Thursday, January 31, 2008

Microchips everywhere: Boon for retailers, bane for privacy advocates

If you have concerns about RFID's and their potential to serve as a kind of ubiquitous dystopian techology of the future you're not the only one. As many of you probably are aware, we at the Consumer Federation of California have been very active in supporting legislation to regulate the use of RFID's in our state, from government ID's, schoool uniforms, drivers licenses, and yes, even subtucaneous implants.

This year, we once again will be monitoring and supporting Senator Joe Simitian's (and Ellen Corbett) series of bills designed to reign in this technology and protect our privacy.

On that note, this article in CBN News, does about as good as a job as I have seen in breaking down the clash between retailer and business interests with those of the the individual's right to privacy...and the rather Orwellian future that could await us:

Already, microchips are turning up in some computer printers, car keys and tires, on shampoo bottles and department store clothing tags. They're also in library books and "contactless" payment cards (such as American Express' "Blue" and ExxonMobil's "Speedpass").

At home, convenience is a selling point: RFID-enabled refrigerators could warn about expired milk, generate weekly shopping lists, even send signals to your interactive TV, so that you see "personalized" commercials for foods you have a history of buying.

The problem, critics say, is that microchipped products might very well do a whole lot more. With tags in so many objects, relaying information to databases that can be linked to credit and bank cards, almost no aspect of life may soon be safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments, says Mark Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit of the U.S. Justice Department.

Using sniffers, companies can invisibly "rifle through people's pockets, purses, suitcases, briefcases, luggage - and possibly their kitchens and bedrooms - anytime of the day or night," says Rasch, now managing director of technology at FTI Consulting Inc., a Baltimore-based company.


Presently, the radio tag most commercialized in America is the so-called "passive" emitter, meaning it has no internal power supply. Only when a reader powers these tags with a squirt of electrons do they broadcast their signal, indiscriminately, within a range of a few centimetres to six metres.

Not as common, but increasing in use, are "active" tags, which have internal batteries and can transmit signals, continuously, as far as low-orbiting satellites. Active tags pay tolls as motorists zip through tollgates; they also track wildlife.


"Once a tagged item is associated with a particular individual, personally identifiable information can be obtained and then aggregated to develop a profile," the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in a 2005 report on RFID.

Federal agencies and law enforcement already buy information about individuals from commercial data brokers, companies that compile computer dossiers on individuals from public records, credit applications and other sources, then offer summaries for sale. These brokers, unlike credit bureaus, aren't subject to provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, which gives consumers the right to correct errors and block access to their personal records.

That, and the ever-increasing volume of data collected on consumers, is worrisome, says Mike Hrabik, chief technology officer at Solutionary, a computer-security firm in Bethesda, Md. "Are companies using that information incorrectly, and are they giving it out inappropriately? I'm sure that's happening. Should we be concerned? Yes."


A 2005 patent application by American Express itself describes how RFID-embedded objects carried by shoppers could emit "identification signals" when queried by electronic "consumer trackers." The system could identify people, record their movements, and send them video ads that might offer "incentives" or "even the emission of a scent."

RFID readers could be placed in public venues, including "a common area of a school, shopping centre, bus station or other place of public accommodation," according to the application, which is still pending - and which is not alone.

In 2006, IBM received patent approval for an invention it called, "Identification and tracking of persons using RFID-tagged items." One stated purpose: To collect information about people that could be "used to monitor the movement of the person through the store or other areas."


Another patent, obtained in 2003 by NCR Corp., details how camouflaged sensors and cameras would record customers' wanderings through a store, film their facial expressions at displays, and time - to the second - how long shoppers hold and study items.

Then there's a 2001 patent application by Procter & Gamble, "Systems and methods for tracking consumers in a store environment." This one lays out an idea to use heat sensors to track and record "where a consumer is looking, i.e., which way she is facing, whether she is bending over or crouching down to look at a lower shelf."


Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN, an anti-RFID group, says, "Nobody cares about radio tags on crates and pallets. But if we don't keep RFID off of individual consumer items, our stores will one day turn into retail 'zoos' where the customer is always on exhibit."

Our position on this technology is pretty simple: as a society, before we jump head first into the future this article details, let's take a step back and do the kind of thorough review of the pros and cons first. Then, based on what we find, put in place common sense regulations and safeguards...using the constitution and our right to privacy as the most important factor in formulating these public policies...rather than so called "consumer convenience" and corporate profit.

REAL ID Rebellion: Back Off, Big Brother

More good news on the REAL ID front as the growth of a virtual rebellion by the states against it continues!

The Free Times reports:

Back off, Big Brother. That’s the message South Carolina and 36 other states have sent the federal government by passing or introducing legislation blocking implementation of the controversial REAL ID program.


If fully implemented, the program would require every American to get a REAL ID card and be entered into a national database. It also would require people entering federal buildings or wanting to board an airplane or open a bank account to present identification that meets certain security and authentication standards. The Department of Homeland Security has drafted the standards.

The American Civil Liberties Union says REAL ID raises privacy concerns, conflicts with American values and presents a bureaucratic train wreck.

“Real ID will mean higher taxes and fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the DMV, bureaucratic snafus, and, for a lot of people, the inability to obtain a license,” Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, says in a release. “To top it off, it will do little if anything to prevent terrorism; terrorists will continue to get drivers licenses, whether legitimately or through bribery and fraud.”


South Carolina became the sixth state to pass anti-REAL ID legislation last year.“If the federal government wants stricter ID standards, they should leave it to the states to come up with a way to implement them that works best for each individual state,” Gov. Mark Sanford said in a statement after signing the bill, which banned REAL ID implementation in South Carolina.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

And if you want to learn more about the Real ID act and the efforts being made to stop it, check out the site Real Nightmare.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

House Extends Warrantless Wiretapping Powers For 15 Days

I don't want to beat a dead horse on this whole FISA, warrantless wiretapping, and constitution shredding issue being debated in Congress right now, but I should finish what I started Monday by updating you all on what happened in the House.

Not that its all that newsworthy that they extended - for 15 more days - the abysmal "Protect America Act", but, there was a noteworthy speech by Rep. Rush Holt I'd like you to see (linked in the article). What should be noted is that it was the House that "got it right" on FISA with their version entitled "The Restore Act", as it balances the need for privacy and government restraint with national security.

But before you get to the article, the leading advocate and defender of the constitution and civil liberties in the Senate today - Russ Feingold - is interview here on Alternet...please watch.

Now to the article in Wired Magazine on the latest developments...

