Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
I found this essay by Tim Kreider interesting:
Recently I received an e-mail that wasn’t meant for me, but was about me. I’d been cc’d by accident. This is one of the darker hazards of electronic communication, Reason No. 697 Why the Internet Is Bad — the dreadful consequence of hitting “reply all” instead of “reply” or “forward.” The context is that I had rented a herd of goats for reasons that aren’t relevant here and had sent out a mass e-mail with photographs of the goats attached to illustrate that a) I had goats, and b) it was good. Most of the responses I received expressed appropriate admiration and envy of my goats, but the message in question was intended not as a response to me but as an aside to some of the recipient’s co-workers, sighing over the kinds of expenditures on which I was frittering away my uncomfortable income. The word “oof” was used.
I’ve often thought that the single most devastating cyberattack a diabolical and anarchic mind could design would not be on the military or financial sector but simply to simultaneously make every e-mail and text ever sent universally public. It would be like suddenly subtracting the strong nuclear force from the universe; the fabric of society would instantly evaporate, every marriage, friendship and business partnership dissolved. Civilization, which is held together by a fragile web of tactful phrasing, polite omissions and white lies, would collapse in an apocalypse of bitter recriminations and weeping, breakups and fistfights, divorces and bankruptcies, scandals and resignations, blood feuds, litigation, wholesale slaughter in the streets and lingering ill will.
This particular e-mail was, in itself, no big deal. Tone is notoriously easy to misinterpret over e-mail, and my friend’s message could have easily been read as affectionate head shaking rather than a contemptuous eye roll. It’s frankly hard to parse the word “oof” in this context. And let’s be honest — I am terrible with money, but I’ve always liked to think of this as an endearing foible. What was surprisingly wounding wasn’t that the e-mail was insulting but simply that . . .
Yves Smith writes a lengthy piece at NakedCapitalism.com:
Some Silicon Valley figures, along with some Democratic party-aligned media outlets, have tried assailing Glenn Greenwald, and indirectly, Edward Snowden, by trying to discredit certain aspects of the Guardian account of NSA surveillance in the US. Greenwald, who has an appetite for trench warfare, deigned to rebut their efforts as of last Friday. But the tech pedants’ efforts to take down Greenwald and Snowden aren’t simply petty and disingenuous, they are ultimately destructive of the interests of American technology companies and American security.
Some of the tactics used have been a bizarre combination of focusing on minutiae and straw manning. For instance, one site, Little Green Footballs, claimed that though the Guardian had said Snowden had smuggled four “confidential” laptops out, he’d in fact used a thumb drive to carry documents out of Booz. Golly gee, that means you can’t trust ANY of the rest of the story!
However, the Guardian had simply said that Snowden had four laptops with him when he first met with their reporters. The piece was silent on how exactly he extracted the data. So, using Little Green Footballs’ own logic, you should not trust one iota anything Little Green Footballs has to say on this matter, either. We similarly have the range war over the “direct access to servers” language, when anyone who read the original Guardian story would recognize that the ‘direct access’ language tracked that of a PowerPoint slide on the PRISM program, a document whose authenticity has never been denied; the story wrote up the slides. Funny how people who would have laughed at Clinton’s famed “it depends what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” were eager to use the same stick to try to beat Greenwald.
Or as Lambert has said, “Shorter tech dudes on Greenwald: The NSA slides show the servers weren’t built my way, so the slides are wrong. Also, my boss would never lie to me.”*
This front of the PR war against Greenwald, the Guardian, and Snowden is using a tactic familiar to anyone who remembers the financial crisis: that the story is a technology story, ergo, only technologists are qualified to opine on it. But that rhetorical approach (“it’s all too complicated, you just need to believe what we tell you”) was seldom used by people who were acting in good faith to unravel what had happened. It was instead used mainly by incumbents and people who wanted to preserve their relationship with them to circle the wagons.
There was at least some underlying logic for this position during the market meltdown. It was, after all, a financial crisis. By contrast, the NSA scandal is not a technology story. It is at its heart a story about surveillance, the Constitution, and whether we really have any rule of law left in the US. Technology is only an enabler, folks, although, as we will discuss, this story does have important implications for major US technology players.
