Guns, Homicides and Data

I came across a fascinating post at Jon Udell’s blog, “Homicide rates in context ,” which starts out with this graph of 2007 data:

A map showing gun ownership and homicide rates, and which look very different

Jon’s post says more than I care to on this subject right now, and points out questions worth asking.

As I said in my post on “Thoughts on the Tragedies of December 14th,” “those who say that easy availability of guns drives murder rates must do better than simply cherry picking data.”

I’m not sure I believe that the “more guns, less crime” claim made by A.W.R. Hawkins claim is as causative as it sounds, but the map presents a real challenge to simplistic responses to tragic gun violence.

Emergent Effects of Restrictions on Teenage Drivers

For more than a decade, California and other states have kept their newest teen drivers on a tight leash, restricting the hours when they can get behind the wheel and whom they can bring along as passengers. Public officials were confident that their get-tough policies were saving lives.

Now, though, a nationwide analysis of crash data suggests that the restrictions may have backfired: While the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen, deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount. In effect, experts say, the programs that dole out driving privileges in stages, however well-intentioned, have merely shifted the ranks of inexperienced drivers from younger to older teens.

“The unintended consequences of these laws have not been well-examined,” said Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, who was not involved in the study, published in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. “It’s a pretty compelling study.” (“Teen driver restrictions a mixed bag“)

As Princess Leia once said, “The more you tighten your grip, the more teenagers will slip through your fingers.”

Nymwars: Thoughts on Google+

There’s something important happening around Google+. It’s the start of a rebellion against the idea of “government authorized names.” (A lot of folks foolishly allow the other side to name this as “real names,” but a real name is a name someone calls you.)

Let’s start with “Why Facebook and Google’s Concept of ‘Real Names’ Is Revolutionary” by “Alex Madrigal.” He explains why the idea is not only not natural, but revolutionary. Then move on to “Why it Matters: Google+ and Diversity, part 2” by “Jon Pincus.” From there, understand see “danah boyd” explain that ““Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power . One natural reaction is ““If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s that simple.” ORLY?” as “Alice Marwick” explains, it’s really not that simple. That’s why people like “Skud” are continuing to fight, as shown in “Skud vs. Google+, round two.”

What’s the outcome? Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia require real names. “South Korea is abandoning its “real name” internet policy

So how do we get there? “Identity Woman” suggested that we have a ““Million” Persona March on Google ,” but she’s now suspended. “Skud” posted “Nymwars strategy.”

This is important stuff for how we shape the future of the internet, and how the future of the internet shapes our lives. Even if you only use one name, you should get involved. Get involved by understanding why names matter, and get involved by calling people what they want to be called, not what Google wants to call them.

AT&T, Voice Encryption and Trust

Yesterday, AT&T announced an Encrypted Mobile Voice. As CNet summarizes:

AT&T is using One Vault Voice to provide users with an application to control their security. The app integrates into a device’s address book and “standard operation” to give users the option to encrypt any call. AT&T said that when encryption is used, the call is protected from end to end.

AT&T Encrypted Mobile Voice is designed specifically for major companies, government agencies, and law enforcement organizations. An AT&T spokesperson said it is not available to consumers. The technology is available to users running BlackBerry devices or Windows Mobile smartphones, and it works in 190 countries.

Organizations interested in deploying Encrypted Mobile Voice will need to pay an additional fee to do so. AT&T said that cost depends on the size of the deployment. (“AT&T improves service security with encryption

Jake Appelbaum and Chris Soghoian expressed skepticism. (“From the company that brought you NSA wire tapping, they thought you’d also like….” and “If you trust AT&T’s new voice encryption service, you are a fool.“)

What’s funny (sad) about this is that there are a number of software encrypted voice systems available. They include RedPhone, CryptoPhone and zFone. Some of these even work on pocket sized computers with integrated radios. But Apple and AT&T won’t let you install alternate voice applications.

A lot of people claim that these restrictions on what you can do with your device just don’t matter very much. That you can really get everything you need. But here’s a clear example of why that isn’t so. Voice encryption is a special app that you have to get permission to run.

Now, maybe you don’t care. You’re “not doing anything wrong.” Well, Hoder wasn’t doing anything wrong when he went to Israel and blogged about it in Farsi. But he’s serving 20 years in jail in Iran.

Now is the time we should be building security in. Systems that prevent you from doing so, or systems that reset themselves to some manufacturer designated default are simply untrustworthy. We should demand better, more trustworthy products or build them ourselves.

[Added: I’d meant to include a comment about Adam Thierer’s comment “The more interesting question here is how “closed” is the iPhone really?” I think the answer is, in part, here. There’s a function, voice privacy, for which AT&T and three other companies think is marketable. And it doesn’t exist on the iPhone OS, which is the 2nd most prevalent phone platform out there.]

