Category Archives: Legal

Passports for phones

Cory Doctrow doesn’t seem too impressed with Britain’s plan to require passports for the purchase of mobile phones; the move is aimed primarily at prepaid/pay-as-you-go phones. His objections are understandable enough, given the implications for civil liberties. As The Times reports:

The pay-as-you-go phones are popular with criminals and terrorists because their anonymity shields their activities from the authorities. But they are also used by thousands of law-abiding citizens who wish to communicate in private.

The move aims to close a loophole in plans being drawn up by GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham, to create a huge database to monitor and store the internet browsing habits, e-mail and telephone records of everyone in Britain.

The “Big Brother” database would have limited value to police and MI5 if it did not store details of the ownership of more than half the mobile phones in the country.

I understand the concerns, I really do. However, I had to provide a copy of my passport when I went to buy a mobile in the UAE (and had to provide a copy or the original document for just about anything) and didn’t find it a big deal. I’m certainly someone who enjoys his privacy, so I guess I was just rolling with it. That said I’m fairly sure the UAE didn’t keep my details for use by the intelligence services.

Links o' the day, 16/10/08

I used to do a daily list of links, but that fell by the wayside for some reason. Consider this a restart.

Skippy on the menu as Australia seeks to fight global warming. (Bloomberg; for the record, kangaroo meat isn’t bad)

Suit against God tossed over lack of address. (AP/

Consumption of psychoactive drugs by Tiwanakuan mummies. (

Crate expectations: 12 shipping container housing ideas. (Treehugger)

What your home and workspace say about your politics. (Lifehacker)

The music alliance pact. (UnaRocks)

Nerd rage. (1,000 Tiny Things I Hate)

Forget subprime mortgages, it was bin Laden. (The National)

Choir mistress pays hospital parking fine in 3,500 pennies. (The Daily Telegraph)

Bob Dylan in court

John Roberts Jr, a US Supreme Court judge, has made rock ‘n’ roll legal history by citing Bob Dylan.

“The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing,” Roberts wrote. “‘When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.’ Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).”

Although the lyric is slightly wrong, it’s not the first time the veteran songwriter has been mentioned in court. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” has apparently been cited in 18 court decisions.

Al Gore, man of peace


I’m glad Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have won the Nobel peace prize.

In a statement, Gore said he was “deeply honored,” adding that “the climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.”

During its announcement, the Nobel committee cited the winners “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.

Although arguments exist against human activity being the catalyst for the planet’s warming, there is a 90% chance that we’re the cause. It is not too late to make a difference, even if we have to live with some significant climate changes.

That Gore won reflects how seriously the environmental movement is being taken. As Lewis Smith notes:

Ten years ago the idea that the world was warming up, with potentially disastrous consequences, was still hugely contested.

People who installed energy-saving lightbulbs or put on another jumper instead of turning up the thermostat were dismissed as part of the tree-hugging fringe movement.

But the science of climate change has advanced enormously in the past decade and gradually the sceptics have been silenced as their objections were answered.

Sceptics still exist, and many of them have good points to make, but it is they who have been pushed to the fringe of political and scientific debate.

The IPCC has made progress because of its scientific roots. It has amassed and analysed evidence that makes it nigh impossible to ignore the affect our activity is having on the planet. It and Gore have highlighted ways of adapting to and nullifying this impact.

Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was broadly accurate despite nine significant errors. The ruling, which determined if the film could be shown in schools, said “the ‘apocalyptic vision’ presented in the film was politically partisan and not an impartial analysis of the science of climate change”.

Yes, it’s a political film. Yes, it is biased toward one point of view. But it is not wrong just because of this — it’s purpose is to raise awareness and inspire action. Because the judge backed the film’s central message, it can be show provided there are accompanying materials to balance Gore’s view.

Let us all hope it continues to have a positive impact on our attitude toward our planet.

Postscript: Daniel Drezner has noted a curious passage in the press release, which states that Gore “is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted”. Drezner wonders if the sentence would make more sense were the word “worldwide” replaced by “American”.

Majella and Judge Carney

It is a difficult situation and still highly emotive. If you missed it, Judge Paul Carney, who presided over the trial and sentencing of Wayne O’Donoghue for the killing of Robert Holohan, criticised Robert’s mother for making unscripted comments in her victim impact statement.

These included that semen was allegedly found on her child’s body — information which did not form part of the prosecution case and was not mentioned during the trial (disclaimer: I reported on it).

At a conference in UCC Judge Carney said:

[The] sentencing objective was totally frustrated by the unscripted addendum to the victim impact statement and the enthusiastic adoption of it by the tabloid press… by the time I got to my chambers the word ‘semen’ was already on the airwaves and the accused was being branded a paedophile killer, which he was not. The tabloids stirred up such hatred for the accused he has no future in this country.

It is fair for Ms Holohan to say she is upset and hurt by the judge’s comments, and by his admission she was suffering from “obsessive grief”. She also said: “I do not believe it is appropriate to censor victims as to what they can say so that it can be palatable for the judge or the offender.” 

I understand her logic but this is a very tricky situation. The way her comments were picked up by some elements of the press resulted in defamatory coverage and have ensured O’Donoghue has no future in Ireland. At the same time, Judge Carney last night spoke out against strict guidelines for victims’ statements.

He expressed reservations about “guidelines” offered by Mrs Justice Fidelma Macken in which she said victims could be held in contempt of court if they depart significantly from the victim impact statement submitted. He said he feared conferring “a right of censorship on killers and rapists over their victims”.

It’s all in the laps of the legal gods. They’re the experts, so one would imagine them capable of resolving the situation.

But Sarah Carey makes a good point:

Still no complaints about the DPP not prosecuting him for the cover-up. They were the ones who made a mess of the case.

This trial and sentencing will become the benchmark for future rulings. Its impact is far from completely fet just yet.

God responds to senator

In a follow-up to the story below, God has apparently filed a response to Ernie Chambers’ lawsuit. It

argues that the defendant is immune from some earthly laws and the court lacks jurisdiction.

It adds that blaming God for human oppression and suffering misses an important point.

“I created man and woman with free will and next to the promise of immortal life, free will is my greatest gift to you,” according to the response, as read by court clerk John Friend.

There was no contact information on the filing, although St. Michael the Archangel is listed as a witness, Friend said.

A second response from “God” disputing Chambers’ allegations lists a phone number for a Corpus Christi law office. A message left for that office was not immediately returned Thursday.