Update: The Electronic Privacy Information Center reports that the court just granted the government more time to decide whether to release the kill switch plan. It now has until January 13.
This month, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must make its plan to shut off the internet and cellphone communications available to the American public. You, of course, may now be thinking: What plan?! Though President Barack Obama swiftly disapproved of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak turning off the internet in his country (to quell widespread civil disobedience) in 2011, the US government has the authority to do the same sort of thing, under a plan that was devised during the George W. Bush administration. Many details of the government's controversial "kill switch" authority have been classified, such as the conditions under which it can be implemented and how the switch can be used. But thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), DHS has to reveal those details by December 12—or mount an appeal. (The smart betting is on an appeal, since DHS has fought to release this information so far.) Yet here's what we do know about the government's "kill switch" plan:
What is a kill switch? A kill switch refers to the government's authority to disconnect commercial and private wireless networks—affecting both cellphones and the internet—in the event of an emergency, such as a viable threat of a terrorist attack.
How does a kill switch work? There isn't any kind of big red button the Obama administration can push to turn off the wireless networks in the United States. Instead, there are a few ways the federal government could exercise its power to shut down and restore internet and cellphone service (see below). It's also unlikely that a "kill switch" would cause a nationwide blackout. Instead, the government is explicitly authorized to target a "localized area"—such as a bridge—or potentially an "entire metropolitan area," according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. (Both DHS and the White House declined to comment for this article.)
Is it harder for the US government to kill cellphones or the internet? Communications experts say that killing phone service is probably easier, because there are only a few companies the government has to deal with to smother cellphone communications (the kill switch doesn't generally govern land lines). Most mobile-phone service passes through physical connection points that are controlled by the big-name phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon. The US government would essentially have to compel these companies to turn off their cellphone towers. The feds could also use cellphone jammers to interrupt service in a localized area.
Experts say that shutting off the internet could be tougher. There are thousands of internet service providers in the United States. According to Allan Friedman, research director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, in Egypt, the government spent a lot of time prior to the anti-Mubarek protests making sure all of the nation's internet service providers ran through a single entryway, so that it could easily shut things off. China is working on nationalized routing. That's not the case in the United States, where trying to cut off internet in one office in Washington, DC, could mean trying to map cables in Baltimore and Virginia. "If the government attempted to disrupt the largest physical networks in the US, it would also likely disrupt its own communications," Friedman notes. But Harold Feld, vice president at Public Knowledge, an advocacy group focused on communications and technology policy, says that big internet companies still control a large portion of subscribers in the United States, and if the top 10 service providers cooperated with the government, "you could shut things down fairly easily."
Is it legal for the Obama administration to activate a kill switch? Yep, and kill switches aren't new. In 1918, a congressional joint resolution authorized the president to assume control of US telegraph systems, in order to operate them during World War I. Then, in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Communications Act, which decreed, "Upon proclamation by the President that there exists war or a threat of war, or a state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency, or in order to preserve the neutrality of the United States, the President, if he deems it necessary in the interest of national security or defense, may suspend or amend" both wireless radio and phone services, which means it's not clear whether this could apply to internet service (although the Federal Communications Commission has used that argument before, when deregulating internet service over telephone lines in 2005).
What is clear is that in 2006, the Bush administration entered into a secret agreement with telecom giants and came up with a specific plan as to when and how the government can actually shut down these networks—called Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303. This is the plan that the US government is required to release under the federal district court ruling. In 2011, the White House asserted again that the administration has the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during national emergencies. And in 2012, President Obama reaffirmed that DHS could seize private facilities and shut down communications in a July executive order.
Why would the US government need to exercise a kill switch? The US government has always considered it a good idea to have full control over communications networks during a war. During peacetime, government officials could conclude that suspending cellphone service on a particular channel might stop would-be terrorists from setting off one or more bombs. There's certainly the chance that some government official might consider shutting down communications to stop or hamper protests. This did happen in 2011 in San Francisco's subway stations (see below), although not on the federal level. It's possible that a wide-scale cyberattack that targets major financial and government institutions could require an immediate shutdown of internet service. In 2010, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) attempted to pass legislation that would have allowed the president to take over private computer systems during a "national cyberemergency" for such a purpose. The controversial bill didn't pass.
