Trump’s voter information grab

In a supposed attempt to uncover voter fraud, the Trump administration has demanded that states turn over vast amounts of information about voters. Its infamous letter calls on the state governments to turn over “if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” (emphasis added)

It further states: “Please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public.” Yes, that’s right; the commission intends to make the last four digits of every voter’s Social Security number public, to the extent that it can!
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Apple vs. the surveillance state

“I want you to think!”

“How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?”

      — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

The FBI has ordered Apple to undertake a spyware development program. Apple is saying no. I applaud Apple, and I hope that if the FBI gets its way, the developers charged with the task will quit.
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Regal Cinemas’ hypocrisy

You can’t go into a movie at a Regal Cinemas theater without submitting to a stranger’s going through your bags and possibly stealing some stuff, after you stand in line for half an hour. The ostensible reason for this is to reduce the risk of being shot. A more plausible explanation is that they want to keep people from bringing in outside snacks and are appealing to fear.

movie scene of man pouring liquorThe explanation that Regal is trying to eliminate the tiniest risks looks dubious when you notice that they serve alcohol. I’ve done some rough calculations from Internet statistics, which are too loose for me to bother you with, and it looks to me as if there’s about 2 chances in a billion of getting fatally shot in a movie theater, and 20 in a billion of dying in a traffic accident going to or coming home from the movie. Different assumptions could shift the results by an order of magnitude or more, so I’m not claiming you’re more likely to be killed in a traffic accident, but I’m willing to say the risks are roughly comparable. If Regal were really interested in eliminating risks on that scale, it wouldn’t increase them by serving alcohol. However, serving alcohol and searching customers are consistent policies if revenue enhancement is their policy — and if they believe they won’t drive away vast numbers of customers by violating their privacy.

I rarely go to first-run movies anyway, so it doesn’t affect my behavior much. I can’t boycott what I wouldn’t attend in the first place. Most of the movies I’ve attended in the past couple of years have been silent movies with live accompaniment. The excessive sound levels, long runs of ads, annoying audience behavior, and high concession prices are already reason enough for me to choose other entertainment. Obviously a lot of people think otherwise, and that’s their choice. We’ll see if their choices change when Regal treats them like dirt.

New article: Dawn of the Surveillance State

My article, “The Dawn of the Surveillance State,” is featured today on the Foundation for Economic Education’s website. It’s about the US government’s spying on its citizens during World War I. Opposing the war or just speaking German could get you into serious trouble.

The more views the article gets, the better my chance of future sales, so please take a look if it sounds at all interesting to you.

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Reacting to the Apple-U2 spam campaign

I have to admit it: My reaction to the iOS spam by Apple and U2 has been out of proportion. Not that Apple shouldn’t be despised for effectively deciding that it gets to pick what goes into people’s song lists and dumping a U2 album into every iPod, iPhone, and iPad that it could get its slimy hands on; but my reaction is beyond despising and borders on sheer rage. I’m not alone in this. Others have posted tweets saying they feel “violated” by Apple’s action, along with the many who are simply angry.

Objectively, polluting my music collection is less bad than starting an illegal war, tear-gassing peaceful protesters, or even crossing a double yellow line to pass me on a major city street. (The last happened to me last night.) So why do I feel the urge to burn every Apple device in my house and deposit the ashes at the nearest Apple store? (Don’t worry, I won’t. Too many toxic fumes, if nothing else.)

One answer is that music is highly personal to me. I listen to music and don’t want to be subjected to it when I can’t or don’t want to listen. I make music. I listen to music. At a job which I had around 1980, the management decided software engineers would be more docile, or something, if music was constantly pumped into our area. I cut the wire to the ceiling speaker. The people who said they were “violated” discovered the spam when it started playing in the middle of their shuffle. This didn’t happen to me, but the possibility is all too vivid. Mozart — John Williams — S. J. Tucker — and then Apple’s spam band subjecting me to its noise. Apple is treating my iPod not as my property, but as its property, to place content on as it wishes. And by claiming that right, it’s implicitly claiming the right to remove or modify content.

Another is that I can’t fully delete it. The best answer I’ve seen is to go into my iPod’s settings and turn off “Show all music.” I don’t know what else is being hidden from me by doing that. I’m trading one form of Apple control over my music for another. (Some sites claim this is related to your iCloud settings. I don’t have an iCloud account, but Apple spammed me anyway. I was logged in to the store with an Apple ID. Not having an Apple ID may make you safe, but I can’t guarantee it.)

Another is that neither Apple nor U2 has been even slightly apologetic, and their pet media outlets are calling the spam a “giveaway.” I wonder how Apple or U2 would feel if someone broke into their servers and “gave” them “free” modified pages on their site. But U2 has the mindset of any spammer; its lead singer has said that their driving objective is “to get our music to as many people as possible.” Whether they want it or not.

The part which just bewilders me is that Apple supposedly paid U2 $100 million — not the other way around — for the privilege of distributing their spam. I thought it was the purveyors of sleaze who normally paid the people who dumped their promotions onto unwilling targets.

I realize that my reaction is fueled by factors beyond the strictly rational ones. Still, U2 has turned itself overnight from a name I usually thought of as a spy plane from the sixties if at all to one that I loathe, and Apple has thoroughly lost my trust. “Songs of Innocence”? Ha.

