Where Thelma Meets Louise: Use This Site to Find Nifty Intersections (and Search Your Own Name)
Jason Feifer had always been drawn to strange street names, sometimes even posing for pictures beneath them. There was one, however, that drew him in more than the rest, even though it wasn't especially odd: When he visited his in-laws near Washington, D.C., he would sometime drive past Jenifer Street—an unassuming enough name that he might have ignored it if weren’t so close to that of his wife, Jennifer Miller. (Both Feifer and Miller have contributed to Slate in the past.) Feifer found himself wondering, Was it possible that Jenifer Street intersected somewhere with Jason Street?
To his surprise, he couldn’t find a way to see where—or even if—the two names might cross. Because most map programs are designed to solve practical questions, their search function couldn’t do much more than reveal where a place was and how to get there. So Feifer reached out to his cousin Jeremy Merrill, who’d been wrangling map data for the New York Times.
Though it took a few years, their collaboration—which also pulled in a few other developers along the way—ultimately led them to create the site Crossing, which launched this week. Give the site two words, and Crossing queries its database of intersections, telling you where, if anywhere, they meet in the United States. If there are any, it’ll pull them up on a map, also offering a Google Street View image of the intersection in some cases. In the interest of making interesting findings more shareable, it can also generate animated GIFs of intersections to help users show off particularly charming finds.
Here, for example, is a spot in Westchester County, New York, where a road with my name meets a street with my girlfriend’s:
As Feifer told me, Crossing doesn’t actually query existing maps when you feed names to it. Instead, Merrill found a way to pull up these results by drawing on a list of street names across the country derived from U.S. Census data. From there, he created a sort of sublist of intersections. It’s this list that the system examines when a user searches Crossing. If there’s a match, it takes the coordinates for the intersection in question and plots them into Google Maps.
Once Merrill got the database working, he tested it against a list of the 1,000 most common names in the United States. According to Feifer, all but two of those names—Yesenia and Aaliyah—had corresponding streets somewhere in the country. That doesn’t, of course, mean that there’s a corresponding intersection for any two of those names: There isn’t one for me and Future Tense editor Torie Bosch, for example. Nevertheless, the site still yields up plenty of peculiar finds for those willing to dig around.
Though it was the junction of Jason and Jennifer (there are several across the country, including Lord Jason Drive and Lady Jennifer Drive in Biddeford, Maine) that drew Feifer to the project, he’s since been pulled in by this capacity for other charming and sometimes weird discoveries. Feifer and his collaborators plan to spotlight some of those finds through the site’s Intersection of the Day feature, where it will call attention to locations like the corner of Burr Avenue and Hamilton Avenue in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
Here at Slate we rounded up a few of our own favorites:
For Feifer, though, the site’s real charm may derive from the charm of the stories it suggests—and sometimes invites us to discover. By way of example, he points to the intersection of School Drive and Beer Can Alley in Weston, West Virginia, a crossing so peculiar it inspired him to call the town, ultimately learning that a number of divey bars had once spilled into the alley—and that the school had only come along later. “It’s great because you find these little local histories. It’s a fun way to search the country, because road names tell a story,” Feifer told me.
How Worried Should We Really Be About Security Firm Kaspersky Lab’s Ties to Russia?
The Trump administration vacillates almost daily on how seriously it wants to take Russian cyber threats and how best to address them. This weekend there was talk of a joint U.S.–Russia “impenetrable cybersecurity unit.” Less than a day later that plan was apparently nixed. Now ABC News reports that the administration is considering a ban on the popular security products sold by the Russian firm Kaspersky Lab at all federal agencies. Meanwhile, the Senate is mulling a similar ban in its draft of the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s a move that, for the moment at least, seems like a rather misguided overcorrection. So far, no one has released any compelling evidence that Kaspersky is working with the Russian government to undermine the security of its millions of customers.
