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

Murders in Afghanistan

Five U.S. soldiers have been charged with killing  Afghan civilians for sport.  Shame, dishonor, and depravity rear their ugly heads:

In videotaped and written statements to Army investigators, Spec. Jeremy N. Morlock, 22, a member of the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, admitted his involvement in the killings, which took place in Kandahar province between January and May. Morlock sought to shift blame for the plot to his squad’s staff sergeant, Calvin R. Gibbs, who he said planted the idea with their unit of killing innocent Afghans for sport. . . .

Morlock, Gibbs and three other U.S. soldiers have been charged with murder in the deaths of the three Afghan civilians. In some of the grisliest allegations against American military personnel since the 2001 invasion of Iraq, they and other soldiers from their platoon also face charges of using hashish, dismembering and photographing corpses, and possessing human bones.

via Army soldier says staff sergeant plotted Afghans’ killings.

No, this is not just war.  No, it is not representative of our military or justified by the vocation of the soldier.  No, it can’t be justified by the fear of civilians wearing suicide vests.  According to everything I’ve read about it, this was active murder for its own sake.

Church buildings

Here are pictures of 50 “extraordinary” church buildings from around the world. Some are ancient; some are contemporary. They come from a whole range of denominations (with quite a few being Lutheran). This is an ancient one in Ethiopia, the Church of St. George, carved out of solid rock, a building shaped like a cross (hit “comments” to see it):

See more images here..

HT: Joe Carter

Today’s moral blind spots

The Washington Post printed an interesting moral exercise written by Kwame Anthony Appiah:

Once, pretty much everywhere, beating your wife and children was regarded as a father’s duty, homosexuality was a hanging offense, and waterboarding was approved — in fact, invented — by the Catholic Church. Through the middle of the 19th century, the United States and other nations in the Americas condoned plantation slavery. Many of our grandparents were born in states where women were forbidden to vote. And well into the 20th century, lynch mobs in this country stripped, tortured, hanged and burned human beings at picnics.

Looking back at such horrors, it is easy to ask: What were people thinking?

Yet, the chances are that our own descendants will ask the same question, with the same incomprehension, about some of our practices today.

Is there a way to guess which ones? After all, not every disputed institution or practice is destined to be discredited. And it can be hard to distinguish in real time between movements, such as abolition, that will come to represent moral common sense and those, such as prohibition, that will come to seem quaint or misguided. Recall the book-burners of Boston’s old Watch and Ward Society or the organizations for the suppression of vice, with their crusades against claret, contraceptives and sexually candid novels.

Still, a look at the past suggests three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation.

First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.

Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, “We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?”)

And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible. That’s why abolitionists sought to direct attention toward the conditions of the Middle Passage, through detailed illustrations of slave ships and horrifying stories of the suffering below decks.

via What will future generations condemn us for?.

The article goes on to apply these three principles and predicts four areas that future generations will be appalled about:  our prison system; our treatment of animals in food production; our treatment of the elderly; our treatment of the environment.

And yet the three principles apply most clearly to one issue that the article says nothing about:  ABORTION.

What, by these criteria, are some other moral blind spots of our time?

Democrats and the working class

I posted about this phenomenon recently, though hardly anyone of you commentators understood my point.  Maybe Joan C. Williams, a  liberal Democrat, can state it more clearly than I did:

For two generations, the Democrats have failed to relate to white working-class voters. Black working-class voters never abandoned the party, but the percentage of working-class whites who identified as Democrats fell from 60 percent in the mid-1970s to 40 percent in the mid-1990s. George W. Bush won his two presidential elections with landslides among white working-class men, while Obama lost among white working-class voters by 18 percentage points in 2008, roughly the same margin by which Al Gore lost them in 2000.

Democrats need to understand why Republicans have been so successful at courting working-class whites — and why Democrats have been consistently unable to do so. . . .

While Republicans have made working-class resentments a powerful weapon for achieving the policy goals of the business elite, Democrats have inadvertently fueled those resentments. For more than a generation, a substantial class and cultural gap has tripped up progressive politicians.

Salad greens have been a big problem for Democrats. Michael Dukakis got into trouble over Belgian endive; Obama over arugula. Both Howard Dean and Obama have tried, and failed, to speak about working-class voters’ values without sounding condescending. During his campaign, for instance, Obama once noted that working-class families were distressed by their economic free fall — and then he stumbled straight into the culture gap as he talked about voters’ attitudes toward guns and religion.

Democratic leaders can’t seem to speak to working-class concerns in a way that doesn’t alienate the very people they’re trying to reach. Having ceded this cultural ground, they need to win it back.

via Obama and the Democrats must reconnect with working-class voters.

Prof. William’s recommended solution is for the Democrats to make more entitlement programs that apply to everyone–such as Social Security and Medicare–rather than targeting specific groups, such as poor people (the “have-nots”), that leave out working people who are just getting by (the “have-a-littles”).  I believe, though, that she is still missing what blue collar workers really want:  not government dependence, but government independence.

More on introverts in the church

We blogged about this topic before, but here are some more thoughts from Adam McHugh, the pastor who wrote the book Introverts in Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture:

The scowling old man nearly bumped into me as he fled the sanctuary.

As I turned to watch him stomp out to the parking lot, I asked a friend if she knew why he’d left before the service started. She replied, “You know how in your sermon last week you encouraged all of us to be more welcoming to newcomers? Well, after five people came up to him to introduce themselves, he blurted “Can a guy just be anonymous when he checks out a new place? I want to be left alone!” And thus concluded his seven minute survey of our church.

It’s not only cantankerous old men with a flair for storm-off exits who are turned off by hyper-friendly churches, however. As I reflected on that event, I realized that I too would be intimidated and overwhelmed by that many strangers approaching me, no matter how genuine and kind they were. As it turns out, our churches are actually teeming with this species of people called “introverts.” I am one of them, as is 50% of the American population, according to our best and latest research.

Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best.

As a result, introverts are often defined by what we’re not rather than by what we are. We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive. But the truth is that we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.

I saw the need for a book on this topic when I realized that our cultural slant had infiltrated some wings of the church, especially mainstream evangelicalism. As I say in Introverts in the Church, entering your average evangelical worship service feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. Evangelicalism has a chatty, mingling informality about it, and no matter how well-intentioned that atmosphere is, it can be a difficult environment for those of us who are overwhelmed by large quantities of social interaction and who may connect best with God in silence. Sometimes our communities talk so much that we are not able to express the gifts that we bring to others. If we are given the space, we bring gifts of listening, insight, creativity, compassion, and a calming presence, things that our churches desperately need.

Even more dangerous is the tendency of evangelical churches to unintentionally exalt extroverted qualities as the “ideals” of faithfulness. Too often “ideal” Christians are social and gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm. They find it easy to share the gospel with strangers, eagerly invite people into their homes, participate in a wide variety of activities, and quickly assume leadership responsibilities. Those are wonderful qualities, and our churches suffer when we don’t have those sorts of people, but if these qualities epitomize the Christian life, many of us introverts are left feeling excluded and spiritually inadequate. Or we wear ourselves out from constantly masquerading as extroverts.

via Guest Voices: Introverts in evangelical America – On Faith at washingtonpost.com.