Category Archives: Technology

Protecting You From Evil Gambling Sites That We Can’t Tax

Congress is, once again, doing the Lord’s work, making sure that you don’t have access to immoral offshore gambling web sites.

US President George W. Bush this week is expected to sign a bill making it harder to place bets on the Internet, a practice which already is illegal in the United States.

Bush was expected to act quickly after Congress approved the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act making it illegal for financial institutions and credit card companies to process payments to settle Internet bets. It also created stiff penalties for online wagers.

Billions of dollars are wagered online each year and the United States is considered the biggest market.

The bill’s chief Senate sponsor was conservative Republican Jon Kyl, who, like Leach, has said he believed Internet gambling was a moral threat. He has called online betting as the Internet version of crack cocaine.

“Gambling can be highly addictive, especially when its done over an unregulated environment such as the Internet” he said this year.

You see, you are too weak to make your own choices. Especially in an “unregulated” environment. Perhaps we, the esteemed Congress, might allow you gamble from time to time, but only when we’re watching over you.

This, like every other vice law, doesn’t do anything to stop gambling. Especially since the “unregulated internet” moves a lot faster than Congress. Try to shut down one payment method, another will crop up. Just like with every vice law, from gambling, to drugs, to prostitution; if people want it, they will find a way to get it.

When it comes to a vice law, though, this is typical government behavior. They made it illegal. It didn’t stop it. So they’re going to expand their power, in order to try even harder to find the behavior, and punish it more severely. When that doesn’t work, they’ll expand their power again, expanding their reach and control over our lives, because they have to crack down on this “immoral” behavior.

But the true coup de grace? They’re protecting the family and the children…

“It is extraordinary how many American families have been touched by large losses from Internet gambling,” said US Representative Jim Leach, the bill’s main sponsor in the House, in a statement after its passage early Saturday.

Leach cited research which showed that young people who tend to spend hours of leisure time on the Internet, are particularly vulnerable.

A 2005 survey by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 26 percent of male college students gamble in online card games at least once a month, while nearly 10 percent of all college students gambled online at some point last year.

“Never has it been so easy to lose so much money so quickly at such a young age. The casino is in effect brought to the home, office and college dorm.

“Children may play without verification, and betting with a credit card can undercut a players perception of the value of cash, which too easily leads to bankruptcy and crime,” Leach said.

Ahh, it’s for the children… How can you argue with that?

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I Always Feel Like, Somebodies Watching Me

Let’s talk about the current NSA surveilance brouhaha. Liberals, conservatives, AND Libertarians are all entirely up in arms about this subject; which for the reasons I’m about to discuss is patently silly.

First things first, I’m an information security consultant and architect, with extensive government, financial, medical, telecommunications, and military security experience. I do some of this stuff for a living. For those of you who are familair with federal contracting, I have several GSA contracts under my belt. In my daily professional life, I deal with the legal and technical issues surrounding this subject quite a lot. I have in fact conducted, and assisted in, trap and trace operations; as well as created solutions for trap and trace access.

Next, this IS NOT WIRETAPPING, nor in fact is it any kind of invasion of privacy (as legally established).

The data the NSA is collecting are called pen-trace records or pen-register records(technically its a “pen register trap and trace device record”, even thugh there is no such thing as a pen register anymore. I usually call it a pen-trace because it’s a more complete abbreviation, and because the operations are generally referred to as “trap and trace” oeprations. In most references it is more often referred to as a Pen Register). These are the records which indicate what calls were initiated from what number, to what number, when, for how long, how the call was routed, and what charge classes apply to each stage of call routing.

These records are legally semi-public information, not private. It is legal to collect these records without a warrant, so long as they are not used to SPECIFICALLY TARGET an individual without a warrant (there is a specific pen register warrant for that purpose), or used beyond basic identifying characteristics. Once a trace of interest is found, a warrant can then be applied for for further surveliance.

It has been legal for the government to do this since the very first telephone telecommunications laws in 1936, and it continues to be reaffirmed as such. The last law regulating this was passed last year, others that I know of in 2001, 1998, 1996, and 1994, ’88, and two HUGE ones in ’84 and ’86. The supreme court has repeatedly reaffirmed the legality and constitutionality of this, because of the third party exemption to private communications if for no other reason (and there have usually been other reasons).

Under the third party exemption, if a third party is allowed to setup or witness what is otherwise a private communication between two parties, the expectation of privacy of the existence of the communication is breached (if it existed at all which in many cases it does not), and the existence and external characteristics of that communication can then be compelled and used as evidence without a warrant.

This is settled legal doctrine, and has been for literally hundreds of years, back to english common law.

