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Secret group founded by the FBI pushes international data monitoring
The CALEA law  in the US, an Australian regulation requiring tapping of telecomms, and a secret EU policy position are all traceable directly to the efforts of a secret international group of law enforcement officers -- called ILETS -- convened by the FBI and meeting since 1993 to push building universal wiretap-ability into worldwide communications. Duncan Campbell reports for the Guardian and Observer  (cookies required).
The existence and operation of the ILETS group is but one subject covered in the report "Interception Capabilities 2000," which Campbell authored for the European Parliament's Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel. IC2000 was approved as a working document at the STOA meeting in Strasbourg on 1999-05-06. It is available here . (The text downloads 332K. Turn off graphics to avoid another 761K; the graphics add little to the article.)
Today your email, Web browsing, online chat, telex, phone calls, cell calls, and faxes are almost certainly being swept up in one or more national or international interception dragnets. Unless you routinely use PGP, or communicate over a robust encrypted VPN link, these communications can be read by unaccountable agencies in any one of a growing number of countries.
Does this fact make you angry? Then encrypt.
Opto-electronic sieving challenges 512-bit PGP keys
Adi Shamir, one of the inventors of RSA, has made a major advance in the factoring of large numbers  (free registration and cookies required for this NY Times story). The new work describes hardware that, if constructed, might put the routine factoring of 150-digit numbers more easily within reach. This would mean that 512-bit RSA keys (for example) would be vulnerable to cracking with modest resources.
Shamir proposes a fast piece of sieving hardware dubbed TWINKLE that could be built for about $5000 in volume. He roughly specs a photoelectric sieving device 100 to 1000 times faster than a typical PC for this task. Such devices are not new -- D.H. Lehmer built a mechanical-optical sieve in the 1930's. The RSA site claims that Shamir's device would requires some sophisticated optical/electrical engineering to implement, but that it does appear feasible.
Court decides, 3-2, that US encryption export laws are unconstitutional when applied to source code
A three-judge panel for the US 9th Circuit of Appeals has ruled that the source code for Daniel Bernstein's crypto program Snuffle is speech protected under the First Amendment. The ruling affirms a lower-court decision issued a year and a half ago , before the control of crypto exports was moved from the State Department to Commerce. The ruling did not provide Bernstein with injunctive relief to publish his code pending the expected appeal by the Justice Department to the Supreme Court.
Here is the ruling itself , authored by Judge Betty Fletcher; below are some excerpts.
We find that the export administration regulations operate as a prepublication licensing scheme that burdens scientific expression, vest boundless discretion in government officials, and lack adequate procedural safeguards.
We emphasize the narrowness of our First Amendment holding. We do not hold that all software is expressive. Much of it surely is not... We hold merely that because the prepublication licensing regime challenged here applies directly to scientific expression, vests boundless discretion in government officials, and lacks adequate procedural safeguards, it constitutes an impermissible prior restraint on speech.
Whether we are surveiled by our government, by criminals, or by our neighbors, it is fair to say that never has our ability to shield our affairs from prying eyes been at such a low ebb. The availability and use of secure encryption may offer an opportunity to reclaim some portion of the privacy we have lost. Government efforts to control encryption thus may well implicate not only the First Amendment rights of cryptographers intent on pushing the boundaries of their science, but also the constitutional rights of each of us as potential recipients of encryption's bounty. Viewed from this perspective, the government's efforts to retard progress in cryptography may implicate the Fourth Amendment, as well as the right to speak anonymously..., the right against compelled speech..., and the right to informational privacy...
The government's argument suggests that even one drop of "direct functionality" overwhelms any constitutional protections that expression might otherwise enjoy. This cannot be so. If it were, we would have expected the Supreme Court to start and end its analysis of David Paul O'Brien's burning of his draft card with an inquiry into whether he was kept warm by the ensuing flames.
Thanks to the TBTF Irregular David Black for his usual astute reading of legal prose.
Advice of technical experts and government panels is ignored
TBTF Irregular  Eric Scheid <eric at ironclad dot net dot au> has been feeding me material on a drastic swing in politics being played out now in Australia. Proposed legislation would outlaw any Net content in that country down to an "R" rating and would compel ISPs to block all such material worldwide from Australian viewers. The SJ Mercury News's Dan Gillmor says :
Second, the ABA will... tell ISPs what hardware and software to use. Oh, and from now on ISPs work weekends, as takedown orders issued by email or fax will have to be complied-with within 24 hours. Same penalties natch -- $27,500 daily for merely allowing "adult themes" material.
Third, people can complain about ISPs as well as sites, for permitting access to "adult themes" material anywhere in the world... Is there any doubt that proxy filters are to be compulsory?
Fourth, less censorious State and Territory laws are overridden, and no-one under 18 is allowed to own an account. Free speech is dead coast to coast...
And finally, everything archiveable is covered, not just web sites. As technology improves, the industry and the public will pay for smaller and smaller sieves down to the RAM caches, IRC, and newsgroups.
There's no pretence in this Bill that self-regulation means anything other than outsourcing censorship.
