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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category


Skype makes chats and user data more available to police

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

So, you thought that by using Skype, the Internet-based communication service, you could talk or text without having to worry about Big Brother listening or watching?

Skype makes chats and user data more available to police

Skype, the online phone service long favored by political dissidents, criminals and others eager to communicate beyond the reach of governments, has expanded its cooperation with law enforcement authorities to make online chats and other user information available to police, said industry and government officials familiar with the changes.

Surveillance of the audio and video feeds remains impractical — even when courts issue warrants, say industry officials with direct knowledge of the matter. But that barrier could eventually vanish as Skype becomes one of the world’s most popular forms of telecommunication.

The changes to online chats, which are written messages conveyed almost instantaneously between users, result in part from technical upgrades to Skype that were instituted to address outages and other stability issues since Microsoft bought the company last year. Officials of the United States and other countries have long pushed to expand their access to newer forms of communications to resolve an issue that the FBI calls the “going dark” problem.

Microsoft has approached the issue with “tremendous sensitivity and a canny awareness of what the issues would be,” said an industry official familiar with Microsoft’s plans, who like several people interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly. The company has “a long track record of working successfully with law enforcement here and internationally,” he added.

The changes, which give the authorities access to addresses and credit card numbers, have drawn quiet applause in law enforcement circles but hostility from many activists and analysts.

Authorities had for years complained that Skype’s encryption and other features made tracking drug lords, pedophiles and terrorists more difficult. Jihadis recommended the service on online forums. Police listening to traditional wiretaps occasionally would hear wary suspects say to one another, “Hey, let’s talk on Skype.”

Hacker groups and privacy experts have been speculating for months that Skype had changed its architecture to make it easier for governments to monitor, and many blamed Microsoft, which has an elaborate operation for complying with legal government requests in countries around the world.

“The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy?” said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a digital privacy group. “When you make it easy to do, law enforcement is going to want to use it more and more. If you build it, they will come.’’

Two days ago, Microsoft-owned Skype, denied its architecture restructuring was done to allow for future government access, but did not deny that it might be so used in the future.

The idea of the Internet being a place safe and free from government intrusion has always been more dream and fantasy than reality. Yes, you can still use TOR to mask your Internet travels, but my guess is that it will not be too long before the NSA or some other government concern figures out a way to beat it, or its use is made illegal.

Now, more than any time in history, Big Brother is watching and the surveillance will only continue to intensify as long as most Americans pay more attention to what’s on TV tonight than to what their government is doing.

IMHO, of course.

What’s your opinion on the matter?


Will you lose your Internet service Monday?

Friday, July 6th, 2012

DNSChanger Malware Set to Knock Thousands Off Internet on Monday

Thousands of PCs worldwide may be unable to access the Internet beginning July 9 unless those machines are rid of the pernicious DNSChanger malware that first surfaced in 2007. The Federal Bureau of Investigation helped shut down the criminal ring responsible for DNSChanger in late 2011. The federal agency then briefly handled the Internet Domain Name System routing for all infected Mac and Windows systems.

Since early 2012, the Internet Systems Consortium, a nonprofit corporation, took over DNS routing responsibilities from the FBI. But that courtesy is coming to an end Monday, and if your computer is one of the thousands still infected, you need to fix your machine so you can keep getting online.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

I sure do wish some of the nanny-state governments around the world, including our own, would band together to do something useful for a change — track down the criminals responsible for the spam deluge, various annoying and malicious bots, phishing, and other nefarious schemes, like this one. I’d happily pay taxes to support that kind of service from the feds.

If you chose not to read the whole article, here are the important links you need:

This one will detect whether your computer/network has been compromised by the DNS redirect. It’s done automatically. There is nothing to download or install on your machine. [UPDATE: Apparently the site is very busy. Several folks have had their browser time-out but kept trying and were eventually able to get in.]

If the site indicates you’re machine is infected OR your Internet Service Provider has been redirecting DNS traffic for you, you’ll want to visit this site for more information and a list of removal tools and instructions.

PCWorld also has a page that shows you how to check which DNS servers your machine is accessing. It also links to the FBI page where you can check the address to see if it is one of those used by the bad guys.

Or, you can do nothing and wait for Monday to see if you lose your Internet connection.

Isn’t it wonderful to have choices?

Would you be willing to pay $1 more a month for your Internet service to support a special international team whose only job is to track down and eliminate the Internet bad guys?


