Monday, February 28, 2011
Fish and Wildlife Service Hopes to Prevent Bird-Wind Turbine Collisions
The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed voluntary guidelines on how to avoid death of birds by wind turbines. With the current focus on green energy, the Department of the Interior is attempting to consolidate and clarify wind siting regulations. For years bird advocates have been arguing that wind turbines could kill up to one million birds a year if wind energy goes on to produce 20% of America’s energy.
In July 2003, the Service proposed voluntary, temporary guidelines for land-based wind energy projects to assist developers in avoiding or minimizing effects on fish, wildlife, and their habitats. The proposals were open for a two-year public comment period and then reviewed by the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory to make recommendations for the final guidelines. After two years of work, the Committee submitted their final recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior in March 2010. The Service then created a working group comprising of several Service program representatives to review the recommendations and develop the guidelines.
The two final guidelines were published in the Federal Register this week. The first is Draft Voluntary, Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines which provides guidance for developers on how to avoid and minimize impacts to birds and bats. The guidelines discuss topics ranging from the length of research to noise to mitigate the adverse effects that should be considered when proposing land-based wind projects. The second proposal is the Draft Eagle conservation Plan Guidance to on how to determine the impact on eagles and how to apply the permit regulations in the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Service explained that these regulations are designed to promote the Department of the Interior’s efforts to improve siting of renewable energy. They will be open for public comment, via mail or email until May 19, 2011.
The guidelines are a set in the right direction for renewable energy, especially wind energy. Wind energy developers have consistently complained about a lack of unified standards across the states and federal agencies. Proposals like this are helpful in providing that uniformity. Also the guidelines provide assurance and lower risk because developers will know that if they follow the guidelines, they will face a decreased risk of opposition. These two consequences will spur on development of wind energy.
There are a few problems with the proposed regulation. A potential problem is that the guidelines are only in regard to land-based wind energy and substantial off-shore wind energy is necessary if wind will become a significant provider of America’s energy. Although this may later be used as a starting point for off-shore wind power, it will have zero impact on the developments currently underway. A second problem is that these regulations are only voluntary. So although, in the long run they may help developers get their projects approved, developers are probably not going to follow them if it will add substantial time or cost to the project. Wind projects have been permitted for years without these regulations and will continue to do so if they are not required.
A final problem I foresee with the regulation is that the “tiered approach” to quantifying the risks may focus too much on the numbers. The guidelines explain how to numerically quantify the risks to fish, wildlife, and their habitats and then how to evaluate those numbers. Since it will become a numbers game, my fear is developers and federal permitting bodies will only seek to ensure that the numbers are within the guidelines without really considering the impact on the animals. Ultimately, these guidelines provide direction in a very unregulated and confusing field. Any sort of regulations will only increase stability and efficiency in the field leading developers to create more renewable energy projects.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Seitz to Seek ICANN Approval of .Gay Domain
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is expecting at least 115 new domain proposals this year. Some of these proposals are expected to include “.car”, “.movie”, and even “.nyc.” Scott Seitz, the chief executive of dotGAY and founder of SPI Marketing, a gay marketing and public relations agency, plans to introduce what will likely be the most controversial proposal of those expected this year. Seitz hopes, as you probably guessed, for the ICANN to approve his proposal for “.gay.”
Unfortunately, for Seitz, an approval, let alone a decision from ICANN, may be a long time coming. Controversial Internet domain names have a reputation for disappearing once they reach the ICANN for approval. For instance, the “.xxx” Internet suffix still waits for a final decision from ICANN after having been submitted over six years ago.
The Obama administration is currently seeking authority for the United States, along with other governments, to veto future domain names. This may mean a grim future for “.gay.” In fact, Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University says that government officials in Arab countries have already expressed their intention to veto “.gay.” Seitz, on the other hand, believes that “.gay” actually makes blocking controversial content easier for conservative nations. Additionally, Seitz states that blocking “.gay” will make it clear to the world which nations are discriminating against the gay community.
Regarding the Obama administration’s request for power to veto, Seitz stated in a CNET interview, “Its problematic, and its discrimination on a terrible level. It’s not even appropriate for countries (to have the ability to veto) because of freedom of expression. Anything beyond (restricting speech that) incites violence is discrimination.”
Seitz’s motivation for creating the “.gay” domain would be to reach out to the gay community, which he says is in flux at the moment. In the CNET interview, he opined, “As the [gay] community has become more integrated, it’s become more difficult to reach the community in media, because you have more choices than you had before. .gay will be a venue for enhancing our ability to interact with each other as a community.” At the end of the day, Seitz believes that the Internet is getting ready to be reborn again in a very different way, and he wants to take advantage of it.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Wikileaks Causing Headaches at Home and Abroad
A plethora of issues come to mind when you think about Wikileaks; national security, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and espionage are just a few. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, probably did not imagine the backlash and support he would receive from Wikileaks. Wikileaks was founded on the principle of transparency in the transactions between nations. Transparency at a time like this however, can be a double-edged sword.
