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Motherboard by Anjali Nayar, Brian Anderson - 21h ago

Lucas Tuberquia appeared in the Newark Municipal Court on a DWI charge in early 2016. A 31-year-old father of three, Tuberquia defended himself that day, as courts don’t normally appoint lawyers to misdemeanor defendants facing traffic violations. The judge dismissed the case and dropped all charges against him, prescribing the minimum court fees and surcharge to be paid over the next three years. Tuberquia was freed from a criminal record.

There was just one problem.

Mugshots taken of Tuberquia at the time of his booking at Essex County prison, where he was held for two hours, had been circulating around the internet. Pulled from police databases, these photos were then posted on websites like Mugshots.com that publish booking images of people like Tuberquia without much, if any, context, and then charge for them to be removed. In the last few years, dozens of these mugshot sites have started operating.

“Now you Google my name, you see the picture there,” Tuberquia explained to me one morning last year at the municipal court in Newark, where I first met him. “It doesn’t give a description of the crime. You can fill in the blanks, paint whatever picture you like,” he said, wrapping an arm around his two-year-old daughter, who sat at his side scribbling on a piece of paper. As a young Hispanic person who is low income and struggling financially, Tuberquia added, “this places an obstacle in my way.”

Captured within the incriminating frame of the mugshot, this portrait of Tuberquia was suddenly accessible to anyone via a simple web search, undercutting his sense of agency in the way he was perceived, hurting the growth of his career and personal life.

Thomas Keesee (L) and Sahar Sarid (R), two alleged Mugshots.com co-owners. Image: Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office/Broward County Sheriff’s Office

Last month, the four alleged co-owners and operators of Mugshots.com—one of the most infamous sites in the burgeoning online mugshot industry to that point—were arrested on suspicion of criminal extortion, identity theft, and money laundering. In a 29-page affidavit, prosecutors with the California Attorney General’s office described Mugshots.com as a business “permeated with fraud.” The affidavit includes testimonials from individuals whose stories echo that of Tuberquia.

“What an ironic development in this case, huh?” said Julius Kim, a criminal defense attorney and vocal advocate against mugshot websites. “The owners of Mugshots.com themselves, get arrested.”

⎕⎕

The recent arrests come amid a growing push to crack down on the online mugshot industry. Several states have moved to enact legislation that targets this sort of activity by imposing bans on sites from charging people money for removing their arrest records. New Jersey, where Tuberquia lives, was one of five states to enact such legislation last year, bringing the total number of states with similar laws to 18.

However, the bills do not make provisions for actually taking down these websites. Tuberquia’s mugshots continued to appear on numerous mugshot and mugshot-related sites, including Mugshots.com. After a brief period offline, Mugshots.com continued to be live until the morning of June 18, when it appeared to be offline again. As this story went to press, Mugshots.com was back online with a new page about dismissals and expungements. Dozens of other websites are still up and running.

The question is, will efforts to crack down on the growing online mugshot marketplace actually have an effect, or will it only result in a game of Whac-A-Mole?

James Jacobs, director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at the New York University School of Law, writes in The Eternal Criminal Record that in some states, criminal record repositories compile data on arrest records and mugshots available on state websites and indexed in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Interstate Identification Index (III), a database of rap sheets indexing over 70 million people.

All police departments maintain arrest logs that are deemed public under the Freedom of Information Act. Many police departments, including Newark’s, release daily arrest records online.

Similarly, court records are available for public scrutiny in most states, and some allow subscribers to “buy information in bulk,” according to the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council’s Bill Leuders. “And that's done in part for research purposes,” he explains. If someone wanted to study, for instance, how many of the people charged with cannabis possession were African American, they could do so, he elaborates. Additionally, despite making it harder to monitor and restrict certain kinds of users or subscribers, requests for this data are usually allowed anonymously and with no requirement to state what the information will be used for.

Indeed, some mugshot sites claim to be offering a public service: “Let our award winning team protect your reputation online,” an ad for one site states. “What is the Internet saying about you?” another asks.

This is how sites like Mugshots.com have justified what they do, but that site allegedly extorted “at least” 5,703 people in the US between 2014 and 2017, and earned nearly $2.5 million for booking photo removal services, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press statement.

Mugshots.com did not respond to repeated requests for comment before and after the arrests.

It included a subject-centered, head-and-shoulder format, with stark, flat lighting, and a narrow aperture for a sharp focus that could capture the greatest detail.

What adds to the power these sites wield is a cultural conditioning that influences the way we’ve come to perceive the mugshot. A fixture in law enforcement practices since the 19th century, mugshots soon gained ubiquity in crime reports published by newspapers, tabloids, and television, becoming “imbued with a connotation of guilt even though they are created prior to a person’s conviction,” researcher and journalist Mary Angela Bock and colleagues wrote in the journal Journalism Studies in 2016.

In fact, this is not the first or only time mugshot use has fallen into contentious debate. In 1903, the New York Senate tried to pass a law to ban “the taking of portraits of detainees who had not been charged,” according to a research paper in which Lourdes Delgado, a research scholar and teacher at Grisart Escola Internacional de Fotografia, Barcelona, examines the history of the mugshot.

The photography of people who had been arrested first began in the mid-1850s. These daguerreotypes were created as artistically as the studio portraits of the day, only they were then displayed separately in what came to be known as “rogues’ galleries.” These exhibitions of “criminal celebrities” attracted spectators much like other art shows, noted a 1857 article in The New York Times.

But the mere appearance of one’s picture in rogues’ galleries became “as much an indisputable indication of criminality as was being in jail,” Delgado writes. “The individual would always be considered a criminal, even if a subsequent trial proved his innocence.” Some judges, she adds, took this as “strong evidence of criminality and therefore reason to apply more severe sentences,” allowing the admission of the police portrait into the court as evidence.

And because the police often arrested people on the vaguest of suspicions, it was common to have a portrait in the rogue’s gallery even if the person had never been charged or was later proven innocent. The New York City Police superintendent acknowledged this problem in 1883, when The Times raised questions on the legality of these photographs, Delgado writes. Nevertheless, the 1903 bill to restrict the use of these police photographs was vetoed by the then-governor of New York.

Anthropometric data sheet (both sides) of Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), a pioneer of the Scientific Police, inventor of anthropometry, first head of the Forensic Identification Service of the Prefecture de Police in Paris (1893). Image: Jebulon/Wikimedia Commons

Soon after, a different model, developed and popularized by the French police clerk Alphonse Bertillon, caught on in America. The Bertillon system gave birth to the modern mugshot, a term that became popular toward the middle of the last century, where a uniform, clinical aesthetic was adopted. It featured a subject-centered, head-and-shoulder format, with stark, flat lighting, and a narrow aperture for a sharp focus that could capture the greatest detail.

This departure from ordinary photography toward an idiosyncratic format specifically reserved for police photos therefore transferred the original “stigma of criminality from the rogues’ gallery” into the new image format, endowing the mugshot with the power to “brand” individuals as criminals through a “semantic osmosis,” Delgado concludes.

Of course, merely appearing in a police mugshot does not mean that a person is guilty of (or even charged with) committing a crime. A disclaimer at the very top of Mugshots.com acknowledges this fact: “The mugshots and/or arrest records published on Mugshots.com are in no way an indication of guilt,” it reads, “and they are not evidence that an actual crime has been committed.”

After all, a lot can happen after an arrest and booking.

“Further investigation may reveal that they have the wrong person or that someone truly didn’t commit a crime,” Kim explained.

This can have severe long-term collateral consequences, especially when the information is misleading, incomplete, and never updated. Sometimes, even after Kim’s clients’ names were cleared, their mugshots, like Tuberquia’s, stayed online, simply popping up on different mugshot sites. Kim told me that having one’s photos appear on such pages can be “incredibly humiliating and demoralizing.”

