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The Counter Spy Act – Coming Soon to Do Nothing Near You

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Five years after CAN-SPAM did nothing to prevent Internet spam, Congress is ready to consider a similarly useful anti-spyware act.
the CSA states that it's illegal to steal someone's personal identification information off of their computer either via direct physical access or through a third-party program. It should be noted, however, that all of these things are already illegal under federal and state law

I just quoted since I couldn't have said this better myself. Original article here. In the end, this ACT seems that it will only legalize spyware just as it's predecessor legalized SPAM. Thanks congress!

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Extra, Extra! Congress AND Bush Did Something Right

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It's amazing and I promise it's no joke, but both congress AND Bush did something right by drafting, passing, and then signing into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Some provisions of the law include:

- Prohibiting group health insurance plans and issuers offering coverage on the group or individual market from basing eligibility determinations or adjusting premiums or contributions on the basis of an individual's genetic information. Insurance companies cannot request, require or purchase the results of genetic tests, and they are prohibited from disclosing personal genetic information. - Prohibiting issuers of Medigap policies from adjusting pricing or conditioning eligibility on the basis of genetic information. They cannot request, require or purchase the results of genetic tests, or disclose genetic information. - Prohibiting employers from firing, refusing to hire, or otherwise discriminating with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment. Employers may not request, require or purchase genetic information, and they are also prohibited from disclosing personal genetic information. Similar provisions apply to employment agencies and labor organizations.
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TSA at the CFP Conference

(Image is in the Public Domain)

I ended up sitting next to Peter Pietra, the head of the privacy department at the TSA. This gave me an interesting opportunity to talk about issues of privacy when dealing with their agency and the first thing I asked was about the pornographic backscatter x-ray devices.

He was clearly frustrated (and I don't blame him) as I'm sure this is a topic that assaults him regularly. The issue is that backscatter CAN see through your clothes, but the TSA orders the devices preconfigured at a level that prevents them from seeing pictures such as these one on the Internet. They are also unable to modify the configuration. In fact what they actually see, as shown on their site, is smeared blob that highlights objects, but not skin.

The issue that I have here is that if the TSA's claims of how they use the technology are true, then what the hell was all the hype about?

Images will be deleted immediately once viewed and will never be stored, transmitted or printed (the passenger imaging units have zero storage capability) Metallic and non-metallic objects are displayed, including all items that a passenger may be carrying on his/her person

Also, according to the website, you can always choose to have a pat-down instead.

I asked Peter about this because it seems to me most people aren't going to know to go to the website and read about Backscatter before being faced with it at an airport, but he said that the sample picture on the web is printed right on the machine and people are supposed to be shown the picture and told of the option for pat down prior to being scanned.

Final Thoughts

I notice that the picture on the TSA site is from behind so probably doesn't fairly show how much frontal detail they would see so for full disclosure, they should show a frontal picture. However, I can understand why someone wouldn't want to show what amounts to nudity on these machines for propriety reasons and don't necessarily consider that evasive.

What more can you ask for than clear disclosure and a reasonable choice? Granted the technology can be used for worse things, but the devices is about as small and conspicuous as a casket so you'll never be scanned without your knowledge. If they are configured correctly, store nothing, and you can opt for a pat down, then perhaps some have been too harsh on both the technology and the agency.

Speaking of, EPIC's article that led me to write about backscatter in the first place unfairly show the capabilities of backscatter ignoring the actual use of the technology by the TSA. I'm sure there's someone from EPIC around the conference somewhere and I'll be sure to ask them about it.

What TSA Sees
What EPIC Shows
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Congress About to Do Something Smart! Gasp!

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There's a bill winding it's way through the muck in the capitol building. If this bill becomes law, it would preemptively prevent DNA-based discrimination, get this: before it becomes a problem. In the past, congress has been reluctant to pass laws that would prevent a problem before it gets out of control because they lack foresight or because their pockets were so full of cash that they couldn't concentrate on upholding the rights of the little people.

GINA would make it illegal for health insurers to raise premiums or deny coverage based on genetic information, and would prohibit employers from using such information for decisions on hiring, firing, promotions or job assignments.
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FBI Director Evades Questions From Congress On FBI Torture

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I got this e-mail from a member of congress who I must have contacted at some point because I'm on his mailing list. Anyway, I think the point that he makes is valid. By the own words of the director of the FBI, if the CIA were torturing prisoners, the FBI would have a responsibility to investigate, but they didn't. Congressman Wexler pressured him to answer why and he evaded it.

Here's the email:

This morning, during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, I questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller on his agency's response to claims – made by his own FBI agents – that the CIA was torturing prisoners. I wanted to find out why, if the FBI's own agents had alleged illegal actions were taking place, there was no investigation into the CIA's illegal and immoral practices.

Mueller's responses, which I would like you to read below, create new concerns and call for further investigation in the days ahead.

I believe Mr. Mueller owes more to Congress and the American people than the half-answers he gave in his testimony today.

I would urge you to contact the editors and news departments of your local media and ask them to look into the responses below. It is critical that this discussion takes place beyond emails and blogs – and is covered by the mainstream media.