Critics contend that activating any kind of kill switch will do more harm than good. "I find it hard to imagine why an internet kill switch would ever be a good idea, short of some science fiction scenario wherein the network comes alive a la Terminator/Skynet," Feld says. "At this point, so much of our critical infrastructure runs on the internet that a 'kill switch' would do more harm than anything short of a nuclear strike. it would be like cutting off our own head to escape someone pulling our hair." The same argument applies to smothering cellphone service. "The benefit of people being able to communicate on their cellphones in times of crisis is enormous, and cutting that off is in and of itself potentially very dangerous," argues Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Has the government ever turned off cell phones or the internet? Yes—but the only known reports concern cell service. In 2005, shortly after suicide bombers attacked the London tube, federal authorities disabled cell networks in four major New York tunnels. The action was reportedly taken to prevent bomb detonation via cellphone, and according to a National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee review, it "was undertaken without prior notice to wireless carriers or the public." (In an April statement to Mother Jones, Verizon denied have any role in shutting down cell service in New York.) In 2009, during Obama's inauguration, the feds used devices that blocked cellphones from receiving signals to prevent bomb detonation. In 2011, officials for the San Francisco transit system cut off cellphone service in four Bay Area Rapid Transit stations for several hours to preempt a planned protest over BART police fatally shooting a homeless man.
What are the constitutional problems? Civil liberties advocates argue that kill switches violate the First Amendment and pose a problem because they aren't subject to rigorous judicial and congressional oversight. "There is no court in the loop at all, at any stage in the SOP 303 process," according to the Center for Democracy and Technology. "The Executive Branch, untethered by the checks and balances of court oversight, clear instruction from Congress, or transparency to the public, is free to act as it will and in secret." David Jacobs of EPIC says, "Cutting off communications imposes a prior restraint on speech, so the First Amendment imposes the strictest of limitations…We don't know how DHS thinks [the kill switch] is consistent with the First Amendment." He adds, "Such a policy, unbounded by clear rules and oversight, just invites abuse."
What don't we know about the kill switch plan? A lot. We don't know the "series of questions" that help DHS determine whether it should activate a kill switch, how DHS will go about implementing the kill switch, how long a shutdown will last, and what the oversight protocols are. For example, Jacobs from EPIC says that, it appears that "DHS wouldn't have to call up the president to implement this, he would be involved in the same indirect way that he is with all kinds of executive branch actions." This information was requested in the FOIA lawsuit filed by (EPIC) and could be revealed as early as December. "Hopefully exposure of such a lunatic idea will allow the public to beat some common sense into these agencies," says Feld.
On Friday, Twitter announced that it has enabled a new form of Internet security, already used by Google and Facebook, that makes it considerably more difficult for the NSA to read private messages. With this new security, there isn't one pair of master "keys" that unlock an entire website's encryption, instead, new keys are produced and destroyed for each login session.
"If an adversary is currently recording all Twitter users’ encrypted traffic, and they later crack or steal Twitter’s private keys, they should not be able to use those keys to decrypt the recorded traffic," Twitter wrote on its blog. To put that into simple terms, that would be like giving a new set of keys to each visitor coming to your house, melting them down after the person gets inside, and changing the locks. The method is called "Perfect Forward Secrecy," and while it has been around for at least two decades, it hasn't been picked up by tech giants until recently, following the allegations of vast government surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
This security system specifically takes aim at the NSA's alleged practice of scooping up the encrypted communications of millions of users—either through hacking or top-secret national security orders—and then storing them until the agency is able to get a company's keys to access all of the data. While Twitter was never implicated in the NSA's vast online surveillance program, PRISM, there is still quite a bit of private information the US government could be interested in on Twitter for its counterterrorism efforts—direct messages, time zones, user passwords, and email addresses, for example.
