Friday, January 06, 2006

Lambert Model Agreements

From the UK Patent Office

"The Lambert Model Agreements Toolkit was launched on 21 February 2005 as a tool to facilitate negotiations between universities and companies that wish to collaborate together. Such potential collaborators need to get to grips quickly and effectively with issues around the ownership and exploitation of any intellectual property rights generated by the project and how this inter-relates to issues such as the financial contribution from the business, and the publication rights for the university...

The Lambert Working Group on Intellectual Property which developed the Lambert Model Agreements Toolkit agreed to meet 12 months after the launch to review how well knowledge and use of the Toolkit had progressed in that time. This review meeting will take place in February 2006 and the Working Group wishes to obtain as much feedback as possible from users of the Toolkit regarding what has worked well, what has worked not so well and where improvements, if any, should be made."

Large phone companies want content fees

The large phone companies in the US are hoping to charge Google Inc., Vonage Holdings Corp. and other Internet content providers based on bandwidth use.

Vonage CEO is not impressed, though it's a fairly predictable move by the phone companies. "They want to charge us for the bandwidth the customer has already paid for. The customer has to pay twice. That's crazy."

Google moving into video

John Batelle has the inside story on Google's move into selling video but unfortunately can't share it yet.

"I'll have more to say on this, but I'll have to be content with taking a "second day" approach to the story. Why? I'm under embargo. I spoke with Google about this stuff earlier in the week, and agreed to not divulge the contents of our conversation until Google lifted its embargo (in this case, it's when Page speaks today). This practice of embargo is fine with me, nearly every tech commpany does it. And I always honor them, though I have a policy of writing about things if they break early, as this news did.

But because our conversation had more details than have hit the press, I'm going to wait to post. It's Friday in any case, and who knows what else might come up?"

Cuckoo patent law

Can you patent a method of selling breakfast cereals? Well since the 1998 State Street Bank case, business methods are patentable in the US but the US Patent Office provisionally rejected the attempt to patent a system for selling cereal "displaying and mixing competitively branded food products" and adding "a third portion of liquid." I'm not a great believer in business method patents, so you won't be surprised to know I think the Patent Office got that one right.

Tories ask students for advice

The new Conservative Party Higher Education spokesman, Boris Johnson has asked advice on developing his policies. Maybe I should send him a copy of the education chapter from my book when it finally gets done.

I have two initial suggestions:

1. Appoint/retain good people.
2. Get out of their way.

There are way too many government initiatives allegedly aimed at "improving" education. There are a lot of smart, dedicated, hard working, energetic and fantastically competent people in higher education. I'm privileged to work with many here at the Open University and others around the world. Give those kinds of people freedom and resources and you get magic. Give them simplistic targets and unwieldy regulations and you earn their contempt, though in spite of the hurdles they'll still, somehow, manage to make the system work.

There are also major holes in the system which need to be addressed but that won't happen through micro-management by government. A respected colleague has a simple classification system which dictates that people are divided into two categories - 'simplifiers' and 'complicators.' [For 'simplifiers' read 'smart, dedicated, hard working, energetic and fantastically competent people'] The simplifiers get things done whilst the complicators look into and collect and present the multiplicity of reasons why you can't do them. He's way too generous to talk about the other categories you can find in organisations, like parasites, but he has a point. Give his simplifiers their freedom and you'll get positive transformation faster than you can say "another government initiative."

Felten and Haldermann's predictions for 2006

Ed Felten and Alex Haldermann have made some predictions for 2006. Well worth a read.

Matt Ridley on Government

Matt Ridley thinks we have too much government.

He can't drive but he can dance

This is quite funny - someone stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol, who, to the police officer's amazment, can dance, walk in a straight line, recite the alphabet backwards and finally admit that he's drunk - but only because he got stopped before he hurt somebody.

Self owned Net

Susan Crawford has been thinking about the "self-owned Internet."

"In an 1824 case, someone claimed that he privately owned oyster fisheries under some navigable waters in New Jersey, and that the ownership of these things had come down to him through a royal grant made before the Revolution.

Chief Justice Taney (who hung on for an awfully long time and later decided the Dred Scott case) disagreed. Listen to this: "When the Revolution took place the people of each state became themselves sovereign, and in that character hold the absolute right to all their navigable waters, and the soils under them, for their own common use, subject only to the rights since surrendered by the constitution to the general government."

