Everyone’s using that Russian FaceApp to see what they’d look like old and I’m just sitting here being old.

Me, circa April this year in an early morning selfie. Click to embiggen.

Have you seen all the people on Facebook posting selfies of themselves after they’ve run it through the FaceApp? It’s all the rage right now probably because the results tend to err on the very flattering side. If this app is to be believed, everyone is going to look amazing. Just a few more wrinkles and lots of grey hair. Personally, I don’t need to use that FaceApp to see what I would look like as an old person because I am already an old person.

True story: On the way into work this morning I could not for the life of me remember my age. I knew I was 50-something, but I wasn’t sure if I would be turning 52 or 53 next month on my birthday. I had to literally do the math in my head while driving at 70 MPH on the freeway because it was bugging me so much that I couldn’t recall if I am currently 51 or 52 years old. (For the record, I am currently 51 about to turn 52.) I almost went as far as to ask Google because they almost certainly know my age, but I did the math instead because I didn’t want to interrupt the song streaming on Pandora at the time. So, yeah, I’m old. Not super old. Not even eligible for senior discounts at most places yet, but old enough to have the bloodhounds at AARP on my ass about signing up. I’ve got another three years before I outlive my biological father who died at 55, but I doubt I’ll match my great grandmother who died at 99.

Speaking of that FaceApp, you might want to think twice before playing with it depending on how much you care about your image potentially being sent to Russia for a foreign company to do whatever they want with it. The folks at Slate have a good write up on how worried you should be about the app with responses from the company that makes it:

Privacy Matters and several news outlets (some in rather alarming termspointed out that when you use the app, you grant Wireless Lab a lot of rights. That includes a “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content … without compensation to you.” That basically means FaceApp can do whatever it wants with your photos, according to New York Law School professor Ari Waldman. “You retain copyrights and photos that you upload, but you grant them the opportunity to pretty much do anything they want with the photos that are stored on their servers,” Waldman told me. And in many cases, it’s not just photos of the individual using the app—people upload images of their friends and families, too, meaning such a database of faces would be massive, and that same policy would apply regardless of who is in the photo. “It’s pretty broad, to say the least,” Waldman said.

Soure: How Worried Should You Be About FaceApp? — Slate


That’s a pretty permissive and vague terms and conditions, but to be fair to Wireless Lab, that’s true of a lot of apps because it covers their ass in case someone decides to sue for some stupid reason. Still, you should be aware that you are granting them these rights when you use the app. There was also a rumor going around that it wasn’t just uploading the picture you submitted to foreign servers, but grabbing your entire camera roll. Slate asked security expert Will Strafach to take a look at the app to see if that is true:

And, according to FaceApp’s creator Yaroslav Goncharov at Wireless Lab, that data doesn’t get sent to Russia at all unless you are in Russia:

Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp’s creator and Wireless Lab CEO, said in an emailed statement that no user data is transferred to Russia even though “the core R&D team is located” there, and he echoed that the entire camera roll is not tapped for upload. Forbes reported that FaceApp uses Amazon servers located in the U.S. and Australia. And, to be fair, FaceApp said it deletes most photos after 48 hours: “We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation.” But, again, all we have here is its word. When I asked Goncharov what Wireless Lab uses the photos for, he didn’t say. “Privacy policies and terms are drafted by lawyers and they always prefer to be on the safe side,” Goncharov wrote in an email. “We are planning to do some improvements here.” I directly asked if the company actively uses personal data for commercial purposes, and he didn’t respond.

So, in the end, it’s entirely possible that FaceApp is an innocuous bit of mindless fun and the folks at Wireless Lab aren’t keeping your data for very long or doing anything with it you wouldn’t want them to. However, the potential for abuse is still there in that terms of service agreement and if they changed their minds because, say, Russian intelligence needed a shit ton of pics to train a facial recognition system with, well, you’d given them the rights to do just that. Even then it’s arguable whether that would have any real impact on you in the long run outside of having helped the Russians to train an A.I., but it’s something you should consider before using the app.

Then again you should probably stop to consider these things with any app you’re thinking of using. Considering I’m all over both Google, Facebook, and this blog I doubt my using FaceApp could do much more damage to my privacy than I’ve already done to myself. I still won’t use it, though, because I already know what I’d look like when I’m old. Now, if it could remember my age for me…

[UPDATED] Samsung appears to be installing keyloggers on new computers they sell.