ABC News says that U.S. officials are concerned about Kaspersky Lab executives having “previous ties to Russian intelligence and military agencies.” That may sound alarming, but it’s a pretty empty accusation. Just about every cybersecurity firm in any country in the world—including the U.S.—has employees who come from intelligence, law enforcement, and military backgrounds. Kevin Mandia, the CEO at FireEye, was a computer security officer in the U.S. Air Force before entering the private sector. Palo Alto Networks chairman and CEO Mark McLaughlin served as an attack helicopter pilot in the Army. Stephen Schmidt, the chief information security officer for Amazon Web Services, used to run the FBI’s Cyber Division. If other countries’ governments banned contracts with U.S. firms that employ former U.S. government officials, it would be very bad news for the security industry in this country.
Maybe the U.S. government has more intelligence on Kaspersky than it’s letting on. In June, FBI agents were reportedly interviewing U.S.-based Kaspersky employees, so perhaps they’ve found some real evidence that the firm is passing information about its customers to the Russian government. But if so, none of that information has been made public, and that would itself be shocking, since many, many U.S. firms (and people) rely on Kaspersky products. If there is reliable indication that those products are compromised, the American public deserves to know.
Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky, for his part, has vehemently denied any inappropriate relationship with the Russian government. He wrote on his blog last month: “[A]s a private company, Kaspersky Lab and I have no ties to any government, and we have never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with their cyber-espionage efforts (cyber-espionage is what we’re fighting!).”
In the absence of any evidence provided by the government, some U.S.-based news organizations have taken it upon themselves to dig up incriminating details about Kaspersky Lab. But these reports are almost as unconvincing as the government’s vague concerns. Bloomberg Businessweek reported this week that it had obtained emails showing “that Kaspersky Lab has maintained a much closer working relationship with Russia’s main intelligence agency, the FSB, than it has publicly admitted.” This sounds promising until you get to the actual content of the emails, in which Kaspersky Lab agrees to design tools that will help service providers combat distributed denial-of-service attacks and assist Russian police and intelligence with identifying the attackers.
Here’s how Bloomberg Businessweek describes the product that Kaspersky developed:
A person familiar with the company’s anti-DDoS system says it’s made up of two parts. The first consists of traditional defensive techniques, including rerouting malicious traffic to servers that can harmlessly absorb it. The second part is more unusual: Kaspersky provides the FSB with real-time intelligence on the hackers’ location and sends experts to accompany the FSB and Russian police when they conduct raids.
Bloomberg Businessweek seems to take this as a sign of nefarious collusion between Kaspersky and the Russian government, but it’s not entirely clear why. Building anti-DDoS technologies is exactly what security firms should be doing for their customers—whether those customers are private companies or national governments. Helping a government track down online criminals and attackers also seems like a pretty reasonable request from a law enforcement agency. And even if you think people should be able to launch DDoS attacks in Russia with impunity, it’s hard to see how Kaspersky aiding the Russian government in this way has any bearing whatsoever on the security of its other customers worldwide.
Bloomberg Businessweek also takes issue with the fact that Kaspersky apparently advised his staff to keep secret the fact that they were helping the Russian official trace DDoS attackers, but again, it’s not immediately apparent why this would be such a big deal. Many—probably most—customers ask for some degree of privacy and secrecy when dealing with security firms. No one wants the details of their security posture, much less their failings, made public.
Last week, McClatchy turned up other evidence that it felt supported the case that “the clandestine FSB has a tight relationship with Kaspersky.” In this case, it was a certificate (entirely in Russian) issued to the company by the Russian government featuring an FSB military unit number. Kaspersky later explained that the number corresponded to the Center for Information Protection and Special Communications, which certifies companies to sell products to the Russian government.
Of course, it’s possible that Kaspersky is busy selling out all of its customers to the Russian government—but it’s hard to see how a certificate with Cyrillic script, or an effort to help Russian authorities combat DDoS attacks, or some employees who used to work for the Russian military justify that conclusion. If U.S. officials have some better intelligence about the ties between Kaspersky and the Russian government then they owe it to the millions of Kaspersky customers worldwide to make that information public. If, however, they’re just acting out of fear and hostility toward Russia in general, then they’re potentially making a big mistake—one that could easily weaken the security of U.S. computer systems rather than strengthening it, and have serious consequences for U.S.-based firms if other countries decide to follow suit.
Facebook Is Building a “Village” for Its Workers. More Big Companies Should Do That.
Call it… Zuckerburgh.
