Posts tagged ‘eff’

Late, but not yet out-of-date, news

I need to stop editing this and post it before it becomes out of date again.

Finally, after seven years, it appears that some of the democrats may have grown a spine. Congress has been fighting over surveillance bills concerning wiretapping and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. Although everyone in Congress unfortunately seems to think that warrantless wiretaps are a good idea, the main battle is currently over whether the telephone companies should be granted retroactive immunity for allowing such warrantless wiretaps back when it was illegal according to Federal law. You may recall that the Protect America Act of 2007 allowed the government to wiretap phones without court oversight, but it was set to expire in February 2008. Congress recently spent a lot of effort trying to renew it, but the retroactive immunity has become a sticking point. Bush and his cronies say that without it, the telecoms will be afraid to help the government with this stuff in the future (never mind the fact that if they just got the FISA court to review it, it’s very easy to get a warrant and then the telecoms are happy to comply). Consequently, the Senate passed a version of the bill that granted retroactive immunity to the telecoms (note that Obama voted against the immunity, while McCain voted for it and Clinton didn’t bother to show up; all three have claimed they were against such things when asked about it in the past). The House of Representatives, however, passed a copy of the bill that did not grant immunity. The two bills went to reconciliation (where they’re merged into one law that goes back to both groups again), and the version decided upon included the immunity. However, again the House did not pass the bill. In response, Republicans staged a walk-out in protest. Consequently, no bill was sent to Bush to be signed, and the PAA expired! We’re back to the (mostly sane) wiretapping rules described under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. I earnestly, desperately hope that the Democrats continue to hold strong, and I have written to my Representative to say this (he wrote back with a canned response about how he intends to fight this, but that doesn’t actually mean he’ll carry through). We’ll see.

In the meantime, bastions of freedom and privacy such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation continue to fight against the telephone companies that violated Federal law and our privacy. Sadly, the Supreme Court threw out the ACLU’s case with absolutely no comment about why they did that (a lower court had ruled that they can’t prove they were the victem of the warrantless wiretaps, because the evidence that shows they were was deemed to be a state secret and consequently thrown out of the case). However, I believe the EFF cases are still going through the legal process. This is a tough thing for the Supreme Court to tackle: if they rule in favor of the wiretaps, they significantly weaken the fourth amendment (see Berger v. New York, 1967). However, if the court makes warrantless wiretapping illegal, all hell breaks loose because the Bush administration has been conducting an unconstitutional program for years (and all hell breaking loose is not conducive to orderly government).

We’ll see what happens. If the past few years are any prediction, the Democrats are just going to roll over and grant the retroactive immunity, but I really, really hope this won’t transpire.

Defcon review

This weekend I went to Defcon 0xF with psifer and inferno0069, and it was a blast.

  • I stopped at Arby’s for lunch on the way there. I wanted two roast beef sandwiches and a small fries, the total of which came to $7.63. I then looked at their menu, and saw they still do the “5 items for $5.95” thing. So I canceled my original order and instead got two roast beef sandwiches with cheese, a medium fries, potato cakes, and a small shake. My new total: a mere $6.44. I ate about half this food, and threw the rest out. This doesn’t seem like a good business model to me, since I’m giving them less money and taking more of their food (half of which was wasted).
  • On the way there, I passed the exit for Zzyzx Road. I also drove past signs for Death Valley, which was kinda cool.
  • In order to raise money to help combat AIDS in Africa, the Hacker Foundation was selling red T-shirts which said

    on the front. I wanted to get one, but they were already sold out of my size. Another shirt was too nerdy even for me: it read “chown -R us ./base” Dorks!