Update: I’ve continued to tweak this post a bit, and just now (Sunday morning) realized what it is that hits me so deeply. It’s that the spam campaign epitomizes the idea that we are supposed to be passive recipients of “professionals'” music products. Apple built a music “social networking” system, whose name I can’t even remember now, on this premise; there were separate categories for music makers and music consumers. Everywhere we go, even in outdoor gas stations, we are subjected to a constant stream of music whether we want it or not. If we object, we’re told, “Wassa matter, doncha like music?” No, I love music. I do not accept that it’s something to be imposed on me as a passive recipient. By spamming my iPod, Apple is saying that I am just the target for its choice of musicians. I am not. I refuse to be.


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Snowden’s letter to the people of Brazil

I don’t have anything to add to Edward Snowden’s open letter to the people of Brazil, except that apparently a lot of reporters wrote about it without reading it. I recommend reading it, and quote it in full here:

Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera.

I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say.

I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.

At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time.

The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own “safety” –for Dilma’s “safety,” for Petrobras’ “safety”– they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.

Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world.

When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more.

They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not “surveillance,” it’s “data collection.” They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong.

There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement –where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion – and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever.

These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.

Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.

I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so –going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America!

Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.

Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now, the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too. And the NSA doesn’t like what it’s hearing.

The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing.

Only three weeks ago, Brazil led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to recognize for the first time in history that privacy does not stop where the digital network starts, and that the mass surveillance of innocents is a violation of human rights.

The tide has turned, and we can finally see a future where we can enjoy security without sacrificing our privacy. Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organization, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens.

Even the defenders of mass surveillance, those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls, now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public.

My act of conscience began with a statement: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.

That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.

If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.

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Brandeis’s metal-detector searches

Last fall I wrote about the outrage of Brandeis Univeristy’s making campus visitors go through metal detectors. Since then I’ve found some information indicating that Brandeis has been ignoring its own policy and thereby depriving visitors of protection against theft by guards. The Brandeis Leadership Handbook (PDF) makes it clear that when metal detectors are used, Waltham police must be present: “Waltham Police is required for events using metal detectors or serving alcohol.” I didn’t see any police presence. Without police, there’s little to stop guards from pinching a bit of change as campus visitors have to empty their pockets. One of the guards took my stuff off into a corner, where he could easily have pocketed some of my change without anyone’s noticing, and he made noises about taking my Swiss Army knife.

I recently wrote to the Waltham Police to ask if they had assigned a police officer to Lyman Ballroom on November 5, 2012, and if having one was a legal requirement. The reply that I received said only:

I am in receipt of your letter of complaint regarding your experience at Brandeis University on November 5, 2012.

The Waltham Police Department does not have jurisdiction nor the authority to investigage allegations of an unlawful search on their private property or investigate the University for allegedly violating their own policy. Jurisdiction lies with Brandeis University or possibly with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

The reply addressed only my request to look into whether Brandeis is conducting illegal searches. This is probably just normal bureaucratic evasiveness, but it leaves me with no more reason than before to think that there was an officer whom I didn’t notice present. At the same time, I haven’t found any indication that a police presence is legally required; a Web search hasn’t turned up any mention of such a requirement.

This indicates that Brandeis’s unsupervised searches of visitors are probably legal, but they’re in violation of an implied promise of protection. It might actually be worse if a cop were there; the police might arrest people for vaguely suspicious things found in their pockets, and by “voluntarily” accepting the search as a condition of attending an event they’ve already paid for or having an important meeting, visitors very likely give up their Fourth Amendment rights. I’d rather have loose change or even a pocket knife stolen than be arrested.

Whether you run the risk of arbitrary arrest or of petty theft, the basic problem is the contempt which Brandeis shows for its visitors’ personal privacy.

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A letter to the president of Brandeis

I have just printed out and will shortly send the following letter.

November 6, 2012

Frederick M. Lawrence, President
MS 100 Brandeis University
P.O. Box 549110
Waltham, MA 02454-9110

Dear Mr. Lawrence:

I am outraged by the treatment I was given by employees of Brandeis University yesterday evening.

Last night I went to a small concert by Heather Dale and friends (by which I mean friends of mine as well as hers) at Lyman Ballroom. To get in, I was made to empty my pockets, go through a metal detector, and then was wanded down because the detector went off anyway.

One of the three guards present noted my Swiss Army knife and asked if I was planning to use it. Since I didn’t expect to be opening any difficult plastic bags, I said no. He told me that if I had said yes, he would have confiscated it. I must conclude from what he said that guards sometimes confiscate people’s property.

A private institution such as Brandeis has the right to set ludicrous conditions of entry such as passing through a metal detector as if I were in an airport and not a university. It does not, however, have any right whatsoever to take visitors’ property away from them. That is theft, plain and simple.

I do not know if this “confiscation” is authorized. If not, then Brandeis employees are stealing from visitors and this needs to be stopped. If it is authorized, then Brandeis University is stealing from visitors.

As a further example of the surveillance-state mentality which evidently pervades Brandeis, the guest Wi-Fi demanded my name, phone number, and email address as a condition of access. As an example of the stupid security theater that goes with this, the SSL certificate of the Wi-Fi server was expired. I could have been giving that information to anyone. Since the connection was untrusted, I had to give false information. For your records, I was the one who signed in as “”

The treatment I received yesterday at Brandeis was outrageous, and I hope I will never have to set foot on its campus again.


Gary McGath

Update: As of November 20, I’ve received no reply. It appears from the silence that Brandeis has no problem with guards who steal from visitors. If I do hear anything I’ll post a further update.

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