Category Archives: law

Court decision on TSA searches

I just saw Bruce Schneier’s blog post on a ruling I’m glad to see- a US District Court, in a ruling last month, that TSA is authorized to search for weapons and explosives, and nothing more. Fake passports taken from a passenger in the case were tossed out as evidence.

“The extent of the search went beyond the permissible purpose of detecting weapons and explosives and was instead motivated by a desire to uncover contraband evidencing ordinary criminal wrongdoing,” Judge Marbley wrote.

It will be interesting to see if there are moves to better train the TSA screeners in the future, or a legislative reaction expanding the powers granted. (um, how far away is that mid-term election again…? :-)



Need some graphics to explain things to the judge, after your next brush with the law? No worries, Patrick Crowley has you covered.

(Mac People: out solving real-world problems, and looking stylish while they do it.)

Wired: “The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Diamond Heist”


In February 2003, Notarbartolo was arrested for heading a ring of Italian thieves. They were accused of breaking into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and making off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils. The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can’t explain exactly how it was done.

UK police surveillance of political demonstrations

From The Guardian:

Photographs, names and video footage of people attending protests are routinely obtained by surveillance units and stored on an “intelligence system”. The Metropolitan police, which has pioneered surveillance at demonstrations and advises other forces on the tactic, stores details of protesters on Crimint, the general database used daily by all police staff to catalogue criminal intelligence. It lists campaigners by name, allowing police to search which demonstrations or political meetings individuals have attended.


Big Brother gets Big Shoulders

Mayor Daley has argued that security and terrorism won’t be an issue if his Olympic dreams come true because, by 2016, there will be a surveillance camera on every street corner in Chicago.


During a December test, live video was used to catch a petty thief in the act of sticking his hand in a Salvation Army kettle outside Macy’s on State Street.

I would respectfully suggest that Chicago would do better to install monitoring cameras in the offices of politicians.

Mayor Daley needs to think beyond his next law-and-order bumper sticker. The experience in London is nothing we should seek to imitate. As Timothy Garton Ash writes in The Guardian, Liberty in Britain is facing death by a thousand cuts.

The East Germans are now more free than we are, at least in terms of law and administrative practice in such areas as surveillance and data collection. Thirty years ago, they had the Stasi. Today, Britain has such broadly drawn and elastic surveillance laws that Poole borough council could exploit them to spend two weeks spying on a family wrongly accused of lying on a school application form.


Paul Ohm in Freedom to Tinker:

With this post, I’m launching a new, (very) occasional series I’m calling YANAL, for “You Are Not A Lawyer.” In this series, I will try to disabuse computer scientists and other technically minded people of some commonly held misconceptions about the law (and the legal system).

I’ve worked with law enforcement folks on a number of occasions, and have generally been surprised/impressed at the level of concern for civil rights, and appreciation of wider societal issues. Government abuse of civil rights absolutely happens, without any question. But as an ornery civil rights advocate, I have to say I’ve met mostly good people, who are trying to do a difficult and complex job as well as possible.

That said, you should expect the cops to understand the rules of engagement very well (i.e., almost certainly better than you), and to aggressively use the tools available to them in building cases that prosecutors can turn into convictions.

See also “Eight reasons even the innocent shouldn’t talk to the police“, which should be mandatory viewing in high school social studies classes.

Joe Biden’s Technology Voting Record

Learning more about Joe Biden’s voting record on various tech issues has not improved my mood. (My Inner Child is disillusioned enough, thank you…)

My initial reaction to Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his nominee for VP was pretty positive. Senator Biden has always seemed like a “good guy”, and I’ve found his outrage at various Bush Administration antics to be both amusing reassuring.

(In these times, it really does seem that “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”… Biden is at least paying attention.)

But it seems maybe I was not… Declan McCullagh has an excellent Iconoclast post, discussing Joe Biden’s pro-RIAA, pro-FBI tech voting record.

I really failed to grasp what a central figure Biden has been in some of the major “freedom and privacy” fights over the last decade or so, and not in a good way.

On a number of issues relating to encryption, copyright law, government surveillance, and the cloud of Freedom Fail that is the Patriot Act, Senator Biden has come down on the side of restriction, censorship, and government control. Of course, positions do change, and some of the article’s examples are from some time back, but the list is not at all comforting.

(Hey, Jon Stewart! You’ve talked to the man… Next time, ask about all this, ok? We’re depending on you.)

I was very unhappy with Senator Obama’s vote to give retroactive immunity to telecoms in the FISA bill. My hope that he’d be bringing us something other than business as usual is back to near Zero.

Rather than engage in a real debate, it’s just easier to allow the administration to set every such issue on a firm foundation of Fear, Uncertainty, and Dread. The people should be afraid of terrorists, and the politicians afraid of being branded as soft on terrorists. So afraid, in fact, that that we all forget that the point of this “American Experiment” was Freedom, and that the founding fathers were themselves very clear that this goal was not the path of quiet and safety.

Anyway, very displeased… there is just no way to get from Obama’s earlier statements on the matter to his vote in favor of this.

I’m pleased that Biden voted against the bill, in light of his other votes in this area, but I have little faith that anything useful is likely to happen regarding FISA.