Tuesday, February 24, 2009

European law enforcement ups the pressure on Skype

Eurojust will be investigating VOIP --

Here's why, according to Eurojust:
Criminals in Italy are increasingly making phone calls over the internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile phone intercepts. Police officers in Milan say organised crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype and other systems of VoIP in order to frustrate investigators. Skype's encryption system is a secret which the company refuses to share with the authorities. Investigators have become increasingly reliant on wiretaps in recent years. Customs and tax police in Milan have highlighted the Skype issue. They overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg drug consignment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Esther Olavarria takes (new) DAS job for immigration policy

Visa Waiver Worries

FBI Director Mueller, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledges that visa-waiver countries are a terrorism risk:

Today, we still face threats from al Qaeda. But we must also focus on less well-known terrorist groups, as well as homegrown terrorists. And we must consider extremists from visa-waiver countries, who are merely an e-ticket away from the United States.

Lots of us agree. But Andrew Cochran goes off the deep end when he says that we should get rid of the VWP entirely.

Now if Director Mueller would only go further by admitting that the only "good" Visa Waiver Program is a "dead" Visa Waiver Program.
Since Andrew's advisors left government, we've done a lot to improve security in the VWP, and once the airlines do their part by implementing two-way communications with DHS, we will be able to use ESTA to vet VWP travelers before they can even get on the plane. If we did away with the program, tourism would tank, and we'd get two, count 'em, two additional security measures: we would have fingerprints before the traveler got on the plane instead of right after the traveler gets off the plane; and we'd be required by law to interview every single traveler.

If the first measure is really that useful, we could require that travelers provide their prints before getting on board. Frankly, I'm a bit skeptical, but there's no need to get rid of the program just to collect prints. As for the interviews -- we'd have lines around the block in Paris and London, or a radical drop in tourism, or both. And how much do you think we'd learn by interviewing millions under such pressure? Again, I'm skeptical. Now that we have ESTA, we can pick out the people we really want to interview and tell them to get a visa. Makes for better interviews and fewer hassles. Why the determination to kill the program when it's clearly salvageable?

Vast new amounts of "public" data could become actual public data

If we could lteach search engines to understand the public databases on the web.  I'd like to say something smart about the public policy implications of this.  But I don't actually know what they'll be. Apart from putting a whole bunch of airline ticket search sites out of business.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Talk about mixed feelings

Cory Doctorow has a plausible summary of How the Internet Will Devour, Transform, or Destroy Your Favorite Medium.  On the block:  music, big budget movies, books, and newspapers.

But I think Cory missed the industry that may be killed first by the Internet.  Radio.  XM is just the start.  Cost cutting has hurt variety and maybe quality of radio broadcasts.  And the competition is getting tougher:  in my life, cheap music and Pandora and, most of all, podcasts and audible.com have crowded out radio almost completely.  Even NPR gets no more than 3 minutes of bumpf before I flick to the mp3 player. 

I think radio -- or maybe just the spectrum it uses -- is going to have to find a new mission.

Lily Allen's latest album

Same perky pop instrumentation matched to heartfelt lyrics.
But unfortunately, it feels like exactly the same perky pop instrumentation, and the lyrics have lost most of the bare-knuckles dysfunction that were such an ironic match for the saccharine pop melodies.  Here, Lily sings about an old boyfriend, "Since you've gone I've lost that chip on my shoulder."  Too right.  I think she was better when she had the chip.

Whining about Scribefire

It's a Firefox add-on and a great way to post quickly. But boy, what a lousy set of formatting tools. Once you block quote something, there's no obvious way to stop the indenting, so everything that follows the quote is also indented. Anybody have a solution?

How Sri Lanka Put Terrorism on the Ropes

There's good news and bad in the Post's story summing up how Sri Lanka turned a corner in its fight against the Tigers. The good news is that cutting off foreign funding is a key part of the effort, and the US helped:
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the American government also became more diligent about shutting down funding for overseas insurgent groups. This month, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of a Maryland-based charity, the Tamil Foundation, that officials accuse of funneling money to the Tiger rebels.
The bad news is that the US is viewed as an obstacle to Sri Lanka's progress because it stalled military aid and expressed concerns over the government's tactics (and the tactics of a rebel leader who joined the government).  This forced Sri Lanka to turn to China for military assistance that didn't come with strings.  China is now Sri Lanka's go-to supplier and ally.

