Wiretapping the internet

The Obama administration is seeking the authority to wiretap the internet–including Facebook, Skype, smart phone e-mails, and every other kind of online communication–and to force sites to provide unencrypted access to law enforcement agencies. From the New York Times:

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.

Webmonk, who alerted me to the issue, has some special expertise on the subject and offers some useful explanation:

I developed software for police departments to do (almost) exactly this – wiretap an Internet signal. That is perfectly legal (in most jurisdictions) as long as one has a warrant – the police take their software/hardware to the Internet Service Provider, and hook it up to whichever of their routers happens to funnel the subject’s Internet traffic. My software made a copy of every bit that the subject passed in or out and stored it. Then, the police could go look at that stored information.

The problem we ran into was encryption: encryption encodes the information being passed back and forth so that even if someone is listening in the middle (hackers, police, stalker) and can see what is going back and forth, they can’t decode the message to understand the contents. . . .

The same sort of thing that helps keep my banking information from being stolen can also keep illegal activity safe. Most of the websites that we were interested in knowing the subject’s activity, used encryption, so the police weren’t able to see the details of what the person was saying or doing on that site.

The difference in what I developed and what is being proposed here is that this would require all “communications” websites to install software that would allow the government (with a warrant, presumably) to access everything that someone was doing in an UNENCRYPTED form.

For example: Facebook uses encryption. If the police get a warrant to tap your Internet signal, they can see that you are going to Facebook, but they can’t see what you are doing on there. The proposed law would require Facebook to install software that somehow provides a completely UNENCRYPTED copy of what you are doing on their site to the lawman with a warrant because Facebook could be used by (rather dumb) terrorists to communicate with each other. This would apply to all websites that provide “communications” of some sort.

So what do you think about this? Is it a legitimate update of law enforcement needs in light of new technology or a dangerous assault on civil liberties? Do you see anything wrong with this statement?: I don’t do anything wrong, so I don’t have anything to hide. Might there be a time when a law aimed at terrorists could be used against other “subversive” groups, such as Tea Partiers? Or Christians?

HT: Webmonk

Quantum photonic computers

A dramatic practical application of “weird science” may revolutionize computers in the next five years:

A new photonic chip that works on light rather than electricity has been built by an international research team, paving the way for the production of ultra-fast quantum computers with capabilities far beyond today’s devices.

Future quantum computers will, for example, be able to pull important information out of the biggest databases almost instantaneously. As the amount of electronic data stored worldwide grows exponentially, the technology will make it easier for people to search with precision for what they want.

An early application will be to investigate and design complex molecules, such as new drugs and other materials, that cannot be simulated with ordinary computers. More general consumer applications should follow.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the UK’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the project, said many people in the field had believed a functional quantum computer would not be a reality for at least 25 years.

“However, we can say with real confidence that, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, within five years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers,” he told the British Science Festival, as he presented the research.

The breakthrough, published today in the journal Science, means data can be processed according to the counterintuitive rules of quantum physics that allow individual subatomic particles to be in several places at the same time.

From a sidebar:

Why quantum computing?

To make use of properties that emerge on an ultra-small scale. “Entanglement” – the ability of subatomic particles to influence one another at a distance – and “superposition” – the fact that a particle does not have a definite location and can be in several places at once – are the two most important properties.

Yes, it’s weird but why is it useful?

Because quantum particles can do very many things at the same time, unlike an electronic “bit” in conventional computing. The use of quantum particles, or “qubits”, permits parallel computing on a scale that would not be possible with conventional electronics.

What particles are you talking about?

Many scientists are working with atoms or ions trapped in ultra-cold conditions. But the latest discovery by the Bristol-led team uses photons – light particles.

How does a quantum chip actually work?

There are several models. The Bristol version sends “entangled” photons down networks of circuits in a silicon chip. The particles perform a co-ordinated “quantum walk”, whose outcome represents the results of a calculation.

via FT.com / Global Economy – Computers set for quantum leap.