Samsung Logo

Luuuuucccyyy! You got some 'splanin' to do!

Bought a Samsung computer recently? Might want to run a malware check on it as it appears they may be intentionally installing a keylogger on it without telling you. Security consultant Mohamed Hassan has written an article for Network World that explains how he discovered the software on two new Samsung computers he purchased:

While setting up a new Samsung computer laptop with model number R525 in early February 2011, I came across an issue that mirrored what Sony BMG did six years ago.  After the initial set up of the laptop, I installed licensed commercial security software and then ran a full system scan before installing any other software. The scan found two instances of a commercial keylogger called StarLogger installed on the brand new laptop. Files associated with the keylogger were found in a c:\windows\SL directory.

According to a Starlogger description, StarLogger records every keystroke made on your computer on every window, even on password protected boxes.

Hassan removed the software and continued on his merry way until some system trouble prompted him to return the laptop and purchase another higher-end Samsung from a different store. When he got home he found that it also had the StarLogger software on it:

Again, after the initial set up of the laptop, I found the same StarLogger software in the c:\windows\SL folder of the new laptop. The findings are false-positive proof since I have used the tool that discovered it for six years now and I am yet to see it misidentify an item throughout the years. The fact that on both models the same files were found in the same location supported the suspicion that the hardware manufacturer, Samsung, must know about this software on its brand-new laptops.

Once might have been an anomaly, but twice makes it pretty clear that this was by design. Given the fiasco with the Sony BMG rootkit a couple of years back you’d think Samsung would know better than to pull something like this, but, just like Sony before them, they tried to claim no knowledge of the software:

On March 1, 2011, I called and logged incident 2101163379 with Samsung Support (SS). First, as Sony BMG did six years ago, the SS personnel denied the presence of such software on its laptops. After having been informed of the two models where the software was found and the location, SS changed its story by referring the author to Microsoft since “all Samsung did was to manufacture the hardware.” When told that did not make sense, SS personnel relented and escalated the incident to one of the support supervisors.

The supervisor who spoke with me was not sure how this software ended up in the new laptop thus put me on hold. He confirmed that yes, Samsung did knowingly put this software on the laptop to, as he put it, “monitor the performance of the machine and to find out how it is being used.”

In other words, Samsung wanted to gather usage data without obtaining consent from laptop owners.

Yeah, that’s a bullshit answer. Keyloggers don’t monitor performance, they monitor your fucking keyboard. Hence the name KEYLOGGER. This particular keylogger is also capable of taking screenshots and emailing them along with the captured data without you ever knowing about it. Imagine buying a brand new computer and doing some online shopping or banking without knowing that it’s recording everything you type and sending it back to the manufacturer. Well, some of you probably don’t have to imagine that happening to you.

I can’t think of a single legitimate reason for Samsung to be capturing that kind of data. What are they really using it for? How are they securing it? How long are they keeping it? What makes them think this is even remotely legal?

This is particularly annoying as I like a lot of things Samsung makes, the LCD monitors on my desk are from Samsung. I don’t own any computers made by them and I’ll definitely think twice before picking one up. The only question now is how long before the class action lawsuit is filed.

[Updated 9:35AM 3/31/11] Samsung didn’t waste anytime looking into this and it appears that they may be the victim of a false positive according to this article at CrunchGear:

Word comes from Samsung’s official Korean language blog, Samsung Tomorrow, that the company was able to recreate the incident and a keylogger is not on a factory-fresh notebook. The company states that the VIPRE security software used by the original whistleblower mistakenly reports the Microsoft Slovene language folder (c:\windows\SL) as the commercially available Starlogger keylogger. See the screenshot above for the proof — or if you have a R525 or R540 notebook, recreate the test yourself. As it sits right now though, it seems Samsung didn’t follow Acer’s lead and ship infected notebooks.

This is good news indeed. I can imagine Samsung wanted to nip this potential PR disaster in the bud as quickly as possible.

Innocuous picture on Facebook gets a teacher fired.

Take a look at the following picture and tell me what’s wrong with it:

Pic of fired teacher.

