in 2009, Dr. Michael Mouw recanted his testimony, saying that subsequent to the trial he discovered he was wrong about the girl’s hymen. What he thought was a deformity he later learned was merely a normal variant condition. (He also said he’d been assured by prosecutors that he was providing just one piece of physical evidence pointing to the Kellers’ guilt; he was disturbed to learn that was not true.)
In the wake of his statements, a local Austin criminal defense attorney, Keith Hampton, took on the Kellers’ case pro bono, winning them a hearing on the doctor’s recanted testimony. The court — and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office — agreed that the testimony was false and, importantly, had influenced the outcome of the Kellers’ trial. Ultimately, their conviction was vacated and the couple was finally released from prison in late 2013.
But the Kellers’ nightmare has not ended. In affirming the lower court’s decision to scrap the conviction, Texas’s Court of Criminal Appeals sidestepped the issue of actual innocence and — despite the lack of evidence that a crime ever occurred — declined to exonerate them. Only one of the nine judges took the time to lay out a case for the Kellers’ full exoneration. “This was a witch hunt from the beginning,” Judge Cheryl Johnson wrote. It was not just the young doctor who “was too quick to believe. If he is to be blamed for the failure to provide [the Kellers] with a fair trial, the missteps of other persons and entities need to be examined also,” she continued. “We do not learn from our mistakes unless and until we are required to acknowledge those mistakes.”
The court’s ruling left only one meaningful avenue for the Kellers to seek exoneration: convince the elected district attorney to admit they were wrongfully convicted. After all, given the absence of evidence against them, there is no way the couple will be tried again. But so far, D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg has refused to act. A veteran Austin prosecutor who was head of the D.A.’s child abuse division at the time the Kellers were tried, Lehmberg has acknowledged that there is no evidence upon which to retry the Kellers. Yet she has said that without DNA evidence to clear the couple, she’s unable to “find a path to innocence.” In short, Lehmberg seems convinced that in order to exonerate the Kellers, she must prove a negative — find evidence in the void to demonstrate that a crime never happened. That, of course, is absurd and impossible — and distressing to the Kellers and their supporters. There is no physical evidence, like DNA, linking the alleged crime to anyone else, because, simply, there was no crime. But without that DNA evidence, Fran notes, “You’re just in limbo.”
AS WITH SIMILAR cases, the Kellers’ trial and conviction exposed a number of flaws in the criminal justice system. “The SRA cases were marked by several criminal justice errors that came together in a perfect storm of false accusations and convictions,” Debbie Nathan, veteran journalist and director of the National Center for Reason and Justice, wrote in an email to The Intercept. Nathan has done extensive research and writing on satanic panic, and through the NCRJ, now advocates for “rational treatment of the innocent and guilty” in cases where harm to children is alleged. Among the factors that created the storm Nathan describes was a dearth of research at the time to demonstrate “how easy it is for suggestive and pressured interviewing to produce false accusations of abuse from children, and even false memories,” along with a lack of medical research into “variations in children’s genitalia.” When professionals finally began to investigate that issue, Nathan explains, “They learned that many variations are perfectly normal, not signs of sexual abuse.” False confessions were also not well understood, “and in retrospect, it appears that many people accused of SRA were pressured into false confessions.”
The Kellers’ situation also highlights the fragmentary way in which potential wrongful convictions are identified and considered. The fact that wrongful convictions happen is certainly now understood; the National Registry of Wrongful Convictions, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, has chronicled more than 1,760 since 1989, with a record-setting 149 exonerations in 2015 alone. Still, convicted individuals seeking to have their cases reviewed for innocence face many barriers. For starters, with limited exceptions, incarcerated people have no real right to legal counsel, making it incredibly difficult to have an innocence claim properly investigated and raised in an appropriate court. As such, the system relies heavily on a largely unaffiliated patchwork of individuals and groups to identify and vet potential wrongful convictions — from journalists to innocence projects (many with limited resources) and academia-based legal clinics — some of which do better work than others.
The newest addition to the mix is the “conviction integrity unit,” a special division in a prosecutor’s office tasked with identifying and remedying wrongful convictions. The first was created in Dallas in 2008; by the end of 2015, there were 24 units operating in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Together, the CIUs were responsible for 58 exonerations last year.