Google warns Gmail users about “state-sponsored” attacks on their email accounts

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I do not use Google’s Gmail service but millions of people do, worldwide. Tuesday, Google took the unusual step of letting some users know their accounts may be the targets of “state-sponsored” attacks. Note that in this context, “state” means country, like China or the United States, and not California or Massachusetts.

Here is the post copied from their Security blog:


Security warnings for suspected state-sponsored attacks
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 12:04 PM
Posted by Eric Grosse, VP Security Engineering

We are constantly on the lookout for malicious activity on our systems, in particular attempts by third parties to log into users’ accounts unauthorized. When we have specific intelligence—either directly from users or from our own monitoring efforts—we show clear warning signs and put in place extra roadblocks to thwart these bad actors.

Today, we’re taking that a step further for a subset of our users, who we believe may be the target of state-sponsored attacks. You can see what this new warning looks like here:

If you see this warning it does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked. It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account. Here are some things you should do immediately: create a unique password that has a good mix of capital and lowercase letters, as well punctuation marks and numbers; enable 2-step verification as additional security; and update your browser, operating system, plugins, and document editors. Attackers often send links to fake sign-in pages to try to steal your password, so be careful about where you sign in to Google and look for in your browser bar. These warnings are not being shown because Google’s internal systems have been compromised or because of a particular attack.

You might ask how we know this activity is state-sponsored. We can’t go into the details without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors, but our detailed analysis—as well as victim reports—strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored.

We believe it is our duty to be proactive in notifying users about attacks or potential attacks so that they can take action to protect their information. And we will continue to update these notifications based on the latest information.


The single most important thing you can do to protect your email account, or any online account, is to have secure password.

Google “most common passwords” and check out some of the lists. Seriously, folks, “12345” or “password” as a password? No wonder so many people get hacked.

If you are one of the folks with an easy-to-remember password, please change it immediately to something long and random. Make it up or use the site I made for my relatives to use to generate secure passwords.

Either way, make it twelve to sixteen characters long, like this one  — Q~P8]b6L!h<!@1`n — which you should NOT use now that it’s been published.

You may think nobody could possibly be interested in hacking your email account but the reality is, the bad guys will use anyone’s account to distribute their spam and they are constantly testing accounts for vulnerabilities. How do you think all your friends and relatives and work contacts are going to feel when they get that first piece of spam sent from your account and realize that the spammers now have their email address to use and sell to other spammers?

Another thing your can do to help thwart spammers is to NOT forward jokes and other things to your mailing list by putting all the addresses in the TO: field where everyone can see them. If you must forward something to more than one person, put your email address in the TO: field and put all the others in the BCC: field. (Blind Carbon Copy) That way, all the recipients only see your email address.

Having your email or blog or website hacked is a royal pain in the posterior. I know, having experienced it many years ago. Now, my passwords look like the one above.

Yours should, too.


Keep your head, and your data, out of the clouds

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

There are lots of companies offering “Cloud” storage of all your data so you can easily access it from any Net-connected device. And folks are flocking to them, especially to those who offer a few gigabytes of free storage. But I wonder how many of them actually read the terms of service or considered what might happen to their data after they upload it.

Check out this bit of legalese:

“When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.’’

That is part of Google’s new Terms of Service that covers all their products and services, including their new Goggle Drive cloud storage service.

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I have written a few legal documents in my day that were praised by the lawyers who reviewed them, so I’m pretty confident in claiming the above clause means exactly what it clearly says, which is, you give them the right to do whatever they want with whatever you upload, including publishing it and sending it off to any branch of government that decides it wants it, for any reason or none.

Google may claim they won’t own the data you upload, but they are being disingenuous at best. The only practical difference between having the right to do whatever you want with something and actually owning it is that the latter gives you the ability to stop others from using it. But now that I think about it, once you’ve also given carte blanche to those they work with, you’ve effectively surrendered all control over your data, since Google, or any other service with a similar clause in their Terms of Service need only claim they are “working with” anyone to whom they give the data.

And that’s not all. Two days ago, Jeffery Van Camp over at Digital Trends wrote Why should we trust Google Drive, or any cloud storage service? Please, take a few minutes to read it.

So, in addition to effectively giving up your rights to the data you upload, you can lose access to it forever and almost be assured that one or more entities will, now or soon, be using the data to keep an eye on you.

