So, Who’s *Got* A Mylar Wallet?

Electronic Pickpocket Stoppers (pdf)

Because, says electronic security expert Bruce Schneier, crystallizing the view of many: “As weird as it sounds, wrapping your passport in tinfoil helps. The tinfoil people, in this case, happen to be correct.”

[…] All of these nifty and oh-so-convenient bits of plastic employ versions of what’s known as radio frequency identification technology, or RFID. That is, they toss out bits of data that are caught by receivers, with little or no contact, just through the air in some cases. The new credit cards, such as MasterCard’s PayPass, don’t have to be swiped through a machine. Swiping is so retro, and takes precious extra seconds. You need only lightly tap the PayPass on a terminal to register a purchase.

Neato. It feels as if you’re living in the future, or in an episode of “24,” when you slap your purse on the Metro turnstile and the gate opens, or you wave your ID badge at a node on the wall and your office door beeps open (and then your face and all your recent movements around the office — yikes! — pop up on the security guard’s computer).

But alas, just as every problem has a solution, so every solution has a problem, right?

According to some security gurus, even when there is no receiver in the vicinity, your digital secrets are leaking merrily from the cards in your wallet, like sound from a radio that you can’t turn off.

So, conceivably, a pickpocket with a laptop and an antenna could lift the digital contents of your wallet. […]

This Is No Surprise Either

Just horrifying Centers Tap Into Personal Databasespdf

Intelligence centers run by states across the country have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver’s license photographs and credit reports, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.

One center also has access to top-secret data systems at the CIA, the document shows, though it’s not clear what information those systems contain.

Dozens of the organizations known as fusion centers were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to identify potential threats and improve the way information is shared. The centers use law enforcement analysts and sophisticated computer systems to compile, or fuse, disparate tips and clues and pass along the refined information to other agencies. They are expected to play important roles in national information-sharing networks that link local, state and federal authorities and enable them to automatically sift their storehouses of records for patterns and clues.

Though officials have publicly discussed the fusion centers’ importance to national security, they have generally declined to elaborate on the centers’ activities. But a document that lists resources used by the fusion centers shows how a dozen of the organizations in the northeastern United States rely far more on access to commercial and government databases than had previously been disclosed.

This particular sophistry is most chilling:

“There is never ever enough information when it comes to terrorism” said Maj. Steven G. O’Donnell, deputy superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police. “That’s what post-9/11 is about.”

See also Homeland Security: We’re ready to launch spy satellite office

I Guess I Shouldn’t Be Surprised …

FCC Chairman to Seek Dismissal of Skype’s Plea for Open Access to Wireless Networks (pdf)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin said Tuesday that he will seek to dismiss a petition from Internet phone provider Skype asking the agency to force wireless carriers to open their networks to all devices and software applications.

In a keynote speech at the CTIA Wireless convention, Martin said recent moves by such carriers as Verizon Wireless and AT&T to open their networks show that the industry doesn’t need such regulatory action.

“In light of the industry’s embrace of a more open wireless platform, it would be premature to adopt any other requirements across the industry,” Martin said to applause from the audience of industry executives.

Almost everyone who’s written about this notes the applause.

Jon Healey On The State of Play Today

File sharing: to fight or accommodate?

The movie and music industries have long had a common problem with piracy. Yet as the infringements migrated from analog to digital, their responses have diverged. The most recent illustration came in comments last week by Jim Griffin, a digital maverick retained by Warner Music Group, and Jim Williams, chief technical officer for the Motion Picture Assn. of America. In remarks published Wednesday (pdf), Griffin called on Internet service providers to let customers download and share an unlimited quantity of music for a flat fee of about $5 a month. At a conference in Hollywood the next day, Williams urged ISPs to use emerging technology to stop customers from downloading and sharing bootlegged movies online.

Put another way, a top geek at a major record label said, “Let’s embrace file sharing and make some money off it,” and a top geek at the MPAA replied, “Let’s take the fight against file sharing to another level.”

Sadly, few comments at the LATimes site, versus the firestorm Griffin’s proposal has set up at Slashdot and Pho


Senior Executive Leaving Google

Douglas Merrill, a vice president of engineering at Google, is leaving the Internet search company to become a president of digital at EMI Music, the recorded music division of EMI Group, according to an executive briefed on his move.

The LATimes article is a little more blunt — A top Google techie joins EMI (pdf)

The job of president of digital at EMI had been offered to at least one other outside executive, according to an employee familiar with the process. The choice surprised EMI insiders because of Merrill’s lack of music-industry experience. Some wondered why he would join a company bedeviled by an industrywide crisis.

“It’s a bold move, very exciting,” an industry veteran said. “The question is, why did he say yes?”

Something To Give You A Head (or Heart) Ache (updated)

The March 2003 Yoo Memo Emerges! (not an April Fool’s Joke): The Torture Memo to Top All Torture Memos (part 1 and part 2)

As Slate’s Convictions blog puts it:

If you want evidence of how the law was badly twisted and misused in the Bush Justice Department, you need look no further than here.

