Archive for the ‘law, computers, and the environment’ Category

US Department of Justice opposes net neutrality

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Why is the US Department of Justice involved with this?

The US Justice Department has said that internet service providers should be allowed to charge for priority traffic.

The Justice Department said imposing net neutrality regulations could hinder development of the internet and prevent ISPs from upgrading networks.

I wonder if this is payback for telcoms’ willingness to allow the Justice Department to use them as a base for warrantless wiretapping?

There are any number of implications for the environment and the environmental movement. Lots of issues and groups could end up in the slower (or blocked?) tier two. Let’s see, support for climate change, research that links environmental toxins and cancer. Grassroots opposition to expansion of logging or road networks. I could fill the blog with environmental findings and advocacy that run counter to corporate interests.

If you think that being outside the US exempts you from the impacts of net ‘bigotry’ then consider that the majority of Internet traffic goes through the US.

soaking up a bit of wi-fi could be illegal

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

An Illinois county decides that piggybacking up on someone’s elses wi-fi is against the law.

David M. Kauchak, 32, pleaded guilty this week in Winnebago County to remotely accessing someone else’s computer system without permission, the Rockford Register Star newspaper reported. A Winnebago County judge fined Kauchak $250 and sentenced him to one year of court supervision.

I suspect that there are few war chalkers anymore. However, there may be lots of individuals who free ride on their neighbour’s Internet. I find this criminalization of Internet “entrepreneurialism” a bit creepy. Exactly what offense is this, sucking up radio waves? Aren’t we supposed to be cheering on innovative uses of the Internet as part of the new economy? Not to mention, this search for minor offenders takes away from looking for serious criminals.

This reminds me of the filmV for Vendetta. Will we have surveillance trucks patrolling our streets looking for the minor infractions? Call me paranoid (okay, I have been thinking about the movie too much), but what else can they listen for?

Your printer is ratting you out

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

It sounds like a conspiracy but it’s true. Your computer printer is conducting surveillance on you. Apparently some time ago, the US federal government convinced numerous manufacturers of colour laser printers to print nearly invisible markers on sheets of paper, which could be used to tie a printout to a specific printer. A series of faint yellow dots is printed on each sheet of paper that can be used akin to a serial number. It was originally designed to thwart conterfeiters using colour printers to print fake money or to forge documents.

Recently these dots have been drafted in the war on terror. In other words, mission creep has occurred. Technology designed for one purpose is being used for another purpose, in this case, in the expanded Patriot Act. So dots that once could catch conterfeiters now catches terrorists, or whatever activities governments determine to be terrorist. Considering that the FBI has already collected hundreds of documents on Greenpeace, the potential application of dots allows for ever better monitoring of non-violent environmental organizations. Since there are no laws preventing the use of dots and little oversight of the Patriot Act, these secret little dots are truly worrisome.

Check to see if you have one of these models of printers.

Environmental Groups Found a New Ally??

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Environmental groups in the U.S. have found a new ally in an unlikely place- the Evangelical groups that help form the base for conservative support of the republican party. As reported in the New York Times, the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that comprises a network of 30 million people across the U.S., is circulating a draft of a policy statement that is meant to encourage lawmakers to pass laws requiring reduction of carbon emissions. The association is motivated by biblical obligations that require humans to be good stewards over the earth. Environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are welcoming the support. Since the Evangelical group mainly support the Republican party, they could bring an entirely new sphere of influence into our current governmental regime.

Politics and the hockey stick

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

While we’re awaiting the decision to come out of the G8 summit on the issue of climate change, here’s the political dimension to the hockey stick controversy posted previously. It illustrates why this isn’t just a healthy debate between two groups of scientists but a case of harassment, the goal of which is likely the elimination of their federal research funds.

From Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science:

[US House of Representatives] Energy and Commerce Committee chair Joe Barton has sent a threatening letter [on June 23rd] to the heads of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Science Foundation, as well as to the three climate scientists who produced the original “hockey stick” study. Barton isn’t simply humoring questionable contrarian attacks on the “hockey stick” graph; he’s using his power as a member of Congress to intimidate the scientists involved in producing it.

You can read the actual letter here.

In what I would call, “death by a thousand forms”, this is what the head of the Congressional Committee is demanding:

  1. Your curriculum vitae, including, but not limited to, a list of all studies relating to climate change research for which you were an author or co-author and the source of funding for those studies.
  2. List all financial support you have received related to your research, including, but not limited to, all private, state, and federal assistance, grants, contracts (including subgrants or subcontracts), or other financial awards or honoraria.
  3. Regarding all such work involving federal grants or funding support under which you were a recipient of funding or principal investigator, provide all agreements relating to those underlying grants or funding, including, but not limited to, any provisions, adjustments, or exceptions made in the agreements relating to the dissemination and sharing of research results.
  4. Provide the location of all data archives relating to each published study for which you were an author or co-author and indicate: (a) whether this information contains all the specific data you used and calculations your performed, including such supporting documentation as computer source code, validation information, and other ancillary information, necessary for full evaluation and application of the data, particularly for another party to replicate your research results; (b) when this information was available to researchers; (c) where and when you first identified the location of this information; (d) what modifications, if any, you have made to this information since publication of the respective study; and (e) if necessary information is not fully available, provide a detailed narrative description of the steps somebody must take to acquire the necessary information to replicate your study results or assess the quality of the proxy data you used.
  5. According to The Wall Street Journal, you have declined to release the exact computer code you used to generate your results. (a) Is this correct? (b) What policy on sharing research and methods do you follow? (c) What is the source of that policy? (d) Provide this exact computer code used to generate your results.
  6. Regarding study data and related information that is not publicly archived, what requests have you or your co-authors received for data relating to the climate change studies, what was your response, and why?
  7. The authors McIntyre and McKitrick (Energy & Environment, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2005) report a number of errors and omissions in Mann et. al., 1998. Provide a detailed narrative explanation of these alleged errors and how these may affect the underlying conclusions of the work, including, but not limited to answers to the following questions:
    a. Did you run calculations without the bristlecone pine series referenced in the article and, if so, what was the result?
    b. Did you or your co-authors calculate temperature reconstructions using the referenced “archived Gaspe tree ring data,” and what were the results?
    c. Did you calculate the R2 statistic for the temperature reconstruction, particularly for the 15th Century proxy record calculations and what were the results?
    d. What validation statistics did you calculate for the reconstruction prior to 1820, and what were the results?
    e. How did you choose particular proxies and proxy series?
  8. Explain in detail your work for and on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including, but not limited to: (a) your role in the Third Assessment Report; (b) the process for review of studies and other information, including the dates of key meetings, upon which you worked during the TAR writing and review process; (c) the steps taken by you, reviewers, and lead authors to ensure the data underlying the studies forming the basis for key findings of the report were sound and accurate; (d) requests you received for revisions to your written contribution; and (e) the identity of the people who wrote and reviewed the historical temperature-record portions of the report, particularly Section 2.3, “Is the Recent Warming Unusual?”

spatial data access and the haves

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

When I originally heard about this court case, I thought it only concerned the aerials of people’s houses. (Greenwich, CT is one of the richest towns in the US so it’s no surprise that its citizens are a mite upset). Apparently it’s about the spatial digital data as well. And I thought that the citizens of Greenwich were trying to prevent access to the photos. But apparently, it’s citizens trying to gain access to the digital data, maps and aerials. Anyway, here are the results of the court case.

City must release electronic GIS mapping data

Also available at GISCafe.

Publicly releasing electronically formatted government maps has not been shown to pose a public safety risk or violate a trade secret, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

June 16, 2005

Electronically formatted maps, which allow journalists to plot geographically referenced statistical data in studying the adequacy of government programs and performance, must be released in electronic form to open records requesters in Connecticut, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday.

