Topic: Telecom, Internet & Information Policy

No, really. Why?

From the homeland security boodoggle department comes PIVMAN - a sort of personal-identity-verification super-hero.

Federal government employees are beginning to carry uniform ID cards under a program created for no apparent reason other than a vague knee-jerk appeal to “security.”  Now along comes PIVMAN, a mobile ID card reader touted by its manufacturer as the reason for all the cards.  The whole story is finally made sense of in SecureID news:

“[PIVMAN] is the first complete out of the box end user application that answers ‘why’ … we built these infrastructures, spending all this time and money,” said Mr. Libin [president of PIVMAN seller Corestreet]. Consider the Department of Defense’s Common Access Card: “We started working with them five years ago and they’ve already issued millions of cards, but no one was really using them. People at DoD had spent all this money for a new card, but there were very few applications for it… . PIVMAN is the first actual end user visible application.”

Get it?  The reason for the ID cards is so that they can be checked

At $24,950 for two handhelds, charging cradles, and the management software, this is all entirely worthwhile.  After all, without these super-expensive card readers, the millions spent on IDs would be wasted!

No, really, there must be some use for this junk.  Let’s try again.

If there’s a disaster, or attack, there are several waves of first responders, explains Mr. Libin. “These people are typically concerned with halting the damage, but pretty quickly after that it becomes a more organized process and you get other types of first responders, such as fire fighters or maintenance workers. You need to control who gets into the disaster scene. You have people with the PIVMAN controlling the perimeter. Anyone getting in presents his or her card, a person scans or swipes the card into the PIVMAN and he quickly knows if it’s a valid card. It also displays what privileges are associated with that card. If you’re allowed to deal with hazardous material, you can be directed to the appropriate place for HAZMAT cleanup and the PIVMAN logs in that activity.”

There you have it.  This stuff makes disaster scenes orderly.  ‘Yes, I understand that the hazardous materials are over there, but the designated area for HAZMAT cleanup is actually behind you.  Thank you for submitting your ID to PIVMAN.  Now go wait where you’re told.’

Let’s try one more time.

“Securing access to our nation’s ports and maritime facilities is a key use-case for the PIVMAN System,” said Mr. Libin following the demonstration. “The mobility of the PIVMAN System speaks to the nature of the maritime industry. Now you will be able to check any individual’s FIPS 201 ID, including TWIC … whether that person is driving a truck or on a ship, the information will always be available, even when networks are not.”

This is close, but still not a sufficient for a digital ID reader.  If it’s about access control, all you need is an analog card and someone with eyeballs.

Matching means to ends is difficult in security.  Selling means to the government in hopes of finding some end for it to serve - not so difficult.

REAL ID and a Sweep for Democrats in New Hampshire

There are many explanations for the strong result Democrats got in the election yesterday. Focusing on New Hampshire, there is a neat correlation between support for the REAL ID Act and defeat at the polls yesterday.

Jeb Bradley was one of “several Washington officials … urging state senators to support Real ID” when the state legislature was considering a bill to reject it. He was defeated by Carol Shea-Porter, a surprise victor who enjoyed little help from national Democrats. Here’s Shea-Porter speaking at an anti-REAL-ID rally.

Representing the Second District, Charlie Bass was an original co-sponsor of the REAL ID Act, and he touted that fact on his Web site. His replacement is Paul Hodes. Hodes is not a full-throated critic of REAL ID, but he did tell AP, “I do not favor creating a new central federal database using the permanent images of these documents… . A piece of paper is not the solution to securing our borders from terrorism. We need to better coordinate our existing law enforcement databases and watch lists.”

The Republican leadership of the state senate gutted and killed New Hampshire’s bill to reject REAL ID earlier this year. In a debate Monday, Republican Senate President Ted Gatsas said “There’s no question REAL ID makes sense.” Ted Gatsas will no longer be Senate President. Democrats took control of the New Hampshire State Senate for only the second time since 1911. Gatsas’ re-election bid was too close to call overnight, but it now appears he narrowly beat back his Democratic opponent.

As to REAL ID opponents, Governor John Lynch was re-elected. Voters gave control of the New Hampshire Executive Council (an additional legislative body that would have to approve the acceptance of federal funds for implementing REAL ID) to Democrats for good measure.

Of course, many things influence the outcome of elections, but REAL ID has been fiercely debated in New Hampshire this year. It’s not a coincidence that the party on the wrong side of the national ID issue was voted out of power.

Gannett to Use Peer Production

News outlets are fascinated with the news business, so quite a few stories have been flying around the last few days about the Gannett newspaper chain’s decision to use citizen journalists.

Writes the Washington Post, for example:

Gannett is attempting to grab some of the Internet mojo of blogs, community e-mail groups and other ground-up news sources to bring back readers and fundamentally change the idea of what newspapers have been for more than a century… . 

The most intriguing aspect of Gannett’s plan is the inclusion of non-journalists in the process, drawing on specific expertise that many journalists do not have. In a test at Gannett’s newspaper in Fort Myers, Fla., the News-Press, from readers such as retired engineers, accountants and other experts was solicited to examine documents and determine why it cost so much to connect new homes to water and sewer lines. The newspaper compiled the data and wrote a number of reader-assisted articles. As a result, fees were cut and an official resigned.

