Dec 12 2013
A man has been charged with running a "revenge porn" website where he hosted more than 10,000 explicit photos - and then charged victims hundreds of dollars to have them removed.
Kevin Christopher Bollaert, 27, created ugotposted.com a year ago, and then let users anonymously post images of others without their permission, according to court documents .
Unlike similar sites, investigators said the website required the victim's name, age and other information.
Bollaert allegedly set up a second site - changemyreputation.com - and charged victims a fee ranging from $250 to $350 (£214) to remove the images.
He was arrested on 31 felony counts of conspiracy, identity theft and extortion. Both websites have now been taken down.
His activities "turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives", said California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Bollaert, from San Diego, California, allegedly told investigators during a six-month investigation he received about $900 a month from online advertising.
However, officers said records from his changemyreputation.com PayPal account showed he received tens of thousands of dollars.
Photographs used as so-called revenge porn can be obtained during a consensual relationship, or can be stolen or hacked from online accounts, investigators said.
The practice resulted in a new law in California that makes it an offence to post identifiable nude pictures of someone without their permission and with the intent of causing emotional distress, though that law was not cited in the charges against Bollaert.
Other states, including Maryland, Wisconsin and New York, are considering introducing similar laws.
Some rights groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed concern that the legislation conflicts with the First Amendment.
Dec 12 2013
Australia's highest court has repealed a law permitting gay marriage - meaning dozens of couples face having their weddings annulled within days of the nuptials.
Around 30 same-sex couples had tied the knot since the Australian Capital Territory passed the legislation last Saturday governing Canberra and its surrounding area.
But the federal government argued the law could not operate alongside the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The High Court unanimously upheld the challenge, and issued a statement saying: "The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples.
"The Marriage Act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman. That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage."
Rodney Croome, national director of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality , said his group knows of about 30 same-sex couples who have married since Saturday, though the actual number may be slightly higher.
Outside the court in Canberra, a tearful Mr Croome said the ruling was a defeat for marriage equality, but there had been a greater victory this week.
"And that victory was the nation saw for the first time, I believe, what is really at the core of this issue - they've seen that marriage equality is not about protest or politics or even about laws in the constitution, ultimately," he said.
"Marriage equality is about love, commitment, family and fairness."
Among the couples upset by the ruling are Ivan Hinton and Chris Teoh, who were married on Saturday.
The pair received their marriage certificate on Wednesday and immediately applied to change their surnames to Hinton-Teoh.
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Dec 12 2013
The suspension of a six-year-old boy for kissing a girl at school is raising questions about whether the peck should be considered sexual harassment.
The boy's mother said officials at Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Canon City, Colorado, are overreacting.
Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl and had other disciplinary problems, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days.
Hunter Yelton said he has a crush on a girl at school and "she likes him back".
"It was during class, yeah. We were doing reading group, and I leaned over and kissed her on the hand. That's what happened," he said.
Ms Saunders said she saw nothing wrong with her son's display of affection.
She said she punished him for other problems in school, including "rough-housing", but was shocked when the school's principal brought up the term "sexual harassment" during a meeting.
"This is taking it to an extreme that doesn't need to be met with a six-year-old. Now my son is asking questions. 'What is sex mommy?' That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six-year-old," she said.
District superintendent Robin Gooldy said the boy had been suspended because of a policy against unwanted touching.
"The focus needs to be on his behaviour. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension," he said.
David Welsh, a school psychologist, said some policies that bar bullying, harassment and weapons on public school campuses may go too far.
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A South African sign language interpreter accused of gesticulating gibberish as world leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela defended himself as a "champion" signer on Thursday, but said he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the event.
The interpreter, identified as 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie, told Johannesburg's Star newspaper he started hearing voices and hallucinating while on stage, resulting in gestures that made no sense to outraged deaf people around the world.
"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry. It's the situation I found myself in," he told the paper.
He did not know what triggered the attack, he added, saying he took medication for his schizophrenia.
Millions of TV viewers saw Jantjie interpreting for leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, at Tuesday's Mandela memorial.
Afterwards South Africa's leading deaf association denounced Jantjie as a fake, saying he was inventing signs.