Last week, Facebook announced plans to build a “village” next to its Menlo Park, California, headquarters that would include some 1,500 homes, along with a grocery store, a pharmacy, shops, offices, and public plazas. One goal is to provide an attractive place for some of Facebook’s own employees to live and shop near its sprawling yet somewhat isolated campus.
The concept is reminiscent of the late 19th-century company town, in which major employers built self-contained communities for their own workers. As with many would-be utopias, some of these towns turned dystopian in a hurry.
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But Facebook’s proposal, which it’s calling the Willow Campus, differs in important ways from company towns past. And it just might be a model for other big tech companies in Silicon Valley, where housing has become so expensive that even young software engineers struggle to make ends meet, to say nothing of local blue-collar and service workers.
One difference from the traditional company-town model is that Facebook’s village would be open to the public. Besides housing its workers, Facebook said in a promotional video that the development was intended to create “pathways and connections” between its corporate headquarters and the surrounding residential neighborhoods of East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, which are relatively poor by Silicon Valley standards. The grocery store might be particularly welcome in an area that has been described as a “food desert.”
Unfortunately, the proposal calls for only 15 percent of the housing to be offered at below market rate, which is not a particularly generous ratio. It would be nice to see Menlo Park push for more below-market-rate housing in the approval process, although history says it's more likely to push for lower density instead. (Peninsula cities are notorious for objecting to new housing, ostensibly on the grounds that it will worsen traffic or crowd local schools. In some cases those are thinly veiled excuses for what amounts to a desire to keep the riffraff out.)
Other aspects of the proposal hold more promise for addressing some of the problems that the tech boom and local regulations on the San Francisco Peninsula have conspired to create. One intriguing component is Facebook’s apparent interest in reviving the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, a long-neglected transit route that would provide a sorely needed link between the East Bay and the Peninsula. An actual rail connection would be extremely expensive and is probably a long way off, but Facebook has already spent at least $1 million to study transit alternatives along the corridor, including new bus routes. Almost anything would help: Facebook’s headquarters along the Bay shore are too remote from any transit center to make mass transit convenient for most of its employees.
The problem isn’t unique to Facebook. The Peninsula in general has a surfeit of jobs, largely in the tech industry, and a shortage of housing and transportation infrastructure. The results include exorbitant rents, gnarly traffic, and vast quantities of air pollution and carbon emissions from all the workers driving long distances from their homes in more affordable suburbs far afield.
The company-town model might be somewhat less appealing in other U.S. cities where housing prices are less exorbitant. But the broad trends toward more urban-style living and away from car ownership would seem to present an opportunity for large employers outside major urban centers to develop attractive, walkable mini-neighborhoods that could double as a perk for their workers and catalysts of further development in the surrounding areas.
In the context of Silicon Valley, 1500 homes and a modest shopping center near the Facebook campus would amount to not much more than a drop in the bucket. But if the project succeeds, it could help to convince Facebook and other big tech companies to open the spigot and propose more mixed-use, transit-accessible developments along similar lines. Google is already building a few hundred units of dormitory-style temporary housing to serve some of its workers, and has in the past proposed much more ambitious projects. Salesforce and Apple come to mind as other Peninsula-based companies that could theoretically follow their lead, although their corporate cultures may be less conducive to the village concept.
Projects like this would be especially welcome if Facebook’s village really does manage to serve and include residents of adjoining neighborhoods such as Belle Haven, which have long been cut off from the sort of amenities that make the rest of Menlo Park and neighboring Palo Alto such desirable places to live. The stark contrasts between East and West Menlo Park and Palo Alto—which are mirrored, perhaps to a lesser degree, in other suburbs up and down the Peninsula, including Google’s Mountain View—emblematize the broader societal inequalities that the tech industry has helped to exacerbate. If Facebook genuinely cares about making the world more open and connected—whoops, I mean, giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together—it could start by helping to desegregate its own corporate backyard.
It’s no sure thing that this development will become reality anytime soon. Silicon Valley suburbs have been known to quash major housing and commercial proposals in the past, including from other large tech companies. Let’s hope that Menlo Park’s interventionism takes the form of making sure Facebook’s project lives up to its lofty goals, rather than watering down the density and modest below-market commitment to mollify local NIMBYs.