Preachers and singers fighting for wireless mics

The Federal Communication Commission is planning to release more broadcast channels, but the prospect of improved cell phone reception and WiFi on steroids has provoked opposition from preachers, singers, and others dependent on wireless mics:

Two decades ago, the FCC released similar airwaves to the public, but no one thought doing so would have much impact for consumers. They were wrong: That band of short-range radio waves spawned baby monitors, garage-door openers and thousands of WiFi hot spots at Starbucks, New York’s Times Square and homes across the nation.

Now, the FCC is betting that another batch of unlicensed and better-quality airwaves will enable engineers to turn those frequencies into WiFi networks on steroids. The airwaves would connect longer distances and penetrate through concrete walls – allowing for stronger connections.

For a start, the regulatory move, generally supported by all five commissioners, could help alleviate pressure on overburdened mobile networks that have frustrated some smartphone users who deal with dropped calls and slow Web connections. . . .

Details of the proposed regulatory order haven’t been disclosed, and the move faces some opposition from broadcasters, Broadway performers and ministers. Those critics, who have filed suit against the FCC to prevent the release of white spaces, say users of that spectrum could interfere with television channels and would throw off wireless microphones that operate on those frequencies. . . .

Genachowski’s proposal would reserve two television channels in each local market for wireless microphones. News and sports broadcasters, church ministers and singer Dolly Parton have argued to the FCC that they need some spectrum reserved for their wireless microphones.

via FCC considers release of unused TV channels.

Is this referring to those Garth-Brooks flesh colored mics (pronounced “mikes”) that  hook around the ear and have that long bendable piece of plastic that sticks out in front of your mouth?  I hate those!  I’ve had to wear them when speaking, and I hate them!  And, for some reason, I don’t like  to see other people wearing them!  Or does this relate also to those battery-powered mics that you clip onto your tie or shirt, putting the main unit in your pocket with the antenna hanging out?  I don’t mind those so much.  But maybe squeezing out the bandwith of wireless microphones would be a boon to both church and culture.

Dolly, you know I’m a big fan, but you and your fellow singers do too much dancin’, putting on too big of a show.  Just stand in front of a microphone on a stand, preferably with a bulbous top, like Patsy Cline did and just sing.

Preachers, preach from the pulpit rather than roaming around.  The reason we have pulpits is that it’s easier for the congregation to see you.  It also provides a place for your manuscript or your notes.  Please use a manuscript or notes.  Those wireless mics make it possible for you to stalk around and even go into the congregation, which turns  your sermon into something your are rambling off the top of your head.  Please don’t go into the congregation.

I suppose the leaders of liturgical worship like wireless microphones with all of the turning and moving they have to do outside of the altar.  OK.  But can’t we rig mics at the altar and around the chancel?  What did ministers do before electronic speakers were invented?  I believe that was the original purpose of chanting, to enable the voice to carry farther.

At any rate, I think we should sacrifice wireless mics on the altar of better cell phone reception and wireless internet access.

Teenager repellant

A Washington, D. C., business district that has been having problems with teenagers getting into fights has installed a technological solution:

Gallery Place business owners met with District officials a few weeks ago to voice their concern that loitering teenagers who sometimes get into fights in one of the city’s busiest retail and entertainment strips were costing them customers. The result of that session premiered this week: a device that emits a high-pitched, headache-inducing sound that only young ears can hear.

The Mosquito, as the $1,000 device is called, hung outside the Chinatown entrance to the Gallery Place Metro station Tuesday, annoying its intended targets and then some. The young and a few not-so-young could hear the piercing, constant beeeeep, beeeeep, beeeeep.

“I can definitely hear it very loudly,” 19-year-old Brooke Sawinski said. “It’s pretty blasting.”

Beeeeep, beeeeep, beeeeep.

“I’m about to leave because it’s annoying,” said her friend, Cassie Boiselair, 20. The two Connecticut natives were in town looking at colleges and said they understand the problem. Boiselair used to work in the neighborhood and said she won’t take her iPod out until she’s on her Metro train for fear of having it stolen, but she questioned the solution. “Couldn’t they think of something different?”