This clip from The Lives of Others (which is a wonderful and important movie) will hopefully serve as a reminder:
The modern society with the most intensive surveillance, East Germany, had the Trabant as its most noteworthy home grown product. Now the technology fans may argue that the selection above proves their point, that the Stasi used the best technology they had to bug the suspect’s apartment. But they forget that the Stasi depended first and foremost on spying, meaning the active cooperation of much of the population. And as this selection shows, the effectiveness of the installation of devices could have been sabotaged by the watchful neighbor had she not been cowed into silence.
Spying and surveillance do not depend on fancy electronic toys, but devices can be helpful. Japan in the Tokugawa era had mind-numbingly detailed sumptuary laws, which were used to maintain fine social distinctions. And they were enforced via neighbors spying on each other. This sort of intrusion was sufficiently troubling to elicit a warning from Adam Smith. He opposed having “kings and ministers…pretending to watch over the economy of private people and to restrain their expense” and advocated taxation as a less intrusive way to constrain consumption. Similarly, the use of espionage as a tool of the state considerably antedates the Industrial Revolution; for instance Francis Walsingham, a minister to Elizabeth I, had a large, organized a network of informants and snoops.
Via e-mail, Ed Harrison honed in on what is wrong with the tech company fixation: . . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s worth pondering.
I can only shake my head at this post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
Once a month, at 10 am, the University of Michigan releases its consumer confidence index. But not everyone gets it at the same time. Thomson Reuters pays Michigan a million dollars a year for early access:
Five minutes before that, at 9:55 a.m., the data is distributed on a conference call for Thomson Reuters’ paying clients, who are given certain headline numbers.
But the contract carves out an even more elite group of clients, who subscribe to the “ultra-low latency distribution platform,” or high-speed data feed, offered by Thomson Reuters. Those most elite clients receive the information in a specialized format tailor-made for computer-driven algorithmic trading at 9:54:58.000, according to the terms of the contract. On occasion, they could get the data even earlier—the contract allows for a plus or minus 500 milliseconds margin of error.
Read the whole story for more, but in the meantime just sit back and be amazed at how high-speed trading has changed things. Getting early access to economic information has been important for centuries, and people have always been willing to pay for that early access. In the past, though, getting early access has always required either putting in extra work—for example, paying lookouts for early reports of ships coming into port—or else outright fraud—think Trading Places. But not anymore! This isn’t exactly something that either Michigan or Reuters advertises, but now you just have to pay a fee in order to guarantee that you can take all the ordinary schlubs to the cleaners.
This is a small example of the financialization of America that I posted about yesterday. It has no possible social value, and it doesn’t make credit markets more efficient in any way. It’s just a purely artificial way for the rich to hoover up economic rents, and it’s fully institutionalized and above board. Lovely, isn’t it?
And when you think about how it works, with the wealthiest able to pay the most to fleece suckers (the less-wealthy) and so on down the line, it looks like some kind of reverse-osmosis system that works automatically to push money uphill (i.e., in the direction of increasing wealth). So inequality grows.
Neil Irwin in the Washington Post:
The lines are already being drawn over whether to view Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, as a hero who blew the whistle on a dangerous government intrusion into privacy or a villain who criminally endangered our national security. But the debate over government surveillance should start with a different name: Gordon E. Moore.
Moore is the co-founder of Intel who in 1965 came up with “Moore’s Law,” which predicted that computing power would double every year. The trend has kept up for two generations and counting, causing exponential growth in computers’ ability to process information.
When Moore’s Law was conceived, and J. Edgar Hoover was at the height of his power running the FBI, a world in which the government could plausibly suck in all the data created by hundreds of millions of Americans or billions of earthlings was simply beyond imagining. (Well, not completely beyond imagining. George Orwell did a quite good job).If you were a federal agent who wanted to intercept somebody’s mail, you had to go down to the post office to get it. If you wanted to wiretap a phone call, you needed to physically install a wiretap. Read, for example, John Judis’s account of being tailed by the FBI as a young radical in the 1960s and ’70s, and think of the sheer manpower — and money —that was deployed to monitor every minor lefty activist of that era.
