The Question is…

Which 20th Century Novel is American life going to emulate more in the 21st Century? Are we going to live in 1984 or Catch-22?

Or… both? Via Boing-Boing:

The DHS says that it’s against the law to photograph “sensitive” government buildings, but they won’t publish a list of these buildings, so it’s impossible to comply with the law. The rub is that if you get caught breaking the law, you’ll get shaken down, have your name and personal information taken, and go into a file, presumably forever.

The bottom line is that McCammon was caught in a classic logical trap. If he had only known the building was off-limits to photographers, he would have avoided it. But he was not allowed to know that fact. “Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped,” McCammon wrote. “Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22.”

For the record

There’s a guy from Macromedia who thinks it’s silly for me to worry about the Remote Monitoring capability built into Flash. He says he’s tried to comment here several times and it’s failed. I find this a further indictment of the fallibility of software. [update]I found his comments clogged in my spam filter and released them.

For the record, I did not say “Flash spies on you” and to say that I did strays dangerously close to straw man territory. I said that it was unnecessary for Macromedia to put remote monitoring software into a movie player. And I stand by that statement.

Why not just release a version with that technology taken out of the code? What’s it doing there in the first place?

The misrepresentation of my position and the fact that the original questions remain unaddressed aren’t putting me at ease about this.

I find this moderately disturbing

I played a small role in helping to break this story. I used a screen capturing utility for OS X called iShowU to grab the video from the Christian Embassy site.

Lambert emailed me via SteveAudio looking for a way to capture video from the Flash Movie on their site, since Flash Movies are embedded and impossible to download (as far as they know, anyway). Most interestingly, however, during the course of my poking and prodding of this little piece of Flash media, I was sincerely alarmed to see the phrase “Allow www.christianembassy.com to access your camera and microphone?” pop up when I checked the settings. There was no “FUCK NO!!!!1!1!” button, unfortunately.

When I searched for the phrase “Allow [blank] to access your camera and microphone,” google took me straight to Adobe/Macromedia’s site, under the heading “Can others use my webcam to spy on me?

There’s a helpful paragraph there that says-

With the current Macromedia Flash Player, any site you visit can show you their own video, audio or other content. Ads and other applications that use the Flash Player cannot access your webcam without your explicit permission to do so. A privacy dialog window will appear whenever you encounter a Flash site that can make use of video and audio from your webcam. The Macromedia Flash Player Settings dialog window allows you to either deny or allow the application access to your camera and microphone.

That’s not a strong enough “No” for me. It just isn’t. My first question was “Is there any way to permanently disable this feature in Flash?” Current versions of the Flash Player for OS X have a check box that says “Remember,” but having had some experience as a Windows support technician and seeing DirectX and ActiveX controls exploited freely and cheerfully by malware authors, I am extremely wary of any program that allows remote eyes and ears to be opened in my home.

I am not the first person to notice this, naturally. Om Malik was just as creeped out as I am. He blogged about it and the someone named John Dowdell from Macromedia Support piped up in the comments to say “Now, now, girls… don’t get your panties in a wad. We’ve been doing this for a long time.”

I fail to find this at all reassuring. As an earlier commenter said:

Macromedia should put it in big, bold words during the install process that websites have the ability to remotely acess your A/V hardware and GIVE YOU THE OPTION TO PERMANENTLY SHUT THAT DOWN.

Some people may have a need for this, and power to them – but the vast majority of people don’t, and Macrodobe should really be upfront on this one, IMHO.

Alternately, make a version available with that functionality stripped out. I now have to go to a very high profile client of mine, someone who is EXTREMELY concerned about privacy (and justifiably so, btw, and that’s all you need to know about who and why) and say “I have some doubts about Flash Player and Adobe/Macromedia’s commitment to your privacy.”

There is no current Open Source alternative for Flash Player with a binary installer that runs on OS X. I am tempted to empty my PayPal account into Gnash‘s coffers in the hopes that an OS X binary will pop out soon.

I have to say, I can think of few creepier phrases than “Allow www.christianembassy.com to access your camera and microphone?”

In addition to what I hope will be a lively and informative debate in the comments, I would also be interested in your thoughts on similarly creepy phrases…

This is sorta depressing, innit?

Once a government gets addicted to pawing through your data, I imagine it’s like getting them off crack to get them to stop, never mind who is in the White House.

In a pivotal network operations center in metropolitan St. Louis, AT&T has maintained a secret, highly secured room since 2002 where government work is being conducted, according to two former AT&T workers once employed at the center.

In interviews with Salon, the former AT&T workers said that only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, located inside AT&T’s facility in Bridgeton. The room’s tight security includes a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The former workers say company supervisors told them that employees working inside the room were “monitoring network traffic” and that the room was being used by “a government agency.”

I mean, what are you gonna do? Charge in there and rip out the wires?

4th Amendment? Who needs it?

especially when you’ve got The Magic of the Marketplace™.

Federal and local police across the country — as well as some of the nation’s best-known companies — have been gathering Americans’ phone records from private data brokers without subpoenas or warrants.

These brokers, many of whom market aggressively across the Internet, have broken into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and sometimes acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just everything about your personal data for sale…. move along…

Their hunger for control and hunger for information

are essentially the same impulse. It’s eating the alarmists on the Right alive.

