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In this week’s Circuit Court column, stomach I write about the legislative battle over changing our communications eavesdropping laws and a related issue of giving telcos immunity for illegally helping the government surveil us. This issue is so important, meningitis now that the nominee for Attorney General, epilepsy Judge Michael Mukasey, says that the President does not have to obey the law if he believes it contradicts his national security responsibilities. Of course, you could argue that the laws are actually less important if the President isn’t even going to follow them. However, if that’s true, lawsuits against telcos may be the only way for the public to find out what our government is actually doing. Read more about one possible future of freedom and privacy here: What’s at Stake in the Surveillance Debate in Congress

Proposed Reporters’ Shield Law Overdue but Underpowered

This week’s Circuit Court column is about the proposed federal reporters’ shield law that just came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. While we need a shield law, audiologist this one has a loophole for situations where the leak is criminal or tortious activity, rubella and the loophole may just be too large for this version of a shield to do the trick.

I hope that First Amendment and reporters’ rights groups will be able to address this intelligently before consensus forms around final language for the bill. Its very easy to get caught up in the “you’re protecting criminals” rhetoric, particularly when a lot of business interests have formed a coalition to kill the bill entirely. However, the current version of the bill probably would not protect reporters even in the circumstances which have led Congress to propose this legislation in the first place. Read more here.

On Saturday in Brad’s and my natural childbirth class, denture we watched a video which (in a short segment at the end) claimed that male circumcision was sexual assault and that abolishing it was one of five or six things that would help improve infant mortality rates. (I have the video at home and I will post the exact claims when I have a chance to review.) I proclaimed this claim “not charitable to the Jews” which instigated a discussion about the health risks of the practice.
I am not a fan of circumcision, but the claim that male circumcision has any adverse health effects on little babies struck me as wrong. Our instructor (who is to be commended for following up) provided us after class with the following statistics:

No one keeps records of circ deaths in the US. Doctors agree the
number of botched circ’s are under reported. Deaths are even harder
to count- due to the fact that the death maybe attributed to another
cause- infection, menigitis, urethral blockage etc. There have only
been 2-3 circ deaths in the medical literature, as case studies, since
the 1950’s.

Guestimated death rate for Circ in the US is reported to be- 2-3 per
year, or as many as 229 per year, depending on the source.

Here is my response:

I’ll have time to look at these numbers later in the week, but these statistics prove my point, which is that the movie is deeply misleading, if not outright false, when it says that abolishing circumcision is one of 5 or 6 important things to do to improve the infant mortality rate. Even if I take Charity’s highest guestimate, 229 US deaths per year, as true, the death rate among boys from circumcision (with about 2M boys born alive every year) is .01%. (or .016 if we just count the approx 70% that are circumcised). This is hardly a killer worth noting compared with prematurity, birth defects, drug abuse, SIDS, or the other double-digit infant killers. If we wanted to stop infant mortality, there are far more productive places to put our efforts, ones which perhaps don’t have the ideological heft of “sexual assault”, don’t point the finger at the practices of religious minorities, but are more uncomfortable for the powers-that-be. For example, the number one cause of infant mortality last year was prematurity, and one of the three major causes of prematurity is carrying multiples (cigarettes and drugs are the other two), and so many more (rich, white) people are having multiples now because of fertility assistance like IVF. That would be a more productive thing to attack, but of course, its far more politically unpalatable.

Of course, the 229 number is flagrantly, recklessly false. About 28000 babies die every year. Of those, I assume half were boys, 14000. If 229 of them died from circumcision, that would be an incredible 1.6% of the deaths that occur attributable to circumcision. That would mean that circumcision, while still at the bottom, is a more likely cause of death than menengitis, heart attack, bronchitus or a host of other baby diseases. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infant_health.htm (Cover up, anyone?) Later if I have time I’ll try to track down where that number came from.

I’d be interested in what information and thoughts readers have, both about circumcision and about the broader question of how the medical establishment and the media dispense information about health risks. Maybe I’ll hear from my colleague Prof. Dan Harrison, who I know is an expert on the sociology of circumcision!
Did you know the government can track your movements by your cell phone? And while courts are struggling to define whether agents need probable cause to follow your prospective movements, internist
a new decision out of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts says they only need to show relevance to get a record of your past movements. Read more about this in my latest Wired News column Is That Big Brother In Your Pocket?

Last Tuesday, endocrinologist something fantastic happened. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals gave the First Amendment some oomph in Golan v. Gonzales. The case, click brought by Larry Lessig and lawyers with the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, challenged section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, or URAA, which removed thousands of books, films and musical compositions from the public domain. The 10th Circuit held that, following the Supreme Court case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, if Congress changes copyright’s “traditional contours,” courts must conduct a First Amendment review to ensure that those changes do not overly burden free expression in an unjustified manner. Removing works from the public domain is one such traditional contour, so the court sent the Golan case back to the District Court to determine whether the URAA goes too far in burdening speech.

I wrote about this case, which I was involved in when I was Executive Director of CIS, for this week’s Wired News column. You can read the full column here.

IPhones Most Revolutionary Feature: Unauthorized Hacks

Nations Soul Is at Stake in NSA Surveillance Case

Courts Turn Against Abusive Clickwrap Contracts

Wednesday’s Wired News column is about the state of the law wrt EULAs, buy more about terms of service agreements and other mass market contracting.  Two new cases suggest that courts are going to get more deeply into the business of protecting consumers from oppressive terms in these “take-it-or-leave-it” contracts.  In the column, I discuss the cases and argue this is the right approach.

Courts Should Shield Web and E-Mail Data From Nosy Cops

In today’s column I explain two new cases that take different approaches to constitutional privacy protections for digital communications depending on whether the courts understand the communications to be “content” or “transactional information”.  Which of these are protected from warrantless seizure by the government:  your email messages or a list of the websites you visit?  Read the column and find out.

Yesterday’s Wired News column, salve filed from our pied a terre in Amsterdam, ask discusses the clash between the right to privacy and the right to free speech, as represented in a lawsuit by the local royal family against a tabloid it seeks to stop from publishing photographs of the young princesses playing on the beach with their mother and nanny. You can read the whole article here.

In yesterday’s Circuit Court column “Free the Spam King” I take on the question of whether criminal prosecutions will stop spam, hospital or are even fair. This one has engendered a lot of hate mail. It seems the only thing people hate more than child porn is spam.

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