In two weeks the Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings to investigate the fact that the highest levels of the Bush Administration sanctioned and ordered the torture of prisoners in United States custody. This is intolerable and we must vigorously oppose this policy that demeans our nation and offends our conscience.

Please read the below transcript of my exchange with Mr. Muller.

This is a deeply troubling interchange which should be alarming to all Americans.

Congressman Robert Wexler




Robert Wexler: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, in January of 2006, the New York Times reported that the NSA wireless wiretapping program had produced thousands of leads each month that the FBI had to track down, but that no Al-Qaeda networks were discovered. During a July 17, 2007 briefing, FBI deputy director John Pistole indicated that the FBI was not aware of any Al-Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States. In August of 2007 Congress passed the Protect America Act, giving the intelligence community greater access to electronic communications coming into and out of the United States. I have two questions in this regard.

RW: Has the FBI found any sleeper cells yet? One…

RW: Two. Has the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programs either before the Protect America Act or after led to the prosecution and conviction of any terrorists in the United States?

Robert Mueller: Well, as to your first question as to whether we have found affiliates or, as you would call them, cells of Al-Qaeda in the United States, yes we have. Again, I cannot get into it in public session, but I would say yes we have. With regard to the relationship of a particular case or individual to the terrorist surveillance program, again that is something that would have to be covered in a closed session.

RW: Alright, Mr. Director. An LA Times article from October, 2007 quotes one senior federal enforcement official as saying quote “the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved ? end quote. The article goes on to say that some FBI officials went to you and that you quote “pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the investigations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy ? end quote.

RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?

RM: I can go so far sir as to tell you that a protocol in the FBI is not to use coercion in any of our interrogations or our questioning and we have abided by our protocol.

RW: I appreciate that. What is the protocol say when the FBI knows that the CIA is engaging or the Department of Defense is engaging in an illegal technique? What does the protocol say in that circumstance?

RM: We would bring it up to appropriate authorities and determine whether the techniques were legal or illegal.

RW: Did you bring it up to appropriate authorities?

RM: All I can tell you is that we followed our own protocols.

RW: So you can’t tell us whether you brought it; when your own FBI agents came to you and said the CIA is doing something illegal which caused you to say don’t you get involved; you can’t tell us whether you then went to whatever authority?

RM: I’ll tell you we followed our own protocols.

RW: And what was the result?

RM: We followed our own protocols. We followed our protocols. We did not use coercion. We did not participate in any instance where coercion was used to my knowledge.

RW: Did the CIA use techniques that were illegal?

RM: I can’t comment on what has been done by another agency and under what authorities the other agency may have taken actions.

RW: Why can’t you comment on the actions of another agency?

RM: I leave that up to the other agency to answer questions with regard to the actions taken by that agency and the legal authorities that may apply to them.

RW: Are you the chief legal law enforcement agency in the United States?

RM: I am the Director of the FBI.

RW: And you do not have authority with respect to any other governmental agency in the United States? Is that what you’re saying?

RM: My authority is given to me to investigate. Yes we do.

RW: Did somebody take away that authority with respect to the CIA?

RM: Nobody has taken away the authority. I can tell you what our protocol was, and how we followed that protocol.

RW: Did anybody take away the authority with respect to the Department of Defense?

RM: I’m not certain what you mean.

RW: Your authority to investigate an illegal torture technique.

RM: There has to be a legal basis for us to investigate, and generally that legal basis is given to us by the Department of Justice. Any interpretations of the laws given to us by the Department of Justice…. (talking over each other)

RW: But apparently your own agents made a determination that the actions by the CIA and the Department of Defense were illegal, so much so that you authorized, ordered, your agents not to participate. But that’s it.

RM: I’ve told you what our protocol was, and I’ve indicated that we’ve adhered to our protocol throughout.

RW: My time is up. Thank you very much Mr. Director.

Could we get a little accountability over here?! Please?

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Credit Card Companies Swing Low to Stop Testimony

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Four people who had flown to DC to share their stories of credit woe with the congress members who are involved in the credit card bill of rights were deflected by a mandate by the committee that they must release their full financial history to the public (not just to the people involved in the committee, but the PUBLIC) before they could testify.

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Cyberbullying Law on the Horizon?

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Congress sticks their noses into a lot of things they shouldn't and not where they should. They are corrupt, inept, and won't do much to protect Americans unless it will make a positive affect on their careers or bank accounts.

Now they're looking at cyberbullying and it's hard to say if that's a good thing or not. Given their history, chances are that it's not.

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FTC Continues to Be Useless

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According to their annual report to congress, the Federal Trade Commission recieved over 69,000 complaints that debt collectors were violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the law that prevents them from harassing you or using dirty tactics to try and get you to pay a debt). In response, the FTC filed against 3 debt collectors.

Thanks FTC!

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Internet Blogs Partly to Credit For Blocking Bad Wiretap Law

Blogging power
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Well good. Let's hear it for the bloggers!

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White House Illegally Deleted Over 10 Million E-mails

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Over 10 Million e-mails were deleted during historically important time periods (also periods where corruption and incompetence have been alleged). How convenient that they're "missing".

Either way, count another law broken by the Bush administration.

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