Oh my! It's so scandalous!

Apparently that’s all it took for a Georgia high school principal to fire English teacher Ashley Payne:

“He just asked me, ‘Do you have a Facebook page?'” Payne said. “And you know, I’m confused as to why I am being asked this, but I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?'”

In fact, the picture that concerned the principal – showing Payne holding a glass of wine and a mug of beer – was on her Facebook page. There was also a reference to a local trivia contest with a profanity in its title.

Payne was told a parent of one of her students called to complain. And then, Payne says, she was given a choice: resign or be suspended.

“He told me that I needed to make a decision before I left, or he was going to go ahead and suspend me,” she said.

She resigned. Attorney Richard Storrs is fighting to get Payne’s job back.

via Did the Internet Kill Privacy? – CBS Sunday Morning – CBS News.

Again, this was a PUBLIC high school as opposed to, say, a private religious school of some sort. Apparently the idea that a young teacher might partake of both beer and wine was too much for those delicate Georgia sensibilities.

Here’s the kicker, and why the topic of the CBS articles is about the Internet and privacy, Payne thought she had set her FB privacy settings so that the picture wouldn’t be public:

But here’s the really troubling part: Payne had used the privacy settings on Facebook. She thought that only her closest friends could see her vacation photos or her use of the “B” word.

“I wouldn’t use it in a classroom, no,” she said. “But Facebook is not the classroom. And it’s not open to the students of my classroom. They are not supposed to see it. I have privacy in place so they don’t see it.”

I would argue that even if they did manage to see it, which apparently they could have, there’s nothing present that should be a concern. She’s not half-naked in the picture, she’s not obviously drunk, she’s not breaking any laws, and swearing outside of work shouldn’t be grounds for dismissal. (If it is, I’m in big, big trouble.)

The rest of the article is the usual ‘we’ve lost all sense of privacy in the Internet age’ stuff that’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. Though as an interesting aside, I did try the Reputation.com website that the reporter used to learn what personal info was on the net:

Michael Fertik, a Harvard Law School grad who runs a company called Reputation.com, came up with information I thought was private. I was wrong.

“I think this is your Social Security number,” Fertik said. It was!

He also revealed what he called my “online reputation,” based mainly on where I happen to live.

“Our query is pretty confident that you’re a Democrat and pretty confident that you’re a Catholic,” Fertik said.

“But that may not be correct,” said Moriarty.

“It may just not be correct,” he explained.

And then there’s something that could cause a real headache down the road …

“There’s an Erin F. Moriarty who grew up just a few miles where you did, who has been convicted of serving alcohol to minors,” Fertik said. “And it’d be very easy for a machine to confuse you and that person, and to think that you are a convicted criminal.”

They offer a free scan to give you a taste of what they can find. I came away from it totally unimpressed. I put in “Les Jenkins” and the email address I most commonly use with it (les@stupidevilbastard.com) and it failed to find me. I tried my jenkinsonline.net email address and it still didn’t find me. Then I tried my full first name and my SEB email address.

That was enough for it to kind of find me. It listed my name as Lesley R Jenkins (my middle initial is a T), got my age right at being 43 and having been born in August of 1967, and listed my address as still being in Orion Township, MI. I’ve not lived there for over 12 years now. When I went to the next step it congratulated me for not having any significant personal info on the Internet. Well, I thought, considering that’s technically not my real full name and I no longer live there, I’m not at all surprised by that revelation.

Considering that putting “Les Jenkins” into Google will list me in 7 of the first 10 results (and the first 4 results to boot), it should go without saying that I’m not at all difficult to find on the Internet. SEB, Twitter, and my LinkedIn profile pages are all right there with all manner of publicly viewable info about me and without getting my middle initial wrong. This doesn’t speak well to the data gathering ability of the folks at Reputation.com.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that Payne’s firing is pretty fucking ridiculous regardless of how public or private that picture happens to be. There’s nothing any reasonable person would consider objectionable about it and, even if there was, so long as she’s not taking it into the classroom it shouldn’t be a problem.

The security chip in that fancy new U.S. Passport? It’s made in Thailand.