Of course, that variety of surveillance state was largely done away with in the post-Watergate reforms. Domestic spying was limited to investigations that obtained a warrant, which in turn required credible evidence of a crime before G-men could snoop. But the entire legal regime was still based on the premise that state monitoring of private communication was something that could only really be done by those traditional means of investigating a possible crime.
Fast-forward 30 years. Digital storage and computing speeds are such that it is within the technical capacity of the government to archive every telephone conversation on earth. I have at my fingertips, thanks to my Gmail account, every e-mail I have written since 2005, nearly 26,000 separate conversations — and if Snowden’s accusations about the NSA’s Prism program are accurate, so does the National Security Agency (though there’s a lot we don’t know about what steps the government has to go through to exploit the technology). The Google servers alone contain vast quantities of information, instantly searchable, belonging to their many millions of customers, like me.
In proving Moore’s Law, all the world’s information can be stored, cataloged and accessed in ways that would make J. Edgar Hoover leap with delight.
Meanwhile, the old system of separating domestic and international spying is looking more and more antiquated. It’s fine to have a 1970s-era principle that the FBI can’t spy on radical citizen activists unless it has evidence that they are looking commit a crime, while the CIA can spy on the Soviets with few limits. But in a world where loose networks of terrorists incite our biggest fears and where information is pinged around the world with little respect for national boundaries, the old distinctions aren’t particularly useful.
What could or should the intelligence agencies have done with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the deceased Boston Marathon bomber? He was a legal resident of the United States who was not known to have committed any crimes before the attack but may have had connections to Chechen radicals. These situations rapidly become a legal knot, and it’s hard to know from constitutional principles exactly where the lines ought to be.
Couple that with the extreme secrecy around what exactly the U.S. government’s technical capacities are, and what legal authorities they are based upon, and you have a nasty combination. The people (up to and including the president) who know what Prism and similar programs are truly capable of argue that disclosing those details would make it too easy for bad guys to evade government monitoring. So we have to just trust that they aren’t overstepping any boundaries of legitimate civil liberties.
So, it’s: Just trust us on this.
Put it all together, and we end up here: . . .
Via Kafeneio, a fascinating report (with examples) of the manipulation of images/photos since the middle of the 19th century. Take a look at that Times cover photo of O.J. Simpson, compared to the Newsweek photo.
Rebecca Greenfield writes at the Atlantic Wire:
Forget the guilt of having built the technology that allows the government to spy on its citizens’ private lives more than ever before — the biggest concern out of Silicon Valley about the NSA mess is that all this bad press could be bad news for the bottom line, so the entrepreneurs are all ganging up on Washington. The immediate (and very similar) statements from the nine major tech companies implicated in the PRISM data-mining leak all insist that they have a vast interest in protecting your data. Which is true, except that most of them also make tons of money off protecting and then selling that valuable data to advertisers. And since the same goes for pretty much every other handful of nine names in Silicon Valley these days, the last thing the data-driven tech industry wants is for the privacy freakout of the year to freak everyone right out of handing over their every digital move. This shakes down all the way to the core.
In the wake of the revelations that companies aren’t being so careful with all the data we give — 97 billion pieces of data were scraped by the NSA in one month, according to The Guardian — it appears that, after spending last week on apologies and denials, phase two of Silicon Valley’s self-defense is all about blaming government overreach. ”Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data? Google?” Scott McNealy, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems, tells The New York Times‘s David Streitfeld and Quentin Hardy. “They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me. Jerry Brown and Barack Obama can.” McNealy, known for his frank statements about privacy, wants to shift the focus elsewhere. Blaming tech companies, he says, “is like blaming gun manufacturers for violence, or a car manufacturer for drunk driving.” Of course, Americans do fault gun companies and car companies when their safety is compromised by the products of those industries, but the real problem, McNealy says, is “the scope creep of the government.”
Even the CEOs who have distanced themselves from PRISM have begun talking up more transparency from the government, not less data collection by tech companies. In addition to the statements from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page, both of which used some form of the word “transparency,” Box CEO Aaron Levie took a similar stance. ”The most important issue here is transparency and our lack of visibility around how our data is being used,” he tells theTimes. “The government and the tech industry clearly will need to come together to create a better model for this.”
