Friday, May 18, 2007

Race to torture

The sickening spectacle of Republican presidential hopefuls trying to outdo each other in debate regarding how tough they could be in facilitating the torture of terrorist suspects is the subject of much comment at Balkanization.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Free MIT Scratch tool offers easy coding

Building block programming from MIT via scratch.

Update: Tony H. thinks it's lots and lots of fun.

New questions about NSA spying

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified before the Senate's Judiciary committee this week that the President broke the law in relation to authorising the mass NSA wiretapping surveillance of US citizens. Glenn Greenwald thinks this raises new questions. He's not pulling his punches:

The testimony yesterday from James Comey re-focuses attention on one of the long unresolved mysteries of the NSA scandal. And the new information Comey revealed, though not answering that question decisively, suggests some deeply troubling answers. Most of all, yesterday's hearing underscores how unresolved the entire NSA matter is -- how little we know (but ought to know) about what actually happened and how little accountability there has been for some of the most severe and blatant acts of presidential lawbreaking in the country's history."

Comey testified as follows:

(i) that he, OLC and the AG concluded that the NSA program was not legally defensible, i.e., that it violated FISA and that the Article II argument OLC had previously approved was not an adequate justification (a conclusion prompted by the New AAG, Jack Goldsmith, having undertaken a systematic review of OLC's previous legal opinions regarding the Commander in Chief's powers);

(ii) that the White House nevertheless continued with the program anyway, despite DOJ's judgment that it was unlawful;

(iii) that Comey, Ashcroft, the head of the FBI (Robert Mueller) and several other DOJ officials therefore threatened to resign;

(iv) that the White House accordingly -- one day later -- asked DOJ to figure out a way the program could be changed to bring it into compliance with the law (presumably on the AUMF authorizaton theory); and

(v) that OLC thereafter did develop proposed amendments to the program over the subsequent two or three weeks, which were eventually implemented.

The program continued in the interim, even after DOJ concluded that it was unlawful.

Note that Comey homself was the Acting AG at the time, with Ashcroft being in the hospital for surgery. As the New York Times previously reported, and as Comey recounted today in remarkably dramatic detail -- set out below -- the White House (Andy Card and Judge Gonzales) actually attempted to have Ashcroft overrule Comey even though Ashcroft was ailing and not wielding the powers of the AG at the time. According to Comey today: "I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."

Most importantly: Can anyone think of any historical examples where the Department of Justice told the White House that a course of conduct would be unlawful (in this case, a felony), and the President went ahead and did it anyway, without overruling DOJ's legal conclusion?"

National Library of Scotland to digitize archive

National Library of Scotland to digitize archive

Disputed Sarasota Florida Congressional election hit by Slammer worm

The ongoing dispute over the results of the Congressional election in Florida where 18000 votes cast on ES&S electronic voting machines went uncounted and the winning candidate got elected by a margin of 369 votes, is continuing to throw up many interesting anomalies, according to Brad Friedman at ComputerWorld.

"The computer database infrastructure of Sarasota County, Fla., was attacked by a notorious Internet worm on the first day of early voting during the 2006 election, which featured the now-contested U.S. House race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan in Florida's 13th Congressional district.

In the early afternoon hours on Monday, Oct. 23, 2006, an Internet worm slammed into the county's database system, breaching its firewall and overwriting the system's administrative password. The havoc brought the county's network -- and the electronic voting system which relies on it -- to its knees as Internet access was all but lost at voting locations for two hours that afternoon."

Evoting junkies might recall Friedman reporting a couple months ago on the apparent ES&S effort to restrict the terms of the post election investigation into the 18000 undervote.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Forget talking CCTV cameras and let's have Daleks

Charlie Brooker in the Guardian thinks if we're going to decimate civil liberties we should stop mucking about with ridiculous talking CCTV cameras and do it properly by flooding the streets with real live Dalek patrols.

The biting humour cleverly highlights the fact that we're actually not very far removed from the ridiculous scenario he outlines. Highly recommended.

"If anyone from the Home Office is reading this, incidentally, it's absolutely imperative that you license the actual, 100% official, BBC Daleks, as seen on TV. Don't just try to create some sort of rip-off close-as-dammit lookalike and hope we'll start calling them "Daleks". We're not idiots. And if you draw a blank with Terry Nation's estate, don't bother negotiating for the rights to the Cybermen instead. It won't be the same. Daleks or nothing. Pull that off and I guarantee we'll willingly accept it. Even Shami Chakrabarti, denouncing the plan on Question Time, would have to start her complaint by saying, "Obviously I love the idea of Daleks as much as anyone, but ..."

So come on, Reid. Stop pissing about with twittering cameras on sticks. The technology for an army of wirelessly controlled mobile CCTV spybots already exists - and it's interactive. There's nothing stopping you. Show some balls for once in your poxy life. Give us the Daleks."

Thanks to David Gerard via ORG for the pointer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An Inconsistency in the Microsoft-Novell Stories

From Pamela Jones:

"Did Microsoft detail what patents it thinks Linux infringes when it was negotiating the deal with Novell or not? The parties are telling two different stories, and furthermore, Microsoft has now told two different stories. First it said it didn't, but now it says it did. Let me show you what I noticed.

