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.”

Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do.

Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do. These waves of technology, you can see them way before they happen, and you just have to choose wisely which ones you’re going to surf. If you choose unwisely, then you can waste a lot of energy, but if you choose wisely it actually unfolds fairly slowly. It takes years.

-Steve Jobs

Obama on PRISM

I very much respect our President, Barack Obama. I watch his speeches and press conferences with great interest. I am impressed by his thoughtfulness around issues and ability to craft language and sentiment that offers digestible feedback for the public on complex civic issues. I’ve voted for him twice and hope to meet him one day.

So watching and reading his reaction to questions about PRISM, a program which may shape public sentiment toward government oversight of private communications for the next decade or longer, is of great interest to me.

The Wall Street Journal published a copy of the transcript from Obama’s first comments on PRISM, and I wanted to call attention to two particular passages bolded below:

“So — so we have a system in which some information is classified, and we have a system of checks and balances to make sure that it’s not abused. And if, in fact, this information ends up just being dumped out willy-nilly without regard to risks to the program, risks to the people involved, in some cases on other leaks, risks to personnel in very dangerous situations, then it’s very hard for us to be as effective in — in protecting the American people.

That’s not to suggest that, you know, you just say, trust me, we’re doing the right thing, we know who the bad guys are. And the reason that’s not how it works is because we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

…But I know that the people who are involved in these programs — they operate like professionals. And these things are very narrowly circumscribed. They’re very focused. And in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.

The exposure of PRISM (and the Verizon meta-data tap) shook people into realizing their conversations (textual and otherwise) data are part of a dataset being monitored for suspicious activity. The NSA and Executive Branch may have tangible, real-world examples that, in their minds, justify PRISM. However, it doesn’t change the fact that many people are surprised, shocked and alarmed at its exposure.

Absent specific proof about how PRISM has enhanced security, all people can do is trust the systems that Obama describes are in place. And further, that neither he, nor his successors will allow PRISM to be abused.

In the first bolded passage, Obama seems to almost make light of the idea that Americans might have an active distrust of the Executive Branch, Congress and Federal Judges. To contrast the idea of trust at this level, let’s take it to extremes: these are the same folks trusted to authorize a nuclear attack. Surely, if you can trust them with the bomb, you can also trust them not to abuse PRISM.

Americans are ok with the President carrying the nuclear football to his daily basketball games. The implication being that Obama might need to call a timeout, take a phone call and authorize a nuclear launch courtside. At least everyone would know it happened.

Having your email read by the federal government seems to be a bigger cause for concern.  It is easier for normal people to see how the responsibility to collect, retain and analyze private communications would be abused and directly affect them. With PRISM the American people must trust a rather large and hard to properly identify security apparatus. They also are unlikely to find out if a mistake is made using PRISM and a misguided follow-up information request ends up violating their privacy.

Clapper’s Cuteness

A major, major problem in my mind with regard to establishing trust with the American people over PRISM is the March testimony of the Director of National Intelligence before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

My home state’s Senator, Ron Wyden, (who I have personally discussed electronic privacy with here in Portland), asked Clapper point break about PRISM. Clapper gave what he described as an answer that was “too cute by half.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.): “This is for you, Director Clapper, again on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference, and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘The story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is completely false.’
“The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Director of National Intelligence JAMES CLAPPER: “No, sir.
SEN. WYDEN: “It does not?
DIR. CLAPPER: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.
SEN. WYDEN: “Thank you. I’ll have additional questions to give you in writing on that point, but I thank you for the answer.

It is unfair for Obama to make light of Americans’ potential distrust of congress when there is recent evidence, that even our duly elected government officials can not pry even a semblance of truth, under oath (which indicates rule of law) from the Director of National Security.

I believe a reasonable person would assume that Ron Wyden was asking his question on behalf of the American people. Presumably, Wyden was well-briefed on PRISM at that point and knew the answer to his question was yes.

So allowing the false verbal testimony to stand seems to have done more harm than good: the exchange was misleading to the public, It was supposed to appear as truthful testimony and a matter cleanly resolved. In fact it was neither.

Yeezus Comes. Into and Out of Kanye West

Kanye's Barking Dog Background from Black Skinhead on SNL
Kanye’s Barking Dog Background from Black Skinhead on SNL

I first got into Kanye West in 2005 with the release of Late Registration. There is a Grammy winning track on that album called Diamonds from Sierra Leone. It was originally a solo recording for Kanye but Jay-Z extended the track with his own verse and it was included as the final track as a “remix” of the original. I thought the remix was great and Jay-Z crushed it. I became a fan of Kanye West.

I had been really into Bonnaroo at that time of my life. I was running a Dave Matthews Band fan site at the time and used it to get press credentials for the festival. I shared some amazing memories and built relationships at Bonnaroo. I wrote reviews of the festival and set up interviews with the likes of Grace Potter and Sharon Jones.

In 2008, Kanye was scheduled to perform the main stage at Bonnaroo and I defended him to my pals, insisting he was worth listening to. Then he rescheduled his performance and arrived late to that. Ultimately he really blew the performance, only to later condemn Bonnaroo.