Later: The WaPo’s piece — Memo: Laws Didn’t Apply to Interrogators (pdf)

Much later, Dahlia Lithwick calls it like it is in Yoo Talkin’ to Me?

In his book The Terror Presidency, my friend Jack Goldsmith—who prescribes some fixes for the legal war on terror elsewhere in Slate today [Ed. note: including a perpetuation of the dangerous and nonsensical argument the President and his administration have been giving in favor of telecom immunity]—depicts the paralyzing effect of something called “lawfare.” Lawfare was described by Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Dunlap as “the strategy of using or misusing law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve an operational objective.” Ordinary acts of foreign policy become bogged down in a maze of after-the-fact legal consequences. Donald Rumsfeld saw this form of warfare as a limit on American military authority. He was determined to find a solution to what he called “the judicialization of international politics.”

[…] But that choice also assumes lawyers engaged in sober reflection, and that may be assuming too much. Indeed, if anything, Goldsmith and others may have understated the dangers of “lawfare”—if the lawyers tasked with working around the web of international laws begin from the premise that laws are just obstacles. As we are beginning to learn, the growing tendency to conduct wars in the courtroom hasn’t actually constrained anyone at all over the past seven years. The expanded role of all these laws and lawyers in the war on terror has had the opposite effect: The Bush administration has proven time and again that the Rule of Law is only as definitive as its most inventive lawyers.

In short, the Bush solution to the paralysis of lawfare seems to be to hire lawyers who don’t believe in the law.

[…] A lot of folks are inclined to write off the news of the torture memo today because: (i) we already knew this; (ii) it’s no longer the law; and (iii) David Addington won’t be allowed to listen in on their phone calls in seven months. I respectfully dissent. We should be thinking long and hard about how this memo came to be our interrogation policy, even for a few months. Now is the time to question the wisdom of trusting the policing of the boundaries in the war on terror to a swarm of anonymous midlevel lawyers whose minds may just be too open for our own good. We need to get away from the wrongheaded notion that a war on terror is the same thing as a war against the law.

Also Memo Sheds New Light on Torture Issue

Some legal experts and advocates said Wednesday that the document, written the month that the United States invaded Iraq, adds to evidence that the abuse of prisoners in military custody may have involved signals from higher officials and not just irresponsible actions by low-level personnel.

Informational House Hearing On Virtual Worlds

Avatars at House hearing on virtual world (pdf)

Second Life founder Philip Rosedale and a handful of other virtual reality experts, testified at a House of Representatives hearing that was also attended by on-line personas, or avatars, portrayed on a video screen in the hearing room.

“It is likely that virtual world activities are somewhat more policeable and the law somewhat more maintainable within virtual worlds,” said Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Lab, the company that runs Second Life.

[…] “The virtual world has a degree of accountability … and traceability which actually in many ways is better than the real world,” Rosedale said.

Well, duh! Rep Markey’s press release/opening statement (pdf); Markey and his avatar (local copy); the House WWW page for the hearing, with statements.

Later — the LATimes’ House panel takes a whirl in virtual world (pdf)

Later: The Washington Post lets a columnist loose — Goofy Characters and Weird People — Sounds Like a Hearing (pdf)

Actually, maybe Congress should get an online life. In Second Life, participants create fake personas and spend endless hours interacting in a fantasy world with few tangible results to show for it — kind of like, well, Congress.

“Some might also think of Congress as a virtual world,” a self-aware [Rep. Jane] Harman observed. “Many think we have little connection to the real world. . . . We fly into and out of town so quickly that we might as well send avatars to the floor to vote in our stead.”

A Look At Free Press

Net Neutrality’s Quiet Crusader (pdf)

Bearing video cameras, laptops and cellphones, a small army of young activists flooded into a recent federal meeting in protest.

Members of public-interest group Free Press weren’t there to support a presidential candidate or decry global warming. The tech-savvy hundreds came to the Federal Communications Commission’s hearing at Harvard Law School last month to push new rules for the Internet.

For the first time, Congress and the FCC are debating wide-reaching Web regulations and policies that would determine how much control cable and telecommunications companies would have over the Internet. The issue has given rise to a new political constituency raised on text messaging and social networking and relies on e-mail blasts and online video clips in its advocacy.

User-Generated Content Keeps On Expanding

Outsourcing Music Videos to the Fans (pdf)

The music video has sometimes seemed like a dying medium; one or two small record labels even discourage their artists from making the things nowadays, arguing that they’re expensive and don’t tend to sell a lot of music.

But as online video sites have taken off and editing tools have become easy for even novices to use, some bands are starting to see the music video as a fresh way to build a stronger bond between artist and listener. R.E.M.’s make-your-own-video project for “Supernatural Superserious” feels like something of a lark, with the band getting some use out of leftover footage that didn’t make it into the song’s “official” video. Some other bands, meanwhile, are going even further and outsourcing the entire video-making process to their biggest supporters.