Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The United States Is Angry That China Wants Crypto Backdoors, Too

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Pretty clearly that fails the test of reciprocity. Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports at Motherboard:

When the US demands technology companies install backdoors for law enforcement, it’s okay. But when China demands the same, it’s a whole different story.

The Chinese government is about to pass a new counter terrorism law that would require tech companies operating in the country to turn over encryption keys and include specially crafted code in their software and hardware so that chinese authorities can defeat security measures at will.

Technologists and cryptographers have long warned that you can’t design a secure system that will enable law enforcement—and only law enforcement—to bypass the encryption. The nature of a backdoor door is that it is also a vulnerability, and if discovered, hackers or foreign governments might be able to exploit it, too.

Yet, over the past few months, several US government officials, including the FBI director James Comey, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder, and NSA DirectorMike Rogers, have all suggested that companies such as Apple and Google should give law enforcement agencies special access to their users’ encrypted data—while somehow offering strong encryption for their users at the same time.

Their fear is that cops and feds will “go dark,” an FBI term for a potential scenario where encryption makes it impossible to intercept criminals’ communications.

But in light of China’s new proposals, some think the US’ own position is a little ironic.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Trevor Timm, the co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Motherboard. “If the US forces tech companies to install backdoors in encryption, then tech companies will have no choice but to go along with China when they demand the same power.”

He’s not the only one to think the US government might end up regretting its stance.

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, tweeted that someday US officials will “realize how much damage they’ve enabled” with their “silly requests” for backdoors.

Ironically, the US government sent a letter to China expressing concern about its new law. “The Administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

“It’s stunningly shortsighted for the FBI and NSA not to realize this,” Timm added. “By demanding backdoors, these US government agencies are putting everyone’s cybersecurity at risk.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 5:01 pm

Fighting recidivism hand to hand

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Extremely interesting and heartening report by Jesse Katz in Aeon:

Every Saturday morning Scott Budnick leaves his 1920s Mediterranean villa on a Hollywood Hills cul-de-sac, with its pool and waterfall and wooded trails, and drives his Tesla north, across the San Fernando Valley, to where the 5 and 210 freeways converge in Sylmar. The first time he made this trek, to a corner of Los Angeles synonymous with the fortress of a juvenile hall it encompasses, he was all jitters, wondering what he was getting himself into as he neared the brick walls and coiled razor wire.

Twelve years later, after some 300 to 400 Saturdays, Budnick pulls into the Compound like he owns the place, which is not far off; at least four superintendents in that time have come and gone. Strolling through the smoked-glass doors, he sips coffee, chews gum, and thumbs at his phone, pausing just long enough to navigate the metal detector and slip his driver’s license through a slot in the window.

“What’s up, bro,” he says to the guard.

After being buzzed in, Budnick walks down a caged corridor, through several more gated doors, across a field hemmed in by tall fences, and finally into a drab, chilled, cinder-block bunker. He has a dimpled chin, a few days’ stubble, and the hint of a Jewfro. At 38, he dresses like someone half his age: faded jeans, rvca hoodie, blue Nikes with orange swooshes today. The clothes vary little, only the sneakers; he owns 80 pairs.

“Let’s see who we can pull,” Budnick says. In Unit W, where he volunteers as a writing teacher, a few teenage boys filter out of their cells. Most are tatted, from necks to knuckles to earlobes, with neighborhood insignia: a map of L.A. poverty. Each is an “unfit,” the juvenile system’s term for a minor so irredeemable, or accused of a crime so grievous, he must stand trial as an adult. Every one of them is black or brown.

Budnick spots Jorge. He is pallid and compact, swallowed by a gray sweatshirt and grayer Dickies. “You’re such a good kid,” says Budnick, wrapping him in a bear hug, then throwing him into a headlock. “I’d be lucky to have you as my own kid.”

“He doesn’t care what we did or why we’re here, and that’s what brought me to him, you know, like to be cool with him, ’cause he don’t judge, and I like that, ’cause I always feel judged,” says Jorge, who has been locked up since last summer, when he was 17. He is the youngest of five defendants facing charges that stem from a gang-related home invasion; if Jorge loses his case, he could be sentenced to life. “Some people don’t even have faith in me,” Jorge says. “And he does.”

Who doesn’t?” asks Budnick. “I don’t believe that. Who cannot have faith in you?” He does not wait for an answer. “Maybe,” says Budnick, “the old version of you.”

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems. . .