  • I became a member of the EFF! They had a wonderful panel that covered all kinds of things they’re doing. Unfortunately, this weekend a new law was passed that makes warrantless wiretapping legal, which is something the EFF has been fighting since 2005. I’m not sure how this will fit in with a ruling last year that said that warrantless wiretapping is unconstitutional, but this is certainly a dark day for freedom.
  • I watched macdaddyfrosh, mtbg, and magicpacket valiantly lose at Hacker Jeopardy. but I won a T-shirt from Hack A Day.
  • Mike Andrews was there incognito, but I recognized him and talked to him for a bit. He might come to give a talk at my office at some point.
  • I entered the lockpicking contest and picked 15 of the easier locks (so I finished the contest in the middle of the pack with 71 out of ≈300 points). I’m pretty proud of myself, since I had never picked a lock with “real” tools before the con (though I have raked Masterlocks with a safety pin and street sweeper bristle).
  • Bruce Schneier held a Q&A session! That’s right: Bruce “I am a security fucking god” Schneier. [1] It was as amazing as I had hoped. That guy is so cool. I should point out that his blog has an RSS feed on LiveJournal, to which you can subscribe.
  • There were several talks this year discussing the influence the hacker community has on mainstream perception of stuff, which was pretty cool. Besides the annual “internet wars overview,” there was a talk which reviewed the recent cyberwar waged against Estonia by the Russian mob. DarkTangent himself (creater of both Defcon and the Black Hat security conventions) gave his account of the infamous Ciscogate scandal. Jennifer Granick (author of that article) also gave a talk about legal case studies; she is leaving her work at Stanford next month to join the EFF. There was also a talk about the effect that the locksport community has had on improving lock mechanisms.
  • There were so many amazing talks, I’m not going to discuss them all. but here’s a list of some of the cooler topics that were discussed: encrypted VoiP clients, timing attacks for botnets, digital forensics, social engineering and NLP, stopping jerks online, the basics of hardware hacking, and XSS in social networks.
  • Michelle Madigan was found to be an undercover reporter (link includes video of the incident) with a secret camera. She was outed from the conference. I wasn’t there when she was caught, but I did hear about it later that day. Press at Defcon are fine when they wear their press badges, but Michelle was apparently trying to covertly get anyone at the con to admit to a felony on her secret camera so she could do a shock report on the horrible, criminal hackers at the con (I don’t think there were many criminals there, but some reporters seem to have a penchant for fabricating stories/threats to get ratings).
  • I saw an OLPC XO-1 (more information on Wikipedia). It’s smaller than I expected, but the keyboard is child-sized, which makes sense. The screen is very readable (but very small). The touchpad/stylus area is pleasantly large, though.

[1] Yes, he’s so awesome that even his tmesis gets tmesis. [2]
[2] I admit, I’ve been looking for an excuse to use the word “tmesis” for a while now.

Retroactive Pardon for the Telecoms?

As tech/legal blog Ars Technica reports, it seems that the Bush administration is trying to retroactively pardon the telecoms for violating the privacy and Fourth Amendment rights of their customers. Remember back in 2005 when it was revealed that the NSA uses warrantless wiretaps of most phone lines? Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, bastion of freedom that they are, continue to battle AT&T and the government over it. They have fought past the State Secrets issues, and have continued to advocate for the privacy of US citizens.

Well, now it seems that there is an appropriations request sent to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that would retroactively pardon the telecoms of all wrongdoing concerning the warrantless wiretaps. If passed, it will kill the EFF’s case dead in its tracks. I strongly suspect that if Congress read this legislation it would not pass, but it’s been pretty well established at this point that very few lawmakers actually read the legislation they vote on. As always, you can write to your Congresspeople about the issue (though the default text in that link is only about the warrantless wiretaps in general, not this latest development). We’ll see what happens…

Different news

Things are at least beginning to change a little in American politics. The Democrats, since taking over the legislative branch of the government earlier this month, have already started passing ethics legislation to try to curb the problems Washington has been having with lobbyists. This is part of their larger plan to make changes now that they’re in power. We’ll see how far these measures actually go, but it’s at least a start. In particular, I hope they actually create an independent investigative group for ethics violations; it seems like many ethics problems in Congress get brushed aside because the people involved are also the ones in charge of policing such actions. Time will tell.

As part of rethinking the Iraq policy, President Bush has begun rearranging the military staff, and is considering sending in 30,000 more troops to the country. I don’t think adding in more troops is a good move; I imagine it would be more demoralizing for Iraqi civilians and give the insurgents hope because they were able to thwart the 140,000 US troops already over there. However, from what I’ve heard from Anderson Cooper’s interviews of soldiers in Iraq, they really need more troops, or else the country will never get out of its current troubles. I’m becoming more and more convinced that there is no way to get Iraq into a better situation in the foreseeable future, and the “best” thing for everyone might just be to pull out and let it sink into civil war for a couple years. I know it sounds heavy-handed, but I still haven’t heard of a strategy that doesn’t eventually degenerate into that anyway.

On a related note, the US death toll in Iraq broke 3,000 over New Years. I realize it’s not much compared to the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed (or the conflict in Darfur, or the Falun Gong persecution in China, etc), but it’s still worth noting.

A bit of a rant: the LA Time’s article that I linked to discusses “next week’s announcement next week” that President Bush is expected to give. Don’t they have editors for these articles? They could at least have someone give a quick once-over to these things. Bah.