Is Our Relationship With the iPhone Just Another Loveless Marriage?
I never expected to fall in love with the iPhone. Just over a decade ago, I watched the original launch video at my father’s behest while visiting him in his cluttered grade school classroom. I found it hard to understand the fuss. Both Steve Jobs’ exaggerated gravitas and my father’s child-like enthusiasm struck me as faintly ridiculous. At best, I thought, it might be a useful gadget. At worst? An expensive toy no more compelling than the drawers of paint and sheaves of paper piled around me.
I never did fall in love with the iPhone, but I’ve apologized to my father more than once for my initial skepticism. He was right—much as Jobs was right—that it would change the way we live and work. For almost 10 years, I’ve been shackled to a series of phones I didn’t think I wanted—a loveless marriage, maybe, but a marriage all the same.
I found myself thinking back on that bond while reading Alissa Nutting’s new novel, Made for Love. As Nutting’s story opens, a woman named Hazel descends on her widower father’s retirement community, seeking refuge from her failed marriage to tech billionaire Byron Gogol. Theirs was never a romantic story: Like Jobs introducing the iPhone, Byron’s proposal had been severe, almost robotic, and she accepted it more out of a desire to be free from “life’s material consequences” than an interest in the man himself. She spent, we learn, the next 10 years cloistered in his fortress-like home while he worked, surrounded by high-tech devices of his own design.
The length of their marriage—those 10 years a neat parallel to our own decade with the iPhone—is surely no accident. Made for Love is nothing if not an allegory about the way we slipped and fell into a relationship with technology, increasingly bound to devices that sometimes seem to limit us, even as they furnish once unimaginable luxuries. Hazel has reason to hate Byron—just as we sometimes loathe our phones—but when she abandons him, it’s partly because she knows she’s been missing out on feellings she can’t quite name. She longs for something Byron’s wealth and technology could never offer, the opportunity to lose herself in the world again. “Hazel wanted to begin forming her own mental maps, fallible and distractible as they might be—her very own lay of the land,” Nutting writes.
That desire doesn’t come without danger: Hazel is convinced that Byron will have her killed. In what may be this novel’s most troubling feature, the threat of spousal violence is sometimes played for laughs. In any case, the possibility is more resonant in the abstract, offering a reminder that it’s increasingly difficult to imagine surviving in our world without the technological signposts that lead us through it. For Hazel, it’s worth the risk, as she rids herself of the phone that links her to Byron: “[T]here was a tiny bit of control and comfort in the fact that while he could kill her tomorrow, maybe he couldn’t make her use a cell phone before he did it.” Spurning her husband’s technology may be the only way to reclaim her power.
It’s only when Made for Love heads into more definitively science fictional territory that Byron’s true menace manifests. He wants, we learn, to put a chip in Hazel’s head that would allow their brains to communicate with each other. His obsession is disquieting because he doesn’t seem to care what she thinks or feels; he simply wants to know. It’s here that he seems most monstrously robotic, a living manifestation of our digital condition: Like Byron, our devices don’t aim to know us so much as they make us over, transforming us into something knowable by reshaping our lives around their conveniences. In his own way, Byron can already read her mind, thanks to the way his devices limit the contours of her experience.
Against the emerging horror of neurotechnology—and the workaday drudgery of the devices we already own—the book manifests a longing for the substantial physicality of earlier, more analogue forms of life: Hazel fondly remembers “her father’s roundhouse fights with their old TV,” the way he would whack the set when it went haywire. There was something reciprocal in the act, Nutting suggests: If hitting a machine brings the picture back into focus, there’s still something like a give-and-take in your relationship with it. Those struggles may have been maddening, but at least you could push back when things went wrong. Our phones, by contrast, are like “porcelain eggs holding the fetus of baby Jesus”—so fragile that we’ve unconsciously learned to bend our habits to better care for them.
It there’s a thesis here—and it might be asking too much of the book to impose one—it might be that there’s value in celebrating our corporeal peculiarities, and the strange twists and turns of embodied experience that get us there. We can’t force ourselves to love our phones any more than our phones can force us to love them. And yet we’ve ended up living with them anyway, much as some of us end up in loveless relationships just because the wrong person happened to be in the room at the right time. In both cases, there’s a nebulous comfort to remembering that desire directs us along byways Google Maps could never find. Following those paths might not set us free, but at least it promises something like release.