The U.S. Government has been pushing what they consider a better passport since August 2007. It contains a contactless smart card in the back cover that contains the same data about you as what is printed in the passport itself. The idea is that this is supposed to make passport forgery impossible for the evil-doers of the world. The official website lists off several potential attacks which the cards are supposedly protected against including skimming, eavesdropping, tracking, and cloning.

Which all sounds really good except that since the cards were introduced a number of hackers and researches have demonstrated that almost of the protections in place can be successfully attacked and compromised with very minimal resources. The Wikipedia entry for biometric passports has the details and links about the attacks if you’re interested. It doesn’t help that not all of the security measures are mandated with things such as Active Authentication and Extended Access Control being optional.

In short, cloning data on a passport is not difficult at all nor is burning it to a blank passport, something that was done back in 2006 before they were even being issued regularly. More difficult is modifying the data as there is a cryptographic hash used to verify the data, but that relies on the scanner reading the passport making use of it (not all do).

You’d think, given all of the above, that the government would at least take steps to make sure the chips aren’t compromised before they’re ever issued. Perhaps, say, ensuring that they’re produced in a highly secure facility someplace within the United States?

Don’t be silly. The chips are currently being made in Thailand and have been for years:

Security of U.S. Passports Called Into Question – ABC News

The U.S. government agency that prints passports has for years failed to resolve persistent concerns about the security risks involved in outsourcing production to foreign factories, a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity has found.

“On a number of levels this is extremely troubling,” said Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security . “Something like that ought to be produced only in the United States, under only the most rigorous security standards.” A report on the outsourcing of U.S. passports to high-risk countries can be seen on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight.

Despite repeated assurances they would move production to the U.S., a key government contractor has continued to assemble an electronic component of the nation’s new, more sophisticated passport in Thailand.

The factory is near the same Bangkok suburb where a notorious terrorist extremist was captured in 2003. There have been bursts of violence in the industrial city, Ayutthaya, as recently as last month.

Both the inspector general at the Government Printing Office and the agency’s own security chief have warned specifically against producing the computer chip assembly in the Thai facility. One internal report obtained by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity warned of a “potential long term risk to the [U.S. government’s] interests.”

All this bullshit talk by the Powers That Be about making things More Secure™ and not only are the chips being used easily cloned for a couple hundred bucks, but the factory that’s producing them is in an unstable area of a foreign country where terrorists are known to operate. The reason this is such a concern is because the U.S. Government, in its infinite wisdom, has made owning one of their fancy e-passports a shortcut past some of the more stringent security procedures  — one official describes it as an EZ-pass — that would otherwise apply to people entering the United States.

Oh, but that’s not the best part. No, the cherry-on-top that I just know you’re going to love is the fact that there is absolutely nothing in place to make sure blanks don’t fall into bad guy’s hands:

GPO’s inspector general has warned that the agency lacks even the most basic security plan for ensuring that blank e-Passports — and their highly sought technologies – aren’t stolen by terrorists, foreign spies, counterfeiters and other bad actors as they wind through an unwieldy manufacturing process that spans the globe and includes 60 different suppliers.

This disturbs Rep. John D. Dingell, D.-Mich., who wrote letters to the agency two years ago raising questions about passport production.

“Regrettably, since then, our fears have been realized because the inspector general and other people in charge of security at the government printing office have pointed out that the security is not there,” Dingell told ABC News. “There is no real assurance that the e-passports are safe or secure or are not in danger of being counterfeited or corrupted or used for some nefarious purposes by terrorists or others.”

Feel safer yet? Oh, and there are stolen blanks out there from several different countries including a big heist of U.K. blanks in 2008.

Supposedly, most of the production of the chip has already been moved out of Thailand and officials are pledging to have the last bits moved out by the end of July. Also, as far as anyone is aware, no one has successfully made a forgery of a biometric passport using cloned data and a stolen blank chip. Given the number of vulnerabilities that have already been demonstrated it’s probably only a matter of time before someone figures out how to clone and modify a passport that’ll pass as real.

Sadly, all of the concerns and problems with this system were known by the U.S. back in 2004 having been raised by numerous security and privacy experts. Rather than take the time to address the issues raised they decided to just ignore them instead and pressure everyone else to adopt our flawed standard. That is, after all, the American way.

This Just In: Teachers not allowed to have a life outside of school.