Taney was saying that the people were sovereign, and that they had given this common ownership of the oyster beds over to their government to run for them, as a kind of public trust.

Now -- the internet wasn't created by nature; it's an agreement between machines made possible by the designers of that agreement (or protocol). But it is a great gift, and it is very important to being a citizen, and for these reasons it is owned by all for common use. It's a commons, like the Boston Common. And no sovereign ever showed up to which the people who "own" the internet (that is, everyone) surrendered their ownership.

But sovereigns (governments) still have a duty, and it's a very old one. It's in Roman law, and Greek law, and early English law -- it's the duty to protect access to the seashore, which is the place where people can access the sea. A very important common resource...

So -- it's fine to build special services and make them available online. But broadband access companies that cover the waterfront (literally -- are interfering with our navigation online) should be confronted with the power of the state to protect entry into this self-owned commons, the internet. And the state may not abdicate its duty to take on this battle."

Finding subversives with Amazon wish lists

Applefritter, Tom Owad, has scooped up the wishlists of hundreds of thousands of Amazon customers and collected them into a searchable 5GB database. Now he can do his own searches for subversives who are be interested in books that might give cause for concern to the authorities.

"I downloaded all the files to an external 120 GB Firewire drive in UFS format. The raw data occupied little more than 5 GB. I initially wanted to move all the files into a single directory to facilitate searching, but as the directory contents exceeded 100,000 items, the speed became glacially slow, so I kept the data divided into chunks of 25,000 wishlists.

Next comes the fun part – what books are most dangerous? So many to choose from. Here's a sample of the list I made. Feel free to make up your own list if you decide to try some data mining. Send it to the FBI. I'm sure they'll appreciate your help in fighting terrorism.
On Liberty by Stuart Mill. First sentence: "The subject of this essay is not the so-called 'liberty of the will', so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of philosophical necessity; but civil, or social liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual." What more do you need?
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The classic anti-war novel.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Dystopian.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. More dystopian.
1984 by George Orwell. Most dystopian.
Critical Thinking by Alec Fisher. Can't have any of that.
Build Your Own Laser, Phaser, Ion Ray Gun and Other Working Space Age Projects by Robert Iannini. Obviously.
Apple I Replica Creation by Tom Owad. Building your own computer should be illegal. (ok, it's also here because I wrote it.)
The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual And Spiritual Origins by Mark & Louise Zwick."

A reader at Boing Boing who picked up the story reckons he has a much easier way of collecting the same data.

Coldplay drm


Following the drm rootkit PR disaster for Sony BMG, the producers of Coldplay's latest CD have decided to include an insert explaining all the things the drm on the CD might restrict purchashers' doing with their new CD. You want to do what?!! Play it on that expensive new CD player with recording functions you got for Christmas? Nope. In your new car stereo? Nope. Your portable CD player? Nope. You want a refund because that CD you purchased won't play on your equipment?! Tough. Use it as a coaster, "we do not accept product exchange, return or refund."

I'm not a lawyer but I can't see these restrictions surviving a real test under the UK's Unfair Contract Terms Act. Though it's along time since I studied it I believe it has clauses to the effect that vendors can't use small print to avoid their legal obligation to provide goods of satisfactory quality. There may even be a clause in there that says it is an offense to use an exclusion clauses to try and restrict consumer redress on goods that are not up to scratch or plain just don't work. It's this kind of unadulterated claptrap that gives the music industry and their lawyers a bad name and it's about time they got appropriately challenged on it (and not just in France, where to their credit, the courts have declared certain types of drm illegal).

Thanks to Cory for the heads up.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More UK troops on the way to Afghanistan

Simon Jenkins is absolutely scathing about the UK government's decision to send 3400 troops to Afghanistan.

"In the next few weeks, an army of 3,400 British troops expects to be deployed to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. This is nearly half the number deployed in Iraq. Everything I have heard and read about this expedition suggests that it makes no sense. British soldiers are being sent to a poor and dangerous place whose sole economic resource is opium. They will sit there as targets for probably the most intractable concentration of insurgents, Taliban, drug traffickers and suicide bombers in the world - until some minister has the guts to withdraw them...

