Happy Data Privacy Day! Go check out PrivacyFix

It’s Data Privacy Day, and there may be a profusion of platitudes. But I think what we need on data privacy day are more tools to let people take control of their privacy. One way to do that is to check your privacy settings. Of course, the way settings are arranged changes over time, and checking your settings regularly is a drain.

Enter PrivacyFix.

PrivacyFix is a Firefox & Chrome plugin that you might want to check out. It looks at your Facebook and G+ settings, and helps you fix things. It also helps you send opt-out email to web site privacy addresses, which is awesome.

Not having a Facebook or G+ account, I can’t really test it. I do find the model of a plugin that works when you’re on their site (versus local UI) to be confusing. But maybe I’m not their target audience. Anyway, I did want to refer back to my Lessons from Facebook’s Stock Slide, in which I talked about intent versus identity.

Facebook tracks
Google tracks

I don’t know if PrivacyFix’s estimates of revenue are accurate. But unless they’re off by 2 orders of magnitude for each of Facebook (under-estimating) and Google (over-estimating), then wow.

TSA Approach to Threat Modeling, Part 3

It’s often said that the TSA’s approach to threat modeling is to just prevent yesterday’s threats. Well, on Friday it came out that:

So, here you see my flight information for my United flight from PHX to EWR. It is my understanding that this is similar to digital boarding passes issued by all U.S. Airlines; so the same information is on a Delta, US Airways, American and all other boarding passes. I am just using United as an example. I have X’d out any information that you could use to change my reservation. But it’s all there, PNR, seat assignment, flight number, name, ect. But what is interesting is the bolded three on the end. This is the TSA Pre-Check information. The number means the number of beeps. 1 beep no Pre-Check, 3 beeps yes Pre-Check. On this trip as you can see I am eligible for Pre-Check. Also this information is not encrypted in any way.

Security Flaws in the TSA Pre-Check System and the Boarding Pass Check System.

So, apparently, they’re not even preventing yesterday’s threats, ones they knew about before the recent silliness or the older silliness. (See my 2005 post, “What Did TSA Know, and When Did They Know It?.)”

What are they doing? Comments welcome.

Browser Privacy & Fingerprinting

Ivan Szekely writes in email:

A team of young researchers – my colleagues – at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics developed a cross-browser fingerprinting system in order to demonstrate the weaknesses of the most popular browsers. Taking Panopticlick’s idea as a starting point, they developed a new, browser-independent fingerprinting algorithm and started to build a system-fingerprint database for further analysis. The description of the method and the analysis of the fingerprints can be read at http://pet-portal.eu/articles/view/37/2012-02-20-User-Tracking-on-the-Web-via-Cross-Browser-Fingerprinting.php (thesite is tri-lingual, if other language articles appear on your screen, click on the English flag)

By now the team has developed a new version of the fingerprinting system and is working on an effective method to prevent fingerprinting. In order to fine-tune the defense against fingerprinting, my colleagues need your feedback. Please click on http://fingerprint.pet-portal.eu, make a few tests and share your comments and suggestions with the developers.

Please take a second to visit http://fingerprint.pet-portal.eu and help them and us understand browser fingerprinting.

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.

Microsoft Backs Laws Forbidding Windows Use By Foreigners

According to Groklaw, Microsoft is backing laws that forbid the use of Windows outside of the US. Groklaw doesn’t say that directly. Actually, they pose charmingly with the back of the hand to the forehead, bending backwards dramatically and asking, “ Why Is Microsoft Seeking New State Laws That Allow it to Sue Competitors For Piracy by Overseas Suppliers? ” Why, why, why, o why, they ask.

The headline of this article is the obvious reason. Microsoft might not know they’re doing it for that reason. Usually, people with the need to do something, dammit because they fear they might be headed to irrelevancy think of something and follow the old Aristotelian syllogism:

Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore, it must be done.

It’s pure logic, you know. This is exactly how Britney Spears ended up with Laurie Anderson’s haircut and the US got into policing China’s borders. It’s logical, and as an old colleague used to say with a sigh, “There’s no arguing with logic like that.”

Come on, let’s look at what happens. I run a business, and there’s a law that says that if my overseas partners aren’t paying for their Microsoft software, then Microsoft can sue me, what do I do?

Exactly right. I put a clause in the contract that says that they agree not to use any Microsoft software. Duh. That way, if they haven’t paid their Microsoft licenses, I can say, “O, you bad, naughty business partner. You are in breach of our contract! I demand that you immediately stop using Microsoft stuff, or I shall move you from being paid net 30 to net 45 at contract renegotiation time!” End of problem.

And hey, some of my partners will actually use something other than Windows. At least for a few days, until they realize how badly Open Office sucks.

Rights at the “Border”

“I was actually woken up with a flashlight in my face,” recalled Mike Santomauro, 27, a law student who encountered the [Border Patrol] in April, at 2 a.m. on a train in Rochester.

