Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Yet Another Rehash of Social Media and “E-privacy”. Again.

It wasn’t “news” the last time I wrote about social media and the degredation of privacy, and it isn’t this time either. It wouldn’t have even been “news” if I’d written on this a couple of weeks ago, when I meant to.

Paul Venezia wrote a good article comparing what is being done in digital space to analogous situations in physical space. The thrust seems to be that these sort of snooping activities, all too common now, are widespread mainly because they’re very easy to do, and there aren’t as many laws concerning them. Reading your email is somehow different from reading your physical mail beacuse, well… it just is. Internet snooping, while it would certainly seem to violate the legal protections of privacy, doesn’t violate the letter. And that makes it A-okay.

A Texas researcher added an app to Facebook, allowing you to name enemies. I haven’t kept up with the story, if there’s indeed a story to keep up with, but by now the app could well have been axed. It’s well known that Facebook has consistently told users to get bent regarding a ‘dislike’ feature. The advertisers-first angle is, of course, spot-on. Facebook is an artificially friendly(ish) place, and that’s good for Facebook’s customers. If the only available options are to either like something, or ignore it, that suits companies just fine. No one can ever hate them, and they’re all seperated only by the degree to which people love them. It’s hard to fault Facebook, really. Most of us would probably do something quite similar, if hawking users’ information would net us $4.27 billion dollars during the year.

On the topic of Facebook, the House shot down a bill that would have outlawed the practice of employers requesting Facebook login information. Also fun, they’re claiming rights to the word ‘book.’ And here’s a look at what Facebook sends police if they subpeona your account.

More in privacy and security news:

Found on Popehat, the Ninth Circuit rejects the government’s attempts to base criminal prosecution on violations of usage agreements. The majority opinion is a pretty entertaining read, too.

The NSA, fattened on post-9/11 dollars, is building a gigantic data center in Utah. I’ll have more to say on this in the future, because it’s a Really Big Deal, but for now I’m just somewhat alarmed. I’d encourage you to be alarmed as well. I’d also encourage you to download a copy of TrueCrypt, and encrypt all your data. Maybe your email too, just for giggles. If my tax dollars are in some small way paying for this, I want to make sure they’ve got plenty to keep them entertained. AES encryption with a suitably strong password should keep even the government busy for a while.

Get out your chemicals and rubber hose, the FBI wants to “advance the science of interrogation.”


DHS to Collect Information on All Air Travelers, Everywhere

The Independent reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be requiring airlines to submit passenger details, even though they’re flying into Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, and not crossing over American airspace. DHS will “make boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate … If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list.”

Delightful. I’m always impressed when my country enacts policy that sounds somewhat similar to what the Belarussian’s are doing.

The justification for this is, I’m quite sure, that a terrorist might fly into any one of those places, and then simply wander into the U.S. by land or sea. And if you stop thinking about it right about there, it sounds almost reasonable (ignoring things like privacy, jurisdiction, and sovereignty). But why wouldn’t these bogeymen terrorists simply go to Guatemala, Belize, or Greenland? From there they can pass through Mexico or Canada, and into the United States. It’s a little (or, depending, a lot) further, but what’s a little driving when you’ve got something to blow up?

Naturally then, DHS should be collecting information on travellers headed to those locations. But what if they simply land in a country adjacent? You can see where I’m going with this. A security policy such as this, taken to its logical conclusion, leaves you monitoring everyone, everywhere. And if you commit to monitoring every possible external threat, it seems very silly not to keep an eye out for the internal ones too, which would make some sort of internal passport system suddenly appear “reasonable.” As ever, the bigger devils are in the implications.

As for the rest of the countries involved, they all need to go to their rooms and think about what they’ve done.