Eradicating Afghanistan's poppy crop was assigned to Britain after the 2001 war. Before Clare Short arrived to oversee this task, poppies were grown in just six of the 32 provinces. By the time she finished, the UN recorded production in 28 provinces and a record export value of £2.3bn dollars. It was probably Britain's most successful agricultural policy of all time...

The Helmand expedition arises from Blair's obsession with global machismo and his addiction to abstract nouns. If I were its designated leader, General David Richards, I would not disobey orders but I would ask to see Reid before leaving. I would grab him by his lapels, ram his head against the ministry wall and scream in his face: "Tell me what the hell you really mean by sending my soldiers to that godawful place?" If the reply is yet more waffle about upholding democracy and combating terror, I would storm out with such a door slam as could be heard the length of Britain."

Switching to switchover

Ofcomwatch thoughts on the digital TV switchover starting in 2008.

Lawyers with a sense of humour

Michael Froomkin notes that some lawyers do have a sense of humour.

"Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the Section on Contracts or of the Association of American Law Schools, which when you think about it are really only reified abstractions that have no independent existence and therefore can’t really have any "opinions" about anything at all, so we’re not sure why we have to say this. All statements herein are the sole responsibility of the authors, except for any that are inaccurate, irresponsible, tasteless, or actionable, which are solely the responsibility of student editorial assistants who are working as independent contractors and for whom we will accept absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. There are no warranties, either express or implied, for the use of this site. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice, since only an idiot would take free legal advice on an important issue from the casual musings of a law professor instead of paying a practicing lawyer who actually knows the law of the jurisdiction you're in. Any disputes arising as a result of your use of this site shall be decided by arbitration under the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce in Japan, unless you happen to be somewhere in or near Japan, in which case it shall be decided in Belgium. Your reading of this provision signifies your assent to all its terms."

The Children Act - a professional's concerns

William Heath has been in touch with a child care professional over his views on the requirements of the Children Act and children database.

"The points I'm trying to make are that, by virtue of constant repetition, we are coming to accept that it is perfectly natural that all children should be monitored by government, and that 'professionals' should talk amongst themselves to decide what children need.

This is quite a shift! In the past, we have accepted that parents look after their children and consult professionals when they need the help of public services. The only exception to this has been in cases of abuse and neglect. What we are now seeing is a a potential reversal of the roles of parent and public servant...

This whole monitoring agenda is a very subtle and powerful means of shaping future society when we haven't had any discussion of what that society should be. Unfortunately the govt is using 'child protection' just like an 'invincibility' cheat on a computer game, so that if anyone tries to start a rational debate, we get rabble-rousing cr*p about paedophiles, child protection and Victoria Climbie.

I don't think Richard Thomas was taken seriously enough when he used the expression 'sleep-walking into a surveillance society'. Where our children are concerned, we really *are*."

Genuine concerns worthy of genuine informed public debate.

Falling into the public domain

IPKat has a short list of creators who died in 1935, meaning their works fell into the public domain on the 1st of January.

Two cheers for the EU on database directive review

James Boyle has two cheers for the EU on their empirical review of the EU datbase directive.

"So why only two cheers? Well, while the report is a dramatic improvement, traces of the Commission’s older predilection for faith-based policy and voodoo economics still remain.

The Commission coupled its empirical study of whether the Directive had actually stimulated the production of new databases with another intriguing kind of empiricism. It sent out a questionnaire to the European database industry asking if they liked their intellectual property right – a procedure with all the rigour of setting farm policy by asking French farmers how they feel about agricultural subsidies.

Yet the report sometimes juxtaposes the two studies as if they were of equivalent worth. Perhaps this method of decision-making could be expanded to other areas. We could set communications policy by conducting psychoanalytical interviews with state telephone companies – let current incumbents’ opinions determine what is good for the market as a whole. “What is your emotional relationship with your monopoly?” “I really like it!” “Do you think it hurts competition?” “Not at all!”"

He's also scathing about the excuses the report offers for not channging or killing off the directive: ie the database industry want it, scrapping it will lead to a debate about how much protection databases really need and change is costly:

"Imagine applying these arguments to a drug trial. The patients in the control group have done better than those given the drug, and there is evidence that the drug might be harmful. But the drug companies like their profits, and want to keep the drug on the market. Though “somewhat at odds” with the evidence, this is a “political reality.” Getting rid of the drug would reopen the debate on the search for a cure. Change is costly – true. But what is the purpose of a review, if the status quo is always to be preferred?

