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Can You Vacation in Cuba?

In 1962, President Kennedy ordered his press secretary to secure as many Cuban cigars as the secretary could find. The late President of the United States stockpiled 1,200 cigars for his personal use. Upon securing the cigars, President Kennedy signed the Cuban trade embargo, banning the import of any Cuban products.

can you travel to cuba for vacationHalf a century later, President Obama has begun the first steps in normalizing relations with Cuba. Part of the transition is to legalize travel between the United States and Cuba. New policies have been set in place to make that happen. Can Americans legally vacation in Cuba now?

Opening the Island Nation

The focus on the Cuba debate is whether the embargo hurts the Cuban government or the Cuban government. Ignoring the fact that the Castros have been in power since 1959, the debate should shift more towards whether opening Cuba is in America’s best interest. The “education” tours show that there is money to be made by opening further travel to Cuba.

Tourism is obviously the biggest lure. Americans are still not allowed to travel to Cuba for leisure or recreation. However, under the new rules Americans can now travel to Cuba for “educational activities.” Travel companies and tour groups are taking advantage of the change in policy by offering “educational exchange trips” to tourists. The tours comply with the new rules by giving tourists the opportunity to interact with local Cubans, including farmers, doctors, and fishermen, among others. Of course, these tours also take travelers around the island to see more exotic regions.

The United States doesn’t export enough goods these days and Cuba is a fresh market that might actually stir the economy. Cuba is in need of food stuffs and a new market would greatly boost farm productivity. This is a better option than bankruptcy or taxpayer subsidies (although farmers could potentially get subsidies and export food to Cuba).

This doesn’t mean money is more important than democracy, but the embargo hasn’t lead to a Cuban democracy. If Americans can travel and trade freely with Cuba, our merchants and tourists can help the Cuban people more than CIA agents and battleships.

Marijuana Wars with Maraschino Cherries and D.C.’s Mayor

Washington D.C.’s decriminalization of marijuana went into effect last week, drawing the wrath of prominent Congress members. Rep. Jason Chaffetz reportedly said D.C.’s Mayor could “go to prison for this.” Federal law enforcement’s war against marijuana has been continuous since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. However, that war has often shattered lives, as Arthur Mondella’s tragic story reveals.

Maraschino CherriesWhile the District of Columbia was preparing to decriminalize marijuana, local police and federal agents were conducting a raid on Maraschino Cherries Factory in Brooklyn. Law enforcement claimed to have a warrant to search the factory for violations of environmental laws, but the raid’s true purpose was to search for marijuana. The factory owner, Arthur Mondella, had inherited the business from his father and grandfather. Initially Mondella cooperated with the police. Authorities eventually discovered a secret room concealed by a fake wall. Mondella immediately went to the bathroom.

His sister, obviously concerned, followed. Mondella asked her to “take care of my kids” and then Mondella shot himself. After Mondella’s suicide, police entered the hidden basement. Law enforcement found a 2,500 square foot marijuana farm underneath the cherry factory.

Maraschino Cherries Kingpin vs. Washington, D.C.’s Mayor

Although I drew comparisons between D.C. and Mondella, there are enormous differences. In D.C., the voters had approved a measure decriminalizing marijuana. If D.C. were a state rather than a federal district, Congress would not be as hostile. Mondella, on the other hand, was a private actor growing marijuana in knowing violation of the law. Mondella wasn’t trying to change the law, which would be legal; he was violating the law for, possibly, his own profit.

News coverage of the cherry factory conflict with each other. Most stories quote an unknown police officer claiming Mondella wouldn’t have done any jail time. However, some stories claim the officer wouldn’t have done time for spilling cherry syrup in the water while other stories quote the officer saying Mondella wouldn’t have done jail time for marijuana.

Although Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail for cherry syrup, the idea that Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail over marijuana is laughable. Mondella was concealing what looked like a multi-million dollar farm on his property. Federal prosecutors would have indicted Mondella as a drug kingpin and there is no doubt that Mondella would have served significant time. If Congress is threatening to lock up the mayor of D.C. for enforcing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, imagine what the Justice Department would do to a man caught running an entire drug operation in his factory.