How’s this for being totally unfair:

A Brownsville high school teacher has been suspended for 30 days without pay after she appeared in a picture someone else posted on Facebook that included a male stripper at a bridal shower.

[…] Board member Stella Broadwater says the suspension is appropriate because the photo became public, but member Sandra Chan says it was too harsh because the teacher had no control over the photo being posted.

via Teacher suspended over stripper photo – Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

It’d be one thing if the teacher had printed out this picture and passed it around to her students, but to be suspended because someone else posted the picture on Facebook is pretty stupid. Granted I’ve not seen the picture in question, but I’m not sure it should matter much. Short of staying home and never doing anything outside of work, I’m not sure how she had any control over the posting of the pic.

This also reflects one of the problems with Facebook’s move towards removing the privacy options that it has traditionally made available to its users. As these barriers come down you’ll be reading about more and more news items like this as pictures that were once thought to be limited to family and friends become viewable by the public at large.

There are already a number of sites popping up to chronicle embarrassing Facebook postings including Failbook.com from the folks who brought us I Can Has Cheezeburger? I mean, do you really want wall updates like this one viewable by the whole world?

Funny Facebook Wall Posting

It’s embarrassing enough that your mom knows you’re brushing up on AMAZING SEX, but what happens when a potential employer is able to do a Google search and has this come up? At least the Failbook.com folks remove last names and blur pics. Google isn’t going to do that.

OK, I’ve gotten off on a tangent here so allow me to wrap this up. The point I’m trying to make is that, sure, the idiot in the above screenshot probably shouldn’t have posted something like that if he didn’t want folks (including his mom) to know about it, but the teacher that got suspended didn’t post the picture that got her in trouble and that’s not fair. Which is basically my point.

Wired’s Mathew Honan experiments with Location-Aware software.

One of the features of the newer iPhone’s and Google Android based cellphones allow the phone, and any applications you’re running on it, to determine where you are to varying degrees of precision. Using a combination of cell towers (500 meters), Wi-Fi (30 meters), and GPS (10 meters) and various software packages that make use of that info you can literally broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world pretty much continuously. 

This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, both good and bad, and has attracted a growing group of people practicing a Location-Aware Lifestyle. Wired magazine’s Mathew Honan decided to try spending a few weeks living the lifestyle to see what it was like:

The location-aware future—good, bad, and sleazy—is here. Thanks to the iPhone 3G and, to a lesser extent, Google’s Android phone, millions of people are now walking around with a gizmo in their pocket that not only knows where they are but also plugs into the Internet to share that info, merge it with online databases, and find out what—and who—is in the immediate vicinity. That old saw about how someday you’ll walk past a Starbucks and your phone will receive a digital coupon for half off on a Frappuccino? Yeah, that can happen now.

Simply put, location changes everything. This one input—our coordinates—has the potential to change all the outputs. Where we shop, who we talk to, what we read, what we search for, where we go—they all change once we merge location and the Web.

I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!

People, particularly younger folks, already put out a lot of information about themselves on the Internet. I’m guilty of this myself with this blog. Not only do I have my real name on it, but there’s a fairly detailed history of the major ups and downs of my life over the past seven years in the archives. Everything from my best friend being needlessly killed by a traffic cop and how I dealt with the loss to my eventual downsizing from Ford Motor Company and the long struggle to get back on my feet. My politics and religious outlook are extensively documented as is the general area that I live in. SEB is the number one search result on Google when you type in “Les Jenkins” followed by some poor bastard who shares my name that works at Colorado One Mortgage.

For all that I put on SEB there are some folks who put me to shame particularly on sites like Facebook and MySpace. You may recall a few months back an entry I wrote about a woman who had been emailing me about her “psychic visions” of my future. I mentioned in a comment that I was able to track down where she lives (to a specific street address), how big a house she owns, how much she bought it for, how many pets she has, what musical instrument she’s trying to teach herself to play, what books shes been reading, her daughter and son-in-law’s name, where they lived, when their wedding was supposed to happen, and a whole host of other personal info with nothing more than her email and IP address. That’s pretty impressive, but even that pales to what some folks make available and then when you add location-awareness into the mix you make it all that much more immediate. Which could have its downside:

The trouble started right away. While my wife and I were sipping stouts at our neighborhood pub in San Francisco (37.770401 °N, 122.445154 °W), I casually mentioned my plan. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to announce to everyone that you’re leaving town without me, are you? A lot of weirdos follow you online.”

