Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AT&T Slashdotted

...and also Wired-Blog-Networked (?) with this story about a research paper from 2001 about a language for data-mining, more provocatively called a "Programming Language for Mass Surveillance". While I'm not happy with much of what my former employer seems to have gotten up to since I left, I guess I know too much of the backstory on this to subscribe to this particular round of hysteria. As an employee back in the late 90's and an sometime colleague of the principles on the paper I'd readily believe that the original purpose of "Hancock" was, as claimed, problems more like detecting long-distance fraud, than supporting the NSA and their ilk. (As an aside, at least 2/3 of the authors of this paper are now at Google).

This all points out an intriguing problem, really, for those of us engaged in R&D. Any sufficiently general tool can be used for many purposes, some good and some evil - and as tool creators, we have little control over the eventual effect of what we do. In fact, the better you are as a scientist and engineer, the more general-purpose your results and tools will be - so in CS, at least, it's unlikely that you won't facilitate something unpleasant sometime in your career. Certainly, we can make choices about where we work and how we direct our energies, but the bottom line is that it is now as scientists, but as citizens (and consumers) that we need to decide to what uses technology will be put.

And one man's language for mass surveillance might be another man's language for analyzing protein-protein interactions for look for cancer cures.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Take it back! Take it back!

The hardest part of having a secret revealed is tracking down everyone that heard it and forcing them to forget it. From a story titled Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution a confrontation between the Phoenix New Times and one Sheriff Arpaio (in which the Sheriff's home address appeared in an PNT op-ed story) has degenerated to a subpoena asking for, among other things, the domain name and IP address of anyone that accesses the Phoenix New Times website since 2004.

Early on the story says "It is, we fear, the authorities' belief that what you are about to read here is against the law to publish" and indeed the authors spent a night in jail for writing it, so you know it's worth a read.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Another interesting post from Lauren Weinstein

Can you control what updates happen on your computer, or not? and who should have control? In Lauren's words: "who has the right to ultimately control operations on a system -- the owner of the computer itself, or a software vender?"

I bet you'll never guess what Microsoft's answer to this question is.

Maybe this is why AT&T bricks hacked iPhones?

From Eweek, via Dave Farber's IP mailing list:

The iPhone has been turned into a "pocket-sized … network-enabled root shell...A rootkit takes on a whole new meaning when the attacker has access to the camera, microphone, contact list and phone hardware. Couple this with 'always-on' Internet access over EDGE and you have a perfect spying device".