Stanislav_J writes: We’ve had stories in the past about the increasing intimidation and harassment of photographers in the post-9/11 era. But it seems like the practice is reaching absurd new levels in the U.K. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000 gives police the right to stop and search anyone within certain geographical areas without the usual requirement of reasonable suspicion. It was brought in as a counter-terrorism measure, but, increasingly, members of the general public are complaining that because of it they are being treated like potential terrorists on reconnaissance missions. Locals and tourists alike have been stopped, questioned, and even jailed in some cases after taking photos of such “sensitive” subjects as churches, a Christmas lights display, a fish and chips shop, even a park bench. The situation is even more ridiculous when you consider that many of these streets or buildings are already documented and available to anyone to search online, thanks to Google's Street View project. “This is pure officiousness,” says Austin Mitchell, MP for Grimsby. “Photography is a joy and a pleasure, not something to feel furtive and persecuted about. People have the right to take photographs and particularly of historic landmarks and buildings. [Yet] here we have [Police Community Support Officers] and also junior constables inhibiting people from taking them. It's nothing to do with terrorism, it's just a desire to throw weight around. If you pass legislation like [Section 44], you get silly consequences.”
Stanislav_J writes: Declan McCullagh reports on CNET that the FBI has been using fake hyperlinks to snare child porn suspects. The practice, which thus far has passed muster in the courts, involved posting hyperlinks on an online discussion forum that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them. The links directed clickers to a clandestine government server, and bogus non-working files. Tracing the users through IP addresses, the Feds then used the information to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year.
This practice touches on many issues we have discussed before on Slashdot, such as the reliability of using IP addresses to conclusively identify individuals in an era of growing use of wireless connectivity. And the article reports that there is no evidence that the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn't tell if the visitor found the links through the targeted forum or via another source such as an e-mail message. (Meaning, therefore, that it would in theory be easy for a third party to obfuscate the link's description and URL and send it to an innocent individual, thereby subjecting them to a midnight raid and a whoooole lot of trouble.) But, of course, anything is fair game in the name of "protecting the children." And the guy in the specific case cited in the article isn't exactly the poster boy for innocent entrapment — he was also charged with "knowingly destroying a hard drive and a thumb drive by physically damaging them when the FBI agents were outside his home; obstructing an FBI investigation by destroying the devices; and possessing a hard drive with two grainy thumbnail images of naked female minors (the youths weren't having sex, but their genitalia were visible)."
Stanislav_J writes: A U.S. study suggests that people with strong religious beliefs appear to want doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive as death approaches. The study, following 345 patients with terminal cancer, found that "those who regularly prayed were more than three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging care than those who relied least on religion." At first blush, this appears paradoxical; one would think that a strong belief in an afterlife would lead to a more resigned acceptance of death than nonbelievers who view death as the end of existence, the annihilation of consciousness and the self. Perhaps the concept of a Judgment produces death-bed doubts? ("Am I really saved?") Or, given the Judeo-Christian abhorrence of suicide, and the belief that it is God who must ultimately decide when it is "our time," is it felt that refusing aggressive life support measures or resuscitation is tantamount to deliberately ending one's life prematurely?
Stanislav_J writes: When flying on an airliner, it's not very nice to curse at the attendants, throw drinks on the floor, or generally act like a dickwad. It can also now get you branded as a terrorist, thanks to the Patriot Act. FAA guidelines historically have not considered merely obnoxious or disruptive behavior to rise to the level of criminality, but the broad brush of laws passed after 9/11 define any such acts as terrorism, even if there is no actual physical assault or threat to the safety of the aircraft or crew. Over 200 people have been charged with felonies under the Patriot Act, with most of the incidents involving nothing more than raised voices, foul language or drunken behavior. No one wants to fly with loud and argumentative assholes, and we all want to see them dealt with appropriately, but is labeling them as "terrorists" just another prime example of paranoid "one size fits all" legislation shooting flies with an elephant gun?
Stanislav_J writes: After a talk with bloggers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell warned that a revived Fairness Doctrine could result in the government regulating content on the Web. "Whoever is in charge of government is going to determine what is fair, under a so-called 'Fairness Doctrine'.....so, will Web sites, will bloggers have to give equal time or equal space on their Web site to opposing views rather than letting the marketplace of ideas determine that?" While McDowell indicates that the Fairness Doctrine "isn't currently on the FCC's radar," he warns that a new administration and Congress elected in 2008 might renew Fairness Doctrine efforts (though probably under another name) and that he thinks it will be intertwined into the net neutrality debate.