The maps, created from Geographic Information System data and showing city landmarks, including the location of “security-sensitive” sites such as schools, public utilities, and bridges, must be open because officials in Greenwich, Conn., did not show that their release will violate a trade secret or threaten public safety, the high court ruled.

Greenwich citizen Stephen Whitaker requested electronic access to the city’s GIS maps in December 2001 under the state open records law.

The town refused to give Whitaker electronic access to its GIS system, arguing that the records qualified for public safety and trade secret exemptions to the state’s public records law. Whitaker sued and obtained rulings in favor of release from the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission in 2002 and the Connecticut Superior Court in 2004. Greenwich appealed to the Connecticut Appellate Court, but the Supreme Court stepped in and transferred the case onto its own docket before the intermediate appellate court could rule.

Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille, writing for the court, rejected the argument that the trade secret exemption could apply to the electronic GIS maps. All of the information contained in the maps is available piecemeal from other town departments, so there is nothing secret about them, she wrote. [emphasis added]

Vertefeuille found the town’s asserted public safety exemption equally unconvincing. Although witnesses — among them the Greenwich police chief — had testified that public safety would be jeopardized if the GIS data were released, little concrete evidence of that was presented. “Generalized claims of a possible safety risk” are not enough to satisfy the government’s burden of proof on an exemption claim, Vertefeuille wrote.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in November urging the high court to order the GIS data’s release. In addition to its legal arguments, the brief highlighted the issue’s relevance to the news media by compiling stories that would not have been written without electronic mapping.

Greenwich has 10 days to ask all seven supreme court justices to reconsider the decision, which was decided by a five-member panel.

(Director, Dep’t of Information Technology of the Town of Greenwich v. Freedom of Information Communication; Access Counsel: Clifton A. Leonhardt, Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission; Hartford, Conn.)

I added the emphasis above because that is the primary argument used to gain access to spatial data. It doesn’t seem to stop the counter argument of local governments that the digitization of data changes the very nature of the data and fails to compensate for the effort needed to create digital data. These–the value added character and the sweat of the brow–are the essence of arguments made for Canadian copyright of spatial data.

Here’s another article on the same court case. Notice this, more local, story is less enthusiastic. Also notice that the profit motive and the freedom of information motive are drowned out by the protection from terrorism motive. The security concerns mentioned by residents are exclusively connected to the privacy concerns of the wealthy. (Think we’ll see a similar lawsuit around the security concerns of the have-nots? I think not.)

Court Rules Public Has Right to GIS Information in Greenwich

June 16, 2005

In a case watched closely by Westport and other towns upgrading technology, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that the public has a right to see aerial photos and other records of Greenwich despite concerns about privacy, crime and terrorism.

The high court ruled unanimously Wednesday that Greenwich must release its computer database of aerial photographs and maps known as a geographic information system. The court said the town failed to show the records are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act because of security concerns.

“Such generalized claims of a possible safety risk do not satisfy the plaintiff’s burden of proving the applicability of an exemption from disclosure under the act,” the high court said.

Attorneys involved in the case said the ruling sets a precedent.

“This is the first appellate level decision on the issue of security and access to government geographic information systems in the country that we’re aware of,” said Mitchell Pearlman, executive director of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

Greenwich officials have said that the uncontrolled release of detailed information on infrastructure, public safety facilities, schools and celebrities’ homes in electronic form could lead to breaches in security and privacy. The town has been reluctant to disclose the records to the public since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Westport’s Representative Town Meeting earlier this month approved spending $420,000 on a Web-based Geographic Information System. During the debate on the appropriation at the RTM and Board of Finance, several residents expressed security concerns related to making the information easily available to the public.

