Tag: radio

Pessimism in Historical Perspective

Pessimism about potentially life-enhancing technologies is not new. The Twitter account Pessimist’s Archive (a favorite of the internet guru Marc Andreessen) chronicles the unending stream of pessimism with old newspaper excerpts. 

Pessimistic reactions range from merely doubtful (such as this response to the idea of gas lighting in 1809, or this one to the concept of anesthesia in 1839) to outright alarmist (such as this 1999 warning that e-commerce “threatens to destroy more than it could ever create”). 

In some cases, the pessimists insist that an older technology is superior to a new one. Some, for example, have claimed that an abacus is superior to a computer and a pocket calculator, while others claimed that horses are longer-lasting than the dangerous “automobile terror.” 

Want Privacy? We Start by Blinding You!

As I noted earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law held a hearing this morning entitled: “Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy.” In it, Sentor Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) engaged in a fascinating colloquy with Google’s Alan Davidson.

Blumenthal pursued Davidson about the year-old incident in which Google’s Street View cars collected data on the location of WiFi nodes and mistakenly gathered snippets of “payload data”—that is, the data traveling over open WiFi networks in the moments when their Street View cars were passing by.

Some payload data may have contained personal information including passwords. Google has meekly been working with data protection authorities around the world since then, hoping once and for all to delete this unneeded and unwanted data.

Blumenthal was prosecutorial in tone, but made a classic prosecutor’s error: He asked questions to which he didn’t know the answers.

Isn’t “payload data” extremely valuable for mapping WiFi networks?, queried Senator Blumenthal.

Davidson’s answer, and the consensus of panelists: Ummmm, no, not really.

(If you were to map pay phones, it wouldn’t matter whether people were talking on them, either, or what they were saying.)

Despite looking foolish, Senator Blumenthal persisted, asking Davidson whether collecting “payload data” should be illegal. Davidson demurred, but it’s a fascinating question.

Should it be against the law to collect data from open WiFi networks? That is, to observe radio signals passing your location on a public street? Should the government determine when you can collect radio signals, or what bands of the radio spectrum you may observe? What should you be allowed to do with information carried on a radio signal that you inadvertently capture?

If the government should have this power, the same logic would support making it illegal to collect photons that arrive at your eyes or that enter your camera lens. The government might proscribe collecting sound waves that come to your ears or microphone.

Laws against observing the world around you would certainly protect privacy! Let the government blind us all, and privacy will flourish. But this is not privacy protection anyone should want.

To understand privacy, you have to understand a little physics. As I said in an earlier comment on Google’s collection of open WiFi data:

Given the way radio works, and the common security/privacy response—encryption—it’s hard to characterize data sent in the clear as private. The people operating them may have wanted their communications to be private. They may have thought their communications were private. But they were sending out their communications in the clear, by radio—like a little radio station broadcasting to anyone in range.

Trying to protect privacy in unencrypted radio broadcasts (like public displays or publically made sounds) is like trying to reverse the flow of a river—it’s a huge engineering project. Senator Blumenthal would start to protect your privacy by blinding you to the world around you. Then narrow exceptions would determine what radio signals, lights, and sounds you are allowed to observe…

Consumer Watchdog Gets Creepy

When I know I’m going to write something more technical and detailed, I generally switch over to writing on the TechLiberationFront blog, which has a lovable propeller-head audience (and authors). 

If you don’t mind wading through semi-technical talk of radio waves and encryption, you might enjoy the TLF post, “Consumer Watchdog Gets Creepy With Congress Trying to Make its ‘WiSpying’ Case.”

In its misleading and over-the-top effort to highlight corporate wrongdoing, Consumer Watchdog—a California corporation that reported over $3 million in 2008 revenue—arguably did more to invade privacy than the object of its attack.

Michael Savage: Still Banned in the UK

In my Policy Analysis “Attack of the Utility Monsters,” I noted that U.S. talk radio host Michael Savage had been preemptively banned from entering the United Kingdom, for fear that he would incite hatred on arrival. I also noted that the ban had been rescinded – which, anyway, it appeared to have been at the time. Today I read that Savage’s travel ban is back on again.

What had Savage done that was so terrible? I’m not exactly sure, but here are some things that he’s said:

On homosexuality, he once said: “The gay and lesbian mafia wants our children. If it can win their souls and their minds, it knows their bodies will follow.”

Another of his pet topics is autism, which he claims is a result of “brats” without fathers.

He has also made comments about killing Muslims, although in one broadcast he cited extremists’ desires to execute gays as a reason for deporting them.

None are sentiments I agree with. In fact, I think all of them range somewhere from foolish to idiotic. Which is exactly why I’d welcome Michael Savage into a liberal, tolerant society: Let him contend with his betters, and he will lose. Treat him like a danger, and the tolerant society will appear weak – and intolerant.

“Why Don’t We Fix the Two Public Options We Have Now instead of Creating a Third One?”

That sensible – and hopefully not rhetorical – question was posed by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) on National Public Radio, according to The Hill.

Regarding recent polling that shows that a new Fannie Med (my term) commands majority support among the public, Landrieu quipped, “I think if you asked, ‘Do you want a public option, but it would force the government to go bankrupt?’, people would say no.”

Real health care reform wouldn’t bankrupt taxpayers or the government.

Will the Government Be the New King of All Media?

Howard Stern swore off free broadcast radio in 2004 in part because of federally mandated decency rules. The self-annointed “king of all media” may have stepped off the throne in doing so. Them’s the breaks in the competitive media marketplace, contorted as it is by government speech controls.

Some would argue that a new king of all media is seeking the mantle of power now that the Obama administration is ensconced and friendly majorities hold the House and Senate. The new pretender is the federal government.

And some would argue that the Free PressChanging Media Summit” held yesterday here in Washington laid the groundwork for a new federal takeover of media and communications.

That person is not me. But I am concerned by the enthusiasm of many groups in Washington to “improve” media (by their reckoning) with government intervention.

Free Press issued a report yesterday entitled Dismantling Digital Deregulation. Even the title is a lot to swallow; have communications and media been deregulated in any meaningful sense? (The title itself prioritizes alliteration over logic — evidence of what may come within.)

Opening the conference, Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, harkened to Thomas Jefferson — well and good — but public subsidies for printers, and a government-run postal system, model his hopes for U.S. government policies to come.

It’s helpful to note what policies found their way into Jefferson’s constitution as absolutes and what were merely permissive. The absolute is found in Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Among the permissive is the Article I power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.” There’s no mandate to do it and the scope and extent of any law is subject to Congress’ discretion, just like the power to create patents and copyrights, which immediately follows.

I won’t label Free Press and all their efforts a collectivist plot and dismiss it as such — there are some issues on which we probably have common cause — but a crisper expression of “dismantling deregulation” is “re-regulation.”

It’s a very friendly environment for a government takeover of modern-day printing presses: Internet service providers, cable companies, phone companies, broadcasters, and so on.

“Enhanced Driver’s License” Snake Oil

Here’s Michigan state representative Paul Opsommer (R) on the Department of Homeland Security’s “Enhanced Driver’s License,” which contains a radio frequency identification chip with a long read range:

Expect the Department of Homeland Security to tell you what a great thing they are doing by allowing you the ability to buy these RFID licenses. They create the problem, provide a solution that is the cheapest for them and most risky for you, and then expect you to like it. But RFID is not mandated by Congress, and if enough states stand up for themselves the policy will be changed. Michigan needs to say no and do just that.