Archive for August 2010
According to the CNET article, the Indian government is going to put off shutting down BlackBerrys in their country while they study a RIM proposal to allow government monitoring of the communications.
This is a great essay on the hidden, and possibly very large, costs of acting in reaction to our fears in ways that fail to substantially benefit us. He uses the example of TSA Security theater as an obvious case, but talks about a number of others.
As a concept, this is an important one for us to grasp. It goes hand in hand with our misperceptions of risk. Most people judge the risk of spectacular but highly unlikely events to be much higher than they actually are. The relative costs and efforts of fighting terrorism and car accidents is a great example.
Thanks to David Brin for linking to this article in reason.com about the debate over arresting people for recording active duty police officers. In general the specific law being broken is about making audio recordings without the concent of all parties.
As a privacy advocate, I find this situation puts me in an uncomfortable situation. On the one hand there is concern about the privacy interests of the police officers. On the other hand, this is one of the only ways of demonstrating police abuse or other bad actions. It also acts to balance the playing field where the police are already routinely recording most interactions through the use of dashboard cameras.
The origin of the term surveilance is the latin from sur- “over” + veiller “to watch,”. It implies that surveillance is about being watched by those in power (above).
Sousveillance is a term that has been coined recently to describe participant recording, or recording from “below”. That feels like a very different thing that should be fine as long as it is not hidden. Especially in circumstances where there is not a clear expectation of privacy.
I guess my solution to the conundrum would be to state that there should be no expectation of privacy on the part of authorities from recording when they are exercising those authorities. The citizens being interacted with would have a possible privacy expectation with respect to recording third parties however.
I am very interested in feedback and other thoughts on this one.
There has been a lot of excitement in the privacy community around the introduction of a social location service by Facebook. Having blown the dust off my test account, I don’t really understand all the fuss.
It appears that this capability only applies to mobile devices right now (although I have blogged in the past about the ability to locate your computer). When using the mobile site, or the FaceBook app, there is a button that allows you to “Check In” at your current location. It appears that this is exclusively an overt act, and that nothing is taking place passively in the background.
The privacy defaults (at least for me) were fairly restrictive. My check-in is only shared with “friends” by default. The only really interesting setting was that it defaults to show your location to others who are checked-in at the same location around the same time, but that was easily changed.
The FAQ talks about and links to the privacy settings in a prominent way. It feels strange to say this, but I don’t think they have done a bad thing here. Obviously there are major privacy and security implications to telling people where you are all the time, and it may lead to stalking and/or home robberies, but you really have to ask them to do it to you. Caveat emptor.
Of course, none of this should suggest that I have any intention of ever using the service myself.
I note that most of the other social location players, like Gowalla, Yelp, Booyah and Foursquare were at the announcement. This could certainly impact them in a big way, either for good or ill. That seems like the real story, and my thoughts on that are well out of scope for this blog.
In a recent post on Privacy Digest, and an article in the NYTimes, there is a discussion of some major and well known vulnerabilities in the global public key infrastructure (PKI) and some examples of exploitations of that vulnerability.
The issue is with the proliferation of certificate authorities on the Internet, and the low level of oversight on their policies.
Using the web as an example, here is how it works. Embedded in every browser is a list of “certificate authorities”. These are companies that are deemed trustworthy to issue and sign website certificates. Website certificates are what allows websites to be authenticated by your browser and enables SSL based secure connections (e.g. to your bank).
These certificate authorities may also be able to delegate their certificate signing authorities to other secondary certificate authority organizations. The list of primary certificate authorities in your browser is long (I count 43 in my copy of Firefox), and who knows how many secondary certificate authorities may be out there. These certificate authorities exist all over the world, and any of them can issue a certificate that your browser will accept as valid.
A malevolent certificate authority could issue certificates to allow them to impersonate any secure website.
The articles talk specifically about a secondary certificate authority called Etisalat, located in the UAE. They created a certificate which allowed them to sign code which would be accepted as valid and authorized by BlackBerry cell phones. They then created and distributed software to about 100,000 users which enabled government surveillance of the devices. RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, was able to detect and patch this introduced back door.
Etisalat could create certificates to allow the UAE to intercept and read all secure web traffic traveling over networks within that country.
It is likely that there are many other certificate authorities that are similarly willing to compromise the security of the PKI for various ends. To date, no action has been taken against Etisalat. The EFF is calling for Verizon to revoke Etisalat’s ability to issue certificates (Verizon is the primary authority that delegated to Etisalat as the secondary).