Swartz vs Snowden OR Resist Restrictions that Seem Arbitrary or Capricious

MIT released its report on Aaron Swartz (.pdf) this morning. It is interesting to read about the amount of energy and concerted effort around Swartz, in contrast to Edward Snowden. Swartz’ prosecution and MIT’s “neutrality” to that effort seem sad when taken in the context of President Obama’s comment on June 27th where he said “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”

In the report the authors pose questions to the MIT community, including: “How can MIT draw lessons for its hacker culture from this experience?” The answer includes:

MIT celebrates hacker culture. Our admissions tours and first-year orientation salute a culture of creative disobedience where students are encouraged to explore secret corners of the campus, commit good-spirited acts of vandalism within informal but broadly— although not fully—understood rules, and resist restrictions that seem arbitrary or capricious. We attract students who are driven not just to be creative, but also to explore in ways that test boundaries and challenge positions of power.

This raises the question of whether the MIT community is sufficiently aware of what the hacker culture is meant to be about, of the risks inherent in crossing lines as part of hacking, and the roles of faculty, staff and administration in responding to what might or might not be a hack.

Yet in the computer context, unlike as in the physical world, “unauthorized access”—ill defined as it may be—can be grounds for a major federal felony prosecution. For Swartz the end result was calamitous. The entire episode may create a chilling effect for those students contemplating exploits that may push the bounds of their and society’s knowledge, but will also take them to places where conventional rules say they are not supposed to be—“coloring outside the lines” so to speak, punishable by criminal records rather than mere forfeiture of crayons. [emphasis added]

I can’t help but think of the recently exposed removal of President Obama’s promise to “Protect Whistleblowers” from Change.gov. Which read:

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.

Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process. [emphasis added]

Later, in the answer to the above question, the MIT report asks “Are we misleading students and community members by advertising one kind of community and enforcing rules more appropriate to a different kind of community?”

This seems to be the question not just for the MIT community, but for all Americans.

I’m on Your Roadz, Scanning Your License Plates

For a long time, I’ve imagined what it would be like if you could see information about other drivers around you in real-time. For example, if you are driving down the freeway you would see a red arrow over cars that are known to have been involved in bad driving practices.

This information would be presented in a heads-up-display. You could dive into information on any car to see what its previous behavior had been, such as cutting off other drivers, reckless speeding or other stuff that would cause any reasonable person to be upset on the road.

The data would be sourced from normal people.  If someone dangerously cut you off and flipped you the finger for good measure, you could simply type in the license plate, the make of the car and this would be added to a public database. The location and time of the incident would be stored, along with your own reputation of identity. This would make the “colored arrows” over the cars more valuable to other drivers, and hopefully reduce the risk of getting in an accident or otherwise entangled with a Ne’er-do-well.

There are a lot of problems to sort out, such as how do you ensure people are not trolling each other, mis-reporting driver behavior? What if a car is shared, and one driver “ruins” the license plate of a car for all users. What if the system is used to screen for other things, such as entry into a gated community? How can the license plate and car make and model be collected safely by someone who is driving a vehicle and witnesses something wrong. And most importantly, what are the privacy implications of creating such a vast database?

Some of these questions have easier answers than others. Two things seem clear to me now:

  1. It is simply a matter of time before such a public database and the accompanying software to populate it exist.
  2. We are quickly entering a time where if you own and regularly use the same car, you are giving up the privacy of your real-time location and possibly that of your family.

The reason I write this now, is because the ACLU recently published a study (pdf) (overview) on the growing use of police cameras and how the information is being collected and used by government authorities to circumvent the need to get warrants on GPS trackers.

If law enforcement is using automatic license plate readers, and we have russian drivers almost universally using dashboard cams, we are very close to civilian use of automated readers. And the use case I describe above will become a reality.

The user experience probably won’t jump directly to HUD, however a push notification to your smartphone that a car ahead is dangerous seems a fairly trivial feature. All that’s missing is the software.

How do you protect the privacy of your movement when you commonly need to travel the intermediary and custom pathway that automobiles provide? It would be great if you could travel by car and avoid revealing your location to mass surveillance by getting getting rides with strangers you can trust. Such a system does not exist today, but it could be created to counter concerns described above.