The European Commission has taken one important and laudable step towards rational policy-making on database protection. Now it needs to finish its journey."

Without a Net

Jonathan Zittrain has a terrific essay at legalaffairs about the future of the Internet.

"The Internet and the PC were built to allow third parties to dream up and implement new uses for the rest of us. Such openness to outside innovation has allowed each, in its relatively brief life span, to be in a perpetual state of transformation and surprise. Many of the features we now find so commonplace as to be inevitable were not anticipated by network operators, hardware manufacturers, and the general public until someone—remarkably often, an amateur—coded a fascinating experimental application and set it loose through a cascade of floppy disks, and later over the Internet. This generative substrate created the Internet as we know it, yet it is almost certain to be swept away in the aftermath of a global Internet meltdown. We must act now to preserve it, or the future of consumer information technology, though safe, will be bleak...

The proprietary networks blew it. They thought that they were competing against one another, and their executives were still pondering whether AOL would beat CompuServe when the Internet subsumed them all.

The Net did so in large part because of its "hourglass" architecture and the philosophy behind it. The Internet's designers were principally university and government researchers and employees of information technology companies who worked on the project pro bono. The network design was an hourglass because it was broad at the bottom and top and narrow in the middle. At the bottom was the physical layer—the actual wires or radio waves through which the network would operate. At the top was the applications layer—the uses to which the network would be put. Here, the designers were agnostic; they were interested in all sorts of uses, and had no business model meant to capitalize on the success of one application over another. In the middle was a tightly designed set of protocols, publicly available to all to adopt, that tied together the top and the bottom. Any device could be taught to "speak" Internet Protocol, be assigned a numeric identity, and then be able to communicate directly with any other device on the network, unmediated by any authority.

Hourglass architecture is extraordinary: It makes network connectivity an invisible background commodity, separating the act of communicating from the applications that can shape and channel this communication, scattering the production of the latter to the four winds. In other words, the Net passes data along, and leaves it to millions of programmers to decide what users might want to do with that data...

THE MODERN INTERNET IS AT A WATERSHED MOMENT. Its generativity, and that of the PC, has produced extraordinary progress in the development of information technology, which in turn has led to extraordinary progress in the development of forms of creative and political expression. Regulatory authorities have applauded this progress, but many are increasingly concerned by its excesses. To them, the experimentalist spirit that made the most of this generativity seems out of place now that millions of business and home users rely on the Internet and PCs to serve scores of functions vital to everyday life.

The challenge facing those interested in a vibrant global Internet is to maintain that experimentalist spirit in the face of these pressures...

What is needed at this point, above all else, is a 21st century international Manhattan Project which brings together people of good faith in government, academia, and the private sector for the purpose of shoring up the miraculous information technology grid that is too easy to take for granted and whose seeming self-maintenance has led us into an undue complacence. The group's charter would embrace the ethos of amateur innovation while being clear-eyed about the ways in which the research Internet and hobbyist PC of the 1970s and 1980s are straining under the pressures of serving as the world's information backbone.

The transition to a networking infrastructure that is more secure yet roughly as dynamic as the current one will not be smooth. A decentralized and, more important, exuberantly anarchic Internet does not readily lend itself to collective action. But the danger is real and growing. We can act now to correct the vulnerabilities and ensure that those who wish to contribute to the global information grid can continue to do so without having to occupy the privileged perches of established firms or powerful governments, or conduct themselves outside the law.

Or we can wait for disaster to strike and, in the time it takes to replace today's PCs with a 21st-century Mr. Coffee, lose the Internet as we know it."

The article is adapted from his forthcoming book, The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It.

Not a Happy New Year for rule of Law

Marcel Berlins writes in the Guardian of his pessimism for 2006.

"Top of my fears is a continuation of the government's intemperate assault on basic civil liberties, all in the cause of the "war against terrorism". This will inevitably be accompanied by stout resistance from our judges, followed closely by a thuggish and abusive reaction from whoever is home secretary at the time. Who would have thought, only a few years ago, that our much maligned conservative, allegedly out-of-touch, government-lackey judiciary would be the main defenders of our liberties and the rule of law against an executive (Labour, what's more) hell-bent on destroying them? The most recent bit of appalling legislation, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, was used to convict Maya Evans, who, near the Cenotaph, read out the names of British soldiers who died in Iraq. This, asserts Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, is in no way a restriction of freedom of expression. The only element of light relief is that the law which snared Maya Evans was passed mainly to deal with the unwelcome (to the authorities) presence of the Parliament Square peace protester Brian Haw - only for a judge to rule that his activities weren't covered by the law. Yesterday another immensely objectionable part of the same act came into force, in effect allowing the police to arrest without warrant anyone for any offence, however trivial, and as a result to be entitled to keep their DNA samples, fingerprints or photographs for evermore, whether or not they are ever charged or convicted. Many more such outrageous ideas will be thought up in 2006; some, regrettably, will become law."