Novell's story:

Novell yesterday issued a statement on the Fortune article, in which it reiterates that as far as Novell is concerned, it does not believe that there are any Microsoft patents that Linux infringes...

Microsoft told Matthew Aslett of CBROnline, Aslett writes, that it had not detailed patents to Novell prior to the deal...

Microsoft said it not only hadn't laid them out on the table before Novell, it hadn't even carefully looked itself...

Now, however, Microsoft sings a different tune and says it did share details about specific patents with Novell...

This raises a couple of questions, the most obvious being that since somebody isn't being truthful with us, we have to ask if we wish to do business with folks whose stories change if they perceive a benefit to themselves. That really is the value-add of FOSS, you know. Nobody lies to you. The software has always come with the ethics attached.

But deeper, let's take Microsoft's story, the current one, as true. After all, we should expect to be able to rely on a VP of intellectual property and licensing to know. He says Microsoft told Novell which patents are infringing. So the real question is this: is this in fact a patent cross license on specific patents after all? If it is, are we looking at a GPLv2 violation on its face?"

Open Access Unnecessary for Physicists

A physicist called Frank Chen doesn't believe open access is necessary, APS Physics, April 2007, and that someone advocating in favour of it "has no idea of how a physicist thinks."

"When I have an interesting problem to solve, I like to work on it myself and see how far I can get. If I come up with an elegant solution, so much the better. I don’t want to first see what others have done and become biased and perhaps fall into the same pitfalls."

Er... well I suppose you have to admire his absolute confidence in his own abilities.

Kiddyprinting Quiz

LeaveThemKidsAlone have a new Kiddyprinting Quiz

Take up their challenge to see how much you know about the issue.

"Who said "It is absolutely premature to begin using 'conventional biometrics' in schools"?
a) An angry parent on discovering his children had been fingerprinted at school
b) A journalist writing in a tabloid newspaper
c) Kim Cameron, Microsoft's Identity Architect
d) A head teacher, writing in his blog

According to reports in the national press, which country may fingerprint as many as 6 million children without parental consent?
a) North Korea
b) Russia
c) Iran
d) Britain..."

Copyright penalities

Via Michael Geist: in the Uk the government are consulting on reeling in potential damages awards for copyright violations. Meanwhile in the US, Attorney General Gonzales, who believes he's weathered the recent controversy over the firing of Justice Department lawyers on political grounds, is looking towards harsher penalties for IP infringements, with the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007.

Warped priorities

The leading editorial in today's Independent dissects the media scrum surrounding the disappearance of 4-year old Madeleine McCann in Portugal.

"The truth is that the nation's children are not seriously at risk from marauding paedophiles. Despite all the talk of stranger-danger, most child abuse is perpetrated from within the family. And children are far more at risk from falls from open windows or pushchairs where they are not strapped in - or from matches and lighters, medicines and chemicals, kettles and light flexes, broken glass or kitchen knives, or from choking on small toys, peanuts and marbles - than they are from sexual predators. Nearly all lost children are found. The worst that will happen to most children left unattended in bed is that they will awake, become upset and cry.

The hysteria created by the reporting of this and similar cases does no service to anyone. It will lead only to children being wrapped in cotton wool and prevented from developing the social skills and independence they need to survive. Far from offering a shared catharsis, all it does is spread the virus of fear."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Wiretap the Internet Day

Today is the day that ISPs have to become CALEA compliant in the US i.e. they avhe toe hardwire their systems to to make spying on Internet users easier. From Wired:

" May 14th is the official deadline for cable modem companies, DSL providers, broadband over powerline, satellite internet companies and some universities to finish wiring up their networks with FBI-friendly surveillance gear, to comply with the FCC's expanded interpretation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act."

Boston neon lights 'terror' pair get community service

Remember the two guys who brought Boston to a terrified standstill with flashing neon lights? Well they've been given community service rather than jail.

Kahle critical of Google lock-out on book search

Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian, Director and Co-Founder of The Internet Archive, criticised Google on Friday on the policies of their book search project. Google will not allow anyone access to the public domain works in its index and they will not allow the major university libraries it has done deals with to do similar deals with anyone else.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kahle. Just another example of undermining of the Google "don't be evil" motto - when it comes to the choice between making universal online indexing and searching of books possible or strangling the competition by monopolising online book searching, it's an amoral slam dunk for the corporate protect-the-bottom- line mindset.

Microsoft v free software Waterloo looming?

It seems that Microsoft think that free and open source software violates 235 of their patents and they are going to demand royalties. Though Steve Ballmer, when asked if he was going to sue anyone who refused to pay up said "That's not a bridge we've crossed and not a bridge I want to cross today on the phone with you."

Essentially Microsoft's lawyers, who are a pretty smart bunch, have spotted a loophole in the GPL and OS licences that enables them to pursue a corporate strategy to sign royalties deals with big linux distributors like Novell. Eben Moglen of FOSS has now tweaked the GPL to close the loophole and suggested that Microsoft could potentially become subject to the GPL; and that a big legal battle on this front could be the Waterloo for software patents. One to watch.

Update: Pamela Jones is unconcerned.