Big Brother

Sex offenders in our midst

Veronica Pinero’s presentation, Panopticism vis-a-vis criminal records, had an interesting graphic which I’ve reproduced on the right. It’s a map of all the sex offenders living within a 10-block radius of the CFP conference hotel.

The thing that strikes me is how fear-inducing this list is, both because of what it says and what it leaves out. It includes a map, showing that we’re surrounded by no less than 39 sex offenders, and gives their names, mean-looking photos, and the name of the crime they were convicted of. What it leaves out is exactly where they are (addresses only within 100 numbers) and any sort of details of the crime that might help people figure out whether they or their children are actually at risk. I expect most of these guys did horrible things (is there any way “child molestation” can be better than it sounds?). Some I have no idea about, like “indecent liberties,” or even whether “child rape” includes a 19-year-old having sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend. More importantly, I don’t have any way to tell how frightened I should be or what I should do about it. Avoid downtown? Lock myself in my house? Buy duct tape? What good is this information to us, beyond making us even more afraid than we already are?

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Widespread political pressure on US Fish & Wildlife scientists to fudge their data

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released the results of a survey of US Fish and Wildlife Service field scientists that reveals serious political preasure to self-censure and even exclude or alter technical information that might lead to species being protected. (It’s telling that there was a 30% response rate even after a directive was sent out instructing scientists not to respond even from home on their own time.)

From the executive summary:

  • Large numbers of agency scientists reported political interference in scientific determinations. Nearly half of all respondents whose work is related to endangered species (44 percent) report that they have been directed for non-scientific reasons to refrain from making findings that protect species. One in five have been instructed to compromise their scientific integrity, reporting that they have been “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from a USFWS scientific document.” In the Southwest region, that number was even higher—closer to one in three.
  • Agency scientists reported being afraid to speak frankly about issues and felt constrained in their role as scientists. 42 percent said they could not publicly express “concerns about the biological needs of species and habitats without fear of retaliation,” while 30 percent were afraid to do so even within the agency. A third felt they are not allowed to do their jobs as scientists.
  • There has been a significant strain on staff morale. Half of all scientists reported that morale is poor to extremely poor; only 12 percent believed morale to be good or excellent. And 64 percent did not feel the agency is moving in the right direction.
  • Political intrusion has undermined the USFWS’s ability to fulfill its mission. Three out of four staff scientists felt that the USFWS is not “acting effectively to maintain or enhance species and their habitats.”

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Barlow’s fight for the 4th amendment


So often the system gives us a choice between acquiescing to a little erosion of liberty or taking it on the chin and fighting for the liberty of us all. Salute to John Perry Barlow, the latest hero in the good fight.

(I’m going to skip my armchair legal reasoning for why it’s important that the government not have the right to use the excuse of “we’re looking for terrorist threats” to search someone’s ibuprofen bottle for drugs without a warrant, and why it’s important that evidence found during such illegally-conducted searches not be admissable — if you don’t know the arguments, check out some legal discussion on the Exclusionary Rule.)

Jumping briefly to media technology, when I cross this and my previous post in my head, I can’t help but add a new tech toy to my Christmas wish list: a suitcase that automatically starts recording video and audio whenever it’s opened, so when I recover my bag I can see just how intimate bag-searchers are getting with my personal effects. Think of it as a cross between a radar-detector and an automatic Rodney King video camera for privacy advocates.

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Papers please… part, oh, 52

Amtrack is now starting to perform random ID checks on their trains, “as part of a broader program to improve security.” As Bruce Schneier points out, “this works because, somehow, terrorists don’t have IDs.”

From the article: The security program is the result of a federal directive, issued in May, to protect rail passengers from terrorism. I wonder if this is an expansion of the same secret, need-to-know-basis directives that John Gilmore is suing over.

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From the nice-to-know-they-do-something-for-their-pay port…

Given the post-wardrobe-malfunction furor over at the FCC, it’s nice to see things fall on the side of free speech every now and then:

The November 20, 2001 episode involves a scene depicting Buffy kissing and straddling Spike shortly after fighting with him. Based upon our review of the scene, we did not find that it is sufficiently graphic or explicit to be deemed indecent. Given the non-explicit nature of the scene, we cannot conclude that it was calculated to pander to, titillate or shock the audience. Consequently, we conclude that the material is not patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.

(Props to Declan McCullagh’s Politech mailing list for the link.)

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CAPS-II is dead, long live CAPS-II

Tom Ridge has declared that CAPS-II is dead:

Asked Wednesday whether the program could be considered dead, Ridge jokingly gestured as if he were driving a stake through its heart and said, ”Yes.”

He cited the privacy concerns, particularly those arising from recently proposed regulations that would have required airlines to hand over information about passengers as part of a test of the program. Critics in Congress also complained that terrorists using fake identities could easily evade the system.

…but beside the fact that it was horribly susceptible to abuse, wouldn’t do anything to make our skies more secure and made even the most government-trusting citizien start looking for the jack-booted thugs, what wasn’t to like?

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