Apparently, they don’t care who they have to deal with to get your info, either:

Three years later, the DEA would learn of Hank [Asher]’s smuggling planeloads of cocaine from the Bahamas in the 80’s, and he would be forced out of his company. Friends in high places made sure he never faced charges.

Hank founded another personal data gathering venture, Choicepoint, which was mysteriously hacked into, causing thousands of people to have their identities stolen. Hank was kind enough to offer the victims “credit monitoring services” for life. Then he sold the company, pocketing about $148 million. The new owners hit him with a lawsuit alleging major theft of source codes and hardware. Hank, you see, was opening up a new company across the street: Seisint.

Although he was a Democrat, Hank suddenly started writing big checks to Governor Jeb Bush and the Republican party. Two days after 9/11, coincidentally, he was sipping a martini in his $8 million Boca Raton home, when he had the genius idea to use his massive database to see if he could create a “terrorist suspect list.”

By cross-referencing the 30 billion personal records Seisint had access to, he came up with 419 suspect names, and his pal Jeb Bush flew him to Washington so they could both show Vice President Cheney.

(Of course, the argument could be made that these right wing spooks have been in the cocaine business a long time, and therefore this is not really big news. Somehow, I don’t find this at all comforting.)

I think that the most frightening aspect of all this is its seeming inevitability. When one considers the combined avariciousness of the Authoritarian Cultists desire for Total Control (which is just a function of their paranoid worldview) and the flaccid defense of our privacy we’re getting from the Fourth Estate, prospects for putting the toothpaste back into the tube look pretty thin.

As Billy Bragg once said, “Wearing badges is not enough on days like these.”

On the other hand, I don’t have a whole lot of other options to offer. Anyone?

How to read right wing spin

Of course, you know all about the Washington Times (aka “All the news that the Reverend Moon sees fit to print…”) and what a right wing spin machine it is.

Sis sent me this link, earlier today. Go ahead and read the article….

Some key paragraphs….

President Bush and U.S. policy-makers are receiving more intelligence from open sources such as Internet blogs and foreign newspapers than they previously did, senior intelligence officials said.
The new Open Source Center (OSC) at CIA headquarters recently stepped up data collection and analysis based on bloggers worldwide and is developing new methods to gauge the reliability of the content, said OSC Director Douglas J. Naquin.
“A lot of blogs now have become very big on the Internet, and we’re getting a lot of rich information on blogs that are telling us a lot about social perspectives and everything from what the general feeling is to … people putting information on there that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Mr. Naquin told The Washington Times.

Translation: “We’re watching you fuckers. And we’re filtering it. FOR CONTENT.” Reflect on that for a moment, kids.

The OSC uses powerful computers and software technology to “sift” the Internet for valuable intelligence. It also buys information from commercial databases.
In the past, open-source reports were used mainly by intelligence analysts.
“But now our customer base literally ranges from the president to local police departments,” Mr. Naquin said. The Fairfax County police use OSC products, as do police departments in San Diego, New York and Baltimore. The center also provides support to the U.S. military.

Translation: “We’re not only watching you fuckers, but we’re talking to your local police department, too.”

Um. Holy shit?

The article in question is this sort of celebration of the new capacity for sifting data on weblogs and providing it to the executive branch, but what I read it as is the announcement of an EVEN FURTHER incursion by the State into your ability to freely express yourself online without having the NSA sifting through it. This is a fantastic breakthrough, if you’re one of Glenn Greenwald’s Authoritarian Cultists… for the rest of us, well, this is kind of ominous.

In other news, Oceania’s forces fighting on the Malabar Front have reported a stunning victory over the forces of Eurasia Eastasia….

Take a day off, get more hits.

I was so busy working on promoting the Music Hates You record, yesterday, that I wasn’t able to post anything here.

And then John from AmericaBlog posts a link to my tutorial on how to use GPG for MacMail and suddenly I have more hits than I have had all year.

Thanks, John!

The Emerging Scandal

I wonder if AT&T was the only corporation involved in this….

AT&T Inc. and an Internet advocacy group are waging a privacy battle in federal court that could expose the reach of the Bush administration’s secretive domestic wiretapping program.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it obtained documents from a former AT&T technician that shows that the National Security Agency is capable of monitoring all communications on AT&T’s network.

“It appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet, whether that be people’s e-mail, Web surfing or any other data,” whistle-blower Mark Klein, who worked for the company for 22 years, said in a statement released by his lawyers.

Words fail me. Someone help me out here.

Oh, thank goodness…

The Ninja threat at UGA has been contained.

ATF agents are always on alert for anything suspicious — including ninjas.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agents, on campus Tuesday for Project Safe Neighborhoods training, detained a “suspicious individual” near the Georgia Center, University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said.

Jeremiah Ransom, a sophomore from Macon, was leaving a Wesley Foundation pirate vs. ninja event when he was detained.

“Seeing someone with something across the face, from a federal standpoint — that’s not right,” McLemore said, explaining why agents believed something to be amiss.

Make sure you face the telescreen, Winston.

::Update:: I feel compelled to point out that it’s fortunate that the ATF wasn’t on campus last week for ‘Al Qaeda vs. Hezbollah Day’ because that would have been a fucking MESS….