Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Laptop Surveillance Settlement

The Lower Merion School District has settled the lawsuit filed by student Blake Robbins.

Robbins will receive about $175,000, a second student who also sued will receive about $10,000 and the lawyer representing both of them will be paid $425,000 in fees.

This ties a nice neat bow in the story except for the fact no one ever answered any questions about what the school district was doing photographing its students at home and who specifically authorized this.

Another interesting fact is that many of the articles dealing with these issues have been removed from the Philadelphia Daily News website. I find this interesting because it further obscures the fact that nothing was resolved in this situation - there was no fact-finding or deposition of responsible parties in the case.

The school district paid out some cash and it all went away...even the newspaper articles detailing the fact that the head of technology for the school district refused to answer questions when she received a subpoena, pleading the fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The Associated Press articles on these subjects have also been deleted.

Here are a few links that still work

From The Week:

From The Inquisitr:

From PC Magazine:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lower Merion School District Laptop Surviellance

In recent news regarding the high school laptop surveillance case in suburban Philadelphia, the school has hired a law firm and a computer forensics company to investigate the policies of the school district with respect to the surveillance capabilities of the school issued laptops.

From the Philadelphia Daily News:

The long-awaited report, conducted by the Ballard Spahr law firm and a computer-forensics company, was released last night after investigators reviewed about 500,000 pages of documents and interviewed 42 witnesses, in addition to the data collected by Lower Merion's laptop-tracking software.

Investigators retrieved from the district's databases nearly 58,000 webcam photos and screenshots, many of which were captured by laptops that had been found after having been reported stolen or missing.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The report, released Monday night, found that the software activated by the district in the last two years captured nearly 58,000 images, mostly from lost or stolen laptops.

But because employees frequently failed to turn off the tracking system, more than 50,000 of those images were taken after the computers had been recovered and given back to students.

So, apparently the surveillance technology was often deployed when a laptop was reported lost or stolen, but then not turned off once the laptop was recovered. This is one of many unanswered questions - Why was the surveillance kept up when laptops were returned or recovered?

It's also important to note that this investigation report was prepared by the law firm that the school district has hired to defend it in the lawsuit:

Though billed as an independent investigation, the report was prepared by lawyers from Ballard Spahr, the law firm the district has hired to defend it in the lawsuit filed by Harriton sophomore Blake Robbins and his parents.
There are other questions left unanswered by the report:

According to the report, Robbins borrowed a laptop from the school last October because the one he had been issued was damaged. A technician turned on his Web cam after officials realized he had taken the loaner computer off-campus - and that he had not paid the $55 insurance fee required of every student.

But investigators said they had conflicting accounts from assistant principal Lindy Matkso and technician Kyle O'Brien about who ordered the activation and why.

They kept tracking Robbins' laptop even after one technician e-mailed O'Brien to say that the laptop had been located. The teen's computer was "currently online at home," the e-mail said...

The Philly Daily News also notes:

O'Brien, the district technician, has testified that Harriton High Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko had told him to activate the tracking on Robbins' computer, but Matsko testified that she never gave that order, according to the report.
The full text of the report is posted at the school district website here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

High School Lap-Top Surveillance Revisited

During Winter Term, we talked a number of times about the situation at Harriton High School in the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania.

A student, Blake Robbins, and his parents have sued the district for illegal surveillance using the web-cam on the student's school issued laptop.

Initially the school district was indignant and insisted that, despite the fact that they had never told anyone that they had the capability of spying on students (and their families) using the laptop webcams, the webcams were only activated under certain very clearly delineated circumstances.

As is often the situation in legal cases, things are moving very slowly. A few weeks ago, there was news that the chief tech administrator for the school district was refusing to honor a court subpoena to appear and answer questions about the case.

The judge ordered the tech administrator, Carol Cafiero, to appear and she pleaded the fifth to every question. In other words, she declined to answer any questions in order to avoid incriminating herself.

The latest news now is that there appear to be hundreds if not thousands of pictures of students from Harriton High School that were taken with the laptop webcams. And not just pictures either - the laptops also captured text messages that students were sending back and forth to each other.