But the worst news is for the UN and human rights groups.  Sri Lanka, and even the groups, credit the government's progress to its determined opposition to UN and human-rights efforts to tell it how to fight the fight.  Here's what supporters of human rights groups are saying:

Last year, John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, called Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers after the still-unsolved killing of 17 people employed by a French aid group in August 2006. Soon after Holmes's comment, a cabinet minister accused him of being on the rebels' payroll. Holmes is visiting the country, urging both sides to protect civilians.

"We have senior government officials who came on national TV and called journalists and human rights workers terrorists," said Lal Wickramatunga, whose brother, Lasantha Wickramatunga, 52, a journalist and fierce critic of the government, was killed last month by unknown gunmen. "This is a way to win the war: Keep all outside eyes off the battlefields. Anyone who wants to know the truth will be called unpatriotic."

Seems to me that human rights groups would want to point to antiterrorism campaigns that succeeded without earning their criticism.  Otherwise, the Sri Lankan (or Chinese) approach could become a model, with bad consequences both for the US and for human rights groups.

Eerie silence over Chandra Levy case

The Washington Post has done a lot to focus attention on Ingmar Guandique, lead suspect in the Chandra Levy case, and today it talks about the likelihood that Guandique will soon be charged for the killing. But in all the reporting, wouldn't you think the Post would find time to explore the reasons Guandique was in the country?

It calls him an immigrant in the first sentence, but never reveals that he entered illegally and then was granted a work permit under a nominally temporary but in fact near-permanent program in early 2001. According to a story in Human Events, DHS confirmed his status as follows:
"Our records indicate that Mr. Guandique entered the United States illegally but was eligible for an immigration benefit because of the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of El Salvador. He filed for that benefit and received work authorization while that application was pending. The application has subsequently been denied because Guandique failed to submit fingerprints."

And why did he fail to submit fingerprints? Well, according to the Post, by July 2001, he'd been arrested for attacking women at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park.

So the timing is as follows: Guandique enters the US illegally and starts work as a day laborer around 2000. In March 2001, responding to earthquakes in El Salvador, President Bush grants Temporary Protected Status to all Salvadorans in the country, legally or illegally. Shortly thereafter Guandique files for a work permit under the temporary amnesty program. He also starts drinking and becomes violent. Chandra Levy is killed in May. Two weeks later, Guandique attacks a woman in the park, and he does it again on July 1. Wouldn't you think that an examination of this timeline would be a natural for the Post? It opens another window into Guandique's state of mind, and it's a human interest way of approaching dry policy topics like immigration and the temporary protected status program. (El Salvador's status is still in effect, nearly a decade after the earthquakes, so Guandique would still have his work permit if he hadn't been arrested.) Not to mention the Bush-bashing angle.

But the Post is silent. In fact, as far as I can tell, the entire press corps has been silent on this topic. Well, it's not like the Chandra Levy story has been the subject of heavy coverage.

That must explain it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More on the Chicago 911 camera links

DHS paid for them.

And this is surely in the running for lamest ACLU objection to the use of new technology to make people safer -- there were no "longitudinal" studies before deployment, and looking at an abandoned backpack might lead to racial profiling  --

“If a 911 caller reports that someone left a backpack on the sidewalk, will the camera image of someone who appears to be of Arab or South Asian descent make police decide that person is suspicious?” asked Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

[Apparently the ACLU can differentiate Arabs and people of South Asian descent from Italians, Turks, Latin Americans, and George Hamilton, even on a small screen from hundreds of feet away, and apparently even after the suspect has left the area.  Impressive!]

“There seems to be this incredibly voracious appetite on the part of the city to link up cameras to the 911 system,” Mr. Yohnka said. “But there are just no longitudinal statistics that prove that surveillance cameras reduce crime. They just displace crime.”

Switzerland complains about disclosure of tax cheats using their banks

Swiss party wants to punish U.S. for UBS probe.  If we keep pressing for names, the party says, Switzerland should refuse to help the US close Guantanamo, or to deal with Iran, or to sell securities.  All this to show Swiss opposition to "foreign blackmail."

So far, though, this isn't being covered as a privacy debate between American barbarians and civil-libertarian Europe.  How come?  Fighting terrorism is just Big Government, but collecting taxes is a vital function of a civilized society?

