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Privacy and Security in the Digital Age

I came across an article on Wired.com (no affiliation) today that struck a cord. It’s Time to Drop the ‘Expectation of Privacy’ Test is the title of the article. And after reading and thinking about it for some time I’ve come to a few conclusions.

  1. Government can’t save us from ourselves.
  2. People are stupid.
  3. People with power are dangerous.
  4. Lawyers and Politicians are people and they have power.

OK, I’ll confess, I knew this all along but the discussion of privacy in the Digital Age gave me an excuse to highlight these truisms.

What’s wrong?

In this equation it’s assumed, security + privacy = null. And security and privacy are both defined as perfect — perfectly secure and perfectly private. The assumptions of the arguments always go unstated, but the argument has been spiraling out of control because these variable haven’t been defined properly. What is a reasonable expectation of security? What is a reasonable expectation of privacy?

Security

Let’s first tackle the question “What is a reasonable expectation of security?”. As I stated above, I feel our problem with balancing security and privacy comes from our unreasonable wants, desires, and needs for perfect security. We are blinded by some Utopian dream-world where there is no crime and people do not die from the misdeeds of others. I hate to be the one to harsh your mellow, but that will not come to pass during this evolutionary stage of our species. We will have to be very different, physically and emotionally — so different, I imagine we’ll be a new species by then, another branch of the evolutionary tree — before we see this particular, violence-free, utopian, future.

The question remains. And as I write this I struggle with the answer, can reasonable security be defined by body count? Can we say a reasonable expectation of security be that no more people die in terrorist acts than die on the roadways in car accidents? Or do we look at it by incident? Can we say that our reasonable expectation of security is that no more than one terrorist act take place within the borders of a state per year? Every two year? Every five years?

Now I see the dilemma. As a species we have probably lived in communities for safety for too long. The world is just not safe and no matter what we do, we will never make it a perfect place where one will not be harmed by the actions of another. People die all the time. People die going to the grocery. People die going fishing. The government can not give you eternal life. The government can not make you perfectly safe. It is true that the government can do some things to help insure you’re not mugged, raped or murdered. I’ve seen it happen. A cop on every street corner in the 80’s made NYC streets safer. Streets are public and public implies the lack of privacy.

I personally like the idea of the body count criteria. I also like correlating terror-deaths with traffic-deaths. Sure, the horror of 9/11 was that most of the people who died, died at their desks at work. They thought they should be safe at work. But if you look at traffic fatalities, you can die on the interstate driving to work. You should be safe in your car, right? But traffic deaths we’re not outraged over. Probably because of the lack of intent to do harm. Negligence comes close to producing those feelings of outrage; drunk drivers come to mind for example. But still, 2000 dead on our roadways, no problem. 2000 dead and six months or more of constant media attention and we all collectively scream that we can’t have that now, can we?

Privacy

I agree that there shouldn’t be a test for privacy, it should be defined and guaranteed by our legislature. How would you define privacy though? The most basic communication occurs between just two people. Any personal communication between two people is definitely private communication no matter what circumstances or setting it happens in. If I’m talking to a girl I just met at a bar, our conversation is private. If I’m talking to a friend in the park, our conversation is private. If I’m talking to a stranger at a hot dog stand, our conversation is private. Could the conversation be overheard by a third party, yes. If that third party was a representative of the government, should that information overheard be admissible in court? No. Here I make the distinction between knowing, and officially acting on that knowledge.

But there are so many ways that two people can communicate: speech, sign language, e-mail, SMS text messaging, cell phone, fax, POTS land line phones, IP telephony, etc. Do we define all cases and methods of communication or do we just simply say that the conversation taking place was between two people and cannot be listened in on without a warrant? Warrants can no longer specifically be for ‘wire taps’, or for opening e-mail, or any other specific thing. There needs to be a new warrant in the digital age. One that allows the government agent to listen to a particular person, no matter what the setting, no matter what the method of communication. A digital-age-warrant. An official court document stating that this individual’s right to privacy has been temporarily remanded (a specific and short time frame) for the greater good of the society. I am all for letting law enforcement do it’s job, but I’d also like some checks and balances. Tell me again, who watches the watchmen?

Congress is the answer

Now I see how laws grow to volumes. I haven’t even covered conversations of small groups. Declarations of privacy, e.g. “Don’t tell anyone, but…” “This is just between us…” and the plethora of unthought of situations and circumstances. All of what we do as a species is communicate in one form or another. I don’t write laws for a living, so here I think I’ll leave that up to the people who do. Congress must act to protect our privacy. Congress must act to make our privacy a right. We should guarantee this as an amendment to our constitution. It is such a basic human right that many of us assume it is somehow guaranteed already.

Privacy must be paramount. Liberty must prevail. If you want to be secure, the government can put you in a small room, give you cable TV and Internet service, feed you three square meals a day, and let you exercise in the yard once every third day — it’s called prison.