Here’s what that careful messaging really means: . . .
James Fallows has an excellent anecdote from a reader:
I’m not referring to Edward Snowden (nor to the man* above) but instead to someone who resisted in a different, very quiet way, more than a decade ago. The account below comes from a person I have known for a long time, and it describes someone I also know. It’s worth reading both for the observations in the first half and for the personal story in the second. This reader writes:
I’ve been thinking about the recent leak investigations. I’m usually very sympathetic to my dad’s [ca. age 80] very liberal take on these sorts of things. But I’ve been having a hard time getting too excited about it. To me,this is the inevitable result of the way that technology has developed.
Sadly, the tech visionaries who predicted that the internet would be revolutionary were correct, but not in the way that they expected. We all want to be able to seamlessly move our work and online lives from desktop to laptop to smartphone to ipads. Tech companies have given us this, and in the process have created vast warehouses of our digital lives that are assumed to have great value and you can bet that there is a constant effort at these companies to figure out how to monetize this digital storehouse. So the NSA is simply getting a copy of the information that already is being saved to be mined for possible profit.
The companies, like Obama, assure us that they strip out identifying information. The companies, like Obama, are asking us to trust them. To me, the only way to change this threat to our individual liberties would be to make it illegal for any collection of our digital footprints by anyone. And I don’t see this happening.
This brings to mind a story about XX [our mutual acquaintance] not long after 9/11. He was head of the technical team at YY [one of the former Baby Bell companies] and he was getting pressured to set up digital taps based on secret government warrants shown to the company’s executives by government representatives where the company could only look at the secret warrant, but not make a copy or take any notes. XX was bothered by the fact that once YY set up these digital taps, they were never turned off. He also was concerned that there was no way even to validate whether these requests even came from legitimate government representatives. And yet he wanted to keep his job.
So he told his bosses that he would be more than happy to have his team of engineers comply, but just needed to have the exact procedures written down so that they could keep accurate records because, “at YY, we are trained to document everything we do in writing very carefully to protect ourselves and the company.”
This didn’t make the government or the YY executives happy, so they flew him out to headquarters in [city ZZ] and basically tried to strong arm him into just doing it without asking any questions. He stuck to his “I am very happy to do this, but just want to protect my team and the company and make sure that we set up the same procedures here that we have for everything else we do” mantra. When he went back home he sent an email to company lawyers who had called him in laying out what his understanding of what they wanted him to do and how he should document the work.
And that’s the last he heard and YY was one of the only phone companies that didn’t comply with secret government digital tapping requests that came to light during the Bush presidency. Sadly, it seems that there are very few people like XX out there, so there you go…
If we finally are beginning the security-state “debate” that is many yearsoverdue, one crucial element to examine is the interaction among technological possibilities, institutional imperatives, and the pressure on individuals to say Yes or No. It is too much to expect everyone, or even most people, to do what this telecom-company employee did. Yet his quiet example should be noted.___* The picture is of course from the wonderful German movie The Lives of Others. If you have seen it, you’ll immediately understand why this image comes to mind. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out soon.UPDATE A reader writes in response to this message:
I looked around for the best door lock—no particular reason, just free-form curiosity. I found this interesting video that told me about bump keys, of which I had never heard:
Consumer Reports rates Medeco’s Maxum 11WC60L as the best door lock (by a significant margin). The lock is expensive, but . . .
Here’s one comment from the Consumer Reports review:
This lock was one of the first purchases I made when my daughter moved to a townhouse where there were a number of foreclosures. Although it is a very nice, even upscale, neighborhood, I believe the foreclosures attracted criminals.
I purchased the lock based on reading Consumer Reports. It was difficult to find in the Sacramento, CA area and it was very expensive. Frankly speaking, the locksmith thought I was crazy to spend that kind of money and wondered why I would want this lock on a house. He stated that they had only installed them on businesses where there was expensive computer equipment, etc.