The idea that the government and its resources should be involved in the effort to ferret out and remedy miscarriages of justice makes sense. But having these units reside within the very offices responsible for potentially flawed convictions can pose problems. Indeed, while some CIUs have been quite productive, others appear to operate in name only. Consider the contrast between the CIU established by Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson, which produced eight exonerations last year alone (including in six homicide cases) and the Cook County, Illinois CIU where, according to the most recent annual report of the National Registry, prosecutors have fought tooth and nail against revisiting old convictions, only to later take credit for helping to “secure” exonerations in a number of cases.
As of the end of 2015, half of all operating CIUs across the country had not yet been involved in any exonerations — including the unit housed within the Austin-based Travis County D.A.’s Office. Although this could be partly due to the fact that the unit was started only last year, three of the other five units launched last year have been involved in at least one exoneration each. Lehmberg did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment for this story.
Whether the CIU model will actually take off in any meaningful way remains to be seen. Currently, there are just 23 units in operation out of a total of 2,300 local prosecutors’ offices across the country. (One of the CIUs opened last year, in New Orleans, has already folded its operations, after participating in a single exoneration.) And there is ample reason to be skeptical — reviewing old cases means questioning the work of colleagues, and there is simply no mandate that would force prosecutors to face that fate. (Notably, 47 percent of exonerations involve official misconduct.) Indeed, prosecutors wield extraordinary, unparalleled, and unchecked power. “They alone decide who to prosecute for criminal offenses, what charges to bring against them, and what punishments to seek,” as the National Registry’s report says. “In practice, that power extends to convicted defendants as well. If a sitting prosecutor asks the appropriate court to vacate the judgment and dismiss the charges against a defendant … it will happen.”
But this requires political will. And too often, the will is not there. As Hampton notes, convincing a prosecutor that an injustice has happened can be a tough pull. “Unless you have DNA — unless you get the D.A. completely cornered — there are no profiles in courage out there,” he says.
Still, the number of exonerations in cases where no crime was actually committed are on the rise — so at least in some jurisdictions, individuals aren’t forever left in the kind of limbo in which the Kellers find themselves. The National Registry includes 540 exonerations in no-crime cases, including 51 exonerations in child sex abuse “hysteria” cases like that the Kellers.
The post Convicted of a Crime That Never Happened: Why Won’t Texas Exonerate Fran and Dan Keller? appeared first on The Intercept.
ALABAMA MAY SOON shut down 14 of its troubled prisons, swapping them for four massive new “state-of-the-art” facilities. The proposal, dubbed the “Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act,” cleared the state Senate this week and is now headed to the House. Legislators hope the plan will solve chronic overcrowding, neglect, and violence in the state’s corrections system.
Prisoners and advocates, who have denounced abuses and mismanagement in the state’s prisons for years, condemned the plan for new prisons and said that administrators, not crumbling buildings, were to blame for turning Alabama’s prisons into a dangerous tinderbox. The state’s corrections system is operating at nearly 200 percent capacity and is the most overcrowded in the country.
The prison crisis in Alabama made headlines in March when riots broke out twice in four days at the Holman maximum security facility in Atmore, where inmates stabbed a guard and the warden, and then proceeded to post video of the rebellion on Facebook.
“We have people being killed, sexually assaulted, raped, stabbed on a daily basis at St. Clair, Holman, and multiple facilities; it’s a systemwide problem,” said Charlotte Morrison, a senior attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which represents Alabama prisoners. “The crisis with the prisons has to do with culture and management; it’s not something that can be solved by just building new prisons. There are structural problems, but the principal issue isn’t being dealt with by this new bill.”
EJI filed a class-action lawsuit against the Corrections Department in October 2014 on behalf of prisoners at St. Clair prison, claiming that officials failed to respond to dangerous conditions and an extraordinary high rate of violence. Six inmates were killed at that prison in less than three years and the nonprofit had already formally requested that the prison’s warden, Carter Davenport, be removed. Instead, he was reassigned to Holman, where critics say he has presided over the escalating violence that ultimately set off last month’s events.
In a separate lawsuit filed in June 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) accused the Corrections Department of neglecting prisoners’ health and discriminating against disabled prisoners. Prison officials agreed to a still-pending settlement for part of that lawsuit — concerning the rights of disabled prisoners — but the bulk of the allegations made against the department are headed to trial.“It’s Going Down”
On the night of March 11, prisoners’ frustration over living conditions at Holman finally boiled over. A guard responding to a fight between inmates was stabbed. When Warden Davenport arrived at the scene, he was stabbed too. For several hours, up to 100 prisoners took over a dorm, setting fires and carrying makeshift weapons. A man currently incarcerated at Holman told The Intercept that prisoners spilled out of that dorm and reached a console that allowed them to open and access other dorms, and some 400 inmates, before guards were eventually able to regain control.
