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 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, is returning to a basic cost-and-revenue theory of media. “Everything old,” he says, “is new again.”

The Diller-backed 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.