After about 5 months, in the middle of the night, someone attempted, unsuccessfully, to jimmy the lock and force the door – repeatedly. It and the steel-encased door stood for a lengthy period of time when seconds count. As a result my daughter was able to call the police and confront the person from the safety of the second floor. Of course by the time the police could arrive he was gone.
Today, that same lock, albeit scratched, is still in place and holding fine. The door was dented, which indicates his serious intent.
So I ask anyone who is reading this review to ask themselves how much that safety is worth to them.
It is priceless to me and certainly worth the considerable price I paid to have all the doors fitted with these locks.
This is a quality product and does what it is supposed to.
I highly recommend it!
Mike Konczal writes in the Washington Post:
Being able to name things is an important part of our humanity. (Before everything went sideways, Adam was supposed to spend eternity in the Garden of Eden naming animals.) Being able to name things gives us a power to describe them, identify what we like and don’t like, and begin to think of better alternatives.
So it’s important to name what we are seeing with the recent stories from the Guardian and The Washington Post on how the U.S. government is collectingcell-phone metadata and mining data from Internet companies. The best name that I have seen for this is the “National Surveillance State.”
A surveillance state is one that uses bulk information and data techniques to monitor its citizens and draw inferences about their potential behavior in the service of carrying out the responsibilities that it sets out for itself. Like other parts of the state (welfare, national security), the surveillance state provides a type of security for its citizens through the manipulation of knowledge and resources. And like other parts of the state, the surveillance state fights against democratic efforts to provide accountability and transparency.
This name comes from a 2008 paper, “The Constitution in the National Surveillance State,” by Yale law professor Jack Balkin. He provocatively argues that “[t]he question is not whether we will have a surveillance state in the years to come, but what sort of state we will have.”
If that’s true, how can we distinguish between better and worse surveillance states? Balkin identifies and contrasts two. The first is . . .
And Barry Eisler has a comment as well (point 3 and Update to this post).
Barton Gellman and Laura Poitrus report in the Washington Post:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.
The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.
An internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation, intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year. According to the briefing slides, obtained by The Washington Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.
That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.
The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Dropbox , the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.”
Government officials declined to comment for this article.
PRISM is an heir, in one sense, to a history of intelligence alliances with as many as 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s. The NSA calls these Special Source Operations, and PRISM falls under that rubric. . .
ProPublica has a good guide to what information on you the US government can take quite legally, thanks to the indifference most citizens have about liberty, freedom, and civil rights.
Steven Rosenfeld reports at AlterNet:
Silicon Valley is now ground zero of the biggest espionage struggles facing the United States since the height of the Cold War. The glitzy suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose are filled with agents playing a cat-and-mouse game over stealing high-tech secrets after the Chinese accomplished  what the Soviets only dreamed of.
In 2009, China hacked  into Google to see which of its spies were known to the FBI by tracing secret FBI data requests. Two years later, China hacked  into RSA, a company hired by defense contractors to encrypt their computers and stole detailed plans  for major U.S. weapons systems including new fighter planes, worth trillions, and critical domestic infrastructure including gas pipelines.
The military hardware thefts have been called the largest transfer of intellectual property “in history ” by top national security officials and arguably are a bigger intelligence failure than al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001.
They are now front-page news  as President Obama plans to meet China’s president on Friday. The White House’s press briefings  say cybersecurity will be discussed, but do not mention the military secrets thefts . Instead, the briefings make it sound as if the only issue is stealing the newest consumer products. They do not mention what Obama will say in response.
With this information gap in the news, it’s inevitable that in San Francisco, where the best and brightest techies board chartered buses to commute to the Valley, there is gossip about big data, big government, spying and counter-espionage. Silicon Valley has long been home to companies that have done clandestine work for Washington’s intelligence agencies, so the rumors about what’s being done to stop Chinese spying are more than intriguing—they’re worth investigating.
The most eyebrow-raising talk concerns Google and its newest innovation, the Glass project . These stylish eyeglasses are a new voice-activated computing platform that replaces typing and can do almost everything  that smart phones now do. A small rectangular box sits atop one lens and contains next-generation processors, as well as a video and still camera and microphone. The screen is in the corner of one eye. Sound vibrates through the glass frame, not ear buds.
