Get Ready For The Big Attack On Internet Freedom

September 27, 2010

The New York Times has an important story today about plans by US authorities to raid and curtail our freedoms on the Internet.

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 …

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.”

The authorities, of course, are arguing that there will be no increase in their surveillance programs. They are merely saying the industry should provide the same level of compliance currently available through telephony.

There is no public data about how often court-approved surveillance is frustrated because of a service’s technical design.  But as an example, one official said, an investigation into a drug cartel earlier this year was stymied because smugglers used peer-to-peer software, which is difficult to intercept because it is not routed through a central hub. Agents eventually installed surveillance equipment in a suspect’s office, but that tactic was “risky,” the official said, and the delay “prevented the interception of pertinent communications.”

Bullshit, I say!

To counter such problems, officials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:

¶ Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.

¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.

¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

Even without the privacy and moral implications of this further extension of government intrusion into our lives, there are serious technical issues at stake:

Several privacy and technology advocates argued that requiring interception capabilities would create holes that would inevitably be exploited by hackers.  Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, pointed to an episode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.  “I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”

This is clearly a movement that we need to watch carefully.  Unfortunately, the Obama regime has been at least as rigidly fascistic as Bush-Cheney on these matters of surveillance and will be encouraging law enforcement.  We will have to stand up for our own privacy, as usual.

Still Death

September 26, 2010

Still Death” on a Chinatown market stall

Word On The Street

September 26, 2010

Word On The Street (WOTS), the “national” day of literacy celebrating Canadian books and magazines, is the kind of small “neighbourhood” event that Vancouver can do so well.   Today, as for many years past, the festival took place in and around our glorious main library.  This year, though still small scale, it seemed bigger somehow.  It circles the library almost all the way round with tents and stages, and also has booths and spaces inside the library concourse and downstairs.  We got there about noon and it was busy, almost crowded.  This image is some of the audience at the main stage area on Robson Street.

WOTS was also tied into the announcement of Douglas Adam’s “Hitch Hikers Guide To the Galaxy” as the One Book One Vancouver winner.  Once the news was made public, an assortment of “Hitch Hiker” character actors mixed with the crowd, handing out “Don’t Panic!” hand towels.

The weather was just perfect for the kind of strolling that WOTS provides.  And once you’ve finished with WOTS at Library Square, you are just another short stroll to your favourite bar/eatery in Yaletown.

Buddha Sleeps

September 25, 2010

Buddha Sleeps” in a garden in Steveston.

People’s Co-op Bookstore

September 25, 2010

I have lived on Commercial Drive for twenty years, and I’ve been a member of the People’s Co-op Bookstore almost as long.  Local bookstores, well-run, add depth, freshness and a certain intellectual frisson to any neighbourhood. The collectively operated People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial has done all that for decades.

Although I have been a member for a long time, work and life commitments have previously kept me from being involved in any way other than the occasional purchase.  Now that I have more free time, I thought the least I could do was attend the store collective’s Annual General Meeting last night, and I was glad to find that about 30 other people had been willing to come out on a chilly evening to support the store.

Like many businesses, the last few years have been tough, but the bookstore — supported by a tiny staff and a core of dedicated volunteers, and specialising in social justice, environmental issues and local authors — has survived and there is hope for the future. The store has become a centre for book launches in Vancouver, they are active on Facebook and Twitter (@coopbooks), and have become involved in a number of outside events — good for PR and fund-raising, including Word On The Street tomorrow.

I’m glad I went to the meeting and hope to stay more involved.  If you happen to be on the Drive anytime, stop in the bookstore and take a look around.

From Ridiculous To Sublime

September 24, 2010

The Hummer was the poster child for vehicular excess when Arnold Schwarzenegger put the first civilian version on the roads.  It has since been exceeded by far too many ultra-luxury SUVs to count.   More barrels of oil have been wasted than be counted.  Now, it seems, Hummer wants to take first place once again; this time by proposing the first flying SUV.

As Luxist reports:

The AVX Aircraft Company’s new airborne SUV, a sort of Hummer with retractable wings, or a helicopter with wheels if you prefer, was originally designed for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The AVX (above) does everything a Hummer can do with the addition of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability. The four-person all-terrain vehicle converts from road to flight mode in a mere 60 seconds, has a cruising speed equivalent to a light aircraft and features automated takeoff / landing flight control. With a payload of 1,040 lbs., it has a range of 250 nautical miles on one tank of fuel and can cruise at an altitude of 10,000 ft. fully laden. The AVX can do an impressive 80 mph on the ground and hits 140 mph in the air.

This is America’s response to the acknowledged truth that they use too much gasoline already?  How bloody ridiculous!

Luckily, there are US companies that are using their heads to meet the challenge. FedEx is trialing the use of electric delivery bikes in Paris (see the story and video here.)

The tricycles require manual pedaling to start the motor. Although slightly bulky, there’s a tall, removable storage container that sits between the back two wheels.  The vehicles can travel at a speed of around 20 kilometers per hour and are welcome traffic in Paris’ pedestrian-only areas and many bike lanes … They avoid the traffic that clogs the streets of central Paris while moving at a decent speed.  During a trial period, the bikes delivered on average 15 packages per hour.  FedEx’s managing director of operations for France, Dirk Van Impe, says the tricycles have improved efficiency, are financially viable, and good for the company’s visibility.

FedEx is a progressive company in these matters, with solar power offices and a fleet of hybrid vehicles.  It would be great to see these bikes in all major cities.

Serrated Slab

September 23, 2010

Serrated Slab” on Burrard Street.