In e-mails made public this week a staff member at the high school is quoted as saying to Cafiero, the tech administrator, that reading the students' text messages was like:
"a little LMSD soap opera,"
[note: LMSD=Lower Merion School District]

to which Cafiero replied:
"I know, I love it,"
The school district website now has a notice that acknowledges that there are thousands of pictures of students that were taken with the laptop webcams:
A substantial number of webcam photos have been recovered in the investigation. We have proposed a process to Judge DuBois whereby each family of a student whose image appears in any such photos will be notified and given the opportunity to view such photographs...

Also, the plaintiffs' Motion suggests that the LANrev tracking feature may have been used for the purposes of "spying" on students. While we deeply regret the mistakes and misguided actions that have led us to this situation, at this late stage of the investigation we are not aware of any evidence that District employees used any LANrev webcam photographs or screenshots for such inappropriate purposes.

This is quite a different stance from the school district's initial claims that activation of the webcams happened in a very limited number of instances and only in certain specific circumstances:
Starting in 2008, the district used a remote control program to snap pictures - but only, they said, when a laptop was reported lost, missing or stolen. This feature was activated 42 times this school year, school officials said.
There seems to be some discrepancy between only using the webcam 42 times when a laptop is reported lost, missing or stolen and the thousands of pictures and text messages that appear to have swept up by the school district.
It will be interesting to see if and how this issue is resolved.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nineteen Eighty-Four

In thinking about George Orwell's 1984, we discussed the Newspeak language that is a central piece of the ruling party's effort to control the ability of people to think for themselves.

Newspeak radically changes the English language so that any thoughts that the ruling party deems to be inappropriate (or "thoughtcrime") will not have words in Newspeak to express them.

My initial reaction was that the goals of Newspeak would work for a limited number of people, but would not work for an entire population because, ultimately, words are dependent on thoughts, feelings and ideas, and not the other way around.

Thoughts and ideas are the precursors to language.

The people most resistant to the aims of Newspeak would be artists.

To me, this is the work of an artist - to have thoughts and feelings outside the realm of language and culture and then to bring these ideas back to the community and express them in a way that other people can understand.

1984 - The Movie vs. 1984 - The Book

Another thing that we discussed was the translation of Orwell's masterpiece from print to the screen. I found the portrayal of Orwell's dystopia to be somewhat overwhelming on the screen and felt that, in a way, it overshadowed the ideas that had driven the print version.

To me, the real work of Orwell was in creating the world that the story takes place in. The story itself was a function of the creation of this world.

In doing a little online research today for writings about 1984 and the plot and its ending in particular, I came across an interesting piece of writing by Philip Palmer, a British screenwriter and science fiction author.

Palmer argues that 1984 is a work of science fiction despite some people's resistance to this idea.

He backs up his argument with a few key ideas:

First, this is a book based around concepts - speculations and extrapolations about a future world which are challenging and fasinating and would make the book worth reading even if it weren't so well written. Newspeak, IngSoc, the notion of a perpetual and non-existent war, the control of memory, the Two Minute Hate, the factories where fictitious news is created, Room 101 - these are all fantastic, audacious ideas that linger in the mind and the imagination long after the book has been finished....

Another key fictional strategy which we SF readers look for in our books is world building. This of course is a vital element of both the science fiction and the fantasy genres. A great science fiction novel will create a planetary civilisation, or even a galactic civilisation that is visualised and conceived in the finest detail ...

For all these reasons, it seems to me that 1984 is a great novel which is also a great science fiction novel. And even its flaws are typical of the flaws to be found in many otherwise fine SF novels; namely, a tendency to favour exposition about the minute details of the imagined world over dramatic development and character interaction.
Part of my dislike for the movie version of 1984 was the fact that, with the language and exposition stripped away, we are left with the plot, which I feel is a weak link in the original work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Online Education

In class the other day, I mentioned that I had seen a free online university, but couldn't find the link anymore. I found it again.

It's the University of the People.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Class Work for March 10th

In Mark Pesce's video that we watched on Monday, he talked about the RateMyProfessors web site and the way that it allowed students to share their classroom experiences with other students and helped to create a better educational experience.

He also talked about the growth of online education.

We're going to explore these ideas today and then plan to talk about them in class on Friday.


So, one thing you can do is to choose a college you'd like to attend or you can choose to look at a course here at Clatsop that you haven't taken yet, but would like to.