To get a peek at how this security might play out in real life, look no further than the legal battle the Department of Justice is currently waging against Lavabit, an alternative email provider that was reportedly used by Snowden. When the founder of Lavabit refused to give up its master encryption keys to the US government—because it would have had access to thousands of email accounts—the company was held in contempt of court. If Lavabit had installed Perfect Forward Secrecy, however, the company wouldn't have been able to give up its master keys, since they would have already been destroyed.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet privacy group, supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, arguing that "against the known threat of "upstream" data collection, supporting perfect forward secrecy is an essential step." However, as EFF notes, this doesn't necessarily make a company completely NSA-proof, since it doesn't protect data that's stored on a server (and NSA still managed to hack into Google, by breaking into its front end server, according to documents in the Washington Post).
Sugar kills. The delicious white crack has been linked to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's. So what's a person with a sweet tooth to do? Artificial sweeteners are a tempting choice, since they don't have calories or rot your teeth, and they're recommended for people with diabetes. But some of the fake stuff comes with its own potential health risks: Links to cancer in animal studies, reported side effects of dizziness and headaches, and exacerbated stomach problems, to name a few. And in one case, an artificial sweetener that the FDA had proposed banning was kept on the shelves after an aggressive advertising campaign from the pro-sweetener lobbying industry. Peggy Ballman, a spokesperson for Splenda, tells Mother Jones that, "We always encourage people to make informed choices by reviewing the credible research available." So without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the safety of your favorite fake sugar.
1. Stevia (Brand names: Truvia, PureVia)
What is it? Stevia is short for Stevia Rebaudiana, a plant from the Chrysanthemum family that grows in parts of Brazil and Paraguay. The compound that makes the Stevia sugar is extracted from the leaves. It's used in the EU, East Asia, Russia, Mexico, Israel, and many South American countries, and is about 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
When did the FDA approve it? In the 1990s, the FDArejected Stevia as a food ingredient after research linked it to reproductive problems and possible genetic mutations in rats. In 2008, the FDA approved a specific formula of pure Stevia—Rebaudioside A. PureVia and Truvia both contain the Reb A version of Stevia, which is FDA-approved. The FDA recommended daily dosage is no more than 1.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, for healthy adults. You'd need to have at least 29 Truvia packets a day to exceed that.
What do the experts say? If your Stevia isn't made from Reb A—like, for example, the whole-leaf extract version that's sold at natural food markets and labeled as a "dietary supplement"—it hasn't been vetted for safety by the FDA. For Truvia and PureVia, the FDA concluded with "reasonable certainty that Reb A is not harmful under its intended conditions of use" based on studies it looked at concerning reproductive, blood pressure, and toxicity effects. Although scientific studies in the 1960s and 1980s found that Stevia-derived products decreased fertility in female rats and potentially led to mutations, the FDA concluded that those problems didn't apply to Reb A, based on additional research. (The World Health Organization has also determined that Reb A has no cancer link.) The FDA did note that one form of Stevia was deadly to rats at a dose of 15,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, but that's an enormous amount of Stevia. Atalanta Rafferty, a spokesperson for Truvia, says that "A panel of independent experts reviewed a dossier of all available toxicity and safety information relevant to Truvia stevia leaf extract, and concluded that Truvia stevia leaf extract is safe." Pura Via says on its website that, "An extensive library of more than 85 studies exists for Reb A and other components of the stevia plant which supports Reb A’s use in tabletop sweeteners."
2. Aspartame (Brand Names: Equal, NutraSweet)
What is it? Aspartame is made up of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and methanol, all of which are found in common foods. It's about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
When did the FDA approve it? It was approved in the United States for limited use in 1974. But if you're taking more than 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight a day, you're exceeding the FDA's recommended daily limit. (A 165-pound person would have to be drinking more than 20 cans of diet coke to exceed that.)
