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EU Seeks to Extend “Right to Be Forgotten”

It’s rare for legal decisions in European Courts to affect Americans. However, the fight over the “right to be forgotten” could be the exception. Last year, EU courts created a “right to be forgotten,” mandating that Google remove links at an individual’s request.

google eu internet privacyFor example, suppose that your home was foreclosed and you were arrested for punching the sheriff who posted the notice to your door. A decade later, you’ve paid off the mortgage and the assault charges have been cleared. However, Google still has your mug shot and your foreclosure record.

If you live in Europe, you could request that Google remove links to information about your arrest and foreclosure from European servers like Google.de or Google.fr.

The main server, Google.com, however, will still retain these links, despite your request. In fact, European privacy groups believe that Europeans are turning to Google.com now that Google’s European servers have been compromised. And that’s exactly why European privacy groups are targeting Google.com next.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The problem is that Europeans aren’t the only ones who use Google.com. The .com server is the server that most Americans use. If European countries require that Google censor web links on its .com server, then that information would also be censored in the United States as well. The consequences are too vast to be predictable, but I can think of a few.

For instance, Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown, could move to Europe and convincingly erase his name from Internet archives. Or what if an American opens a business with a European investor? It’s much harder to tell whether the investor has any shady dealings. Or what if you’re trying to sue a European citizen living in the United States? Although a competent attorney would not rely on the Internet during discovery, writing that claim might be harder if the defendant can magically hide his Internet presence.

What happens if the EU tries to force Google to restrict Google.com? First, it’s debatable whether EU courts have jurisdiction over a foreign company such that the EU could affect how Google manages its website overseas. Second, if the EU did have that power, I am currently unaware of an American law that would compel Google to keep information up. Or Google could ignore EU courts and accept whatever consequences that might entail.

If Google.com is such a problem, why can’t European countries just restrict citizens to European servers? Actually, that is a solution that some countries have taken up. The most prominent country that has limited its citizen’s Internet access is China.

If you’re in China, Google.com is inaccessible and you have to use Google.cn or Google.hk. In China, the purpose of blocking Google.com and restricting access to certain web pages is to keep the state, the Communist Party, and party leaders safe from political critique. Ironically, the EU will be enforcing a type of Internet censorship based on privacy rather than political oppression, but the outcome might still be the same.

Why Is It so Hard to Indict Cops?

With so many recent cases of white cop vs. black man, the country has erupted into protests demanding change. The George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, Tamir Rice, and the Eric Garner case, have thrown the U.S. into a racial tailspin. These cases have all exemplified the complicated process of indicting cops.

why is it so hard to indict cops?Why is it so hard for a grand jury to indict cops? When 90% of cases end in indictment, why do the majority of cop vs. citizen cases end in non-prosecution of the cop?

What Law Does the Grand Jury See?

Indicting a police officer is a far more complicated process than indicting a citizen. The primary reason is that the law is very generous in giving cops the authority to use deadly force.

For example, in the Ferguson case, Missouri law gives officers the right to use deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” if the officer reasonably believes the deadly force is necessary to “effect the arrest” and also he “reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony…or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.”

What Protects Cops from Indictment?

Major criminal cases use police investigators and detectives, which poses an extreme conflict of interest in cop cases. Police officers can also serve as eye witnesses, since they were often the only people there (or the only people who lived to testify about it). This massive conflict of interest can affect a prosecutor’s expectations of the cop’s involvement.

Cops enter into the law enforcement field knowing they need to protect their fellow colleagues at any cost. This is exemplified in the field, as well as the court.

Police also have an extensive amount of specific legal protection. Each state has guidelines for what protects its police, but the laws that allow the use of force are backed by the Supreme Court. Police can use force when resisted against, and will extend their use of force if the criminal does the same.

It’s crucial to remember that police officers must make immediate, instinctive decisions to stay alive. This fact that influence a grand jury’s determination as to whether the officer acted reasonably under the circumstances.

Even in times where racial tension is at a high, the majority of the population favors cops. There is a central knowledge and belief that cops are essential to the safety of our country. Some might say they are a necessary evil. Jurors are often asked to put themselves in the police officer’s shoes in these types of cases, rather than the criminals. This creates an even bigger push to side with the police.

Even when police officers are indicted, reports from Philadelphia and Seattle show that most of these cases become overturned. This is a direct cause of the substantial due process protection for police officers.

