Category Archives: Privacy

How Patriotic is the Act?

I’ve written about this topic before and as seen in this video, most people won’t pay attention to a story about national surveillance unless the conversation is dumbed down. Just in case you aren’t too busy watching TV, standing in line reading the latest tabloid about the Kardashians, buying lottery tickets, or checking out the sports scores, I’m going to post this in hope that it matters to some people. I won’t be using only simple words or sarcasm to explain the problem. Only those who have a reasonable vocabulary and attention span will want to understand this topic.

Edward Snowden decided while working as a contractor for the NSA, the United States was over stepping the bounds of human decency and reasonable limits when it came to spying on American citizens as well as International organizations which shouldn’t be the target of focus. In the video, he cited UNICEF as an example, or the negotiation of lawyers over the pricing of shrimp.

John Oliver, using his comic style and making absurd references, presented some of the reasons the Patriot Act is a law which may be used as a tool for extreme covert activity by people given unprecedented power to invade our privacy, and to release potentially harmful information as a weapon of influence or control.

One of several Drone types.

One of several Drone types.

Domestic surveillance has become common place for local police, through the use of cellular data capture utilizing devices within a limited area, or drone technology.

Key to the growth of surveillance technology is the public desire to keep people safe, combined with apathy of most people as to how technology is used. This is how a draconian law like the Patriot Act got passed.

News for the Tech Trade

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Individual Rights and Protection in the Digital Age

blind justiceAlmost every parent or grandparent will agree that child pornographers are scum. Child pornography isn’t something I want to condone. I do however, have concerns over the acceptance of using email scanning techniques to look for people who are passing pornography through their email. Here’s the problem as I see it and I would certainly like to be wrong about this, but I seriously doubt that I am. There are little to no protections of the individual. Protection from unwarranted search followed by “justified seizure”, become the new normal.

If you watch the CBS This Morning video their “expert” completely over simplifies the issues and the techniques used in scanning email to determine whether the message contains child pornography. She uses words that sound technical and sufficient to explain how email “may be scanned” if it contains words or images deemed inappropriate. Lets start with a brief background in order to understand this better.

All email must be scanned in order for this to be effective. Perhaps we’ve become so used to the explanation of, “it’s for our protection or security”, that we’ve become numb to how bad this intrusive behaviour can become. We want to protect our children so this seems like a logical step. It’s even doubtful that when people read this blog, they will be concerned about their privacy rights being violated.

Let’s define her words, algorithm: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation. Broadly ~ a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end especially by a computer. Hashing or hash: a technique for locating data in a file by applying a transformation, to associate through a structure that can map keys to values. It can also be used to describe muddling up something, to chop into small pieces.

That still might not be all that clear. Here’s the problem I see with Google as well as other massive indiscriminate search techniques, everyone’s email must be searched in order for this technique to work. Where it all began is the idea we could use the Internet to search for anything we wanted, then various influential groups devised a plan “for our protection” and we then have the beginnings of another avenue for a police state.

Not everyone has a programming background. I do and that is why I want to bring this out for other people to see, because what sounds innocent and of value for the public good, can be used in malicious ways to harm innocent people as well. If for example you are one of many parents that have taken innocent pictures of your children when they were small without a stitch of clothing, and those pictures are digitized on your computer / phone, what’s to prevent these search techniques from surveillance of your equipment and identifying you as a possible child pornographer?

Remember, a search engine doesn’t have rational or cognitive assessment of what it sees, and from reports we witness of the misuse of police authority, what are our protections? Do we have any constitutional rights in the digital age or does the combination of corporation along with government reign as the new law of the land?

Calvin typifies childrens behaviour - is this a form of pornography?

For further information on hashing, click on this link.

How Facial Recognition Systems Work

Why is this so difficult?

struggle to see in front of noseI’m continuously amazed at our collective national inability to see the forest for the trees when it comes to analyzing politics and the impact of specific acts that sound good but with negative long-term consequences.

I know how easy it is to get caught up in long and fruitless on-line debates over a specific candidate, an office holder and the continued gift that keeps on giving, “nationalized health care – part 1”, otherwise known as the Health Care Reform Act. From cash for clunkers, TARP, NSA spying on U.S. citizens, IRS scandal, Predator Drones, Benghazi Embassy cover-up, up to the most recent activity of swapping an alleged Army deserter for 5 enemy combatants, the public, at least through many media supporters excuse the President and find rationalizations for continuing the march toward centralized government with autonomous authority.

Barack Obama speaking

Barack Obama delivering a speech.

Let’s assume for a moment that you really like the current President, I admit, I do as a person. I’m not able to tell what’s in a person’s heart, unlike so many critics, but I can judge actions. Continue to imagine, this President won’t be in office past 2016. Yes, as hard as this may be for some supporters to accept, President Obama, just like those who supported George Bush, will see the man complete his two terms in office. Someone new will come along to take his place, and eventually, maybe not in the upcoming election cycle, a Republican will take office.

Here’s the problem as I see it for political partisans. You like it when your man (or woman) takes charge and uses the excuse, Congress isn’t moving fast enough or they’re not cooperating. I had to use executive authority to enact, create, or bomb another country. You see there’s this problem I have with this executive order or unilateral decision-making. That problem is, even if you like the person currently in office, believe they’re doing this with the highest principles and for the public welfare, they have short circuited the provisions of the Constitution which prohibit this level of control and protect us from authoritarians.. In fact, this sort of thing preceded President Barack Obama, George Bush, William Clinton, etc. What we are seeing over decades, but accelerating now with this presidency, is the expansion of the role of the federal government and a President who simply does what he wants while blaming and using the other political party as a scape goat to do what he wants.

As I started to explain, it won’t always be the person you support or want in office and if a future President isn’t a magnificent specimen of humanity, they will have the authority previously accepted by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. Even the principle on providing social security for the aged, has seen the collected funds used for other spending and then the feds claiming the fund can’t be sustained due to the large number of retirees compared to new worker contributions. Sooner or later, the federal government will have sufficiently stripped us of our privacy, self-incrimination protection, search and seizure, health care options and business opportunities to the point where we no longer live in a country noted for entrepreneurial success, freedom and individual liberty. I think a large number of people already recognize this point has been surpassed and the Constitution a distant relic of the past.

avoid the government trapThe significance of this and the lack of sufficient public push back has astounded me. The 60’s generation as well as many of the key vocal participants who launched the free spirit, liberate the masses, and don’t trust the government, have become the ones most strongly in support of the collective. They mask their charade in flowery speech and doing the most public good with their power aggregation, central authority activity and eventually we are going to find their aren’t enough chairs for the masses in this musical merry-go-around.