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Feed Techdirt: NJ Supreme Court Can't Comprehend That Everyone Can Be A Journalist (

We've covered the case of Shellee Hale for a few years now. She was sued for defamation over some comments she left in an online forum concerning a software company for the porn industry, Too Much Media LLC. Hale claimed that she got the information from a source as part of an investigation she was doing for a website which she had not yet opened. However, she posted some of that info on this forum, and upon being sued, tried to claim journalistic privilege in protecting her sources under New Jersey's journalist shield law. Both the district court and the appeals court ruled against her, suggesting that because the online forum was not an appropriate venue for journalism, there was no journalism shield. She appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which has tragically upheld the lower court rulings, once again taking issue with the venue:

We do not find that online message boards are similar to the types of news entities listed in the statute, and do not believe that the Legislature intended to provide an absolute privilege in defamation cases to people who post comments on message boards.
But I don't think that's what anyone was trying to claim. This isn't about the venue, but about the action. Journalism is not a venue, it's a process. If the information was acquired in the course of journalism, it shouldn't matter where it was published. Yet all three courts seemed to miss this key point and focus mainly on the venue issue. So, even if you're doing journalism, but publish it somewhere the judges don't like, suddenly, you're not doing journalism. This is quite strange and I don't buy the court's explanation here. They even note that the law itself is written broadly to protect "all significant news-gathering activities." And yet it still says that venue of publication is a key factor in determining what is journalism. This is an outdated and, frankly, troubling view of journalism. The court even goes on a bit of a screed about "unfiltered, unedited" forums as being this anarchy of the internet that does not resemble journalism.

Once again, that's totally irrelevant. What others do on forums is meaningless. The entire question should have been whether or not Hale was engaged in the action of journalism. The court warns that if Hale's argument is accepted than "anyone with a Facebook account, could try to assert the privilege." But, what's wrong with that? If the person is actually engaged in journalism, than what's the problem? Nothing in what Hale was claiming would mean that everyone with a Facebook page was automatically protected by the shield law. The person would still need to prove that they were engaged in journalism. It's really too bad that the New Jersey Courts couldn't see this.

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Submission + - Sex, Lies and Cyber-crime Surveys (

isoloisti writes: In surveys men claim to have had more female sex partners than women claim male partners, which is impossible. The reason? A few self-described Don Juans who tell whoppers pull the average way up, and errors don't cancel. Cyber-crime estimates are hopelessly exaggerated for exactly the same reason according to a new study to appear at the Workshop on the Economics of Information Security. The authors write: “‘You should never trust user input’ says one standard text on writing secure code. It is ironic then that our cyber-crime survey estimates rely almost exclusively on unverified user input. A practice that is regarded as unacceptable in writing code is ubiquitous in forming the estimates that drive policy." In many cases 75% of the estimate comes from the unverified self-reported answers of one or two people.

Making Airport Scanners Less Objectionable 681

Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that one of the researchers who helped develop the software for the scanners says there is a simple fix that would make scanning less objectionable. The fix would distort the images captured on full-body scanners so they look like reflections in a fun-house mirror, but any potentially dangerous objects would be clearly revealed, says Willard 'Bill' Wattenburg, a former nuclear weapons designer at the Livermore lab. 'Why not just distort the image into something grotesque so that there isn't anything titillating or exciting about it?' asks Wattenburg, adding that the modification is so simple that 'a 6-year-old could do the same thing with Photoshop... It's probably a few weeks' modification of the program.' Wattenburg said he was rebuffed when he offered the concept to Department of Homeland Security officials four years ago. A TSA official said the agency is working on development of scanner technology that would reduce the image to a 'generic icon, a generic stick figure' that would still reveal potentially dangerous items." Reader FleaPlus points out an unintended consequence: some transportation economists believe that the TSA's new invasive techniques may lead to more deaths as more people use road transportation to avoid flying — much more dangerous by the mile than air travel.

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