The government can not ensure your protection. Surprisingly, the entity who has the most control over your safety and well being is you. Do you want to not feel like a sheep or lemming in public? Train yourself in self defense. Are you fearful that an attacker might use a weapon against you? Train with firearms and get a concealed carry permit. Take control of your life. Be the master of your own destiny.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. -Benjamin Franklin

The New Job – Honeymoon

Friday at 5pm I get a chat from my manager, “Join this call in progress.” OK.  My manager and another manager are on the line. “Andrew we need you to get to a customer site for Monday at 9:00 AM.” OK. “Where am I going?” He said, “The customer is in Honolulu.”

Silence.

My manager got upset. “I’d be jumping up and down screaming like I won the lottery if I was just told I was going to Hawai’i. I think I’m going to drop what I’m doing, pick up the manuals and go to Hawaii myself to do your job!”

I replied cautiosly, “I asked where I was going. [He] answered ‘the customer is in Hawai’i.’ I’m still waiting for the other shoe to fall. Like the customer is in Hawai’i, but I’ll be going to their datacenter in Alaska.”

I was also told I could stay a few extra days – the airfare was covered, I just couldn’t expense the hotel or meals for the extended stay. Which would have been great, if Saturday wasn’t Valentine’s Day.

So, I worked all weekend, packing, arranging last minute travel, doing research, preparing to be successful at work, etc.  I left the house at 8:00 AM Eastern time and arrived in Hawai’i 16 hours later at 12:00 AM Eastern time (the following day). Not a fun commute to work.

One connecting flight

One connecting flight

It was a very long flight. During it, I thought to pull out my car’s GPS and hold it to the window to get some satellite reception. I’ve got a Garmin and if you hold your finger on the signal strength on the first screen, you get into this hidden menu that shows the satellites, their signal strength, your location, speed and elevation.

You can see on Google Maps, right where I was when I took the photo of my GPS below: http://goo.gl/0WuDjy.

Geek out!

The secret screen on my GPS

The secret screen on my GPS

Off the Coast of Mexico

Off the Coast of Mexico

A very, very, very long flight indeed. But I had power in my seat, and I had brought my DC/AC converter for the rental car. I had no idea I needed it for the plane. So I had power the whole flight, which was very nice.

In the home-stretch, just over an hour away

In the home-stretch, just over an hour away

Nothing around for miles

Nothing around for miles

My hotel was spectacular, a short walk from the beach at Wikiki.  The view of the city was wonderful.

Panoramic View off my balcony

Panoramic View off my balcony

Wikiki at Night

Wikiki at Night

And the room, although a little dated, was clean and comfortable.

I'm not weird because I took a photo of the bathroom

I’m not weird because I took a photo of the bathroom

It was an efficiency apartment

It was an efficiency apartment

Tight, but comfy

Tight, but comfy

Not sure why, sleep wasn't on the top of my list

Not sure why, sleep wasn’t on the top of my list

I got so see the sunrise on my first day there.  Which was pretty easy, considering I woke up at 4:00 AM local time (9:00 AM in my home timezone).  I tried to keep an early schedule, so adjusting back would be easier. I kept my wristwatch on Eastern Time, and my iPhone automatically displayed the local time.

Dumb tourists sat down right in the middle of my photo

Dumb tourists sat down right in the middle of my photo

Wikiki Beach

Wikiki Beach

Monkeypod Tree at Dawn

Monkeypod Tree at Dawn

This is my iPhone's Lock Screen presently

This is my iPhone’s Lock Screen presently

And I got to see the sun set on Paradise. I actually had enough light Wednesday night to get into the water for a short period of time. The Pacific Ocean here is clean and fresh. It wasn’t overly salty or fishy, like the North Atlantic can be. I was very pleasantly surprised. Aside from the rude police officer I interacted with, making sure I wasn’t breaking any laws by swimming after sunset, everyone was kind, polite, and helpful.

Sunset

Sunset

Now it wasn’t all fun and games. I spent 40+ hours working, both in data-centers, and in offices.  However, these views were always waiting for me, just outside the door.

The view from the office I was working from

The view from the office I was working from

I stayed at the Ilikai Hotel, on the right in the photo below. It’s claim to fame was being in the opening credits of Hawaii Five-O.

The Ilikai and the Rainbow Hilton

The Ilikai and the Rainbow Hilton

City Hall

City Hall

I got to eat some traditional island food.

Lau Lau; Pork wrapped in Ti leaves

Lau Lau; Pork wrapped in Ti leaves

I loved Lau Lau! It was delicious. And if you’re on the Island, Oahu, you have to stop by Helena’s Hawaiian Foods 1240 North School Street. Be prepared to wait and I know you’ll thank me afterwards.

And the final day, after work and before my plane ride home, I visited the USS Arizona Memorial.