If you wanted to start today, you might have some success with ride share services like Zipcar. But those require registration and some level of identity validation. It seems like Lyft, the citizen cab company might be a better value and deliver more privacy. But even that requires Facebook connect, and thus full real name and photo exposure to the driver and company itself.

Update 3/20/14: Los Angelas police argue “All [license plate] data is investigatory.” See EFF’s “Los Angeles cops Argue All Cars in LA are Under Investigation.”

M.I.A. Uses Twitter, “Space Odyssey” to Bring Attention to the Continued Plight of Tamil Civilians in Sri Lanka

Musician M.I.A. released a song titled “Space Odyssey” this past week that has become notable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was her reaction to a New York Times travel guide spotlighting Sri Lanka as a travel destination in 2010.

First, new work from M.I.A. is eagerly anticipated as she went on hiatus following a tour for her Grammy nominated record, Kaya. I was at the far edges of the crowd with my sister when she told the audience at Bonnaroo in 2008 that it would be her last performance.  Since then, M.I.A. has largely kept away from music creation.

Second, M.I.A. chose to deliver “Space Odyssey” to fans via a twitter update, where she shared the video via TwitVid, a popular 3rd party service for video hosting that competes directly with Vidly.  While M.I.A’s choice of TwitVid as the media player allowed her to use her Twitter feed to deliver new music directly to her fans, it also has forced everyone to listen to this critically important release in terrible quality video and audio.  Check out the embed above.

Most notably, following the surprise release of the song, M.I.A.’s publicist confirmed that “Space Odyssey”  was released specifically in reaction to a recent New York Times story on the Top 31 Places to Go in 2010 written by Lionel Beehner.  In the NYT piece, Beehner acknowledges that the country has been “plagued by misfortune…but the conflict ended last May.” and goes on to suggest that “miles of sugary white sand flanked by bamboo groves that were off-limits until recently are a happy, if unintended byproduct of the war.”

If you are unfamiliar, a brutal civil war was being fought between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Leading up to the end of major conflict in May of 2009, many civilians were killed in efforts by the government to put down the rebel group.  The US State Department has issued a report outlining areas of concern (pdf) where International Humanitarian Law is believed to have been violated.

For some time following the end of combat, a quarter million people from the Tamil minority were forced to remain in refugee camps for months.  Between the brutality on both sides during the war and subsequent forced confinement afterwards, Sri Lanka’s international standing is quite low.  M.I.A. is of Tamil ancestry and fled the country as a refugee.  She has specifically decried (see her explanation at 3:25) the violence on both sides of the war.

M.I.A’s made a bold move in connecting her new artistry directly to a major US news publication’s pithy and embarrassing portrayal of Sri Lanka as a top tourist destination.  She did so using her platform of roughly 82,000 Twitter followers, all eager to hear what she would follow Paper Planes with.  M.I.A. has hit upon a near perfect mix of social networking, social action and artistic expression, most certainly setting her apart as an artist to watch in 2010.

Nationalization or Expropriation? Independent Facebook Application Developers Continue to Face Uncertainty

There is some interesting discussion going on in the Facebook Developer’s forum. The gist is that Facebook has made changes that are causing some developers to feel disenfranchised. A few developers are upset enough that they are speaking of creating a union of independent Facebook application developers.

What might the goals of a union of Facebook application developers be? It would help to look at what has stirred the pot recently. About two weeks ago someone posted a complaint that Facebook had unfairly bent the rules to give CBS’s Sports NCAA bracket application advantages for faster viral spread across the Facebook user base. Adding insult to injury, the thread also pointed out that the CBS Sports NCAA bracket application had a poor user rating.

Two days ago another developer posted a thread titled, “Facebook has stolen my idea!” which describes the recently added “Do you know these people?” page on Facebook. The developer suggests he feels “cheated” because the new Facebook page duplicates his own application’s functionality. The developer’s application was forced to comply with platform development rules that required an obstructive approval process in order work correctly.

Facebook’s “Do you know these people?” page circumvents this approval process because it is not subject to the rules independent application developers must follow. Facebook made a better version of the application a part of the Facebook experience by bending the rules that crippled the original developer’s work. Continue reading

Adsense Textual Advertisements Returning To This Blog

Piggy BankI’m bringing some G Adsense advertising back to this blog because I’m a student again, and the monthly checks help. Until my mindset changes I’ll include ads in entries I think will be getting a lot of search engine traffic.

