Then/Now

Bob Lefsetz, writing in The Big Picture, outlines the difference between then and now. Here is an excerpt, but the piece is worth a full read:

THEN

Privacy

NOW

Everybody knows everything and despite protestations, you provide this information willingly, on Facebook, Instagram… We all want to be known, until we don’t.

THEN

Skirts had to cover the knee.

NOW

Young women raise their shirts to show their boobies and sext their friends. Pornography used to be underground, now all you have to do is Google it.

THEN

The record company gave you a big advance and not much more.

NOW

The record company gives you a small advance and not much more.

THEN

The record company built your career.

NOW

You build your career, the label just blows it up.

THEN

You went to the club to hear live music, cover bands or record company supported acts.

NOW

You go to the club to dance. Live music is a special event in a large room, it’s rarely even at weddings.

By the way, you can subscribe to email delivery of his essays, which are very well done, here.

Compare and contrast

Section 215 of the so-called Patriot Act is the provision that, at least at the moment, authorizes the collection of communications meta-data. That is, it is the provision that provides that virtually all telephone communications in the US are scanned for meta-data and collected by the NSA.

Today, Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated the following with regard to a possible (likely?) roll-back of that section:

“[W]e lose important tools. I think that we lose the ability to intercept these communications, which have proven very important in cases that we have built in the past.”

Trevor Timm, writing for Boing Boing, provides a firm rebuke to Lynch’s claims:

As ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer pointed out, one of the IG report’s main conclusions is that FBI “did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.”

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Who do you believe?

Tesla and Texas

The state of Texas has continued to block sales of Tesla cars within the state. That only hurts the Texas residents that would like to be able to test drive and perhaps purchase the cars.

But one Texas legislator blocking sales doesn’t even know who runs Tesla Motors.

Texas state Representative Senfronia Thompson underlined the challenges that the company is facing in the state and around the country, according to Autoblog. “It would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first,” Thompson said. The statement from Thompson suggests that Tesla is run by Mr. Tesla, who is dead now. The EV company named after late inventor Nikola Tesla is actually run by Elon Musk, and there is no Mr. Tesla.

How does one even deal with this?

Apple & Google: ban encryption “back doors”

From the Washington Post:

Tech behemoths including Apple and Google and leading cryptologists are urging President Obama to reject any government proposal that alters the security of smartphones and other communications devices so that law enforcement can view decrypted data.

In a letter to be sent Tuesday and obtained by The Washington Post, a coalition of tech firms, security experts and others appeal to the White House to protect privacy rights as it considers how to address law enforcement’s need to access data that is increasingly encrypted.

“Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” said the letter, signed by more than 140 tech companies, prominent technologists and civil society groups.

The letter comes as senior law enforcement officials warn about the threat to public safety from a loss of access to data and communications. Apple and Google last year announced they were offering forms of smartphone encryption so secure that even law enforcement agencies could not gain access — even with a warrant.

* * *

FBI and Justice Department officials say they support the use of encryption but want a way for officials to get the lawful access they need.

Many technologists say there is no way to do so without building a separate key to unlock the data — often called a “backdoor,” which they say amounts to a vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.

The letter is signed by three of the five members of a presidential review group appointed by Obama in 2013 to assess technology policies in the wake of leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The signatories urge Obama to follow the group’s unanimous recommendation that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards” and not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.

Richard A. Clarke, former cyber­security adviser to President George W. Bush and one of three review group members to sign the letter, noted that a similar effort by the government in the 1990s to require phone companies to build a backdoor for encrypted voice calls was rebuffed. “If they couldn’t pull it off at the end of the Cold War, they sure as hell aren’t going to pull it off now,” he said.

You should take moment to read the referenced letter, and its list of signatories. It is imperative for the future of the Internet and the protection of civil liberties that weakened encryption not be implemented,

FTC urges Michigan to drop Tesla sales ban (updated)

Via The Detroit News:

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday strongly urged the Michigan state legislature to reconsider its ban on Tesla Motors and other automakers from directly selling vehicles to owners.

In a 10-page letter to Michigan State Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, three senior FTC staff members urged the state to drop its long-standing bar to automakers selling vehicles directly to consumers, saying “Michigan’s consumers would more fully benefit from a complete repeal of the prohibition on direct sales by all automakers.” The commission voted 5-0 in favor of the comments.

The letter came after Booher asked the FTC about a pending Michigan Senate bill that would create a limited exception to state law that would allow manufacturers of “autocycles” — enclosed three-wheelers that are more like cars than motorcycles — to sell vehicles in some circumstances. But the FTC said the Senate bill “does not go far enough,” and would “largely perpetuate the current law’s protectionism for independent franchised dealers, to the detriment of Michigan car buyers.”

* * *

The agency noted in the letter that barring direct sales by manufacturers is an “anomaly” in the U.S. economy. In virtually no other business are manufacturers legally barred from directly selling to consumers, it said. “Past studies by both academic researchers and FTC staff have concluded that state-imposed restrictions on automobile manufacturers’ ability to negotiate with their dealers increased the prices paid by consumers without leading to notable improvements in service quality.”

All automotive manufacturers (like all manufacturers) should be free to make direct sales to customers. The interposition of auto dealers costs consumers money and interferes with free enterprise.

Update: Here is a blog post by the FTC on the issue which goes beyond Tesla Motors..

Seymour Hersh on Osama bin Laden killing

Seymour Hersh, writing in the London Review of Books, claims that the story of the take-down of Osama bin Laden was not exactly true. He claims that the Pakistani’s knew where he was at least since 2006. He also claims that the Pakistani army supported the raid.

Excerpt:

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

Who knows if this is an accurate account, and it is interesting that Hersh has generally written for The New Yorker.

Comcast: still despicable

comcastA family in in Philadelphia called Comcast when they discovered that they had been billed for five years for cable box that had been returned back then. Comcast refused to discuss the problem for some time. But when the family took their beef to TV station WPVI, Comcast quickly agreed to refund the $600 due, provided that the family execute a non-disclosure agreement. The family refused.

Comcast’s belated announcement:

We have apologized to our customers and these issues have since been resolved to their satisfaction. This week, Comcast announced plans to significantly improve the customer experience, and those efforts will go a long way to prevent the experiences these customers went through last year.

There is not a worse customer service company in America than Comcast.