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It's funny.  Laugh. GNU is Not Unix

Richard Stallman Accosted For Tinfoil Hat 549

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the of-all-the-reasons dept.
ndansmith writes "Bruce Perens posts in his blog about an amusing encounter between Richard Stallman and United Nations security at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis. It seems that RFID technology, which Stallman opposes for privacy reasons, was used in the identification badges for the conference. From the blog: 'You can't give Richard a visible RF ID strip without expecting him to protest. Richard acquired an entire roll of aluminum foil and wore his foil-shielded pass prominently.' During a keynote speech, Stallman also passed around the tinfoil for other to use as well. It seems that UN security was not amused, however, as they would not let him leave the room for some time." What makes this even funnier, of course, is that tin foil hats won't stop them.
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Richard Stallman Accosted For Tinfoil Hat

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  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:06AM (#14070662)
    They really had no idea who they were dealing with.
    • by hey! (33014) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:32AM (#14070793) Homepage Journal
      No, I expect they studied his dossier very carefully.

      Then assigned the new kid to the detail. You know the one: shoes are a bit too shiny ;uniform pants crease is a bit toocrisp. The one who never lets you forget he's ready for anything.

      Anyhow, that's what I would have done.
    • by imlepid (214300) <kkinkaid&imlepid,com> on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:38AM (#14070823)
      Security people rarely have any idea what they are dealing with. The main reason why is they are simply given orders to "check an RFID badge" or "wave a wand around those people who set a metal detector off". They aren't paid to think critically or anything. This is often the charge levied by Schneier [schneier.com]. If we hired smart security people, overall we'd be more secure.
  • by odweaver (914814) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:06AM (#14070664)
    Wasn't the whole point of the MIT article that aluminum amplifies and tin degrades signals?
  • Hmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by Army of 1 in 10 (931706) <army1in10NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:07AM (#14070666) Homepage
    I'm confused... who am I supposed to root for? Stallman or the UN?

    Excuse me while I go curl into the fetal position in a corner until I resolve this dilemma. ;)
    • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No matter what your ideological position is, after seeing the UN in action you'll never really support them again other than in idea. It's a terribly broken and inefficient institution.
      • after seeing the UN in action you'll never really support them again

        Isn't that true for just about any governmental body? Why single out the UN?
      • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Scrameustache (459504) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:36PM (#14071089) Homepage Journal
        No matter what your ideological position is, after seeing the UN in action you'll never really support them again other than in idea.

        I see what they do [msn.com], and what I see is hungry people being fed.

        So I guess your ideological position on starving folks is "let them eat cake"?
      • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bogtha (906264) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:43PM (#14071126)

        The UN has a huge positive effect on the world. Examples: [democracyarsenal.org]

        • They feed 104 million people a year in 80 countries. They feed people in war zones, natural disaster situations, health emergencies, and just plain poor countries.
        • There were 17 million asylum-seekers, refugees and the like in 2004 who got help from UNHCR. They both help refugees directly and work to ensure that governments meet their responsibilities to these displacees.
        • UNICEF. The UN protects children, everything from immunisation, education, protection against exploitation, AIDS prevention, etc.
        • The UN has 16 active peacekeeping missions right now, in places like Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia and Burundi. Make no mistake: in most of those places if the UN weren't there, no one else but the marauders would be and the peace or relative peace being kept would have disintegrated long ago.
        • The UN is the leader when it comes to the global battle against HIV/AIDS. Between the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria the UN is at the heart of every aspect of dealing with the epidemic, from heightening awareness to raising funds to making sure appropriate programs for prevention and treatment are implemented.
        • Were it not for the UN, an awful lot of suffering around the world would go even less noticed and addressed than it does today. Landmine victims, Marburg fever and cholera sufferers, child soldiers, modern-day slaves, lepers and thousands of other populations beleagured by one or another either visible or obscure plight have a place to turn at the UN.

        It strikes me that, of the people who are wholly negative of the UN, the vasty majority are from the USA. It's not surprising, given that the UN are criticising the USA for blocking their torture investigations [un.org] at the moment.

        I don't think you'll find anybody claiming that the UN is a perfect organisation. But only trolls and ignorant people could claim that the UN is not worth supporting.