Sorry, weirdos—I love you, but she has a point. Because of my work, many people—most of them strangers—track my various Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, and blog feeds. And it’s true; I was going to be gone for a week on business. Did I really want to tell the world that I was out of town? It wasn’t just leaving my wife home alone that concerned me. Because the card in my camera automatically added location data to my photos, anyone who cared to look at my Flickr page could see my computers, my spendy bicycle, and my large flatscreen TV all pinpointed on an online photo map. Hell, with a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place—and with a few more you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered to your home.

To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user’s photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.

Think about that for a moment. Her being in an apartment would make any attempts at larceny a bit more difficult, but what if she lived in a single family home in a suburb? Take the geo-location data on the pictures and look it up in Google Maps—yes you can use latitude and longitude in Google Maps—drop down to Street View and you could even see what the house looks like so long as Google has been through that neighborhood.  Above and beyond simply showing folks where to go to score a nice flat screen TV, this could also potentially be used to allow people to find you anywhere you happen to be making it a boon for potential rapists, stalkers, and plain old crazy people. Those, of course, are worst-case scenarios so let’s not dwell on them too much. Instead just consider how creepy it is that Honan was able to pick a perfect stranger out in a park and with just a little effort peer at the filthy living room in her apartment.

The technology is not without its upside though. Honan talks in the article about how it actually made him more social as friends who had seen he’d be in their area would turn up to hang out for a few minutes and touch base. Additionally some of the tools he was using allowed him to learn more about the area he was in, find the cheapest gas prices, and discover new places to eat he’d never realized were there before. And it’s not as though you have to make use of the tools that expose your precise location every second of the day. The whole article is worth a read if for no other reason than to educate yourself on what’s possible. Right now you have to put some work into setting yourself up to be so exposed, but developers are working to make doing stuff like that easier all the time so it may not be too long before you could set yourself up to broadcast your location constantly without realizing it.

It never hurts to be well-informed.

This is what a surveillance society looks like.

The U.K. has a shitload of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) almost everywhere you go. One local artist who realized that he was monitored almost constantly by the police decided to see how long it would take them to notice an 8 foot tall alien wandering on an empty street so he got some friends together and made it happen:

In short, it didn’t take very long for police to show up and they weren’t thrilled at the prank. Watching the video brings home just what living in such a society would be like for anyone who’s at all out of the ordinary. The idea of being constantly watched is chilling indeed and there are many who would love to replicate that sort of thing here in America. It’s already started in some places around the country. I suppose on the one hand it’s a good thing that the police are able to notice and respond to a potential threat so quickly, but it’s so easily abused and the hassle of dealing with countless false alarms is sure to cause many of them to discourage anything that would require them to waste time checking it out. Things like walking around in an 8 foot alien costume.

It also shows how unrealistic Doctor Who is. A police box suddenly appearing out of no where would be swarmed by the police within moments by the looks of it, let alone anything truly alien looking.

Found via Gizmodo.

Turns out we’re already living in a surveillance state.

The new FISA “compromise” bill that the Senate is about to pass makes me angry just to think about, but deep down I’ve long suspected that our government pretty much spies on us with impunity already. This Baltimore Sun news article pretty much confirms that suspicion:

“There’s virtually no branch of the U.S. government that isn’t in some way involved in monitoring or surveillance,” said Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian and fellow at the National Security Archives at The George Washington University. “We’re operating in a brave new world.”

[…] The Bush administration argues that the privacy and civil liberties protections in place for surveillance not covered by the FISA rules are “unprecedented.” In addition to the data-mining, use of financial transaction databases and satellite imagery, the surveillance includes monitoring the travel patterns of airline passengers.

[…] But critics say the safeguards don’t always work. Some blunders in the use of such protections have become public. New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright wrote in January about one such experience. In 2002, while he was researching The Looming Tower, his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al-Qaida, two members of an FBI terrorism task force arrived at his home. Why, they asked, had his daughter been speaking with someone in the United Kingdom who was in touch with suspected al-Qaida operatives?