“It’s disheartening,” he said. “We may have exonerated a client or gotten them back on track, only to have them feel hopeless about their future.”

⎕⎕

Because a disproportionate number of minorities face arrests in the US, as shown in a 2014 study on demographic patterns of cumulative arrest prevalence by population, Black and Latinx people are more likely to have their mugshots wrongfully taken and then to have to fight the associated stigma.

In this way, according Leuders, they become easy targets for mugshot websites.

These sites post pop-up advertisements for image-removal services right next to the mugshots themselves, attracting visitors to so-called “takedown” sites—sister services that charge hundreds to thousands of dollars to take down this reputation-damaging content.

Take UnpublishArrest.com. It’s described as “the billing and customer service agent” for Mugshots.com in a now-replaced About page. (“We work with the Mugshots.com database,” the current FAQ page reads, “and can have your mugshot permanently unpublished from The Mugshots.com Database, usually within 24 hours.”) One of the drop-down menu items on Mugshots.com was an embedded removal request form hosted by UnpublishArrest.com itself, in what appeared to indicate that the two sites are part of the same business—one for publishing the content and the other for removing it. (The form has since been removed, though the title of the page still appears.) UnpublishArrest.com did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

According to the California Attorney General’s affidavit, sites like Mugshots.com use takedown sites like UnpublishArrest.com “in an attempt to shield themselves from legal consequences and to use freedom of speech theories in justifying the activity.”

Consider another takedown service, CleanSearch.net, the only site I managed to get a hold of while reporting this story. (Many of these services deliberately conceal their true ownership by hosting their websites through offshore servers while registering domain names and business listings in different countries, according to the affidavit.) CleanSearch offers what its operations manager, who identified himself only as Chris, called “residual content removal” from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Nowadays, according to Chris, CleanSearch receives an average of 5,000 removal requests in a given month. This includes government websites, blogs and other private webpages, online newspapers, articles, and mugshots. “Our main business is promotional publication, website optimization, residual removal,” Chris explained, “which is basically what people understand as pushing down negative listings and promoting positive alternate listings.”

“We operate a [mugshot] database for promotional purposes only,” Chris said, one that the company created by duplicating mugshot and arrest data from other websites, he explained. The purpose of this database was to “target people who have arrests online, so that we can expose them to our service.”

“But it's always free to remove for everybody,” he added.

To get a better sense of what happens after a removal inquiry is submitted, before speaking with Chris, I’d requested a free quote on Tuberquia’s behalf through a form on the CleanSearch website. In response, I’d received an emailed statement citing nine instances of his mugshots’ appearance on different websites, among them Mugshots.com. The statement promised that CleanSearch would “quickly” terminate the pages, including “all images and content from the websites listed.”

Only not for free, as Chris said. The statement included a price quote of $1,175.

Later, speaking over the phone with Chris, I asked how CleanSearch gets content removed from sites that publish these kinds of records. “Nobody knows how it works because it’s very complicated.”

Making the comparison to a restaurant not wanting to share the recipe for its secret sauce, he refused to say much about CleanSearch’s methodology. “That’s none of your business!” Chris shouted, hanging up on me shortly thereafter.

“Our only goal is to maintain a clean search for our clientele,” he said. “As long as Google”—or Yahoo or Bing, for that matter—“lists an arrest database, it’s not our fault, it’s not our proclivity, it’s not our decision.”

⎕⎕

Google, Yahoo, and Bing each have their own content removal policies, though primarily, all three prohibit the showing of pornographic content; child sexual abuse imagery; copyright infringement; and personal information that breaches a person’s right to privacy like bank account numbers, credit cards, medical records, and nude or sexually explicit images uploaded without consent. Additionally, the three search engines all emphasize that they have no control over individual websites and what those sites carry. Rather, the companies only have control over search results—through the content removal forms provided by each, or when served a court order to remove “unlawful or infringing content.”

A spokesperson from Google clarified by email that when required by law, Google has a system in place to remove content from search results. However, since no court has made a determination about the removal of mugshots, Google generally does not deem these search results unlawful.

“We recognize that this is a sensitive issue,” the spokesperson added. “Since 2013, we have had systems that work to decrease the visibility of mugshots for searches for people’s names, while being careful not to inadvertently suppress information that is in the public interest, such as sheriff department sites or sex offender registries.”

Yahoo did not respond to requests for comment. Microsoft declined to comment on specific questions about Bing policies regarding mugshot removal requests, but a spokesperson told me the search service provides a way for users to report concerns online.

Illustration: Chris Kindred

Meanwhile, to counter websites like Mugshots.com and CleanSearch.net, 18 states, including New Jersey, where Tuberquia lives, have enacted legislation to ban sites from charging money for mugshot removal.

“Some unscrupulous profiteers have sought to take advantage of the availability of criminal justice system information,” the New Jersey legislation reads, “with the potential to harm or embarrass those arrested for, accused of, or prosecuted for a criminal offense.” The actual and punitive damages awarded for violations could amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

The prime sponsor of the New Jersey bill, Senator Maria Teresa Ruiz (D), told me she supported the legislation because she believes these companies are profiting from “people who had misfortune in their lives.” The fact that an agency might be taking advantage of a person who had “paid their dues in society so that [the agency] could get economic gains for themselves, is disgusting,” Ruiz said.

One of Ruiz’s co-sponsors, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, told me that often it happened that a company would publish a person’s mugshots on several of its websites and then charge the person multiple times for removing the content. “Individuals who have served their time or were arrested but found not guilty, should not be subjected to what amounts to a shakedown by these websites,” McKnight wrote in an email. “The fees only made it more challenging for them to redeem themselves for the mistakes they have made.”

A similar law went into effect in Ohio this January. Florida, a state that has become something of an industry hotbed—CleanSearch’s physical address is in Boca Raton, and more recently, two of the four suspected Mugshot.com co-founders were arrested in Palm Beach—will enact its own version of the bill on July 1.

A 2008 study by the Court Statistics Project found that misdemeanors comprise nearly 80 percent of America’s criminal caseload. Presumably, then, the majority of the database feeding the online mugshot marketplace is made up of people who committed minor infractions.

But regardless of the crime for which a person was booked, these sites are functioning as extortionists, according to Kim, the criminal defense attorney, who asserts that these sites make it a lot harder for people to find work, date, get a loan, rent an apartment or secure admission into college. That these companies ask people for money to take down their arrest records, Kim says, goes to show what they’re really in it for.

Whether someone is guilty or innocent, said Leuders, the freedom-of-information activist, it’s still wrong to extort him or her for money. “I’m unaware of anything that says blackmail is not a crime if the thing you’re blackmailing people about is true,” he said. “Companies that are mining this information for the purpose of extorting money out of people are scum, and I think they should be in prison.”

⎕⎕

A 2015 Brennan Center for Justice report, citing a 2014 study that examined demographic patterns of cumulative arrest prevalence of individuals aged 18 to 23, found that nearly one in three Americans has a criminal record. But the authors also saw that “the risk of arrest is not evenly distributed across the population.”

According to those numbers, Black males are arrested most often (48.9 percent arrest rate), followed by Hispanic males (43.8 percent) and white males (37.9 percent.) This means that Hispanic males were about 15.6 percent more likely to be arrested when compared to white males, and black males were 29 percent more likely to face arrest compared to white men. With the arrest ratios already so skewed, mugshot sites can add to the burden of being a minority.

Staggering numbers of people with criminal records have historically been denied employment opportunities, leading to significant losses in the national gross domestic product, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, while also contributing to recidivism and poverty among individuals with criminal records. A 2009 Justice Department research study showed that a prior conviction reduced a person’s chances of getting employed by 50 percent.