Some sort of extension was expected, given Senate Democrats' acrimony over Republican procedural maneuvers. Passage of any bill also must deal with Senator Chris Dodd's pledge to filibuster any bill that includes immunity for telecoms currently being sued in federal court for allegedly violating federal privacy laws by helping the government secretly spy on Americans. But President Bush says he'll veto any bill without immunity for spying telecoms.

Any measure out of the Senate will also have to be reconciled with a bill from the House. Currently, the bill it passed -- the Restore Act -- cleverly curbs when the intelligence community can wiretap inside America without a court order and does not include an immunity provision.


Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) forcefully argued Monday however, that the powers handed over this summer should expire, since the longstanding framework requiring warrants for wiretaps inside the U.S. was better than the Protect America Act. Holt also pointed out that any sweeping surveillance orders initiated since August don't expire come Friday - the administration simply loses the ability to issue new sweeping surveillance orders.

Listening to this debate unfold I continually am struck by the implication being made by the anti-privacy and pro-wiretapping crowd that somehow we can't have security and privacy.

Bruce Schneier, author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, said it best:

If you set up the false dichotomy, of course people will choose security over privacy -- especially if you scare them first. But it's still a false dichotomy. There is no security without privacy. And liberty requires both security and privacy. The famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." It's also true that those who would give up privacy for security are likely to end up with neither.

I'll be following this debate every step of the way, but, future posts will begin to include more details on "privacy protection" bills in the California legislature this year...both the good, and the bad.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monday's FISA votes - The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

All the procedural maneuverings and unintelligible legalese being thrown around the Senate yesterday on just what they should do about the new FISA bill would make anyone's head spin. There were a number of issues that needed to be addressed, so let's get to them one by one.

First, would the Democrats allow the Republicans to force a vote on the FISA bill (they didn't) - with little consitutional protections of privacy AND retroactive immunity for telecom companies - with no real time to debate amendments (like say STRIPPING retroactive immunity)? Second, could the Democrats fend off a cloture vote (they did) forced by the filibuster threat of Chris Dodd? And third, would a 30 day extension of the current "Protect America Act" (which Bush is vowing to veto) win approval (House to vote on this too) - thereby ensuring it won't expire? (the extension lost)

Sleepy yet? Thankfully, we've got Glenn Greenwald - constitutional scholar, blogger, and writer for - to walk us through how each of these battles played out, then sort out what each means, and finally, where we all go from here. No one understands this issue better...

Glenn writes:

The vote on the GOP cloture motion -- to ignore all the amendments and proceed to a final vote on the Bush-Rockefeller SIC bill -- has just occurred. The motion has failed, which means (shockingly) that Democrats have successfully mounted a filibuster preventing the vote on this horrible bill from occurring. The vote was 48-45. Republicans missed by a whopping 12 votes to achieve cloture (60 votes needed for cloture). That's a pretty gaping defeat; the Democrats did well to stand together. In one sense, this is an extremely mild victory, to put that generously.

All this really means is that they will now proceed to debate and vote on the pending amendments to the bill, almost certainly defeat all of the meaningfully good ones, approve a couple of amendments which improve the bill in the most marginal ways, and then end up ultimately voting for a bill that contains both telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping. Moreover, it seems clear that Senate Republicans deliberately provoked this outcome and were hoping for it, by sabotaging what looked to be imminent Democratic capitulation so that Bush could accuse Democrats tonight of failing to pass a new FISA bill, thus helping their friend Osama. Still, in another sense, this is significant.

Preventing a vote today means that there is more time to work on opposing immunity, including by working on ensuring that the House stays firm behind its relatively decent bill. It also means that the Senate -- for once -- has refused to capitulate to brazen White House pressure tactics, whereby the President demanded that the Senate give the administration everything it wants before the Friday expiration of the PAA. Also, the presidential candidates responded to public pressure by joining in the filibuster, which is encouraging.


The vote on the Motion for Cloture on the 30-day extension (i.e., to proceed to a vote on it) just failed -- 48-45 (again, 60 votes are needed). All Democrats (including Clinton and Obama) voted in favor of the Motion, but no Republicans did -- not a single one. Thus, at least as of today, there will be no 30-day extension of the PAA and it will expire on Friday.


By blocking an extension, Republicans just basically assured that the PAA -- which they spent the last seven months shrilly insisting was crucial if we are going to be Saved from The Terrorists -- will expire on Friday without any new bill in place. Since the House is going out of session after tomorrow, there is no way to get a new bill in place before Friday. The Republicans, at Bush's behest, just knowingly deprived the intelligence community of a tool they have long claimed is so vital. Is the media going to understand and be able to explain what the Republicans just did? Yes, that's a rhetorical question.

Senate Democrats today took a stand for their procedural rights, not against telecom immunity or warrantless eavesdropping. After all, many of the Senate Democrats who voted to filibuster this bill were more than ready last week to vote for that bill, and they will vote for it again soon enough. Moreover, while they were upset that they were denied the right to vote on these amendments, many of them intend to vote against those very same amendments and will ensure that most, if not all of them, fail, so that the bill arrives at the White House in a form acceptable to the Leader.

As indicated, it's preferable for several reasons that the Cloture Motion failed today -- and one can still praise Senate Democrats for refusing to capitulate fully (at least yet) -- but it isn't the case that Senate Democrats collectively took a stand here for anything more substantive than their own institutional customs. Many of the Democratic Senators whom you like today for voting against cloture will be voting soon enough in favor of telecom amnesty and for warrantless eavesdropping. The House is the real hope for stopping these measures.

I hope you got all that! We now look to the House in hopes that they will do a better job than the Senate in articulating - as a body - the need to protect the privacy of Americans, enforce constitutional constraints on an unchecked executive branch, and defend and uphold the rule of law. But, for now, this battle is not lost. For Glenn's entire post click here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The FISA Follies, Redux

It's good to see the editorial board of the New York Times take such a strong position on the FISA bill currently being debated in the Senate. I'll report on how it all goes down tomorrow, for now, check this excellent editorial out:

The Senate (reportedly still under Democratic control) seems determined to help President Bush violate Americans’ civil liberties and undermine the constitutional separation of powers. Majority Leader Harry Reid is supporting White House-backed legislation that would expand the administration’s ability to spy on Americans without court supervision and ensure that the country never learns the full extent of Mr. Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.


The House has passed a reasonable new bill — fixing FISA without further endangering civil liberties. But Mr. Bush wants to weaken FISA as much as he can. And the Senate leadership has been only too happy to oblige.

With the help of Republican senators and the misguided chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, the White House got a bill that, once again, reduces court supervision of wiretapping. It also adds immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the illegal spying.