The gossip about Glass goes far beyond the significant list of privacy concerns  that arise because anything within eyesight or earshot can seen, heard, recorded and uploaded for data mining. According to one beta-tester with a military-intelligence background, Glass’ 1,500 or so testers are unknowing eyes and ears of a bold anti-espionage strategy. He claimed that an army of Glass-wearing geeks in the Bay Area’s high-tech nooks and crannies was allowing U.S. spy agencies to find and follow Chinese agents in real time.
That assertion is built on other premises that were explained. Google and the government have ties that neither want to disclose, such as spy agency access to all of Google’s data. Glass’ facial recognition capacities may not be ready  for public use just yet—just as Facebook got beat up  when it announced a similar feature last year. But they are there and have prompted Congress’ bipartisan Privacy Caucus to voice concerns  about Glass.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of meta data associated with each of those images that you don’t think about, because you think I’m just taking a picture of my friends in a bar,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has criticized  Glass for possible creepy uses, from stalkers following women to cops identifying protesters. “That’s why the government is so interested in it. They want access to that data.”
Rotenberg had not heard about Glass’ possible use for tracing high-tech spies. But EPIC  has gone further than any other public-interest group in tracing Google’s relationship to the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest spy agancy. It sued under the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of security cooperation agreements  that Google made with the NSA after the Chinse hack of FBI records. That lawsuit was shut down  by a federal judge last year.
“Everyone is writing about this as if it is a ‘Dear Beth’ column: what do I do if my date is wearing Google Glass?” he said. “That’s kind of an interesting dilemma. But I think that misses the larger question of what do we do when the world’s largest Internet hub and user team is collecting the images and sounds that people obtain in physical space?”
Is Google Glass spyware?
The questions about the Chinese hacks and Google’s role in combatting cyber intrusions arise because of the way that electronic information is created and stored in 2013—literally in computer-filled warehouses where every transaction never goes away.
AlterNet investigated what was known about the Chinese hacking, as well as the assertion about Glass’ use for domestic spying and Google’s ties to the NSA. Google, as expected, would not comment. AlterNet found a far more nuanced and disturbing story than the sexy claim that Glass was a new set of eyes and ears for Washington spymasters. . .
Now Samsung has sued Apple—and won.
Ezra Klein has an interesting insight at Wonkblog in the Washington Post:
In his fascinating New Yorker piece on the political culture of Silicon Valley, George Packer relays an irksome conversation with Dave Morin, founder of Path, that underscores the yawning distance between the concerns of the tech elite and the concerns of pretty much everyone else on earth.
[Morin] described San Francisco as a place where people already live in the future. They can hang out with their friends even when they’re alone. They inhabit a “sharing economy”: they can book a weeklong stay in a cool apartment through Airbnb, which has disrupted the hotel industry, or hire a luxury car anywhere in the city through the mobile app Uber, which has disrupted the taxi industry. “SanFrancisco is a place where we can go downstairs and get in an Uber and go to dinner at a place that I got a restaurant reservation for halfway there,” Morin said. “And, if not, we could go to my place, and on the way there I could order takeout food from my favorite restaurants on Postmates, and a bike messenger will go and pick it up for me. We’ll watch it happen on the phone. These things are crazy ideas.”
It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.
Airbnb and Uber certainly get a lot of press. But are they really representative of the problems Silicon Valley is most interested in solving? Or are they just companies that get an inordinate amount of press — in part because they’re solving the problems of journalists who live in cities and travel a lot, and those are the people who decide which companies get a lot of press?
In January, VentureBeat.com publishedits list of 2013′s “top 17 IPO candidates.” It’s as good a place as any to get a sense of where Silicon Valley thinks Silicon Valley is headed. The answer isn’t necessarily towards “saving the world.” But it’s not limos and lofts for twentysomethings, either. . .
At last, we’re finally moving into a recognizable slice of science-fiction future.
First, it’s been found that agencies use the occasion of the test to ask completely inappropriate and prying questions. Second, and perhaps more important, the tests often give false results. Marisa Taylor reports for McClatchy:
Police departments and federal agencies across the country are using a type of polygraph despite evidence of a technical problem that could label truthful people as liars or the guilty as innocent, McClatchy has found.