Stanislav_J writes: In a bizarre revelation, the judge who is presiding over the Isaacs obscenity trial in Los Angeles was found to have sexually explicit material on a publicly-accessible website. Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, acknowledged that he had posted the materials, but says he believed the site to be for personal storage only, and not accessible to the public, though he does acknowledge sharing some of the material with friends.) The files included images of masturbation, public sex, contortionist sex, a transsexual striptease, a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows, and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. The latter two are especially ironic in that the trial involves the distribution of allegedly obscene sexual fetish videos depicting bestiality, among other things, by Ira Isaacs, an L.A. filmmaker. Though the judge has blocked public access to the site (putting up a graphic that reads, "Ain't nothin' here — y'all best be movin' on, compadre").
Isaacs' defense had welcomed the assignment of Kozinski to the case because of his long record of defending the First Amendment, but the startling news about his website (the revelation of which seems to have been interestingly timed to coincide with today's scheduled opening arguments) now have many folks calling for him to be removed from the case. There is no indication that any of the images on Kozinski's site would be considered obscene or illegal. But certainly, one has to believe that most would consider this at the very least to represent a serious conflict of interest given the nature of the trial.
Stanislav_J writes: New York City police are crowing about their newest toy — a $10 million dollar unmarked helicopter that can read license plates or scan pedestrian's faces from high aloft. The gizmos aboard include a high-powered robotic camera with infrared night-vision capabilities that can can beam live footage to police command centers or even to wireless hand-held devices, and a satellite navigation system that allows police to automatically zoom in on any location by address. Privacy advocates, such as Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, are not thrilled. "From a privacy perspective, there's always a concern that 'New York's Finest' are spending millions of dollars to engage in peeping tom activities," Lieberman says. Police, however, insist that citizens have nothing to fear, and that the chopper is used for crime fighting, not voyeurism. "Obviously, we're not looking into apartments," crew chief John Diaz says. "We don't invade the privacy of individuals. We only want to observe anything that's going on in public." But, still, sunbathers seeking to eliminate those tan lines on what they thought was a secluded rooftop may want to consider covering up.
Stanislav_J writes: The upcoming "Security and Privacy Day" at Stony Brook University (May 30th) is scheduled to feature an interesting presentation (and a distressing one for privacy advocates) titled "Simulating a Global Passive Adversary for Attacking Tor-like Anonymity Systems" in which the presenters plan to describe "a novel, practical, and effective mechanism for identifying the IP address of Tor clients." The brief summary indicates the basic mechanism for doing this is as follows: "We approximate an almost-global passive adversary (GPA) capable of eavesdropping anywhere in the network by using LinkWidth, a novel bandwidth-estimation technique. LinkWidth allows network edge-attached entities to estimate the available bandwidth in an arbitrary Internet link without a cooperating peer host, router, or ISP. By modulating the bandwidth of an anonymous connection (e.g., when the destination server or its router is under our control), we can observe these fluctuations as they propagate through the Tor network and the Internet to the end-user's IP address." They further claim that the method can potentially trace the path of an anonymous user in under 20 minutes, and an anonymous Location Hidden Service in approximately 120 minutes.
So, whatcha think, you Tor advocates (and all those who are "geekier than moi" on Slashdot and actually understand this stuff). Just based on the summary, does this sound like a workable way to defeat Tor's anonymity? Anyone in the New York area want to drop by this seminar and give us the details?
Stanislav_J writes: A Pittsburgh couple is suing Google for invasion of privacy over its "Street View" mapping feature making a photo of their home available online. We've covered this ground before, with most agreeing that any view from a public street is fair game, but Aaron and Christine Boring are accusing Google of an "intentional and/or grossly reckless invasion" of their seclusion and privacy because they live on a street that is "clearly marked with a 'Private Road' sign." If the street itself is indeed private property, then does that preclude Google's use of the photos? Would it ultimately depend on exactly where the photo was taken from? (The public street intersecting theirs, or the "private road" itself?) And is their suit somewhat moot considering, as the article points out, that a photo of their house is already available (and probably legally so) on the Internet anyway — on the website of the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments?
Stanislav_J writes: All you wealthy Slashdotters (if that's not a contradiction in terms) better start making alternate arrangements for stashing your millions. The country's storied role as discreet banker to the world's tax-avoiding wealthy is under threat like never before, and this time it may not ultimately be able to stop the rest of the world from prying into those legendary "secret" accounts (said to contain between $1 trillion and $2 trillion). A massive German tax-evasion scandal is putting pressure on the Swiss to cooperate, and the rest of Europe is also hardening their resolve to force change upon them. Per the article, "The official Swiss reaction has been self-conscious detachment, which they hope will deflate the issue," but even their own citizens are not too concerned about those outside their borders: "80 percent of Swiss support the banking confidentiality law — but that number drops into the 40s when it is applied to foreigners, suggesting the Swiss care much less about the privacy of non-Swiss citizens." Pressure is also coming from U.S. pols — not the "let's pry into everyone's business" Republicans, but the "make the rich pay their fair share" Democrats, including Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Illinois Senator (and presidential candidate) Barack Obama.
