Week(s) in Review - April 29, 2016

While much was made about the fight between Apple and the FBI over privacy, little fuss was made over Canadian law enforcement having used Blackberry's "master encryption key" to intercept and decrypt communications since 2010. The company has taken a "neither confirm nor deny" approach about having supplied it, but heavily redacted court records from a Montreal crime syndicate case indicates they willingly provided the ability to eavesdrop on almost one-third of all smartphone users in North America.

All cell phone encryption may be a moot point point, with the revelation that a communication protocol used by all cell phone carriers has a flaw allowing hackers full access to any phone, merely by knowing the phone number.  Signal System 7 (SS7) allows cell carriers throughout the globe to route phone calls and texts, and seamlessly switch from cell tower to cell tower as callers travel.  This feature, however, has been repurposed for phone access and caller surveillance.

In a tremendous gain for Fourth Amendment rights, Nebraska has abolished civil asset forfeiture, requiring a criminal conviction on drug, child pornography, or illegal gambling charges before private property can be seized. Even after such conviction, forfeiture can only take place "after demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that the property in question was used or intended to be used in the commission of the crime, or that it represented the illicit 'fruits' of the criminal activity."

The Justice Department and FBI "have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials... over more than a two-decade period before 2000."  The period from 2000 to 2012 is being analyzed separately, though the FBI acknowledged that no written standards for explaining results existed during that period and "that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of 'matches' of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work."

An IL judge has ruled that police must first obtain a warrant before they may open a suspect's phone, "even if it's just to turn it off." Judge James E. Shahid's ruling cited the 2014 decision in Riley v. California, stating that it "clearly established doing so is a 'search' under the Fourth Amendment."

Connecticut Representatives have passed a bill requiring anyone served with a temporary restraining order - which can be obtained without testimony - to sell their guns or surrender them to police within 24 hours.  If signed into law, this will mean that no trial, evidence, testimony, conviction, or semblance of due process will be required to deny a citizen a Constitutionally-protected right. This is what "common sense gun safety" looks like, and why gun owners are so adamantly opposed to more regulation.

A homeowner in Portland, OR, is being required by law to plant trees because she spent too much remodeling the interior of her home.  Portland city code - specifically, Chapter 11.50.060 - mandates the planting of trees "where the project value is more than $25,000" for any alteration taking place within city-owned streets. It is not relevant that all changes were interior, not visible from the street, did not involve development of land, and didn't result in the removal of existing trees.  If she refuses to comply, the city will do it anyway - and bill her for both the tree (at $1,000 each) and the labor.

In a disturbing assault on privacy, the NY State Senate is considering bill S6325A, which would authorize police to use a "Textalyzer" at the scene of an accident to determine if the driver's cell phone had recent activity that might have violated distracted driving laws.  "The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ear. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer."

An injunction has been entered against further enforcement of Seattle's "trash-checking" ordinance.  Since January of 2015, residents faced fines for putting too many food scraps in their garbage rather than in composting bins, something that could only be determined by visual inspection by city workers.  However, King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus has now ruled that the ordinance "was 'unconstitutional and void.'"

The TN legislature has voted to repeal the Hall Income Tax on stocks and bonds.  Passage by the governor would make the state only the second in history to eliminate an income tax and the first in 30 years to do so.  While there is currently no tax on "income from labor," the state has levied a 6% tax on investment income since 1929. The proposed repeal now goes to the governor for consideration.