We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Airline passenger screening system faces delays

The General Accounting Office warned today that the Transportation Security Administration’s high-tech system to screen airline passengers for terrorist connections faces significant testing and deployment delays, which could affect the program’s ultimate success.
According to a report by the GAO, the TSA has not only fallen behind in testing the new Computer-Assisted Passenger PreScreening System (CAPPS II), but also has yet to fully identify all of the functions it would like the system to perform. In addition, the TSA has not yet completed work on at least seven key technical challenges that could stand in the way of the system’s final deployment.

These issues, if not resolved, pose major risks to the successful deployment and implementation of CAPPS II.

There are other significant issues facing U.S. airport security, according to a former top Israeli airport security official and the director of security at Virgin Atlantic Airlines. According to these officials, who spoke Tuesday during an online Terror and Technology conference sponsored by IDPartners LLC, the U.S. runs a major risk by focusing too much on information technology and other high-tech solutions to uncover terrorist plots against airports and airlines.

Rafi Ron, president of New Age Security Solutions and the former head of security at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv explains that the terrorist threat against airlines is a relatively new experience in the U.S.

There is a tendency to solve problems through the use of technological means. Focusing on technology sometimes makes you lose your overall perspective. That can lead to unbalanced planning, unbalanced investment and misuse of funds.

Rather than rely on IT systems for the bulk of security monitoring, Ron said airport authorities should use personnel training programs in behavior pattern recognition, which has been highly successful in Israel.

Behavior analysis can fill the gap of a purely technological approach. Technology is not yet good enough to provide us with a 100% solution.

First they came for the spammers …

Says Dave Barry of this apprehended spamster: “Let’s see how large his penis is.” Ho ho. And I know the feeling. I’m sure we all do.

A man alleged to be one of the world’s most notorious spammers was arrested yesterday in North Carolina, accused by Virginia prosecutors of falsifying the origin of e-mails that pitched low-priced “penny” stocks and home-mortgage schemes.

Jeremy Jaynes, also known as Gaven Stubberfield, of Raleigh, was charged with four felony counts as prosecutors seek to increase the heat — by bringing criminal penalties — on spammers for deceptive e-mail marketing.

The case marks the first time Virginia’s criminal provisions for spam have been invoked.

This anti-spamming activity has to be watched, I say, precisely because so many people are crying out for it, flaming torches in hand. What if they make a law which ends up making my Brian’s Fridays list illegal? This is the one that gets you invited to my last Friday of the month soirées. You know, just to make sure they get all the bad people. There are lots of complaints doing the rounds already that what Europe is doing about spam now is not enough.

They wouldn’t do that! Of course not. Ah but they might. More realistically, what they might do is make Brian’s Fridays list a bit illegal (like, I have to “register” it or something), and then they do me for not registering it when I say something truly hurtful about them, on a completely different subject. Or, I get scared that this might happen and refrain from my criticising. And other potential nuisance makiers do the same.

“Thank you for not speeding!”

Those wacky guys at b3ta.com, or one of their many photoshopping friends, did a paranoid, Robocopish rethink of how speed cameras might soon be operating. The pictures may still be there (left hand side – scroll down) but will soon be gone if they aren’t gone already. It’s that kind of site.

If you can’t find anything speed camera related, I’ve stuck the pictures up on my Culture Blog, so that White Rosers can give the matter some more prolonged thought. (I don’t think I’m allowed to stick up pictures here, which is probably a good thing.)

A law against spam that will legalise it

Over at the Adam Smith Institute Blog, Mark Griffin says they’re about to legalise spam, by defining it, incompetently. That means whatever dodges its way around the definition ain’t spam, right? So by trying to stop it they are going to allow it.

White Rose Relevance on Transport Blog

Patrick Crozier’s Transport Blog is steadily becoming a blog to be reckoned with. And yesterday and today, Patrick posted two White Rose Relevant bits, on the new law against mobile phones in cars, and (this presumably being kit that will also help to enforce the new phone law) surveillance cameras for spying on speeding motorists.

On mobiles in cars, Patrick agrees with David Carr. Bad new law. On the cameras? Well, his piece is entitled: “It’s not the speed cameras that are to blame – it’s the law”.

Voting machines with no paper trails

More on vote (mis?)counting machines, from Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. As always with the NYT, hurry.

Opening paragraphs:

Inviting Bush supporters to a fund-raiser, the host wrote, “I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” No surprise there. But Walden O’Dell – who says that he wasn’t talking about his business operations – happens to be the chief executive of Diebold Inc., whose touch-screen voting machines are in increasingly widespread use across the United States.

For example, Georgia – where Republicans scored spectacular upset victories in the 2002 midterm elections – relies exclusively on Diebold machines. To be clear, though there were many anomalies in that 2002 vote, there is no evidence that the machines miscounted. But there is also no evidence that the machines counted correctly. You see, Diebold machines leave no paper trail.

Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, who has introduced a bill requiring that digital voting machines leave a paper trail and that their software be available for public inspection, is occasionally told that systems lacking these safeguards haven’t caused problems. “How do you know?” he asks.

What we do know about Diebold does not inspire confidence. The details are technical, but they add up to a picture of a company that was, at the very least, extremely sloppy about security, and may have been trying to cover up product defects.