  • by mr_da3m0n (887821) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:07AM (#14070671) Homepage
    But I think this was just a message he was trying to get accross. Now what I wonder is why the security didn't let him leave? OH NOES HE HAS TIN FOIL OVER BADGES!!1 Unless they had something to hide...?
  • by dj245 (732906) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:08AM (#14070678) Homepage
    If the holeys in a mesh are half the size of the average wavelength of the radiation, practically none will get through, assuming it is made of the right material. The proper size mesh for RFID technology is left as an excerise for the reader.
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:37AM (#14070819) Homepage Journal
      Isn't it supposed to work to just surround the whole thing with anything that conducts electricity, creating a Faraday cage?
    • by hankwang (413283) * on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:27PM (#14071608) Homepage
      If the holeys in a mesh are half the size of the average wavelength of the radiation, practically none will get through,

      Try wrapping a mobile phone (1800 MHz = 17 cm wavelength) in aluminum foil and just leave a small hole that allows you to look at the signal strength indicator. You will be surprised.

      Your argument is only valid (and then only to a certain extent) if both of the following conditions are met:

      • The incident radiation is (approximately) a plane wave (i.e. the source is many wavelengths away and there are no antennas and such in the neighborhood).
      • The receiver is at least a few times the wavelength away from the aperture.
      Close to the aperture you will still have a significant electric field (it's called the near field). In addition, in the near field of a radiation sources you have a magnetic field component that may penetrate thin layers of aluminum. With a fully enclosing piece of aluminum foil, without any holes, you would do a better job.
  • by gcnaddict (841664) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:09AM (#14070679)
    "What makes this even funnier, of course, is that tin foil hats won't stop them [slashdot.org]."

    what are you talking about? Tin foil hats stop everything :P
  • by CosmeticLobotamy (155360) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:09AM (#14070685)
    You deserve what you get if you use aluminum foil. Any conspiracy theorist worth his salary won't accept anything less than genuine tin.
  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:12AM (#14070690) Journal
    I take exception to many things that RMS says and does, but I'm with him 100% on this one. Way to go, Richard!

    -jcr
  • by griffjon (14945) <GriffJon@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:15AM (#14070702) Homepage Journal
    Richard Stallman Accosted For Tinfoil Hat

    Best. Slashdot Heading. Ever.
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:17AM (#14070705) Homepage
    For months as this RFID contraversy has progressed, people on the 'dot have said, "well, you can always block it with a piece of foil if you don't want to be tracked".

    Well, guess what? As predicted by a quick examination of human nature, they WON'T let you block your tracking devices. You will not have a choice as to when and where you will be tracked. This is just the very beginning, the closing of the gate, of our World Prison.

    Tell me why again we have to have tracking devices embedded on our persons? I seem to have missed the reasoning. Terrorism?
    • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:24AM (#14070746)
      It's a goddamned NAME BADGE! It's not the Illuminadi, it's not the "Pentaveret" or whatever the hell secret society you think is covering up UFO's. It's to identify which doors he should be able to unlock and which he shouldn't have access to. Millions of people were RFID name badges every day. Thousands of businesses require them. Why is everyone on Slashdot, a Linux-oriented website, so technophobic and paranoid? And half of the people posting here probably wear a RFID name badge to work, also.

      Look, there are legitimate reasons to oppose *some* RFID tags. For instance, RFID tags put on clothing which are not removed at purchase. But clowning like this only serves to distract from the real issue.
      • by Catbeller (118204) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:33AM (#14070795) Homepage
        Exactly. It was just an identity badge. And they went bonkers. Totally disproportionate response.

        Yell at the authority-maddened idiots who thought they could harrass Stallman, not Stallman. He made the point beautifully. It's about the POWER, not about security.

        What do you think the guvmint or the cops will do when you block THEIR tracking, even symbolically? Arrest, jail, prison, inevitably.
      • by Scrameustache (459504) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:44PM (#14071127) Homepage Journal
        It's a goddamned NAME BADGE! It's not the Illuminadi, it's not the "Pentaveret" or whatever the hell secret society you think is covering up UFO's. It's to identify which doors he should be able to unlock and which he shouldn't have access to.

        And they wouldn't let him leave the room!
        RTFA, he showed his badge whenever he had to get access to anything, he covered it up when he wasn't doing that, and they freaked.

        Tell me again why you don't think there's something more to their insistance on invisible, easily tracked mandatory ID? Remind me how it will be impossible for anyone with bad intentions to get access to the traces?
    • by roman_mir (125474) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:41AM (#14070836) Homepage Journal
      Tell me why again we have to have tracking devices embedded on our persons? - because you are a slave. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.

