October 16, 2004

Jurisdiction-Shopping [7:11 pm]

Bahamas Firm Screens Personal Data To Assess Risk

It began as one of the Bush administration’s most ambitious homeland security efforts, a passenger screening program designed to use commercial records, terrorist watch lists and computer software to assess millions of travelers and target those who might pose a threat.

The system has cost almost $100 million. But it has not been turned on because it sparked protests from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, who said it intruded too deeply into the lives of ordinary Americans. The Bush administration put off testing until after the election.

Now the choreographer of that program, a former intelligence official named Ben H. Bell III, is taking his ideas to a private company offshore, where he and his colleagues plan to use some of the same concepts, technology and contractors to assess people for risk, outside the reach of U.S. regulators, according to documents and interviews.

See also Slashdot’s Data Miners Moving to Offshore Data Havens and a related Washington Post article, Privacy Eroding, Bit by Byte

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Control and Digital Distribution [6:30 pm]

Oscar Plan to Encrypt DVD’s Hits Glitches

Hollywood studios have yet to decide how they will send copies of their movies to Oscar voters and still avoid the piracy concerns of last year.

That’s because the solution devised by studio representatives in cooperation with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to experiment with a new technology by Cinea Inc., looks less and less as if it will arrive in time for the Oscar season, which begins in earnest in late fall.

“It’s certainly puzzling how slowly things seem to be moving,” Bruce Davis, executive director of the motion picture academy, said. “I don’t know what’s going on. It’s certainly mysterious.”

Maybe - but the article goes on to point out some obvious problems, irrespective of whether the technology will work:

The motion picture academy announced at the end of August that every member would get a DVD player, which is valued at $800, in the mail within five weeks. Though some people might be thrilled to get a free, state-of-the-art piece of hardware (the Cinea machines also play non-encrypted DVD’s), here in Hollywood this has been regarded as a nuisance.

Who would set them up? How would they fit into high-design entertainment systems? Should voters take the DVD players to their vacation homes in Hawaii and Aspen, or leave them in Beverly Hills?

And as some pointed out: couldn’t the system be hacked, and in that case what happens next year? And what if someone steals the DVD player? Is the whole system compromised?

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