Tag Archives: homelandsecurity

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…? :-)


Spook in a Box

The German electronics company Siemens has developed a complete “surveillance in a box” system they are marketing to government intelligence and police agencies “…in Europe and Asia”. (No sales to America? Really?? I’d love to see the internal memo to Sales about that)

New Scientist says the Intelligence Platform has already been sold the to 60 countries. [Background for puzzle fans: Europe contains 52 countries, Asia 43. Yes, this includes the Vatican and Timor-Leste]

According to a document obtained by New Scientist, the system integrates tasks typically done by separate surveillance teams or machines, pooling data from sources such as telephone calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions and insurance records. It then sorts through this mountain of information using software that Siemens dubs “intelligence modules”.

Well, I’m sure this is good news.

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.

Dorothy of Ruritania

While looking at a Scientific American report on “Technology’s Toll On Privacy And Security“, I saw an article by Dorothy Denning, noted apologist for the view that the government can only keep us safe if they have the keys to our underwear drawer.

Her contribution is short, and fairly gentle, as FUD goes:

The Web Ushers In New Weapons of War and Terrorism

Protesters, terrorists and warmongers have found the Internet to be a useful tool to achieve their goals. Who will bring law and order to cyberspace?

I wasn’t certain the picture was her at first, but that last line in the teaser had the familiar tone of panicked hand-wringing.

(There are strict laws about brewing and distilling, too… But if she’d said, “Home Brewers have found the Internet to be a useful tool to achieve their goals”, too many people would have caught on)

Professor Denning is smart. And I’m sure she means well.

If she was a History professor, however, she might better recall that our country wasn’t founded on the principle that law and order would make us safe. It was founded on the principle that, fed up with oppressive law, and some faraway parliament’s idea of order, We the People had to strike out on our own, if we were to have the freedom that is every person’s natural right.

Perry Metzger is also smart. And a good bit more amusing. While seeing what Professor Denning had been up to of late, I rediscovered this bit of whimsey, from back during the Crypto Wars. Light, short, and just enough clues for you to fill in the background, without having to relieve the whole angst-ridden period.

A Parable by Perry E. Metzger

There was once a far away land called Ruritania, and in Ruritania there was a strange phenomenon — all the trees that grew in Ruritainia were transparent. Now, in the days when people had lived in mud huts, this had not been a problem, but now high-tech wood technology had been developed, and in the new age of wood, everyone in Ruritania found that their homes were all 100% see through. Now, until this point, no one ever thought of allowing the police to spy on someone’s home, but the new technology made this tempting. This being a civilized country, however, warrants were required to use binoculars and watch someone in their home. The police, taking advantage of this, would get warrants to use binoculars and peer in to see what was going on. Occasionally, they would use binoculars without a warrant, but everyone pretended that this didn’t happen.

One day, a smart man invented paint…

Read the rest of Ruritania

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Welcome to The Homeland

“America, United States of”: The country that Michael Chertoff and an increasing number of talking heads calls, “The Homeland”.

I think that having government officials speak of their country in the third peson (The Fatherland, The Motherland, etc) is probably a warning sign of something.

As Ryan Singel writes in Wired’s Threat Level blog, There’s No Such Thing as the Homeland:

People who write and think of their country as the Homeland with a capital H tend to think that they can redefine torture, ignore international treaties, fund disinformation efforts to keep morale high, launch wars based on hunches and emphasize the power of the executive branch because they consider themselves the good guys who are the only ones who know what’s right for the country. They only want to protect the Homeland, don’t you see? The vocabulary is symptomatic of a rigid, nationalistic world view.

The history of language use as nationalist tool is well-understood. Should we assume that when the government develops this kind of talking-points guidance, they are unaware of the background? (See also Wikipedia’s Glossary of the Third Reich)


I believe that we need a solid intelligence service, and that the CIA is a necessary and largely honorable agency, filled with people who really believe in what they are doing, and who want the best for our country. And I’d like the land surrounding my home to be Secure. But it has to be free. And the new “State Security” organ seems unclear on any way to “secure” things without badly wounding the patient in the process.

We have a Constitution, which is more or less the source code for our particularly American implementation of “A Free and Just Society”. Chertoff and Friends seem very ready to “remove features”, in an foolish attempt to provide a more reliable “freedom product”.

I’m not a categorical critic of national security efforts and organizations- there are many hard-working government agents and employees who are doing essential work to keep our nation safe, who do so without losing sight of the basic freedoms that compose the concept they are working to protect. My sample set is not large, but I’ve met more dangerous and disturbing people in the Boy Scouts than among the Federal law enforcement and intelligence professionals I’ve met.

(To be fair, I have met a lot more Boy Scouts. Also, the Boy Scouts do not train their members to disguise their motives and to move unnoticed through society.)

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