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May 22, 2007

e-Stonia Cyberattack Followup [8:30 am]

An old-fashioned diplomatic dispute plays out in cyberspace

Elsewhere, this might not have mattered quite so much. A defense information specialist from another newish NATO member state told me, somewhat ruefully, that his country wouldn’t be vulnerable to a cyberattack because so little of its infrastructure is sophisticated enough to use the Internet. But Estonia—”e-Stonia” to its fans—practices forms of e-government advanced even by Western European standards. Estonians pay taxes online, vote online, bank online. Their national ID cards contain electronic chips. When the country’s Cabinet meets, everyone brings their laptop. When denial-of-service attacks start taking down Estonian Web sites, it matters.

[...] Both the anonymity and the novelty may turn out to be part of the appeal, particularly if, as some in NATO now believe, the attacks are Russian “tests,” both of the West’s preparedness for cyberwarfare in general and of NATO’s commitment to its newest, weakest members in particular. Some believe the Russian government is now playing with different tactics, trying to see which forms of harassment work best: the verbal attacks on Estonia, the Russian oil pipeline to Lithuania that mysteriously turns out to need repairs, or the embargos on Polish meat products and Georgian wine.

If that is the case, then surely the lesson of the last three weeks is that cyberwarfare has a lot going for it: It creates no uproar, results in no tit-for-tat economic sanctions, doesn’t seem like a “real” form of warfare, and doesn’t get anyone worried about Europe’s long-term energy needs. NATO did, in the end, quietly send a few specialists to Estonia, as (even more quietly) did the Pentagon. A few Europeans complained a bit at a summit over the weekend, too. But there the affair will end—until the attacked Estonian government in cyberspace comes back online, better armed for the next battle.

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Revising the FCC Spectrum Auction (updated) [7:18 am]

Google Proposes Innovation in Radio Spectrum Auction

Google filed a proposal [local copy] on Monday with the Federal Communications Commission calling on the agency to let companies allocate radio spectrum using the same kind of real-time auction that the search engine company now uses to sell advertisements.

[...] “The driving reason we’re doing this is that there are not enough broadband options for consumers,” said Adam Kovacevich, a spokesman for Google’s policy office in Washington. “In general, it’s the belief of a lot of people in the company that spectrum is allocated in an inefficient manner.”

In their proposal, Google executives argue that by permitting companies to resell the airwaves in a real-time auction would make it possible to greatly improve spectrum use and simultaneously create a robust market for innovative digital services. For instance, a company could resell its spectrum on an as-needed basis to other providers, the executives said in their formal proposal to the federal agency.

The FCC’s Spectrum Policy Task Force WWW page.

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The Rise of whosarat.com [6:56 am]

Bringing the power of the “Culture” side of the New Chicago School to bear upon informants — how to right the balance? And note how easily the instruments of the database and the WWW can challenge assumptions about privacy … again: Web Sites Listing Informants Concern Justice Dept.

There are three “rats of the week” on the home page of whosarat.com, a Web site devoted to exposing the identities of witnesses cooperating with the government. The site posts their names and mug shots, along with court documents detailing what they have agreed to do in exchange for lenient sentences.

[...] “The reality is this,” said a spokesman for the site, who identified himself as Anthony Capone. “Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale.”

Federal prosecutors are furious, and the Justice Department has begun urging the federal courts to make fundamental changes in public access to electronic court files by removing all plea agreements from them — whether involving cooperating witnesses or not.

“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.

[...] Judge John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minneapolis and the chairman of a Judicial Conference committee studying the issue, acknowledged the gravity of the safety threat posed by the Web sites but said it would be better addressed through case-by-case actions.

“We are getting a pretty significant push from the Justice Department to take plea agreements off the electronic file entirely,” Judge Tunheim said. “But it is important to have our files accessible. I really do not want to see a situation in which plea agreements are routinely sealed or kept out of the electronic record.”

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