Monday, June 30, 2008

Laptops @ Customs (a.k.a. 7%)

RECENTLY I've been writing about the way laptops are searched and/or seized at customs. As it were not bad enough, it turns out that this also includes cellphones, digital cameras and PDAs. They can seize your private, personal data, and hold it for two weeks.

For several years, U.S. officials have been searching and seizing laptops, digital cameras, cell phones and other electronic devices at the border with few publicly released details.

This is America right? How often can this possibly happen?

The issue is of particular concern for businesses, which risk the loss of proprietary data when executives travel abroad, said Susan K. Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. After the California ruling, the group warned its members to limit the business and personal information they carry on laptops taken out of the country. Of 100 people who responded to a survey the association did in February, seven said they had been subject to the seizure of a laptop or other electronic device.

7%. Or in other words, the terrorists have already won.

The Baltimore Sun has the story - linky

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The WMD is oil

Dennis Kucinich tells it like it is.

US Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, in a speech to the House of Representatives today, tied the secret meetings of the Cheney Energy Task Force to the recent award of non-competitive oil contracts in Iraq and said that both the Bush Administration and the oil company executives who participated in those meetings in 2001 should be held criminally liable for an illegal war and extortion of Iraq’s oil.

“In March of 2001, when the Bush Administration began to have secret meetings with oil company executives from Exxon, Shell and BP, spreading maps of Iraq oil fields before them, the price of oil was $23.96 per barrel. Then there were 63 companies in 30 countries, other than the US, competing for oil contracts with Iraq.

“Today the price of oil is $135.59 per barrel, the US Army is occupying Iraq and the first Iraq oil contracts will go, without competitive bidding to, surprise, (among a very few others) Exxon, Shell and BP.

“Iraq has between 200 – 300 billion barrels of oil with a market value in the tens of trillions of dollars. And our government is trying to force Iraq not only to privatize its oil, but to accept a long-term US military presence to guard the oil and protect the profits of the oil companies while Americans pay between $4 and $5 a gallon for gas, while our troops continue dying.

“We attacked a nation that did not attack us. Over 4000 of our troops are dead. Over 1,000,000 innocent Iraqis have perished. The war will cost US taxpayers between $2 - $3 trillion dollars. Our nation’s soul is stained because we went to war for the oil companies and their profits. There must be accountability not only with this Administration for its secret meetings and its open illegal warfare but also for the oil company executives who were willing participants in a criminal enterprise of illegal war, the deaths of our soldiers and innocent Iraqis and the extortion of the national resources of Iraq.

We have found the weapon of mass destruction in Iraq. It is oil. As long as the oil companies control our government Americans will continue to pay and pay, with our lives, our fortunes our sacred honor,”

Laptops @ Customs, Russ Feingold's opening statement

The following are the opening statements of Senator Russ Fiengold at the Senate hearing on “Laptop Searches and Other Violations of Privacy Faced by Americans Returning from Overseas Travel

Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights

“If you asked most Americans whether the government has the right to look through their luggage for contraband when they are returning from an overseas trip, they would tell you yes, the government has that right. But if you asked them whether the government has a right to open their laptops, read their documents and e-mails, look at their photographs, and examine the websites they have visited, all without any suspicion of wrongdoing, I think those same Americans would say that the government absolutely has no right to do that. And if you asked them whether that actually happens, they would say, ‘not in the United States of America.’

“But it is happening. Over the last two years, reports have surfaced that customs agents have been asking U.S. citizens to turn over their cell phones or give them the passwords to their laptops. The travelers have been given a choice between complying with the request or being kept out of their own country. They have been forced to wait for hours while customs agents reviewed and sometimes copied the contents of the electronic devices. In some cases, the laptops or cell phones were confiscated, and returned weeks or even months later, with no explanation.