Goverrnment is hard

One reason for changing administrations is to relieve government from the burden of lessons learned too well.  Every administration makes mistakes, or  has bad luck, and then spends the rest of its term overcompensating.  The change of administrations allows a change in the story line and lets the new guys stop overcompensating. 

Of course, the new guys immediately begin accumulating their own set of mistakes, bad luck, and overcompensation mechanisms.  That's what seems to be happening as the White House vetting process is overhauled and tightened.

Let's not forget the lesson offered by the 9/11 Commission.  Vetting and confirmation delays meant that much of the Bush homeland security team had barely come on board by September 11, 2001.  With a Democratic Senate, and the lessons of the Commission in mind, this Administration ought to move faster, not slower, on security nominees.  I hope they're not just focused on the most recent problem.

A glimpse of the future?

The downside of outsourcing essential functions:  it looks as though one-third of the Fortune 500 are still trapped in contracts with fraud-ravaged Satyam as the company goes looking for a new owner.  How come they don't buy it?  At least then they could negotiate an orderly exit from their contracts.

What it takes to make surveillance cameras work

I'm not sure that Chicago's plan to have cameras everywhere in time for  the 2016 Olympics is all that comforting, but letting 911 operators pan, zoom and tilt cameras near 911 calls is a great idea.  Does it really work?  And how long before we can ask 911 callers with cell phones to "just hold up your phone, hit the camera shutter, and show us the perp"?

Challenging European Consensus

The President of the Czech Republic gave a speech to the European Parliament that challenges European political correctness.  It's worth reading in its entirety, if only to get a sense of how narrowly theEuropean consensus has been defined.  Vaclav Klaus thinks "Europe" should focus on things that can't be done by one or a few countries working bilaterally.  He stands for economic liberalism and doubts that Europe is a single demos that can be represented in a single Parliament. Controversial, I suppose, but not shocking to American ears.  Really, how close to the Greeks and Bulgarians do the Finns and the Scots feel?  Yet he's being treated as utterly beyond the pale.  Why the overreaction?

Friday, February 20, 2009

This just in -- Harris Interactive destroyed by lightning strike

A political honeymoon is one thing. But more of a hero than Jesus? That's impressive.

On the other hand, look Who's no. 11.  Must be an Old Testament problem.

Crowd-sourcing Intrusion Detection

DataLossDB assembles data breach reports from small media across the country and uses the results to spot trends.  Most interesting result?  They were able to identify a common source for many small breach disclosure and infer that the breaches were all due to a single credit card processor who'd been hacked.

That's innovative, but I've got some doubts about the methodology for purposes of measuring intrusions and trends.  For example, the site reports massive increases in breaches in recent years.  But if the source of that trend is media reports, and the media only reports public announcements, couldn't much of the trend simply reflect the growing number of state laws requiring public announcements of breaches?  If so, the trend is unverifiable using this data.  And, later, when state laws are largely in place, can't we expect the media to stop reporting so enthusiastically on every breach, much as they don't report every mugging?  So we'll still  be imprudent to treat the media reports as providing a valuable estimate of trends.

Another example of the same bias risk is the surprising assertion that 22 percent of data breaches are caused by lost laptops and PCs.  That's a surprisingly high number of breaches; I'd have thought that hacking was a greater source of serious breaches.  But I'm not surprised that lost laptops produce a large number of public disclosures.  The laws in question don't require proof that the data has been used to cause harm.  Just the fact of compromise usually triggers the duty to warn.  For those of us who doubt that laptop theft is usually aimed at getting access to personal data, these disclosures forced by state law are not a good measure of how data thieves actually get their information.  By aggregating the data without taking account of the bias built into the law, the site is likely to mislead us about where the risks are in aour infrastructure.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The War on the War on Terror

The International Commission of Jurists has put together a sweeping indictment of the "war on terror."  The report insists that the ordinary justice system can handle terrorism, but its main thrust is to marshal a web of international human rights that make it a lot less likely that the justice system will actually succeed in that task.  I'm not capable of judging all of its human rights claims, but the handling of immigration rules is disturbing. 

After acknowledging that, in theory, nations can expel noncitizens who are terrorists, the report says that nations can't expel them if they might be oppressed at home, and it can't keep them in long-term detention, or even house arrest, either.  So a country that captures  a terrorist who has crossed its borders illegally could easily find itself unable either to expel the terrorist or to lock him up. It has to leave him free to roam around the country.  That's not a recipe for persuading ordinary people that international human rights law makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It makes a UCLA grad proud (if a bit surprised) ...