It is now up to the House to protect Americans’ rights. Mr. Bush has already started issuing the ritual claims that if his bill is not passed instantly, Osama bin Laden will be telephoning his agents in the United States and no one will know. Let us be clear, Mr. Bush has always had the authority to order emergency wiretaps — and get court approval after the fact. That has never been the problem with FISA.

Click here to read the editorial in its entirety.

The ACLU also released a statement urging Senators to stand up to the administration on behalf of civil liberties.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington Office of the ACLU:

"The Republican shenanigans on warrantless wiretapping are simply playing politics with fear and are unacceptable. The American people and the Democrats in the Senate are not and should not be hoodwinked into giving up vital constitutional freedoms by the Republicans' incessant fearmongering.

We urge senators to vote against cutting off debate on Monday and reject Republican efforts to force the unconstitutional Intelligence Committee bill through the Senate. "Senators should have the opportunity to consider a wide range of important amendments, including measures on stripping retroactive immunity for telecommunications providers and provisions that would offer increased privacy protections.

"We agree with Senator Feingold when he stated that Monday's cloture vote will be a test of whether the majority is willing to stand up to the administration and stand up for our rights. "The truth is, the sunset of the Protect America Act is nothing to be afraid of. Surveillance is always allowable under the tried-and-true Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that's operated for almost thirty years.

Even the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has said we're not facing a crisis. "We urge the Senate to stand firm and not rubberstamp the administration's warrantless wiretapping."

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Regulations Fail to Address Security, Privacy

If you haven't read up on the FISA bill coming up for a vote in the Senate on Monday - that includes retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that were complicit in wiretapping American citizens - I strongly suggest you check out what I posted yesterday.

In the meantime I just can't help posting another article on the abysmal REAL ID Act. This analysis was just too good to pass up. Check out what Sophia Cope, a staff attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology, has to say about the proposal.

Sophia writes:

Of particular concern is the Department’s flirtation with a central ID database. The final regulations, released Jan. 11, strongly support leveraging existing technology by expanding the central database for commercial drivers to include all drivers and state ID card holders—that is, virtually every American.

Following this path of least resistance fails to acknowledge the enormous security risks and potential for government and business abuse of a central ID database. Security experts agree that creating a “one stop shop” of highly sensitive personal information on millions of Americans, not just a relatively small pool of commercial drivers, is a bad idea. It would be an irresistible treasure trove for identity thieves, terrorists, and other computer criminals.


Regardless of whether ID information is stored centrally or in separate databases that are accessible via a central portal, two equally important questions have yet to be addressed: Who would have access to the ID data and for what purposes?


If run by a private organization, as is the current commercial driver’s license database, federal privacy and security laws may not apply, nor would the much-touted, though still weak, Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which only regulates how state motor vehicle departments disclose personal data to government agencies and commercial entities.

Thus no robust legal framework exists to protect the personal information that would be held in the centralized ID system envisioned by DHS from misuse by government and business. Allegedly, the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies already regularly access the privately managed commercial driver’s license database with virtually no oversight.

Neither the REAL ID Act nor the final regulations prohibit the recording of individuals’ transactions in the central ID database or the skimming of personal data from the card itself, both of which would facilitate intrusive tracking by the government and unsolicited marketing by commercial entities.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

FISA, Telecom Immunity, Democratic Capitulation, MoveOn, Dodd's Filibuster and the Constitution

It's that time again! Yes, while our constitution continues to be run through one of Cheney's paper shredders, we once again are being forced to suffer through watching Democrats in the Senate bend over backwards to give the administration - and their telecommunication industry allies - EVERYTHING they want when it comes to FISA, illegal wiretapping, and retroactive immunity.

I speak of the new FISA bill coming before Congress that looks an awful lot like the Orwellian "Protect America Act" - passed back in August. Apparently the "America" being referred to is the administration that has been illegally eavesdropping on the emails and phone calls of US citizens and the phone companies that gladly allowed them to do so!

Now that the Senate is back from recess, the bill that would give these criminally complicit telecommunication companies retroactive immunity - thereby squashing any effort to discover just how broad the scope of this program was - is back up for a vote...likely Monday.

We know where Senators like Rockefeller and Feinstein stand: firmly with the administration and against the constitution. Thankfully, Senator Chris Dodd has vowed to filibuster this disgrace - and Senators Feingold and Kennedy have joined him with strong statements of opposition, as has John Edwards. The question now is how many Democrats will join this effort - in particular Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton?

Before I get to a few of the articles detailing this sordid affair, here's's take, and their request to urge Obama and Clinton to get back to DC and join Dodd and Co. stop this bill:

Some Senate Democrats want to cut a deal with President Bush to give immunity to phone companies that helped him illegally spy on the calls and emails of innocent Americans. This is nothing short of an attempted cover-up—ongoing lawsuits against companies like AT&T could be the only way we ever find out how far Bush went in breaking the law.2

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both said they oppose this immunity bill4, but now is a time we need real leadership. Senators Clinton and Obama have enormous influence with Democrats right now—if they helped lead a filibuster against this bill, other Senators would take notice and the public would see Democrats showing principle and backbone.

Can you call Senator Hillary Clinton today? Tell her we need her leadership to help block immunity for phone companies that helped Bush break the law.

Clinton 's presidential campaign number: (703) 469-2008

This issue strikes at the heart of accountability in our democracy. No president should be able to work with corporations to break the law and then use Congress to cover up the crimes.


And the facts are clearly on our side: A judge appointed by President Bush Sr. wrote an opinion finding that "AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal."


MoveOn email putting in calls to Clinton campaign:

MoveOn email putting in calls to Obama campaign:

P.S. Senator John Edwards made a bold statement yesterday encouraging all Democratic Senators to show backbone on this issue. You can read it here:

I also found an article entitled "FISA 2.0 Called 'Atrocious' Privacy Violation" that I think breaks the issue down pretty well:

In August, Congress passed and the president signed the Protect America Act, which allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence (DNI) to "authorize the acquisition of foreign intelligence information" without the approval of the special court established by FISA.

According to the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is likely to bring an amendment to the floor this week written by the Intelligence Committee. "We're back pretty much where we were in August," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, during a conference call with reporters.

"Sen. Reid is about to move a bill to the floor that looks an awful lot like the Protect America Act, except with one additional very bad provision, and that's the provision that provides immunity to those telecommunications carriers that - in violation of the law -turned over their customer data to the NSA," she said. (NSA is the National Security Agency and Central Security Service of the U.S. government.)


.J. Crowley, director of homeland security at the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), added that, while FISA is outdated, how it is updated matters. "Advocates of the Protect America Act focus only on one side of the equation - finding the terrorists among us," Crowley told Cybercast News Service.