To begin, it is important to understand how the initial leaks happened. The former Commander of the U.S. Central Command, David Petraeus created a system of sharing sensitive information with U.S. allies. The information transferred by downloading documents from a secret network to a flash memory stick, and then transferring the documents to the allies. This supposedly time saving system of sharing information backfired and ended up being the cause of the initial information leak. The problem has since been fixed and new access restrictions have been made. However, the damage may have already been done.
As should have been expected, backlash to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of top-secret government documents is coming from all angles. The U.S. government has attempted to shut down Wikileaks. U.S. Senator Joe Liberman, head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee led the charge, pushing Wikileaks from the Amazon server. The French Industry Prime Minister, Eric Besson has called for the site to be banned from his country. A Swiss bank froze an account that was set up as a defense fund for Wikileaks. Surprisingly, governments are not alone in their fight against Wikileaks. Creditcard and internet payment companies such as Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard have blocked donations to Wikileaks in protest.
Now we ask the question, can legal action be taken by the government to stop Wikileaks and to punish Julian Assange for leaking the classified information? The government’s options are limited. Members of Congress want Assange to face criminal charges and a Senator even went as far as calling for a change in the law if prosecuting Assange under current U.S. law presents impossible.
The major legal issue that comes to mind in prosecuting Assagne for his cyber document dumping is the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution provides extensive protection for publishers of state secrets. The right of news organizations to publish documents has historically been protected by the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment protects the news organizations but does not protect the individuals who initially leaked the secrets (Government Officials and Soldiers) as they can face prosecution. Arguments that Assange did not review and edit all documents before publishing them, that he played an active role in obtaining the information, and that he acted as more of a broker of the documents than a publisher are all going to be tough to prove and are essential to defeat the claim of a violation of his 1st Amendment rights.
The other legal avenues that the U.S. government is considering are theft and espionage. Theft is one avenue they are pursing because the documents were stolen. Nevertheless, that is going to be a difficult argument to make. Espionage under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 is a possible way to prosecute Assange, but it also comes with its challenges. The Act is broadly worded and on its face makes stealing or sharing secrets from the government a federal crime. The problems with the espionage act is that Assange is Australian and not a U.S. citizen so it is unclear if the U.S. law will apply to him, and extradition for prosecution in the U.S. will be challenging. If the U.S. Government charges Assange with espionage then they may have to charge the other news outlets that accepted the stolen documents from him. Lastly going around the 1st Amendment could set a precedent that could limit press freedoms in the future.
Wikileaks has effected not only governments but also visitors to the site. Federal employees and students have been warned by their respective institutions to beware of reading, commenting, and sharing documents that have been released on the Wikileaks site. The White House Office of Management and Budget sent out a memo to various government agencies warning employees not to view classified documents. The reason being that classified documents, even if posted on public websites are still considered classified. It is unclear if viewing the documents could result in termination but it has been said that it will be subject to applicable sanctions under long existing law. Students at Boston University Law School, Georgetown and Columbia received memos from their career development offices warning students that accessing the site could potentially affect them if they decided to pursue employment within the federal government. The warning was sent out because students who wish to work specific government agencies where security clearance is high may not make it though the screening process. The sentiment from the schools was that this was an attempt to educate the students of the possibility of potential problems down the road and not an attempt to persuade students from viewing the sites.
Wikileaks is at the forefront of technology and information sharing which exists in a legal gray area. How the governments of the world handle the distribution of classified documents will have long felt ramifications in the legal community. Will governments seek to classify Julian Assanage as a cyber-terrorists or will they assume the risks of classified documents becoming public in order to protect the freedoms that the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
From the Water Cooler to the Blogosphere
Are social media sites the water coolers of the digital age?
If you ask the National Labor Relations Board, it seems that answer is yes.
This week, the board settled out of court with a Connecticut-based ambulance company that fired an employee after she criticized her boss on Facebook.
The incident happened in December of 2010, when the employee posted vulgar comments about her boss after he denied one of her requests. Several of her co-workers spotted the thread and joined in with additional criticism. The employee was soon after fired and the NLRB filed suit. In their claim, the NLRB said the employee’s comments were protected speech and further argued that the ambulance company’s social media and internet policies violated an employees’ right to talk about wages, working conditions and other factors.
While the financial terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, the company has revealed that they will be changing their blogging and internet use policies to no longer prohibit employees from talking about or even criticizing their jobs online.
This outcome serves as a major signal to companies rewriting their internet policies. Just as they cannot restrict employees from complaining around the water cooler, they cannot stop them from taking to the internet to voice their complaints to a wider audience.
For employees looking to voice their malcontent online, a word of warning however. It’s important to note that in this case, the employee made the comments from her own computer, on her own time. Therefore, it may be safe to say that when and how you choose to make these online comments could impact your rights.
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