Across the aisle, he said, six agents grilled a student with a computer who had only an electronic version of his immigration documents. Through the window, Mr. Santomauro said, he could see three black passengers, standing with arms raised beside a Border Patrol van.

“As a citizen I’m offended,” he said. But he added, “To say I didn’t want to answer didn’t seem a viable option.”

From the NYTimes, “ Border Sweeps in North Reach Miles Into U.S..”

If you think this is ok, where in the US should it not be legal for the armed agents of the state to demand your papers without any grounds for suspicion of wrongdoing?

Similarly, if a law student doesn’t see not answering police questions as a “viable option,” what do we do to restore balance to the Constitution?

Previously on Emergent Chaos: “100 Mile Constitution Free Zone.”

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.

Showing ID In Washington State

Back in October, I endorsed Pete Holmes for Seattle City Attorney, because of slimy conduct by his opponent. It turns out that his opponent was not the only one mis-conducting themselves. The Seattle PD hid evidence from him, and then claimed it was destroyed. They have since changed their story to (apparent) lies about “computer problems.” See “Local computer security expert investigates police practices” in the Seattle PI. Some choice quotes:

…a charge was leveled against him in Seattle Municipal Court for obstructing a public officer. Controversial laws known as obstruction, “stop and frisk” and “stop and identify” statutes have been abused in other cities like New York, studies and news stories show. An obstruction case cited in a 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigation ended with a federal jury hitting Seattle police with a six-figure penalty.

Rachner’s criminal defense attorney sought dismissal of his gross misdemeanor charge, citing the Washington State Supreme Court decision that says arresting a person for nothing more than withholding identification is unconstitutional. One reason cited by the court: This practice allows police too much discretion to pick targets and punish with arrest. Also, the state constitution is more protective of these rights than the U.S. constitution.

The microphone picks up Letizia explaining the arrest to Rachner and a police sergeant, citing only the failure to provide identification as the reason Rachner was in handcuffs. No other provocations before the arrest were documented.

“The explanation is our servers failed,” said Seattle Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “Data was lost, more than his, and it took some time to recover it.” “There is absolutely nothing in the activity log to support that claim,” said Rachner. “Moreover, if the video was unavailable, it was dishonest of them to claim the video could no longer be obtained because it was past the 90-day retention period. It is completely at odds with what they told me in writing.”

I say these are lies because their story keeps changing.

I hate paying the salaries of people who can’t tell me the truth, and I think I’ll be writing city hall for an explanation. If you live in Seattle, I suggest you do the same.

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.

Burning News: Gavle Goat

Gavle-Goat-2009.jpg

USA Today informs us that:

Despite surveillance cameras and heavy security, vandals in a small Swedish town have burned down a giant Yuletide straw goat for the 24th time since 1966, the Associated Press reports.

Here at Emergent Chaos, we’re deeply concerned that the goat ended up with neither privacy nor even temporary safety.

Photo: AP Photo/Pernilla Wahlman

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.

We Live In Public, The Movie

One of the best ways to upset someone who cares about privacy is to trot out the “nothing to hide, nothing to worry about” line. It upsets me on two levels. First because it’s so very wrong, and second, because it’s hard to refute in a short quip.

I think what I like most about “We Live In Public” is how it shows how well that nothing to hide idea screws with people’s lives. The movie is the story of Josh Harris and some bizzare experiments he ran, including putting 100 people under constant surveillance and interrogation in “Quiet,” a bunker under New York City with free flowing drugs. After that screwed a lot of people up, Josh and his girlfriend decided to “live in public” on the web. Roughly quoting “after a fight, we’d both run to see who the people watching thought had won it.” In many ways, it was unpleasant to watch, in the way any view of dystopia is.

we-live-in-public.jpg

The movie was one of my favorite parts of the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium, and not just because it was the end and I got to kick back with a beer while we watched. It was my favorite because we talk a lot about privacy in very technical ways: what it means, how to protect it. We talk less about the why or the communication of it. The movie was pretty impactful for a lot of us. One of the best, and perhaps most post-modern was having a Skype conversation with the director, Ondi Timoner, after the screening. (Another member of the household stopped by, said hi, and covered the camera. And sorry about the butt-in-camera, Ondi, we had the beer near the laptop running Skype.)

Ondi-Timoner on Skype.jpg

In the future, we’re inspired to have more art at the conference, and I’d encourage all of you to see We Live in Public. It’s currently in limited engagements [Updated with links]:

8/28 – IFC Center, NYC
9/4 – Brattle, Cambridge
9/25 – NuArt, Los Angles
10/2 – Roxie – San Fransisco, CA
10/9 – Alamo Draft House – Austin, TX
10/16 – Music Box – Chicago
11/13 – Landmark Varsity – Seattle

You can also follow @onditimoner on Twitter, read the blog about the movie, or get in touch with her by Skype..no, just kidding. I think she deserves some privacy.