To counter these biases, 31 states and over 150 cities and counties across the country had adopted fair-chance policies and “ban the box” initiatives by early 2018, meaning employers in those jurisdictions can no longer conduct criminal background checks until after the hiring process is completed and a conditional offer is made. Hence, making the selection process fairer.

I know that if you look my name up on the computer, you are seeing these pictures.”

When I first met Tuberquia at the municipal court in Newark last year, he told me that as a result of his arrest, he had lost his part-time job working with a solar energy solutions company as a project coordinator. (His driving license had been suspended and the job needed him to be able to drive.) On the hunt for another job, he interviewed at a job fair for a position with a non-profit community organization helping people with legal or financial needs.

The interview went well, Tuberquia told me. But he never heard back.

“I’ve applied for a bunch of jobs and I think I’m a good interviewer and have qualified,” he said. “Maybe the other candidates are better than me, yes, but I know that if you look my name up on the computer, you are seeing these pictures.”

Put another way, Tuberquia feels the resonance of the online mugshot issue tracks with the unforgiving way society views ex-convicts. That’s not to say he doesn’t “believe in the First Amendment,” he explained, adding that people have a right to know who lives in their community and who their neighbors are. “At the same time,” Tuberquia said, “there are situations like my case, where I’m not a violent offender.”

As we spoke, Tuberquia’s daughter wiggled from his grasp to squat on the courthouse floor, scribbling gleefully on her paper. Tuberquia got up, scrubbed her hands with wet wipes, and gently sat her back down on the..

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This post contains minor spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is “one big pile of shit,” to channel the immortal words of Ian Malcolm, the chaos theorist played by Jeff Goldblum.

The sequel takes place three years after the events of Jurassic World (2015), which ended with a mass evacuation of tourists from the titular theme park on Isla Nublar, to escape the liberated dinosaurs. As it turns out, the whole island was about to blow up in an enormous volcanic eruption anyway, raising the question of why such an expensive project was ever built there in the first place.

Oh well, that’s just one of many plot holes that Fallen Kingdom trips over as Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island to save the dinosaurs from imminent incineration. The team discovers that they are not the only people looking to transport dinosaurs to the mainland, and that some of these rescuers have less than savory intentions. It is an almost impressively stinky turd from start to finish, filled with corn kernels of clichés, and infused with the aromatic stench of $170 million (the film’s budget) going up in flames.

How the hell did Jurassic Park, a smart and gripping biotech thriller, devolve into this heap of steaming dino-dung?

To answer that, recall what makes the original 1993 such a timeless classic. Sure, it’s partly the unforgettable T-rex attack, complete with car-smashing and lawyer-eating, or the hair-raising kitchen scene featuring two raptors lazily toying with kid-sized meals they expect to devour. But equally important to the film’s success is a table scene in which the main characters flesh out the core question of Jurassic Park: Should scientific curiosity always be indulged?

It’s a simple but profound problem that is fundamental to countless sci-fi narratives, from the Greek myth of Icarus to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Jurassic Park, the question is raised when scientists funded by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) successfully clone dinosaurs using DNA extracted from a Mesozoic mosquito trapped in amber. The film openly asks whether a discovery for this magnitude must be actualized in order to advance science, even if it might have unforeseen consequences.

Hammond represents a commerce viewpoint and answers “yes” to the question, because there is money to be made and because entrepreneurs often romanticize their ventures, failing to see potential shortcomings.

Read More: Mark Zuckerberg: 'It Was My Mistake' Facebook Compromised Data of 87 Million Users

On the other end of the spectrum, Malcolm’s answer is an emphatic “no,” because he approaches the question from a mathematical-theory perspective. He doesn’t need physical evidence to understand that the park is a probabilistic disaster waiting to happen, and reframes the question by asking, “What’s so great about discovery?”

Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are empiricists, and reserve judgement until they can examine the data for themselves. It is only after careful consideration of the evidence—which includes wild dinosaur eggs and a near-death by raptors—that Grant decides not to endorse Hammond’s park.

It is this focus on character consistency and topical scientific themes that has distinguished Jurassic Park from all of its sequels. But now that the franchise has gone off the rails, only Hammond’s commercial perspective—the most predictable and boring of them all—has been inherited by the latest installment. The scientific themes have been virtually extinguished.

Take the scene in Fallen Kingdom in which dinosaurs are auctioned off to a bunch of cartoonish rich people, because they apparently think these animals would be useful weapons for 21st-century warfare. Amazingly, the dinosaurs sell for a paltry $8-30 million apiece. Considering that dinosaur fossils net upwards of $8 million, it’s ludicrous to imagine that living dinosaurs wouldn’t attract higher sums.

It hit me during this scene: These new movies literally cheapen dinosaurs. Watching the animals get auctioned off by characters who have no concept of their monetary value was like staring through the screen and seeing the people in charge of this franchise, who have no concept of the narrative or symbolic value of dinosaurs.

Read More: Where Was the World in ‘Jurassic World’?

Jurassic Park illustrated that while dinosaurs make for memorable visual effects, they are also a resonant vector for subtler themes. As real Earthlings that deeply shaped the modern planet, dinosaurs are better ambassadors for scientific quagmires than purely fictional movie monsters. They can amplify necessary conversations about mass extinction, invasive species, biotech ethics, and the human place in space and time.

Maybe the third Jurassic World film, due out in 2021, will finally make an effort to emulate the sagacity of Jurassic Park. Otherwise, as Owen suggests in Fallen Kingdom, “I say we shut this whole thing down.”

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Motherboard by Kate Fane, Chris Bilton, Natasha Gr.. - 2d ago

When we think of urban sprawl, our imagination tends to go outwards and upwards. A ring of skyscrapers circling the downtown core, perhaps, or a sea of suburban townhouses off the freeway.

Rarely do we think downwards: about the intricate webs of pipes and cables that lie beneath our sidewalks. These unseen networks power our cities, connect our telecommunications, and carry away our waste. But like so many of our cities’ above-ground features, they weren’t always designed strategically. Underground infrastructure tends to be built on an ad-hoc basis—as telecommunications technology developed, we’d lay down a new wire—and when the company responsible for putting it there eventually merged, restructured, or went out of business, their data was buried along with the wires.

All this hidden infrastructure has become a logistical nightmare as we now seek to modernize our cities’ transit systems. Case in point: When a transportation company started digging its first tunnel in a Los Angeles suburb last fall, it had to clear it with the 19 utility agencies that might have lines in the area. One wrong dig and they might have left an entire neighbourhood without power, or started spewing raw sewage into the streets.

The longtime industry standard has been to use electromagnetic tools to locate wires and other conductive materials. It’s a great system for identifying metals, but useless at seeing non-conductive pipes made of concrete, clay, or plastic. According to the Damage Information Reporting Tool’s 2016 report (the most recent year that data was available), the number of incidents in the United States and Canada submitted were 390,366, and amounted to nearly $1.5 billion worth of damage.

New tools have emerged in recent years that can prevent these pricey mistakes. Thanks to the subterranean mapping system ground-penetrating radar (GPR), geographers, archaeologists, and city planners are rediscovering the rich human history buried under our feet. Just a handful of the recent finds credited to GPR technology include a labyrinth of tunnels under Rome and man-made caves under Nottingham. Almost 60 massive stones located underneath Stonehenge suggest that the iconic monument was once part of a much larger structure.

GPR technology is similar to what’s used by MRI machines. It emits high-frequency, non-invasive radar pulses that can penetrate rock, soil, ice, and water to create images of the subsurface. GPR isn’t exactly new—it was first patented back in 1910, and bulky hand-held devices have been around for decades—but its level of detail, accessibility, and affordability has seen rapid gains in recent years, as has the power required to process the immense amounts of data it generates and to create 3D visualizations. Today’s GPR can now create detailed maps of underground pipes and cables that previously couldn’t be viewed without digging. This saves a ton of money for developers and minimizes traffic disruption. Plus it could prevent grim discoveries, such as the 4,000 plague-ridden skeletons London construction workers found in 2013 while digging around a transit line, by analyzing an environment before human workers get involved.