      Ok, now that I did the obligatory Matrix quote, here is why I think tracking every single individual's movements, purchases, and even thoughts is an inevitable future: the technological advances allow government bodies to have the most control over the population (look what is happenning in the most developped countries: UK, USA, Canada, Australia, etc.) The government has the will to control the population. Ironically it is the population that gives the government that power. Apparently the small number of people who are able to innovate and come up with technological progress are mostly the ones who understand how this new tech can be abused to give the government more power and to take away freedoms of the people. Unfortunately the majority of the people are not the ones responsible for the innovation, they are just 'consumers', they have no clue. But they are the majority and they are always ready to trade their freedoms for some illusion of security and/or convenience. The innovation suggests new technical possibilities, the government needs a stable system to make its only income: the taxes. Thus the government protects and maximizes its source of income: a stable regime with powerful system of controls that absolutely prohibit any dissident behaviour that leads to decreases in government income. The population in majority agrees to anything that creates illusion of security/safety/convenience etc., and basically gives up the idea that individuals should be responsible for their own behaviour and actions to themselves first. It looks more and more like an ant colony or a bee hive, doesn't it?

      It looks like it is the inherit property of a system - to maximize government control and power and minimize individual freedoms in order to maximize government's income. The problem is a system based on taxes.

      Thus, see my previous [slashdot.org] posts [slashdot.org].
    • IMNSHO - he should have just microwaved the damn thing.

      1. Go to McDonalds for lunch.
      2. ask the cashier to speak with the manager.
      3. Ask manager if he'll kindly nuke the rfid badge for 30 seconds - offer $5 if necessary.
      4. Return to conference with smelly, but broken rfid badge, and faux indignant suprise when the goons at the gate freak.
  • by Mel (21137) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:19AM (#14070718) Homepage
    The guy has balls and he'll make a stand against what he believes in no matter how it looks. Sure, the tinfoil hat doesn't actually work, but it's a visible symbol that cannot be ignored. Without people like him making a visible protest on a forum that so many high-level people will notice, protests against tracking technologies are just pissing into the wind.

    Rock on Richard.
  • Their rules (Score:3, Insightful)

    by secolactico (519805) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:24AM (#14070747) Journal
    I think he would have made a better statement if he simply refused to attend the summit upon finding out that the tags had RFID.

    Having a covered up badge could be a breach of security, since not only did he cover the RFID (and not even that) but he covered the "visual part" of the badge.

    Of course, being a famous personality, that wouldn't be much of an issue, but what about the "crashers" that got a wad of aluminum and simply say that they were following RMS' advice?

    I admire RMS in this aspect. I wish I could do more to preserve our right to privacy. Nowadays, all I do is refuse the services of people who insist in gathering all kind of information in exchange of unrelated good/services (I just want to rent a movie, you don't need to know my yearly income of wether I have life insurance). But it's a losing battle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:24AM (#14070748)
    I'm going to be flamed for this so I'll post AC.

    I respect RMS. He's contributed a lot to the FOSS movement (but no, sorry, what I run is Linux). Several of his writings are thought-provoking. But on the other hand, we all want to see Linux become mainstream. Is this the image we want corporations to have about FOSS? One of its leaders childishly and purposefully gets in trouble with UN security for shielding his pass in aluminium foil. A movement led by immature pranksters. Is that the image we want?
    • by mw13068 (834804) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:18PM (#14070989)
      You don't seem to understand that the Free Software movement is a sociopolitical movement that cares more about freedom than about mainstream popularity. Strange concept in this day and age right?

      I respect RMS because he has never waivered from his ideals, even though people running "Linux", think he's a crazy person. He doesn't let fear of perception goad him into giving over his integrity. He and the FSF are not just trying to become popular, they're trying to protect your freedom and mine.

      IMO idealistic integrity is in too short supply in the world these days.

      So, it's great that you like "Linux", but remember that without RMS and the FSF and their allies, your "Linux" would not exist.
    • by ultranova (717540) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:05PM (#14071212)

      I respect RMS. He's contributed a lot to the FOSS movement (but no, sorry, what I run is Linux). Several of his writings are thought-provoking. But on the other hand, we all want to see Linux become mainstream.

      Linux is mainstream. Mainstream does not mean number-one; mainstream means widely-used.

      Is this the image we want corporations to have about FOSS?

      The ideals of FOSS are far more important than the perceptions of any corporation about it. To quote a saying: "If you are willing to become evil in order to fight evil, why are you fighting it ?"

      If you are willing to give up everything that FOSS stands for in order to get it accepted as "mainstream", why do you even bother - it won't be Free or Open anymore then, so you can just use the proprietary products and save yourself the bother.

      One of its leaders childishly and purposefully gets in trouble with UN security for shielding his pass in aluminium foil. A movement led by immature pranksters. Is that the image we want?