Now, I know someone reading this will think I’m being paranoid, that if you’re not uploading kiddie porn or copies of pirated songs you have nothing to fear. But how can you be sure?

There are so many laws on the books today that everyone probably breaks one or more every day. And more go on the books every day. What may be legal today may be illegal tomorrow. Upload that picture your friend took of you protesting last year near Our Dear Leader and his Secret Service protectors and you may find yourself arrested thanks to a new law that makes such protesting illegal.

What it all comes down to is that even if you back up all your data to “The Cloud,” you still need offline backups. You can buy a pocket-size terabyte storage drive for under $130 these days. That much storage on Google Drive will cost your $49.95 per month!

I do not foresee myself ever trusting my data to “The Cloud” or those who run it. It’s just too valuable to me and, frankly, I don’t want anyone to be able to scan it or index it or otherwise snoop around in it.

Oh, and for those who might suggest encrypting your data before you upload it, try to imagine what Homeland Security or the FBI or any other Federal Agency will begin to wonder once they pass a law mandating that Cloud services notify them when encrypted data is uploaded.

What’s your opinion?

Do you use cloud storage? If so, for what. Free or paid?

And do you think I’m just being a paranoid lunatic about this?


Is privacy passé?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Is privacy passé? It certainly seems so. People, young and old, put every detail of their lives on Facebook, post videos on YouTube without regard to how it makes them look, and offer a “who cares” shrug when told about stories like these two, which appeared on the same page of the paper Monday.

As drones spread, privacy issues grow [Excerpts]

… Thousands of hobbyists are taking part in what has become a global do-it-yourself drone subculture, a pastime that is thriving as the Federal Aviation Administration seeks to make the skies friendlier to unmanned aircraft of all sizes.

The use of drones in the United States by law enforcement and other government agencies has privacy advocates on edge. …

… Whether with a border patrol drone the size of a single-engine passenger plane or a four-rotor police “quadcopter’’ equipped with gear to intercept cellphone signals, the increasing ease of aerial surveillance seems destined to be put to a constitutional test on privacy.

“Our concern is with all of the drones,’’ said Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Small aircraft are hard to see, and large drones can fly high enough to stay out of sight, she said. “I think they all pose different levels of privacy risk.’’…

Click Here to read the whole story.

UK said to be seeking Internet surveillance plan

Every e-mail to your child. Every status update for your friends. Every message to your mistress.

The government of the United Kingdom is preparing proposals for a nationwide electronic surveillance network that could potentially keep track of every message sent by any Brit to anyone at any time, an industry official briefed on the government’s moves said Sunday.

Plans for a massive government database of the country’s phone and e-mail traffic were abandoned in 2008 following a public outcry. But James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers’ Association said the government appears to be “reintroducing it on a slightly different format.’’

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

I loved this bit of the second story:

A Home Office spokesman insisted that any new surveillance program would not involve prying into the content of e-mails or voice conversations.

“It’s not about the content,’’ the official said, speaking anonymously in line with office policy. “It’s about the who, what, where, and when.’’

Of course it’s about the content. What good is knowing that Joe called Abdulla or Ravi emailed Susie if you don’t know what was said?

There are some who say that  in the United States, the NSA already filters all email or phone calls or both, looking for certain keywords and phrases. Maybe they do or maybe they don’t but the fact that they are building a huge new complex in Utah is making a lot of people a lot more nervous.

I’m old enough to remember when privacy was something most people expected. But too many of us for too long kept joining the ranks of the shoulder shruggers and allowed the very idea of privacy to become an anachronism.

I’m still one of the old guard who protects my privacy as best I can. But it gets more difficult every day. My grown children seem to have acclimated themselves to lives with minimal privacy and I fully expect when my grandson is born in July, he will one day live in a world where, if privacy is paid any lip service at all, it will apply only to the bedroom and bathroom. And maybe not even there.

How do you feel about privacy?

Are you comfortable with all your life being “out there” for public consumption?

Are you prepared to trust businesses and government with all the details of your life?

And if you’re like me, what measures do you take to protect your privacy?


Social media and smartphones make it easier for bad guys to steal your identity

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I suppose one would have to be a hermit not to know how much damage identity thieves do to folks worldwide. Yet, surprisingly, many of us go out of our way to make it easy for them, both online via Facebook and other social media and with our smartphones.