The United Nations voted to impose sactions against Iran regarding its nuclear programme, and President Ahmadinejad has (I believe rightly) called these sanctions illegitimate, citing the right of all countries, according to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970, to develop peaceful nuclear energy programmes. and as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter describes in his book Target Iran, the current weapons inspectors in Iran right now can find absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. So, here’s what we’ve got from Iran at the moment: peaceful nuclear development, denial of the Holocaust, vows to destroy Israel, rejection of every trading package which would supply them with nuclear energy without developing it on their own (including Russia’s very generous offer), and now correctly calling the UN on their misguided sanctions. What on earth are they trying to accomplish? They have all the drawbacks of a real programme and an empty threat, without any of the advantages of either one. Any insight would be appreciated.

It seems that AT&T has given up on their anti-net neutrality stance, though I suspect the issue will flare up again in a year or so. Since the last time I discussed it, I have been convinced that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a really good stance on the issue: neither “side” on the issue is particularly meritorious (getting rid of net neutrality is obviously a bad thing, but getting the US government to examine and regulate most of the world’s internet traffic is a privacy problem waiting to happen). I don’t have a good solution to this yet, but I’ll keep watching the issue.

There has been a bunch of other news since I last posted, but this is starting to get pretty long. The condensed version: Saddam Hussein was executed, Bangkok experienced a series of explosions New Years Eve which injured/killed surprisingly few people, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is wanking that his $200,000 salary isn’t enough money, and Microsoft gave nice laptops to some bloggers hoping they would post good stuff about the company, but instead has received a backlash from other bloggers (who I think are mainly jealous that they didn’t get one). Right… I think that’s all the news for now.

Support the EFF!

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a small group of lawyers and techies who are sort of like the ACLU, but only for technology-type stuff. Because the EFF is so small, they don’t have the resources to take on every case that comes along the way the ACLU does. Consquently, they wait for the perfect case, and then kick ass. The EFF was behind the class action lawsuit over Sony BMG’s rootkits (I don’t think I ever posted the resolution of that, but the EFF won and if you bought one of these CDs, you can get some money and a way to remove them from your machine and stuff). The EFF was behind the landmark case about the broadcast flag that finally gave you the right to record what you want on your TiVo or VCR (again). They were the ones who got the electronic voting company Diebold kicked out of North Carolina for their unethical business practices and intentional security problems. The EFF are all-around awesome people!

Anyways, they’re now battling AT&T over the warrantless wiretapping thing (the ACLU is also suing AT&T, but the two cases are, at least for now, separate). At DEFCON, I got to see a panel of 5 EFF people discuss this case with the audience. AT&T has been completely assy about every point, arguing ludicrous things, such as the claim that the address of their main datacenter is a trade secret (despite the fact that it’s registered with the city of San Francisco and is in the phone book). Time after time, the judge has come down on the EFF’s side. The EFF has even managed to work around the State Secrets issues that right-wing pundits expected would bring the entire trial to a standstill (the EFF’s arguments here were amazingly clever. Post a comment if you’re interested in hearing more). Earlier this week, the judge in the ACLU’s suit ruled that AT&T must stop their practices, though they plan to appeal this to the 9th circuit court of appeals (though knowing the 9th circuit, the decision should stand). The EFF’s judge has already made a similar ruling, and by now should have decided whether AT&T can continue the wiretapping while they appeal (though I don’t know the outcome of that edit: they can continue re-edit: that was for the ACLU case. I still don’t know what happened to the motion to stay in the EFF case). As usual, Fox “News” is using intimidation and straw-man arguments to say that the ruling is the work of a foolish, activist, outsider judge. The Washington Post is taking a more reasonable, moderate stance.

In the meantime, there’s a scary bill looming on the horizon. This bill, if passed into law, would specifically legalize warrantless wiretapping, thereby stripping away all congressional oversight. Personally, I feel this is ridiculous, because FISA (the secret court that is supposed to oversee wiretaps) has never once in its entire 30-year history turned down a wiretap application. Moreover, the Arlen-Cheney bill would move the ACLU’s and EFF’s legal battles from the normal courts over to FISA, where no one would ever be able to find out what occurred or why. If you want to keep your Fourth Amendment rights and not have a chilling effect set over all of America, please, please call or write to your Congresspeople (note that that link is secure and any data you put in that form will be encrypted; yet another good thing the EFF does).

A couple minor points about the EFF: EFF’s stance on net neutrality →