Spyblog points to the Texas experience of such a law.

"So to any English readers out there, let me fill you in on what you're in for, since we've been living with this situation in Texas for awhile now: Soon your local jails will be completely full of low-level arrestees at a huge cost to the taxpayers and with little benefit to public safety

Welcome to the Texas criminal justice model. Enjoy"

Sony BMG settle drm rootkit lawsuit in New York

Sony have agreed to settle a class action lawsuit in New York over the damage caused by their music CD drm. They have apparently agreed to compensate anyone affected and fix their computers.

Former ambassador undermines torture denials

From John Lettice at the Register, Ex-envoy unleashes blog-based attack on UK's torture denials. Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has undermined Uk government denials of complicity in torture by publishing some memos he wrote whilst in post.

"And indeed, in a July 2004 letter headed "Receipt of intelligence obtained under torture", he writes:

"It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit."

There is little obvious in the documents that one would not be able to read at Human Rights Watch, or at the blog Murray started up after he ceased to be an FCO employee; the point, and the difficulty for the FCO, is that they establish who said what, to whom, when. Claims by the FCO and the Government in general that it does not procure evidence via torture and that it is unaware that torture is taking place can most kindly be viewed as superlatively disingenuous when seen against the background of Murray's letters. In order to sustain the 'see no evil' policy in the face of these, Jack Straw must presumably also now claim to have been entirely unaware of what one of his own ambassadors was telling him, repeatedly and at some considerable length."

WSJ Law blog

The Wall Street Journal has a new law blog.

Bush Frustrated by Patriot Act Resistance

President Bush is still being frustrated over the resistance to his plans for a permanent renewal of the Partriot Act.

He was back on message again yesterday:

"The enemy has not gone away. They're still there. And I expect Congress to understand that we're still at war, and they got to give us the tools necessary to win this war"

Freedom of information to become pay per view

The UK government are working on a plan to charge for all requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. Thanks to HJ Affleck at FIPR for the link.

Behavior monitoring coming to US airports

Ivan Eland and Roberts Higgs at The Independent Institute have been thinking about the U.S. Transportation Security Agency's plan to intriduce behaviour monitoring at 40 US airports.

"Next time you go to the airport be sure to put on a happy face, even if you’ve been informed that your flight has been delayed by an hour and that you’ll miss all your connections. You’ll need this cheerful fa├žade to make it through the TSA airport security checkpoint.

As if being asked to strip off shoes, coats, belts and other clothing before going through a metal detector and getting your personal belongings x-rayed is not enough, the TSA will begin psychoanalyzing air travelers in 40 major airports next year. TSA screeners, who are not even fully trained law enforcement personnel, let alone professional psychologists, will perform behavior analysis screening on all passengers. The screeners will look for “suspicious” signs that might indicate a passenger could be a terrorist: having dry lips or a throbbing carotid artery (I’m not kidding), failure to make eye contact with or say hello to the screener, or evasive or slow answers to casual questions asked by the screener. Travelers who exhibit such nefarious characteristics will undergo extra physical searches—the infamous “pat down” frisk and bag rummage—and could even face police questioning.

This further invasion of the public’s privacy is part of a trend in law enforcement to go beyond merely responding to criminal activity in an attempt to prevent it. But allowing security personnel to question people, conduct intrusive searches, and possibly even make arrests on such flimsy criteria, instead of on hard evidence of criminal activity, should raise alarm bells with all Americans concerned about their civil liberties. Even psychologists who believe that analyzing body language in a controlled lab environment can detect deceptive behavior admit that studies are needed to see if it will work in the field—in this case, en masse and at chaotic airport checkpoints."

On the spot psychological profiling by untrained, overworked, underpaid airport security personnel. Hmmm. Why do 'security theatre' and 'bad idea' spring to mind?