As the riot unfolded, one of the prisoners used a cellphone to post video to a Facebook account that has since been shut down, gaining Holman a brief moment of fame that prisoners hope will translate into a more lasting spotlight on the prison’s long-running problems.
Three days later, a second riot broke out. Department officials said that guards responding to an inmate stabbing were “met with resistance” and prisoners “became aggressive and barricaded themselves inside the dorm.” A prisoner told SPLC lawyers that they had staged a peaceful sit-down strike in protest over food and medical care being denied as “group punishment” after the first riot, to which guards responded with force. The inmate interviewed by The Intercept said that a fight had occurred, and that guards responded by locking the dorm’s front door, a fire code violation. When inmates asked for an explanation, the guards maced them, setting off the second revolt.
Prison officials said that only 17 guards — responsible for 991 inmates — were on duty at the time of the first riot. For both riots, the warden called in special security squads to regain control of the prison. The Department of Corrections admitted to “overcrowding” and “staffing shortages” but also blamed the riots on “a propensity for violence among an isolated group of inmates,” spokesperson Bob Horton wrote in a statement to The Intercept.
Advocates, legislators, and prisoners interviewed by The Intercept all agreed that the riots were “utterly foreseeable.”
“It’s incredibly fortunate that nothing worse happened,” said Lisa Graybill, the SPLC’s deputy legal director for mass incarceration. “It’s a ticking time bomb.”Cruel Confinement
Using illegal cellphones — allegedly sold to them by guards for as much as $500 each — prisoners shared not only video of the uprising and photos revealing prison conditions, but also a list of demands, including federal assistance, the release of inmates who spent too much time at Holman or are eligible for parole, and compensation for “mental pain and physical abuse.”
The man currently incarcerated at Holman, who spoke to The Intercept on one of these phones, said he uses the phone to compensate for the lack of educational programs at the prison, which he and others have attempted to remedy by setting up informal schools and mentoring younger prisoners. “I’m always on the internet and YouTube downloading stuff that will make me a better teacher,” he said.
A member of the Free Alabama Movement, a network of prisoners that coordinates nonviolent protests, also justified the use of illegal cellphones. “These cellphones are lifesaving devices for us, and the only reason why they are considered contraband is because the state doesn’t want us to expose what’s going on inside,” he told The Intercept, requesting anonymity because he is in prison. “These are public institutions. … We want social media, we want people to see the actual story.”
While the stabbing of a warden might be unusual, stabbings and assaults are on the rise in Alabama prisons. In 2015, the Alabama Department of Corrections reported 13 assaults on inmates and 17 on guards at Holman alone. Assaults at Holman, particularly against guards, have increased 61 percent in the last five years, according to records obtained by Mobile’s NBC affiliate, WPMI. The week of the first Holman riot, a guard was stabbed at St. Clair prison, and an inmate was stabbed and killed at the Elmore prison days later. This week, stabbings and assaults were reported at St. Clair and Draper prisons.
“That is preventable and it does not happen in well-run, adequately staffed, well-managed facilities,” said Maria Morris, the SPLC’s managing attorney. “But it happens all the time in Alabama.”
In addition to its lawsuit, the SPLC issued a damning report exposing widespread neglect and denial of medical care. In particular, the SPLC found that to cut costs inmates were regularly denied medical treatment, which in several cases resulted in death. The report described requests for medical help that were ignored, derided, or met with beatings or segregation. It found that inmates were unwillingly or unknowingly signed up for “do not resuscitate” orders, that poor diabetes care led to frequent amputations, and contagious diseases like hepatitis C spread untreated. The SPLC also found that surgeries were denied for sometimes as long as a decade, broken bones were often ignored for weeks, and prisoners suffering from burns and strokes were at times denied care for days.
The inmate interviewed by The Intercept said that in one instance, a fellow prisoner repeatedly tried to gain admission to the infirmary but was turned away. When he finally saw a doctor, he was diagnosed with cancer, had five tumors removed, and died weeks later. “I felt like they killed him,” the inmate said. “We really have no value.”
Mental health care is no better. Suicidal prisoners had unrestricted access to razor blades, according to the SPLC report. After a man cut himself five times, a guard told him, “Why don’t you just go ahead and kill yourself?”