Freedom Forum story is much reported and overblown
A little-noted law passed last year requires the Web sites of government agencies, and of anyone who supplies Web deliverables to the government, to meet criteria for accessibility for people with disabilities. Adam Clayton Powell III has touched off a broad debate with a story  that projects dire consequences from this simple and sensible law. The accessibility provision is contained in Section 508  of the Workforce Investment Act, passed last year by Congress. While the law is mandatory only for government sites and for contractors that provide Web content to the government, Powell quotes some members of the committee responsible for writing the rules as they speculate on the (to them presumably desirable) possibility that all US-based Web sites may some day come under the force of such rules. In a Ziff Davis interview , Jenifer Simpson, a member of the rules committee, justified such unprecedented government intervention in a publishing medium this way:
A poster to the fight-censorship mailing list summarized thus the universal government tendency to give us a fat 3-ring binder when what we need is a paragraph:
what they've paid for, one might (if one were not a government employee) expect something like:
"All data posted to the web by the government shall include 'alt' tags in any graphics. The government shall design web pages to conform with the capabilities of leading tools for the handicapped, save where such conformance defeats the purpose of the site."
Of course, that's not what we got.
Immedia technology promises real electronic books, someday
E Ink , a Cambridge company, promises flat-panel displays that can be printed on any surface, moving us one step closer to the advertising-saturated world of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash . The first commercial installation of its Immedia technology in an advertising panel  has been unveiled in the sports department of a J.C.Penney store in a Boston exurb (photo , 61K). Area geeks have been making the pilgrimage to the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlboro, Massachusetts to marvel at a 4-by-6-foot (1.3-by-2 meter) display, 3mm thick, featuring a miniature wireless device by which store employees can update it every 10 seconds. The display uses less than 1 watt of energy.
Portsmouth, NH is the latest soon-to-be-hot tech area
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the latest region to hold a naming contest and launch a branding program to boost its recognition as a technology center. The resulting Siliconium  is e-Coast, designating the 18-mile NH seacoast and adjacent areas of Massachusetts and Maine. It's too bad the Boston Globe headline writer chose to title its story  "Silicon Seacoast." Anchoring Portsmouth's vibrant and growing high-tech scene is venture-backed Bow Street Software, with killer office space on the Piscataqua River where the famous tugboats tie up . Unfortunately I can't tell you what Bow Street does: their Web site  is too high-tech for my Communicator 4.51 browser. It presents a black-on-black window with a few rollovers; the link to a text-only version leads back to the same inaccessible site.
Thanks to Aaron Smith <a dot smith at rscs dot net> of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce for word on the e-Coast.
Bridging email to a more venerable medium
A new company  formed by an Irish e-commerce expert promises to turn Net surfers into letter writers. Letterpost is the brainchild of Dr. Donal O'Mahony of Trinity College in Dublin. While on sabbatical at Stanford he decided to partake of the local customs and create his own Internet startup. Here's how it works. You buy postage at , 99 cents per letter, and type the recipient's address and your message. The letter is printed out, put in an envelope, and mailed from one of Letterpost.com's automated mail centers. The first such center is operational in San Francisco; Ireland will open in May and India in June. The company will be targeting US immigrant groups such as Irish-Americans and first- and second-generation Indians, helping them to keep in touch with unwired relatives back home.
TBTF Irregular John R. LoVerso <loverso dot southborough dot ma dot us> writes:
Going public with your filtered browsing
If you've missed the Web log phenomenon, allow me to introduce you. For some years Web adepts have been posting daily commentary on and links to sites they find compelling; the first Web log may have been NCSA's What's New page . Suddenly Web logs are legion. Leslie Harpold comments on the phenomenon in Smug :
Some consider TBTF's Tasty Bit of the Day feature a Web log, but that's a stretch. The TBoDay is considerably more cooked than the items in most Web logs; it's a first draft for a regular TBTF item. But a growing acquaintance with Web logs has moved me to make TBTF available in "push" form to Dave Winer's Userland , a sort of toolkit for constructing your own personal meta-log.
Car dealer accused of libeling a competitor
A popular feature of the eBay site allows users to rate their encounters with other site users. This forum provides some reputation accountability: both bidders and sellers can check out others' experiences with eBay users and choose whether to do business with them. eBay doesn't monitor, adjudicate, or characterize the posted comments. Recently a vendor of automobiles, new to eBay, watched several bidders withdraw their bids after someone posted negative comments about the dealer , . With little difficulty the dealer traced the negative postings to employees of a rival firm operating on eBay.
Auctioning an ISP team
Sixteen system administrators, developers, and managers from a "major ISP" tried to auction themselves off on eBay . The minimum bid was set above $3.1M, which would give the purchaser use of the team for one year -- and provide the team members with healthy raises. It is unclear if anyone actually bid for this "item" on eBay, but team members said in an interview  that several companies had contacted them. Thanks to TBTF Irregular Eric Scheid <eric at ironclad dot net dot au> for the tip.
13-year-old bids $3M, thinking it's a game
13-year-old Andrew Tyler's parents were surprised when an eBay representative contacted them and asked how Andrew intended to pay $900,000 for a Van Gogh painting he had won at auction . The teenager had also bid on a 1955 Ford convertible, an antique bed, a Viking ship replica, and a Superman comic book.
What to call a pathological Net abuser
Jargon Scout  is an irregular TBTF feature that aims to give you advance warning -- preferably before Wired Magazine picks it up -- of jargon that is just about ready to hatch into the Net's language. Spam fighter JoWazzoo <jowazzoo at whiteice dot com> takes credit for coining the term "netopath," which is applied to the most extreme and deranged form of Net abuser. The Usenet posting in which JoWazzoo coined the term (firstname.lastname@example.org) has expired from the archives of both Deja News and Alta Vista, but this immediate followup post , which references and quotes it, cements JoWazzoo's claim to the invention.
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the the message "subscribe" to email@example.com. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1999 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Commercial use pro- hibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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Most recently updated 1999-10-05