Equi - veillance

There's an interesting discussion going on the identity trail on what Steve Mann and Ian Kerr are calling "equiveillance", where a kind of inverse surveillance, which Mann calls "sousveillance" is used to balance the ubiquitous surveillance practices of government and commerce. The basic question is whether the negative consequences of widespread surveillance and collection of personal data can be balanced by individuals, who are being watched, monitoring and recording those engaged in that surveillance.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

How to get ID cards and electronic voting wrong

John Lettice had a lovely story in the Register just before Christmas on how the UK government are going to link the ID card database to the electoral register database to facilitate electronic voting.

"So, what are the problems that the new system is intended to solve? Historically, although the UK has had numbers of (relatively mildly) rotten boroughs, the incidence of fraud has been fairly low, and the checks and balances of the old-style system of paper ballots were sufficient to keep it low. The Government's massive extension of the postal ballot system in recent years however effectively short-circuited many of these checks and produced opportunities for industrial-scale ballot-rigging. This has proved difficult for EROs and the police to control, and abuses of the system in recent elections have forced the Government to put the brakes on plans for electronic voting, whether by Internet, cable TV or text message...

The problems produced by large-scale postal balloting are in many cases similar to those which would be produced by electronic voting, but it's pretty clear that the latter will tend to magnify them, in the sense that you don't need to disguise your handwriting in order to forge an electronic ballot. So we certainly have a verification problem to overcome if we're to introduce electronic voting...

So, if you have (for example) a national ID card register that requires people to notify changes in personal details and address, when you find discrepancies you can always get the local Electoral Registration Officer to do the legwork of chasing them up for you. Brilliant... And as collateral damage, those of us refusing ID cards may also find ourselves being unable to vote...

...the consultation document points to "a new duty on EROs to maintain their registers with the aim of getting onto the register as many eligible voters as possible". this to be introduced via the Electoral Administration Bill. This, you will note, changes the role of ERO from administrator of the electoral system to one of salesperson for voting.

So shall we just summarise all that? We started with an 'old fashioned' electoral system that worked, but noting with some anxiety that people seemed less and less inclined to vote,* we started to make it less trouble for them to do so. We haven't been able to make it as easy as 'press red button on remote' yet, but we'll get there. Unfortunately, the hardships associated with old fashioned voting turn out (as the wonks running policy would have known if they'd ever done any actual work in a real-life election campaign) to have had a series of helpful safeguards against abuse built in. In addition to now having a pressing need to deal with the problems we've just created, we also need to figure out how to verify cable TV voting, and text messages that go 'press reply to vote New Labour'. The less trouble we make it to vote though, the more pressing the issue of verification becomes, so we conclude that we can't leave this in the hands of local authorities - we decide we have to handle it centrally, and use data matching with multiple other national databases as part of the verification process.

* N.B., we never consider that more people might vote if we made ourselves worth voting for; we find it far less scary to keep lowering the barriers, and call the resultant increased participation 'commitment to the democratic process.'"

ACLU say Bush authorised domestic spying illegal

Not surprisingly, the ACLU have issued a strongly worded statement, saying that President Bush was acting illegally in issuing an order "allowing the National Security Agency to monitor without a warrant the international (and sometimes domestic) telephone calls and e-mail messages of hundreds or thousands of citizens and legal residents inside the United States." They say this surveillance is "clearly illegal", though President Bush, Richard Posner and others would, no doubt, disagree. The ACLU go on to say:

"Unfortunately, although the law in this matter is crystal clear, many Americans, faced with President Bush's bold assertions of "inherent" authority for these actions, will not know what to believe. There are only 5 points they need to understand:
Point #1: Electronic surveillance by the Government is strictly limited by the Constitution and Federal Law...

Point #2: There are only three laws that permit the government to spy...

Point #3: The Bush-NSA spying was not authorized by any of these laws...

Point #4: Congress's post-9/11 use-of-force resolution does not legitimize the Bush-NSA spying...

Point #5: The need for quick action does not justify an end-run around the courts
Put like that there are some serious questions for the Bush administration to answer.

Story of federal agents visiting student a hoax

There was further confirmation from the Boston Globe on Christmas Eve that the story about federal agents visiting a student, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's "The Little Red Book" at the library, was a hoax.

Why do we find it so easy to believe these kinds of stories?