Author Archives: Quincy

The Life of Julia… who really wins?

President Obama’s campaign has put together “The Life of Julia“, following a woman from cradle to grave to show how she benefits from the enlightened benificence of President Barack Obama.

The reality, though, is rather different. Let’s look now at “The Life of Julia”:

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Call to action: Stop the police cyber-state

There is a scary bill working its way through Congress right now: H.R. 1981 – the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011

While this sounds like a worthy goal, the bill features a repressive data retention requirement that would open ordinary Americans to abuse from government as well as cyber-criminals. Specifically, the bill requires that the temporary IP address of users of commercial ISP access be retained along with identifying information for 18 months.

Here’s a quick primer on how your computer gets on the internet with the average commercial ISP:

  1. You plug the phone line/TV cable into this modem.
  2. The modem establishes a connection with the ISP through the phone line/TV cable.
  3. The modem is assigned an IP address (e.g. 71.119.121.143)
  4. You hook a computer or a router into the modem.
  5. This computer or router is assigned an IP address (either 192.168.xxx.xxx or 10.xxx.xxx.xxx)
  6. If you hooked up a router, then the computers hooked to it will be assigned IP addresses by the router.

The important thing here is that only the IP address of the modem is visible to the ISP. There could be one, five, or fifty computers sitting behind that modem, but to the ISP all that traffic would be coming from a single IP.

Let’s look now at a couple of cases in which child pornography might be requested by a machine behind an IP without the ISP customer’s knowledge:

  1. The WiFi Stealer: The customer is running a poorly-secured wireless access point. A neighbor looking to download child porn cracks the security and uses the access point to download the material.
  2. The Virus: A computer virus makes it on to one of the customer’s machines. It is programmed to fetch data from child porn websites and relay it to the virus creator.

Note that in both cases, the customer of the ISP and those living in his household wouldn’t even know their connection had been used to download child porn until they got the knock on the door. Aside from the thousands of families each year whose lives would be disrupted by purely mistaken prosecutions, setting this standard in law would make it possible to deliberately set people up to undergo a time-consuming and costly legal battle.

If that weren’t bad enough, the requirement to retain “identifying account data” is troublesome as well. What could be so bad about keeping the name of the customer for 18 months? Nothing, except keeping the name alone won’t do what the bill wants. As someone who’s designed software to match identities, I can say with certainty that in practice this requirement would force retention, at a minimum, of customer name, address, and date of birth. Most ISPs would probably go farther and retain a unique ID number such as a Social Security Number or a financial ID number such as a credit/debit card number or checking account number.

But wait a minute, you say. Don’t ISPs already have all this?

Yes, they do. Today, they are not required to relate the assigned IP addresses for the last 18 months to it. This requires storing the customer data in such a way that it can be related to the IP addresses, as well as being recalled later for use by law enforcement.

The simple fact of making it usable for law enforcement makes it less secure. The logs have to be linked to the customer accounts, meaning that the data is likely exposed to the internet. All the data has to be recalled as plain text, meaning that weaker encryption practices must be used. Even if everything is done perfectly right, an interface must be built to get the data out and to law enforcement, meaning that a bad actor inside an ISP has a ready-made portal to all sorts of personally-identifiable information.

Sounds pretty bad, right? It’s worse than you think. Corporate records are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections as individual records. Currently, to find out everything an ISP user is doing, law enforcement needs to prove its case and get a warrant. Under this bill, your internet activity, including any visits to perfectly legal pornographic sites that feature Brooke Lea, would be pre-existing corporate records. No more warrants. Government wants to find out about your IP address, they subpoena the ISP for that record and they get information about you without having to prove a thing.

This bill is bad, folks. We need each of our readers to step up and contact your Representative and encourage them to say NO to this bill that treats all internet users as criminals.