Oil company crafts US Kyoto policy

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

An update to yesterday’s post. The Guardian reports that the White House wrote letters to ExxonMobil thanking them for their role in crafting the government’s climate change report. The letters also sought to assure Exxon and other anti-Kyoto business associations that US climate change policies would be structured in ways that companies would find acceptable.

Isn’t the sweet? No one writes thank you letters anymore. Or maybe, if they do then they shouldn’t keep a paper trail.

The speculative science meets politics

Wednesday, June 8th, 2005

Jaded readers will not be surprised by the announcement that a White House appointee “who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports to play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.”

What is shocking is the NYTimes graphic of an actual page of the document with hand-written annotations striking out paragraphs because climate change is “speculative”.

Canada and copyright law, the revenge of the courts

Saturday, May 21st, 2005

CBC reports that Canadian courts have dealt a blow to the recording industry’s arguments that sharing music files breaches Canada’s copyright laws.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the Canadian Recording Industry Association’s appeal of a March 2004 ruling that said ISPs like Shaw, Rogers and Bell did not have to reveal the names of 29 users accused of sharing thousands of music files.

See previous post about how this has implications for sharing of enivornmental data.

At this same time appellate courts move to protect ISPs, the Canadian federal government moves to amend the copyright law so as to quash file sharing. According to the article, this modification would force ISPs to take an active role in prosecuting file sharing.

Whither privacy?

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

There’s a new article on privacy vis-a-viz Google maps, this time from a journal for security professionals. The issue is four-fold: the amount of georeferenced data on the web allows your name to be attached to your house; the increased scale of the maps, through the satellite images, gives the viewer enormous spatial detail; that viewer isn’t necessarily you; and finally the non-linear function of the search facility may lead to unanticipated additional violations of privacy (e.g., to the work location of someone with a similar name). The main concern of the author is national security–zooming in to see the details of dams and nuclear power plants–but the concerns for the individual are more tangible.

The same week sees this article on students from John Hopkins University who, working on a course assignment, were able to gather enormous amounts of information on residents of the City of Baltimore, all from legal public sources and for practically no money. The article’s central premise is that, in the pursuit of convenience in terms of online access to information on their houses and cars, Americans have exposed themselves to invasions of privacy.

What are we to think of privacy of personal information? Some thoughts.

1. The rich will be able to protect their privacy. I’m reminded of the people in the upscale areas of NY who wanted to opt out of the book, “New York: The Photo Atlas” because it contains aerial photos of their homes, backyards, and pools. They weren’t able to remove their photos from that book. However, they have greater capacity than the less well-to-do to protect their privacy, perhaps by scrubbing unsavory details from the Internet with the help of lawyers. For an example of an early data scrubbing, see Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community.

2. The poor will continue to trade their privacy for access. They already fill in online surveys and allow cookies to accumulate for free email or affordable bandwidth. What else can we expect as access becomes the currency of the modern world? What’s craven is to conclude that there’s no down-side to this exchange.

3. The youth will have a very different view of privacy from adults. There are precedents since youth in some areas of the US already live with transparent backpacks and metal detectors. Youth also are creating enormous records of their lives on the Internet and with varied media such as blogs and webcams. I suspect that they’ll value far different kinds of privacy from us. For the implications of no privacy, read The Light of Other Days by the masters of a science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. The book presents a new device called a “WormCam,” that allows the viewer to see anyone, anywhere, at any distance and at anytime. In a world where nothing is hidden, behavior becomes extreme. Conversely, people go to any lengths to hide themselves, even to the point of losing their individual identity.

To some extent this technology makes easier problems that have always existed (e.g., cyberstalking, identity theft) and increases the vulnerability of the already vulnerable. Society and the law will be slow to adapt. However, we shouldn’t forget that people will adapt to and adapt the technology that invades their privacy.

Scale runs amok

Saturday, May 14th, 2005

Talk about jumping scale: rebuffing President Bush’s national policy, 132 American mayors embrace the Kyoto Accord on global climate change at the local level. Most of the mayors represent coastal cities and fear for the impacts on their residents and local economies.