As a result, innocent people might have been labeled criminal suspects, faced greater scrutiny while on probation or lost out on jobs. Or, just as alarming, spies and criminals may have escaped detection.
The technical glitch produced errors in the computerized measurements of sweat in one of the most popular polygraphs, the LX4000. Although polygraphers first noticed the problem a decade ago, many government agencies hadn’t known about the risk of inaccurate measurements until McClatchy recently raised questions about it.
The manufacturer, Lafayette Instrument Co. Inc., described the phenomenon as “occasional” and “minor,” but it couldn’t say exactly how often it occurs. Even after one federal agency became concerned and stopped using the measurement and a veteran polygrapher at another witnessed it repeatedly change test results, the extent and the source of the problem weren’t independently studied nor openly debated. In the meantime, tens of thousands of Americans were polygraphed on the LX4000.
The controversy casts new doubt on the reliability and usefulness of polygraphs, which are popularly known as lie detectors and whose tests are banned for use as evidence by most U.S. courts. Scientists have long questioned whether polygraphers can accurately identify liars by interpreting measurements of blood pressure, sweat activity and respiration. But polygraphers themselves say they rely on the measurements to be accurate for their daily, high-stakes decisions about people’s lives.
“We’re talking about using a procedure that has a very weak scientific foundation and making it worse,” said William Iacono, a University of Minnesota psychology professor who’s researched polygraph testing. “I already don’t have very much confidence in how government agencies conduct these tests. Now, they might as well be flipping a coin.”
Despite the scientific skepticism, intelligence and law enforcement agencies see polygraph as useful in obtaining confessions to wrongdoing that wouldn’t otherwise be uncovered. Fifteen federal agencies and many police departments across the country rely on polygraph testing to help make hiring or firing decisions. Sex offenders and other felons often undergo testing to comply with probation or court-ordered psychological treatment. Police detectives and prosecutors rule out criminal suspects who pass and scrutinize those who don’t.
In its ongoing series about polygraph use by government agencies, McClatchy found that such testing has flourished despite being banned for use by most private employers 25 years ago. . .
Continue reading. It’s a long article, and the lack of cooperation from Federal agencies, plus the company’s completely ignoring reports of the problem, are troubling.
My own feeling is that, if a job requires a polygraph test, get a different job. (Easier said than done, I realize, but it’s worth some effort to avoid the false charges and life-changing effects of a false polygraph result.)
Obama’s unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers is having its effect: stifling some, sending others to prison, and stimulating technical solutions. Natasha Lennard reports in Salon:
This week has been a disquieting one for journalists concerned about protecting their sources. The revelation that the Justice Department had been spying on AP reporters’ phone records, although it came as no surprise to those attuned to this government’s attitude to First Amendment protections, reinforced the importance of enabling the unsurveilled free-flow of information.
It was the right moment then, for the New Yorker to launch Strongbox, an open-source drop box for leaked documents, co-created by late technologist and open-data activist Aaron Swartz with Wired editor Kevin Poulsen.
“With the risks now so high – not just from the U.S. government but also the Chinese government that is hacking newsrooms in the West – it’s crucial that news outlets find a secure route for sources to come to them,” said Poulsen on Thursday.
The code, designed by Swartz and Poulsen, is called DeadDrop; Stongbox is the name of the New Yorker’s program that uses it. The magazine announced that this means “people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity.” Appropriate to the open-data activism to which Swartz dedicated many of his considerable talents, the DeadDrop code is open for any person or institution to use and develop.
DeadDrop lets users upload documents anonymously through the Tor network (which essentially scrambles IP addresses). With Stongbox, the leaked information is uploaded onto servers that will be kept separate from the New Yorker’s main system. Leakers are then given a unique code name that allows New Yorker journalists to contact them through messages left on Strongbox. Like any system, it is not perfectly unbreakable, but it has already received high praise in reviews.
The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington commented on the importance of DeadDrop in the context of the government’s persecution of whistle-blowers and ever-expanding spy dragnet: . . .