This seems to be an entirely unironic effort by US academics to help the US government find bin Laden in Pakistan.  It seems a bit simplistic in its assumptions, but I like the spirit -- and I'd definitely check out the buildings.

PS Am I wrong to be surprised when US academics offer to help their government find an Islamic terrorist?  Somehow I don't remember a lot of that.

Good news: Poop that smells like mint. Bad news: everybody dies

How biotech could change our world: An interview:
RS: Well, for us, what we're really interested in doing at Gingko is making biological engineering easier. And obviously, one of the aspects of what that means is you're essentially democratizing access to the technology. You're making it so that more and more people can come in and engineer biological systems. Now just like with any technology, by making it easier and making it more accessible, you're both promoting huge advantages, and there are going to be areas for concern.

How do we know that the next time around when we have an outbreak of Avian flu, or whatnot, how do we know that the traditional "academic" labs and research institutes around the world are going to be prepared to respond? Maybe we can develop a wider network of people who can work towards engineering biological systems for good. You're creating a larger community of people, that you can tap into to come up with useful things for society. So from our perspective, yes, we are making biology easier and we're democratizing access to it, but we're also working to make that community of folks who are doing this work as constructive as possible, and trying to create a culture essentially where people are trying to use these technologies for good rather than for harm.

JT: I guess my concern is that if you look at the history of computers and software engineering, the easier it gets to design things, and especially when you look at things like computer viruses, it's gotten to the point now where essentially, there are the equivalent of these “send us a sequence and we'll give you DNA [companies].” There's “send us what you want your computer virus to do and we'll send you back a computer virus.” I'm just a little concerned that the track record of humanity, when given easy access to new technologies, has not been great.

RS: Well, what's the alternative to what you're suggesting? Should we all get rid of our computers so that we don't have the potential for computer viruses? You have to understand that, yes; there were some costs that came about with the computer revolution. But there were also huge benefits. You're giving people access to information in a way that they never had before. So, in some ways, you can think about it that computers save people's lives. If I have a rare disease and my doctor doesn't happen to know how to diagnose it, I can go Google online and look for my symptoms, and potentially find the right doctor to go to to help cure myself, right?

So, the problem with every technology is that you have to take the bad with the good. So what we can do, basically, is to try to bias the technology into folks who are working around that technology towards good as much as possible. And that's what I and others are actively working to do. So your question is -- you're ignoring all the good that has come out of things like making software programming easier and more open.

JT: The point's well taken. One last question on the subject and then we'll move on. My wife has told me -- she took organic chemistry in college, and was told that basically once you have a degree like that, expect that the government's going to keep an eye on you later on in life, if you're ordering things, for example. Has there been any thought or talk about, for example, Homeland Security keeping an eye on what's going on in this field?

RS: Well, I would say that the relationships have been actually much more positive than that. I think the idea has been for researchers in the field, and for folks from government, and folks from industry, to get together and figure out, "Hey, there's a lot of good that can come out of this. But there is also some potential for accidents and harm. How do we work together to create an environment where the most constructive things happen?" So I would say that there has certainly been discussions with folks from government. But it's not so much been a “how do we tamp down on this or how do we regulate this”, but “how do we work together to minimize the risk of something bad happening.

Trouble brewing for DHS on northern border?

While Canada has had to focus much of its diplomatic energy on the Buy American provisions of the stimulus bill, this article suggests that DHS will be in for some pressure to reduce security plans for the northern border: 

"Day noted as well that the government is paying close attention to a review of border security ordered by Janet Napolitano, the new U.S. homeland security secretary.

The Tories want to send a message that the smooth flow of trade at land border points can't be throttled in the name of fighting terrorism.

"We're going to be aggressive on this front," said Day, a former public safety minister."

Immigration ain't what it used to be

The American immigration narrative assumes that it's a one-way street.  Immigrants  come here, they lose touch with home, and their kids grow up American.  Now, however, losing touch with home isn't that easy, even if you want to. The Taliban is here.  Terrorists are raising funds in the US by extorting money from immigrants with family back in Pakistan.

The story is going to be repeated.  In fact, al-Shabaab, the Somali extremist organization, is recruiting boys in Minneapolis and elsewhere to fight in Somalia (and maybe back here, too). 