Too big to fail: Washington edition

From Megan McArdle, a list of reasons why the Federal Government is too big to fail (or even pause):

  • The nation’s nuclear arsenal is no longer being watched or maintained
  • The doors of federal prisons have been thrown open, because none of the guards will work without being paid, and the vendors will not deliver food, medical supplies, electricity,etc.
  • The border control stations are entirely unmanned, so anyone who can buy a plane ticket, or stroll across the Mexican border, is entering the country. All the illegal immigrants currently in detention are released, since we don’t have the money to put them on a plane, and we cannot actually simply leave them in a cell without electricity, sanitation, or food to see what happens.
  • All of our troops stationed abroad quickly run out of electricity or fuel. Many of them are sitting in a desert with billions worth of equipment, and no way to get themselves or their equipment back to the US.
  • Our embassies are no longer operating, which will make things difficult for foreign travellers
  • No federal emergency assistance, or help fighting things like wildfires or floods. Sorry, tornado people! Sorry, wildfire victims! Try to live in the northeast next time!
  • Housing projects shut down, and Section 8 vouchers are not paid. Families hit the streets.
  • The money your local school district was expecting at the October 1 commencement of the 2012 fiscal year does not materialize, making it unclear who’s going to be teaching your kids without a special property tax assessment.
  • The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn’t going to college this year!
  • The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn’t need to buy or sell a house!
  • The FDIC and the PBGC suddenly don’t have a government backstop for their funds, which has all sorts of interesting implications for your bank account.
  • The TSA shuts down. Yay! But don’t worry about terrorist attacks, you TSA-lovers, because air traffic control shut down too. Hope you don’t have a vacation planned in August, much less any work travel.
  • Unemployment money is no longer going to the states, which means that pretty so, it won’t be going to the unemployed people.

Now, how many of the companies that leftists were screaming were “too big to fail” could have had one one-hundredth the impact of a Federal Government failure? Yet these same leftists who recognize too big to fail as a bad thing want to endow the Federal Government with ever more power. Amazing.

Paul Krugman’s Statistical Reality

I have a saying: “When everyone around you seems crazy, it’s probably you.” Useful advice, to be sure.

Well, everyone around Paul Krugman seems to be misinformed:

Well, here’s a little secret: most voters don’t sit around reading Clive Crook columns or debating the Bowles-Simpson plan. They have a gut sense — things are getting better or they’re getting worse — and mainly vote on that basis. They’re not paying attention at all to this stuff.

Well, alright, not everyone. Just the vast majority of voters. Unfortunately for Krugman, this statement reveals something about him rather than the voters. Krugman is the one who is out of touch with reality.

How can that be? Isn’t Krugman formulating his ideas based on massive amounts of economic data? Kind of. He has access to more economic statistics than do most of us, but in aggregate “most voters” by far have the upper hand. Every voter has a checkbook to balance and ends that need to meet. Every voter gets to experience the economy first hand. In contrast, all Krugman has is a position that shields him from economic hardship and a glut of statistics.

Krugman lives in a statistical reality. People around him could be losing their jobs left and right, but as long as unemployment remained flat, Krugman would insist that there is no employment crisis. He could suddenly find his dollars not stretching as far, but as long as core inflation remained flat, Krugman would insist that there is no inflation. He could see small businesses closing left and right, but as long as the calculated regulatory burden upon them remained the same, Krugman would claim that they’re not over-regulated.

Now, checking one’s personal reality against the statistics is not necessarily a bad thing. In the first case, one might see people losing their jobs left and right when a factory closes down. Doesn’t mean there is a broader employment crisis. In the second, there could be local factors raising prices. In the third, it could be any number of local or temporary things hurting small businesses.

The problem comes when the statistics are at odds with the reality experienced by the vast majority of people. A reasonable person in that case would begin to question the statistics. Krugman, an academic at heart and a political hack by trade, bitterly clings to the statistics in the face of reality. The statistics tell him a story that he wants to believe: interventionist government is good for the economy. That is Paul Krugman’s statistical reality.

The reality of the current economy is pretty clear. Things are bad and getting worse. The only people to whom the bad news is unexpected are academics, journalists, and politicians. Krugman, arguably all three at once these days, desperately wants to believe that his statistical reality is the true one — so desperately, in fact, that he will insist that the experiences of millions of Americans are invalid and that the conclusions they draw from them are mere “gut instinct”.

Sorry Paul, when everyone around you seems misinformed, it’s probably you.

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