“Now, the government has an undeniable right and responsibility to protect the security of our borders. The Supreme Court has thus held that no warrant and no suspicion is necessary to conduct, quote, ‘routine searches’ at the border. But there is a limit to this so-called ‘border search exception.’ The courts have unanimously held that invasive searches of the person, such as strip searches or x-rays, are ‘non-routine’ and require reasonable suspicion. As the Supreme Court has stated, these searches implicate “dignity and privacy interests” that are not present in routine searches of objects.

“So the constitutional question we face today is this: When the government looks through the contents of your laptop, is that just like looking through the contents of a suitcase, car trunk, or purse? Or does it raise dignity and privacy interests that are more akin to an invasive search of the person, such that some individualized suspicion should be required before the search is conducted?

“This administration has argued in court that a laptop can be searched without any suspicion because is no different from any other, quote, ‘closed container.’ I find that argument disingenuous, to say the least. The search of a suitcase – even one that contains a few letters or documents – is not the same as the search of a laptop containing files upon files of photographs, medical records, financial records, e-mails, letters, journals, and an electronic record of all websites visited. The invasion of privacy represented by a search of a laptop differs by an order of magnitude from that of a suitcase.

“Ultimately, though, the question is not how the courts decide to apply the Fourth Amendment in these uncharted waters. I guarantee you this: neither the drafters of the Fourth Amendment, nor the Supreme Court when it crafted the ‘border search exception,’ ever dreamed that tens of thousands of Americans would cross the border every day, carrying with them the equivalent of a full library of their most personal information. Ideally, Fourth Amendment jurisprudence would evolve to protect Americans’ privacy in this once unfathomable situation. But if the courts can’t offer that protection, then that responsibility falls to Congress. Customs agents must have the ability to conduct even highly intrusive searches when there is reason to suspect criminal or terrorist activity, but suspicionless searches of Americans’ laptops and similar devices go too far. Congress should not allow this gross violation of privacy.

“Aside from the privacy violation, there is reason for serious concern that these invasive searches are being targeted at Muslim Americans and Americans of Arab or South Asian descent. Many travelers from these backgrounds who have been subject to electronic searches have also been asked about their religious and political views. As we’ll hear today, travelers have been asked why they chose to convert to Islam, what they think about Jews, and their views of the candidates in the upcoming election. This questioning is deeply disturbing in its own right. It also strongly suggests that border searches are being based at least in part on impermissible factors.

“The disproportionate targeting of this group of Americans does not mean that other Americans are exempt. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives has surveyed its members, and seven percent of business travelers who responded to the survey had experienced seizures of their laptops or other electronic equipment. That’s an incredible number, when you consider how many Americans are required to undertake overseas business travel today and the amount of confidential business information stored on their laptops. As we’ll be hearing today, the problem is large enough to have a real impact on the way Americans do business.

“Americans have tried to find out from DHS what its specific policies are on searching and seizing electronic equipment at the border. Two non-profit organizations filed a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2007 to get DHS to turn over its policies. Eight months later, DHS has not complied with that request. My own questions for Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff on this issue, which I submitted to him in early April after his appearance at an oversight hearing held by the full Judiciary Committee, have not been answered, despite my specific request that they be answered before this hearing.

“I asked DHS to send a witness to testify today. DHS responded that its preferred witness was unavailable on the day of the hearing. I asked DHS to send a different witness, but DHS declined. I felt it was so important to have a DHS witness here that I wrote a letter to Secretary Chertoff last week urging him to reconsider. That letter will be made part of the hearing record. I would put the Secretary’s response in the record, as well, but he has not responded.

“DHS did provide written testimony. That testimony, which incidentally was submitted over 30 hours later than the committee’s rules require, provides little meaningful detail on the agency’s policies and raises more questions than it answers – questions that no one from DHS is here to address.