Following is a short piece on the subject from today’s Boston Globe business section that I found here:

Sharing too much online and on smartphones leaves you vulnerable to ID theft

We’ve become a society that shares too much personal information – and that makes us vulnerable.

Javelin Strategy & Research, in its latest report about identity theft, says about 36 million people were notified of a data breach in 2011. Having your information lost or stolen doesn’t automatically mean you will be a victim of identity theft, but it increases the odds.

Last year, identity fraud increased 13 percent. Using stolen Social Security numbers or credit cards and other financial information, identity thieves buy cars, get cellphones, and open new credit card accounts.

This is the ninth year of Javelin’s study and for the first time the firm looked at social media and mobile phone behavior. Javelin found that people are making it easier for identity thieves to piece together the information needed to steal their credit name.

People using LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, and Facebook had the highest incidence of fraud. Javelin found that 68 percent of people with public social-media profiles shared their birthday (with 45 percent revealing the month, day, and year); 63 percent shared the name of their high school; 18 percent shared their phone number; and 12 percent shared the their pet’s name.

Crooks know people don’t want to remember several passwords. They know you choose a password you hope you won’t forget.

Think about the details of your personal life you’re posting. You may think they are insignificant, but they can be opportunities for people skilled at mining such information to guess your passwords.

Then there’s your smartphone. The survey found that 7 percent of smartphone users were victims of identity fraud, compared with the 4.9 percent among the general population.

Javelin said part of the increase in smartphone users being victims could be attributable to the fact that many users don’t update to a new operating system when it becomes available. Many people don’t use a password on their phones, so if it’s lost anyone can access the information stored on the device. Do you have passwords and log-in information stored on your smartphone?

By the way, of those consumers aware that their identities had been stolen, 9 percent of the subsequent crimes were committed by someone the victim knew.

Javelin has a quiz you should take to see how well you are protecting your personal information. I took the quiz and there were several areas where I should have done better. For instance, I didn’t know how to wipe my smartphone clean in the event it’s stolen. Javelin recommends checking to see if your phone has a remote wipe switch or downloading an application that will erase the data.

Take the quiz yourself. Go to Once you take the quiz and get your results, you’ll also get tips on how to improve your identity safety.

I just took the test linked above. I scored 18 with zero being perfect and 100 being the worst. A couple of the questions related to smartphones did not apply since I don’t own one so I guessed at which was the best answer, which may have affected my score.

That said, a few of the questions made me realize some of my information was not quite as secure as I thought. For example, old tax returns are not in a secure location. If someone were to break into my home while we are away, and was willing to wade through the mess in the attic, they’d have access to our social security numbers. I’ll be taking care of that issue right after I post this.

Far too many of us have embraced sharing virtually every facet of our lives on Facebook and elsewhere without stopping to consider what can be done with all that information. It might feel nice to let everyone know your husband just gave you a gold and diamond bracelet or that your wife gave you a new gold Rolex,  but combine that with your name and hometown and other clues you’ve dropped in your Facebook postings and can you really be surprised when you come home one day and find your home ransacked and all the valuables, along with identity documents, gone?

Thomas Jefferson did not actually say it, it is exactly true that ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”  And the sentiment is applicable to to the subject at hand. As has become clear to more and more folks every day, some because they’ve been victimized and others because  they’ve been paying attention, the cost of protecting one’s identity and security in the 21st century is, truly, eternal vigilance.

If you took the test, what was your score?

What were your weak spots?

And if you have ever had your identity stolen, please share what happened along with what you had to do and how long it took to straighten out the mess.


Have you committed adultery if you sleep with a robot?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Have you committed adultery if you sleep with a robot? Are you guilty of murder if your robotic prosthesis arm malfunctions and kills someone? Could you work for a robot boss?

There was a time when such questions were considered only by writers of science fiction. But such ethical and practical questions are already being considered and will have to be answered in the coming decades as robotic technology advances, as the book being reviewed in the following piece from yesterday’s newspaper makes clear.

 Introducing Robot Ethics

Thirty years ago, few people envisioned just how completely computers would be integrated into our everyday lives; today, they’re everywhere. In Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics, Patrick Lin (a science ethicist), Keith Abney (a philosopher of science) and George Bekey (a computer scientist) argue that the same is true about robots. Today, they are technological oddities; tomorrow, they’ll be ubiquitous and indispensable. That’s why, they write, we need “the emerging field of robot ethics.”

