Archive for June, 2008

George Carlin dead at 71

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Truly my favorite comedian of all time. I loved Carlin all my life, but one of the things that was pissing him off lately was the fact that people weren’t questioning government or religion as much as they used to be, and by all measure, things are getting worse.

Maybe this shock will wake up some people. Maybe the inevitable memorials will spark a renewal of the rebellious spirit. I only hope so. I have come to accept that people only live on as the effect they’ve had on the world. For a relatively brief time in history, the world had a great jester and poet, lets all take time to remember him in or lives.

“In the Bullshit Department, a businessman can’t hold a candle to a clergyman. ‘Cause I gotta tell you the truth, folks. When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims: religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told.

Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”

-George Carlin

The EFF – defending your rights in the digital world

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

For those of you that don’t know about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I encourage you to read up on them. Straight from their web site “EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world.”

They’re an organization I have personally donated to in the past (I don’t donate to just anyone) and suggest others to also support. Guidestar is a good place to start to make comparisons with other groups if you’re curious about where their money goes.

Profit and Loss Standard – January through December, 2006

Ordinary Income/Expense

Corporation Contributions $215,229.72
Event Income 57,630.10
Foundation Grants 466,858.36
Individual Major Contributions 1,423,444.26
Interest Income 18,161.86
Litigation 430,545.00
Matching Gifts 35,426.34
Membership Income 882,710.89
Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) 10,354.40
Minor Donations 9,739.50
Honorarium/Awards 1,300.00
Fiscal Sponsorship 156,225.89
Miscellaneous Income 19.50
Total Income 3,707,645.82

Salaries & Benefits 1,865,393.06
Building Expenses 192,684.57
Corporate Insurance 35,645.71
Office Expenses 153,142.46
Membership Expenses 48,258.50
Court Filing and Fees 20,557.99
Bank & Merchant Fees 31,236.87
Consultants 82,622.52
Staff & Board Enrichment 24,150.06
Travel & Entertainment 66,092.38
EFF Events 23,216.94
Grassroots Campaigning 41,868.30
Taxes 410.00
Fiscal Sponsorship Expense 189,899.23
Total Expense 2,775,178.59

Net Ordinary Income $932,467.23

Other Income/Expense

Other Income
Unrealized Gain or Loss 108,618.85
Total Other Income 108,618.85
Net Other Income 108,618.85
Net Income $1,041,086.08

2006 was a particularly good fundraising year for the EFF. In early 2007, they transferred $1 million of their 2006 net income into EFF’s Endowment Fund for Digital Civil Liberties, to ensure the long term sustainability of the organization.

Privacy argument – “I have nothing to hide”

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

I had never questioned my privacy over telephones or online until I started hearing rumors about Echelon all over the internet years ago. Then Carnivore was announced and basically confirmed all the suspicions. Everything that’s happened since is just in the wake. There’s more than that though. Even if you have nothing to hide, you can still be mistakenly thought to have something to hide. All it takes is one false positive to ruin your day.

People who say “I have nothing to hide” realize they have already lost the argument and so try to turn it into a veiled personal attack to change the discussion. A good counter to it is “so why would you tolerate someone spying on you if you have done nothing wrong?”

Another argument I use against “I have nothing to hide” is “so when do I come to your house and install a webcam in your bedroom?” It’s shut quite a few mouths. Bedroom is good. Toilet is even better. If they have no modesty, ask them to hand over the account numbers and passwords to their bank accounts. Also ask for their full medical history. If that doesn’t shut them up, ask for the same for their entire extended family.

In light of the people deciding that people don’t have anything to hide, I ask that everyone answer the following questionnaire:

1) What is your bank account PIN number?
2) What is your annual salary?
3) What is your Significant Other’s phone number?
4) What are your passwords to various email and web accounts?

Some people believe that the government does (or could) know my bank account information, my medical history, my cell phone calls, etc etc. The problem is you’re seeing “government” is a single abstract entity. But government is made up of all those petty civil servants at the local council, policemen, judges and so on. Would you be happy to have a file with full details of your children sent to every policeman in your city? Presumably only if policemen were incorruptible, absolutely trusted, and none of them were themselves abusers. If you believe that about the police, well…

So this is why it’s not a question about should “the government” have access to this data. It’s about should all these random people have access to it? Is it really necessary for anyone but one person (my family doctor alone) to have access to my medical history? Or should that be shared with every single snooper at the local council? Should I give the firemen plans to my house, when it’s possible that one of them has a sideline in burglary?

Sure, criminal behavior has changed because of the government’s newfound monitoring power. Instead of using regular cell phones, professional bad guys now use nice untraceable prepaid cell phones…and discard them regularly. So, the data retention has indeed brought on a change – but the change makes the data retention useless.

What the data retention does do is to trip up the only-vaguely-criminal acts of the amateur. For instance, it is now much easier to track down the affairs of an unfaithful spouse, and to win a nice fat divorce settlement. Somehow I doubt that was the original aim of the data retention.

The thing to remember is privacy is not just about moral or immoral behavior. Privacy is the right to control the personal aspects of your life and who you share them with. Privacy just is.

Windows vs. Linux – security and privacy

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Germany is a place that knows what wiretaps and domestic spying is all about. Everyone’s grandfather can tell them what the Nazis did to friend and foe alike. Public display of Nazi symbols is still against the law because it outrages so many. People who lived through the East German Police state have more recent and personal reasons to fear this kind of monitoring. Domestic spying is about eliminating political opposition and the only way to save yourself from that is to run away. Eventually, even those who manage to keep out of sight by doing nothing are destroyed by the schemes of those in power. States that do this are out of control.

If you understand these things and how computers work, you have no choice but to use and advocate free software. Non free software has the ability to end freedom of press and every other right. We are well down that path, with newspapers raided, citizens spyed on, an unpopular war of aggression, torture and other evil things. You can have your privacy with free software and should demand it.

If you have complete control over your software, as free (as in freedom) software guarantees by definition, you can enforce your own privacy and security. If you have a solution you cannot modify, you are completely restricted to its ideas of privacy and security.

Human freedom has to extend to freedom of information and freedom of control over our own tools, including software and hardware. If we allow our corporations and governments to control our tools, they move on to controlling our media (DRM’s already here) and eventually our legal freedom (DMCA raids?!)

The vast majority of people have no way to verify that their software is secure, even if it’s open source. And even the people who do have the ability aren’t going to. Are you really going to read through every line of code in the Linux kernel looking for backdoors? Well, of course not, however, freedom means that you can do all of that and teams of people do for both cooperative and competitive reasons. All of the usual guards for non free software apply. People are watching their computers and will report suspicious communication. Then come all of the free software checks. The code gets checked upstream by the team that creates it and then downstream by many distributions that use it before finally being checked by the much larger number of users. The free software community is able to verify code from creation to desktop use and it’s a fairly competitive place. For every kind of check you have in the non free world, you have more and better in the free world as well as greater competition and willingness to report wrongdoing. This makes it unlikely you will be caught by malicious code.