Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dickie's Quickies

Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin reports on a DoJ request of millions of search records from Google. At this time Google is fighting the order to turn over the records. They are casting a wide net on a fishing expedition in order to defend the Child Online Protection Act in the Supreme Court. I've wondered for a while now about how people who use search engines - online and on their desktops - might eventually be ensnared in legal problems. I'm not referring just to child pornography either. This could easily encompass other forms of pornography that the government declares unhealthy. It could include fraud schemes. It could include sharing corporate data. It could include whistle blowers. And it most definitely will include errors by law enforcement regarding all of the above and more. With desktop search programs such as Google's desktop, logging data on everything you see on your screen (including web pages, emails, etc), the user potentially opens themselves up to a range of legal actions.

And, hey, the user might be caught up into something even if she is not the one whose PC is searched originally. Say, for instance, that a friend was mentioning something about you in email or chat and their PC had Copernicus loaded on it? Say now that said friend, for some reason unrelated to you, had their PC seized and searched and that law enforcement came across some note about you smoking a joint at a show a year ago. Guess what? You're now under potential suspicion. Imagine what an enemy might do with this knowledge. This potential isn't too far fetched in America today. I'm a fan of a band called Muslimgauze and a member of the fan list - Islamaphobia. What if my PC were searched by a well meaning, but ignorant law enforcement person, I had Google Desktop, and in an email I sent I happened to even joke with a friend about getting wasted? The problem is that the law has not sufficiently dealt with this and other privacy issues. Said issues are bound to come up time and again in the coming years for both technological reasons and paranoia ones.

The NY Times reports that the Congressional Research Service is questioning the legality of the Bush Administration's briefings to only select members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. In fact, the CRS report declares the briefings to be illegal. It says that the briefings should have been held with the full membership of both committees present This all hinges of the definition of "covert action" as supplied in the National Security Act of 1947 (talk about a law needing updating!). The administration will claim that spying by the NSA on Americans was covert action while the CRS contends that is not the case.

I realize the administration likely either lied or did not fully disclose the extent and nature of the spying to members of these committees. Still, I wonder, where was the outrage, the demands for oversight, and other concerns, let alone the bravery to reveal to the American public - whistle blower style - from those Congress people privy to this month's ago? Why are they reacting this way now? Easy - because they got caught. The cover was blown on this by the NY Times, who was equally neglectful in delaying the report and only now has mustered some righteous indignation by their editorial staff. If certain Congressional leaders (Pelosi and Reid come to mind) thought that this was so horrible, why didn't they beat the Times to the punch? Maybe the Washington Post would have been more amenable to publishing the story despite Administration protests? Cowards.

Finally, I've been musing about this for several months: who is going to release the first notebook PC that relies on Flash drives instead of convention hard drives? Flash drives would use less power, be lighter, and be less worrisome about failure. Envision several flash drives acting as a single drive (or a "large" flash drive) in a notebook. Heck, it could be a total of 16 or 20 GB large - just enough to run the operating system. Other programs would then be stored on other flash drives that the user plugs in as needed. Finally, the user would store data on either other flash drives or an external hard drive. Granted, many programs may need to be re-written to function in this medium, but doesn't it seem like a way forward? Lower cost for hardward. Lower maintenance. Lower power consumption. Who is going to address this? Oh, and yea - be extra cool and use an LED keyboard.

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