Thursday, June 28, 2007

Federal Trade Commission report on Net Neutrality

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued their report on Broadband Connectivity Competition and are warning against legislation to ensure net neutrality.

An Internet News article reports:

The FTC was unable to find any significant market failure or
demonstrated consumer harm from conduct by broadband providers.

"Policy makers should be wary of calls for network neutrality regulation simply because we do not know what the net effects of potential conduct by broadband providers will be on consumers," the report states. "Similarly, we do not know what net effects regulation to proscribe such conduct would have on consumers."
To learn more, read my earlier post , or click one of the buttons in the sidebar.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Update on SBINet and the Arivaca Tower

The Arivaca Tower, part of the Secure Border Initiative or SBINet is getting some attention from U.S. national media. The New York Times , U.S. News and World Report and Washington Technology all have recent in-depth stories.

The launch of the high-tech virtual fence along Arizona's border with Mexico has been delayed due to technical problems. According to an Arizona Republic article:

Boeing has installed all nine portable 98-foot towers, cameras, radar and ground sensors. It has fitted 50 patrol vehicles with computer links. Mobile and central command bases have also been linked to the network. The idea is to give front-line agents and commanders up-to-the-second pictures of all the activity in their areas.But the cameras and sensors convey inconsistent information. Software glitches and integrating all the information have proved challenging.
Today the U.S. Senate voted to revive an immigration bill, supported by both Arizona's senators, that would tighten border security, create a temporary guest worker program and grant immediate legal status to millions of undocumented workers in the United States.

For background information, read my earlier posts about the Arivaca Tower.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Net Neutrality: 21 days left to save the Internet

When we log on to the Internet, we expect to be able to access any site we want, regardless of whether it is run by a major corporation or a home-based business owner. Net Neutrality means that Internet Service providers cannot discriminate by speeding up or slowing down access to Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.

The largest telecommunications companies want to be able to regulate what we access, including the ability to block their competitor’s sites and to tax content providers to guarantee the speed of delivery of their content.

Save the Internet is a movement in the U.S., urging citizens to tell Congress to preserve Net Neutrality and help ensure that the benefits and promise of the Internet are available to all Americans.

In Canada, Michael Geist has set up a petition at urging the Canadian government to stand up and protect the future of the Canadian Internet.

While the definition of net neutrality is open to some debate, at the core is the commitment to ensuring that Internet service providers treat all content and applications equally with no privileges, degrading of service or prioritization based on the content's source, ownership or destination.
What you can do:

1. Watch the video for a primer on the issue.
2. Learn more. The Digital Nomad has an informative post with links to more information.
3. Sign the petitions at Save the Internet or today.
4. Spread the word through your own blog with a post on the topic and with one of these U.S. badges or Canadian badges.

Act now - there are only 21 days left to preserve a free and open Internet!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

15 Steps: Privacy is your responsibility

When it comes to privacy, many people believe that if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear. In a world where more and more of our personal information is becoming vulnerable, we need to be reminded that privacy is our right and we must take responsibility to protect it.

Even if you are in the “nothing to hide” camp, I highly recommend you read Michael Beck’s (aka The Digital Nomad) privacy series at his blog, The Sovereign Journey. This blog is “dedicated to exploring the use of emerging technology to promote the self-ownership concepts of Natural Law, Personal Freedom, and Self-determination.”

His series will outline the 15 steps that you can take to safeguard your personal privacy. I’ll be up-front: Michael kindly reviewed my blog a few weeks ago and I’m pleased to return the favour, as we share a common interest in keeping the issue of privacy on everyone’s radar screens.

Michael’s newer blog, The Rugged Notebooks Blog, is unique as it specifically reviews technology and gadgets for those with a rugged lifestyle or occupation:

Maybe you are a digital nomad always on the go and need something a little tougher, or you work in harsh surroundings related to heat, humidity, variable atmospheric conditions, or you have an occupation requiring a computer that simply won’t let you down in extreme conditions…no matter if you accidentally drop it in water, in oil, or even a fire, then what you need is a ruggedized computer, aka "RuggedNotebooks”.
So, whether you’re a digital nomad or chained to your desktop, what steps are you taking to safeguard your privacy?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Canada's No-Fly list could be linked to biometrics

Canada new “no-fly” list, to be known as “Passenger Protect”, takes effect on June 18th and according to an Ottawa Citizen report, the federal transport minister isn’t ruling out linking the names to biometric data in the long term. The Canadian no-fly list will have hundreds of names, rather than the tens of thousands on the U.S. list. Names will be added to the list based on information supplied by CSIS and the RCMP.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the risks associated with biometrics and DNA-enabled travel documents, data security and the potential impact on individual privacy. The first steps toward collecting biometric data are already underway in both the U.S. and Canada:

The United States already scans the fingerprints of foreign visitors entering the country and stores the information in a database. Visitors from Canada and some countries are excluded from the program.