I'll list some of the 4-year schools in the Pacific Northwest below:

Class schedule for Oregon State University for 2011

Class schedule for University of Oregon for 2011

Class schedule for Portland State University for 2011

Class schedule for Western Oregon University for 2011

Class schedule for Oregon Institute of Technology for 2011

Class schedule for University of Washington for 2011

Class schedule for Washington State University for 2011 (various campuses)

If you don't see a school you're interested in listed, it usually isn't too hard to search out their course listings.

So, find a class you'd like to take and find the name of a professor who teaches that class.

Then, go to RateMyProfessors.com and look up the ratings for the professor you chose. Do you still want to take the class? Why or why not?

On-line Education

Mark Pesce also talked about the growth of online education. Specifically, he mentioned StraighterLine.com

Here is a link to the StraighterLine website.

StraighterLine is not listed at RateMy Professors, but I did find some forum discussions here about the classes offered by StraighterLine.

I also found a few opinion pieces about StrighterLine -

From an English professor at the State University of NewYork - Buffalo

From eCampus News

From techdirt

Here are links for some other web-based educational companies.

Capella University

Some reviews of the educational experience at Capella

Kaplan University - connected with the Kaplan Tutoring company and owned by the Washington Post.

University of Phoenix

Gatlin Education Services

Look at some of the course offerings, pricing and how each different company organizes their system.

Some of these online educational services have been criticized for the level of student loan default that occurs at their schools. An article from azcentral.com (a joint effort between the Phoenix NBC station, the Arizona Republic newspaper and La Voz spanish language newspaper) talks about the University of Phoenix paying recruiters to enroll new students. The idea here is that the recruiters were signing up students who weren't prepared for classes and so the students ended up dropping out and then defaulting on their loans:

Recruiting allegations

For-profit schools have been dogged for years by complaints that they use aggressive recruiting and misleading information to entice students to enroll. Some schools have paid recruiters according to the number of people they sign up. That has led to claims that students are being admitted who are more likely to drop out, never get degrees and default on their loans.

In February, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said it found violations of incentive compensation rules at 32 schools, mostly for-profits, from 1998 to 2009. That included a 2009 case in South Carolina where the school paid bonuses of $52,500 to 17 employees.

Arizona has had its share of allegations of recruiting violations.

In 2004, a federal review of the University of Phoenix depicted a school hungry to enroll new students. The review said the school threatened and intimidated its recruiters in meetings and e-mails, pressuring them to enroll unqualified students. The university strongly disputed the findings. The school's parent company, Apollo Group Inc., later settled the matter for $9.8 million without admitting wrongdoing.

In December, the University of Phoenix settled a whistleblower lawsuit in federal court for $78.5 million over recruiter-pay practices. Two former enrollment counselors sued in 2004, alleging the school defrauded the government of billions of dollars in financial aid and violated federal law by paying recruiters based on enrollment. The company said the pay practices were legal because enrollment was not the sole determinant. The university did not admit any wrongdoing.

Barron's (the financial weekly published by Dow Jones Inc.) also reported on a Department of Education investigation of Kaplan University:

THE WASHINGTON POST COVERS government agencies as closely as any daily newspaper. Yet an investor would have had to scroll through the Washington Post Co.'s (WPO) 10-K filing last week to see news of a Department of Education inquiry into its important education unit.

The Post's education business, anchored by the Kaplan for-profit college and test-prep businesses, contributed 58% of 2009's revenue and all of its $195 million of operating income.

Within that operation, all the growth is from the "higher education" segment, where revenue grew 33% in 2009 and operating income grew almost 60%, to $275 million. Higher education enrollment last year grew 32%, online enrollment 47%.

Outcomes at Kaplan higher-ed, however, don't compare impressively with other for-profit education enterprises. The online Kaplan University segment (about half of the higher-ed unit's revenues) gets 87.5% of its receipts from some $780 million worth of government student aid. That's close to the federal program's 90% limit, and higher than many other for-profits.

Student-loan default rates are one inverse measure of the benefit received by students. Kaplan higher-ed's numbers have been getting worse. In the first two years after graduation, defaults at four of the school's 33 reporting units were above 25%, which is the level at which they are at risk of Department of Education sanctions. At the online Kaplan University, defaults rose from 6% for 2005 grads to 13% for 2007 grads, with preliminary numbers for 2008 worse, around 16%.

Most intriguing in the 10-K is the passing (and first) mention that the Education Department has been conducting a "Program Review" of Kaplan University's main offices in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., since September. The Post business desk seemed not to notice any of this, but Post investors might want to.