What do the experts say? Aspartame has been controversial for decades. In 1987, the Government Accountability Office investigated the FDA after the sweetener was approved. It determined that the "FDA adequately followed its food additive approval process," but noted that 12 of the 69 scientists interviewed by GAO expressed "major concerns" about aspartame's safety.
In 2006, cancer researchers in Bologna, Italy, released the results of a $1 million, seven-year study of the use of aspartame in rats. The team found that, at a dosage equivalent to a 150-pound person drinking at least four 20-oz bottles of diet soda daily, the sweetener caused cancer in the animals. But the FDA shot down the study, noting that the researchers wouldn't give them all of their information, and found major shortcomings in the data that was available. According to the FDA, five other cancer studies found that the sweetener was safe. The American Cancer Society says on its website, "Aside from the possible effects in people with phenylketonuria [a rare genetic disorder], there are no health problems that have been consistently linked to aspartame use" but adds that "research continues." TheCenter for Science in the Public Interest recommends that Americans avoid it on the basis that the independent studies have found that consumption of aspartame causes cancer in rodents (although again, not in humans), and it's been anecdotally linked to other health issues. In a 2002 FDA report, reported aspartame side effects included nausea, heart palpitations, headaches and depression, among other things. NutraSweet and Equal both say that its products are very safe. "Aspartame offers one simple step in helping people move closer to achieving a more healthful diet," notes NutraSweet's website.
What do the experts say? There have been more than 110 studies on sucralose over a 20 year period, and the American Cancer Society says the studies have shown "no evidence that these sweeteners cause cancer or pose any other threat to human health." The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that "sucralose is safer than aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame-K, and cyclamate," but notes that people with inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal issues should try avoiding the substance, since it's been known to aggravate symptoms (Peggy Ballman, a spokesperson for Splenda, says that this finding "is not consistent with the extensive data base on sucralose and its more than 20 years of safe use.") In 2008, Duke University researchers also found that Splenda can harm intestinal bacteria, although that study was funded by a pro-sugar lobbying group, and Ballman says that "no regulatory agency has acted on the results from that study." In 2012, the same controversial research team in Italy that busted aspartame announced that sucralose increases cancer in rats, but the results of the study have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. "In contrast, more than 110 studies [have] proven the safety of Sucralose. Worldwide authorities, including the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada, and the World Health Organization, have reviewed these studies and confirm that results show no link between sucralose and any form of cancer," says Ballman.
4. Saccharin (Brand names: Sweet'N Low)
What is it? Saccharin is made from benzoic sulfilimine, a chemical compound that was accidentally discovered in 1879 when a professor, Constantin Fahlberg, was analyzing coal tar at Johns Hopkins University. He spilled saccharin on his hands and later noticed that the bread he was eating at dinner tasted sweeter, according to Elmhurst College. Saccharin is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.
What do experts say? In the 1970s, tests showed that high doses of saccharin caused bladder stones in rats, which could lead to bladder cancer, particularly in male rats. Studies after that found similar results. Initially, the FDA proposed banning the substance—but on Congress' recommendation in November 1977, the FDA kept it on shelves, with warning labels that the sweetener was found to be a carcinogen. According to Christopher Foreman, Jr., a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a number of congress members fought against actually banning the substance, pushed along by the Calorie Control Council, a sugar substitute and diet-food lobbying group, which "launched an advertising campaign ridiculing both the FDA and the studies on which it based its decision." In 1991, the FDA finally stopped proposing to ban the sweetener, and in 1996, the warning labels were done away with. In 2000, the US National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens finally removed saccharin from its list. According to the National Cancer Institute, "the bladder tumors seen in rats are due to a mechanism not relevant to humans [and] there is no clear evidence that saccharin causes cancer in humans." Stephanie Meyering, a spokesperson for Sweet'N Low, says, "Saccharin is the one of the most thoroughly tested food ingredients in the world and it has the longest safe human consumption record among non-nutritive sweeteners." The Center for Science in the Public Interest isn't convinced and puts it on its list of substances to "avoid."
