Under the USA Patriot Act (Slate 4-part series on the Patriot act here), the FBI can compel your Internet Service Provider to provide your passwords and identifying information about you. They do this by writing a National Security Letter (NSL) to your ISP (or library, or credit card company, or....).
There is almost no judicial oversight when the FBI writes an NSL, except for a secret government judicial panel that is just a rubber stamp exercise. When the FBI gets your online info, you are not made aware of this.
The ACLU has filed a case on behalf of an anonymous ISP in New York. The government has put the ACLU and the ISP under a gag order, but some details have gotten out.
I feel the government does need expanded powers to fight terrorism, and that laws must be updated to meet the opportunities new technologies offer terrorists. But we need to hash this one out in the light of day. It needs to be clear where the line is drawn on government snooping, and it needs judicial oversight.
Unchecked government power to surveil it's citizens is a very, very bad thing. See the history of the FBI's past foray's into unchecked surveilance under COININTELPRO if you need any convincing.
The Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments in the Cheney Energy Task Force case (Google News, NPR audio). This case has fascinated me on both ends... mainly how does the Constitutional issue of seperation of powers play out in this case and, secondly, what is the Administration so afraid of making public?
The basics of the case are widely known. Cheney assemble a task force to help develop energy policy, and then wouldn't release the details or attendance list of the task force. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch filed suit based on FACA. Interestingly, the reason this got raised to the Supreme court was a nuance in the rules (as I find most interesting legal cases come down to). At a district court, the plantiff filed to have the documents released in a process called "discovery orders", to determine if any outsiders took part in the Task Force. (There is legal precedent that requires disclosure of any non-government workers participation in policy committees). However, the release of these documents is exactly what the Administration wanted to prohibit.
The Administration is citing the President's Constitutional right to get "discrete" advice when drafting legislation. Still unclear is the line between "discrete" advice and the legal precedent that requires disclosure of outside participation. The Administration also argued that executive priviledge would not have been broad enough to protect the documents (which is bologna in my opinion). The plaintiff struggled to explain why this isn't a violation of separation of powers, and how this special committee should fall under the juridiction of FACA.
Winstein asked questions about the Broadcast Flag and about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Tech and read the interview – it is on Page 6.
My favorite part of the interview (and the reason for this post) is when Winstein starts challenging Valenti on the DVD encryption that makes it impossible for someone running Linux on their computer to watch a DVD (because there are no products for Linux that are licensed to play DVDs). Winstein shows Valenti how he overrides the encryption. Here is an excerpt (JV is Valenti, TT is The Tech [Winstein]):
TT: Here’s one of those machines; it’s just not licencsed.
[Winstein shows Valenti his six-line “qrpff” DVD descrambler]
TT: If you type that in, it’ll let you watch movies.
JV: You designed this?
That is great.
Talk about an information gap.
UPDATE: The issue is now available online in pdf. Page 6.
The topics of product stewardship, take back and, Extended Product/Producer Responsibility have been a contencious issue in IndustrialEcology. The question is really complicated because of who is to be held accountable for the products at the end of their useful life. The small difference in words between producer responsibility and product responsibility determines whether the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is responsbile for the product or not. Should we hold just the OEM or it's entire supply chain accountable for the product? Imagine sorting, separting and shipping all the parts from your household toaster back to its all different parts manufacturers. Why not include those who produce the materials and those who use the products (consumers) accountable for the use of the products as well? Afterall, 86% of the energy use in the life of a car is in use phase, whereas only 7% is spent on its manufacturing.
One German company believed it was supplying parts for Apple iMac computers. Another, which prided itself on the due diligence it conducted on new customers, thought its aluminum tubes were being used in tanker trucks.
In fact, investigators believe the materials ended up being used by a Malaysian factory to build components for Libya's secret nuclear-weapons program.