      There is nothing childish or immature in demonstrating your viewpoint. No matter how much powers-that-be try to make you think so, playing by their rules and silently accepting defeat instead of using your brains to make a scene that gets everyones attention is not a sign of maturity; it is a sign of weakness and/or stupidity.

      Had Stallman played by their rules and simply refused to attend, or perhaps been given a special no-RFID ID card, they would have won; there would be no article here, no fuss risen over the use of RFID. Instead, Stallman played his own game, and drew attention to this issue. Stallman used his brains, and put up an effective fight; nothing immature in that.

  • by Bethor (172209) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:29AM (#14070770)
    Are you sure it was the tinfoil?
    I mean, if I was a security guy and got confronted by this [indymedia.org]this, I would be pretty nervous too!

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:36AM (#14070813)
    Richard will surely be using transparent aluminum in many creative ways. It is the best of both worlds, you can see the RFID tag, you just can't scan for it.
  • by Twid (67847) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:38AM (#14070824) Homepage
    The real story for this conference is the sad irony of having an information summit in Tunis, which violently suppresses freedom of expression [indexonline.org].

    You can read lots more stories here. [google.com] I'm pretty surprised the freedom-loving editors at slashdot didn't pick this up as a separate story, it's much more important than Stallman's RFID-tinfoil stunt.

  • Tinfoil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PrimeNumber (136578) <PrimeNumber@noSPAM.excite.com> on Saturday November 19, 2005 @11:59AM (#14070903) Homepage
    Although Stallman probably knew that tinfoil doesnt work, he was more likely trying to make a political point about RFID, which was a good thing IMHO.
     
    Personally I would have suggested that people go to the snack room and throw it in a microwave oven, that way it makes it a pain in the ass and costs those who want to implement this crap. Money is the only thing people like this understand anyway.
  • by StarsAreAlsoFire (738726) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:00PM (#14070905)
    Ladies and gents: Aluminum foil may not work for head-gear, but it will work just dandy for covering an RFID tag.

    Tag == 100% wrapped.

    Head != 100% wrapped (one would hope)

    Aluminum foil is conductive. That and complete coverage is all you need for a faraday cage.

    There are like 30 posts already that act like it won't work: it will. Want to test it? Wrap your walkman in foil and try to listen to FM. Freqs are different for RFID (probably), but it doesn't matter.

    Take care not to touch the ant. of the radio to the foil though, or you may actually improve reception ;~)
  • Hammer time? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ka9dgx (72702) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:01PM (#14070908) Homepage Journal
    Why not just set the thing down, and bash the RFID chip with a hammer, or crush it with your leatherman? Claim not to know why it doesn't work, and let them deal with you in the conventional manner, instead of all this big brother shit.

    --Mike--

  • by tomcres (925786) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @12:19PM (#14070996)
    RMS doesn't like the UN being able to track where he is using RFID technology.. but he doesn't think it's pretty easy for them to track his location by looking out for the one idiot in the tin-man costume among a bunch of suits?

    Way to go, RMS! :P

  • Tin foil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hkb (777908) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:25PM (#14071299)
    I reckon RMS didn't actually care if the tin foil worked or not, it, to me, was an obviously symbolic thing.
  • by frdmfghtr (603968) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:27PM (#14071311)
    (All quotes from Bruce Perens' blog, http://perens.sourcelabs.com/ [sourcelabs.com])

    You can't give Richard a visible RF ID strip without expecting him to protest. Richard acquired an entire roll of aluminum foil and wore his foil-shielded pass prominently. He willingly unwrapped it to go through any of the visible check-points, he simply objected to the potential that people might be reading the RF ID without his knowledge and tracking him around the grounds. This, again, is a legitimate gripe, handled with Richard's usual highly-visible, guile-less and absolutely un-subtle style of non-violent protest.

    I'm not quite sure I understand why RMS felt that the RFID was a violation of his privacy. It's a SECURITY BADGE. It's whole PURPOSE is to identify the wearer. If he didn't want to wear it, then he shouldn't have attended the event.

    I disagree that it's a "legitimate gripe." Remember, he wasn't out on a public road somewhere, but in a "what I suspect is) a secure facility. Furthermore, if somebody really DID want to track him, they would just have somebody watch him the entire time. Believing that somebody wants to track your every motion is either a sign of paranoia or an overinflated sense of self-importance.

    All of this completely disrupted the panel that was supposed to follow ours in that room, and the folks operating that panel were rightly furious... ..So, this was no doubt an interesting problem for the security folks, who had no real idea who Richard was except that he was someone reasonably distinguished who was visibly violating their security measure.