Federal Appeals Court: You Have a Constitutional Right to Film Police Officers in Public
On Friday, a panel of judges for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the First Amendment protects individuals’ right to film police officers performing their official duties. The 3rd Circuit now joins the 1st, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th Circuits in concluding that the Constitution guarantees a right to record. No federal appeals court has yet concluded that the First Amendment does not safeguard the right to film law enforcement officers conducting police activity in public.
Friday’s decision involved two instances in which the Philadelphia police retaliated against citizens attempting to film them. In the first incident, a legal observer named Amanda Geraci tried to film police arresting an anti-fracking protester when an officer pinned her against a pillar, preventing her from recording the arrest. In the second, a Temple University sophomore named Richard Fields tried to film police officers breaking up a house party when an officer asked him whether he “like[d] taking pictures of grown men” and demanded that he leave. When Fields refused, the officer arrested and detained him, confiscating his phone and looking through its photos and videos. The officer cited Fields for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages,” although the charges were dropped when the officer failed to appear at a court hearing. Geraci and Fields filed civil rights suits against the officers who interfered with their filming attempts.
Writing for the court, Judge Thomas Ambro agreed that both Geraci and Fields held a constitutional right to record the police—a right that officers violated in both instances. “The First Amendment protects the public’s right of access to information about their officials’ public activities,” Ambro wrote. This access “is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse” on public and political issues, the most highly valued First Amendment activity. Thus, the government is constitutionally barred from “limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”
State Department Tries to Start “Fake Twitter Feud,” Understands Neither Feuds nor Twitter
With the 2017 G-20 summit kicking off Friday, the week ahead will, presumably be a busy one for the U.S. State Department. But as some in the institution prepared (we hope) for that important meeting, others were busily proving that they have no idea how anything on the internet works.
In Ars Technica, David Kravets reports that Mark Lemley, director of Stanford Law School’s Program in Law, Science, and Technology, received a peculiar email from an unnamed official in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. In that message, the official solicited Lemley’s help in producing a “fake Twitter Feud” over intellectual property, a “feud” that would, ideally, also involve organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If that seems confusing, here’s how the official explained it to Lemley:
The week after the 4th of July, when everyone gets back from vacation but will still feel patriotic and summery, we want to tweet an audacious statement like, “Bet you couldn’t see the Independence Day fireworks without bifocals; first American diplomat Ben Franklin invented them #bestIPmoment @StateDept” Our public diplomacy office is still settling on a hashtag and a specific moment that will be unique to the State Department, but then we invite you to respond with your own #MostAmericanIP, or #BestIPMoment. Perhaps it will [be] an alumni [sic] defending intellectual property in the courts or an article that your institution has produced regarding this topic.
We’ll get to the profound strangeness of that paragraph in a minute, but here’s the bigger picture: The State Department—which indirectly confirmed the veracity of this email to Ars Technica—wants to get people on Twitter to care about intellectual property law by encouraging institutions to bicker about the best examples of it. Kravets describes this plan as a “propaganda plot,” though some of Ars Technica’s commentators may be more accurate in describing it as an example of astroturfing—an artificial attempt to fabricate the appearance widespread grass-roots support for some issue or cause.
The good news is that the State Department is apparently too incompetent to pull off anything that devious, not least of all because it clearly understands neither feuds nor Twitter. Exhibit A of this sad, silly truth it its proposed “audacious” first tweet. The first problem is that, all other things being equal (they are not), at 145 characters it is too long to work as a tweet. You could, of course, fix that by removing the State Department’s deployment of its own Twitter handle at the end, but even that wouldn’t begin to resolve the real issues with the statement.
Let’s be clear: Bifocals are a problem here. “Bet you couldn’t see the Independence Day fireworks without bifocals,” the proposed tweet reads—a bet that the State Department would surely lose. Millions may wear bifocals, but, as far as I could tell, none of them were on the Washington, D.C. rooftop where I watched this year’s explosive display. If everyone around you wears bifocals, it seems possible—just maybe—that your friends skew a little … older. And if everyone you know is older, it’s possible—just maybe—that you should talk to some younger folks before trying to manufacture a viral social media moment.