I think the point here is not that online education is bad, but that students should be aware of what they're getting into before paying (or borrowing) their money.

Government Spending

Here is a link to the website Maek Pesce was describing in the video. Check out some places where the money is being spent. You can check for the zip code 97103 (or others) and where the money is being spent locally. If the information helpful?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Update on the school laptop surveillance case

The assistant principal accused of spying on a student using a remotely-activated web-cam has responded that she has never used the web-cam to spy on students' behavior at home.

The student involved stated that:

A number of other families in the school district have signed a petition opposing the lawsuit. The comments section at this last link is pretty interesting. The link is from a local Philadelphia newspaper. Some of the comments focus on privacy issues, others accuse the family involved of seeking publicity and money from their lawsuit.

This is certainly an interesting story!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Links to info on the Inspector General's report and James Comey's testimony

Here are a few links for some of the things we talked about in class today.

The Inspector General's report on the President's Surveillance Program.

James Comey's testimony before Congress regarding the hospital visit to John Ashcroft in 2004.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Group Work for Feb. 19th

Group 1:

Visit the Wikipedia sites listed below

President's Surveillance Program

NSA Call Database

NSA Electronic Surveillance Program

Consider the information in terms of what we've explored previously.
What are some similarities and differences between these activities and those exposed by the Church Committee in the 1970s.

There is A LOT of information here - explore it some, check out some of the links that appear interesting and try to make sense of it to discuss on Monday.

Group 2:

Visit the websites below and consider the story of Brandon Mayfield, an Oregonian who was arrested and held in jail as a material witness in the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

Wikipedia site for Brandon Mayfield

Wikipedia site on National Security Letters

The next two sites are from a website run by Daniel Pipes who is a historian, commentator and associated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

"If you are Muslim, you are suspect"

"More reasons for Brandon Mayfield's incarceration"

Next is an AP article detailing the dismissal of charges against Mayfield

Court dismisses case against Mayfield

Last is an article from the NYTimes detailing the judges ruling parts of the Patriot Act illegal

Judge Rules Provisions in Patriot Act Illegal

Consider the information in the different pieces of the story above and be prepared on Monday to talk to class about this situation.

Group 3:

Explore the story of the al-Haramain Islamic charity that was accused by the Bush administration of directing their money to terrorist organizations.

From Wired magazine

The story of the misplaced classified document

More from the story and some background on the Bush Justice Department's involvement

After the warrantless surveillance became public, over 50 lawsuits were filed against the phone companies that supplied the government with their customer's raw data.

Info on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008

Information on the Electronic Freedon Frontier's case against the government

Judge's opinion with background information

Information related to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008

School Spying on Students

When I saw this this morning, it was hard to believe that it wasn't from The Onion but it's not.

From the Philadelphia Daily News

Lower Merion School District officials brag that they give every one of their 1,800 high-schoolers laptop computers to "ensure that all students have 24/7 access to school-based resources."

Instead, they ensured they got 24/7 access to students' private lives by secretly installing webcams they remotely control to spy on teens and their families at home, according to a federal, class-action lawsuit filed this week in Philadelphia.

The suit alleges the covert cameras violate everything from the Fourth Amendment to wiretapping, electronic communications and computer fraud laws.

It was filed Tuesday on behalf of Harriton High student Blake J. Robbins and all Lower Merion students by Robbins' parents Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley.

Named as defendants are the school district, the district's nine-member Board of Directors and Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley.

The Robbins seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an end to the "spying," according to the 17-page complaint.

The family first learned of the embedded webcams on Nov. 11, when Harriton High's Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko reprimanded Blake Robbins for "improper behavior in his home," according to the lawsuit. Matsko cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam on the boy's school-issued laptop.

The lawsuit does not specify why the photograph was objectionable.

Because the webcam can capture anything happening in the room where the laptop is, district personnel could illicitly observe plenty more than a student's online activity, the lawsuit alleges.

"Many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress," the lawsuit charges.

The Robbins' attorney, Mark Haltzman, couldn't be reached this morning. McGinley and District Spokesman Doug Young did not immediately return telephone calls for comment today.

It's really difficult to imagine that any adult working in education (public or private) would think that this was ok!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Predicting the Future of the Web

We've turned our focus to government use of wiretapping and eavesdropping, but let's not forget the other side of the equation - the technology explosion.