Innovation is the foundation of America, and since 1790, entrepreneurs have been able to claim patents on their inventions so that copycats can't profit off their work. But some companies have found a controversial use of the American patent system, derisively referred to as "patent trolling." The practice refers to when a company buys broad patents for technology that it doesn't make—or partners with inventors who don't actively use their patents—and brings legal claims against other companies that use the technology. The price of stealing someone's work in the United States is mind-blowingly expensive—in the millions of dollars—and even if the accused company wins, it still faces high legal costs. Often, a company violating a patent will pony up a few thousand dollars for licensing fees rather than face off in court.
"There are hundreds of thousands of crappy, vague, overly broad patents out there, and all you have to do is scoop up one of these patents and threaten to sue. No one is going to defend themselves, because it makes no financial sense," says Julie Samuels, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is running a database of patent troll claims. "It's totally legal, and very lucrative, and absolutely shady."
Bryan Farney, an attorney for a MPHJ, a company that has accused multiple businesses of using its patented office-scanner technology without permission, takes issue with the characterization of companies that sue others over patents they don't use. "Obviously, patent trolling is a pejorative term…" he tells Mother Jones. "A more accurate term is Non-Practicing Entity."
Earlier this month, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) called these kinds of companies "scam artists" and "bottom feeders" who "work in the shadows." Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill this month that specifically takes aim at them by making it harder and more expensive to make these claims and allowing targeted companies to get their legal fees back. The bill has support from the White House. This week, a group of inventors—including Facebook's and Twitter's cofounders—sent a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees arguing that "broad, vague patents covering software-type inventions—some of which we ourselves are listed as inventors on—are a malfunctioning component of America's inventive machinery."
But companies that oppose the legislation say that it shouldn't matter whether or not they use their own patented technology because big tech companies are taking advantage of their inventions. "Almost all inventions seem obvious after they have been invented,'" wrote Katharine Wolanyk, president of Soverain Software, in a November 18 letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary. (Wolanyk's company owns patents that governs online shopping cart technology and lost one of its claims in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Soverain is now trying to bring the case to the Supreme Court.) "The current system forces patent owners to defend, over and over again, the validity of their patents."
Without further ado, here are eight inventions you thought were patent-free but could get you sued:
1. Magic Missiles on Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons
In October 2012, Treehouse Avatar Technologies filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Turbine Inc., better known as the company that makes the online version of the popular role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. According to the suit, Turbine violated Treehouse's patent—which it acquired a few months before—by including a feature that allows the game system to "tally" how often gamers pick certain video game character attributes, such as hair color, eye color, weapons and clothing, to determine which are the most popular. Stephen Roth, a legal representative for Treehouse, tells Mother Jones that "Treehouse Avatar Technologies is not a 'patent troll.' In fact, that term could be seen as offensive by some; just as calling an injured person seeking redress as greedy, or a person defending their rights to free speech as a left-wing liberal." The inventors of this particular patent partnered with Treehouse to help enforce their licensing, he says, but they are not presently operating any technology with the patent. He says that the company has "numerous" claims out with other gaming companies, but the licensing fees it's asking for are "confidential."
2. Internet Routers in Local Coffee Shops
Starting in 2011, Innovatio IP Ventures, a nonpracticing entity, sent more than 8,000 demand letters to targets in 50 states claiming violations of patents it owned on equipment found in common wifi routers. Rather than only targeting the companies that made the routers—which had greater financial means to fight the patent claims—Innovatio went after local hotel chains and coffee shops that couldn't afford lawsuits and had to pay up to $5,000 a pop for licensing. Some big-name router companies, like Cisco, threatened to sue Innovatio, alleging that it was engaged in a racketeering scheme against its customers, but the allegations were ultimately thrown out. Ray Niro Sr., a lawyer who has worked on behalf of Innovatio, told Chicago Lawyer in April that the letters aren't trolling, because inventors get a portion of the recoveries in most cases. "What's so bad about that?" he asked.