...Following a spate of nuclear-related exports to Iraq from Germany, German officials toughened the penalties for such activities in the early 1990s and tried to prosecute more companies for trade violations. Yet German customs investigators say at least a half-dozen companies in Germany apparently supplied parts to Dr. Khan's network in recent years under the impression that they were selling legal goods to legitimate enterprises. No charges have been filed and investigators say so far they have no evidence that any export laws were broken.
...Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities say that Bikar Metal Asia sold 300 metric tons of aluminum bars and tubes to Scomi Precision that were used to manufacture "components for certain parts of a centrifuge unit." The parts were seized in October on a ship in Italy destined for Libya, sparking the exposure of the international nuclear network.
Centrifuges are used to increase the concentration of uranium-235, a uranium atom that can produce nuclear energy for weapons or peaceful uses. A series of interconnected metal cylinders filled with uranium gas are rotated rapidly to separate out the uranium-235.
Mr. Bikar says he doesn't know how many deliveries his companies made to Scomi Precision, saying only, "It was a lot." He says that he and Mr. Heise did nothing wrong, and that he has voluntarily turned over all of the sales records to customs investigators in Cologne. "Do you hold a wood merchant accountable if the buyer makes a bow and arrow and sells it to Libya?" Mr. Bikar asks. "How could the wood merchant know what the buyer intends to do with his goods?"
...In February 2003, Mr. Tinner contacted another German company, BGH Edelstahl Siegen GmbH, and requested prices for nearly five tons of steel rods, according to Joachim Schreiber, head of export sales. Mr. Schreiber says he checked an official European Union list of suspicious customers and sensitive technology before he approved the $15,180 sale. "Neither the customer nor the goods were listed, so we could make the sale," he says.
The International Atomic Energy Agency official confirms that the materials aren't considered sensitive items and can be sold without restriction. Mr. Tinner says the steel rods were for a project unrelated to the shipment that was sent to Libya but declined to elaborate.
Who is to be held accountable and how? This raises serious questions about what companies need to be looking in to their supply chain opeartions. Make or buy is not the only decision, but ultimately who is to face the consequences of the finished product and its use/post use? The supliers, the manufacturers or the customers?
I just finished watching Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9-1-1 commission. Thank you C-Span! I was listening/watching at least a part of most of the testimonies as they took place yesterday and today. However, Clarke testified for the longest period (about 130 minutes) and was unaided. I will urge you to watch the entire testimony yourself rather than to read and see just the bits and pieces of it in the newspapers or TV. I hope that you will watch it and form your own opinion.
I will talk about only two things here. First one is the observation made by several people including Jason Blake of TMP, David Kay and Richard Clarke. (That's a diverse enough group of people). That observation is the lack of ground intelligence and/or spies. The defense budget continues to spend a lot on developing new and expensive gadgets, but does not provide enough attention to gathering actual intelligence from insiders or agents.
The second is that Condoleezza Rice refused to testify before the commission publicly, even as she continues to show up on all TV networks and rile against Clarke. National Security Advisors have appeared before in a public testimony (Sandy Berger during Clinton's term). The 9-1-1 investigation should be more important than most other investigations. Rice's refusal to testify under oath just increases my suspicion that she is lying.
I have only been following the fringes of this story but the Serria Club filed a suit to get access to information from the infamous Cheney Energy Task Force meetings and it has worked its way up and is now going to the Supremes. Then the news broke that Scalia and Cheney went hunting together and the Serria Club filed a motion urging Justice Scalia to recuse himself from the case.
Anyway, the reason for this post is that Scalia has released a memorandum to the public explaining why he is NOT going to recuse himself. This Slate article has more of the details (and is the source of a good bit of the information from this post).
I am a little surprised at the comments in the class about internet surveillance. Perhaps, I misunderstood what I heard. Did any of you guys mean to think that one is basically anonymous on the web? My understanding is that it is not very difficult to monitor the internet activity of servers, IPs or even individuals. Before I spend too much time looking in to this, I would very much appreciate knowing what everybody thought about the issue.