States across the country might be decriminalizing marijuana, but there’s no doubt that some federal actors still want to win the war on marijuana.

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What You Should Know about StingRay Cell Phone Surveillance

What Is the StingRay Tapping Device?

A new device called StingRay Tapping Device enables the police and the government to track cell phone communications. The StringRay is a box that electronically connects to local cell phone towers. It then simulates the cell phone tower, and in turn prompts signals from cell phones attached to the tower.

cell phone tower stingray trackingIf the police can connect to hundreds of citizen’s phones, what stops them from tapping into the general population’s phones?

StingRay’s Use by Police

From 2007-2014 in Tallahassee, FL, the city police used the StingRay in more than 250 investigations. This means they used it in about 40 investigations per year, in a city where the population is only 186,000. Even if the police are using the StingRay just to find criminals, are they taking advantage of this power and relying on it too much?

In one of these cases, a drug deal gone wrong lead the police to use the StingRay to track down the location of the suspect. Tadrae McKenzie and a couple of friends robbed a dealer of weed and money in a parking lot and fled the scene. Police found his whereabouts about a week later and he was arrested.

During the trial, McKenzie’s defense team became suspicious that a secret surveillance tool was used because there was no evidence that would lead the police straight to McKenzie’s home. The judge then ordered the police to show the device. They did in fact use a StingRay.

The FBI has declared there is no mandate for court warrants to be used when connecting a StingRay to a cell phone tower. They decided the device does not violate our Fourth Amendment and it is lawful for the police to track communications of suspects. The Obama Administration stands by this. The administration has declared that citizens have no privacy in public areas.

Senator Questions the Use of StringRay

Recently, Florida Senator Bill Nelson gave a speech to the Senate about the threat that StingRay poses to consumers’ privacy. “It’s time for us to stand up for the individual citizen of this country and their right to privacy,” said Nelson. The Senator also send a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, requesting certain explanations regarding the nature of the company behind StringRay.

The Legal Consequences of Three-Parent Babies

Britain just became the first country to legalize Mitochondrial DNA Transfer, or Three Parent IVF. The treatment uses DNA from two women and a man to conceive a child. The process takes one woman’s egg and replaces “defective” DNA with “healthy” DNA from a second woman. The purpose of the treatment is to help couples conceive a child without passing on severe genetic disorders.

three-parent babiesThere’s a great deal of controversy over this new technology because it’s a natural assumption that a child can only have two biological parents. There simply isn’t a legal framework to recognize more than two biological parents. Although Britain is willing to go forward, other countries, including the United States, are taking a “watch and see” approach.

The most common criticism is that the technology has not been adequately tested on humans and that any potential babies from this IVF will be at risk of cancer or other defects. More importantly, there is concern this new process could be the slippery slope to “designer babies.” If science can remove undesirable genetic disorders, science can also remove – or modify – other traits. In the future, this DNA transfer could lead to parents shopping for the traits they find most desirable: sex, hair color, eye color, musical capabilities, etc.

While everyone is focused on the issue of designer babies, there are other interesting legal issues that could arise. For instance, lesbian couples could finally have a child who is genetically related to both women. In those arrangements, the man required in a Three Parent IVF would merely be a sperm donor. But technology is often as much a curse as it is a blessing.

Three-Parent IVF is a new technology, but it has the same legal problems as other forms of assisted reproduction presents. Assisted reproduction cases involve parentage issues. Surrogate mothers and sperm donors agree to help conceive the offspring in exchange for money and freedom from legal liability to the child.

In surrogacy, it’s possible the couple can’t afford to support the child and will sue the second woman for child support. Of course, if a couple can afford a new and thereby expensive medical procedure, then the couple probably can afford to support a baby. On the other hand, the donor could have a change of heart about having parentage rights severed. The remainder of this article will discuss the latter.