In their introduction to the book, which is a collection of essays in robot ethics from philosophers, lawyers, and scientists, Lin, Abney, and Bekey point out that people have been thinking about the ethics of robotics for millennia. Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics are only the most recent entry in a long tradition. “Homer,” the editors write, “described in his Iliad the intelligent robots or ‘golden servants’ created by Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of technology… Leonardo da Vinci conceived of a mechanical knight that would be called a robot today.” But the need for a serious inquiry into robot ethics is now greater than ever before, because robots are now advanced enough to participate, on their own, in the ethical world:

[I]n August 2010, the U.S. military lost control of a helicopter drone during a test flight for more than thirty minutes and twenty-three miles, as it veered toward Washington, D.C., violating airspace restrictions meant to protect the White House…. In October 2007, a semiautonomous robotic cannon deployed by the South African Army malfunctioned, killing nine “friendly” soldiers and wounding fourteen others….

Already, robots are taking care of our elderly and children…. Some soldiers have emotionally bonded with the bomb-disposing PackBots that have saved their lives, sobbing when the robot meets its end.

Already, fascinating moral questions are emerging. If a robot malfunctions and harms someone, who is responsible — the robot’s owner, its manufacturer, or the robot itself? Under what circumstances can robots be put in positions of authority, with human beings required to obey them? Is it ethically wrong for robots to prey upon our emotional sensitivities — should they be required to remind us, explicitly or implicitly, that they are only machines? How safe do robots need to be before they’re deployed in society at large? Should cyborgs — human beings with robot parts — have a special legal status if their parts malfunction and hurt someone? If a police robot uses its sensors to perform a surveillance operation, does that constitute a search? (And can the robot decide if there is probable cause?)

Some of these questions are speculative; others are uncomfortably concrete. Take this example involving (what else?) robot sex, from an essay by David Levy:

Upmarket sex dolls were introduced to the Korean public at the Sexpo exposition in Seoul in August 2005, and were immediately seen as a possible antidote to Korea’s Special Law on Prostitution that had been placed on the statute books the previous year. Before long, hotels in Korea were hiring out “doll experience rooms” for around 25,000 won per hour ($25)…. This initiative quickly became so successful at plugging the gap created by the antiprostituion law that, before long, establishments were opening up that were dedicated solely to the use of sex dolls… These hotels assumed, quite reasonably, that there was no question of them running foul of the law, since their dolls were not human. But the Korean police were not so sure. The news website… reported, in October 2006, that the police in Gyeonggi Province were “looking into whether these businesses violate the law . . . Since the sex acts are occurring with a doll and not a human being, it is unclear whether the Special Law on Prostitution applies.”

It seems inevitable, Levy writes, that more advanced “sexbots” will push this issue even more to the fore, forcing lawmakers to figure out just which aspects of prostitution they want to outlaw.

Levy’s sexbot example is emblematic of a theme running through this collection of essays: The ethical problems posed by robots aren’t just about the robots. They’re also about old, familiar human behaviors which we must reconsider once robots are introduced. How will spouses feel, Levy asks, about the use of sexbots? Some will see it as adultery, others as a intrinsically meaningless. The answer, Levy argues, really has nothing to do with the robots themselves. “It will depend very much,” he writes, “on the sexual ethics of the relationship itself when robots do not enter the picture.”

There are some fascinating questions there, eh?

Let’s consider the questions I posed to open this post:

Have you committed adultery if you sleep with a robot?

To have sex with a doll seems to me to be little more than complicated masturbation. But what if one develops an emotional attachment to the robotic doll? That may sound weird, but folks have been known to become attached to their cars, trucks, clothes, photos — all manner of things, and none of them provide sexual gratification.

Are you guilty of murder if your robotic prosthesis arm malfunctions and kills someone?

I don’t see how it could rise to the level of murder, but what if the prosthesis required regular maintenance and one continuously neglected to perform it? In such a case, I could see a district attorney going for a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Could you work for a robot boss?

I think some of us already do. Take certain delivery drivers. While they may have a human “boss,” their day’s work is dictated by a computer which determines which stops they will make and often, in which order.

I think the near future will bring some interesting and challenging developments in the field of robotics. We might well see robotic cops or soldiers. When you get sick, you might first have to be diagnosed by a robot doctor before you get to see a human one. And who knows, if the field advances far enough, we might one day even see the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court leading the way again by making it legal to marry your robotic lover.

