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April 9, 2007

Inside Higher Ed on Privacy [9:57 am]

Defining Privacy — and Its Limits

A student in a public university dormitory room had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for his personal computer and its hard drive, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday. The decision also found that despite that right to privacy, an administrator in the case under review had the right to conduct a remote search of the computer — without a warrant — because of the circumstances involved.

The decision — by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — is among the highest level court rulings to date on a set of legal questions pitting privacy vs. security that are increasingly present in academe. While experts cautioned that the decision involved a specific set of facts, several also said it provided guidance for students on their privacy rights and for administrators at public colleges and universities on setting computer policies that give them the flexibility they feel they need to prevent security breaches.

The decision — USA v Heckenkamp [local copy]

In this case, we consider whether a remote search of computer files on a hard drive by a network administrator was justified under the “special needs” exception to the Fourth Amendment because the administrator reasonably believed the computer had been used to gain unauthorized access to confidential records on a university computer. We conclude that the remote search was justified.

Although we assume that the subsequent search of the suspect’s dorm room was not justified under the Fourth Amendment, we conclude that the district court’s denial of the suppression motion was proper under the independent source exception to the exclusionary rule.

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Trying Not To Repeat [8:37 am]

DVD retailers try to avoid repeat performance - pdf

When movies shifted from videocassettes to DVD, retailers simply cleared the tapes off the shelves to make room for discs. That’s not so easy now that movies appear poised to follow music onto the Internet.

The shift of music online has hurt stores such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Circuit City, and some retailers are looking to avoid a repeat with movies. Wal-Mart has launched its own movie download service, Best Buy is said to be in talks to start one, and Blockbuster explored buying movie download company Movielink this year.

Music and DVDs are important to retailers because they’ve traditionally driven customers to stores. [...]

But the decline in the number of CDs sold has accelerated every year since 2003 and was 11.7 percent last year, according to NPD Group. The number of DVDs sold grew 5 percent last year, but that was down from a 9 percent increase during the previous year. Selling prices for both music and movies have declined. And NPD said DVD sales would have slid faster if not for the growth of TV programs offered on DVD.

“They’re seeing fairly rapid declines in their CD business. That’s likely to happen in their DVD business,” said Andrew Hargreaves, who covers electronics retailers for Pacific Crest Securities.

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Government Openness & Disclosure In The Digital Age [6:10 am]

GOP-issued laptops now a White House headache - pdf

When Karl Rove and his top deputies arrived at the White House in 2001, the Republican National Committee provided them with laptop computers and other communication devices to be used alongside their government-issued equipment.

The back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes.

Now, that dual computer system is creating new embarrassment and legal headaches for the White House, the Republican Party and Rove’s once-vaunted White House operation.

Democrats say evidence suggests the RNC e-mail system was used for political and government policy matters in violation of federal record preservation and disclosure rules.

In addition, Democrats point to a handful of e-mails obtained through ongoing inquiries suggesting the system may have been used to conceal such activities as contacts with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted on bribery charges and is now in prison for fraud.

Democratic congressional investigators are beginning to demand access to this RNC-White House communications system, which was used not only by Rove’s office but by several top officials elsewhere in the White House.

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LATimes on Recent COPA Decision [6:07 am]

Off-target on child porn - pdf

THE FEDERAL government has a compelling interest in combating the social cancer of pedophilia and in shielding children from indecency. But a pair of recent court cases illustrate how Congress’ zeal to fight these battles has led it to restrict legal speech and overlook more effective ways to fight the problem.

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The Latest Round On Digital Cinema Conversion [6:06 am]

Showing at theaters: urgency of digital shift - pdf

The revolution in moviegoing will be digital, theater owner Bill Campbell knows.

But Campbell, who runs independent theaters in Sheridan, Wyo., and Miles City, Mont., isn’t ready to take up such an expensive cause just yet.

“I’m still using film projectors that were built in the 1950s and I can fix them myself,” Campbell said. “What if your digital server goes down? Dark screens are death to the theater industry.”

[...] Studios eventually could save a total of $1 billion a year in distribution costs. Producing and shipping 35-millimeter films costs roughly $1,200 per print, but sending digital files or satellite transmissions can slash that expense by 90%, according to industry estimates.

For now the savings are theoretical as studios make a long-term bet on the benefits of digital. They are subsidizing the installation of digital systems at U.S. theater chains by paying “virtual print fees” to the manufacturers, and they still must make thousands of film prints.

Cheaper distribution could enable smaller films to be screened more widely, said John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. The high cost of distribution is a major impediment to independent films, he said.

Helping give the conversion a boost is the resurgence of 3-D films, which today are shown predominantly in digitally equipped theaters. [...]

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American Idol and The Health of the Music Industry [6:03 am]

Music in its place on ‘American Idol’ - pdf

But is it just coincidence that “Idol’s” Nielsen conquest is reaching a crescendo while the music industry it purports to showcase is hitting the skids? Few people argue that the show isn’t good, even great, television. But could it be that as good as “Idol” is for network TV — or at least for the Fox network — it’s bad for music?

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Art Commentary on Surveillance Society [6:00 am]

For many, artwork is not a bright spot - pdf

Already, Mojo is making people uneasy.

They don’t know what to make of this angular robot that stands like a sentry atop a 30-foot pole on a San Pedro street corner. When pedestrians walk by, it eventually will shine a roving light on them, following them along the sidewalk.

[...] It’s not so much that folks oppose an odd-looking sculpture in their midst. They are suspicious because Mojo, guided by two surveillance cameras, homes in on passersby with a light.

“Orwellian,” one critic wrote on the blog. Another called it the “perfect quasi-bohemian yuppie bait,” allowing condo owners to feel more artsy and, at the same time, more secure against car thefts.

Some have started to enjoy the sinister feel of it all.

“It’s creepy. I like creepy,” said another local artist, Daniel Nord.

Related: Fingerprint foreboding - pdf

I WAS JOLTED to read last week that public schools in Taunton are planning to use a fingerprint scan as a way to enable students to pay for lunch. At the cash register, the student will simply tap a finger on an electronic reader, and a pre-stored mathematical formula derived from a fingerprint will bring up the student’s account.

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