Update: the mayors’ website.

Canada and intellectual property

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Will you go to jail in Canada if you share files via peer to peer?

It looks like the answer is no. Slashdot explains that the US is mightily upset with Canada’s refusal to follow the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. It links to Michael Geist’s site, for further info. Geist is a professor of law at U Ottawa and is a frequent commenter on law, e-commerce, and copyright. I’ve referenced his work a number of times because he’s an invaluable resource on Canadian Crown Copyright issues. Geist excerpts the following from the Office of the US Trade Representative

Canada is being maintained on the Special 301 Watch List in 2005, and the United States will conduct an out-of-cycle review to monitor Canada’s progress on IPR [intellectual property rights] issues during the upcoming year. We urge Canada to ratify and implement the WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] Internet Treaties as soon as possible, and to reform its copyright law so that it provides adequate and effective protection of copyrighted works in the digital environment.

What gets me is that at the same time Canada takes a narrow view on intellectual property vis-a-viz the private sector, it’s absolutely committed to Crown Copyright, which allows almost perpetual ownership of government-generated data. This makes the use of geographic information systems (GIS)–computerized mapping software–very difficult. GIS relies on copious quantities of data and most of that data comes from government sources. Most of the data is environmental, such as rivers, vegetation and topography, although the most commonly seen data is roads data in applications such as MapQuest. Under US copyright law, slight rearrangements of the data constitute a shift in ownership–you add value to it, you own it. By contrast, under Crown copyright, considerable modification of the data only adds to the value of the Queen’s data–you modify it, the Queen thanks you very much and takes it back. Remember, the public has already paid for this data. But it has to pay again if it wants to use the data.

No Place to Hide

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

No Place to Hide is one of two new books reviewed in a NYTimes article on how little privacy we have in an information age of data mining and post 9-11 security. Some key grafs:

O’Harrow [the author of No Place to Hide] notes that many consumers find it convenient to be in a marketing dossier that knows their personal preferences, habits, income, professional and sexual activity, entertainment and travel interests and foibles. These intimately profiled people are untroubled by the device placed in the car they rent that records their speed and location, the keystroke logger that reads the characters they type, the plastic hotel key that transmits the frequency and time of entries and exits or the hidden camera that takes their picture at a Super Bowl or tourist attraction. They fill out cards revealing personal data to get a warranty, unaware that the warranties are already provided by law. ”Even as people fret about corporate intrusiveness,” O’Harrow writes about a searching survey of subscribers taken by Conde Nast Publications, ”they often willingly, even eagerly, part with intimate details about their lives.”

The author devotes chapters to the techniques of commercial data gatherers and sellers like Acxiom, Seisint and the British-owned LexisNexis, not household names themselves, but boasting computers stuffed with the names and pictures of each member of the nation’s households as well as hundreds of millions of their credit cards. He quotes Ole Poulsen, chief technology officer of Seisint, on its digital identity system: ”We have created a unique identifier on everybody in the United States. Data that belongs together is already linked together.” Soon after 9/11, having seen the system that was to become the public-private surveillance engine called Matrix (in computer naming, life follows film art), Michael Mullaney, a counterterrorism official at the Justice Department, told O’Harrow: ”I sat down and said, ‘These guys have the computer that every American is afraid of.’ ”

The reviewer goes on to note that 10s of thousands of records from data miners have been stolen, likely by identity thieves. Yikes.

Canadians who think they’re immune need to remember that Air Canada shares passenger data from its US flights with the US and the majority of our buying patterns are captured by largely US companies and cross-referenced with census tract-specific patterns stored by Statistics Canada.

Read the first chapter of No Place to Hide.

UN Conference on Climate Change

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

Canada will host the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention. The Conference will take place from November 28 to December 9 at the Palais des Congrès in Montréal.