For further information, refer to Smith v. Maryland which is controlling in these situations, and which was decided under ’36 ’48 and ’78 statues. A pen register is not a search under these criteria.

There is additional controlling legislation, the electronic communications privacy act of 1984. This established certain privacy protections for electronic surveilance, as well as enforcing access to records and techncial means by the government at the providers cost (as a cost of doing business, any company defined as a pblic telecomunications utility must give the government access to tap and trace).

Under current law and precedent, so long as there is not an individual target, privacy provisions of ECPA ‘84 don’t apply; but the access provisions do. It’s a case of the government having its cake and eating it too.

Further, USAPA ‘01 (the patriot act) CLEARLY defines that global pen registers conducted through electronic means are NOT an unlawful search. Or rather it clearly correlates them to earlier definitions of pen registers which were also held not to be unlawful searches.

If there IS an individual target, then there is a low burden of proof threshold to obtain a pen register, to wit the capture of any information likely to be pertienent to a criminal investigation. Additionally, no warrant is necessary even for specific targeting, if one end of the conversation initiates or terminates outside of the country. Also there are certain standing exemptions (communications from anywhere within the country to certain known individuals or locations – official arms of the chinese government for example).

Also, it has been held that there is no warrant necessary for the disclosure of LUDs (local usage details) by telephone companies to investigative agencies; again because of the third party exemption.

Now there is an additional issue here, as to whether it is legal to capture glocal pen-trace data without a specific target, and then run traffic analysis on it which produces specific targets which were not present before the data collection…

Well so far the courts say yes; and have several times and at several levels; but I’m not sure this is technically correct.

Once the data is collected in a legitimate way, it is generally assumed that any analysis done is legitimate; even if the results of that analysis would be the same as those which would have required a warrant to produce without that analysis.

It may or may not be allowed as evidence depending on the judge, and the court; but the agency doing the analysis wouldn’t be under any sanction for doing so.

This is clearly a case of the law not being properly costructed to handle unforseen technological circumstances. The spirit of the laws (and there are more than just one, in fact more than a few) may be violated here; but in general it has been held that this IS legal.

All of these issues have additional implications in a national security context, and I’m not sure if there is a controlling decision or even controlling legislation; in part because some of the decisions that may be controlling are classified. Also some cases that may have produced controling decisions were instead vacated or dismissed by national security exemption.

Basically there are a lot of things that an NS or NCA initiated investigation can do that a criminal investigation can’t and still be legal; in some cases without the authorization of courts.

That is an executive powers question, and one that the courts have been EXTREMELY reluctant to enter into. The constitutional law (as opposed to a straight reading of the constitution – a distinction that I find distasteful but it is very real today) issues here are somewhat convoluted.

Given all this, it should be clear that in fact, telephone and electronic communications have far less LEGAL privacy protection than do face to face conversations. You may not LIKE it, it may feel creepy, but it is legal, and has been basicaly since the phone companies were first set up.

What the NSA is doing WITH this information is called traffic analysis, and it is legal, even on US. Citizens. Traffic analysis doesn’t tell you what is being said, but who is talking to who is a still a valuable source of intelligence.

More importantly, LEGALLY traffic analysis is not surveilance, it is the gathering of open intelligence; and thus does not require any specific justification or authorization.

Now as to whether it should be or not; that’s a much thornier subject. The fact is, we have allowed but the government, and business, to do this since the inception of communications technologies.

By law the telephone networks are only semi-private (as are the airways BTW). There is no dejure expectation of privacy as to the routing of your calls, because that information is both used by third parties for purposes directly related to the call itself (billing and QOS); and by third parties not realated to the call (marketers).

Just to illustrate one case, the phone companies use the info for marketing purposes, and sell it to others for marketing purposes.

People in high income zip codes will be identified, and marketers will look at their magazine and catalogue subscription info, which they either have already or purchased from some other companies. The comapanies then send those catalogues and subscription offers to the people that the high income folks called. That’s just one example.

The same thing happens with shoppers cards, credit cards, magazine subscriptions… hell some libraries sell your data, and all major bookstores (in fact all major retailers) do.

That data may or may not be personally identifiable, depending on exactly what business is selling it to what business.

Hell, the post office sells your magazine and catalogue subscription records to other magazine and catalogue publishers as well; so those publishers can send you more offers. Additionally the post office will use data on who sends you mail, and who you recieve mail from, to conduct investigations into mail fraud, terrorism, and transportation of contraband, obscenity, and child pronography through the mails, WITHOUT ANY WARRANT.

