Pennsylvania has some of the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country. At the top of list of perverse incentives? 100% of proceeds go to the agency that seized the property. As a result, all sorts of abusive forfeitures occur. In one case, law enforcement seized a couple’s house because of a single $40 drug sale by their son.
When a computer “spits out something, you’d like to know how it did it.”
We’ve noted a few times how Verizon has a rich history of taking taxpayer money, subsidies and tax breaks, then promising fiber deployment that never occurs. When it then comes time for local municipalities to hold the telco’s feet to the fire, campaign contributions ensure any investigation is short lived. It happened in Pennsylvania, it happened in New York City, and it recently happened in New Jersey, when state officials let Verizon off the hook for a 1993 promise to evenly deploy fiber across the state in exchange for billions in benefits.
Shortly after state officials let Verizon walk away from its obligations, they also granted Verizon exemption from regulations requiring it continue servicing DSL customers whose lines were paid for in large part thanks to billions in subsidies. As we’ve noted, companies like AT&T and Verizon are hanging up on customers they don’t want to upgrade, and forcing them instead to notably more expensive and capped wireless services. Many customers would prefer Verizon maintain or upgrade their fixed-line broadband connections, since they’ve paid an arm and a leg for them.
About fifty annoyed municipalities have now formed an alliance aimed at holding Verizon’s feet to the fire. Collectively, they’re trying to explore ways to hold Verizon accountable, require it to deliver promised upgrades, or at the very least maintain existing DSL lines until something better comes along. Verizon’s response? To mock these people as Luddites:
“But Verizon New Jersey spokesman Lee Gierczynski has called this “misplaced fear” resulting from “misinformation and misunderstanding about copper networks, fiber networks and the reliability of those networks.” “This is a classic example of how some people fear new technology so they reactively reject it instead of accepting it, no matter how irrational that fear may be,” Gierczynski said.
JPay, a company that provides digital communications systems to corrections facilities in at least 19 states, is charging inmates and their families an unusual fee to stay in touch: the intellectual property rights to everything sent through its network.
The corrections industry is undergoing a technological renaissance when it comes to inmate communication, with prison contractors offering increasingly sophisticated digital services, such as email and video visitation. These companies promise safer and more efficient alternatives to traditional snail mail and in-person visits, but they come at a high price for prisoners and their families, who may be unaware of the extent of the fees and surcharges until they get the bill.
With JPay, though, there’s an extra charge that won’t show up on any credit card statement: the user’s rights to their letters, pictures, videos, and other forms of creative expression.
As Bloomberg reported, JPay aims to be the “Apple of the U.S. Prison System,” offering an array of digital services to inmates, including video visitation, money transfers, and multimedia tablets that inmates can use to listen to music or read books. The company also offers a telecommunications system that allows inmates to send and receive emails (including “videograms”) from their tablets or from kiosks within corrections facilities.
These services aren’t cheap, of course, but many users won’t realize they are handing over more than money. When an inmate or their family member on the outside uses JPay, they agree to a lengthy Terms of Service contract that contains this buried clause:
You … acknowledge that JPay owns all of the content, including any text, data, information, images, or other material, that you transmit through the Service.
In other words, JPay is leveraging its exclusive access to prisoner communications to claim rights over anything they or their friends and family transmit.
Virginia election officials have decertified an electronic voting system after determining that it was possible for even unskilled people to surreptitiously hack into it and tamper with vote counts.
The AVS WINVote, made by Advanced Voting Solutions, passed necessary voting systems standards and has been used in Virginia and, until recently, in Pennsylvania and Mississippi. It used the easy-to-crack passwords of “admin,” “abcde,” and “shoup” to lock down its Windows administrator account, Wi-Fi network, and voting results database respectively, according to a scathing security review published Tuesday by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. The agency conducted the audit after one Virginia precinct reported that some of the devices displayed errors that interfered with vote counting during last November’s elections.
The weak passwords—which are hard-coded and can’t be changed—were only one item on a long list of critical defects uncovered by the review. The Wi-Fi network the machines use is encrypted with wired equivalent privacy, an algorithm so weak that it takes as little as 10 minutes for attackers to break a network’s encryption key. The shortcomings of WEP have been so well-known that it was banished in 2004 by the IEEE, the world’s largest association of technical professionals. What’s more, the WINVote runs a version of Windows XP Embedded that hasn’t received a security patch since 2004, making it vulnerable to scores of known exploits that completely hijack the underlying machine. Making matters worse, the machine uses no firewall and exposes several important Internet ports.
“At the time officer Mearkle fires both rounds from her pistol, the video clearly depicts Kassick lying on the snow covered lawn with his face toward the ground. Furthermore, at the time the rounds are fired nothing can be seen in either of Kassick’s hands, nor does he point or direct anything toward Officer Mearkle,” the affidavit said.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me annually and let me get my checkbook! Losses continue to mount, but some very resilient states are still willing to throw more taxpayer money at the film industry. Michigan — a state that seems to be able to generate at least one fiscal horror story per year — is one of the nation’s most consistent losers. Two years ago, it bet the state pension fund on film-related subsidies… and lost. When the “investment” failed to generate a return, nearly $2 million was removed from the already-underfunded retirement pool. One small town pinned its hopes and dreams on a film project that promised 3,000 new jobs but instead fell apart, dragging the town towards insolvency.
Michigan has made some moves in the right direction after being burned so often by Hollywood and its fleeting, mercenary “interest” in its state. It paid out nearly $100 million in subsidies in 2011, but that number has dropped to $38 million for the coming year. Michigan House Minority leader Tim Greimel is pushing to bring that back up to $50 million, claiming that the program has been a great job creator — an assertion that couldn’t be farther from the truth.