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor 1

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor 2

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona's Berth on Battleship Row

The USS Arizona’s Berth on Battleship Row

The USS Arizona, proper

The USS Arizona, proper

She still bleeds into the harbor, to this day

She still bleeds into the harbor, to this day

The USS Arizona's Anchor

The USS Arizona’s Anchor

It was a powerful and moving experience.

Pearl Harbor Visitors Center

Pearl Harbor Visitors Center

Overall an awesome week. I was challenged at work. I think I did a great job, at least the customer’s feedback I got before leaving was very positive. It was tough. Including my travel time, I worked more than 80 hours; but, it was so worth it.

I am loving my job, but I have a foreboding feeling that the Honeymoon is now over.

Traveling with my New Job

I worked at a Fortune 50 company for 14 years. No names. I’m not bragging. This isn’t my resume. I share because it makes my job change all that much more significant. My new job is now in computer and corporate network security.  We basically protect corporate Data and Applications in the datacenter. The work is fantastic and our client base is world wide. Which brings me to the point of this post. Travel.

I’ve been on two trips already with my company; but, they were to places I had been before… many times. They were very work oriented, with little or no time for anything resembling recreation discounting our dinners out. This past trip was different.  Please don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a vacation. We worked, a lot. But we were working in Las Vegas, NV.

I wanted to share a few photos I took.

The flight was very interesting.

Grand Canyon Photo

Flying over the Grand Canyon

Landing in Las Vegas was interesting too.

Welcome to Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas

Some like minded friends and I went hiking the first day.

Desert Nature

Desert Nature

And we saw spectacular views.

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Sunset in the desert

Sunset in the desert

I stayed in a really nicely decorated room although the Hampton Inns I usually stay at for work are kept much cleaner. Then again, I’m sure the hotel rooms in Vegas see a different magnitude of filth than most business class hotels around the country.

MGM Grand Room

MGM Grand Room

MGM Grand Room

MGM Grand Room

MGM Grand Room

MGM Grand Room

The view from the room was pretty nice too.

MGM Grand Room View

MGM Grand Room View

And of course, I walked around on the strip a bit.

Luxor

Luxor

 

New York, NY

New York, NY

The Strip

The Strip

MGM Grand

MGM Grand

But eventually, every party must come to an end.

Party Mode Paused

Party Mode Paused

I stayed up all night my last night, caught a noon flight out, and actually slept for a few hours on the plane.  I could never sleep on a plane before. I think I’m now a veteran traveller.

Above the clouds, running from the sun.

Above the clouds, running from the sun.

 

Sunset just before landing.

Sunset just before landing.

(Click on the photos to see larger images.)

Cobwebs & Geocentric Bat-Shit Crazies

Is this blog still active?  Well, I took a small hiatus and got sucked into the social network I refer to as “The Book of Faces.”  But, since I have found my groove once again, I now dust off the cobwebs and begin my ranting anew with the latest bat-shit crazy idea of a Geocentric model of the universe.

Yes, I’ve been here before: Orbits and Faith, circa 2008.

I’m amazed that Actress Kathyrn Mulgrew, of Star Trek Voyager fame, whom I might add is most likely the poster-child for getting young girls into science and technology fields, lended her gravitas and persona to credit the ridiculous idea that not only the sun, but all of the Universe, revolves around the Earth.  Amazed may be selling it short; dumbfounded, dismayed, disappointed, and disheartened, all may be better words for this dumb-head move Kathyrn has made. Read it for yourself, I still can’t believe it.

With the recent debate between Ken Ham (resident nutjob who believes all of creation is only 6000 years old) and Bill Nye (the science guy of childhood television fame) to the controversies surrounding the reboot of the television program Cosmos, by Seth Macfarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson, it seems evident that we are on the verge of a reboot of the Dark Ages.

Add it up, science is witchcraft to some and need I remind you the punishments for being accused of witchcraft?  We are doomed as a country if this trend continues. Idiocy has no place in a post modern, nuclear armed, society.

“Burn the Witch!”

God our Universe?

I saw a pulp-science show the other month offering a scientific explanation of life after death experiences with quantum entanglement. My question to you: What do you think of a sentient universe? That is, one with the ability to think, being quantum-ly entangled to every living brain within it. Does that make science into a religion?

With the multitude of stars and the ability for entanglement to work instantly without regard to distance, think about the possibility of billions upon billions of sentient life forms throughout the universe, all contributing to a higher, universal consciousness.

Maybe religion wasn’t far off with an “all knowing” or omnipotent god?

Think about each brain as massively parallel organic computer, and think of quantum entanglement as a network bringing them all together as a supercomputer cluster. Think about the processing capabilities! Think about the intellect of the macro-consciousness! Mind boggling!

Have we mere mortals peered into Heaven?  Have we just glimpsed the mind of God?