"They overlook the fact that an open-ended search for a terrorist will implicate Americans at the other end of the phone or e-mail who are completely innocent."This is why the FISA court remains relevant," he said. "The FISA court has already adapted how it operates to accommodate the government's need to act quickly. Warrants can be constructed in ways that allow broad latitude but retain oversight by the court."

"The Protect America Act was ostensibly intended to address a specific problem acknowledged on all sides: foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through U.S. switches," he told Cybercast News Service. "But the administration seized on this as an opportunity to enact legislation that effectively eviscerates FISA and goes far beyond what was necessary to address this problem," noting that the bill "makes a few modest improvements in the Protect America Act but fails to remedy its core deficiencies," Agrast said.

While the ACLU's Frederickson called the Intelligence Committee bill an "atrocious piece of legislation," she said the group is urging Reid to instead consider the Judiciary Committee's updates to the bill, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which would expand FISA's role.

Click here to read this article in its entirety.

The Washington Post also details some of the maneuverings going on in the Senate today:

But Vice President Cheney said in a speech yesterday that Congress "must act now" to renew the expiring surveillance law and provide telecommunications companies with protection from lawsuits alleging they violated personal privacy rights while helping the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Those who assist the government in tracking terrorists should not be punished with lawsuits," Cheney said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.


The White House and Republican lawmakers are pushing to make the law permanent while also adding legal protections for telecommunications companies, which face dozens of lawsuits. Most House Democrats and civil liberties groups strongly oppose immunity for the communications firms, but other Democrats -- including John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee -- have backed the GOP position.


Rockefeller told reporters yesterday that his committee's immunity proposal "will prevail." Six of the committee's eight Democrats supported the legislation, giving Republicans a crucial edge in the narrowly divided Senate.

Further complicating the outlook was a renewed threat by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to stage a filibuster to block any version of the bill that includes immunity.


Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Democrats opposing immunity face an uphill battle and accused Reid of mishandling the issue. "We would very much like Senator Reid to have a fight with the White House, to move forward with a bill that's stronger on civil liberties and has no immunity," she said. "If a bill doesn't pass, it's on the president's head."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

I urge everyone to call Senator Obama, Clinton, or your US Senator and tell them to stand up for the people and the Constitution and join Dodd's filibuster! More on this come Monday...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two More States Oppose Real ID + ACLU Releases Report Card

Even with the Department of Homeland Security scaling back the scope of the Real ID Act as well as giving states more time to comply, opposition continues to mount.

In the past few days two more states have joined the growing chorus of opposition to, or even outright refusal to comply with, the Real ID Act. And Montana's Governor has stepped up his efforts to urge other state leaders to join him in opposing the Act.

The W. Virginia State Senate has put forth a bill rejecting Real ID Act participation. The Register Herald Reports:

His bill introduced Thursday with 11 co-sponsors flatly declares that West Virginia won’t take part in the 2005 act. Moreover, it says the Department of Transportation is directed against implementing the federal act’s provisions, and that it must inform the governor of any effort by federal agencies, including Homeland Security, to use records in the Motor Vehicles Division to put it in force.

Barnes said privacy rights are a constitutional guarantee and viewed upon by West Virginians as “sacred.”“Real ID gives the government access in one fell swoop to a lot of our information,” the senator said.“First of all, the government hasn’t told us exactly what they want to do with all this information. And that ought to make people nervous.”

Barnes finds it troubling that such cards contain a wide range of personal data — medical, purchasing, credit and the like — and even more could be stashed on the cards.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Not to be outdone, a new Missouri bill thumbs its nose at federal Real ID Act as well. St. Louis Today Reports:

"We have a federal government that is out of control," Guest said. The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a resolution asking the federal government to repeal the program last year; Guest's bill would go a step further by prohibiting the state from participating in the program entirely.


Because Real ID would be required for so many common tasks, Guest said it amounts to a national identification card."Almost everybody would be affected by it," he said. "It is the first step to Big Brother watching you."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

I would be remiss to not report a short follow up to my recent post regarding Montana's opposition to Real ID. The good news is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is urging a third of the nation's governors to join him in opposing the implementation of a national identification card, saying they can force Congress to change it.

The West Central Tribune reports:

Schweitzer, who last year said "no, nope, no way, hell no" to the federal plan calling for national driver's licenses under the REAL ID Act, sent a letter Friday to 17 other governors asking them to oppose a Department of Homeland Security effort to penalize states that have not adopted the mandate.

"If we stand together, either DHS will blink or Congress will have to act to avoid havoc at our nation's airports and federal courthouses," Schweitzer


The American Civil Liberties Union has suggested Homeland Security will not move forward with the travel restrictions if states force the issue. The act has been delayed since its 2005 inception amid opposition from the states.

The states who have passed legislation or resolutions objecting to the REAL ID Act - many due to concerns over the cost - are Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington, according to the ACLU.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

The other good news to report, and I admittedly can't even keep up with them all, is the avalanche of newspaper editorials and op-ed that are coming out in opposition to Real Id...yet another indication the momentum in this debate over civil liberties is on the side of the people, not the administration.

And in case there was any doubt left in your mind regarding just what a threat this Act poses - on so many levels - here's some highlights of the ACLU's recently released report card (hint: the Act gets an "F") on the Act and its various components.

The ACLU release states:

A systematic analysis of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) final regulations for the Real ID Act reveals that the regulations still address only 9 percent of the problems with the act that have been identified, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.


The ACLU’s analysis of the DHS regulations is based on a list of 56 problems that have been commonly identified with the Real ID law by a variety of parties, including privacy activists, domestic violence victims, anti-government conservatives, religious leaders and DMV administrators. Of the 56 problems, the regulations successfully addressed or “passed” 6 (11 percent), scored an incomplete on 12 (21 percent), and failed 38 (68 percent).

...ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani: “Despite the outpouring of public feedback they received – an astounding 21,000-plus comments from the public – and 9 additional months of work, their passing score has barely budged and their incompletes have risen only slightly. It’s as if Secretary Chertoff covered his ears and pretended he couldn’t hear the public’s protests. Since legitimate complaints were ignored willfully by DHS, it is now clear that Congress needs to step in and fix what DHS will not.”


“On so many of the hard issues, DHS has kicked the problems down the road to the next administration and beyond,” said Steinhardt. “They are trying to stretch out this bitter medicine to get the states and the American people to swallow it, but what this scorecard shows is that once it’s down it will still be poison.”