Even if a newish city doesn’t have a decrepit tangle of old sewage pipes or plague victims under its streets, it can still benefit from doing a GPR deep dive. “The world is always changing, and what happens underground greatly impacts what happens above ground,” Stuart Woods, vice president of geospatial solutions at Leica Geosystems, told Informed Infrastructure. For example, changes in an area’s soil density could elevate roads (compromising our navigation systems and impacting large-scale infrastructure planning) or shift the position of our underground utility pipes (affecting our subways and hypothetical hyperloops). Mexico City is famously sinking, as is New Orleans, and these geographic shifts could cause significant damage to the cities’ transit systems without preventative measures.

GPR isn’t foolproof. It struggles when exposed to soils that are high in salt content, has a high energy consumption, and requires well-trained professionals to analyze and organize the data. But perhaps the biggest barrier to GPR’s success has been convincing people to share their findings. Municipalities, utility providers, and private companies are often protective of their data out of fear of competition and privacy breaches, while on the opposite side, groups such as the Open Geospatial Consortium have sought to make quality open standards for the global geospatial community.

One solution to this conflict between public safety and personal privacy arrived through tragic circumstances. In July 2004, Belgian construction workers accidentally ruptured a high-pressure gas pipeline near the port town of Zeebrugge, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds. In response, the government created a massive underground infrastructure map depicting every asset owned or controlled by more than 300 utilities in Belgium’s Flanders region. As reported in Bloomberg, this amounted to almost 400,000 miles of subterranean cables, pipelines, wires, and conduits that could circle Earth 16 times. To prevent unauthorized use of this underground infrastructure map, contractors in Belgium now must submit the coordinates of their work environment to a computer portal, which then relays the request to every organization with infrastructure in the area to determine if the dig could be dangerous.

Belgium’s solution seems intuitive and harmless, but it connects to a broader, often heated conversation around what kinds of information we should be collecting about our cities, and who should have access to it. "Smart cities is a very double-edged concept," said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Chicago Tribune. "The idea is to capture more data and utilize more data about what's going on in a city. By definition, unless you exclude people, that is the same as conducting more surveillance."

A 17th-century plague victim doesn’t have much of an expectation of privacy, but underground surveillance could affect how we move through our subterranean transit networks. Given the risks associated with blindly digging downwards, however, it’s a problem that could definitely benefit from a little more conversation, and a lot less action.

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Bethesda Softworks, the developer and publisher of Fallout and Skyrim, sued Warner Bros. in a US District Court in Maryland Friday, alleging that a new mobile game based on the HBO show Westworld rips off Fallout Shelter, Bethesda's wildly successful mobile game from 2015.

Warner Bros. only released the Westworld game Thursday, but the controversy has been brewing for a while. Ever since Westworld was announced back in April, the similarities between it and Fallout Shelter have been noted in dozens of articles about the new game.

The comment from the press apparently didn't escape Bethesda's attention; as part of the court filing, Bethesda included over a dozen copies of such articles. Behavior Interactive, the development studio that worked with Bethesda to make Fallout Shelter, also worked with Warner Bros. to make the Westworld mobile game. Behavior Interactive is named as a co-defendant in Bethesda's lawsuit.

The specifics of the lawsuit are not yet public, only a summons notifying Warner Bros. and Behavior Interactive of the lawsuit and copies of articles noting the similarities between the games have been published on public records websites so far. [Disclosure: Warner Bros. is the parent company of HBO; VICE has two shows on the network.]

The filing alleges a violation of US Copyright law, specifically involving a breach of contract, copyright infringement, and trade secret misappropriation, among others. According to TMZ, Bethesda believes that Behavior reused code from Fallout Shelter to make Westworld, and noted that both games have several of the same bugs. That information isn't included in the court files that have been made public so far.

"Behaviour illegally used the same copyrighted source code from Fallout Shelter to develop Westworld, and copied Fallout Shelter’s game design, art, animations, gameplay features, and other elements. As a result of Behaviour and Warner Bros’ unlawful conduct, Westworld is a blatant ripoff of Fallout Shelter with largely superficial, cosmetic changes," Bethesda told me in an emailed statement. "Bethesda will vigorously protect its legal rights in the valuable intellectual properties it owns, and take legal action whenever those rights are being infringed."

In Fallout Shelter, players manage, build, and expand a long-term nuclear vault. Underground rooms can be outfitted for specific functions like power generation or a laboratory for research, as individual vault-dwellers level-up to perform specific jobs. Here's what that looks like:

In Westworld, players work as new park employees to expand and manage guest entertainment areas and the world's robotic hosts. Again, the facility expands underground and features specific departments shown in the HBO TV series. Individual hosts level-up to better cater to guests' specific needs. Westworld uses a similar cartoony style:

This isn't the first time Bethesda has sued other parts of the video game industry. Last year, Bethesda sued id co-founder and one of the creators of Doom, John Carmack, for reusing Bethesda-owned code after he left to join the VR company, Oculus.

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In a compelling act of nerd rivalry, engineers at the University of Michigan have created the world’s smallest computer—again.

The University held the record for the smallest computer after it created its 2x2x4mm Michigan Micro Mote in 2014. The Micro Mote (or M3) is fully functional and able to retain its programming and data even when it loses power. But then IBM debuted an even tinier “computer” in February, a 1mm x 1mm chip with “several hundred thousand” transistors. Here it is on a pile of salt, for scale:

Image: IBM

Engineers at the University of Michigan were not about to be one-upped, and quickly created an even smaller computer, so small it could fit on the tip of a grain of rice:

The grain of rice on the left show just how tiny the device, on the right, is. Image: University of Michigan

However, the engineers quibbled over whether IBM’s machine and the new Michigan design could really be called computers, since the data gets wiped as soon as it’s turned off.

“We are not sure if they should be called computers or not,” said David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, who led the development of the new system, in a press release. “It’s more of a matter of opinion whether they have the minimum functionality required.”

But whether or not you can call them a computer, these nanodevices could have wide-ranging uses, especially in medicine where highly accurate sensors that are unobtrusive can help shed new light on disease. Whatever it is, the University of Michigan can proudly claim it has the smallest one in the world.

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The Supreme Court of the United States just scored a huge victory for digital privacy rights, ruling that cops need a warrant to access mobile phone location data held by telecom providers.

On Friday, in a much-anticipated decision, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of two previous courts in the case of a series of Radio Shack robberies. The lower courts convicted Timothy Carpenter mostly on the basis of 12,898 location points that showed Carpenter’s movements over 127 days, and put him near four of the robbery locations. Those locations were obtained from Carpenter’s cell phone provider. At the time, the police got that location data with a simple court order, and not a more stringent, hard to obtain, warrant.

“Historical cell-site records present even greater privacy concerns than the GPS monitoring,” the Supreme Court justices wrote in their opinion, referring to the technical term to describe location data held by carrier and based on cellular base stations. “They give the Government near perfect surveillance and allow it to travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts, subject only to the five-year retention policies of most wireless carriers. The Government contends that CSLI data is less precise than GPS information.”

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, which ruled in a 5-4 split in favor of Carpenter. Roberts justified it in part because despite the fact that, historically, data held by third parties (such as location data produced by connecting to cellular base stations) isn’t considered as protected as other personal data, phones are different. In other words, the notorious “third-party doctrine” does not apply to phone location data.

“We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information. In light of the deeply revealing nature of [cell-site location information], its depth, breadth, and comprehensive reach, and the inescapable and automatic nature of its collection, the fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection,” Roberts wrote. “The Government’s acquisition of the cell-site records here was a search under that Amendment.”