One of the dilemmas the government faces in collecting a data stream from every AT&T phone and web connection is the overwhelming volume of information this represents.

Law enforcement officials have said repeatedly in the past 10 years that their problem is not access to information, but what to do with the the overwhelming amounts of information they have.

Considering the growth of the Web and ways to run a profit making enterprise that depends on the Web was the subject of a recent article by Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair magazine.

He looks at the various ways companies are trying to build a business on the Web.

First he looks at the idea of Platforms - his examples here are big names like Facebook, Google and Apple. Facebook just received a large investment from a Russian financier named Yuri Milner.

He says he’s betting on personalities—Mark Zuckerberg, the C.E.O. of Facebook, and Mark Pincus, who heads Zynga—which is something investors often say: it’s all about talent and drive. But a platform bet suggests a view beyond just gifted management. It’s a control-the-universe play.

Having a platform, in this geopolitical theory, makes you a superpower. Microsoft achieved world domination with Windows when operating systems were the ultimate platforms. But a platform is now a more metaphorical construct, suggesting not just functionality but a framework of behavior, and even a point of view, that habituates users and fosters their dependence, with an eye toward subsuming the rest of the digital world. Like Google.

And, in Milner’s view, like Facebook.

Or, in Steve Jobs’s view, the iPhone—another stab at his dream of controlling both the hardware and the software that control the world.

The platform theory of global conquest holds that Internet dominance has, other than for Google, been elusive, in part because of constant shifts in technology. But the Internet, after 15 years, has, in the platform-supremacy perspective, come to a level of maturity. “The Net is now just another utility, like electricity, water, etc.,” says Mark Cuban, who made one of the biggest personal fortunes of the dot-com boom when he and his partner, Todd Wagner, sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $6 billion, in 1999.

In other words, if you can become a ubiquitous, octopus-like, hydra-headed, chameleon-ish, integrated horizontal and vertical database and command center, it could be years before a new technology challenges your dominance.

Which is why the emergence of another platform is so compelling.

Facebook’s move at the end of last year to revise its privacy settings, an illusory offer of more control to the user, was really part of an ongoing attempt to make more user data public, shareable, and searchable—meaning Facebook has the opportunity to become the platform through which we search, not just public information but individual information, ever growing masses of it (including pictures). Search moves from the Web into people’s lives.

This prospect leads, in just about everybody’s estimation, to an I.P.O. for Facebook this year, which in its size and giddiness will transform the industry with new liquidity and provoke the ultimate superpower platform war, a face-off between Google’s dominance over Web-page-based search and Facebook’s command of the “social graph.”

Next he considers the "crowd-sourcing" movement:

At its heart, the digital-behavior theory is that the old media business imposed an unnatural behavior on its users—not least of all a strict divide between creators and audience. The Internet, with a flat hierarchy, cheap distribution, and virtually no production barriers, lets people express themselves more naturally. We’re collaborative animals, it turns out, and joyful amateurs, interested more in entertaining and informing ourselves than in being entertained and informed by professionals.

Shirky’s research actually concludes that people like to work for free, and that they are more productive when they do so, which, if you think about it, challenges all economic theory, but, if you think about it some more, just says people like their hobbies and are particularly proud of having an autodidactic expertise.

Next he considers companies that are actually trying to make money using Web 2.0 rather than just trying to gather as much attention as possible first and worrying about the revenue afterwords as YouTube and Facebook are currently doing.

Making media, in this calculation, is, as it has always been, about aligning costs and revenues. The problem is that in an online world, where advertising rates are often 10 percent of what a comparable television or print audience might get you, costs are out of whack with the most optimistic revenue expectations....

Barry Diller, who has perhaps experimented with more theories of the next big thing than any other media-and-Internet magnate (he tried local online media, once believed in the killer future of e-commerce, then tried search with Ask.com), is returning to a basic cost-and-revenue theory of media. “Everything old,” he says, “is new again.”