We're going to have to rethink a lot of policy issues, from asylum (can we really make people safe by letting them stay here) to our lackadaisical approach to Americans fighting in foreign wars.  For now, though, I can't help wondering what the NYPD is doing about this.  New Yorkers are the subjects of extortion; they're very likely being spied on by Taliban agents in New York.  The NYPD is proud of its international reach.  It's one of a very few local departments that operates abroad.  So shouldn't it be penetrating and breaking up the US organizations that enable this kind of extortion?

Monday, February 16, 2009

You'd think the NYT would be torn about this idea

Why Not Bring a Neanderthal to Life?

Unless they're planning to deny Neanderthals the right to vote ...

An American Foreign Legion?

DOD plans to recruit temporary immigrants who've been here as little as two years.  I assume that means kids with student visas and temporary H-1-b workers.  Citizenship can follow in six months.  The program's meant to bring in native Arabic speakers and other translators.  Says one member of the military “[N]ow that we have soldiers as translators, we are able to trust more, we are able to accomplish the mission with more accuracy.” 

Terrorism meets chick lit

Marie Claire <a href="http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/international/malika-el-aroud-female-terrorist">profiles</a> the Belgian woman whose husband killed Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, on September 10, 2001.&nbsp; Some samples:

 "She was a single mom; he was divorced and searching. Together they kindled an epic passion for each other — and jihad."  

  "One can only imagine the sense of satisfaction she feels, having advanced the work of her beloved Abdessattar. Helping each other realize their dreams — that's just what true lovers do....As Malika put it in her memoir, "Ours was the most beautiful love story that any woman could dream of.""

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Canadian federal government falls victim to Patriot Act Derangement Syndrome

Canada is reclaiming a British Columbia drivers license database from DHS.  Privacy advocates in Canada fear that the data will be misused under the Patriot Act.  Of course all the data is already captured by DHS when Canadians cross the border.  Except, apparently, for those passport-type photos.  And that's what Canada wants to keep out of the US government's hands. 

Listen, I understand.  I've had passport photos I wanted to keep private too.  But it never occurred to me that evil governments might be storing them in order to blackmail me. 

Makes sense; I'm guessing the Canadians have been blackmailing Norm Coleman over his high school yearbook photo for years.  http://www.vetocorleone.com/2009/02/norm-colemans-yearbook-photo-is-your.html

Plus, it's more fun to administer than a shot ...

Herpes virus may protect against bacterial pathogens:

A major point of discussion between the two groups concerned the implications of such research for the development of vaccines against herpes virus infections. Dr. Virgin suggested that "decreased infection may be associated with unintended negative consequences for vaccinated individuals." In response, Dr. Blackman argues that possible transient protective effects did not outweigh the already recognized pathological consequences of herpesvirus infection. Both groups agreed that the protective effects of herpesvirus infections merit further study.

More thoughts on a secure Internet

David Isenberg and David Aken have a sweet, old-timey vision of the Internet. 

Even their bad guys are a bit old school -- virus writers who just want to degrade your machine for fun or who hope to steal your credit card number by extracting one number from one machine. But credit card numbers are easy to steal in bulk, and that's where the thieves are going. Invading individual machines is much more likely to be for the purpose of botting them on behalf of a spam or DDOS network. And once they've been botted, the machines' new overlords will take good care of them, even installing antivirus software to keep other malware out.

It's probably true that most of us who are moderately careful have not noticed a serious intrusion into our computers from the Internet. But we wouldn't, would we? Unfortunately, the users who have the sophistication to identify intrusions -- and the users who have something worth stealing -- have noticed, a lot, and they've run out of easy fixes.

I'm nostalgic for the old Internet too, but I already live on the new Internet, too. So do you if you use a corporate network. What's wrong with letting the two models compete?

More worries about the future of Mexico

  Even Texas is getting nervous.

And the UNHCR seems to think we can just turn everyone in Mexico who's worried about drug violence into a refugee.

And this is just cool: a way to knock off several diseases AND antibiotic resistance

NYT asks whether security problems will force us to a new Internet

Do We Need a New Internet? - NYTimes.com  This sure looks like the way we're going.  Two nets:  one anonymous and dangerous, the other heavily authenticated and a lot less entertaining.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rep. Norm Dicks objects to border enforcement in Washington State

E-Verify Trashed in Stimulus

Pretty sad. http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9127982&intsrc=news_ts_head