“Needless to say, I’m extremely disappointed that DHS would not make a witness available to answer questions today. Once again, this administration has demonstrated its perverse belief that it is entitled to keep anything and everything secret from the public it serves and their elected representatives, while Americans are not allowed to keep any secrets from their government. That’s exactly backwards. In a country founded on principles of liberty and democracy, the personal information of law-abiding Americans is none of the government’s business, but the policies of the government are very much the business of Congress and the American people.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If you build it, they will come...

KUDOS to "Rick" for his efforts to build pcnmac, an online community where Mac and PC advocates would be able to.. well, I don't know what they would do actually.

Four years later, Rick is still the only registered poster. This has not deterred him in the least, as he merrily trundles his way to a post count of three thousand, discussing at length the differences between the PC and Mac with... himself. Especially entertaining are the threads where he quotes his own posts on other forums.

Online schizophrenia, at its very best.


Laptops @ Customs, Part Deux

APPARENTLY the Senate might, maybe, if we're really lucky, do something useful tomorrow.

The hearing on “Laptop Searches and Other Violations of Privacy Faced by Americans Returning from Overseas Travel” scheduled by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution for Wednesday, June 25, 2008 in the Senate Dirksen Office Building, Room 226

Lets see where this goes.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

It was always about the oil

THIS just in from the "Really? No one saw this one coming?" department.

Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

Saddam comes to power, kicks the western oil companies out. The US invades a sovereign nation, overthrows its government, murders its leaders, and all of a sudden western oil companies have oil contracts again. But by all means, keep believing it was about terrorism and WMDs, and protecting innocent Iraqis from genocide.

And speaking of genocide against the Iraqi people, the US is very rapidly catching up on Saddam's kill count. Lets see how long it takes for that to show up in the news.

nytimes article - linky

Friday, June 13, 2008


Pretty cool movie, definitely worth watching.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm Voting Republican


Monday, June 02, 2008

On social networks

AS we go through our lives, at every step of the way we make decisions about what information we share about ourselves. The very nature of our society dictates that we become good at maintaining the web of lies that we weave. So much so, that it becomes second nature. Online communities such as, Orkut, Friendster, MySpace, hi5, Facebook allow us to share pieces of our lives with our friends. We can use them to publish photos, stories, plan events, and probably hundreds of other features that I don't even know about.

Sharing, and seeing, is a lot of fun, but there are consequences that need to be dealt with. Social networks lack the information filters that are second nature to us. Once someone has been given authorization to view the pieces of your life that you choose to publish, they get to see it all. Worse yet, as common friends, they now have unrestricted access to each other's information.

Friendster knows that Mark and Justine are your "friends". Friendster does not know that they are living together, and that it wouldn't go over too well if Justine ever saw the photos you took of Mark with the stripper at Tony's bachelor party in Vegas last year. MySpace knows that Angela's BFF Jill, and her new boyfriend Chris are both on their friends list. MySpace does not know that Chris's sister Suzette died of a drug overdose last summer, and that he probably wouldn't approve of the picture Jill posted of Angela holding the The World's Biggest Joint at MarleyFest '04. And who the hell is that skank Ivana, and why is she on your friends list anyway?

So what is the solution? We can carefully pick and choose what we share, and leave out the bits of our lives that we feel would be most likely to offend, or hurt the ones we care about. With a little effort, we can sanitize everything, making sure that everything we share is properly sanitized, and acceptable to everyone.

And how boring we shall all be.

This then raises the next question - is participation in an online network worth it? Do the benefits of being on Orkut outweigh the self-introspection, self-censorship and the reduction of our personalities to the lowest common denominator of acceptability that participation requires?

For me, the answer is no.

I have friends who are on these networks, and for their sake, I will join. I will answer messages sent to me, and I'll add anyone that wants to be added to my list of "friends". But for the sake of not offending any of their friends and family, past present and future, I will never post anything about myself on here. If you want to get to know me, or to say hi, send me an email. Or better yet, pick up the phone, and ask me to meet you for a beer. In a strip club. In Vegas. Be sure to bring Ivana. And the World's Biggest Joint.