Needless to say, we'll be covering this issue very closely...including upcoming debates on the Act in New York and Virginia.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Farmers fear a barnyard Big Brother

As if there aren't enough ways that government and/or big business have found to creep into our lives, monitor our movements, trace our transactions, and listen to our phone calls! Now they want to chip animals and have small farmers report nearly everything that happens to them.

I'm talking about - and this isn't a joke - the Bush administration's "National Animal Identification System" initiative. This proposal to "chip" animals with RFID tags isn't just an invasion of privacy (as will be explained), it also would achieve an additional goal of the administration: provide an even greater advantage to agribusiness at the expense of family farms. See, big industrial farms would only have to track herds, not individual cattle...unlike small farmers who'd be forced to track each and every one...a HUGE pain, and cost.

Have you ever heard of a more unholy alliance than big agribusiness and the rapidly expanding surveillance industry???

It's not often that I come across proposals this lousy. I'll let Nicole Gaouette of the Los Angeles Times do the heavy lifting here and explain this rather diabollical initiative, and then below this Times piece is a much more hard hitting critique offered by longtime populist, and family farm advocate, Jim Hightower.

Nicole Reports:

A Bush administration initiative, the National Animal Identification System is meant to provide a modern tool for tracking disease outbreaks within 48 hours, whether natural or the work of a bioterrorist.

Most farm animals, even exotic ones such as llamas, will eventually be registered. Information will be kept on every farm, ranch or stable. And databases will record every animal movement from birth to slaughterhouse, including trips to the vet and county fairs.But the system is spawning a grass-roots revolt.

Family farmers see it as an assault on their way of life by a federal bureaucracy with close ties to industrial agriculture. They point out that they will have to track every animal while vast commercial operations will be allowed to track whole herds. Privacy advocates say the database would create an invasive, detailed electronic record of farmers' activities.

...despite the administration's insistence that the program is voluntary, farmers and families, such as the Calderwoods, chafe at the heavy-handed and often mandatory way states have implemented it, sometimes with the help of sheriff's deputies. The result is a system meant to help farms that many farmers oppose.


The first stage of the animal ID system involves free registration of the "premises" where livestock are kept. That seven-digit number is stored by the federal government, which had registered 440,997 farms as of last week, out of 1.43 million. The second stage, now under way, involves identifying animals with a microchip or a plastic or metal ear tag containing a 15-digit code.

The third stage, not yet in effect, would require farmers to report animal movements to the database within 24 hours. Farms that move animals in bulk from feedlot to slaughterhouse can get one animal ID for the entire herd. But smaller farmers who move and sell animals individually would have to get each animal an ID at a cost of about $1.50 apiece.

Small farmers are complaining about the cost of ID microchips and technology readers, as well as the labor costs involved in tracking and tagging animals.


"Where is the scientific proof that small farmers pose the same disease risk as large confined feeding operations?" asked Judith McGeary, an Austin, Texas, farmer and lawyer, who founded the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance to fight the database system.

"I could have been convinced that there were benefits to this program if they had come back and said here are the studies, here's the epidemiology."McGeary, who raises grass-fed lamb, free-range poultry and laying hens, said the program could cripple smaller family farms and organic growers. "It will be impossible to report every death, every coyote carrying off a chicken; you just can't," she said.


Opponents of the ID system, however, say USDA actions are making the program virtually compulsory. Since 2004, USDA has pledged more than $51 million to states and farm groups to promote premises registration -- but they must register a certain number of farms to get the money. "They only get the money if they get the performance," said Knight, who acknowledged "a great deal of resistance out there." Some states have responded by registering farms in less than voluntary ways.


Many farmers also deeply resent the way USDA's youth programs, including 4H and Future Farmers of America, are requiring children like Brandi Calderwood to register."This is like the government saying your kids can't be in your community soccer program unless you register your home with the government," Cathy Calderwood said. "It's just way too much Big Brother."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Now for the real "lowdown" from Jim Hightower on the government's plan to protect us from terrorist livestock.

Hightower writes:

This is Animal Farm meets the Marx Brothers! It would be one thing if this were meant for the massive factory farms run by agribusiness conglomerates, which account for the vast number of disease outbreaks. After all, they have corporate staffs, computer networks, and existing systems of inventory tracking. But no -- rather than focus on the big boys that cause the big harm, NAIS targets hundreds of thousands of small farms, homesteaders, organic producers, hobbyists ... and maybe even you.


This is far more onerous than the burden put on owners of guns and autos, the only two items of personal property presently subject to general systems of permanent registration. Gun owners, for example, can take their guns off their premises (to go hunting, attend a gun show, or just carry them around) without filing a report with the government. But NAIS would deny this freedom to chicken owners! The authorities are declaring hens to be more dangerous than a Belgian FN Five-SeveN handgun, and every time Hen No. 8406390528 strays from her assigned GPS locale, NAIS autocrats would require her owner to report within 24 hours the location, duration and purpose of her departure -- or be subject to a stiff fine.


To find out who's driving this, we have to ask the old Latin question, Cui bono? (Who benefits?) That takes us to another obscure acronym, NIAA, which stands for the National Institute of Animal Agriculture. Despite its official-sounding name, this is a private consortium largely made up of two groups: proponents of corporate agriculture and hawkers of surveillance technologies. They are the ones who conceived the program, wrote the USDA proposal, and are pushing hard to impose it on us.

Such industrialized meat producers as Cargill and Tyson have three reasons to love NAIS. First, the scheme fits their operations to a T, not only because they are already thoroughly computerized, but also because they engineered a neat corporate loophole: If an entity owns a vertically integrated, birth-to-death factory system with thousands of animals (as the Cargills and Tysons do), it does not have to tag and track each one but instead is given a single lot number to cover the whole flock or herd. Second, it's no accident that NAIS will be so burdensome and costly (fees, tags, computer equipment, time) to small farmers and ranchers. The giant operators are happy to see these pesky competitors saddled with another reason to go out of business, thus leaving even more of the market to the big guys.

Third, the Cargills and Tysons are eager to assure Japan, Europe and other export customers that the U.S. meat industry is finally doing something to clean up the widespread contamination of its product. A national animal-tracking system would give the appearance of doing this without making the corporations incur the cost of a real cleanup. The health claims of NAIS are a sham; NAIS backers assumed they could sneak their little package of nasties past the people before anyone woke up. Wrong. Because it does not touch the source of E. coli, salmonella, listeria, mad cow and other common meat-borne diseases. Such contamination comes from the inherently unhealthy practices (mass crowding, growth stimulants, feeding regimens, rushed assembly lines, poor sanitation, etc.) of industrial-scale meat operations, and NAIS will do nothing to stop these practices. Moreover, tracking ends at the time of slaughter, and it's from slaughter onward that most spoilage occurs. NAIS doesn't trace any contamination after this final '"event" in the animals' lives.