The criminal justice system is corrupted with racial discrimination. This has especially been prominent in cases such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But, it is key to remember that the criminal justice system is also a complicated one. Only experts can decide if an indictment is necessary. Hopefully, this article has shed some light onto the widespread unknown reasons why indicting a cop is so hard.

Highway Robbery: How Police Abuse Civil Forfeiture Laws

The news is currently flooded with examples of police abusing their power. Here’s another: civil forfeiture (a.k.a. highway robbery by the police).

civil forfeiture police abuse of powerConsider this example: you’re moving to a new city with your car weighed down with boxes of clothes, books, etc. When a cop pulls you over for speeding, he questions you about all the possessions in your car. He doesn’t believe your story, so he confiscates everything.

This scenario may sound farfetched, but it happens to thousands of Americans every year.

Under the civil forfeiture process, police are allowed to take and keep your property or cash if they believe it’s connected to an illegal activity—even if you aren’t charged with a crime.

Civil forfeiture is most commonly used against motorists, but police have also used it to seize homes. Also known as asset forfeiture, this legal process was prominent during the Prohibition era in order to thwart the activities of bootleggers. It was used by the police in the 1980s in the war on drugs.

After 9/11, the departments of Homeland Security and Justice spent millions to train local and state police to be their eyes and ears on American highways. This meant being more aggressive when looking for suspicious people or drugs.

Unlike criminal procedure, where individuals must be convicted before their property is confiscated, civil forfeiture is a dispute between the police and the seized item in question; your guilt or innocence is irrelevant. To regain your seized property, you must prove that their property was not connected to the alleged illegal activity. Most people do not regain their property because the legal process is long and sometimes far more expensive than the seized items are worth.

The most commonly seized items are cash, vehicles, and personal property. Civil forfeiture cases are lodged against the seized property and not the owner of the property, so the case names seem ridiculous, such as:

  • United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins
  • United States v. One Pearl Necklace
  • State of Texas v. $6,037

So, why is property so easy to seize? Unlike people, property has no legal right and most states do not have a presumption of innocence in property. Most police departments benefit from civil forfeiture because they get to keep the confiscated property that is not returned to the owner. What was once a legal practice meant to stop organized crime is now used to line the pockets of underfunded police departments.

Abuse of civil forfeiture laws has become rampant in recent years. In 2012, the value of seized assets was $4.3 billion compared to 2001’s $407 million.  Most of the money is shared with local police forces, so the incentive to use civil forfeiture is high when cities cut police department budgets. Some police departments have used seized money to purchase sports tickets, home security systems, a $90,000 sports car, and a margarita machine for office parties.

Civil forfeiture, if used properly, can have a positive effect and be a useful tool in the fight against organized crime. But so far it’s become synonymous with police abuse and corruption. When people read an article about civil forfeiture, they encounter stories about the police and federal agencies keeping $2.5 billion in seized property, or innocent people, like the Sourovelis, who have had their home seized without being charged or accused of a crime. By abusing civil forfeiture laws, the police fail to protect and have become twisted Robin Hoods that steal from the innocent and give to themselves.

Social Media and Employer Discrimination: Are You Protected?

It’s no secret that employers look up the social medial profiles of job applicants. The Society for Human Resource Management found that recruitment through social media websites raised from 34 percent in 2008 to 77 percent in 2013. A quick glance at a person’s Facebook profile often tells more about that person than their formal resume.

social media employment discriminationProfiles on Facebook or LinkedIn include all kinds of personal information, including race, gender, age, and ethnicity. How do you know if a potential employer isn’t discriminating against you in the hiring process based on one of these factors? The unfortunate answer is, you don’t.

Since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can’t regulate employee discrimination online, the EEOC suggests companies use a third party to survey social media profiles. Using someone not involved in the hiring process will rule out the possibility of discrimination online.

Also, companies can only use public information on a candidate’s profile. Employers may not use private information while deciding who to hire. That means, if a person’s profile is private, an employer may only use information that everyone can see.

In order to increase employee privacy, seven states have enacted a bill that prohibits employers from requesting social media passwords: Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Legislation for the same bill is pending or has been introduced in 28 states.

There is always risk of discrimination by a potential employer when recruiting on social media. To protect yourself, keep your profile private, and always think twice about what you post online.