There’s also the weirdness of Ben Franklin’s place in that tweet. Where this campaign seems designed to promote intellectual property ownership rights, Franklin was famously opposed to IP restrictions, writing in his autobiography, “[A]s we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.” Consequently, he never claimed to own the idea of bifocals, meaning that this “#bestIPmoment” is nothing of the kind.
Meanwhile, the larger issue is that the State Department doesn’t seem to want a “feud,” despite its claims to the contrary—it just wants people to use a hashtag that it apparently hasn’t even settled on yet. A proper “feud” response to that Franklin tweet might go something like, “Keep Franklin’s IP-hating name out of your mouth, you astroturfing idiot.” But instead the proposal calls for a game of barely germane one-upmanship, in which institutions would try to explain why their people were the best at IP stuff. The model here is presumably viral spats between celebrities, but the State Department’s ideal would be more like four D-list actors tweeting about the best features in their houses while otherwise remaining polite and respectful. Now that’s viral gold!
In the background, though, there’s a larger and more serious question. Where this Twitter campaign seems focused on American institutions, the State Department’s Bureau of Economic Affairs has a more global mission. It’s worth asking, then, what it was hoping to achieve with this plan—and who it was trying to reach. Given the incompetence with which the plan was executed, however, it seems likely that we’ll never know.
Turns Out That “Car-Eating Bus” From China Might Be a Scam
Remember that viral video from last summer showing a bus breeze by traffic by driving right over it? It was supposed to revolutionize traffic in the notoriously congested urban areas of China and help with the issue of smog.
Well, on Sunday, the Chinese government took to the social media site Weibo to announce the whole thing is a scam. It wasn’t fake news, exactly—the video itself was real, not doctored. But the video didn’t correctly portray how well the bus would work in real life.
On Aug. 2, 2016, China Xinhua News unveiled the bus to the world. According to China Xinhua News, the bus had just begun its maiden drive in Qinhuangdao, a city east of Beijing with a population of about 3 million. The bus purportedly operated by following a predetermined route and could carry about 300 people. The bottom was 7.2 feet off the ground, so cars under that height could go under it and keep driving (unless it was turning, in which case cars reportedly had to wait for the bus to finish). The internet loved the videos that emerged and labeled it a “car-eating” bus.
But the tide quickly turned.
Soon after the test run, Forbes called into question the validity of the project, noting that China’s state media had questions about the project, including how well it would actually perform, considering the test run was only 300 meters long and didn’t factor in a wide variety of details. Then in December 2016 CNN reported that the bus had been abandoned on the special tracks built for it and it was causing, not fixing, traffic issues. On June 21, the bus was finally relocated, and officials announced plans to remove the special tracks on which it ran by the end of June, according to Quartz.
Now the project is running into legal troubles with its investors, 72 of whom have filed lawsuits against two people who run an online investing platform, Huaying Kailai and Bai Zhiming, according to Southern Metropolis Daily, a Chinese language newspaper.
The two raised about $1.3 billion for the project, with potential investors having to pay a minimum of $150,000 as a buy-in. The investors were promised a 12 percent return on their contribution. Police in China have arrested Zhiming, who also bought the patent for the design, along with 31 of his employees, NPR reports.
But rather than running from the scene of the crime, Zhiming said the bus would be relocated to another city after being moved from its abandoned post, Quartz reported. This guy doesn’t seem to know when to quit.
California Is Thinking About Giving “Reasonable” Internet Access to Youth in Juvenile Detention
California’s state legislature is considering a bill that would give youth in juvenile detention facilities reasonable access to computers and the internet for educational purposes and to keep in contact with outside support systems. The bill passed the Human Services Committee in the California Senate on June 27. The next step is for the bill to be heard by the Senate Public Safety Committee on July 11.
Many juvenile detention facilities in California already have wireless internet connections, and some allow their inmates to Skype approved contacts, according to Jay Jefferson, the legislative director for the bill’s sponsor, Mike Gipson. But most juvenile inmates have very limited access to the internet, only using it if they need to take tests school or psychological tests online, according to Ike Dodson, a public information officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Dodson wrote in an email that some juvenile detention facilities use intranet for school-related tasks, and they are looking at ways to download content so prisoners can view websites without being connected to the internet.
