Why we need strong oversight & transparency

[The ACLU has a new] report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), surveys news accounts and studies of questionable snooping and arrests in 33 states and the District of Columbia over the past decade.

The survey provides an outline of, and links to, dozens of examples of Cold War-era snooping in the modern age.

“Our review of these practices has found that Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public,” Michael German, an ACLU attorney and former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, said in a statement.

Via Wired. Unfortunately, (as Declan McCullagh reports) “Police push to continue warrantless cell tracking,” and a host of other surveillance technologies which we have yet to grapple with.

For example, it seems FourSquare had an interesting failure of threat modeling, where they failed to grok the information disclosure aspects of some of their pages. See “White Hat Uses Foursquare Privacy Hole to Capture 875K Check-Ins.” To the extent that surveillance is opt-in, it is far less worrisome than when it’s built into the infrastructure, or forced on consumers via contract revisions.

Between an Apple and a Hard Place

So the news is all over the web about Apple changing their privacy policy. For example, Consumerist says “Apple Knows Where Your Phone Is And Is Telling People:”

Apple updated its privacy policy today, with an important, and dare we say creepy new paragraph about location information. If you agree to the changes, (which you must do in order to download anything via the iTunes store) you agree to let Apple collect store and share “precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device.”

Apple says that the data is “collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you,” but for some reason we don’t find this very comforting at all. There appears to be no way to opt-out of this data collection without giving up the ability to download apps.

Now, speaking as someone who was about to buy a new iphone (once the servers stopped crashing), what worries me is that the new terms are going to be in the new license for new versions of iTunes and iPhones.

Today, it’s pretty easy to not click ok. But next week or next month, when Apple ships a security update, they’re going to require customers to make a choice: privacy or security. Apple doesn’t ship patches for the previous rev of anything but their OS. iTunes problem? Click ok to give up your privacy, or don’t, and give up your security.

Not a happy choice, being stuck between an Apple and a hard place.

High Impact Work

Perry Metzger recently drew this to my attention:

The title of my talk is, “You and Your Research.” It is not about managing research, it is about how you individually do your research. I could give a talk on the other subject – but it’s not, it’s about you. I’m not talking about ordinary run-of-the-mill research; I’m talking about great research. And for the sake of describing great research I’ll occasionally say Nobel-Prize type of work. It doesn’t have to gain the Nobel Prize, but I mean those kinds of things which we perceive are significant things. Relativity, if you want, Shannon’s information theory, any number of outstanding theories – that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Now, how did I come to do this study? At Los Alamos I was brought in to run the computing machines which other people had got going, so those scientists and physicists could get back to business. I saw I was a stooge. I saw that although physically I was the same, they were different. And to put the thing bluntly, I was envious. I wanted to know why they were so different from me. I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe: he was my boss. I saw quite a few very capable people. I became very interested in the difference between those who do and those who might have done.

When I came to Bell Labs, I came into a very productive department. Bode was the department head at the time; Shannon was there, and there were other people. I continued examining the questions, “Why?” and “What is the difference?” I continued subsequently by reading biographies, autobiographies, asking people questions such as: “How did you come to do this?” I tried to find out what are the differences. And that’s what this talk is about.

It’s a very insightful talk, “You and your research” by Dick Hamming. (His bio is in the intro.) And while the talk nominally focuses on science, the advice is applicable to many types of science research.

On Politics

In “Jon Stewart on Obama’s executive power record” Glenn Greenwald writes:

When ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero last week addressed the progressive conference America’s Future Now, he began by saying: “I’m going to start provocatively . . . I’m disgusted with this president.” Last night, after Obama’s Oval Office speech, Jon Stewart began his show with an 8-minute monologue on Obama’s executive power and civil liberties record which, in essence, provided just some of the reasons why Romero’s strong condemnation is so justified.

meanwhile, in the UK, David Cameron apologized for Bloody Sunday, calling it “unjustified and unjustifiable.” Abi Sutherland has good analysis at Making Light:

We do not honour all those who have served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.

Bleg: How to Delete Kindle Logs?

Well, Amazon has a new update for Kindle (with folders! OMG!), and I’m planning to apply it.

However, last time I installed an update, I noticed that it lost the “wireless off” setting, and was apparently contacting Amazon. I don’t want it to do so, and leave wireless off. It’s safer that way, whatever promises Amazon may make.

Does anyone know how to delete the logfile so that nothing gets uploaded?

Mobile Money for Haiti: a contest

This is cool:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is using its financial clout to push the Haitian marketplace toward change by offering $10 million in prizes to the first companies to help Haitians send and receive money with their cell phones…

The fund will offer cash awards to companies that initiate mobile financial services in Haiti. The first company to launch a mobile money service that meets certain criteria in the next six months will receive $2.5 million. The second operator to launch and reach these benchmarks within 12 months will receive $1.5 million. Another $6 million will be awarded as the first 5 million transactions take place, divided accordingly between those operators that contributed to the total number of transactions.

For more details, see the press release.

Lady Ada books opening May 11

Ada’s Technical Books is Seattle’s only technical book store located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. Ada’s specifically carries new, used, & rare books on Computers, Electronics, Physics, Math, and Science as well as hand-picked inspirational and leisure reading, puzzles, brain teasers, and gadgets geared toward the technically minded customer.

From the store’s blog, “Grand Opening: June 11th

I’ve been helping David and Danielle a little with book selection because they’re good folks and I love great bookstores. I encourage Seattle readers to stop by.