I contrasted Kanye’s performance with then rising Lupe Fiasco’s set in The Other Tent as a difference of appreciation for the festival. As a long-time attendee, I had never witnessed such a lack of professionalism from an artist at Bonnaroo. Kanye has had a lot of problems in public, yet I had given him a pass. But this was too much, I stopped listening.

And then he dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The demonstration of artistry on that album re-wired my senses, allowing his music to cover for his public mistakes. I still listen to that album.

Rumors have been swirling about a June release titled Yeezus and what guests might appear. Naturally, I’m pretty interested. Here’s what I’m seeing:

Last week he did a surprise appearance at the Adult Swim Upfront event last week that included a rant. This past weekend projected a video debuting “New Slave” in 66 locations worldwide and performed New Slave and Black Skinhead as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

Both tracks have interpretations posted on RapGenius, which are worth a look.

I’m watching and waiting for the release. Kanye may be the most talented and complicated artists I’ve followed to-date. I’m watching this album closely, and will try to update this post as it develops.

Update 1: Def Jam Records, Kanye’s label has confirmed album art for Yeezus:

Update 2:  Kanye does interview with New York Times:

“I think you got to make your case. Seventh grade, I wanted to be on the basketball team. I didn’t get on the team, so that summer I practiced. I was on the summer league. My team won the championship; I was the point guard. And then when I went for eighth grade, I practiced and I hit every free throw, every layup, and the next day I looked on this chart, and my name wasn’t on it. I asked the coach what’s up, and they were like, “You’re just not on it.” I was like, “But I hit every shot.” The next year — I was on the junior team when I was a freshman, that’s how good I was. But I wasn’t on my eighth-grade team, because some coach — some Grammy, some reviewer, some fashion person, some blah blah blah — they’re all the same as that coach. Where I didn’t feel that I had a position in eighth grade to scream and say, “Because I hit every one of my shots, I deserve to be on this team!” I’m letting it out on everybody who doesn’t want to give me my credit.”

Terrorists Make Mistakes and Bitcoin as a Technological Tour De Force

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen have a new book coming out called The New Digital Age.

They did an interview with CNBC on the book and at one point it focused on Illicit networks. In the book it reads, “The real challenge will be a combination of virtual currency with anonymous networks that hide the physical location of services.”

Jared Cohen’s comment in the interview is that illicit networks are two trillion dollar industry, and adds that a new virtual currency complicates the global challenge.  He argues that although it could serve to empower criminals that leverage new technology, there is also new potential for mistakes that foil crime.

Eric Schmidt is asked directly, will big businesses decide to accept Bitcoin or other forms of virtual currencies. Schmidt’s response is: “Bitcoin is a technological tour de force. What I don’t know is ultimately whether it is going to be legal.”

Fascinating.

Unlocking a Verizon iPhone 4S for International Travel

iphone 4s 5 unlock micro sim verizon

Are you planning to travel internationally and want to unlock your iPhone? This post explains steps related to unlocking an iPhone 4S using the United States carrier, Verizon. It may also work for Android phones on the service, but my experience is with the iPhone. The process takes between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. Be sure to read the “Once you arrive” steps so you are able to finish the process.

Before you get started
You should be aware of restrictions Verizon puts on device unlocks. Some but not all of this was covered in a Venturebeat article.

  1. Your account must be in good standing. i.e. you can not owe them money.
  2. They say that your account must have been in good standing for at least 6 months, but I do not believe they enforce this rule.
  3. You may only unlock one device per phone number every 10 months.

Unlock your iPhone with Verizon

  1. While still in the United States, dial *611 from your iPhone.

Producer Zach Saginaw and his Greatest Tour Story

I’ve been enjoying Sun Glitters’ most recent EP Mouth / Tight and was drawn into Zach Saginaw’s remix of the song “Mouth”. I’m writing to offer some more visibility to Zach and his work.

Zach goes by the pseudonym “Shigeto,” which is both his middle name and the first name of his grandfather. This bit of background and more is covered in his profile at Ghostly International. Ghostly is a Michigan-based record label that also works with emerging electronica artists like Com Truise, Mux Mool and Phantogram.

Shigeto released Lineage, a mini-LP, around this time last year which covers jazz, hip-hop and funk in eight songs.  Here’s a link to stream the first track from the album online.

Prefix Magazine did an interview with Shigeto this past June. They asked him about a variety of things including the impact technology and greater accessibility are having on making music today. For example, if everyone can make and release music, what will become of music quality? In Zach’s response he broadened the impact to cover creativity overall:

New Devendra Banhart Track: “Für Hildegard Von Bingen”

I’ve been a fan of Devendra Banhart’s since I saw him open for Joanna Newsom at Berbati’s Pan in 2004.  The new album is titled Mala and is coming out on March 12th on Nonesuch Records.

A Tour of the International Space Station

Sunita Williams gives a 25 minute tour of the International Space Station. Amazing!

Happy New Year

I’m pleased to wish the world a very Happy New Year. I believe 2013 will be a year of limitless possibility. I look forward to helping fulfill its potential as a year where society makes progress in demonstrating greater love and compassion for each other.