Which brings us to the chip companies and sellers of computer tracking systems. In addition to such brand-name players as Microsoft, outfits with names like Viatrace, AgInfoLink, and Digital Angel are drooling over the profits promised by the compulsory tagging of all farm animals. The USDA figures there are more than two million premises in the United States with eligible livestock. There are 6 million sheep in our country, 7 million horses, 63 million hogs, 97 million cows, 260 million turkeys, 300 million laying hens, 9 billion chickens and untold numbers of bison, alpaca, quail and other animals -- all needing to be chipped and monitored. And, as new animals are born, they need chips, too -- a self-perpetuating market!


In at least 11 states, legislation has been introduced to reject the program, and in Texas and Vermont, aggressive grassroots opposition has forced legislators to back off plans to mandate premise registration. I also know some urban Democrats in Congress who had been supporting NAIS on the assumption that it was a consumer protection program. They've since had "visits" from agitated home folks who helped them see the light. Such visits are producing results. This summer, the House Appropriations Committee pointedly refused to approve any new funds for NAIS, instead demanding "a complete and detailed strategic plan for the program, including tangible outcomes ..." Incredibly, NAIS has gone as far as it has without ever having been subjected to a cost-benefit analysis! At last, the committee has now declared that without being shown some real benefits of such a sweeping ID system, it "has no justification to continue funding the program."

This is a big change in congressional attitude. However, billions of dollars are at stake in getting NAIS implemented, and the profiteers form a powerful lobby that will keep pushing at all levels, by all means. To hold them off requires more of us to learn what they're up to and to join the grassroots rebellion against them. You might not own a chicken or a cow, but you do own some fundamental freedoms that NAIS subverts in its pell-mell pursuit of special-interest profits. Some good people are standing up for those freedoms -- check the "Do Something" box to find out what you can do to help.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

State's Differ on Real ID

Even though the Department of Homeland Security (nothing Orwellian about that name!) announced the postponement of the REAL ID Act for a few more years, we're still seeing more and more state's voice opposition to the program. Unfortunately however, not all of them.

Maryland for instance, came out yesterday in support of the program, one of a growing number that are folding like lawn chairs to government demands. Why you ask? Well, it appears the driving force behind the turnaround is the issue of illegal immigration.

The Baltimore Sun Reports:

Bowing to federal pressure to crack down on undocumented immigrants, the O'Malley administration announced Tuesday that in two years it would begin requiring all driver's license applicants to present a birth certificate, passport or some other documentation to prove they are legal residents of the United States.


...state officials made it clear they were complying reluctantly. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley called REAL ID bad policy but said he had agreed to go along to prevent Maryland from becoming a magnet for those unable to get licenses elsewhere.


"Our citizens, quite frankly, are going to be shocked by what is going to be required, such as finding an original of a birth certificate," he said. Predicting "major degradations of service" at the MVA, he added: "If you wait until the day before your birthday to walk in and renew your license, you will not walk out with a new license."

Though Congress passed the REAL ID law in 2005, Maryland officials say they have been waiting to see exactly what would be required of states to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Final regulations, 284 pages of them, were announced Friday.The law takes effect later this year, but it allows states to delay compliance until 2010. Maryland has already been granted that extension.


Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, called the administration's announcement "very disappointing." She noted that almost half the states have objected in some fashion to the requirements of the REAL ID law, which she contends could expose the public to increased risks of identity theft. The law requires states to maintain extensive databases of private information on all its residents, and to share that with other states' licensing agencies as well as the federal government, she said.

"There are signs that this mandate is in retreat," Boersma said, noting that bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the law.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Montana on the other hand, is taking a diametrically opposite stance. Their Senator, Jon Tester, called the Act a "textbook Washington boondoggle", both chambers of the Montana state legislature voted against it, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer, after being asked whether Montana would comply said: "No, nope, no way, hell no." And the Great Falls Tribune wrote this scathing editorial yesterday lambasting "REAL ID":

The editorial begins by calling the Act an "unfunded mandate that infringes on citizen privacy and state sovereignty, with little guarantee of success."

And it continues:

Beginning in May, residents of states that refused to participate in REAL ID may have to undergo extra screenings to fly or visit a federal courtroom. Although states can file for an extension, Montana law may not allow it.

"What they're forcing is a showdown," said Scott Crichton with the Montana ACLU. "It's a states' rights confrontation really."

REAL ID would create federal standards for issuing driver's licenses, "something that has historically been within the rights of states to decide," said Matt Sundeen, with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. What's more, states would have to pay for it.


Long term, the real trouble with REAL ID is its similarity to a national ID card. Although licenses will look different from state to state, they will be linked by a national database. That could create an unprecedented ability to track — and limit — people's movements, amounting to what critics call an "internal passport."

It also would create a target for identity thieves, say Tester and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Weighed against all those negatives, there's no guarantee that REAL ID will stop terrorists. Creating a foolproof, large-scale ID system is exceedingly difficult, experts say. And there's nothing to say a legitimate ID holder can't be a terrorist. The fight is not over.

Baucus and Tester are co-sponsors of the Identification Security Enhancement Act, a bipartisan bill that repeals REAL ID and gives states more flexibility in fighting terrorism.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

So there you have it, a disappointing capitulation to DHS by Maryland, and a textbook defense of it's citizens right to privacy coming out of the state of Montana. Most importantly to know for all of us that believe the constitution trumps government proclamations and programs that they say will "protect us", is the fact that a bill has been presented that repeals Real ID once and for all. So everyone keep an eye on the Identification Security Enhancement Act, and when the time comes, all our legislators will need to hear from us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Do we Really Want Big Brother Watching Us?

New technologies aimed at strengthening our national security pose an enormous threat to our privacy - and they don't protect us from the "evil doers" anyway!

Take for instance, the possible emergence of "Project Hostile Intent" - the United State's new and not so privacy friendly airport/border security system (still being developed). This system, a technology worthy of a creepy sci-fi movie, has raised the eyebrows of privacy protection advocates because it would collect a variety of personal information about travelers and provides all kinds of opportunities for abuse.

Computer World Reports:

The system interprets your gestures and facial expressions, analyzes your voice and virtually probes your body to determine your temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and other physiological characteristics -- all in an effort to determine whether you are trying to deceive.

Fail the test, and you'll be pulled aside for a more aggressive interrogation and searches.