Surrogacy and Three-Parentage

The woman who donated the DNA could be treated the same way as a sperm donor. In a sperm donor arrangement, a man could provide sperm, outside of sexual intercourse, to a woman. The man in the couple would then adopt the child as his own even though he is not genetically related to the child. The sperm donor, the biological and legal father, would have his rights severed under the donor agreement. Most states recognize sperm donor agreements. However, the couple must follow state procedures if they wish to terminate the sperm donor’s rights.

Courts could find the second woman in Three-Parent IVFs to be akin to sperm donors. The analogy is even more intuitive than surrogacy agreements because sperm is a vehicle for DNA and DNA is what the second woman is giving. Judges could merely read sperm donor laws as gender neutral. Courts could hold that the same procedures terminating the natural rights of sperm donors apply to women who donate DNA.

On the other hand, the Three-Parent IVF could be viewed as a surrogacy. Three-Parent IVF can be thought of as a reverse surrogacy. While surrogacy procedures require an unrelated woman to give birth to the couple’s child, Three-Parent IVF requires that the biological mother give birth to a child who is related to another woman. It’s possible to view the Three-Parent IVF as a surrogacy, with the birth mother a surrogate for the woman who donated the DNA.

Obviously this legal angle won’t work if the state doesn’t recognize surrogate agreements. Many states regard them as contracts to sell infants and courts will refuse to uphold them. Other states find nothing wrong with them and courts will hold that the intentions of the biological parents will decide the outcome.

Determining Parentage

In Three-Parentage cases, it might be difficult to determine which woman intended to be the legal parent and which woman was a surrogate. The easiest way might be to determine which couple (woman plus partner) was the party to the contract, but that wouldn’t be helpful if both women were in a relationship prior to the DNA mixing.

Proponents of Three-Parentage have asserted that the child wouldn’t be equally related to all three parents. The child wouldn’t be one-third related to each parent because the donor’s DNA is only supplied to “fix” genetic defects. It’s more likely that the child will be related to the donor by only one or two percent.

However, I would shocked if there weren’t any judges who would refuse to award custody based on the percentage of genes a child shares with a person. Grandparents and other relatives would be at a disadvantage, a disadvantage that would be unfair if they were more involved in a child’s life than persons who are genetically closer but emotionally distant. Genetic lottery is not a legal standard that any court should adopt. The child’s best interest is currently the default standard and nothing should change that.

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Can the Government Create a Fake Facebook Page Using Your Identity?

In 2010, a New York woman named Sondra Arquiett learned that her identity had been stolen. Someone had created a false Facebook page with her name that included racy photos of her. The page was complete with “friends”, comments supposedly made by her, and private messages. Arquiett reported the page and soon found out that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Timothy Sinnigen was responsible for stealing her identity.

fake facebook pageArquiett was arrested not long before the page was set up for involvement in a drug ring. The judge sentenced her to five years’ probation, which included six months of weekend incarceration and six months home detention. While awaiting trial, Sinnigen used Arquiett’s seized cell phone to set up the false online profile without her knowledge.

Arquiett sued Sinnigen in federal district court in Syracuse, New York for violation of privacy and placing her in danger. The government defended the agent by stating Arquiett “implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations”.

Eventually, without taking responsibility, the Justice Department settled on $134,000 to be rewarded to Arquiett.

Was This Legal?

According to Facebook’s “Community Standards”, “Claiming to be another person…violates Facebook’s terms”. A spokesman for Facebook says law enforcement is not exempt from the site’s policies. But, this is just a policy, not a law. Are there any laws that apply?

In 1984, New York State enacted the Personal Privacy Protection Law. This law prohibits an agency (like the DEA) from collecting personal information (such as Arquiett’s photos) unless it is “relevant and necessary” to an agent’s goal that must be accomplished by law. Also, when an agency requests personal information from an individual (which the DEA failed to do), the agency must disclose how and why the information is being used (also failed in this aspect).

Facebook has since taken down the fake profile of Arquiett. Even though the Justice Department refused any responsibility for violating privacy laws, at least Arquiett received a settlement and she has since had her probation terminated.