However, in a radio interview Jantjie said he was happy with his performance at the memorial to the anti-apartheid hero, who died a week ago aged 95.
"Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I've been a champion of sign language," he told Talk Radio 702.
When contacted by Reuters he said he could not understand why people were complaining now rather than during other performances. "I'm not a failure. I deliver," he said, before hanging up.
The controversy has overshadowed South Africa's 10-day farewell to Mandela, whose remains were lying in state for a second day on Thursday at Pretoria's Union Buildings, where he was sworn in as the nation's first black president in 1994.
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Dec 12 2013
Many of us cannot recall the last time we got a letter in the mail, but Santa will this year receive a record eight million of them, the United Nations said Wednesday.
Global postal services expect to sort through that number of wish lists by the time Christmas rolls around, according to a survey by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which coordinates the world's mail systems.
That is two million more than the haul estimated in a similar survey in 2007.
Postal services in Canada, France, Spain and Ireland "are reporting increases in the number of letters sent to Santa, Pere Noel or the Three Wise Men, from last year", UPU said in a statement, referring to the French and Spanish versions of the famous gift-deliverer.
Last year the French held the record with 1.7 million letters, followed by Canadians, who penned 1.35 million.
Frequently addressed just to "Santa, North Pole", these letters are handled by some 20 postal services worldwide. Many have created formal programmes to help answer the missives, UPU said.
The US postal service even encourages people to "adopt" Santa letters, sending gifts under his name back to the authors, according to its website.
As a "universal superstar", Santa maintains addresses in many parts of the world, UPU said.
One of the more popular is Finland's Santa Claus Village, on the Arctic Circle, which last year received more than 500,000 letters from 192 countries, according to the Finnish postal service.
Post offices in locations with names reminiscent of the holiday season, like Christmas Island in Canada, also receive large amounts of mail this time of year, said UPU.
Dec 11 2013
Winnie Mandela ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, has viewed his body as it lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Hundreds of other dignitaries are also lining-up to pay their respects to the iconic South African anti-apartheid campaigner, including his wife Graca Machael and President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.
Thousands of South Africans lined the streets of Pretoria to pay their respects after Mr Mandela's body was taken to lie in state.
The coffin was draped in the multi-coloured South African flag as it arrived at the grand setting of the Union Buildings, seat of power in the country's capital and the place where the former leader was sworn in as president.
Members of the public formed a guard of honour as his coffin passed by fronted by a fleet of police outriders, at the start of what will be three days of mourning in the executive capital.
As the procession passed, mourners sang tributes to the former South African leader, who died last week at the age of 95.
Mandela's grandson Mandla and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula led mourners into the viewing area. Soldiers set down the coffin and removed the flag.
After the mourners left, four South African navy officers stood guard over the body.
Members of Mr Mandela's family and VIPs will pay their respects before the public are allowed in to view the body inside a glass-topped coffin.
The same procession around Pretoria will take place each morning until Friday, with the coffin being returned to the military hospital each evening.
With worries about crowds, three sites have been set up in Pretoria from where mourners will be shuttled in to the Union Buildings and back.
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US President Barack Obama may have moved the masses attending Nelson Mandela's memorial service with his stirring eulogy, but it was his grinning "selfie" with the Danish and British premiers that set social networks abuzz.
In a candid moment captured by AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt, Denmark's Helle Thorning-Schmidt can be seen holding up her smartphone, with Obama lending a helping hand, as they pose for a picture with David Cameron, all three of them smiling broadly in their seats at Soweto's World Cup stadium.
First Lady Michelle Obama, sitting to the left of her husband, does not join in with the lightheartedness, keeping her eyes firmly trained on the podium where world leaders were paying tribute to South Africa's anti-apartheid hero Mandela, who died Thursday aged 95.
The so-called selfie -- short for self-portrait -- was quickly picked up by major international news outlets and went viral on social media sites, with many questioning whether the moment of mirth was appropriate for the occasion.
"There should be a moratorium on 'selfies' during memorials and funerals, no?" tweeted @JeffryHalverson.