It’s all quite reminiscent of Friedrich Hayek’s articulation of how the price system turns local knowledge into a useful form and thus better organizes human action than any centrally planned system.

The blogosphere (writ large) can and often does surface relevant knowledge better than any group of reporters, no matter how smart or dedicated. Gannett is wise to recognize this and incorporate superior local knowledge-gathering into its business model.

Legal Process Is Good Business

I’ve written here a couple of times about how government access to data threatens many new and forthcoming business models.

TechDirt, a favorite tech-business blog, writes today about some ISPs’ perceived lack of cooperation with law enforcement.  That ‘lack of cooperation’ is asking for a warrant before revealing customer data.  “But requiring a warrant is a check against abuse; without them it’s hard for ISPs to judge the legitimacy and seriousness of a request. By valuing privacy, they better serve their customers, and ensure that law enforcement is only pursuing cases within the scope of the law.”

Very nice to see a business-oriented blog showing how privacy protection nests with commercial interests and good government.

CAN-SPAM Didn’t - Not By a Long Shot

Every once in a while, it’s useful to go back and look at how Congress has done with past regulatory efforts.  The exercise might help determine whether to embrace, or be skeptical about, future efforts.

Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act in late 2003, and it became effective January 1, 2004.  Here’s the Federal Trade Commission’s summary of the law, which tells us that CAN-SPAM bans false or misleading header information, prohibits deceptive subject lines, requires that commercial e-mails give recipients an opt-out method, makes it illegal for commercial e-mailers to sell or transfer the email addresses of people who choose not to receive their e-mails, and requires that commercial e-mail be identified as an advertisement and include the sender’s valid physical postal address.

And here’s the result:  3 out of 4 e-mails are spam, and 0.27 percent of e-mails comply with CAN-SPAM.  That’s 27 in every 10,000 e-mails.

The regulation is a failure.  It provided consumers with zero benefit.  Most people are seeing less spam in their Inboxes because of improved filtering technology, a product of commercial ISPs working to serve their customers.

Should Congress or the FTC ramp up enforcement?  Increase penalties to bring spammers to heel?  No.  They should abandon the enterprise entirely and confess their incompetence to regulate the Internet and technology.

Despite its failure, consumers continue to bear the costs of the tedious regulations CAN-SPAM imposed on legitimate businesses.  They pay just a little more taxes, a little more for everything they buy online, and they forgo the benefits of that tiny margin of innovation lost as businesses divert their efforts to compliance. 

(Hat tip: TechDirt)

On Media and Habeas Corpus

TV.  People call it the “boob tube.”  People banish it from their homes to demonstrate how smart and superior they are (oh, and elitist).  People argue endlessly about who should be able to own TV stations because, with too much media in too few hands, other people might hear or learn the wrong things.

The inferiority of TV.  Its subjection to the control of media titans, who play footsie with political power.  These things are demonstrated to be absurd by things like this: a former sportscaster on a throwaway cable news channel imploring his audience and the President about habeas corpus, the Military Commissions Act, and American history - for nearly nine minutes.  This is the kind of thing that happens in our supposedly vapid, short-attention-span media world.

Now, I’m not a fan of Keith Olbermann, nor an opponent of the current administration (though I criticize policies unreservedly when I think they’re wrong).  I make these disclaimers to encourage you to consider the arguments Olbermann makes, looking past some of his personal invective.  He states quite strongly things that our careful scholars are suggesting and exploring here, here, here, here, and here

People, when you’re not reading Levy, Moller, or Lynch - watch TV!

Kahn on ‘Net Neutrality

Venerated deregulator Alfred Kahn weighs in on “ ‘net neutrality” - the proposal to have Congress and the Federal Communications Commission decide the terms on which ISPs could provide service, and whom they could charge for what. Net neutrality regulation is advanced primarily by the political left. Here’s Kahn on his bona fides:

I consider myself a good liberal Democrat. I played a leading role under President Carter in the deregulation of the airlines (as Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board) and trucking (as Advisor to the President on Inflation), against the almost unanimous opposition of the major airlines and trucking companies and–let’s be frank about it–their strongest unions. Among our strongest allies were Senator Ted Kennedy, Stephen (now Supreme Court Justice) Breyer, and such organizations as Common Cause, Public Citizen, the Consumer Federation of America and Southwest Airlines.

On telecommunications competition:

In telecommunications, cable and telephone companies compete increasingly with one another, and while the two largest wireless companies, Cingular and Verizon, are affiliated with AT&T and Verizon, respectively, some 97 percent of the population has at least a third one competing for their business as well; and Sprint and Intel have recently announced their plan to spend 3 billion dollars on mobile Wi-Max facilities nationwide. Scores of municipalities led by Philadelphia and San Francisco, are building their own Wi-Fi networks. And on the horizon are the electric companies, already beginning to use their ubiquitous power lines to offer broadband–to providers of content, on the one side, and consumers, on the other.

His conclusion: “There is nothing ‘liberal’ about the government rushing in to regulate these wonderfully promising turbulent developments.”