Over the last year at Holman, three men have hanged themselves while in segregation, including one who was discovered yesterday. One of the men who committed suicide had just been released from segregation, but he had an argument with the warden and was immediately sent back. He killed himself that same day. “He had been suffering from some mental change,” the inmate said. “I talked to him the day before he hung himself, and he just didn’t look right.”
Prisoners held at Holman’s segregation unit are often left without supervision, according to the SPLC. The unit also lacks call buttons, so if something goes wrong the only way to attract the guards’ attention is to make noise or start fires. Last summer, a young man held in segregation repeatedly screamed that he needed help. When nobody came, the man hanged himself. Inmates held in nearby cells told SPLC lawyers that it took several hours for someone to come and take the body down.
“You got guys in there that are literally dying. … They give them aspirin and tell them to go back to their cell. They go back to their cell, and they die,” said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, who spent 14 years in prisons in Alabama and Florida and now runs an organization offering re-entry support. “The rest of the people that are incarcerated with them are seeing them die, seeing them throw up blood, seeing them urinate blood. … That’s the cause of the riots.”
Glasgow and others in close contact with prisoners told The Intercept that more protests across Alabama prisons are imminent, and they listed a long catalogue of abuses compounding prisoners’ anger over their living conditions, including rat infestations, inedible food they dubbed “road kill,” and guards forcing inmates to fight each other in laundry rooms while betting on the outcome.
“When we look at how our prisons run, it’s really not a criminal justice system. It’s a criminal enterprise. A legal, criminal, enterprise,” the Holman inmate said. “If you make a felon out of a man, you take away his rights as a human being.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the abuse allegations and the suicides.A Slow Death
The problems in Alabama’s prisons are a direct consequence of the incarceration binge that has swept the U.S. for decades, deepened by the conservative state’s propensity for harsh punishment, critics said. But those problems have also been compounded by the state’s overstretched budget, which has left schools and other public services severely underfunded. There is little public support for money spent on improving prisoners’ lives.
“A lot of people will say, ‘They’re criminals, they don’t deserve to be treated better,’” Susan Watson, executive director of the state’s ACLU chapter, told The Intercept.
The amount Alabama spends on each inmate per day is the sixth lowest in the country. Still, the state continues to incarcerate an enormous number of people for a long time — even for crimes that in other states earn much shorter sentences. Imprisoning that many people comes at a cost — $394 million, or 22 percent of the state’s 2015 budget.
Alabama’s new prison plan, if enacted, will add approximately 3,000 beds to the system, reducing overcrowding to 125 percent. In order to pay for it, the state will authorize an $800 million bond, which will be serviced by up to $50 million a year redirected from what the state already spends to maintain its decrepit prisons. “We were already solving this problem long before this took place,” Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, said in a press conference following the riots. He called the proposal “transformational thinking.”
Prisoner advocates were less impressed. “That would just move the problem,” said Watson. “In Alabama, we have a history: If we build them, then we overfill them.” Morrison, of EJI, said the state consulted several experts about its prison problems, and none had recommended building new prisons as a solution. “A multi-year prison construction does not address the immediate crisis they have,” she said.
Prisoners and their advocates say the only way to make incarceration humane — and legal — is to drastically cut the population of prisons, not build new prisons. If Alabama doesn’t fix its prison problem, it also risks federal intervention of the kind seen in California in 2011, when the Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce its prison population.
“If they pull down their population, they’ll be able to afford to do what they’re legally obligated to,” Graybill said, adding that the SPLC will continue to sue the state if it doesn’t meet its responsibility to prisoners. “No matter how broke they are, they have to provide constitutional conditions of confinement.”
But efforts to reduce Alabama’s prison population have been slow to kick in. Last year, the state passed a bill reducing penalties for some nonviolent, property, and drug crimes, created a class D felony for some nonviolent offenses, and placed a new emphasis on parole. Those measures will reduce the population by 4,000 people over the next five years, according to estimates, but would still leave Alabama prisons running at 165 percent capacity.
Among the demands circulated by prisoners during the Holman riot was the abolishment of the 1977 Habitual Felony Offender Act — Alabama’s version of the three-strikes law, which can trigger life sentences for defendants with multiple felonies, and which quadrupled the state’s prison population within the span of 10 years.