The Diller-backed collegehumor.com has become a company, he says, modeled on the early movie studios. It produces an expanding range of videos, using acting, writing, and technical talent which is on hand and almost all of which is under 30 (that is, cheap talent), with Diller’s company, IAC, owning all the rights. Likewise, Diller has just joined with former NBC head and reality-TV impresario Ben Silverman to create a company which, Diller says, “returns the media model to the 1950s”—when sponsors, such as Procter & Gamble with soap operas, underwrote (and often owned) the shows. Even the Daily Beast, the online magazine, in which Diller has invested heavily, is a revenue experiment. Diller says he refuses to take low-priced advertising. Rather, he’s trying to create a showcase for ads, around which “lightning might strike,” and, in the manner of old media, vast amounts of merchandise might move.

Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, has applied even more strictly the rules of pay-as-you-go to create what might be the most successful original-content company on the Web. His is an old old-media approach, in which media workers are not in the least glamorous or cosseted, but rather hack-like and expendable.

But Denton’s model is relatively humanistic compared with the even more advanced pay-as-you-go ones. Demand Media, for instance—a kind of old-fashioned Sunday supplement multiplied a million-fold—harnesses Shirky’s free Internet workers and chains them to an algorithm which looks at the search stream, figures out the most valuable search terms, then orders up content keyed to those words and works aggressively to push these cheaply manufactured content nuggets up to the top of the search results, where they attract traffic which is then funneled to advertisers. In this view, needing human beings to create content is a minor inconvenience which will be sorted out over time by algorithms.

He also discusses the possibility that the current media Goliaths will re-assert their dominance:

But then there’s the expensive-content counter-offensive theory, holding that the next big thing is Big Media. However challenged, Big Media, in this view, still holds a monopoly which, if it just shows some teeth and gumption, can prevail over Google, changes in audience behavior, and even the Internet’s everything-free culture.

“Five companies”—Time Warner, Disney, Viacom-CBS, Comcast–NBC Universal, Fox—“control 85 percent of video-viewing hours in America,” says the media analyst Craig Moffett. “At the end of the day this train ain’t going anywhere that those five companies don’t agree to.”

This sense of last chance has suddenly given old media a new militancy and belief that it can disrupt the disrupters.

It is behind Rupert Murdoch’s declaration that he will put a pay wall around his company’s online content. And it is behind Comcast’s deal for NBC Universal: damn it, brand-name content is king.

At this point, it's really a guessing game as to where it's all headed!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Video Links

If you're interested in the videos we watched today, the links for the youtube versions are below:

J. Edgar Hoover
This is taken from the A&E Biography J. Edgar Hoover: Personal and Confidential

The Church Committee
The full 1.5 hr C-SPAN program is here.

Link to Time magazine

Here is the link to the Time magazine archive of articles on wiretapping and surveillance.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wiretapping and eavesdropping in the 20th century

In class today, we talked about some of the history of wiretapping and eavesdropping in the US between the Olmstead decision in 1928 and the FISA law in 1978.

Here is an interesting memo from the US Senate summarizing much of what we talked about today.

There is also a good summary at this web-site for a course at University of North Carolina Law School.

I thought that it would be helpful to organize what we talked about in class and link to some websites that provide additional information on these topics.

Olmstead v. US (1928)
This was the case in which Justice Louis Brandeis wrote his dissenting opinion on the "right to be let alone."

Federal Communications Act of 1934
This is the act that made it illegal to intercept and divulge wire communications. There was no consideration of wireless communications or bugging, because the technology for these wasn't available yet.

Nardone v. US (1939)
Determined that wiretaps by federal agents were illegal under the FCA of 1934.

Silverman v. US (1961)
Decided that a listening device that invades the structure of a building is a violation of the 4th amendment.

Katz v. US (1967)
Determined that all wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping violate the 4th amendment.

This last decision resulted in the Congress passing the

Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968

This law made it legal for law enforcement agents to eavesdrop and/or wiretap provided that these activities had been ok'd by the court.

Lawrence Plamondon case of 1972
In this case, it was determined that federal agents had used wiretaps without warrants.

Watergate Scandal
A break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. turned out to have been a plan to plant a bug in the office of the Chairman of the DNC. The break-in was directed by the Committee to Re-Elect the President, and consequently, by President Nixon himself. Nixon resigned two years later, in August of 1974.

This led to the
Church Committee
A Senate Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The final report of the Church Committee is here. (This document is about 45 pages of text with 25 pages of footnotes.)

The Church Committee recommended that Congress pass another statute dealing with wiretapping in relation to national security. This law is known as the

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
This act was established to control and delineate eavesdropping and wiretapping activities by law enforcement in the interests of national security.