Got a tip? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at lorenzo@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzo@motherboard.tv

The ruling was cheered by privacy activists, who have fought for years to bring a case like this to the Supreme Court. Lower courts all over the country held conflicting rulings on the issue, and for years it seemed like it was inevitable that the Supreme Court would have to, one day, rule on whether authorities need a warrant to access historical phone location data held by carriers.

Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer and U.S. policy manager at non-profit Access Now, said that "Carpenter is a game-changer for privacy in the digital age."

"The way information moves online continues to challenge our notions of what is public and private," Stepanovich told Motherboard in an online chat. "This ruling is a great next step in the evolution of U.S. legal thinking on where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, though we don't expect it to be the end of the story."

“This ruling is a landmark for privacy rights—and also for the freedoms of speech and association,” Alex Abdo, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute, a civil liberties non-profit, said in a statement. “New technology has given the government the ability to construct a detailed chronicle of the movements of nearly every American for a period of years. Left unchecked, this kind of surveillance will deter the exercise of core democratic rights. Today’s ruling places important limits on the government’s surveillance power. Perhaps even more important, the ruling charts a course for the Court's evaluation of the government’s use of other digital-age technologies.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, who is often an outspoken critic of government surveillance powers, also supported the Supreme Court ruling.

“Today’s ruling strikes a blow against the creeping expansion of government intrusion into the most personal parts of Americans’ lives,” Wyden said in a statement sent to reporters. “The court’s recognition that digital devices can generate ‘near-perfect surveillance’ of a person’s private life is a validation of the vital protections against unreasonable search and seizure provided by our Constitution.”

The decision will likely mark a before and after in the history of digital privacy in America.

“A person does not surrender all Fourth Amendment protection by venturing into the public sphere,” the Supreme Court ruled.

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When Uber’s self-driving car killed an Arizona woman in March, the vehicle’s operator was watching Hulu on her phone. Police have deemed the crash “entirely avoidable.”

That’s according to a 318-page report from the Tempe Police Department, released on Thursday in response to a public records request, reports Reuters. Safety driver Rafaela Vasquez could be charged with vehicle manslaughter.

Vasquez had been streaming The Voice on her phone for 42 minutes, straight up through the crash, according to Hulu records obtained by police.

Previously, Vasquez had told National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators that she was monitoring the car’s self-driving system interface on an iPad. (In a video of the collison released by police, Vasquez is seen looking down—the reason for that, she claimed, was due to the iPad being mounted on the center console.) She also denied using her personal and business phones around the time of the crash.

But Vasquez was distracted or looking down for seven of the 22 minutes preceding the collision, police noted. And she “appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down.”

The victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was homeless and pushing her bicycle across the road outside of a crosswalk when she was hit. The Uber vehicle struck her going 39 miles per hour.

Vasquez tried to brake less than a second before impact, an NTSB preliminary report shows. (Her hands had not been on the steering wheel.) She looked up 0.5 seconds before the crash, after looking down for 5.3 seconds.

The NTSB report also found the car’s radar and LIDAR sensors detected Herzberg six seconds before impact, but classified her as an “unknown object,” a vehicle, and a bicycle.

Just 1.3 seconds before the crash, the car’s system determined that emergency braking was necessary. But Uber had disabled this feature in the Volvo XC90 while being autonomously piloted to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.”

These reports don’t say whether Uber had been monitoring Vasquez at all. Uber prohibits its operators from using mobile devices on public roads, and allegedly spot-checks dash-cam footage.

Yet Uber’s self-driving car program struggled long before the Tempe crash. According to a New York Times report, Arizona operators were being pressured to go alone, when previously they’d worked in pairs. And compared to rivals like Waymo, Uber’s “intervention” rate—when operators would need to take the wheel—was significantly more frequent, indicating that Uber’s system was less reliable.

“We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review… We plan to share more on the changes we’ll make to our program soon,” Uber told Motherboard in a statement.

After the crash, Uber shut down its self-driving car program in Arizona, and a ban was placed on the company by the state’s governor, Doug Ducey. Old emails between Ducey and Uber obtained by The Guardian, however, show the governor allowing Uber to begin testing without informing the public.

Uber did not renew its permit to test self-driving cars in California.

In May, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he’s waiting for the results of the federal investigation, and plans to resume self-driving car programs “in a few months.”

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Motherboard by Rose Eveleth, Brian Merchant - 2d ago

Virtual reality stands to let us convincingly experience things we would otherwise never experience—and perhaps, might never want to. As is often the case, the less revealed here about Rose Eveleth's story about VR, the erosion of digital content-free reality, and consent, the better. Read on. -the editor

CONTENT WARNING: this piece contains description of and discussion of sexual assault.

FADE IN

INT. OFFICE BUILDING – DAY – FLUORESCENT LIGHTS

**360 camera (CENTRAL POV) sits in the center of a generic office meeting room. Long table, phone in the middle, off the hook, dial tone audible, chairs scattered around. Fire alarm is going off somewhere.**

FORWARD POV: WOMAN, wearing bland office attire, crouching beneath desk, hugging knees. She’s listening intently, scared, trying to figure out what to do.

REVERSE POV: the door to the conference room, which is cracked slightly.

LEFT POV: empty conference room

RIGHT POV: windows looking out to the city, a great view

WOMAN shifts her weight, and leans to the left to try and look out the crack in the door. She waits for four counts, then decides to move. Puts her hands behind her head and shuffles, low to the ground, from the desk to the door. Sits on the ground, back to the door, ear turned to the crack to listen.

Fire alarm is going off in the distance but otherwise no sound but her breathing. Ten long seconds.

Woman closes eyes, takes deep breath. Reaches with right hand, slowly pulls the door open just enough to slip out of it and slide through.

CUT TO BLACK

“Hold on, one second.” A tall man in a grey hoodie and a beard pops out from behind a bright green screen.

“Sam, can you actually shift your body a little left, and put your weight on your left foot instead of your right? So you’re closer to the side of the desk.”

Sam shifts her weight over and scoots a bit to the left, then looks over at the man in the hoodie as if to say “like this?” and he nods. “Great, yeah, that’s better. Let’s take it from the top.” He steps back behind the screen and slides it into place so it seals seamlessly, disappearing.

Sam takes it from the top. She crouches, motionless beneath the desk. Counts to seven. Breathes shallowly, quietly, closes her eyes a bit. At seven, she pokes her head around the side of the desk. Pauses. Counts for four. Looks around. Takes a deep breath. Then scuttles, hands behind her head, protecting her neck, low as she can, to the door. Spins, puts her back to the door. Turns her head, ear aligned perfectly with the crack. Listens. Counts to ten again. Reaches over, pushes the door open as slowly as she possibly can. Just open enough so that her compact body can slide through. Slides through. Cut to black, end scene.

Sam stands on the other side of the door and reaches her arms up above her head, then folds at the waist, stretching out her legs. Crouching and scuttling all day was really starting to kill her hips and knees. She gives her spindly limbs one last shake, and then opens the door and walks back through the set towards the desk.

“Again?” She asks.

The green panel pops out once more, and the man in the hoodie pokes his head out. “Nope, I think we got it.”

Thank god.

Sam walks down the nearby hallway to the women’s dressing room, where she happily peels off the spandex bodysuit. Gently turning it right side out, she gives it a once over. A few of the little white balls are starting to come loose, especially on her butt where her heels kept resting and bumping during today’s shoot. She’ll have to take it over to the company seamstress tomorrow to get some replacements.

Sam had moved to LA to be an actress. But the only job she could get was at this weird startup nobody had heard of. The work wasn’t exactly acting. But it wasn’t… not acting either? She was a body. She would show up to the offices and get her assignments for the day. Then she would get into her suit, a black spandex bodysuit covered in little white dots, and walk out onto the motion capture stage—a repurposed warehouse painted all green, with hundreds of cameras surrounding an inner circle.

