On Beauty Queens, Hackers and the U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately decide whether a Florida beauty queen and her mother are criminals, and indeed, the entire scope of the computer crime statute. According to reports in the Washington Post, 50-year-old Laura Rose Carroll, an assistant principal in the Escambia County School District in Cantonment (near Pensacola, Florida), used her access to school district computers not only to monitor the activities (and grades) of her daughter, a student at J.M. Tate High School (go Aggies!), but ultimately to allow her daughter to “rig” the election for homecoming queen.

While the details are a bit confusing, it appears that Carroll allowed her daughter to use her credentials to gain privileged access to an internal school system called FOCUS, and that permitted the daughter not only to see the records of her friends and others in the high school, but also to access an online voting system, called Election Runner, used by the school.

The daughter used the access to cast 117 additional votes for herself, triggering warnings in the cloud-based election software when all of the votes came from the same IP address. Oops. Mom and daughter were criminally charged with one count each of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices (a 3rd degree felony), unlawful use of a two-way communications device (a 3rd degree felony), criminal use of personally identifiable information (a 3rd degree felony) and conspiracy to commit these offenses (a 1st degree misdemeanor).

This is where things MAY get murky. The Florida computer crime statute makes it a crime to “willfully, knowingly, and without authorization …access[] or cause[] to be accessed any computer, computer system, or computer network [and] …take[] …equipment or supplies used or intended to be used in a computer, computer system, or computer network… for the purpose of devising or executing any scheme or artifice to defraud or obtain property.”

The “two-way” communications crime is even more bizarre. The “two-way communications” crime makes it a felony in Florida to use “a two-way communications device … to facilitate or further the commission of any…


How The Public Domain Coronavirus ‘Beauty Shot’ You Now See Everywhere Came To Be

By now, you’ve probably seen this image of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 a million times:

It’s freaking everywhere. And it’s in the public domain. That’s because it was created by employees at the CDC, and as a work of the US government it is exempt from copyright laws, meaning anyone can use it. Which is probably why everyone uses it. One of the many reasons why a public domain is so useful.

The NY Times has a nice story about how the image came to be that’s well worth reading.

On Jan. 21, the day after the C.D.C. activated its emergency operations center for the new coronavirus, Ms. Eckert and her colleague Dan Higgins were asked to create “an identity” for the virus. “Something to grab the public’s attention,” she said. Ms. Eckert expected that whatever they came up with might appear on a few cable news programs, as their creations had in the past.

Instead, as the pandemic spread and intensified, their rendering’s reach did, too. “It started popping up around the world,” she said.

The story goes into a fair bit of detail about how it was created and also some of the design choices that Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgns made to make that design so memorable.

They chose a stony texture, wanting it to seem like “something that you could actually touch,” Ms. Eckert said. Other details — like the level of realism and the lighting, which has the spikes cast long shadows — were calibrated to “help display the gravity of the situation and to draw attention,” she said.

After reading about that, I discovered that there were a variety of other images of this particular coronavirus used around the globe. Here’s just a few (there are so many more…):

Indeed, this is the image that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has been using:

Not quite as nice as the CDC’s… and thanks to more murky copyright laws in the EU, not as clear if it’s in the public domain, so wasn’t nearly as likely to catch on and become the symbol we all associate with COVID-19.


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