Federal Pre-emption and the Airwaves

SC prisons take on feds over jamming phone signals

South Carolina might already have started jamming cell phone signals in prisons to prevent convicts from committing further crimes, if it weren’t for one significant problem with the plan: It’s against the law.

The struggle to stop cell phone use in prisons — where some experts say the devices have become a new form of cash — has states trying old-fashioned cell searches, sophisticated body scanners, even dogs trained to sniff out batteries and memory chips. South Carolina’s state prison chief, Jon Ozmint, wants to add to those tactics with existing technology that blocks cell signals.

Standing in his way is the federal Communications Act, which prevents states from using jammers or otherwise interfering with federal airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission can give federal agencies the authority to use such jammers. But there’s no such provision for state and local law enforcement.

Fighting Gangs Via IP?

Raid targets Mongols motorcycle gang (pdf)

More than 1,000 heavily armed federal agents and local police fanned out across Southern California and cities in five other states early this morning, arresting dozens of members of the notorious Mongols motorcycle gang on federal racketeering charges.

But the most lasting blow to the San Gabriel Valley-based bikers may be down the road: In an unusual maneuver, the feds are also seeking to seize control of the Mongols’ trademarked name, which is typically accompanied by its cherished insignia — a ponytailed Genghis Khan-like figure riding a chopper.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said if his plan is successful, the government would take over ownership of the trademark, and anyone caught wearing a Mongols patch could have it seized by law enforcement on the spot.

“Not only are we going after the Mongols’ motorcycles, we’re going after their very identity,” O’Brien said in a telephone interview early this morning. “We are using all the tools at our disposal to crush this violent gang.”

Taking on Botnet Herders

A Robot Network Seeks to Enlist Your Computer (pdf)

The actual numbers may be far larger; Microsoft investigators, who say they are tracking about 1,000 botnets at any given time, say the largest network still controls several million PCs.

“The mean time to infection is less than five minutes,” said Richie Lai, who is part of Microsoft’s Internet Safety Enforcement Team, a group of about 20 researchers and investigators. The team is tackling a menace that in the last five years has grown from a computer hacker pastime to a dark business that is threatening the commercial viability of the Internet.

And, with Macs becoming more popular, we may soon see a real test of its vaunted FreBSD roots.

Lessig Returns To Copyright

For at least this op-ed: Copyright and Politics Don’t Mix (pdf)

THROUGHOUT this election season, Americans have used the extraordinary capacity of digital technologies to capture and respond to arguments with which they disagree. YouTube has become the channel of choice for following who is saying what, from the presidential campaign to races for city council.

But this explosion in citizen-generated political speech has been met with a troubling response: the increasing use of copyright laws as tools for censorship.

See also McCain-YouTube flap shows it’s time to reform DMCA

Facebook^nth Power

The DNA Age – Taking a Peek at the Experts’ Genetic Secrets (pdf)

In exchange for the decoding of their DNA, participants agree to make it available to all — along with photographs, their disease histories, allergies, medications, ethnic backgrounds and a trove of other traits, called phenotypes, from food preferences to television viewing habits.

Including phenotypes, which most other public genetic databases have avoided in deference to privacy concerns, should allow researchers to more easily discover how genes and traits are linked. Because the “PGP 10,” as they call themselves, agreed to forfeit their privacy, any researcher will have a chance to mine the data, rather than just a small group with clearance.

The project is as much a social experiment as a scientific one. “We don’t yet know the consequences of having one’s genome out in the open,” said George M. Church, a human geneticist at Harvard who is the project’s leader and one of its subjects. “But it’s worth exploring.”

A new federal law prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their genetic profile. But any one of the PGP 10 could be denied life insurance, long-term care insurance or disability insurance, with no legal penalty. And no law can bar colleagues from raising an annoyed eyebrow at a PGP participant who, say, indulges in a brownie after disclosing on the Internet that she is genetically predisposed to diabetes.

Then there is the matter of potential recrimination — from siblings, parents and children who share half of the participants’ genes and did not necessarily agree to display them in public. Prospective participants are advised to consult with first-degree relatives, but except for identical twins, their consent is not required. […]

Texting and Communication

From a review of the book Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 in The New Yorker: Thumbspeak (pdf)

A less obvious attraction of texting is that it uses a telephone to avoid what many people dread about face-to-face exchanges, and even about telephones—having to have a real, unscripted conversation. People don’t like to have to perform the amount of self-presentation that is required in a personal encounter. They don’t want to deal with the facial expressions, the body language, the obligation to be witty or interesting. They just want to say “flt is lte.” Texting is so formulaic that it is nearly anonymous. There is no penalty for using catchphrases, because that is the accepted glossary of texting. C. K. Ogden’s “Basic English” had a vocabulary of eight hundred and fifty words. Most texters probably make do with far fewer than that. And there is no penalty for abruptness in a text message. Shortest said, best said. The faster the other person can reply, the less you need to say. Once, a phone call was quicker than a letter, and face-to-face was quicker than a phone call. Now e-mail is quicker than face-to-face, and texting, because the respondent is almost always armed with his or her device and ready to reply, is quicker than e-mail.

“For the moment, texting seems here to stay,” Crystal concludes. Aun, as the Finns say. It’s true that all technology is, ultimately, interim technology, but texting, in the form that Crystal studies, is a technology that is nearing its obsolescence. Once the numeric keypad is replaced by the QWERTY keyboard on most mobile messaging devices, and once the capacity of those devices increases, we are likely to see far fewer initialisms and pictograms. Discourse will migrate back up toward the level of e-mail. But it will still be important to reach out and touch someone. Nok, though. Danke.

(You’ll have to read the article to get the quote.)

Setting An Example for the World

Why it’s not called Total Information Awareness is beyond meL Britain Considers Database for Telephone and E-Mail Traffic (pdf)

The British government is considering setting up a database of all phone and e-mail traffic in the country as part of a high-tech strategy to fight terrorism and crime, its senior law enforcement official said Wednesday.

The official, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, said Britain’s police and security services needed new ways to collect and store records of phone calls, e-mail messages and Internet traffic.

Tracking the Zeitgeist with Google

In Targeting Online Ads, Campaigns Ask: Who’s Searching for What? (pdf)

Discovering how people search for candidate information — exactly what words they type into a search box — is a budding science that is paying big dividends in the presidential race between Sen. John McCain R-Ariz. and Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill..

As never before, the campaigns are buying ads to run along with the results of specific search queries on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Live. Because the ads catch people just as they are searching for information and because they can be tailored to the users’ immediate interest — the phrases they type in — both campaigns are spending millions on the method, which is relatively new in politics.

There is an art to choosing the keyword phrases for which to buy advertising — among them are “water conserving faucets,” “inheritance tax” and “fuel calculator.” And it requires avid monitoring to keep up with evolving popular interests and campaign messages.

Many of the hundreds of keywords chosen by the campaigns for advertising are obvious — simple variations of the candidates’ names.

Others reveal what kinds of issues the campaigns are trying to engage voters on: “gas prices,” “chavez” and “global warming” have been used, according to AdGooroo and SpyFu, firms that track search-term advertising.

But others stray far from policies: “Lipstick,” “hanoi hilton,” “obama muslim” and “hot wife” also have been purchased, according to the ad trackers.