I think if people are seriously about democracy, they should keep it all on paper. That way, onlookers and overseers can see fair play, and with luck they can spot at least some of the unfair play. Put your vote in a computer system, and who the hell knows where it ends up?

Speed camera terrorists

Things are getting fraught on the speed camera front.

Diebold versus the Internet in the New York Times

There’s a long article in today’s New York Times about Diebold, the voting machine company, and their struggle to prevent internal emails about security weaknesses in their software getting around on the Internet. They’re arguing intellectual property. Their opponents argue “fair use”. First three paragraphs:

Forbidden files are circulating on the Internet and threats of lawsuits are in the air. Music trading? No, it is the growing controversy over one company’s electronic voting systems, and the issues being raised, some legal scholars say, are as fundamental as the sanctity of elections and the right to free speech.

Diebold Election Systems, which makes voting machines, is waging legal war against grass-roots advocates, including dozens of college students, who are posting on the Internet copies of the company’s internal communications about its electronic voting machines.

The students say that, by trying to spread the word about problems with the company’s software, they are performing a valuable form of electronic civil disobedience, one that has broad implications for American society. They also contend that they are protected by fair use exceptions in copyright law.

Hurry if you want to read all of it. NYT stuff seems to go behind a payment wall quite soon. They take their property seriously too, I guess. (By the way, is this NYT policy recent, or is it just me having only recently noticed it?)

Lie detection software for phone conversations

I did a posting yesterday on Transport Blog about how they’re now using lie detection software to monitor phone conversations from insurance claimants, to flag up potential liars, and then “give them the opportunity to change their story”. The result is a fall in insurance claims, and hence, presumably, potential cheaper car insurance.

I have a the overwhelming feeling that this procedure will bring bad news as well as good, in a White Rose Relevant way, when governments start using stuff like this for instance, as I dare say many have. But what form will this bad news take? I can’t think of any obvious badnesses, but I feel sure there are some. Comments please.

One suggestion. The insurance companies mentioned in this story are all saying at the start of their conversations that “this call is being monitored”, although I don’t believe they say straight out that this means a lie detection machine. Clearly others will not be so scrupulous, and will simply monitor all conversations and flag up what the machines says are lies, all the time. What are the White Rose Relevant implications of that?

On the face of it, I think I have the right to buy a machine that helps me decide whether I trust someone at the far end of a phone line. I could simply say “Is this a junk phone call?” every time I suspect it is, and if they say no but my machine goes “ping”, then down goes the phone. At present the danger is that with our own more fallible bullshit detection software that we all have in our brains, we do this to “real” phone callers who are merely a bit clumsy in identifying themselves, or whom we are a bit clumsy in identifying.

Presumably what makes this so much more usable now is that the kit has got a lot cheaper, and it supplies answers straight away, while the conversation is still going on.

Techo-food for thought here, I think.

M&S to Trial RFID Spy Chips

Internet.com reports that UK retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) is to begin trials of RFID tagging at item level.

Clothes in M&S stores will be tagged with RFID chips. These each contain a unique ID and can be read by a nearby scanner without the consumer being aware of it. Thus your underwear might be broadcasting your location.

To be fair to M&S they did show an unusual degree of social responsibility concerning these trials. They consulted with CASPIAN and as a result the tags will be obvious and will not be scanned at checkouts.

Welcome as these factors are, this trial is still another step on the dangerous road towards making RFID ubiquitous. Not all companies will share M&S’s ethical stance, therefore RFID tagging at item level must be opposed outright.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe. Thanks to shanti941 for the pointer.

The Digital Imprimature

John Walker thinks that big brother and big media can put the Internet genie back in the bottle.

Earlier I believed there was no way to put the Internet genie back into the bottle. In this document I will provide a road map of precisely how I believe that could be done, potentially setting the stage for an authoritarian political and intellectual dark age global in scope and self-perpetuating, a disempowerment of the individual which extinguishes the very innovation and diversity of thought which have brought down so many tyrannies in the past.

This is a massive document that is highly technical in some places, but is well worth slogging your way through. (And I always did wonder why IPv6 flopped.)

(Hat-tip to Joe Katzman)

Wherever you go, whatever you do

There are several disturbing features of this panoptican state in which we will soon be living not the least of which is the sheer breakneck pace of its assembly.

It seems like only yesterday that speed cameras suddenly appeared on every lamppost but even they are so much old hat now:

Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems are set to be deployed by police forces throughout the UK as a major plank of a campaign of “denying criminals the use of the roads.” The system will link up to the DVLA, Police National Computer and a National Insurance Database, with these links alone giving it the capability of identifying untaxed, unroadworthy and uninsured vehicles, but they’ll also facilitate police surveillance operations, the swapping of data on “prolific offenders” between forces and, well, other stuff… Take this, for instance:

“Eventually the database will link to most CCTV systems in town centres, meaning that all vehicles filmed on one of the many cameras protecting Bedford High Street, for instance, can be checked against the database and the movements of wanted cars traced to help with serious crime investigations.”

As far as the drivers are concerned, well, that just about wraps it up, folks.

But truly one hardly has time to digest one horror before the next one comes galloping over the horizon. Dr.Sean Gabb has suggested that our rulers our ‘drunk with the technology’ but I am not so sure. More like they are stone-cold sober and determined to get the whole country locked down before the public realises exactly what has been done to them.