Jan 292013

In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act amended U.S. copyright law in a few key ways.  Of most relevance here is the additions it made to 17 U.S.C. §§1201 et seq., which includes the provision:

“No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.”  §1201(a)(1)(A)

If one does, they can be liable for damages, §1203(c), or, more saliently for this blog, fines of $500,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment for the first offense and $1,000,000 and/or 10 years for subsequent ones.  §1204(a).

The question here is, why?

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Jan 062012

This post on F-secure raises the specter of German authorities tracking suspects through clandestine use of the SMS system. (The post references an article on Heise Online that translates to “Customs, Federal Police and Protection of the Constitution in 2010 sent more than 440,000 ‘silent SMS.'”

So what exactly does this mean?

Well, basically, various German law enforcement agencies have been “pinging” mobile phones. Such pings only reply whether or not the targeted resource is online or not, just like an IP network ping from a computer would.

But then after making their pings, the agencies have been requesting network logs from mobile network operators. The logs don’t reveal information from the mobile phones themselves, but they can be used to locate the cell towers through which the pings traveled. And thus, can be used to track the mobile targeted.

Dec 312011

From this past week:

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Dec 272011

This upcoming week’s Quicklinks was starting to have quite a few examples related to aviation safety, so I thought I’d distill them into one post. There is likely universal agreement: we want to be able to travel through the air safely. There is not, however, agreement on what sort of public policy is necessary to ensure such an outcome.

Even regarding the same safety issues there’s not consensus. For example, passengers are forbidden from using certain portable electronics during takeoffs and landings for fear they’d cause electromagnetic interference that could disable the plane’s instruments. Unfortunately, whether that is a valid concern or a modern old wives’ tale is still subject to debate. This article in the New York Times Bits blog ran some tests on various objects and noted that they did not seem to emit interference that would approach dangerous levels, even in the aggregate. On the other hand, it’s worth reading this recent article from Salon.com’s Ask the Pilot columnist Patrick Smith as a counterpoint. He notes that even a minor blip in airplane instrument functionality could be risky, but moreover, the other reason to ban such devices during these periods is because they can become dangerous projectiles in case of emergency. Sure, he observes, so can books, which aren’t banned, but if one is going to draw a line somewhere this could be a reasonable place.

The other links relate to the security theater surrounding airport operations. I won’t categorize this post as “commentary” despite the preceding pejoratives because I am sure at some point(s) in the future I will use even more excoriating language to indict the shameful state of affairs that is the TSA than this here. Instead I will point to this Vanity Fair interview of security expert Bruce Schneier to describe the problem. And also link to this story about the TSA confiscating a passenger’s cupcake because the frosting was “too gel-like” and let you draw your own conclusions.

Update 12/29/11: I missed an article I’d meant to link when I wrote this. “Aviation security expert: TSA wasted $56B on junk security,” Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, Dec. 7, 2011.

Dec 242011

Other items of interest this past week:

Dec 202011

The recent NTSB recommendation to ban the use of all cell phones (specifically, portable electronic devices (“PEDs”)) while driving has not been well-received in many quarters. Even people generally comfortable with government regulation have bristled at this recommendation, and there may be good reasons why. It’s not to say that distracted driving is acceptable: it can be, as even critics of the ban acknowledge, extremely dangerous, and thus to the extent that distracted driving constitutes reckless driving, it’s justly criminalized, as it generally already has been.

But this recommendation proposes criminalizing the use of technology more broadly, and in doing so, raises significant policy concerns. Continue reading »

Dec 182011

From AllAfrica.com, news that Ugandans will not be able to use their cell phones if their SIMs are not registered by 2013.

Uganda Communications Commission passed the order on Monday in a statement issued to Daily Monitor in which they announced a sim card registration exercise for all nationals set to begin March 1, next year.

The exercise seeks to check the use of mobile phone numbers for illegal activities, phone theft, unsolicited/hate and threat messages among others. “Failure to register is breach of the law and the service provider shall not provide any communication service to whoever fails or refuses to register,” UCC Manager communications Fred Otunnu said in a phone interview. He said that all unregistered sim cards will be deactivated by the start of 2013; a year after the registration process is complete.

Requirements for registration will be personal identification that shall be provided through a valid passport or employee ID, student ID, voter’s card, valid driver’s license, local council letter or letter from employee. This too applies to foreigners leaving in the country. Continue reading »

Dec 172011

Other items of interest this past week:

Dec 042011

Via Mashable, news that the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency board has set guidelines for when it might shut down cell service as provided in its facilities.  BART received criticism after having shut down cell service in August in response to protests. (See, e.g., Susan Crawford, “Phone, Web Clampdowns in Crises Are Intolerable,” Business Week, Sept. 25, 2011.)

Regarding the new policy:

BART spokesman [Jim] Allison said such specific circumstances could include a known terrorist threat or planned attack. In 2004, a series of coordinated bombings of commuter trains in Madrid used explosives detonated remotely by mobile phone to kill some 200 people.

The article went on to quote ACLU attorney Michael Risher praising BART for adopting a policy but expressing concern that its language was too vague and potentially overbroad.

“In addition to explosives and hostage situations, they talk about including speech that includes specific plans to destroy district property, which could include something like ripping down a poster,” Risher said. “We have a hard time believing BART is going to push the boundary that way but wish the language were stronger.”

Dec 042011

From Haaretz.com, news that Syria has banned iPhones as part of its contined crackdown on anti-Assad protests:

Syrian activists based in Beirut provided [Haaretz] with a copy of a ban they said was issued by the Customs Department of the Syrian Finance Ministry.

Read Write Web chronicles more about how iPhones have been used by Syrian protesters here.