Continue reading. It’s fascinating. Later in the report:

During the school year, Budnick worked as her assistant. Summers he began visiting L.A., interning first on Baywatch, then at United Talent Agency. He gave up medicine. “I never would have lasted,” Budnick says. Instead he became social chair of Emory’s Chi Phi fraternity, which entailed throwing big-budget bashes with security and sound equipment — mtv’s DJ Skribble once headlined. “Producing a movie,” he told The Chi Phi Chakettmagazine, “is very much like producing a college fraternity party.”

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 4:07 pm

Silk Road: libertarian beginnings, ending as a fiefdom run by pirate kings

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It’s like businesses in an environment without any government regulation: pure free enterprise and unfetter competition, which quickly leads to monopolies that crush competitors, rake in profits, and ruin the environment. Henry Farrell writes at Aeon:

The Hidden Wiki holds the keys to a secret internet. To reach it, you need a special browser that can access ‘Tor Hidden Services’ – websites that have chosen to obscure their physical location. But even this browser isn’t enough. Like the Isla de Muerta in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the landmarks of this hidden internet can be discovered only by those who already know where they are.

Sites such as the Hidden Wiki provide unreliable treasure maps. They publish lists of the special addresses for sites where you can use Bitcoin to buy drugs or stolen credit card numbers, play strange games, or simply talk, perhaps on subjects too delicate for the open web. The lists are often untrustworthy. Sometimes the addresses are out-of-date. Sometimes they are actively deceptive. One link might lead to a thriving marketplace for buying and selling stolen data; another, to a wrecker’s display of false lights, a cloned site designed to relieve you of your coin and give you nothing in return.

This hidden internet is a product of debates among technology-obsessed libertarians in the 1990s. These radicals hoped to combine cryptography and the internet into a universal solvent that would corrupt the bonds of government tyranny. New currencies, based on recent cryptographic advances, would undermine traditional fiat money, seizing the cash nexus from the grasp of the state. ‘Mix networks’, where everyone’s identity was hidden by multiple layers of encryption, would allow people to talk and engage in economic exchange without the government being able to see.

Plans for cryptographic currencies led to the invention of Bitcoin, while mix networks culminated in Tor. The two technologies manifest different aspects of a common dream – the utopian aspiration to a world where one could talk and do business without worrying about state intervention – and indeed they grew up together. For a long time, the easiest way to spend Bitcoin was at Tor’s archipelago of obfuscated websites.

Like the pirate republics of the 18th century, this virtual underworld mingles liberty and vice. Law enforcement and copyright-protection groups such as the Digital Citizens’ Alliance in Washington, DC, prefer to emphasise the most sordid aspects of Tor’s hidden services – the sellers of drugs, weapons and child pornography. And yet the effort to create a hidden internet was driven by ideology as much as avarice. The network is used by dissidents as well as dope-peddlers. If you live under an authoritarian regime, Tor provides you with a ready-made technology for evading government controls on the internet. Even some of the seedier services trade on a certain idealism. Many libertarians believe that people should be able to buy and sell drugs without government interference, and hoped to build marketplaces to do just that, without violence and gang warfare.

Tor’s anonymity helps criminals by making it harder for the state to identify and detain them. Yet this has an ironic side-effect: it also makes it harder for them to trust each other, because they typically can’t be sure who their interlocutors are. To make money in hidden markets, you need people to trust you, so that they will buy from you and sell to you. Having accomplished this first manoeuvre, the truly successful entrepreneurs go one step further. They become middlemen of trust, guaranteeing relations between others and taking a cut from the proceeds.

To this end, entrepreneurs have found it necessary to create and maintain communities, making rules, enforcing them, punishing rule-breakers, and turning towards violence when all else fails. They have, in effect, built petty versions of the very governments they are fleeing. As the US sociologist Charles Tilly argued, the modern state began as a protection racket, offering its subjects protection against outsiders and each other. The same logic is playing out today on the hidden internet, as would-be petty barons and pirate kings fight to tax and police their subjects while defending themselves against hostile incursions.

No entrepreneur of trust was more successful than the Texan Ross Ulbricht, who, under his ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ pseudonym, founded and ran the notorious Silk Road marketplace for drugs and other contraband. And no-one better exemplifies how the libertarian dream of freedom from the state turned sour.