Meanwhile, Transport Canada has bulked up security at airports by issuing biometric ID cards to staff who work in "restricted areas."

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart has spoken out against the no-fly list, along with other privacy advocates such as Pippa Lawson, director of CIPPIC. Citizens could be the subject of mistaken identity and personal information collected by governments could make citizens vulnerable when traveling abroad or if their information is stolen or abused. The potential for abuse was highlighted at the Air India inquiry, where a Transport Minister acknowledged that the no-fly list could be shared with foreign governments.

While airlines could be fined up to $25,000 if they disclose personal information about individuals on the list, there appear to be little safeguards provided to prevent foreign governments from using or abusing this information. Passengers who feel they have been mistakenly placed on the no-fly list can appeal to the Office of Reconsideration, but are not allowed to know why their name was originally placed on the list.

Canadians are entitled to strong and rigorous guarantees from their federal government about the uses and limits of the collection and dissemination of personal information. The implications of misuse and abuse are far too serious for anything less.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Privacy has a true market value

An obsessive and self-destructive screenwriter, Albert Feeld finds his life spiraling out of control as he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it seems the characters from his screenplay are coming to life all around him. As he lays on his deathbed, his final strained words to his publisher are: “No … biography!” Three hundred years later, Feeld’s head, which was cryogenically frozen after his death is brought to life in a lab where scientists are studying human memory, but also extracting his memories to be broadcast as a form of entertainment – a future version of reality television. In this dystopian future, a group of terrorists fighting for “Reality or Nothing” are the final guardians of human values, including the right to privacy. As the television mogul capitalizing on Feeld’s memories says: “Who would want made-up stories from a hack when you can mainline into the real thing? At last, privacy has a true market value.”

This is just the briefest synopsis of Dennis Potter’s brilliant companion miniseries Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. You may not have heard of Potter (pictured above), but you’ve probably seen some of his work, such as Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective (British and U.S. version). Potter is also a fascinating and tragic individual, who suffered from a rare form of acute psoriasis; a painful condition which left him somewhat disfigured and required frequent hospitalization. He began writing Karaoke and Cold Lazarus shortly after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and struggled to complete the stories before his death in March 1994. His wife tragically died one week before him, of breast cancer.

Why am I writing about Dennis Potter and his final works? Because when I saw Karaoke and Cold Lazarus over ten years ago on the CBC, I thought the miniseries was one of the most original, innovative and moving programs I had ever seen. As I’ve been writing so much about privacy on this blog, I recently recalled the image of Daniel Feeld’s severed head with a tear streaming down his cheek after a particularly personal memory is broadcast to the world without his consent. Daniel Feeld, who felt he was losing control when he was alive and feared the publication of a biography following his death, is sentenced to a hellish eternity where he is forced, helpless, to re-live and share his most intimate thoughts and memories.

In our present, where countless private and government databanks have the potential to be merged and form a picture of the most private details of our lives, thoughts and activities, Potter’s words “Privacy has a true market value” seem far more prophetic than they did when this miniseries was first broadcast.

I wish I could link you to the DVD of this great miniseries, but sadly, the rights are being fought out between Channel 4 and the BBC, and no commercial copies exist, so the best I can do is link to Potter’s screenplay. If Channel 4 and the BBC ever get it sorted out – and they owe it to the memory of Potter to do so and to do it soon – I’ll be among the first of Potter’s fans to let you know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TJ Maxx: Privacy and Consumer Apathy

Information Week is reporting on the financial statements for TJ Maxx following the massive security breach last year and – surprise! – sales at the retailer are up 6% over last year.

Given the scale of the breach – customer financial information dating back to 2003 was stolen – and the revelation that TJ Maxx was retaining far more information on customers far longer than required to support the transaction, I am surprised that sales did not go down. What message are customers sending to retailers about the importance of privacy and the trust that consumers place in them when making a transaction? Are customers so weary of hearing about security breaches that they have become apathetic to the issue?