The post office is a semi-government agency, and for some reason no-one makes the connection between pen trace and this behavior; which is legally IDENTICAL; and which has been going on for decades.

So if a commercial entity can sell it to another commercial entity, can’t the government collect this data on its own?

Or should ALL of that be made illegal?

The fact is, people have a false expectation of privacy in far too many venues. The only real privacy lies in that behavior which is that which is conducted exclusively on your private property; or that which is conducted by ALL parties to a contract during which agreement is made by all parties to maintain all desired aspects as private (which lawfully guarantees your expectation of privacy. This at the core of privilige).

This isn’t a recent developement; it’s legally, and often socially been this way… well pretty much forever. You don’t have the legal expectation of privacy you FEEL you do. Perhaps you do have a moral expectation; but the law, morality, and basic rights unfortunately diverged a long time ago.

Again, I’m a Libertarian, these issues get kind of thorny with me. Do I WANT the government to do this? No I don’t; however we have constructed a government that CAN do this, both legally, and technically. I disagree with it, I’d like the laws changed; I’d even like to see a constitutional guarantee to certain privacy beyond that which I outline here; but it simply doesnt exist now (nor likely ever will).

As to a so called right to privacy; no there is no right to privacy if you mean that all others must repsect YOUR privacy and not use the means they have available to abrogate it. That so called right simply does not exist.

A right is something that can only be abrogated by force, or willful consent. Privacy of your telephone calling records need not be forced, nor does it need your consent to be abrogated; because it is already shared with a third party; the telephone company.

That said, we have the right to HIDE anything we want (presuming we control that thing legitimately), from whomever we want, for whatever reason, using whatever means we choose. It is others responsibiltiy to find it if they want to. This includes criminal evidence; and it includes lying to investigators and law enforcement (though not in court providing one swears the oath).

Additionally and related to that, we have the right to not be COMPELLED to share information we do not wish to share; assuming we hold that information alone, or in concert with other parties who also agree to keep that information private. However if there is a party to the information who does not agree, than if we continue to share information with that party, we no longer have any legitimate expectation of privacy.

Privacy is not an inherent right, it is a social construct. It is a useful, and important construct; but the only privacy we have an absolute right to is the privacy of private property; and whatever occurs entirely therein.

The problem is that peoples understanding and expection of privacy doesn’t keep pace with either their understanding and expectations of technology; or their general acceptance of technologies.

The only reason this is coming to light NOW (in the general sense – in the specific sense its so the press can use it against Bush), is because now the technical means exist for governments, and businesses, to collect and analyze this data on a global scale. That makes EVERYONE feel like they are being watched. People were fine with it when they could only track and analyze a few data streams at a time, but now they can track and analyze everyone, they feel naked, violated.

You may feel in your gut that your rights are being violated, but you never had this LEGAL right you feel you had in the first place. You had a de-facto illusion of privacy, simply because people weren’t able to do this yet.

Now they are, and your illusion of privacy no longer exists.

UPDATE: Some commenters questioned my accuracy on the law, so I included more detail. I also inserted clarification of my personal moral position on the issue. Oh and if you want privacy, here are Six-ish words: Encrypted IP Telephony, Pre-paid Mobile Phone.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Does Microsoft Violate Your Rights ?

In the course of our exchanges yesterday about markets, monopoly, and morality, Eric made this comment on the impact that scarcity and monopoly power have on individual liberty:

Monopolies do impact Life, Liberty and Property. Specifically liberty and property. You argue that you can always choose not to buy from Microsoft. I argue that you no longer have that choice. And that PC’s are such an integral part of US culture and economy that it is impacting your Liberty. Monopolies never price things in response to market demand (i.e. scarcity) because the monopoly now controls scarcity. The monopoly artificially manipulates scarcity to increase their profit. Since money is a representation of wealth and property, it seems clear to me that artificial scarcity leads to an infringement on my property. If I have a choice, then you trying to maximize your profits doesn’t do that. If I don’t have a choice, it does.

This leads to what I think is an important question for those of us who believe in the free market; when talking about third party conduct as oppposed to state action, what exactly constitutes a violation of my rights ?

On the surface, this seems like a pretty simple question. If someone steals my property, they’ve violated my property rights. If they imprision me against my will and without authority, they have violated my right to my liberty. If they kill me, they’ve violated my right to live. Often, whether these actions constitute a crime, or determining what kind of crime they comprise may depend upon whether the act was intentional or accidental, but for the purpose of determining if a rights violation has occurred, it doesn’t matter if you intended to violate my rights or not.

So, does a monopoly or dominant market player violate my rights due to the fact that it has, allegedly, cut off competition and created scarcity that would not exist if competition had been allowed to play itself out ? I think the answer is clearly no.