She didn’t get scripts as much as she got stage directions. Her job was to perform the motions and movements in whatever scenario she’d been assigned. Eventually, someone else’s face would be mapped onto hers. Usually a computer-generated one, an amalgamation of hundreds of people to create a face that felt vaguely familiar, but was also totally unrecognizable. On the rare occasion that she had actual lines, those were usually replaced by a voice simulation later anyway. In other words, nobody would know it was her.

FADE IN

INT. OFFICE BUILDING – DAY – FLUORESCENT LIGHTS

**The 360 camera (CENTRAL POV) sits in the center of a generic office building with cubicles. People are sitting at their desks working.**

FORWARD POV: WOMAN, wearing bland office attire, sitting at her desk working on a spreadsheet, wearing headphones. Photos of her dogs surround her desk.

REVERSE POV: several other working employees, typing on their computers. One is on the phone. Another is eating yogurt out of a cup.

LEFT POV: aisle between the desks, at the end is another aisle that leads to another row of cubicles. On the wall at this T-intersection is an inspirational poster.

RIGHT POV: aisle between the desks, at the end leading to the kitchenette.

MAN comes up from behind, puts hand on her shoulder. Woman moves her body away from him, awkwardly. Man leaves hand on her shoulder. Woman removes headphones. All other employees continue working as if nothing is happening.

Woman attempts to brush Man’s hand off her shoulder subtly. Man is visibly leering down Woman’s shirt.

BOSS (RONALD)
Good morning Marissa

WOMAN (MARISSA)
(doesn’t look up from her computer)
Good morning Ronald, can I help you with something?

RONALD
Just wanted to say hi! How was your weekend?

MARISSA
Uneventful, you?

RONALD
Very eventful. (Winks very awkwardly, lowers his voice) I had a hot date.

MARISSA
Congratulations.

RONALD
Thank you. Of course, she holds no candle to you. (Starts to massage her shoulders.) You seem stressed?

MARISSA
(Drops her shoulders down away from her face.)
Not really.

RONALD Doesn’t take his hands off, continues to massage.

MARISSA Looks around to other workers for help. A few people have noticed the interaction, but they avoid her eyes.

RONALD
So what are you working on?

MARISSA
Preparing for the Sullivan meeting tomorrow.

RONALD
Great, I’m sure you’ll do great. Wear that red dress you have. (Gives her shoulders a final squeeze) And try to relax! (Walks away.)

CUT TO BLACK

Today, VRtual is nearly unrecognizable from the handful of dudes she had originally signed up to work for. Sam is now one of hundreds of bodies who work there, and instead of one grungy warehouse stage they now have a whole complex in an old airplane hangar. VRtual has become the biggest proprietor of on demand VR experiences in the world.

VRtual supplies VR experiences to everyone: companies, governments, NGO’s, media outlets, even private wealthy clients. SThey do sexual harassment training, active shooter response training, lock down training, first responder training. There are experiences for parents who want to adopt kids, putting them through abuse and neglect before letting them walk away with a child; sensitivity experiences for those who want to overcome fears; empathy trainings to understand the lives of the homeless, or sex workers, or addicts, or refugees; mental health therapy training for those who want to get over past abuse, rape, assault.

As an body, Sam plays everything and everybody: secretaries and teenagers and moms and orphans and prisoners. The casting guys liked her because she was small. Small enough to be the body of an adult or a teenager. Small enough to be unthreatening, to fit in small spaces and to elicit pity from viewers.

Six months ago VRtual got a huge contract with the city of Chicago to create VR experiences for jurors to relive the cases they’re deciding on. Those are especially awful to act in, because you know they are real things that happened. For the generic training videos you can tell yourself it’s all pretend. Court shots pay more though, because you have to be really precise. Lawyers send over incredibly detailed notes on the exact posture and facial expression and order of movements. Sometimes they even send over reference videos to watch in advance. Jury shoots take several days, even weeks, and animators sometimes come back for reshoots because your body was an inch out of alignment, and nobody wants to be sued.

But bodies are never allowed to know anything about the case beyond their movements. In theory, this is about privacy, the idea being that there would be no way the bodies could connect their motions to any news coverage the case might get. But of course, some of the shots are so specific that it wouldn’t be that hard to track the cases down. Sam can never decide if this information blackout is better or worse. Either way, she never Googles the cases she plays in. She doesn’t want to know what the juries decide, doesn’t want to feel in some way responsible for someone getting off because she didn’t tremble visibly enough for the jury to convict.

It isn’t all terrible though. Rich people also hire the company to recreate their favorite memories from the past, so they can relive them. Those casting calls usually require more experience and specialization. Knowing how to fence, row, sail, dance the waltz, where to put the dessert fork.

These clients are also the pickiest, and there is a whole team of people at VRtual whose job it is to interview them about their memories and then research to recreate them. When someone can’t remember, for example, which precise street that first kiss happened on, the producers have to guesstimate some generic amalgamation of rooms and streets and hope that it is close enough to appease the client. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But often the complaints are just as vague as the original request. “That’s not what it looked like,” they say, but they can’t tell you specifically what it did look like, or what to change.

But most memory recreations are obvious ones. Sam has been in countless weddings, on endless first dates, been “first kissed” over and over. She’s lost track of how many times she’s held her baby for the first time, met her real parents for the first time, seen fireworks, played on the beach, graduated college.

At parties, when Sam would tell people what she did, it was always followed by a series of questions: have I seen you in anything? “You might have, but it would be hard to tell,” she would say. “I’m just the body. There’s another person’s face placed on top. I wouldn’t even recognize myself in one.”

What she didn’t tell people was that now, certain motions made her nervous. Crouching, she was always crouching. Hiding from someone, chained to a cell, hiding under a bed, tucked behind an office desk during a shooting. It would sneak up at odd times. Playing with a nephew, crouching behind a desk to surprise him, and suddenly a wave of nausea would hit her. Her body remembered, reacted, like it was riding a bike. Or like when you pick a swimming dog up out of the water and they keep moving their legs.

Sam wasn’t the only one who struggled though. Not long after VRtual went public, an expose came out in a big newspaper about a handful of workers who had panic attacks on set and were unceremoniously let go. The CEO responded to the article in a companywide email expressing smarmy, unconvincing condolences to anybody who felt stressed or unsupported at the company. “We take the health and safety of our workers very seriously here,” he said, while also cheekily acknowledging the irony that a company who makes so many workplace safety videos was now facing a workplace safety issue itself. In response to the article, VRtual hired consultants to evaluate the conditions and make recommendations. A few months later everybody got another email, a PDF of updates and changes the company would be making.

The attachment was brightly colored and designed to make you forget that there had ever been a problem at all. There would now be a counselor on call during work hours, but the smiling faces in the PDF made you wonder why they’d be necessary. Employee health benefits would now include mental health coverage, but none of the people on the page seemed to need it. Bodies like Sam would now receive their scripts 48 hours in advance, and be allowed to opt-out of shoots up to 24 hours before the work day began (limit 2 opt-outs per month). Anybody who felt overwhelmed during a shoot could now say a safe word and the shoot would stop. If their mouths were covered for some reason, they could drop to the ground and straighten all their limbs, and the director would have to end the shoot. The motion seemed absurd to Sam. She tried to imagine, in the midst of pretending to run from a school shooter, dropping to the ground and stiffening like a board. She never learned if anybody used this “safety motion” or not.


FADE IN

INT. Western themed bar. NIGHT.

**The 360 camera (CENTRAL POV) sits in the center of a dimly lit bar.**

FORWARD POV: first person perspective, woman, at a booth with her friends.

REVERSE POV: the door to leave the bar. Over the door is a lasso molded to spell out the words “Giddy Up.” Stool near the door where a bouncer might sit, but it’s always empty.