It’s not that TJ Maxx hasn’t made an effort to redress the problem:

The company reported a charge of $20 million, or 0.5% of net sales for the last
quarter of 2006 toward investigating and containing the computer intrusion, work
to improve the company's computer security and systems, communicating with
customers, and technical, legal, and other related costs
And many irate consumers are taking the issue to court:

TJX is facing class-action lawsuits from customers in state and federal courts
in Alabama, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Puerto
Rico, as well as in provincial Canadian courts in Alberta, British Columbia,
Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Additional class-action suits from
financial institutions affected by the computer intrusion -- those
credit and debit cards used during the time of the intrusion
-- have been
filed against TJX in federal court in Massachusetts. All-told, nine lawsuits
have been filed against TJX since April 17.
Still, it is stunning that a retailer can expose consumers to one of the largest and most costly security breaches in history and the shoppers just keep on shopping.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

More Local Reaction to the Arivaca Tower

A tip of the hat to Otto at Otto's Random Thoughts, who alerted me to Southwind Dancer, a blog by local Arivacans about the Arivaca Tower. Along with Arivaca AZ Online , this blog provides good insight to the issues facing residents living in the shadow of the Tower. The image at right is a copy of a poster from the Arivaca AZ Online site, which I hope they won't mind me reproducing here. Arivacans appear to be well-organized in their protest against this Department of Homeland Security pilot project (click the "Secure Border Initiative" label at the end of this entry to see all of my previous posts on this topic).

As Otto is leaving Arivaca soon to take the post of Associate Professor of International and Comparative Politics at American University of Central Asia, I wanted to thank him for pointing me to these local resources and wish him all the very best in his exciting new role. I'll be continuing to follow developments on the Arivaca Tower in future posts.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Biometrics and DNA-enabled passports

About 10 years ago, a large brown envelope arrived in my mailbox from my old alma mater. It contained a request for me to participate in a long-term research study that the university was undertaking on the effects of drinking water from Lake Ontario, which I had been drinking for most of my life. The large brown envelope also contained a much tinier brown envelope into which I was to deposit the clippings of all ten of my toenails. Once I got past the "ew…gross" factor, I began to ponder the implications of sending away little pieces of my DNA that were to go on file for a decades-long study. Despite the assurances from this well-respected university that my toenail clippings would be kept secure and not used for any other purpose, I opted not to participate, as I just did not feel comfortable with the prospect.

Fast-forward a decade and it appears that our governments will eventually be forcing us to provide DNA samples, if we ever want to travel outside the country, that is. According to a CanWest News report:

Canadians will inevitably have to carry travel documents with their DNA,
biometrics or other biological identifiers in order to ensure secure border
travel to the United States, according to a new white paper to be revealed to
government officials in Ottawa Monday.

Although some technology, such as DNA-enabled passports or driver's
licences, may be a long way off, terror threats and other looming risks mean
governments must begin to seriously consider how they will introduce those
measures in the future, [said Michael Hawes, executive director of the
Foundation for Educational Exchange between Canada and the United States of

The white paper will outline the implications of the U.S.’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which earlier this year required Canadians flying into the U.S. to carry a passport and which will require all Canadians driving or walking across the border to have a passport by 2008.

A few toenail clippings in a university researcher’s file cabinet are a minor concern compared to a DNA profile being available in electronic format to my own government, let alone a foreign government. While the purpose is to guarantee that I am who I say I am when traveling in and out of my country, what would happen if the electronic representation of my DNA were stolen? Just ask someone who shares a similar name to someone on the U.S. "no-fly" list how easy it is to prove who they are: how much more difficult and dangerous will it be if your DNA profile is stolen or altered?

It raises the question of ownership of the data and informed consent to citizens about how it will be used. Citizens should have assurances that their DNA profile will not be collected or saved by foreign governments and that the information will not be made available to other government agencies or third parties. Genetic information from DNA and other biometric information can be dangerous not only if it is used to assume someone’s identity, but also if it reveals health or social information that could be used in a negative way against the owner.

The use of biometrics and DNA seems inevitable in an increasingly security-obsessed world. As citizens we need to pay very close attention to these initiatives and the laws in place to protect our identity.