For those of you who are in Montreal, this will be a chance to be close to policy making in action.

For more information, see the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

legal construction of online journalism

Monday, March 7th, 2005

Here is an interesting article about the legal difference between traditional forms of media and new online media. Aparently the right to protect confidential sources is only legally protected in the print media. Apple Computer is trying to get online sites that publish rumours about Apple products to divulge their sources. So it’s not quite as important as protecting government sources but I still think it’s an iteresting illustration of the differences between media. This legal discrepancy will have to be remedied eventually.

Economics of climate change

Sunday, February 20th, 2005

Big feature in the Globe yesterday on the economic impacts of climate change. Some major institutional investors such as pension plans and retirement funds are asking the companies they invest in tough questions about their ‘risk exposure’ to Kyoto. They want to know how much the companies will have to spend in the future to reduce emissions, how well they are positioned to deal with shifts to alternative energy sources, and what the economic consequences will be to their investments. I think it’s quite promising to see the investment and business community ratcheting up their discource on Kyoto; it almost makes it seem like they realize it’s something they’ll have to deal with whether they like it or not.

There’s a sidebar about green investing. I know most students don’t have much money to invest but it’s still interesting to read about some of the supposedly socially/environmentally responsible investments out there.

Kyoto Protocol Enacted

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Today’s the day that the Kyoto Protocol comes into effect. If Canada fails to meet its targets in reducing greenhouse gases then it faces punishment (e.g., it will be unable to sell emissions credits). Of course, according to the article, Canada has already pushed back its industrial targets.

It has just been announced that Montreal will host the conference that is a follow-up to Kyoto in December. At this conference, some 10,000 attendees will hammer out the protocol that will supercede Kyoto when it expires in 2012. Maybe Canada actually have a concrete policy by then. And being in our city, maybe we can have an impact too. What do you think we should do?

New green tax in Alberta

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

Check this out!
Alberta of all places (sorry Liam) has implemented a new tax on electronics to help offset disposal costs.

Eco fee boosts TV, PC prices

Canadian kyoto progress

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

Here is an article from The Globe and Mail about Canada’s attempt to meet Kyoto targets.

Tougher Kyoto rules urged

According to the article, the current system of letting companies voluntarily meet targets doesn’t seem to be working. The government might have to consider an extra tax on companies that are not meeting emission targets as a way to force them. What do you guys think about this?

Taiwan and Kyoto

Sunday, January 9th, 2005

In an interesting article on Taiwan and the Kyoto Accord, the author lays out the reaction of Taiwan and especially Taiwan’s semiconductor industry to meeting greenhouse gas emission targets. Taiwan is often at the forefront of international agreements, even though it is not allowed to be part of the United Nations, because it wants to been seen as a global partner in these agreements. It also is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.

Though a small country with just 23 million people, it is the world’s 14th-largest exporter, and some of its most successful exporting industries are major producers of greenhouse gases. And although Taiwan accounts for only about 1 percent of total world greenhouse gas emissions, its particular emissions have been rising exceptionally sharply—an estimated 70 percent in the 1990s, from 160 million to 272 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.


Taiwan’s main greenhouse culprits are the perfluorocarbon (PFC) compounds used in electronics manufacturing[, which] have a much stronger effect on climate than carbon dioxide, with warming potentials 5700 to 11 900 times as great. Accordingly, both the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association (TSIA) and the Taiwan TFT-LCD Association (TTLA) have set goals to voluntarily reduce PFC emissions in the near future. They also have been working toward a shared consensus with their global trade counterpart organizations, the World Semiconductor Council and the World LCD Industry Cooperation Committee, respectively. For example, Taiwan has pledged to go along with a commitment by the World Semiconductor Council that its members should voluntarily reduce PFC emissions to 10 percent below their 1995 levels by 2010, though from a different baseline.

Additionally, the author alerts us to the fact that it has adopted a position to the opposite of the US.