LEFT POV: bar, grouchy bartender, arms crossed, some men sitting at the bar. Several wearing plaid. A handful of cowboy hats. Drinking mostly hard liquor. Further back, two pool tables. Two other people playing darts.

RIGHT POV: booths full of people drinking and laughing. Jukebox past the booths, two people stand looking at it.

There’s a bar near the office that everybody goes to after work. It’s not a good bar. But the VRtual soundstage is on a giant lot full of retired and empty military hangers, far from anything else.

The bar is Western themed. Taxidermied animals on the wall, sheet-metal cowboy hats and lassoes that spell our words all over the place. There are pool tables in the back and a jukebox that only works part of the time. The floor is always sticky. They generally keep to the booths in the front, by the door. At the back it gets hot and smoky and full of guys she always wondered about. Nobody lives around here, and they don’t work at VRtual. Do they make the trip out here to come to this specific shitty bar? She avoids them as much as possible. But the bathroom is back there, where they all hang out.

It’s a Wednesday. They’re there for someone’s going away drinks. Sam pops up, and scoots out of the booth less than gracefully, pointing to the bathroom, she’ll be right back. Walking towards the back of the bar, she realizes that she’s a little drunker than she thought. The weird ossified lassos strung up all over the rafters look wigglier than usual.

WOMAN leaves booth, walks towards back of the bar. Camera follows.

At the back of the bar, to the left of the pool tables, there’s a small floating dividing wall in the shape of an L. The kind that doesn’t support anything at all. It doesn’t even connect to the ceiling fully. But it gives people waiting for the bathroom something to lean on, and keeps drunk people from wandering into the kitchen when they need the bathroom. There was only one toilet to be had here, behind a door painted to look like those swinging saloon doors. There was already someone in line. Sam stands behind him and pulls out her phone.

The man in front of her, a guy with a terrible mustache and a plaid shirt, makes some stale joke about peeing fast. The kind men always make in line for the bathroom. She smiles politely and thanks him, then looks back down and her phone. The key is to not make eye contact. The door swings open, he goes in. She glances at the clock on her phone, tempted to time him.

Then there is someone behind her. Then there is someone very close behind her. Far too close. She can smell him, sweat and whisky, radiating heat like a wall behind her. She spins around. He smiles. Tips his cowboy hat. Leans in even closer. His words go in one ear and out the other. They are a hello of some kind but she couldn’t tell you exactly what kind or what words he used. He smiles again, a big grin, his face half shaded by that stupid cowboy hat.

Sam puts a hand up, “no thank you.” Tries to sound steady and firm. The man cocks his head to the side and smiles again.

“I didn’t offer you anything,” he says, with an actual Southern accent that surprises her. Hi eyes are grey under the hat. His neck is thick and his teeth are very white and he has a course layer of greyish stubble around the mouth they live in.

“Oh,” she says, taking a step away from him. He follows. She puts her hand up again, but doesn’t know which words to use. “Please stay there,” she finally says, stepping back again. Her back is now against the back of the little wall. The man does not stay there.

He is wearing cowboy boots. They look too big for his feet, pointier and longer than they have to be. He puts his hand on the wall next to her face, trapping her in. “I asked you what your name was,” he says again. Maybe he doesn’t have a Southern accent? Maybe it was fake the first time? Sam blinks and tried to concentrate. Come on, she thinks to herself, you’ve been training for this for years.

The only thing that comes to mind is her first gig at VRtual. The director had chided her for not being more dramatic.

“The simulation won’t pick up anything subtle,” he said, having popped out from the green paneling. “That little frown you’re doing, pulling back just a tiny bit. The cameras can’t tell that your muscles are all tense. You have to make big movements, like you’re scaring away a bear. Don’t be so polite.” He popped back in, she tried again.

The man in the cowboy hat is still looking at her, smiling. He leans in again, speaking slowly like he might to a frightened farm animal. “I said… what’s your name sweetheart?”

Don’t be so polite, Sam thinks to herself, scare away a bear.

“I have a boyfriend.” The words come hurtling out, like there are no spaces between them. The man throws his head back and laughs. “That’s a funny name,” he says, leaning back in. “Come on now, what’s a little fun on a Friday night.”

Sam leans away, back against the door. “It’s Wednesday,” she says, trying to scoot her body towards the door to the bathroom so she can bang on it. Where the hell is that guy who said he would pee fast.

“Wednesday,” he tips his hat at her, “it’s nice to meet you. My name is Clay.”

Sam laughs, then covers her mouth to try and pretend she hadn’t. The man smiles genuinely that time, pleased that he made her laugh. The lines around his eyes and mouth are almost endearing. The jukebox starts playing the main theme song from The Good The Bad and The Ugly, one of the songs that would play on rotation if nobody fed the machine. Sam is suddenly very aware of her heart pounding up in her throat. It is hot and smelly back here and she really does have to pee.

MAN puts hand on WOMAN’s hip.

WOMAN looks down. Tries to push hand off.

MAN puts hand back on hip.

Wait. This isn’t a work scene. She can do whatever she wants. She doesn’t have to stand here wide eyed and let the bear win. She shakes her head.

Don’t be so polite. Scare away the bear. Clay is smiling at her still, his thumb now fiddling with the waistband of her jeans. He doesn’t look like a bear. He lowers his voice to a soothing, soft murmur.

MAN
Well, Wednesday, I’m very glad to have met you here.

WOMAN
I have a boyfriend.

MAN
No you don’t.

How many times had she played this scenario. She couldn’t even count them. How many times had she rolled her eyes at the hapless women she embodied. How stupid were they, she thought. Just kick him in the balls and run! Just say no, scream and make a fuss, call 911 on your phone, tell him to go fuck himself. This wasn’t hard, it was the simplest thing in the world, really.

But the man across from her in the bar wasn’t wearing a suit covered in dots. When she played this out at work it wasn’t so dark and smelly. She couldn’t see how strong her counterpart was, see the muscles that connected his neck to his shoulders. He didn’t have that slightly off, unpredictable look in his eye. She hadn’t had anything to drink. She didn’t have to pee.

MAN
Come on Wednesday, I’m not so bad right? We’re just having some fun. Don’t you like fun?

WOMAN
No.

MAN
Aw I’m sure that’s not true. Everybody likes fun. Even girls like you. You just don’t realize it yet.

The safe word, what was the safe word, from the PDF. Hippopotamus. She could drop to the ground, stiffen all her legs. The safety motion. The director would have to call cut. Clay the cowboy is looking at her with those gray eyes. Her table full of friends seems 100,000 miles away. The song from The Good The Bad and The Ugly comes on again. Or it was still playing. How long had she been here? Why couldn’t she move her legs? She really, really has to pee.

MAN
Do you think two people can fit into that bathroom, Wednesday?

WOMAN
My name’s not Wednesday.

MAN
No? Well then what is it?

WOMAN
I’m not going to tell you.

MAN
Why not?

WOMAN
Because I don’t trust you.

Scare away the bear, Sam.

MAN
Why not? I’m a real gentleman. (He tips his hat again.)

WOMAN
I don’t know you. I just want to use the bathroom. Leave me alone please.

Scare away the bear. Big motions. Do something. Do anything.

MAN
Well I’m just waiting for the bathroom, same as you. No harm in that right? Can’t a guy wait in line for the bathroom?

WOMAN
I guess but…

The bathroom door starts to jiggle. Both MAN and WOMAN turn to look at it. MAN smiles.

CUT TO BLACK

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On his first full day in office, during a visit to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Trump’s inheritance of the US’s drone war came into stark relief.