It wasn’t his daughter, he told them flatly. Wright himself had made the calls. And the person he contacted was a British civil rights lawyer who had asked him not to speak with her clients, some of whom are relatives of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant.

“My daughter is no terrorist – she went to high school with the Bush twins,” Wright said. “I was taken aback. They were apparently monitoring my phones.”

Wright said he was particularly surprised because he was aware of protections supposedly in place to conceal his name and other identifying information that would have been gathered during the creation of transcripts of the call.

Wright said he doubted the government would have been able to get a warrant for the information, and he said he didn’t know how the FBI obtained his daughter’s name, let alone got the impression that she was communicating with the British lawyer.

It’s somewhat ironic to note that the new FISA bill actually has more civil liberties protections than the other domestic spying programs that aren’t covered by it. It makes me feel foolish for getting so worked up about the new FISA rules because, really, the cows got out of the barn a long time ago. There’s been reports of various abuses and misuses of these programs for years now and every time a government agency gets new powers, such as the FBI and its “security letters” thanks to the Patriot Act, it’s usually not too long before we hear about them being abused. If anything I suppose I should be angry that the new FISA bill provides the government with even more power it can abuse, not that they haven’t abused the system under the old rules already. They’re just trying to make it quasi-legal to do so now that everyone knows about it.

Director of National Intelligence says he must spy on you to keep you safe!

This article from ArsTechnica about an interview the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, gave to The New Yorker will send a few shivers down your spine:

US intel chief wants carte blanche to peep all ‘Net traffic – ArsTechnica.com

While short on specifics, the New Yorker piece recognizes that any plan requiring the kind of authority McConnell envisions is apt to be a hard sell: “Americans will have to trust the government not to abuse the authority it must have in order to protect our networks, and yet, historically the government has not proved worthy of that trust.” McConnell acknowledges that his initiative is bound to spark debate that will make recent wrangling over reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act seem like “a walk in the park compared to this.”

How broad are the powers needed to keep our servers safe? According to the article, in order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search. “Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation,” he said. Giorgio warned me, “We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.’”

Sayings like that, says security guru Bruce Schneier, “are why the police aren’t in charge; security and privacy are complimentary. Privacy is part of our security against government abuse. If they were really zero-sum, we would have seen mass immigration into East Germany.”

If the Director gets his way he’ll be looking at every single bit of data you send over the Internet. All in the interest of keeping you safe, of course. Never would they abuse that power. Honest. You can trust them. Really.

And if you believe that…

Being “annoying” online - now against the law.

    Do you post on blogs? Send jokes to colleagues? Say anything at all that might be construed by anyone as objectionable?

    Well, from now on you had better do it under your own name and not a pseudonym or there could be fines and/or jailtime in your future (read the Cnet article here). It seems that on January 6th of this year “president” Bush signed a law called the ‘Violence against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act” which has an section embedded in it (section 113 to be precise) which is titled “Preventing Cyberstalking”. So far everything I have written here seems pretty innocuous, designed to keep women and girls from being stalked and harrassed by online predators, and I’m all for that.  If I had ANY trust in our current pro-torture, pro-spying, pro-empire, criticism averse administration I might not even bat an eye at this. But I don’t have any trust left.

    How do you define annoying? If I asked 10 people for specific examples of what annoys them I am willing to bet I would get 10 different answers. Something that I find annoying, like prosteletizing, might be sacrosanct to someone else – so who decides? Bush probably finds it annoying that his spy ring has been exposed.  I find it absolutely necessary and downright patriotic. Since the audiences for his townhall meetings are preselected I bet he finds surprise questions and contrary opinions annoying. I find them amusing.

    Because I always post my annoying opinions under my own name, Eric Paulsen, I am safe from fines and jail time (at least in theory), but… why make it necessary that an “annoying” post be under a persons real name and not a psuedonym? Why would an administration that was developing the Total Information Awareness database (an enormous datamining tool), that thinks it is okay to tap the phone calls and read the e-mails of American citizens, and is trying to give the Executive branch limitless powers (“If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier…just as long as I’m the dictator…” G. W. Bush—Washington, DC, Dec 18, 2000) want your real name attached to an “annoying” post. That’s a real puzzler there. Yup, a real puzzler.

    Well, here’s another post for my NSA file. cool hmm