If a corporation seeking to maximize its profits constitutes a violation of individual liberty, then doesn’t that mean that the entire capitalist system is one big violation of human rights? If Microsoft violates individual liberty by creating artificial scarcity in the market for PC operating systems, then can’t the same thing be said of Apple, which has retained exclusive control over the operating system for Macs ?

The existence of a company that sells something people want is the definition of capitalism. Unless you’re asserting that we all have a right to whatever products we want at the price we choose, then I think its stretching the definition of individual liberty to contend that my rights are violated because Microsoft charges “too much” for Windows or Office.

Corporations can violate individual liberty as easily as individuals can, but if all they are doing is selling a product that people want and trying to maximize their profits (which is, after all, what they are supposed to be doing), then the fact that they aren’t selling it on terms that we would prefer does not constitute a violation of anyone’s rights.

Markets and Morality

Eric, Brad and I have been having quite a lively exchange (see here and here and here) over the issue of monopolies, the market economy, and morality.

While we’ve covered several topics, one that keeps recurring is the question of whether it is appropriate to think in terms of “right” and “wrong” when it comes to evaluating the outcome of the operating of a free market economy. As I’ve said in the comments to all three of these posts, I think the answer to that question is no.

As Mises and Hayek taught us, the free market is, in reality, nothing more than a reflection of the decisions made on a daily basis by untold numbers of consumers and business people reacting to factors ranging from price to taste to whatever happens to be in fashion or popular at a given point in time. As such, I think its entirely mistaken to speak of market outcomes in terms of whether they are “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, they just *are*. They are not moral judgments, they don’t reflect artistic merit (the fact that Britney Spears outsells Diana Krall doesn’t mean she’s more talented), and they don’t necessarily mean that one product is objectively suprior to another (because sometimes an obviously inferior product ends up beating superior competitors in the marketplace). Assuming that they either can or do reflect any of these things leads inevitably to the idea that its possible for one person or group to know better than consumers and that something must be done to fix the “wrong” choices that consumers make.

Much of our discussion today has centered around Microsoft and its allegedly negative impact on the market for operating systems. But do we really know this to be true ? It would be impossible for any one of us to second guess the market bercause there isn’t any way we can know that things would be better if Microsoft had “played fair” (although I don’t concede the argument that they’ve done anything inherently unfair). A market economy is made up of hundreds of millions of players, each of whom acts based on the information available to them. To say that one person, or group of people, knows better than the people who make up the economy is to adopt the same premises as the central planners. The reason that the free market economy works, though, is because it recognizes that no single person or group can know enough to control the economy in any rational sense.

Personally, I have no idea if we’d all be better off if Microsoft wasn’t the dominant player in the OS market. While there might be more choices, a large number of choices could arguably have impeded the adoption of the PC as a mass market commodity. Furthermore, there are alot of reasons to believe that if Windows didn’t exist, someone would have to create it, or at least some kind of standard operating system that vendors, consumers, and software writers could work with. Imagine what the auto industry would be like if every manufacturer’s cars needed fundamentally different types of fuel. The likelihood that anyone of them would acheive “critical mass” is unlikely, unless one of them came to dominate the others for some reason or another and became the de facto standard. That’s precisely what happened in the OS market.

Responding to a Reader

Stephen, of On Beyond left a comment for me on Elitists and a Society of Fear over on Eric’s Grumbles. In the comments on that post, Stephen holds forth with a few things that I don’t agree with, so I responded with my own comment. I decided that my comment really deserved to be a post of its own, given the length and set of thoughts. But, since I’m now transitioning this sort of writing pretty well entirely to The Liberty Papers, I posted it here. Enjoy. Discuss. Take issue. What have you.


Stephen, pointing out that there is a lack of evidence for someone’s pet theory is not political. It is, actually, an important component of the scientific method. It is perfectly valid to say that global warming is not established fact due to the inconclusive and contradictory evidence. Calling such a position political is an act of politics that plays right into the hands of those who wish to use “global warming” for their own purposes.

Your argument about why there should be intrusive government action taken is part and parcel of the precautionary principle. Check out the link in the main post. The primary problem with this principle is that it is logically inconsistent. The second problem with it is that it creates a stasis, a fear of change, because change might be bad. The worst thing about Kyoto is that it dooms billions of people to poverty and privation permanently. The reality of human society is that change is part and parcel of it. Humans are dynamic. If you try to lock them into an unchanging environment for “their own good” forces far beyond your control will undo your every effort.