What are your answers to the three questions?

Do you think this is all just foolish fantasy or can you foresee a time when these and the questions in the article will have to be faced?

 And can you think of others who are, directly or effectively, working for a robot boss?


Do we have an absolute right to privacy?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Do Americans have an absolute right to privacy? Some think so. I am not among them. Let me explain.

Although many will deny it, it seems clear to me our natural right to privacy is, indeed, enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

It is contained in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. It is also implied by the Third Amendment, which prohibits government from forcing you to house a soldier, and by extension, other government agents. Article Four prohibits government from rooting around in your life. And Article Five says we cannot be forced to testify against ourselves. None of those would have any meaning without the foundation of a right to privacy.

So I believe we do have a right to privacy, but not an absolute one.

For example, if a store posts a sign at the entrance that clearly states if you enter the store, you will be video recorded in all areas of the store and that the video can be used for any and all purposes, you give up your right to privacy when you walk through the door and can’t complain when the video of you in the changing room ends up on YouTube. Of course, no store would be stupid enough to try to get away with it. Even if they did, as soon as the first person publicly complained, the media would run with it and the store would find itself with no customers.

Privacy is the basis of our “Miranda” rights. Police must advise you of your right to keep your thoughts and words private but if you give up that privacy, they’ll use whatever you say to hang you if they can.

Although the Constitution constrains government, it does not similarly shackle private businesses. Your employer can order you to not engage in any political speech in the workplace or may equally order you to engage in a particular form of political speech as a condition of employment. Similarly, you have no absolute right to privacy in the workplace. Your employer may monitor all your work-related communications as well as any communications that take place using business-owned equipment. Hopefully, they make their employees aware of this, but they are not obligated to do so.

On the other hand, if your employer happens to be a government entity, I believe they do have an obligation to advise you that communications can be monitored.

Lawsuit says FDA monitored e-mails
Agency workers filed complaints

WASHINGTON – Current and former Food and Drug Administration officials say in a lawsuit that the agency secretly monitored their private e-mail after they raised concerns that approved medical devices might risk public safety.

The doctors and scientists who researched the products approached members of Congress and the incoming Obama administration to express alarm that the devices were approved over their objections.

Their lawsuit contends that the agency monitored e-mail sent from their personal Gmail and Yahoo accounts from work computers over two years. It says those e-mails included messages to congressional staff and drafts of whistle-blower complaints.

The staffers say they were legally protected whistle-blowers and the monitoring violated their constitutional rights to free speech and against illegal search and seizure, even though a warning on FDA computers said they had no expectation to privacy.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

I am no fan of the FDA. It’s one of the many departments of government I believe should be abolished. But that is beside the point. In this case, they did nothing wrong by monitoring the use of their equipment which included a clear warning that users should not expect any privacy.

I fully support whistle-blowers. But the lawsuit filed claims “the monitoring violated their constitutional rights to free speech and against illegal search and seizure” which it clearly does not do. Do they expect those monitoring the computers use to magically know when they will be using it as whistle-blowers and so close their eyes or turn off the monitoring for the duration?

If there was any retaliation, those who instigated it should be fired. But the whistle-blowers should have waited until they got home and used their private computers to blow the whistle.

Really, it is as simple as that and the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Then there should commence an independent investigation of and prosecution of any wrongdoing brought to light by the whistle-blowers.

Do you agree or disagree we have a right to privacy but not an absolute one? And why?

Was the FDA monitoring wrong even though everyone was warned it would take place?

And where and when do you think privacy should be inviolate and where should it not.


Yesterday’s Internet blackout protest victory should be only the beginning

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

If you stopped by the Backwoods Home website yesterday between 8 AM and 8 PM, you found a protest screen instead of the blogs, Forum, articles, an other site content.

I’m pleased to say congressional support for the legislation that was being protested has largely been withdrawn, for the moment, as a result of the protest. I say ‘for the moment’ because folks like former Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris “The Dope” Dodd, currently chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America condemned the SOPA “Blackout Day” as a “gimmick” and an “abuse of power” by the Web companies participating in the protest against pending anti-piracy legislation.

As a former US Senator, I guess Dodd would know all about abuse of power.