Stanislav_J writes: Cuba has now authorized the sale of computers, DVD and video players, and other electrical appliances (including such things as electric pressure cookers, car alarms, and microwave ovens). Is this the first sign that things south of Key West might just get a little better under the big jefe's little brother? Or is it a relatively empty gesture, considering that most residents of the communist island probably can't afford to buy these things anyway? (Not to mention having enough reliable and stable electricity to power them.) Does it mean anything to allow the sale of car alarms when most Cubans can't afford a car, or microwave ovens when food rations run out halfway through the month? And one has to wonder if computers sold at the local Raul-Mart will come pre-equipped with spying/logging software.
Stanislav_J writes: "The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times...Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free." So begins the musings of Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. In a very thought-provoking essay, "Better Than Free," he probes the question of how thoughts, ideas and words that are so constantly, easily, and casually copied can still have economic value. "If reproductions of our best efforts are free," he asks, "how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?" He enumerates and explains eight qualities that can, indeed, make something financially viable — "better than free." A very timely article in light of the constant barrage of RIAA/piracy/copyright discussions on this website. The essay cannot be easily or briefly summarized, so (though it is asking a lot of Slashdotters), I urge you to (*gulp*) RTFA before commenting.
Stanislav_J writes: It happens to the best of us: you drop off your laptop at the local branch of some Super Mega Electronics McStore, go to pick it up, and they can't find it. Lost, gone, kaput — probably sucked into a black hole and now breeding with lost airline luggage. It would make any of us mad, but Raelyn Campbell of Washington, D.C. isn't just mad — she's $54 million mad. That's how much she is asking from Best Buy in a lawsuit that seeks "fair compensation for replacement of the $1,100 computer and extended warranty, plus expenses related to identity theft protection." Best Buy claims that Ms. Campbell was offered and collected $1,110.35 as well as a $500 gift card for her inconvenience. (I guess that extra 35 cents wasn't enough to sway her.) Her blog claims that Geek Squad employees spent three months telling her different stories about where her laptop might be before finally acknowledging that it had been lost.
For those who follow economic trends, this means that a laptop's worth is roughly equivalent to that of a pair of pants.
Stanislav_J writes: The Brazilian city of Belém is a hotbed of digital piracy, churning out thousands of bootleg DVDs and CDs that can sell on the street for as little as 50 cents (while "legit" CDs go for $17 in stores). Belém is also the center of one of the hottest and most thriving music scenes in Brazilian popular music — technobrega, a "gritty, tacky jungle music" with sweet melodies and synthesizer-driven shuffle beats. In North America (a/k/a RIAA-land), our experience would lead one to believe that the two factions should be mortal enemies, right? But in reality, the Belém pirates and the technobrega artists co-exist in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. The musicians, who make their money from live shows, deliver their CDs directly to street vendors, who let the marketplace determine price. Some even e-mail MP3s to producers and DJs, who burn copies that go directly to the street market. One artist who frequently appears on TV attributes her success to the bootleggers. "Piracy is the way to get your name out. There's no way to stop it, so we use it to our advantage."
Now, to be fair, there are some points that will be brought up. Like, is it really "piracy" when the artists themselves are complicit in the process? Is the experience of a country with a different culture, attitude and history really comparable to the U.S. or other countries? Or is it a perfect counterexample demonstrating that music can thrive, financially and artistically, under a much freer, less corporate-driven system?
Stanislav_J writes: A Swedish man who had less than fond feelings for his daughter's hubby, took advantage of the son-in-law's trip to America by reporting him to the FBI as a terrorist. The e-mail, which the father-in-law admits to sending, earned him a libel charge after his poor son-in-law was arrested on his arrival in Florida, handcuffed, interrogated, and placed in a cell for 11 hours before being released.
It's a brief article, but dovetails nicely with the recent Slashdot story about "The War on the Unexpected." That article touched on many examples of well-meaning, but misguided and paranoid citizens reporting innocent activities to the authorities. In the current climate, the potential also exists for maliciously false and far from well-meaning reports made to the Feds about people one simply doesn't care for, or those made merely as a sick prank.
While the man admitted to sending the e-mail to the FBI, he claims he thought no harm would come from it because "he did not think the US authorities would be stupid enough to believe him." To quote the great philosopher Bugs Bunny, 'Nyahh....he don't know us very well, do he?'