Dec 11, 2011

Greenwald bait

The case that established the "state secrets" doctrine was United States vs. Reynolds. After an Air Force plane crashed, the widows of the men who died on the plane sued the government to find out facts about the crash, and the government refused, claiming that those documents would reveal super-important secret information that would compromise national security.

The government was lying. It turns out that there was no information that would damage national security. As a cynic might have predicted, the documents did contain a lot of embarrassing details about the crappy condition of the plane.

Now fast forward to present day. The background to this story: awhile back the government seized a hip-hop blog and put up a big banner on its site accusing it of being a criminal enterprise:
Okay, now some details. First, remember Dajaz1.com? It was one of the sites seized over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend back in 2010 -- a little over a year ago. Those seizures struck us as particularly interesting, because among the sites seized were a bunch of hip hop blogs, including a few that were highly ranked on Vibe's list of the top hip hop blogs. These weren't the kinds of things anyone would expect, when supporters of these domain seizures and laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP talk of "rogue sites." Blogs would have lots of protected speech, and in the hip hop community these blogs, in particular, were like the new radio. Artists routinely leaked their works directly to these sites in order to promote their albums. We even pointed to a few cases of stars like Kanye West and Diddy tweeting links to some of the seized domains in the past...

The Dajaz1 case became particularly interesting to us, after we saw evidence showing that the songs that ICE used in its affidavit as "evidence" of criminal copyright infringement were songs sent by representatives of the copyright holder with the request that the site publicize the works -- in one case, even coming from a VP at a major music label. Even worse, about the only evidence that ICE had that these songs were infringing was the word of the "VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA," Carlos Linares, who was simply not in a position to know if the songs were infringing or authorized. In fact, one of the songs involved an artist not even represented by an RIAA label, and Linares clearly had absolutely no right to speak on behalf of that artist.

Despite all of this, the government simply seized the domain, put up a big scary warning graphic on the site, suggesting its operators were criminals, and then refused to comment at all about the case. Defenders of the seizures insisted that this was all perfectly legal and nothing to be worried about. They promised us that the government had every right to do this and plenty of additional evidence to back up its claims. They promised us that the government would allow for plenty of due process within a reasonable amount of time. They also insisted that, after hearing nothing happening in the case for many months, it meant that no attempt to object to the seizure had occurred. Turns out... none of that was true.
As in Reynolds, when the government commits an outrageous, unforgivable screwup, making hell out the lives of dozens of innocent people, what do they do? Hide behind secrecy:
Then, the deadline for the government to file for forfeiture came and went and nothing apparently happened. Absolutely nothing. Bridges contacted the government to ask what was going on, and was told that the government had received an extension from the court. Bridges, quite reasonably, asked how that was possible without him, as counsel for the site, being informed of it or given a chance to make the case for why such an extension was improper.

He also asked for a copy of the the court's order allowing the extension. The government told him no and that the extension was filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He asked for the motion papers asking for the extension. The government told him no and that the papers were filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He again asked whether he would be notified about further filings for extensions. The government told him no.

He then asked the US attorney to inform the court that, if the government made another request for an extension, the domain owner opposed the extension and would like the opportunity to be heard. The government would not agree.

And file further extensions the government did. Repeatedly. Or, at least that's what Bridges was told. He sent someone to investigate the docket at the court, but the docket itself was secret, meaning there was no record of any of this available.
If the government, or the government taking orders from large corporations, has unaccountable power, they will abuse it. It has always been thus. That's what makes SOPA and PROTECT IP so troubling.

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