“There are men who have been here for 35, 40 years, and some of these men didn’t take a life, didn’t rape a woman, didn’t rape a child,” said the incarcerated man interviewed by The Intercept, who himself is serving life without parole for three felony convictions. “The crimes they have committed just can’t warrant that you take their lives, that you give them a slow death … because they stole something.”
A rally outside Holman prison in support of the men incarcerated there is planned for Saturday.
The post Alabama’s Solution to Prison Riots: Build More Prisons appeared first on The Intercept.
“Bitcoin Bank” Circle announced that people in the U.K. can now experience social payments over the open Internet in their native currency, pound sterling (GBP), using Circle’s updated apps for Android, iOS and the Web. The company was granted an e-money license by the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority.
Circle is extending the ability to hold and pay in U.S. dollars, available in all U.S. states, to Circle account holders in the U.K. British Circle users are now able to hold GBP and make GBP payments instantly, with zero fees. Circle also announced that it’s eliminating transaction and withdrawal limits for customers in all of the 150+ countries where Circle is available.
“Over the past year we’ve worked closely with such forward-thinkers in the U.K. government and banking sector to bring this new social payment experience to U.K. consumers,” said Circle co-founders Sean Neville and Jeremy Allaire. “As the first digital currency company in the world to be granted an e-money license, Circle will also offer the benefits of digital money to Europe’s 500 million consumers, and ultimately enable anyone with sterling or euros to send and receive value for free and with an experience familiar to anyone who uses messaging or social media.”
The move, and the envisaged extension to Circle customers all over Europe, is a godsend for the many users who wish to earn and spend Bitcoin without having to worry about the volatility of the digital currency. Though the Bitcoin exchange rates have been remarkably stable over the last few months, and some observers believe that the days of wild volatility are over, the fact remains that the more and more workers earning their wages (or part of their wages) in Bitcoin, with bills to pay and families to support, aren’t able to tolerate volatility and need effective shields.
Though often referred to as a “Bitcoin bank,” Circle ‒ which defines itself as “a consumer Internet company transforming the world economy with secure, simple, and less costly technology for storing and using money” ‒ is not a bank. “Circle is not a bank, and FDIC insurance does not protect you against the risk of our insolvency,” says a Circle Help Center page. Also, Circle doesn’t lend or leverage members’ funds.
However, it can be argued that, with the option for consumers of holding and spending funds in their local fiat currency, Circle is performing the most essential functions of a bank. The company is backed by $76 million in venture capital and counts Goldman Sachs among its investors.
“At Circle, we envision a new experience for money that builds on the experiences and possibilities we have with messaging, social media, and other forms of communication and information sharing that billions of people have become accustomed to online,” added Neville and Allaire. “We don’t need bank branches; we have billions of smartphones as our distribution channel, our core product experience, and our customer service fulfillment channel. We don’t need to employ thousands of compliance staff; we build machine learning algorithms and financial artificial intelligence to reduce risk and improve the experience of money. We ship new releases of our ‘bank’ every day and we’re constantly iterating on the consumer experience of digital money.”
Fortune notes that Barclays has become the first big British bank to form a partnership with Circle. Barclays Corporate Banking is providing the account that Circle needs to store sterling for consumers, and the infrastructure to allow transfers from any U.K. bank account in and out of Circle.
“We support the exploration of positive uses of blockchain that can benefit consumers and society,” said a Barclays representative.
The move was welcomed by the U.K. Treasury, The Financial Times reports.“Circle’s decision to launch in the U.K., and the firm’s new partnership with Barclays are major milestones,” said U.K. Treasury economic secretary Harriett Baldwin. “They prove our decision to introduce the most progressive, forward-looking regulatory regime is paying off and cements our status as the world’s Fin Tech capital.”
The Financial Times emphasizes that blockchain technology permits exchanging money without using a bank clearing system. According to Allaire, the financial services industry did not fully realize the potential of the open-source blockchain, concentrating instead on developing its own closed versions based on similar technology. Circle is, instead, betting on the public Bitcoin blockchain.
According to The New York Times, this is the first time that a large global bank has agreed to work with a Bitcoin company. “The announcement has the industry wondering if this is one of the turning points for the Internet of money,” said Eric Van der Kleij, the head of Level39, a London-based firm that helps nurture fintech startups, as reported by Bloomberg Technology.
It appears that Circle’s move to the U.K. has all the support it needs, from the financial and political establishment, to revolutionize consumer banking in the country. If Circle’s plans for European expansion will go ahead with similar support from the banks and the authorities, the revolution could soon extend to the rest of Europe.