Interest in the use of what some researchers call behavioral profiling (the DHS prefers the term "assessing culturally neutral behaviors") for deception detection intensified last July, when the department's human factors division asked researchers to develop technologies to support Project Hostile Intent, an initiative to build systems that automatically identify and analyze behavioral and physiological cues associated with deception.

That project is part of a broader initiative called the Future Attribute Screening Technologies Mobile Module, which seeks to create self-contained, automated screening systems that are portable and relatively easy to implement.

"It's a good idea fraught with difficulties," says Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at security consultancy BT Counterpane in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even if Project Hostile Intent ultimately succeeds, it will not be a panacea for preventing terrorism, says Schneier. The risk can be reduced, but not eliminated, he says. "If we had perfect security in airports, terrorists would go bomb shopping malls," he says. "You'll never be secure by defending targets."

Assuming that the system gets off the ground, Project Hostile Intent also faces challenges from privacy advocates. Although the system would use remote sensors that are physically "noninvasive," and there are no plans to store the information, the amount of personal data that would be gathered concerns privacy advocates -- as does the possibility of false positives.

"We are not going to catch any terrorists, but a lot of innocent people, especially racial and ethnic minorities, are going to be trapped in a web of suspicion," says Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Steinhardt also stated that we really shouldn't worry too much about this system, since they never work properly and are years from being put into use. Still, it is concerning that the government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the program since 9/11, all for a security system that barely works and would create serious ethical questions associated with it.

Advancements in technology - such as RFID and Project Hostile Intent - may serve certain purposes, but more than naught, represent the continuing expansion of Big Brother's ability to monitor and record nearly everything we do - all under the guise of keeping us safe. But who is keeping us safe from those doing the watching and recording?

Monday, January 14, 2008

REAL ID Act Postponed

Since it was passed in 2005, the Real ID Act has alarmed privacy groups, lawmakers, state politicians, and the travel industry, and for good reason. The law requires states to issue new licenses which are supposed to screen potential terrorists and identify illegal immigrants. However, the law carries with it grave privacy risks, not to mention it will be expensive for states to implement and it could potentially restrict summer travel.

An announcement on Friday regarding the time table for the implementation of the REAL ID Act by the Bush Administration presented some good and bad news for it's opponents.

Some Good News...

Washington Post Reports:

But they [critics of the bill] also welcomed yesterday's official announcement that states have until May 2011 before they need to begin issuing licenses that meet the department's new guidelines, and until December 2014 to begin replacing current licenses. Drivers over the age of 50 will not have to obtain new licenses until the end of 2017.

The deadline extensions give both Congress and future presidents time to reconsider what opponents have depicted as a national identification system that will infringe on privacy rights and leave room for large-scale identity theft.

Responding to Friday's announcement, the ACLU released this statement:

“In its new REAL ID regulations, the Department of Homeland Security appears to have dumped the problems of the statute on future presidents like a rotting corpse left on the steps of the next administration – and not just the next one, but the administration of whoever is president in 2018. By the time this thing is supposed to go fully into effect, Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush may be fighting for the White House.

That just confirms it: Real ID needs to be repealed. It is not only a threat to Americans’ privacy but it is utterly unworkable. After 3 ½ years of efforts to implement this law, the tortured remains of the statute that appear to survive in these regulations stand as stark evidence of that fact.

Click here to read the statement in its entirety.

Citing incidents of stolen government computers, Jim Lawing, an ACLU representative says requiring citizens to put all of their personal information in one database can be dangerous.

"It will create a whole new database that the government will be in charge of. The government has shown that it's not capable of protecting this kind of data."

Some Bad News...

The Washington Post:

At a news conference yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the guidelines represent a balance between security and privacy in accordance with the Real ID Act. He warned that residents in states such as Georgia and Washington, which have refused to comply with the program, may be subject to additional security checks or prevented from boarding flights once the program begins this spring.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Despite this threat from our own government, the ACLU claims it could not realistically prevent millions of travelers from these states who lack the REAL ID from boarding flights restrict summer travel.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Study: U.S. among world’s ‘endemic-surveillance societies’

I suppose if a "wake up call" was still needed in America regarding our dwindling privacy rights this would be it. I speak of the findings just released in the annual "Report on Surveillance Society" by the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the U.K.-based Privacy International, which has been doing the survey since 1997.

Unlike in the past, this year's report ranks 47 nations on the issue of privacy protection, and as one might expect, the United States fairs poorly, very poorly. Specifically, we rank near the bottom of the countries surveyed and were labeled an “endemic-surveillance society” with poor privacy protection and aggressive monitoring by both the pubic and private sectors.

In fact, the U.S. ranking deteriorated since 2006, going from poor to bad. The intention behind the report is clearly laid out by its authors:

"First, we hope to recognize countries in which privacy protection and respect for privacy is nurtured. This is done in the hope that others can learn from their example. Second we intend to identify countries in which governments and privacy regulators have failed to create a healthy privacy environment. The aim is not to humiliate the worst ranking nations, but to demonstrate that it is possible to maintain a healthy respect for privacy within a secure and fully functional democracy."

As reported in Government Computer News,

"The report identifies technology as one of the culprits in the worsening situation. “The privacy trends have been fueled by the emergence of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global [information technlogy] companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside of judicial or democratic processes.”


The United Kingdom was rated the worst country in Europe and also listed as an endemic-surveillance society. The ranking was produced by the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the U.K.-based Privacy International...The full report is a massive 1,100 pages with 6,000 footnotes, but a summary of findings is available.

Among the findings contributing to the national ranking were:

No explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution and no comprehensive privacy law.

The Federal Trade Commission continues to give inadequate attention to privacy issues, although it issued self-regulating privacy guidelines on advertising in 2007.

Real-ID and biometric identification programs continue to expand without adequate oversight, research and funding structures.

Extensive data-sharing programs across the federal government and with the private sector.

Congress approved a presidential program of spying on foreign communications over U.S. networks and now is considering immunity for telephone companies that cooperated in illegal programs.

Wilton D. Alston of the New American sums up the report nicely, rightly connecting the dots between privacy and surveillance with liberty and in increased surveillance and weakening privacy rights necessarily means a loss of liberty and freedom. This should have us all deeply concerned, and hopefully more vigilant:

At minimum the 2007 PI report confirms, in spades, previous reports suggesting that the U.S. was moving toward implementing a thorough surveillance state. Nevertheless, even with my background in researching and writing on the subject of privacy and surveillance, I was still taken aback to see the relative comparisons between the U.S., the UK, and everyone else. Even as I stated in my TNA surveillance cover story, that "the UK is now the world’s most watched country, having upwards of five million closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras keeping a watchful eye on the public, with the average citizen being caught on camera around 300 times per day," I was unprepared to see the stark comparisons.