We'll pick this history up again in a few weeks and examine the period from 1978-2008.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Video Link

Here's a link to a video panel discussion about the situation at the L.A. Times

The Future of the Newspaper Industry

There has been a lot of speculation about the future of the newspaper industry, and of all mainstream media industries in general. The reason for this is that the electronic media are coming of age and being used by more and more people.

In class, I handed out hard copies of Clay Shirky's article "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable." The original version is here.

After I read his article, the quote that he uses towards the beginning really stayed with me...

When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.
In fact, I completely forgot where the quote originally came from, and found the article again by searching on key words from the quote.

Another important idea from this article is that of ignoring reality. The science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick once said that Reality is what doesn't go away if you stop believing in it.

Shirky writes clearly that newspapers did see these issues coming, but failed to engage with them in a realistic way.

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world increasingly resembled the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.
The newspaper industry is not the only industry struggling to manage change in our culture. Clearly, the American auto industry and the financial industry are both struggling with change that is driven by the emergence of new technology and the decline of older forms of technology.

The financial industry has lost many individual clients with the rise of cheap on-line trading and financial quantitative software packages.

The rise in oil prices started roiling the Detroit automakers in the mid-1970's and despite all the profits they made making and selling SUV's and pick-ups over the last 15-20 years they still haven't prepared for the apparently unavoidable rise in oil prices.

What I think Clay Shirky and others are doing is taking that look at reality that many of the media executives have refused to and struggling to figure out "Where do we go from here?"

Elizabeth Eisenstein’s magisterial treatment of Gutenberg’s invention, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, opens with a recounting of her research into the early history of the printing press. She was able to find many descriptions of life in the early 1400s, the era before movable type. Literacy was limited, the Catholic Church was the pan-European political force, Mass was in Latin, and the average book was the Bible. She was also able to find endless descriptions of life in the late 1500s, after Gutenberg’s invention had started to spread. Literacy was on the rise, as were books written in contemporary languages, Copernicus had published his epochal work on astronomy, and Martin Luther’s use of the press to reform the Church was upending both religious and political stability.

What Eisenstein focused on, though, was how many historians ignored the transition from one era to the other. To describe the world before or after the spread of print was child’s play; those dates were safely distanced from upheaval. But what was happening in 1500? The hard question Eisenstein’s book asks is “How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?”

Chaotic, as it turns out. The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?....

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

One of the great things about on-line media is that a piece of writing like "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" doesn't just exist on its own. For one thing, there are over 1,200 comments appended to this article, the latest of which was posted a month ago although the original article was written and posted in March of 2009.

Another thing is that many other writers who agree with Shirky have posted their thoughts on their own blogs.

Dan Conover is a former newspaper writer and editor who now works in many forms of media.

If you're interested in his insider opinions about the newspaper industry, he has several posts about these ideas...

10 Reasons Why the Newspapers Won't Reinvent the News

Why he thinks that on-line paid newspapers won't work

Another post about the demise of the newspaper industry as we know it

One of the things I really like about Conover's writing is his extensive and effective use of hyperlinks. When I first started reading about these issues, I spent nearly an hour reading first one article then another that was linked in the middle of the first and then another that was linked from the link.

When I finally picked my head up after nearly an hour, I thought, no wonder the newspaper industry is in trouble...they can't provide this!

Here's another former newspaper writer's thoughts about these same issues. Something that Steve Buttry points out in this last link is that if newspapers charge for access, they won't be able to charge as much for advertising.

One of the reasons I think that this class is important is that this is happening right now.

Here's a story that broke in the last few days about the New York Times' decision to charge for their content. They've tried this twice before and it hasn't worked. Maybe this time it will.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a non-profit group that was founded in 1990.

They describe their work as focused on
defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights...
One of their areas of concern for 2010 is the security of cell phone transmissions

GSM, the technology that underpins most cellphone communications around the world, uses a deeply flawed security technology. In 2010, devices which intercept phone calls will get cheaper and cheaper. Expect to see public demonstrations of the ability to break GSM's encryption and intercept mobile phone calls. We hope that this will prompt the mobile phone industry to replace its obsolete systems with modern and easy-to-use cryptography.
Honest "hackers" often work to break through digital security systems so that the users of these systems aware of the weaknesses in their security.