Attend a Live Webinar This Thursday on Internet Privacy

Speaker: Robert Ellis Smith, privacy expert and publisher of Privacy Journal

Date: January 30, 2014

Time: 1-2 p.m. ET

Location: TRC located in the Purdy/Kresge Library

Join me as I host a a free, hour-long nationally broadcast webinar, “Location, Location, Location.” Two contradictory federal court decisions in 1979 and in December 2013 focus on whether the National Security Agency’s massive data collection program is constitutional. The NSA argues that their actions are legal because they do not probe into the content of phone calls, only the digits dialed to and from a phone. A 1979 U.S. Supreme Court opinion held that collecting data on dialed phone numbers, but not acquiring the content of the calls does not require a prior court order.

Today that decision does not make sense. The extent to which many people rely on their phones means dialing information establishes patterns of personal relationships and can reveal private interests, needs, and even our locations. This information can include employment or credit information, and can be far more sensitive than our commonly disclosed medical and financial records. It has the potential to be every bit as revealing and damaging as the content of our conversations.

Everyone who is exposed to this new technology must recognize this new reality. The principles of fair information practice do not fit this important change in sensitivity. And, of course, the new reality may change again in an instant. This is an example of how learning the historical development of privacy concerns helps us focus our efforts on what is most important today, not on concerns of the last century.

Light refreshments will be provided.

If there is sufficient interest a discussion will follow, or a further local forum will be arranged.

Net Neutrality Dissed

Some of my fan base may recall that I’ve posted on this topic

here and here and here

On Jan. 14 the US Court of Appeals for Washington DC ruled that the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules were impermissible, because the FCC did not have the authority to regulate the Internet. Essentially it ruled that Verizon isn’t a ‘telephone company’ (like the old Laugh-In skit where Lily Tomlin said: ‘you’re dealing with the Telephone Company’)

Instead, the judge ruled that Verizon is an ISP (an internet service provider) and therefore not a ‘common carrier’, so the FCC lacks jurisdiction.

Naturally many people have concluded that the end is nigh, and that poor people won’t be able to afford the Internet. Or that Comcast won’t let you get to Google. Or Apple. Or maybe Apple won’t let you get to Google. Of course, prior to the FCC trying to regulate in this way nobody could find an instance of where this actually happened. So I’m not horrified. YMMV.

News reports available here:

New York Times

Ziff Davis Net

Information Week

Your house may no longer be your castle.

Like a number of gadget-happy people I bought a Nest last month. It’s a cool programmable thermostat (sorry…)

Although it is expensive, it has a number of intriguing features–it can sense when you’re in the house, and after a while, it will turn down the thermostat (in winter–up if you have air conditioning in summer) when you’re not at home.

It’s also extremely easy to program, with up to a dozen temperature changes a day, for every day of the week.

And finally, and most importantly, it’s web-enabled, and there’s an app for that (both iPhone and Android-flavored). So you can change the temperature while you’re away. And the Nest company just brought out a smoke detector that awakens you with an increasingly urgent voice-based tone (apparently kids can sleep through the beep that traditional smoke detectors make) and can be silenced by a wave of your hand near it.

But I didn’t write this post to advertise the Nest, as cool as it might be. I’m writing it because the company was just bought by what many people consider to be the personification of THE BORG–namely Google. Since this morning the blogosphere has lit up with dire warnings of how your comings and goings will be available to the gnomes at Google. Here are just a few of the dire warnings:


New York Times


I myself am not terribly happy about this development. I use Google, and many of its facilities (Picasa, Google Docs, etc.) but I’m not greatly pleased that the two are now one. Currently Nest claims the data will be segregated. Only time will tell…

More goofy password and security stories

We’ve all heard the terrible story about Target’s sloppiness with our credit card data. And one writer for the New York Times says:

Stop asking me for my email address

On the other hand, we now know that the password for the nuclear launch codes was never reset from ‘00000000’. Anything else was hard to remember.

I’m not making this up

Finally, a competitor to TheOnion1 suggests that the NSA has other fish to fry now that they have access to all American’s emails:

The NSA combats insensitive emails

Happy New Year from Proftech.


1For those who are unfamiliar with TheOnion, it is a satirical news website. lightly braised turnip is similar.