Trump "seemed unimpressed" as the head of the CIA’s drone campaign told him about how the agency, aiming to limit civilian casualties, had created unique munitions to that end, the Washington Post reported. The former reality television personality then viewed footage of a previously-recorded CIA drone strike in Syria. In that episode, the agency apparently waited to pull the trigger until it was sure the target, who’d been inside a house with his family, was sufficiently far enough away from the residence so as to avoid collateral damage.

As a presidential candidate, Trump told "Fox & Friends" in late 2015 that taking out terrorists means "you have to take out their families" too, which could explain his four-word response to the strike video, despite what CIA brass had just told him about the agency seemingly exercising precaution in its covert drone operations. "Why did you wait?" Trump asked, according to one individual who was present at the meeting.

In the time since, the Trump administration has quietly, and dramatically, increased the number of drone strikes on suspected militants in Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan. And to clear the way for this drone-war escalation, Trump has eliminated many of the safeguards that President Barack Obama put into place in an effort to minimize the risk of civilian casualties from air strikes, including those by unmanned aerial vehicles.

"Any restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicle use under Obama have been loosened or simply shredded."

Among those safeguards was a requirement that officials verify that civilians weren't in danger from a planned air raid before authorizing an attack. "Any restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicle use under Obama have been loosened or simply shredded," Andrew Cockburn, author of Kill Chain, a book about drone strikes, told me.

In 2017, the US military and CIA launched at least 161 air raids in Yemen and Somalia, according to statistics compiled by the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which aggregates official data and news reports to track air strikes around the world.

The majority of the attacks in Somalia and Yemen most likely involved so-called hunter-killer drones. The Pentagon and CIA increasingly rely on these unmanned aircraft owing to their ability to fly long distances and "loiter" for 12-plus hours at a time over a battle zone. Shifts of two-person crews—a population increasingly defined by psychic wounds of "joystick" war-from-afar that can manifest in what some psychologists have called "moral injury"—remotely control forward-deployed Predator and Reaper drones via satellite from bases in the United States.

The 161 air strikes in Somalia and Yemen together represent a threefold increase over US attacks in the same countries in 2016.

That elevated pace of drone operations continued in 2018. So far this year, the BIJ has counted at least 15 US air strikes in Somalia and 27 in Yemen. As many as 81 people died in the air raids; around 10 of them were probably innocent bystanders, according to the bureau.

A Yemeni boy passes a mural depicting a US drone in the capital, Sanaa, in December 2013. A drone strike on a wedding convoy in Yemen that killed 17 people (mostly civilians, medical, and security) became a flash point in mounting criticism of what was then Obama's drone war. Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

In Afghanistan, the number of air strikes involving manned and unmanned warplanes roughly doubled between 2016 and 2017, and dropped slightly in the first five months of 2018, according to official US military statistics provided to Motherboard by CENTCOM. There were 615 US air attacks in 2016, 1,248 in 2017, and 353 between January and May 2018.

But the intensity of the strikes in Afghanistan increased out of proportion to the number of attacks. In that country, US aircraft dropped or fired 1,337 bombs and missiles in 2016, 4,361 in 2017, and 2,339 in the first five months of 2018.

The military declined to specify how many of the air strikes involved unmanned aircraft. It's worth noting, however, that in January 2018, the Air Force surged three squadrons of Reapers to Afghanistan, boosting the drone force there to its largest size ever. (A typical Air Force drone squadron has around a dozen aircraft.)

Here again, the air-war escalation coincided with a spike in civilian casualties. During the first nine months of 2017, the UN mission in Afghanistan documented "466 civilian casualties (205 deaths and 261 injured), a 52 percent increase in civilian casualties from air strikes compared to the same period in 2016."

Read more: The CIA Can Now Order Drone Strikes Without Pentagon Approval

Each of the last four American presidents has overseen his own drone war. The US military first began adding weapons to remote-controlled Predator drones in 2000 during the administration of President Bill Clinton, hoping to strike al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Afghanistan.

Under Clinton's successor President George W. Bush, the Pentagon and CIA’s respective drone forces were hugely expanded with new Predator and Reaper models that were deployed against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and militants in Somalia and The Philippines.

During the Obama administration, drones struck more frequently and in more places. During his final few years in office, Obama concentrated drone strikes on Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria and suspected militants in Libya.

Trump spoke to roughly 300 people at CIA headquarters on January 21, 2017, in Langley, Virginia, during what was his first official visit with a government agency. Photo: Olivier Doulier - Pool/Getty Images

Now it's Trump's turn to wield an increasingly lethal unmanned force. In March 2018, the Air Force retired its last Predator drones in favor of a fleet of around 220 larger and more powerful Reapers. The CIA maintains its own robotic air arm that, as recently as 2014, numbered around 80 Predators or similar drones.

But Trump's expanded drone campaigns in Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan are only possible because the air war over Iraq and Syria is winding down with the near-total defeat of Islamic State in recent months, Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, a book about drone wars, told me. "The American drone fleet is a finite force and has to be applied sparingly," Woods explained.

In 2015, the Air Force said it wanted to cut back on drone missions in order to allow Predator and Reaper operators to rest and train. "We’re going to get to a level we can afford and can train to, and that’s got to be enough," Col. James Cluff, the top officer in the 432nd Wing, the Air Force's main drone training unit, told me at the time.

Then again, no country that acquires armed drones has ever reduced their operations. Once a country gets them, "they deploy them to the max, because they open up new capabilities," Woods said. "The demand is never going to go away."

Drones are the ultimate military growth industry, in other words. And Trump is only continuing that trend.

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Jurassic Park is the cool kid of cinematic history—25 years after its 1993 release, it remains almost universally beloved. In addition to the show-stopping dinosaur chases and epic musical score, the film is packed with crackling banter and meaty themes unmatched in any of its sequels.

But one thing that even the original Jurassic Park doesn’t have? A penis-shaped volcano. It’s an obvious oversight that will be remedied with the release of Jurassic Wood: Swollen Dingdong, a porn parody of the franchise made by production company WoodRocket and Pornhub.

Released on Thursday on Pornhub, the film tells the tale of how Jurassic Park becomes Jurassic Brothel when scientists combine “the DNA of dinosaurs and porn stars,” according to a press release. The stars of Jurassic Wood, who are based on the Jurassic World characters Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) “must try to get the sexy dino-ladies off of the island before the dildo volcano erupts and they all meet a sticky & gooey end.”

Spoiler alert: This sticky & gooey end is NOT averted. Much like the source material it parodies, Jurassic Wood ends with some sombre reflections about the hubris of genetically hybridizing dinosaurs with other animals. As an imitation Jeff Goldblum notes in a closing scene: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could fuck a dinosaur, they didn’t stop to think if they should fuck a dinosaur.” Wise words for the ages.

Read More: AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here and We’re All Fucked

While Jurassic Wood is harnessing the excitement over the impending release of the latest Jurassic World, it’s also an indicator of how popular dinosaur porn has become as its own subgenre. You know those T-rex costumes that pop up everywhere from dance recitals to parkour videos? They’ve moved in herds over to porn as well, along with many other earnest investigations of dinosaur mating behaviors.

Meanwhile, dinosaur erotica is booming, with titles like Ravished by Triceratops, A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay, and my personal favorite, Space Raptor Butt Invasion. Dinoporn has even attracted the attention of academics like Clarissa Smith, a media and cultural studies professor at the University of Sunderland.

“The idea of having sex with [a dinosaur] is outside the realms of possibility,” Smith told The Guardian. “It’s a bit like ‘magic,’ where all rules become suspended, and for that reason it may well allow for imaginative risk-taking impossible in more standard couplings.”

So if you’re the type of person whose kinks surrounding Jurassic Park aren’t related to that lingering shot of a bare-chested Jeff Goldblum, but rather the idea of looking up dinosaurs’ skirts, rest assured you’re not alone. May we all find the courage to hold onto our butts in the way that suits us most.

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