And it is that possibility — that the health of democracy and freedom is directly linked to the pervasiveness of surveillance — that we must focus upon. As I noted in the TNA cover story, Americans currently seem to favor surveillance over privacy. "Security expert Bruce Schneier calls this effect, within the realm of surveillance psychology, the ‘availability heuristic.’ Most people would rather all their deepest secrets be posted on the Internet tomorrow than have a psychopathic serial killer escape capture today, assuming that’s the trade-off." That this is not the trade-off somehow gets lost in the shuffle.

This was confirmed for me recently via a Facebook survey that asked the question: "Is the U.S. safer since the war on terror began?" One of the respondents who said "yes" also noted, apparently as confirmatory evidence, that there had been no terrorist attacks since the USA PATRIOT Act was signed. To even the most juvenile student of statistics, this conclusion is flawed. If terrorist events only happen at a rate described by the number that have occurred on American soil, there is really no way to judge if the rate is lower or higher since 9/11. (No one ever said logic and statistics were the strong suits of Internet survey takers!)

More importantly, as
Judge Andrew Napolitano recently explained in an excellent speech given in DC and recorded on Reason.TV, the point is not that we must give up our liberty to achieve security. That is an over-used and patently absurd false dichotomy. In most cases, it is those who seek to extend their own power that are the biggest threats to our safety, and most times, those are people we elected! History is full of examples of this, dating back to the Alien and Sedition Acts and proceeding, in megalomaniacal glory, up to the USA PATRIOT Act.

Click here to read his analysis in its entirety.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More trouble for Sears...

Just when we thought things couldn't get worse for Sears, the retailer is facing increasing scrutiny from privacy advocatesa as well as a new law suit.

The Register Reports:

On Friday, a Sears customer filed a suit in Illinois state court alleging the retailer's ( website is "fatally flawed and was designed in such a way as to significantly compromise the private information of its customers." The complaint, which requests class-action status, seeks a court order requiring customer data be secured on the site and an award for damages.


The complaint was filed on behalf of Christine Desantis, a customer whose details about 10 purchases made over eight years was made available to anyone savvy enough to exploit the bug. She doesn't know if anyone actually accessed the information.


"At the most simple level, anyone can now access Sears's customers private purchase history, meaning that a nosy person can find out how much his neighbor spent on a new washing machine or lawnmower," the complaint alleges. "More problematically, marketing companies can mine the Managemyhome website for data about Sears customers, in order to transmit detailed advertisements for additional products and/or warranties."

The complaint, filed by KamberEdelson, seeks class-action status, $5 million in damages, including attorney's fees. KamberEdelson (a New York based law firm) has been successful in pursuing Sony BMG Music Entertainment after they shipped millions of CDs containing Spyware to their customers. The firm has indicated that they are seeking plaintiffs for a second class-action suit against Sears for having secretly installed ComScore's Web-tracking software on PCs from some Sears' online customers.

Presently, Sears has disabled its site's feature that allows a user to look up the purchase history of any customer, but it is unclear whether the retailer will restore the feature once the controversy has blown over.

Click here to read the article in its entirety. and Disregard Customer Privacy

Only a couple weeks after facebook was scrutinized for tracking user's online activity through its Beacon application and then posting it on the site for the world to see, it now turns out that and have been tracking their users online habits and reporting them to online marketers.

Ars Technica (Boston) reports:

The story goes like this: late last year, and began asking sers if they wanted to participate in a "community" online (presumably a community made up of Sears and Kmart aficionados). In late December, security researcher Benjamin Googins at Computer Associates noticed, however, that the "community" actually installed software from comScore, a market research firm, in order to track the web activities of the sites' visitors


Googins stated on his company's blog that Sears had installed spyware which transmitted everything-"including banking logins, email, and all other forms of Internet usage"-to comScore for analysis. This was all allegedly done with no notice that anything was being installed, and it ran contrary to documentation about the community that said any data collected would stay within Sears' hands at all times.

But wait, there's more! In an update to his original post, Googins noted that Sears actually offers a slightly different privacy policy-via the same URL-to compromised computers versus those that have yet to install the software.

"If you access that URL with a machine compromised by the Sears proxy software, you will get the policy with direct language (like 'monitors all Internet behavior'). If you access the policy using an uncompromised system, you will get the toned-down version (like 'provide superior service')," he wrote.

Click here to read the text in its entirety.

Computer World interviews one consumer who expresses his surprise with Sear's actions:

"It's pretty amazing that in 2008 a major corporation such as Sears can show such blatant disregard for the privacy of its customers. It definitely will make me think twice before ordering from them again," said Doug Fuller, an Oakland, Calif., Realtor. "It's not like it is some rinky-dink company. This is a major corporation. And with all the identity theft going on, this is the best they can do?" he said via instant message.

No company should have the right to collect, document and distribute our personal online habits to marketers without our knowledge and we certainly don't expect trusted companies like Sears and Kmart to engage in this type of activity. Unfortunately, this proves that consumers must be wary of every online site due to the internet marketing frenzy that has taken over the internet.

Click here to read the text in its entirety.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Big Brother gets bigger, says global privacy study

Apparently the United States isn't the only country in the world experiencing an all out assault on the individuals right to privacy (though we are one of the most egregious offenders). According to a new international privacy report "governments around the world are increasingly invading the privacy of citizens with surveillance, identification systems, and archiving of private data."

This study should serve as a wake up call to everyone who believes in liberty and is concerned about the anti-democratic expansion of the government's authority and ability to monitor nearly everything we do.

CNET reports:

There was also an increase in the trend of governments archiving data on the geographic, communications, and financial records of citizens, as well as enacting legislation intended to increase the reach into individuals' private lives, the report found.


Specifically, governments have implemented or proposed use of fingerprint and iris-scanning biometrics, real-time tracking and monitoring through communications channels, geographic vehicle and mobile phone tracing, national DNA databases, global information-sharing agreements, and the elimination of anonymity in cyberspace.


In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the United States is the worst country in the "democratic world" and is outranked by both India and the Philippines on overall privacy protection. The U.S. has fallen into the "black" category reserved for countries with "endemic surveillance."

It almost goes without saying that the driving force behind this global assault on privacy are the publics fear - constantly stoked by elected leaders - of illegal immigrants and the threat of terrorism. The real question we must ask is just how real these "threats" are, and, how much safer does these kinds of government techniques really make us? In other words, is it really worth giving up our freedom and privacy just to be arguably a little safer? Of course not...

For the full story click here, and to view the full report click here.