"Is This The Most Important Selfie Of 2013?" headlined the US-based social news website Buzzfeed, noting that Michelle Obama seemed "not amused" by the impromptu photoshoot.
A photo of the leaders photographing themselves was featured on the front pages of British media such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror.
In the United States, the Washington Post also ran the photo of the trio on its website in a story on that incident and Obama shaking hands at the service with Cuban leader Raul Castro. It was not on the front page but rather in the Politics section. It noted the viral trajectory of the photo.
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Dec 11 2013
A woman is celebrating the return of her treasured family pet - more than nine years after the dog went missing.
Staffordshire bull terrier Niamh disappeared through a gap in the fence at Milissa Mae's home near Worcester in May 2004.
Despite a frantic search for the-then three-year-old pet, Niamh remained undiscovered and her owners had reluctantly resigned themselves to the fact that she was lost forever.
Then, last week, Mrs Mae received a phone call from an animal sanctuary in Salisbury, saying Niamh had been brought in after being spotted wandering the streets of the cathedral city, some 80 miles from her original home.
The dog, who was identified through her microchip, was reunited with her owner at the Bath Cats and Dogs Home , and staff at the shelter shed a tear when the dog appeared to recognise Mrs Mae.
Mrs Mae described the find as a "Christmas miracle".
"I know in my heart someone must have taken her," she said. "She is such a friendly thing, she would walk right up to anyone.
"She's gone a little deaf and a little grey, but otherwise she's just the same."
She went on: "She was very thin, but apart from that she's in surprisingly good condition, especially considering she's a 12-year-old dog.
"Someone has obviously been looking after her in the intervening years.
"I don't know how long she'd been wandering, but she must have been in someone's care for at least some of those nine years."
Niamh is now back at home with the Mae family, and is getting on well with their other dog Ferdy, seven, and her granddaughter.
Dec 11 2013
Canada vowed Tuesday to defend the North Pole and Santa Claus, insisting the mythical figure is a citizen, after Russia ordered its military to step up its Arctic presence.
Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, cited Canada's claim of the North Pole to bash an opposition party in Parliament.
"We are defending the north further by making a claim on the North Pole," he said.
"We know that the (opposition) Liberals do not think that the North Pole or Santa Claus are in Canada. We do. We are going to make sure that we protect them as best we can."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau agreed, saying: "Everyone knows that Santa Claus is Canadian.
"His postal code is H0H 0H0," he said, alluding to a mailing address assigned to Santa by Canada Post. The postal service responds each year to tens of thousands of children's letters from around the world addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada.
The main opposition New Democratic Party, however, insisted that "Santa Claus is a citizen of the world."
The frosty exchange came after Canada signalled its intentions to claim the North Pole and surrounding Arctic waters while announcing Monday the filing of a UN application seeking to vastly expand its Atlantic sea boundary.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the move by ordering the formation of new military units in the Arctic that are to remain on constant combat alert.
Russia, he said, was "ever more actively reclaiming this promising region, returning to it" after a brief absence that followed the Soviet Union's collapse.
Dec 11 2013
Istanbul is planning to introduce floating car parks to try to resolve the chronic traffic problems of Turkey's largest city, local officials said Tuesday.
The municipal car park operator said it will use out-of-service ferries anchored in the Bosphorus to create multi-storey lots near traffic hotspots.
The floating car parks will also have facilities such as cafes, recreation areas and art galleries, according to ISPARK.
Traffic congestion and a lack of parking is a major problem for the bustling metropolis of 16 million people.
The car park plans are among several mega projects launched in Turkey's main gateway city by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In October, Turkey opened a sea tunnel under the Bosphorus -- the world's first linking two continents -- and is also planning a third airport in Istanbul and a third bridge across the Bosphorus.
The city, with its wealth of spectacular Ottoman and Byzantine monuments, is Turkey's most visited, welcoming over 9.7 million foreign tourists this year, according to official figures.
Erdogan came under fire during mass street protests in June over the government's grandiose construction projects, which critics say are aimed at wooing voters with a series of elections looming in 2014 and 2015.
Initially, a 400-vehicle floating parking lot costing $12 million (almost nine million euros) will start operating in Istanbul, ISPARK said, but did not give a timeframe.