I dislike web advertising as much as the next person, and for people who read my blog regularly, I highly recommend Adblocker. This is a Firefox Plug-in, Add-on, Extension, what-have-you that will block G Adsense ads and just about every other advertisement. I’m including my ad filter criteria that I’m using below. If you take a moment to install the add-on and import this advertisement filter list you can begin surfing my blog and just about all other websites advertisement-free instantly.

Check out the difference:

Download Adblocker

Here is my filter list… Continue reading

Disney Takes A Stronger Position on Health

Walt Disney has become the first Hollywood studio to take smoking out of all of its films.

Smoking Rats Ratatouille MPAA RatingI didn’t notice any smokers in Ratatouille, and I couldn’t see them in a new traditional film from Disney either. But the FT article goes on to state that Bob Iger’s position is that “the company would also ‘discourage’ depictions of smoking in films made by its other studio labels.”

Disney’s owns Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films which has released a ton of adult-oriented features including Tarantino’s, Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs. Quentin Tarantino makes including cigarettes in his movies a recurrent presence. Iger goes on to say that argueing with filmmakers working under his roof about excluding cigarette smoking is a “confrontation we are certainly willing to have.” Continue reading

Reckless Endangerment of the Developing Mind

The Mercury is a “Alternative” weekly publication distributed in Portland, Oregon. It is published by Rob Crocker and edited by Steve Humphrey. The paper has strong ties to The Stranger in Seattle, Washington through Tim Keck.

The very first content following the Letters to the Editor and Index is a column called One Day At A Time. This column mostly reports on celebrity gaffes but sometimes tries to be more. Last week the author (Ann Romano) decided to write about the death of a young man Bonnaroo. She tries to frame the incident as some kind of joke, saying:

“…But as it is in our national security to protect celebrity tour busses from prosecution, the Tennessee Department of Safety immediately cleared the tour bus driver of any wrongdoing. The irony? The young Ohioan was wearing a Bonnaroo admission armband when he was killed. He had apparently hopped the fence to escape the festival. He’d obviously come to his senses, rejected the jam bands/hippies, and was trying to run away. And they ran him down like a dog.” Read the Full entry under Friday June 16th. Continue reading

Viral Reactionary Content Creation and Personal Equity – Web User’s Rights in Web 2.0

There has been nothing short of an uproar regarding the recent changes to Tribe.net’s design and interface. Longtime users of the site began viral reactionary content creation which is making effective use of community building to voice discord with the direction of a website.

The changes were rolled out on January 18th and the response was violent “Tribe: New and Unimproved,” “Revert Tribe Now,” and “I Hate the New Tribe Look” sprang up and garnered members rather than the offically sanctioned comment tribe, “Tribe’s New Look.”

Many users of the site reacted by flaming the changes. The more interesting comments were those that voiced dissapointment in the change and commented that they felt especially wronged because of their personal investment or personal equity which they had invested.

Continue reading

The Spark That Creates Life

Frankenstein and DNAI was cruising The Drudge Report for some brain relief after five hours of focus and came upon this article on creating synthetic life forms.  The article is about a scientist named Craig Venter who is trying to create life from scratch.

Craig’s credentials are pretty good.  Previously he helped sequence the first privately-held map of the human genome.  This time he’s trying to construct a working genetic sequence using a process called synthetic biology

The article raises the question: how do you go about sparking life once you’ve put the pieces together in the right way?  I suggest referring to Mary Shelley’s synthetic biology research in her thesis entitled "Frankenstein."

A flippin' sweet liger, click to buy this on a flippin mug right now.The idea of wanting to create your own customized creatures isn’t new.  Back in 1926 Stalin had the bright idea of creating his own army of half-human half-monkey super warriors to fight the capitalists.  Yes, you read that right.  Monkey Super Warriors.

If Craig and his bookish gangstas are successful they could be able to to safely make environmentally friendly industrial chemicals, create a limitless supply of clean energy and build something to make superman walk again.  My hope is that they are successful and are also able to create the liger my brother wants for Christmas.