There are many reasons why so many companies and websites participated in the protest yesterday. But this morning, the following story in my local paper made me realize the one, big, overarching reason.

China plans to collect identities of bloggers

BEIJING – China will expand nationwide a trial program that requires users of the country’s wildly popular microblog services to disclose their identities to the government in order to post comments online, the government’s top Internet regulator said yesterday.

The official, Wang Chen, said that registration trials in five major eastern Chinese cities would continue until wrinkles were worked out. But he said eventually all 250 million users of microblogs, called weibos here, would have to register, beginning with new users. Wang indicated that under the program, users could continue to use nicknames online, even though they would still be required to register their true identities.

Wang leads the State Council Information Office, which regulates the Internet and the government’s domestic public-relations machine. He also is a deputy director of the Communist Party’s propaganda department and, in particular, is in charge of China’s lavishly financed recent efforts to burnish its image worldwide.

The government has said it is studying real-name registration of microbloggers to limit the spread of malicious rumors, pornography, scams, and other unhealthy practices on microblogs, which have become a major source of news for many Chinese.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

Here in the United  States, there are many in government who would love to have the kind of absolute control over the Internet that the Communists exert in China. Legislation like SOPA and PIPA are the foot-in-the-door many have sought since the Net graduated out of academia and into the real world where it’s been a game-changer in so many fields, including politics. A political protest as widespread as the one yesterday could never have happened pre-Internet and many, like Dodd, would very much like to ensure such things never happen again.

Some will say it’s a far leap from SOPA to forcing bloggers to register with their real names and contact information, but two decades ago, those same people would have said the idea of government agents feeling the genitals of adults, children and even babies in diapers before they’re allowed to board an airplane could never happen in America

Thomas Jefferson said “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” For far too many decades, far too many Americans have been too lazy or simply unwilling to pay that very modest price.

Yesterday’s protest showed that we can, still, make a difference if enough of us band together. If you are reading this blog, or Claire Wolfe’s blog, or Massad Ayoob’s blog, or any of the thousands of similar blogs on the Net, you’ve already opened your eyes, you’re already one of the vigilant.

But vigilance isn’t enough. It’s only the first step. Action is the second step.

Talk to your neighbors and friends. Send them links to eye-opening news reports, articles, and blog posts. Loan them the books you read and ask their opinion.

Do something!

The window of opportunity to effect positive change in America is still open. Yesterday’s protests proved that. Let’s take advantage before it slams shut.


Do you have any ideas of ways to engage folks who have heretofore shirked their duty to remain vigilant?

Or do you think it’s too late to do anything and if so, why?


Backwoods Home website joins SOPA strike

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Wednesday, January 18th, Backwoods Home Magazine will participate in the Internet Strike in opposition to SOPA.

The entire website will go dark for twelve hours beginning around 8 AM Eastern. All traffic will be redirected to a Strike page where visitors will be encouraged to send a form email to their Congresscritter.

In addition to Backwoods Home, these sites have also confirmed they will participate in the strike:

Google, Wikipedia, reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, icanhazcheezburger network sites (FailBlog, theDailyWhat,Know Your Meme, etc), Tucows, VanillaForums, The RawStory, Open Congress / PPF, Internet Archive, Miro, Universal Subtitles, Namecheap, TwitPic, dotSUB,,, MineCraft, Tor Project,, RageMaker, Destructiod, Red 5 studios, A Softer World, Greenpeace International, The LeakyWiki, XDA-Developers, Center for Technology and Democracy, Electronic Frontier Foundation,, Major League Gaming, Imgur, Monticello Capitol, Crypto Cat, Colossal Mind, Errata Security, FreakOutNation, SlashTHREE, Focus On the Facts, City News, Strategy Tune, WPS Security Lock, openSUSE, Smirking Chimp, Bread Without Bullets, iSchool at Syracuse University, nomacs Image Lounge, ComputerHope, PhantomTS,,, DatelineZero, Liberty Confidential, Victor Rix, WJSimpson, Spurs of The Moment, peeje, DigiBase, Ron Bercume Design, Jazz Sequence, Plague Studio, ViperZeroOne, and Elephant Talk Wiki

If you have a website or blog, please join us. You can get the code you need to display the protest page by clicking here.

If you are reading this before 8 AM or after 8 PM Wednesday, you may CLICK HERE to go directly to the protest page on our website to fill out the short form to send a protest email to your Congresscritter.



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