I’m always amused when people deny that the media, including newspapers, television, magazines, Hollywood, musical artists, etc. don’t have power. Information is power. The ability to put information in front of people is power. The media, as a group, has an immense amount of power and money both. In fact, Sony, AOL, Comcast, Oprah, Susan Sarandon, NYT, People, and on and on, have at least as much liquid capital as companies like Chevron and GM. Potentially, since many Hollywood artists are worth tens of millions, or more, and under no obligation to share holders to turn a profit, they have more money. And, since they get invited into our living rooms, car stereos, etc. every single day, they wield immense influence. Couple that with lawyers who stand to make enormous amounts of money (and already have) through environmental legislation and litigation. How many lawyers make enormous amounts of money from environmental impact statements every single day? How many lawyers are involved in lobbying to increase environmental regulation and legislation? Why is that? Why is it that the advent of the media and politicians taking environmental issues really seriously coincides almost perfectly with the fall of the Berlin Wall?

By the way, there’s some interesting science to suggest that global warming and increasing CO2 is good, not bad. Consider that the Earth was actually in a minor ice age until the early 19th century. Evidence, almost universally ignored by the mainstream, indicates that emerging from that minor ice age has led to increased agricultural productivity, among other things. Increases in CO2 improves plant growth. Further, the earth has been in a constant state of change since the very beginning of the planet. The reality is that the planet and the various ecologies found on it have changed dramatically over the past 20,000 years, some “natural” and some caused by humans. I’m not sure I understand how humans creating change is not “natural” but beavers causing change is, but that discussion could fill a whole bunch of posts all by itself.

As someone with a background in engineering, which includes substantial training in the scientific method, I have to seriously question investigation and research funded by organizations with serious investment in certain outcomes. I have to question whether evidence is being suppressed when major scientific journals receive funding, through advertising and donations, from those same organizations and when scientists and engineers report that papers casting doubt on the desired outcomes are suppressed. I would argue that your friend is not getting all of the data because the data is being suppressed.

Now, suppose you were Chevron, and your primary source of revenue was being attacked. Would you fund research to find out the validity of the arguments made against you? Yes, you would. Would that be suspect due to conflict of interest? Of course. So, why isn’t the research funded by environmental organizations suspect due to the conflict of interest? The majority of the research being published right now is funded by environmental organizations and the Federal government. Now, interestingly, environmental organizations have three primary sources of funding: Hollywood, the government, and the fossil fuel industry. One has to ask who has less conflict of interest. The oil industry, which is funding all sides of the research, or the environmental organizations, which are not? Just a question to ask yourself. Another question to ask yourself is why the “reputable trade publications” will publish research favorable to the theory of global warming, but not research unfavorable to it?

On your last point, the primary difference between what Crichton (and I) have to say on this topic and what the folks who believe vehemently in global warming has to say is that we are saying that global warming has too many contradictions to accept as proven. We aren’t saying it isn’t happening, or is happening. I would like to see a truly concerted effort made to understand this without the pre-determined outcomes. If you think that can happen with government funding, I would suggest looking at the history of government science, which is not good.

Finally, I don’t choose my science based on my preference for the implications and thus I have no need to be gentle in my judgement of the censorship and suppression of science by religion, whether historically, or occurring today. I don’t like the implications of research into solar and wind generated power (it can’t meet our needs and will be far more expensive than fossil fuel and nuclear power), but I don’t reject it because I don’t like it.

There is a huge difference between my position, which is that the evidence is inconclusive, contradictory and biased and the position you appear to be taking. I should also point out that one of the pluses to true scientific investigation is that any other person with reasonable intelligence, who is willing to invest the time and effort, can recreate the investigation done by someone else and draw conclusions based on that without having to take what someone tells them on faith. When you are being asked to take something on faith (which much of current global warming theory is asking you to do), then it isn’t science.

Finally, the issue of technology and your bank analogy. A bank will lend me a million dollars when I walk through the door if I have a track record that shows I can pay it back. So, is there a track record for science, technology and engineering? There absolutely is. Not only has it kept pace with the population growth of the planet, it has surged far ahead. All humans, in every quarter of the planet, are far better off, by any tangible standard, than they were in 1800. There is less disease, less starvation, fewer childhood diseases, more food, better housing, more leisure time. Every single disaster predicted by doomsayers over the past centuries has been negated by the advance of science and technology. That’s a pretty good track record. If you showed up in my bank with a record of paying off million dollar loans every time one was made, and doing it early, I’d be inclined to lend you a million dollars, knowing full well I was going to make a profit on you. When a claim is made that technology and science can solve these issues, based on the track record, I agree and I’m willing to make the loan.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball
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