Friday, January 20, 2006

For Librarian Eyes Only

Okay, not really, but if you are a Librarian mark January 25th on your calendar. It's the National Patriot Act call-in day.


Google's woes

Does Google have woes? My colleagues and I were surprised to hear that Google and the Bush administration were squaring off over turning over records.

So far, it seems that Google is the only search engine to challenge the Bush administration. According to a Yahoo news reports, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL have complied with the Government's subpoena without divulging personal information about their customers.

According to the Yahoo news report:

"The Justice Department issued the subpoenas last summer as part of its effort to restore an online child pornography law that has been blocked by the US Supreme Court. Although investors have initially punished Google's stock for taking on the government, Schachter and other analysts believe it could be a smart public relations move for the company."
The Government is seeking a list of requests entered into Google's search engine during a single week...think of how many queries this would include? Millions? It would also seek 1,000,000 randomly selected web addresses from a variety of Google databases.

According to

"The government argues that it needs the information as it prepares to once again defend the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act in a federal court in Pennsylvania. The law was struck down in 2004 because it was too broad and could prevent adults from accessing legal porn sites....[T]he government has subpoenaed search engines to develop a factual record of how often Web users encounter online porn and how Web searches turn up material they say is 'harmful to minors.' "

This will be interesting to watch as President Bush starts campaigning for the Patriot Act renewal. For a good background article, check out this article.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ease of buying cell phone records

A couple of weeks ago a story broke about the ease of buying cell phone records. According to NPR, federal regulators are now investigating this issue and a federal ban on the sale of these records will be raised in the Senate.

This really is quite disturbing because maybe you don't want somebody to know the numbers you are dialing in your cell phone. According to a Chicago Sun-Times article:

"...the FBI paid $160 to buy the records for an agent's cell phone and received the list within three hours, the police bulletin said.

Representatives of Data Find Solutions Inc., the Tennessee-based operator of, could not be reached for comment."

While this could be a concern for some people, I also want to toss out there that people should talk less on their cell phones in public. I can't tell you how many people I have heard toss out phone numbers, names, where they are going and just way too much information. Sometimes privacy is a good thing people!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006


According to a recent Washington Post article, the ACLU has objected to a "little-noticed provision of the latest version of the USA Patriot Act bill." The ACLU is concerned that the revision will give the Secret Service a greater lattitude to arresting people disrupting public events like the Olympics, for example.

Senator Specter, who sponsored the revisions, voiced surprise over the objection the ACLU had raised. According to Specter, the revisions attempt to clear up the authority that the Secret Service has at public events.

Among the suggested revisions, include amending text as follows:
"willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any
posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a
building or grounds where the President or other person
protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily

Maybe the President is tired of protests, both here and abroad?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Information Sharing

Today let's talk a little about Section 203, which is what I consider to be the heart of the Patriot Act. Basically, what Section 203 (b) and (d) attempts to do is to break down the wall separating criminal and intelligence investigations. The Justice Department has blamed this wall for the failure to capture and detail Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar (9/11 hijackers). The CIA had information that both men were in the U.S., but the FBI reported that it did not get that information until August 2001.

Supporters of this provision say that it enhances information sharing within the FBI. Opponents say that the failure to share information resulted from incompetence and misunderstanding the law. Critics worry that unrestricted sharing of information could lead to massive databases full of personal information about innocent citizens.
For more on this, read this NPR article.

Section 203 (b) and (d) are subject to the sunset provision, which means they are set to expire and must be renewed by Congress in order to remain in effect. Section (b) and (d) differ in what they do. Section 203 (b) amends federal wiretap law. It allows law enforcement to disclose wiretap contents to other federal law enforcement, immigration, national defense, national security official to the extent that the information will assist with his or her duties.

Section 203 (d) contains more of a general authority for sharing information when it is obtained in criminal investigations. The information can be disclosed to the appropriate federal, state, local, or foreign government officials for the purpose of responding to a threat. Threat includes threat of attack, grave hostile acts, sabotage, terrorism, or clandestine intelligence activities.

This leads into some interesting areas for discussion. For example, is the problem really that we have to tear down barriers and share information? Or were the barriers not really there? How can we determine what information is useful to share and whom we should share it with? How do we sift through massive amounts of information to determine what is relevant and useful in a timely manner? If we share everything with everybody haven’t we obscured the very information we are seeking to tease out of massive amounts of data?

Then we have to ask where is this information stored? Are we warehousing information about innocent individuals in order to ferret out the bad? The warehousing of data is a reason for concern as there is plenty of evidence that people can’t protect databases.

The LA Times recently raised some questions in an opinion piece:

"First, what information, exactly, is being collected? Are other programs besides the president's NSA initiative ignoring traditional warrant requirements? Are federal agencies dodging weak privacy laws by outsourcing the job to private contractors?

Second, who has access to the data once it is collected, and what legal restrictions are set on how it can be used or shared?

Third, who authorized data mining, and is its use restricted to identifying terrorists?

Fourth, what is the collective effect of these programs on citizens' rights? Privacy certainly suffers, but as individuals begin to feel inhibited in what they say and do, free speech and freedom of assembly also erode.

Fifth, how do these data collection and mining operations deal with error? As anyone who's tried to dispute an erroneous credit report can attest, once computer networks exchange data, it may be difficult to verify its accuracy or where it entered the system. Citizens who do not know they are under surveillance cannot challenge inaccurate information that may become part of their secret digital dossier."

In an increasingly information rich society, what are the tools that can sift through, mine data and ultimately prevent terrorism? In this area, the Government could use the search expertise of librarians…well, maybe not now that they are deemed to be radical and militant. You can actually order a pin from ALA.

I've heard a lot of talk about disruptors lately. Seems like a slippery slope from radical and militant to diruptor. More on this disruptor information floating around blogs on a later post.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Does Congress Matter?

According to a Boston Globe article, Congress can only blame itself for the strengthening of executive power:

"But even as Congress bestirs itself to seek limits on the president's power, the question remains: How much can it do? Over the last half century, historians and political scientists observe, Congress's clout has waned as dramatically as the executive's has grown, especially in national security matters. And Congress itself is largely to blame."

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