In January of this year, Personal Audio LLC brought claims against some TV networks and podcasters—including individuals, like comedian Adam Carolla—for using technology it patented that covered "media players that have the capability to receive playlists." This could potentially apply to any podcaster that allows users to scroll through different episodes. EFF is presently challenging Personal Audio on the basis that it didn't create the technology and "people were podcasting years before Personal Audio first applied for a patent." James Logan, the founder of Personal Audio, told Slashdot that even though his business is considered a nonpracticing entity, "I did try to build a product…I spent $1.6 million of my own money trying to realize our vision of a custom listening experience that ended up, at the end of the day, being implemented in the form of a cassette tape product, and not the digital player system we envisioned and patented."
4. Office Scanners
In 2012, MPHJ Technologies began to send letters to companies for violating five patents it purchased relating to office scanners. As the company explained, "A good example of an infringing system, and one your company likely uses, is an office local area network which is in communication with a server, employee computers having email software such as Outlook…and a [scanner] which permits the scanning of a document directly to an employee email address." MPHJ does not produce products related to these patents. For an annual license, MPHJ wants around $90 per company employee, per year. For a permanent license, MPHJ wants $900 per employee. State attorneys general in Vermont, Nebraska, and Minnesota have spoken out against MPHJ's claims. That hasn't stopped MPHJ: In response to Minnesota's recent order that the company not file patent enforcement claims in the state, Bryan Farney, the company's attorney, tells Mother Jones, "The Minnesota AG does not affect in any way the ability of MPHJ to file suit for patent infringement against anyone…MPHJ believes federal law is clear that its actions were lawful, and that the actions taken by the attorneys general have largely been based upon lack of knowledge of US patent law."
5. iPhone Apps
In 2011, Lodsys LLC started making claims against small independent app developers, on the basis that the developers were violating patents it purchased that cover a broad swath of internet technology (one patent was purchased as recently as 2010). Specifically, these patents affected services that allow users to report errors, get online help and customer support, interact with online ads, and renew their subscriptions online, among other things (one of the patents dates back to 1992, and is intended to be used for fax machines). An app developer named Eugene Kaspersky fought Lodsys' $25 million infringement claim in court over a period of 18 months. Lodsys ultimately withdrew its lawsuit, and Kaspersky claimed that it was evidence that "patent trolls can be resisted and defeated." In a blog post on its website, Lodsys wrote, "If you are a Developer, it's about knowledge about the scope and risks of your own business. Lodsys has only one motivation: we want to get paid for our rights."
6. Publishing Messages Online
EasyWeb Innovations LLC owns patents on online messaging publishing. In 2011, EasyWeb sued Facebook and Twitter for violating these patents. TechCrunch has called EasyWeb an "obscure patent troll looking to score coin by suing companies that actually innovate, rather than building and selling something." John D. Codignotto, the owner of EasyWeb, planned to put his ideas into practice, "but financial resources were not available to enable its commercialization," according to the Facebook court document. EasyWeb also has patents concerning online photo uploading, which it has accused more than a dozen companies, such as SmugMug, of violating, according to Law 360.
7. SSL Encryption
In 2006, Texas-based firm TQP purchased a 1989 patent that covers transmitting encrypted data over a "voice-grade telephone line." Since then, the company has used the patent to make claims against companies that use SSL encryption—the most commonly used form of internet security. The company gives a percentage of the licensing revenue back to the inventor. According to Forbes and Law360, TQP has settled with multiple big-name companies. Additional cases brought against major credit card companies and social networks are still spending. TQP's owner, Erich Spangenberg, told Forbes that he's not bothered by the fact that his company doesn't use the SSL encryption patent: "If you buy a hundred-foot lot in the middle of Manhattan, you’re not required to develop it…Companies have the right to protect their IP dollars.”
