Posts tagged “soapbox”.

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

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?

Download all of Facebook ???

So, I was looking for old Facebook entries today to figure out when I did certain things (video project related). I tried clicking all the “See Older Posts…”, “see more…”, and “view all XX comments…” links to expand the page so I could dump it to a PDF file. Ha! I got to the end of all my posts; but, while trying to expand all the comments Facebook jumped me to another page and I had nothing. I said to myself, “Self, there aught to be a better way right? I should be able to see all my old posts… I should be able to search all my old posts. Heck, I should be able to download all my stuff from Facebook!”

Well, looks like someone else thought of that too. Just last month, October 6th, Facebook gave it’s users the option to download EVERYTHING associated with their Facebook account. Every post made to your WALL, all your photos, all your videos, all the comments on your photos and videos, your profile, your events, your messages, even a list of all your friends. I found this after a short and sweet Google search.

Yes, you know me! I did it right away! When you click, “Download my Information” it tells you it’s going to take a while. They send an email to the email address Facebook has on record when the ZIP file is ready for download. Don’t be alarmed. I’ve been on Facebook for close to a year now and my ZIP archive of everything was 762 Megabytes. It took about an hour or two to compile everything and on my broadband connection, it took 10 minutes to download. After I downloaded it, I UN-ZIPPED it, wondering what I’d find.

What did I find? I found the most useable archive of information I could have imagined. Extremely well done. There were several directories, one of which was HTML. Jumping in there and clicking on Wall.html got me to a local copy of all my Facebook information in one easy, searchable, HTML file! But then what did I really expect from web developers? They stuck with what they knew. They did what they do best. I was extremely impressed.

Actually, re-reading and editing this post I said to myself, “Self, they should have put a readme.txt or an index.html in the top directory.” And when I checked, both files were there. I just immediately went digging to see what was under the hood and wound up at the same place via a different path.

So what? So, you should download all your information to really conceptualize what Facebook knows about you. It’s easy, it’s informative, and it’s really cool to have a copy for yourself.

MythBusters Kills people!

“Guns don’t kill people… Mythbusters kill people… when people try what the MythBusters do on TV at home!”

Jamie Hyneman, in the last episode of MythBusters said “[Guns] kill people.” He’s so wrong. A gun can not do anything by itself. It’s a tool and is wielded by a person — a thinking, breathing, individual who is solely responsible for their actions and the use of that firearm.

I’m saddened to hear this otherwise thoughtful individual say otherwise.

To Change One Simple Picture

I really like Apple’s new Snow Leopard OS. If you look back through my blog you’ll see my trials and tribulations I went through, lamenting the upgrade. I felt that Leopard was never quite up to par — that it fell short of Tiger in many ways. I really liked Tiger, that was a solid operating system.

But in any good OS, you have to be able to tweak it; customize it in seemingly mindless little ways to make it yours. It starts with naming your machine. There’s a big difference between a machine named “Dilbert” or one named “Loki”. And you want to start from there and expand. Tweaking your background, cursors, file icons, screen animations, you name it… it should be tweakable and fit into your Norse Mythological scheme or your Dilbert Philosophy.

Please don’t misunderstand me where I’m about to go next. I love astronomy. I like Apple’s sense of style and design. But, I never liked the Aurora.jpg that was the default background for Leopard. I wasn’t happy when it became my default background when I upgraded to Snow Leopard from Tiger. And I wasn’t happy when changing my Desktop background as an administrator there wasn’t a checkbox to Change Login Background also.

It annoyed me. I really grew to despise that image. And for months I’ve searched and searched for the solution — how do I eradicate Aurora.jpg from displaying on my mac? Finally I recently became obsessed and refusing defeat I continued searching Google. Coincidentally, Googles new “Bing” tools made the difference and I finally found the solution.

Open up Terminal and enter in the following commands.

cd /System/Library/CoreServices/
mv DefaultDesktop.jpg DefaultDesktop.old.jpg
sudo mv DefaultDesktop.jpg DefaultDesktop.old.jpg
sudo cp /Library/Desktop\ Pictures/Nature/Horizon.jpg ./DefaultDesktop.jpg

I chose to copy the Horizon.jpg image to the DefaultDesktop.jpg image. But you can choose any image you like.

And that is how to change the default background image for the login page on Mac OS X version 10.6 otherwise known as Snow Leopard. And just as a side note and a way to help other “search engine challenged people” like myself, it helps to figure out the file name of the image you’re searching for and not just call it space image, leopard default image, and other generic things like that.

I’m a little disappointed in Apple. I think it was MUCH too complicated for the Mac experience. I think Apple should pay closer attention to making every little thing easy to customize… and easy to restore to its default values in future versions of their Operating Systems.

It will be the little things that matter in the near future too. The devil is in the details. Google is pressing the court and developing Android to complete with the iPhone. It won’t be long until they follow in Apple’s footsteps and take a Linux kernel and make an OS that rivals Mac OS (although Apple used BSD Unix instead of Linux, I can’t see Google making that same choice).