Gallery Place has become a popular hangout spot for teenagers in recent years and was the site of a brawl last month that spilled into the Metro system and left several passengers injured, ending with the arrests of three teenagers.

It was around that time that business owners arranged to meet with a staff member of D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). About a dozen people gathered, including representatives of the city’s police department, transportation department and Metro.

“There was a general concern of lawlessness on the streets,” said Evans, who represents the East End business area. “I am concerned anytime residents and businesses complain to us about feeling unsafe.” . . .

Mike Gibson, president of Moving Sound Technologies, which distributes the Mosquito, said the device emits a tone set at 17.5 kilohertz, the high end of the hearing range for 13- to 25-year-olds. “The bottom line is that the Mosquito is installed where 13- to 25-year-olds aren’t supposed to be,” Gibson said. “Adults just walk through the sound.”

The device, he said, is sold mainly to schools, which activate the sound at night to ward off vandals, and to skateboard parks, tennis courts and playgrounds. In Fairfield, Calif., the device was installed at a low-income housing project at the request of residents who wanted to chase off prostitutes and drug dealers who congregated outdoors.

“It drives kids crazy,” said Don Hemingway, vice president for business development at Miracle Recreation Equipment, a Missouri company that uses the Mosquito as part of a larger security device sold to playground owners. “It’s pretty cool stuff. It gets in your head and it’s just annoying, and you just want to get the heck out of there. We have other settings for adults if you have bums hanging around.”

via Mosquito noise device at Gallery Place aims to annoy potential troublemakers.

I myself think this is terrible and discriminatory against the young.  What if young people had devices that emitted sounds that get into the heads of adults, who find it annoying and it drives them crazy and makes them want to get the heck out of there?  Oh, wait.  Rap music.

For IT help, go to the Bulldog

I’ve talked about Stewart Lundy, the Renaissance man who is equally adept at continental philosophy and the latest computer technology.  He has set up a business, Bulldog Technology.  If you need help with web design, your blog, your business computer needs, software solutions, or even fixing  your computer, consult with the Bulldog.  Seriously.  He’s good and so are the people he has working with him.   His prices are low.  The quality of his work is high.  Here he tells about his services:

// why we started
Bulldog Technology Solutions was formed to reconcile art and technology. For many, technology is worse than Greek, it is Geek, an obscure dialect known only by obscure technicians who jabber on unintelligibly and never really communicate much of anything. We aren’t going to give you a lot of tech babble. We aren’t going drone on and on about computer parts. We aren’t going to speak “geek” to you. We hope to provide you with dependable service at affordable rates so that you can trust your technology to serve you in the most effective manner possible.

// what makes us different
We promise to be prompt, efficient, and sensitive to your technology needs. We want to make your technology seem effortless. If we design a site for you, we want it to look good and to look easy. We will work to give you the most intuitive presentation possible so that you can use your technology better than ever before.

Price is the most obvious difference between us and our competitors. We charge less for superior service, more personable people, and more consistent care. We want you to get the most out of your technology. We want your technology to be secure, stable, and solid. For this reason, we offer maintenance services, security updates, and diagnostics. We want your computer to run faster, longer, and better than before.

// so what now?
Give us the opportunity to help optimize your technology. If you need diagnostics, repairs, or optimization, we offer the lowest prices you will find. We are the best computer company you could hire. We only have one reputation, and we are committed to keeping that reputation what it is: excellent. Your computer’s productivity will be increased after a visit from Bulldog Technology…we guarantee it!

Also the bulldog blog is a good way to keep up with the latest developments in online technology.

I invited Stewart to put an ad in the sidebar here. (He is the one who knows how to do that, not me!) So if you have IT or website needs, contact him. He has just gotten married and I figure he could use the work.

Color photos of Tsarist Russia

A Russian photographer used a complicated method to create color photographs way back before the Communist revolution.  The photos of Russia under the Tsar, dating from 1909-1912, are quite stunning, reminding us that history consists of real people, just like us.  See Russia in color, a century ago – The Big Picture – Boston.com.