Is Oracle Using Computer Crime Law to Squelch Competition?

This is my Wired News column from last Wednesday.  I didn’t post it earlier because I was on vacation from work and the internet for a whole week!  But we did have to purchase the season finale of Battlestar Gallactica from iTunes.  I don’t think that breaks the internet fast, though.
Episode ten of the Austrian art, culture and politics talkshow “taugshow” is now online. The show features JD Lenzen on chemistry and rope bondage, and me, talking about hackers and the law. This circus is ably hosted by the taugshow team, including MCs Johannes Grenzfurthner and Roland Gratzer. It was filmed at the Exploratorium here in S.F. with the help of many wonderful people. Check it out.

I agreed to be on taugshow, a alt.TV show by the good folks at monochrom.  The show appears to be well described by the adjective “zany”, and is going to be filmed on February 11 at 8PM the Exploratorium.   You can come and see the filming.  In fact, you should come and see the filming.  It will be in English.  My co-star is J.D. Lenzen — by day an environmental chemist, by night a rope bondage instructor.  And I will strive to make the law seem comparably interesting.  I’ll be talking about hacking.

Robot Dinosaur

Why don’t you? – NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls

Here’s my thoughts about the laws that might apply to the NSA’s collection of call data about American citizens.

Sections 18 USC 2709 and 50 USC 1861 govern collection of transactional data (like phone numbers dialed) and customer records for national security purposes.

Section 2709 says that the FBI can ask for these records if the Director or his designee certifies that they are relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. There’s no judicial review. The process is called a national security letter or NSL. The FBI must report the use of this tactic to Congress.

Section 1861 allows the FBI to get an ex parte judicial order requiring the production of business records for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information.

Neither of these procedures does much at all to protect privacy. Basically the FBI can get revealing information about you without having to do much. With the NSLs, they don’t even need to ask a judge, there’s no advance oversight whatsoever, and the person targeted doesn’t get any notice.

Though the law provides little to no protection for these records, the NSA may nonetheless have gone too far. We don’t know what the NSA was doing, what legal authority it asserted, why, what happens to the information it collects or how it was used. Still, the NSA’s mission does not include spying on American citizens. These statutes only authorize FBI access to this information.

We’re likely to see a lot of wrangling over what these provisions mean. Proponents of NSA access may argue that the NSA is allowed to access this information, but the FBI must jump through these minimal hoops. Opponents will argue that the FBI must jump through minimal hoops, otherwise the government doesn’t get access to this information at all.

What’s obvious is that the statutes we have are filled with loopholes and our rights are falling through. You can tell an immense amount about someone from the phone numbers they call. Their job, friends, whether they are seeing a doctor or a psychiatrist, their religion, where their children go to school. The fact that this information isn’t better protected by the law is dangerous. The fact that the government is secretly ignoring even the minimal safeguards we have is deadly.

The Geek Entertainment TV episode on NerdSalon and
Roomba cockfights! hosted by the lovely Violet Blue and featuring me, Annalee Newitz and Roomba hacker extraordinaire Phil Torrone is now available.

Most of yesterday I was a “Workshop on ID Management”. The discussion, driven mainly by well-intentioned privacy likers ensconced in commercial firms, centered around how people (consumers) _want_ to share their private information with companies so that companies can provide them better service, like wouldn’t it be great if Budget Rental Car Co. knows that I prefer to drive a Porche? Sharing that information would benefit everyone. All we need is a “user-centered” infrastructure that allows me to share what information I want, and allows the firms to ascertain that the shared information is accurate. My computer will make sure they get true information about me, and then I can rent a Porche. Ah, the brightness of the future.

But I can’t criticize, because my bi-weekly Wired News column is now posted: Free The Cellphone. Its not building houses for people in New Orleans, fighting for democracy in China, or saving lives in Africa, but its digital civil liberties, damn it!

More on ID Management later. Meanwhile, you can watch this fun presentation from Dick Hardt.
Les Pyjamas Du Chat (originally on Accidential Moron, which is now defunct). The video stars me, costars Mr. Boodles, and was produced by Brad Stone, music direction by Kris Kosach, and directed by Alex Wellen.