Ulbricht built the Silk Road marketplace from nothing, pursuing both a political dream and his own self-interest. However, in making a market he found himself building a micro-state, with increasing levels of bureaucracy and rule‑enforcement and, eventually, the threat of violence against the most dangerous rule‑breakers. Trying to build Galt’s Gulch, he ended up reconstructing Hobbes’s Leviathan; he became the very thing he was trying to escape. But this should not have been a surprise. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

The libertarian hope that markets could sustain themselves through free association and choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help dominates.

Libertarianism is a fantasy that does poorly in the real world.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 3:36 pm

Net Neutrality May Face an Uphill Battle If History Tells Us Anything

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A perhaps realistic take on the Net Neutrality victory: big corporations fight for years. Leticia Miranda reports in ProPublica:

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposal today that effectively bars Internet companies from prioritizing some Internet traffic over others.As John Oliver famously explained “ending net neutrality would allow big companies to buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the slow lane.”

The FCC’s proposal faces plenty of opposition from telecom companies and others, but it’s just the latest round in a long fight. Here is a brief history of attempts to enact net neutrality and the often successful push against it.

The FCC votes to deregulate cable Internet services.

March 2002: The FCC, under the Bush administration and Republican Chairman Michael Powell, declares that cable modem services are “not subject to common carrier regulation,” meaning they aren’t bound by standards for nondiscrimination in service. Instead, cable Internet services fall under a separate light regulatory regime that gives the commission limited enforcement power.

Tim Wu coins the phrase “net neutrality.”

Fall 2003: Tim Wu, then an associate professor at the University of Virginia Law School, first coins the term “net neutrality” in a paper for the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law. He defines net neutrality to mean an Internet “that does not favor one application…over others.”

The FCC adopts a toothless net neutrality-like policy statement.

August 2005: The FCC adopts a policy statement to “preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public Internet,” which focuses on protecting consumer access to content online and competition among Internet service companies. The statement has no power of enforcement.

The first net neutrality bill is introduced in Congress. It dies.

May 2006: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduces a net neutrality bill that would keep Internet service companies from blocking, degrading or interfering with users’ access to their services. But the bill stalled in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and never came to a vote.

The FCC tells Comcast to stop slowing down access to BitTorrent.

August 2008: The FCC, under Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, orders Comcast to stop slowing down user access to BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer sharing network often used to share music and videos.

Comcast sues the FCC, and wins.

September 2008 — April 2010: Comcast voluntary agrees to stop slowing down BitTorrent traffic. But it takes the FCC to court anyway, arguing that the agency is operating outside its authority. Specifically, the company points out that the FCC’s 2005 policy statement on neutrality doesn’t have the force of law.

The FCC writes real rules on net neutrality.

December 2010: Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski writes an order to impose net neutrality rules. Unlike the FCC’s 2005 policy statement, this new order is a real rule, not just a policy statement.

Except Verizon sues the FCC, saying it has no authority to enforce the rules, and wins.

September 2011 — January 2014: The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals rulesthe Federal Communications Commission can’t enforce net neutrality rules because broadband Internet services don’t fall under its regulatory authority.

Senator introduces net neutrality bill that would ban the FCC from enforcement. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 3:26 pm

Good news for Greece, and how to argue with unreasonable people

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Paul Krugman has a couple of good things today. For one, he explains why the 4-month extension is good news for Greece. And for another, he explains how to engage with people who are not open to reason:

When I was a young economist trying to build a career, I lived — or thought I lived — in a world in which ideas and those who championed them met in relatively open intellectual combat. Of course there were people who clung to their prejudices, of course style sometimes trumped substance. But I believed that by and large better ideas tended to prevail: if your model of trade flows or exchange rate fluctuations tracked the data better than someone else’s, or resolved puzzles that other models couldn’t, you could expect it to be taken up by many if not most researchers in the field.

This is still true in much of economics, I believe. But in the areas that matter most given the state of the world, it’s not true at all. People who declared back in 2009 that Keynesianism was nonsense and that monetary expansion would inevitably cause runaway inflation are still saying exactly the same thing after six years of quiescent inflation and overwhelming evidence that austerity affects economies exactly the way Keynesians said it would.

And we’re not just talking about cranks without credentials; we’re talking about founders of the Shadow Open Market Committee and Nobel laureates.

Obviously this isn’t just a story about economics; it covers everything from climate science and evolution to Bill O’Reilly’s personal history. But that in itself is telling: academic economics, which still has pretenses of being an arena of open intellectual inquiry, appears to be deeply infected with politicization.

So what should those of us who really wanted to be part of what we thought this enterprise was about do? That’s the question Brad DeLong has been asking.