    So he makes his point and disrupts the schedule of other panels. Great--this leaves the impression that "Others be damned, I'll make my point however I damn well please." That will earn you a lot of respect. And before you point out that it was the UNU security personnel who caused the ruckus and not Stallman, re-read the account. He was VIOLATING A SECURITY MEASURE. What do you expect them to do? He's violating a security measure that they are there to enforce.

    I didn't see anyone further molesting Richard, but I'd imagine he was followed around by plainclothes agents for the rest of the day. This, however, may not be unusual. Perhaps Kramer even got his own protective detail.

    See above.

    I could just be ignorant of RFID, or misinterpreting Stallman's point of view, but he does seem to be a bit "over the top" in terms of making his opinion known to the public at large. He's 100% entitled to his opinion, but there is a point where making one's point and the cacophony that comes with it washes over the actual issue at hand. What will be remembered more, the RFID issue or that Stallman caused a commotion at a UN event?
    • I think you don't understand rfid.

      Imagine if your next credit card used rfid, or your passport, or your driver's license.

      I'm not quite sure I understand why RMS felt that the RFID was a violation of his privacy. It's a SECURITY BADGE. It's whole PURPOSE is to identify the wearer. If he didn't want to wear it, then he shouldn't have attended the event.

      RFID's purpose is not to identify the wearer; like Windows RPC, it's purpose is to be usable in a remote, rather than immediate, manner.

      Imagine then bombs that
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @01:42PM (#14071368) Homepage
    Stallman did something completely appropriate. It made a point. It made a valid point. It made the point effectively by attracting attention and publicity. It did not hurt anybody. It caused the barest minimum of disruption and inconvenience.

    It has probably brought the matter to the attention of U.N. officials who honestly didn't know or understand the problems with RFID, and regardless of their visible behavior I am sure that it educated the security people as well. I don't know whether this in itself will change policy, but I'd bet a nickel that behind the scenes there have been some discussions and briefings.

    Now, the U.N. security people did as close to the right thing as you can imagine them doing. You can't expect them to make an instant technical analysis of the situation. The facts they were presented with were: a) the badges are being used for security, to make sure that only authorized people attend; b) Stallman was conspiciously doing something or other with the badges; c) they had no way of knowing whether it was any kind of security threat, but at least the possibility existed. Screwing around with a security pass is suspicious, even if you don't know what exactly to suspect, and even if in this case it was innocent.

    They didn't arrest him. They didn't beat him up. They created the barest minimum of disruption and inconvenience to Stallman and to the meeting.

    I say Stallman was effective, on a matter that has some real society importance. And I say the security guards' response was measured and sensible.
  • by jjh37997 (456473) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:08PM (#14071507) Homepage
    People.... this can be a good thing. The rich, powerful or corrupt have always had the power to invade our privacy because it's just an illusion and will alway be so. Privacy laws just protect the powerful from being watched by the masses.

    Instead of fighting a lossing battle to stop this technology we need to ensure that it will be available to everyone and that the information will be open to the public. Put cameras on the streets, in the police stations and in government buildings. Build cheap RFID readers that everyone can own. I don't mind being watched as long as I can watch everyone else. Imagine a world where everyone is equipped with their own personal cameras and recording devices... with so many eyes spreading their light everywhere the world might become a more peaceful and happy place.
  • It's Sad..... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schlick (73861) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:49PM (#14071741)
    It saddens me that so many here don't seem to understand a simple but very important concept behind Stallmans protest. It was a catch-phrase in the '60s. I was born in the '70s, but I guess I'm lucky that it was effectively taught to me.

    I wish I could make this huge:

    QUESTION AUTHORITY!

    That is all RMS was doing. And when he did put the question to them we saw their reaction. It scares me, the number of people who think the UN's reaction was appropriate.
  • by MikeURL (890801) on Saturday November 19, 2005 @02:57PM (#14071781) Journal
    I want everyone to have an RFID tag implanted in their body at birth. I want every human being on the planet to be tracked every second of every day. If you are not doing anything wrong then it won't matter if you are being tracked. If you fear a repressive government then you may have to actually vote. If you fear a psychotic government (ala nazi germany) then nothing can save you anyway.

    This notion that people require this amorphous thing called "privacy" is to me an absurd one. People need privacy when they are doing things wrong, period.

"Your stupidity, Allen, is simply not up to par." -- Dave Mack (mack@inco.UUCP) "Yours is." -- Allen Gwinn (allen@sulaco.sigma.com), in alt.flame

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