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June 12, 2008

The Judge Kozinski Mess Explained

The Kozinski mess (Lessig Blog)

As usual, the mainstream media gets it completely wrong.

Here are the facts as I've been able to tell: For at least a month, a disgruntled litigant, angry at Judge Kozinski (and the Ninth Circuit) has been talking to the media to try to smear Kozinski. Kozinski had sent a link to a file (unrelated to the stuff being reported about) that was stored on a file server maintained by Kozinski's son, Yale. From that link (and a mistake in how the server was configured), it was possible to determine the directory structure for the server. From that directory structure, it was possible to see likely interesting places to peer. The disgruntled sort did that, and shopped some of what he found to the news sources that are now spreading it.

Cyberspace is weird and obscure to many people. So let's translate all this a bit: Imagine the Kozinski's have a den in their house. In the den is a bunch of stuff deposited by anyone in the family -- pictures, books, videos, whatever. And imagine the den has a window, with a lock. But imagine finally the lock is badly installed, so anyone with 30 seconds of jiggling could open the window, climb into the den, and see what the judge keeps in his house. Now imagine finally some disgruntled litigant jiggers the lock, climbs into the window, and starts going through the family's stuff. He finds some stuff that he knows the local puritans won't like. He takes it, and then starts shopping it around to newspapers and the like: "Hey look," he says, "look at the sort of stuff the judge keeps in his house."

I take it anyone would agree that it would outrageous for someone to publish the stuff this disgruntled sort produced. Obviously, within limits: if there were illegal material (child porn, for example), we'd likely ignore the trespass and focus on the crime. But if it is not illegal material, we'd all, I take it, say that the outrage is the trespass, and the idea that anyone would be burdened to defend whatever someone found in one's house.

Because this is in many ways the essence of privacy. Not the right to commit a crime (though sometimes it has that effect). But the right not to have to defend yourself about stuff you keep private. If the trespasser found a Playboy on the table in the den, the proper response is not to publish an article reporting this fact, and then shift the burden to the home owner to defend the presence of the Playboy (a legal publication, harmless in the eyes of some, scandalous in the eyes of others). The proper response is to give the private party the benefit of privacy: which is, here at least, the right not to have to explain.

June 10, 2008

In Tanzania, a trade in albino body parts

Albinos, Long Shunned, Face Threat in Tanzania - NYTimes.com

Discrimination against albinos is a serious problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but recently in Tanzania it has taken a wicked twist: at least 19 albinos, including children, have been killed and mutilated in the past year, victims of what Tanzanian officials say is a growing criminal trade in albino body parts.

Many people in Tanzania — and across Africa, for that matter — believe albinos have magical powers. They stand out, often the lone white face in a black crowd, a result of a genetic condition that impairs normal skin pigmentation and strikes about 1 in 3,000 people here. Tanzanian officials say witch doctors are now marketing albino skin, bones and hair as ingredients in potions that are promised to make people rich.

As the threats have increased, the Tanzanian government has mobilized to protect its albino population, an already beleaguered group whose members are often shunned as outcasts and die of skin cancer before they reach 30.

Police officers are drawing up lists of albinos in every corner of the country to better look after them. Officers are escorting albino children to school. Tanzania’s president even sponsored an albino woman for a seat in Parliament to show that “we are with them in this,” said Salvator Rweyemamu, a Tanzanian government spokesman.