I see three choices: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 3:03 pm

FBI says “Trust us” on following drone rules

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Unfortunately, the FBI, based on its own actions, does not merit trust. Shawn Musgrave writes at Motherboard:

After months of fighting against disclosure of its drone use, the FBI has committed to following White House guidelines issued earlier this month. There’s just one catch: Despite repeatedly refusing to release privacy impact assessments regarding its drone use—which legally must be public by default—the Bureau claims to already be in line with the president’s standards, which include a public disclosure timeline and broad principles for protecting civil liberties.

In short, the FBI says it’s following all of the government’s drone guidelines, but is incapable or unwilling to provide any sort of proof.

On February 15, President Obama declared via presidential memo that all federal agencies must hardwire privacy protections into drone policies.

“Particularly in light of the diverse potential uses of [unmanned aerial systems] in the [national airspace system], expected advancements in UAS technologies, and the anticipated increase in UAS use in the future,” reads the memo, “the federal government shall take steps to ensure that privacy protections and policies relative to UAS continue to keep pace with these developments.”

For starters, federal agencies must scrutinize their drone procedures every three years at minimum—and before deploying any new drone technology—“to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected.”

Drone use

Such policies must limit information collection to an “authorized purpose,” cap personal data retention to 180 days and prohibit dissemination outside the agency. There are exceptions to the latter two provisions, again, for an “authorized mission” and “authorized purpose” of the agency. The same goes for records covered by the Privacy Act of 1974—which has its own disclosure requirements—or another law.

Agencies must account for oversight, audit and training procedures around drone privacy, as well.

The directive’s standalone transparency section, while exempting information that “could reasonably be expected to compromise law enforcement or national security,” requires each agency to keep the public informed about drone use. In this vein, agencies must publish a yearly summary of deployments, “to include a brief description of types or categories of missions flown, and the number of times the agency provided assistance to other agencies.”

For its part, the FBI says that its drone program is well within the guidelines.

“The FBI’s use of unmanned aerial systems is in accordance with the president’s directive,” wrote Special Agent Shanna Daniels of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs in an email sent earlier this week.

Notably, the FBI’s statement came in response to a yes-or-no question posed two weeks ago as to whether the Bureau has completed privacy impact assessments around drones. Another FBI spokesperson declined to comment at the time, and this week’s response from Daniels does not address the PIA issue.

Presumably, that the FBI is in “accordance” with the new presidential memo holds that the agency must not only confirm its drone protocols are up to code, but also disclose information it has long fought to withhold from public view.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

New novel, well reviewed: Some Other Town

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Full disclosure: Beth Collison, the author, is a friend whom I’ve known for 35 years or more. We met in Iowa City, at Prairie Lights bookshop. And now her first novel, Some Other Town, has been released to some acclaim. NPR writes:

Five years before the opening of Elizabeth Collison’s debut novel Some Other Town, Margaret Lydia Benning comes to a small, unnamed Midwestern town to study art. She has talent in spades: grim visions that manifest in surreal paintings — “A woman in pink diaphanous tulle, wild boars where her legs should be. Bloated bodies in rivers. Eyeless white heads. Severed hearts wet and still beating.” — that excite her mentors and draw acclaim within her community. Then, just like that, the visions disappear. Her work slows down, then stops altogether. When her classmates move away, she stays.

Now in her late 20s, she’s an assistant editor of design at a small publishing house outside of town. The job is comfortable. The house specializes in early reader books and is fattened on grant money, headquartered in an old tuberculosis sanatorium, and populated with a strange bunch of coworkers: One of them speaks almost entirely through a puppet with cereal bowls for a mouth. Another is obsessed with a ghost that she believes haunts the building and sabotages their work, turning sentences like “Joe Trout went off to his room” into “Joe Trout went off to his doom.”

At home, Margaret mostly watches television, when she’s not navigating around an eccentric elderly neighbor who steals things from her yard, enters uninvited, and sets fire to her possessions. She is not content, exactly, but complacent — and aware of it. “[These are] not the new sort of horizons optimists wake up to, oh look a new horizon,” she says of her life. “Rather the comfortable same old horizons, boundaries on every side.”

Then, there is a rift in her world, a chance meeting at a party with a visiting art professor named Ben. They become friends, and then more than friends, and then he disappears. The novel begins after he has vanished, and veers between her workday and home life and dreams, and her recollections of their meeting, their affair. She resolves to find him, struggling through the molasses of her days and the gravity of his memory. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Books


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