Obama’s Influence on the Battle over Immigration Reform

The battle over immigration reform has reached a boiling point.

Obama Immigration ReformDuring his presidency, Barack Obama has promised to act on his long-term efforts to reform the country’s immigration policies, and did so by announcing a controversial executive order on November 20, 2014. Obama has been quoted as saying, “I believe that America is a nation of immigrants. Everybody agrees that the system is broken; there has been ample opportunity for Congress to pass a bipartisan immigration bill that would strengthen our borders, improve the legal immigration system and lift millions of people out of the shadows, so that they are paying taxes and getting right by the law.” However, despite America’s “200 year history” of welcoming immigrants, the system has broken down in the last couple of decades.

The debate, now dominating the media, began during his presidency on June 15, 2012, when President Obama created a new policy calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people, who came to the U.S. as children. The “Dream Act”, also known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) was implemented on August 15, 2012, and those affected are appropriately called the “Dreamers”

Although the Dream Act did not create legalization and citizenship, it did, at the very least, initiate important opportunities for some the country’s young undocumented immigrants. Some of the concessions granted include allowing young people to remain in the country without fear of deportation and obtain work permits, which inevitably increases their chances for economic and social incorporation. Many are now afforded the same rights as other aspiring young people such as opening their first bank account, obtaining their first credit card and landing their first professional job.

However, there are many restrictions which exclude the country’s youth from possible deportation including the requirement of entering the U.S. before the age of 16, being under the age of 31 before June 15, 2012, being present in the U.S. for 5 years, graduating from high school or obtaining a GED, being accepted to college and having good “moral character.” Finally, it in no way addressed the constant threat of deportation of their immediate family.

Critics of immigration reform are often quoted as saying, “But who will pay for all these people to stay in our country.” However, they fail to recognize that undocumented immigrants have long contributed to the success of state economies.

Some of the highlights of Obama’s recent historic executive order are as follows:

  • There has been massive exploitation of undocumented immigrants by low pay, but because of the risk of being torn apart from their families, they comply. Additionally, the companies who are paying living wages, are strained by the competition, and will inevitably succumb to these unethical practices.
  • Since his presidency, Obama has worked extensively to secure the southern border with more agents and security than ever in history. For example, in the past 6 years, illegal border crossings has been cut down by more than half.
  • Instead of resorting to an executive action, Obama attempted to work with Congress. In fact, 68 democrats, republicans and independents came together to pass a bipartisan act which would have doubled security agents and allowed undocumented immigrants to stay if they paid a fine, paid taxes and went to back of the line This would have help grow the economy and decrease the deficit. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives refused to allow the bill to pass, despite the constant criticism from the far right on Obama’s efforts to fix the economic disaster, which almost placed the country into a recession before he was even elected.

As Obama explained, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants is not good for the country and far from realistic.  He pointed out that they work hard, support their families with significantly lower wages than equally qualified citizens, worship in community churches, are largely patriotic and most of their children already live in the U.S., many of which are citizens.  In fact, former President Bush, who is very conservative, was quoted as saying immigrants are “part of American lives.” However, there are restrictions to Obama’s order which, contrary to public opinion, actually satisfy most of the concerns from the conservative opposition. The following are the main provisions of the order:

  • Increased resources at the border, with more security.
  • Implementation of a process to make it easier and faster for high skilled immigrants and business entrepreneurs to stay in the country (which big business leaders support.)
  • Immigration laws that are broken, which result in those responsible being held accountable, including the deportation of felons, criminals and gang members, as opposed to families, children and single mothers.
  • The requirements to avoid deportation are an immigrant must be in the country for 5 year, have children who are American citizens or legal residents, register, pass a criminal check and pay taxes.
  • Undocumented immigrants must not enter illegally from this point forward.

In my opinion, the executive order is far from perfect. It gives too many concessions to those who oppose equality. Nonetheless, legal challenges to the order will no doubt be brought by republican controlled Congress, including threats of impeachment constantly looming over the president (especially by the House Speaker John Boehner). Therefore, many of the details of any executive order will be vulnerable to court action. Additionally, Congress will inevitably threaten a government shutdown, mirroring the one that rocked the nation in 2013, which focused on the republicans desire to defund the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. However, Obama remains defiant in the face of such threats and was steadfast in his promise to take action. Hopefully, the opposition will see the light and allow the country to grow and prosper, while staying true to equality for all.