8. 3-D Printing
While claims against 3-D printer innovators haven't yet become widespread, six companies are currently applying for patents that could be applied towards the technology. EFF says it has filed a challenge of the patents on the basis that they're overly broad and could be used by patent trolls to make claims against small developers. One of these patent applications is for "Additive Manufacturing System and Method for Printing Customized Chocolate Confections"—which was issued in 2001 and applies to technology that molds chocolate into specific shapes. Whether this can be used to sue the guys printing 3-D guns remains to be seen.
When I voted last year in downtown Washington, DC, I was able to walk down the street, cast my ballot, and get back to the office in less than 30 minutes. But according to a new report by two voting rights groups, the Advancement Project and OurTime.org, plenty of American voters weren't so lucky. According to their research, African Americans, Latinos, and millennials in Virginia and Florida—two key battleground states—faced significantly longer wait times than older white voters in 2012. This was largely because the former groups are more inclined to utilize early voting, which was restricted in both states last year. And according to the report, this new "time tax"—along with other voting obstacles, like strict ID laws—will likely continue to dampen voter turnout among these groups in 2016.
In 2012, Florida cut early voting from 14 days to 8 days, and lines were so long, more than 200,000 Florida voters gave up and went home, according to data collected by the Orlando Sentinel. The Advancement Project and OurTime.org report focused on 5,196 of the 6,100 voting precincts that were used last November in Florida—which faced some of the longest voting lines in the country—and found that young voters spent a disproportionately longer time waiting to vote. For example, in Orange County, which has the highest percentage of voters younger than 30 in the state (22 percent), precincts closed an average of 86 minutes after the 7 p.m. deadline, with one precinct closing five hours late. The report found that in Orange County, the trend indicated that the more voters under 30 there were at a certain precinct, the later the closing time.
"Regarding the number of people willing to wait in line to vote in 2012, there were others who didn't vote, and there is no guarantee that voters will always be able to wait so long to exercise their fundamental rights," says Katherine Culliton-González, director of Advancement Project's Voter Protection Program. The report makes the case that young voters have less flexibility with their work schedules, and when early voting days are cut, as they were in Florida, lines get longer. Millennials (defined in the report as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are also more racially diverse than the rest of the population, meaning that there is often an overlap between young voters and voters of color. This 2013 MIT report found that voters of color are also more likely to wait in line than white voters:
The conservative Heritage Foundation maintains that African Americans face longer voting times than white voters because they "tend to be concentrated in large urban areas" and "the most populous areas had longer wait times than those living in areas with fewer voters." But Culliton-González, from the Advancement Project, tells Mother Jones that her group's study disproves this, since their research found that there wasn't a clear correlation between longer lines and precincts with dense populations. She says that, in Virginia, for example, "unless a voter can prove they are sick, otherwise disabled, or have to travel for work on Election Day, all voters must vote on the first Tuesday in November. These limits are probably what caused the disparities, as due to socioeconomic factors, many young voters of color have less flexibility in their work schedules." Voting rights groups argue that all states should offer flexible early voting—but some states have done the opposite: North Carolina, for example, is restricting early voting from 17 days to 10 days, starting in 2014.
Culliton-González adds, "We are concerned about 2014, but even more concerned about 2016," since Florida and other states will likely not have enough early voting time so that voters can avoid long lines. (The Advancement Project didn't find evidence of the "time tax" in the state elections earlier this month, partly because voter turnout was so low.)
But even if early voting is taken care of, young voters of color are also more likely to be turned away from the polls because of identification requirements. This was true in 2012, even in states that didn't have voter ID requirements on the books (see chart below). In the state elections that occurred earlier this month, numerous voters complained of being unable to vote because of real or perceived voter ID laws.
According to data collected by the Black Youth Project, an activist group that does research on issues that affect African American youth, only 67 percent of Latino youth and 71 percent of black youth possess driver's licenses, compared to 85 percent of white youth. Additionally, three times more young black voters than white voters said that lack of an ID was the reason they didn't vote in 2012. The Advancement Project and OurTime.org have submitted their report to the Presidential Committee on Election Administration, President Obama's group that is tasked with finding ways to improve voting.