The bill has support from big names in the tech industry, including Facebook and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In a letter of support, the EFF wrote, “Computer literacy and computer skills are crucial to development in the modern era. … Many facilities are located in remote areas, placing youth far from their homes, accommodations should be made using modern technology to allow detainees to maintain meaningful relationships with their families.” Gizmodo reports that Facebook’s Anne Blackwood, the head of public policy for the western states, wrote a letter of support making similar arguments. “Computer literacy and the ability to communicate with technology are integral to living in today’s society,” she wrote.
Facebook for the (adult) incarcerated has long been a point of contention. In 2011, South Carolina tried to pass a bill that would add more prison time to a felon’s sentence, along with a $500 fine, if he or she created or used a Facebook account while incarcerated. The following year, South Carolina actually did make using social media in prison a Level 1 offense—a reprimand typically reserved for serious violations of prison policies, like violence.
The EFF has spoken out against placing inmates in solitary confinement for their use of Facebook and other sites, noting that officials can issue separate violations for each day of usage. “If a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated FaceBook every day for two weeks,” it wrote.
By threatening violators with solitary confinement, South Carolina takes things to the extreme. But it isn’t alone in cracking down on social media for prisoners. In 2016, the Texas Department of Justice announced that family members can’t run prisoners’ accounts from the outside. Facebook has even partnered with California prisons to take down the profiles of prisoners. But there’s a difference between adults and minors and children, and the proposed bill in California seems to recognize that.
The bill wouldn’t just affect the 23,000 in juvenile detention in California; it would also create regulations for the nearly 56,000 who were in the foster care system as of 2015. The legislation would ensure that minors in foster care have reasonable internet access, regardless of what home they’re placed in. The bill also gives them the right to a variety of options for independence, like maintaining an emancipation bank account. Essentially, this bill would expand the ability for currently disadvantaged minors to have more opportunities for success.
Additionally, the bill would also allow for juveniles to make at least two free phone calls within an hour of arriving at a facility after being arrested and would mandate that they be able to maintain frequent contact through calls if they desire. Calls from prison can be notoriously expensive, and the Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to regulate the cost. But that wouldn’t necessarily mean that internet use would be just another way to squeeze money out of those in juvenile detention. Jefferson wrote that the intent of the bill is to not have the families and children bear the cost. In facilities that currently provide internet access, families don’t have to pay, Jefferson says. But he notes that he can’t guarantee a specific facility won’t charge for a particular service. He added that the bill was intentionally written in broad language so that there would be a variety of options on how to implement it.
The Canadian Supreme Court Orders Google to Make a Worldwide Change
On Wednesday, Canadian company Equustek Solutions Inc. convinced the Canadian Supreme Court to temporarily prevent Google from displaying worldwide the sites of a rival company, in a case that may prove key in deciding how global search engines apply their policies globally.
The matter started as a case between Equusteck and Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc. over a product that the latter had rebranded and sold as its own. Equustek requested that Google remove search results for the other company’s websites while the case between them was settled, and Google did so, but only on Google.ca, the Canadian version of the site. Equustek then sought an order against Google to prevent the search engine from displaying its rival’s sites worldwide. The Canadian Supreme Court agreed in a 7–2 decision.
A.I. Could Help Combat Modern Slavery, if Humans Don’t Mess It Up
Though it’s been over it’s been more than a century since the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the practice of using forced human labor has proven to be a stubbornly modern problem. According to 2016 estimates by the Global Slavery Index 45.8 million people are currently enslaved worldwide
Despite clear laws banning such exploitation, these numbers have remained high as practices continue to evolve. One of the biggest obstacles those who want to combat forced labor face is the difficulty identifying and accessing the places where it’s happening—which are often in remote or unstable areas.
But now some human rights activists may have a new tool to track some of the most notorious sites of slavery in the world: artificial intelligence. The technology holds promise to vastly expand and accelerate their important work. However, as experts point out, its implementation doesn’t come without potential pitfalls.