[Update 2: Robert and Rob rob me of some of my argument by pointing out that AT&T now allows you to install voice apps, but none of the encrypted voice apps that I’d consider trustworthy are available. (I exlude Skype and their proprietary & secret designs from trustworthy; it’s probably better than no crypto until you trust it, then it’s probably not good enough to really protect you.) Maybe this is a result of the arbitrary rejections by the Apple app store, but when I look for zfone, redphone or cryptophone, I see a fast dial app and some games. When I search for crypto, it’s all password managers. So while I’m no longer sure of the reason, the result remains. The iPhone is missing trustworthy voice crypto, despite the market.]

Transparency, India, Voting Machines

India’s EVMs are Vulnerable to Fraud. And for pointing that out, Hari Prasad has been arrested by the police in India, who wanted to threaten and intimidate him question him about where he got the machine that he studied. That’s a shame. The correct response is to fund Hari Prasad’s work, not use the police to silence him.

I could write quite a bit about how science and security progress through open debate; about how no one likes to be wrong, but by admitting mistakes, we can improve, or the terrifying power of the state and the need to restrain it.

Rather I’ll just comment that arrogant abuses of power like this serve to de-legitimize the state and undermines the moral basis of claims to a monopoly of violence. When people can’t protest with speech and demonstrations of fact, they’ll continue to pursue their interests by other means with higher stakes.

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.

Makeup Patterns to hide from face detection

Adam Harvey is investigating responses to the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras with facial recognition capabilities.

face-detection.jpg

He writes:

My thesis at ITP, is to research and develop privacy enhancing counter technology. The aim of my thesis is not to aid criminals, but since artists sometimes look like criminals and vice versa, it is important to protect individual privacy for everyone.

[…]

What will these forms look like and how well will they integrate into our cultural expectations of body decoration while still being able to function as face detection blocking devices? How can hats, sunglasses, makeup, earrings, necklaces or other accessories be modified to become functional and decorative? These are the topics that I’ll be exploring in thesis on CV Dazzle.

Very interesting stuff in Adam Harvey’s CV Dazzle Makeup blog posts. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

How to Make Your Dating Site Attractive

bookio.jpg

There’s a huge profusion of dating sites out there. From those focused on casual encounters to christian marriage, there’s a site for that.

So from a product management and privacy perspectives I found this article very thought provoking:

Bookioo does not give men any way to learn about or contact the female members of the site. Men can join for free, if they have been invited—and if a current Bookioo member can vouch for their information. They can then post a profile for the perusal of the female—and paying—members of the site. It’s those paying women, however, who get to call the shots.

As interesting as the approach is, what’s more interesting is how they came to it. They focused on a set of female customers, and asked what is it that they worry about, and what do they want? Co-founder David Olmos:

We think that women don’t feel comfortable with the current dating sites. The latter are too masculine: they were designed by men and they fundamentally address men’s needs. We know that many women prefer a different approach: they’re eager to socialize, to meet new people, and we propose to do that through activities. It may lead them to find a partner, of course, but they may as well enjoy an afternoon in a museum with a new girl friend whom they met Bookioo! So we propose to socialize through activities, common hobbies and common tastes.

As you can see, we actually want to revamp the “dating” concept, taking the perspective of women. The key issue for us is to make sure that women enjoy the level of privacy they wish and that the males’ profiles are fully validated. (“Bookioo: dating and social networking site gives women full control.”)

It’s also a very different approach to “creep management,” which we’ve covered in past posts like “Emerging dating paranoia,” “Dating and Background Checks in the UK” or “Dating & Background Checks in China

Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

And for the prurient interest, the underwear, apparently still containing the explosives. It looks like they were cut off with scissors, implying that he was wearing them at the time. I wonder how much explosive energy a human thigh absorbs?

In conversation, a friend mentioned that the media whirlwind overwhelms the right response, which is to go on with our lives. Which is what I shall now do. Look! A burning goat!

Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

  • The Economist “The latest on Northwest flight 253:” “the people who run America’s airport security apparatus appear to have gone insane” and “This is the absolute worst sort of security theatre: inconvenient, absurd, and, crucially, ineffective.”
  • Business Travel Coalition, via Dave Farber and Esther Dyson, “Aviation Security After Detroit:” “It is welcome news that President Obama has ordered an airline industry security review so long as it is strategic in nature.”
  • Stuart Baker, “Six Uncomfortable Answers” which seems to boil down to “identity-based security has failed, let’s not address the good reasons why, and build more of it.” Usually Stewart has been more insightful than this. But then he writes “I asked several questions about how good the screening was in Nigeria and at Schiphol. I now think that it barely matters how good a job those screeners did. Without a reason to treat Abdulmutallab differently from other passengers, the current level of screening wasn’t likely to find the explosives.” Actually, as he points out, no acceptable level of screening is likely to find the explosives.
  • The New York Times points out that “Questions Arise on Why Terror Suspect Was Not Stopped :” “That meant no flags were raised when he used cash to buy a ticket to the United States and boarded a plane, checking no bags.” It used to be that that got you extra screening. Why did we stop?
  • Gawker, “The Shady Mainstream Media Payday of Flight 253 Hero Jasper Schuringa
  • I lost the link, but someone else pointed out that the new, alleged TSA rules would have made it a crime to get up and stop Abdulmutallab when he tried to set off his bomb.
  • This comment on the Flyertalk thread raises the interesting question: are terrorists planning to fail, expecting over-reaction by governments? Provocation would not be a new page in terror playbooks.
  • Alleged text of SD 1544-09-06
  • Every international traveller to the US is being asked to spend an extra hour on these measures. Cormac Herley’s “So Long, and No Thanks for the Externalities: the Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users” is absolutely irrelevant, unless travel to the US falls. Again. Which, of course, makes the odds of each remaining traveller being a terrorist materially higher.

New Restrictions: No Using Electronic Devices for the Last Hour

Apparently, in the wake of thousands of deaths from idiots paying more attention to GPS, cell phones, GameBoys, iPods and other such electronic devices, TSA has announced a ban on all use of such devices for the last hour of your commute.

No, just kidding. Apparently, they may be imposing new secret restrictions on use of electronics during the last hour of flight.

How can we break the cycle of terrorist does something irksome, we all pay forever? Our current oversight isn’t restraining DHS or TSA.

Fingerprinted and Facebooked at the Border

According to the Wall St Journal, “Iranian Crackdown Goes Global ,” Iran is monitoring Facebook, and in a move reminiscent of the Soviets, arresting people whose relatives criticize the regime online.

That trend is part of a disturbing tendency to criminalize thoughts, intents, and violations of social norms, those things which are bad because they are prohibited, not bad in themselves. It’s important if we want to export freedom of speech and freedom from self-incrimination, to push for an international norm of limiting the powers of governments, not of people. Of course, since the main way that the international reach of governments is limited is through treaties negotiated by, umm, governments, I don’t expect a lot of that soon.

Not to mention the creation of fake Facebook accounts by Iranian intelligence.

But most interesting is this:

Five interviewees who traveled to Iran in recent months said they were forced by police at Tehran’s airport to log in to their Facebook accounts. Several reported having their passports confiscated because of harsh criticism they had posted online about the way the Iranian government had handled its controversial elections earlier this year.

and

One 28-year-old physician who lives in Dubai said that in July he was asked to log on to his Facebook account by a security guard upon arrival in Tehran’s airport. At first, he says, he lied and said he didn’t have one. So the guard took him to a small room with a laptop and did a Google search for his name. His Facebook account turned up, he says, and his passport was confiscated.

Eight Million? Eight Million?!?!

Chris Soghoian, who we’ve mentioned here extensively in the past, has posted some new research around just how much electronic surveillance is really going on here in the US.

Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.

And that’s just Sprint. (Who btw also keeps logs of all IP access for 24 months, including in many cases full URLs).
You really need to read the full article because he has so much data, as usual, Chris sums things up nicely:

As the information presented in this article has demonstrated, the publicly available law enforcement surveillance statistics are, at best misleading, and at worst, deceptive. It is simply impossible to have a reasonable debate amongst academics, public policy makers, and members of the public interest community when the very scale of these surveillance programs is secret.

and

As for the millions of government requests for geo-location data, it is simply disgraceful that these are not currently being reported…but they should be.

Per Chris’s request the full data dump has been mirrored here as well.

Tifatul Sembiring Causes Disasters

Padung-earthquake.jpgThe BBC reports that “Indonesia minister says immorality causes disasters:”

A government minister has blamed Indonesia’s recent string of natural disasters on people’s immorality. Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring said that there were many television programmes that destroyed morals. Therefore, the minister said, natural disasters would continue to occur.

His comments came as he addressed a prayer meeting on Friday in Padang, Sumatra, which was hit by a powerful earthquake in late September. He also hit out at rising decadence – proven, he said, by the availability of Indonesia-made pornographic DVDs in local markets – and called for tougher laws.

Now, you might think I’m just being snarky, but the opportunities that are open to a communication and information minister include communicating about earthquake or tidal wave safety, or how to cope afterwards. If Sembring is sharing his bizzaro ideas that a lack of morals causes people’s homes to collapse, then he is clearly putting his energy into the wrong message. He should be encouraging people to learn first aid, to have a small disaster kit, etc.

But to the extent that he’s delivering morality over engineering, preparedness, and response, he’s turning natural events into worse disasters.

Earthquake photo part of the Padang earthquake set by dapiiiiit