Bruce Schneier has announced the semifinalists in his seventh annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest, wherein contestants dream up implausible reasons to justify extreme surveillance and other lawless policing techniques like torture and indefinite detention. My favorite: Homeopathic Factoring, "The NSA, through the White House's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives formed a partnership with Zicam Digital to explore and exploit homeopathic techniques for advanced cryptanalysis."
Read the rest
For me, the most under-reported, under-appreciated element of the Snowden leaks is the BULLRUN/EDGEHILL program, through which the NSA and GCHQ spend $250,000,000/year sabotaging information security. In a great Wired story, Andy Greenberg analyzes former NSA chief Keith Alexander's defense of the stockpiling of vulnerabilities to attack "bad guys." There is no delusion more deadly than the idea that spies will make us more secure by weakening our computers' security to make it easier to spy on us.
Read the rest
Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy points out a new and disturbing artifact from the weird parallel world of bubble-wrapped-kids: a post warning you that the treacly "My family" minivan stickers are an invitation to canny predators who are after YOUR KIDS. No one's saying that this has ever happened, just that they can imagine it, and if they can imagine it, bad guys can imagine it, and if you can imagine a bad guy doing something bad, then you should drop everything to prevent that imaginary thing from coming true.
When in trouble/Or in doubt/Run in circles/Scream and shout.
That Sticker on My Car Is NOT Endangering Me!
Davi Barker was flying from Manchester, NH when, he says, he was stopped by two men who identified themselves as "managers" for the TSA, who claimed they had seen Bitcoins in his baggage
and wanted to be sure he wasn't transporting more than $10,000 worth. When he asked them what they thought a Bitcoin looked like, they allegedly said that it looked like a coin or a medallion. (via Hacker News
DC resident Ashley Brandt was surprised to meet a TSA agent at Phoenix airport who didn't think that DC drivers' licenses
were valid ID, because DC isn't a state.
An airline passenger with a medical condition requiring small amounts of food at regular intervals was stymied when the LHA TSA declared his peanut butter to be a "liquid." But he cleverly spread the peanut butter onto some saltines, whereupon it was no longer a liquid and was
allowed on the flight
. USA USA USA.
Personalthreatlevel lets you create your own custom DHS-style threat-level that will serve you well as a means of frightening the people in your life with nebulous, ill-defined scariness. Here's Bruce Sterling's Tumblr version.
The Current Threat Level is...
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is a respected journalist who holds US citizenship. Every time he returns to his home in New York, he is detained for many hours by the DHS, subjected to humiliating questioning and detention without evidence or charge, because he fits a "profile" that seems to consist entirely of "brown dude with Arabic name who visits the middle east." He recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and found himself detained for hours, despite having been assured that his name had been removed from the DHS's watch-list.
His story of harrowing treatment at JFK airport stands in sharp contrast to his experiences at checkpoints in the middle east, where security risks are much more immediate and more grave. As he points out, America has spent billions creating an aviation security system and system of border checks that have had no material impact on security, but have nonetheless enmiserated, alienated, and harassed millions of people who committed no crime and posed no threat,
Read the rest
In Jason Edward Harrington's Dear America, I Saw You Naked, he reveals that he was the anonymous TSA agent who wrote the Taking Sense Away tell-all/whistleblower blog. Harrington's piece is a shocking and eye-opening look into the world of TSA agents, especially the section dealing with the "IO room" where the nude photos of travellers who used the Rapiscan machines were displayed:
Read the rest
UK Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron says that ISPs and phone companies should be required to store records of every click you make, every conversation you have, and every place you physically move through. He says that communications companies should be required to make it impossible to keep your communications from being eavesdropped in, with mandatory back-doors.
He says we need this law because "TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data."
Remember the Snooper's Charter, the 2012 UK Conservative plan to require ISPs and phone companies to retain the records of all your calls and movements, and make them available to police and government without a warrant? Home Secretary Theresa May proposed an unlimited budget to pay ISPs to help spy on you, and called people who opposed this "conspiracy theorists" and said the only people who need freedom from total, continuous surveillance were "criminals, terrorists and paedophiles."
The Snooper's Charter was killed by a rebellion from Libdem MPs, who rejected the plan. Now it's back, just as the public are starting to have a debate about electronic spying thanks to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent to which our online habits are already illegally surveilled by government spies. Let's hope that the Snowden revelations -- and the US government's admission that mass spying never caught a terrorist or foiled a terrorism attempt -- strangles this Cameron brainchild in its cradle.
Read the rest
Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham's non-fiction, book-length comic Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun! is a marvellous and infuriating history of censorship, zero-tolerance, helicopter parenting, and the war on kids.
The comics form turns out to be just perfect for presenting this material. The book opens with a history of the fight over comics publishing in America, where the liar Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocents hoax led to a harsh regime of comics censorship, book banning, book burning, and decades of pseudoscientific vilification and dismissal of artists and the young people who loved their work. Presenting this story in a comics form only drives home how wrong Wertham and the Comics Code Authority were.
Read the rest
Reason's video enumerating the TSA's "12 Banned Items of Christmas" is a perfect, acerbic and funny list of the most egregiously stupid and arbitrary rules for American fliers. And as they point out, the TSA has never stopped a terrorist attack. But so long as we're prevented from carrying on guacamole (but permitted to carry on avocados) and permitted to carry on pies (but not pie filling(, I'm sure we'll be safe. And never forget this pro-tip: you can carry on as much liquid as you'd like so long as it is labelled "breast milk."
The TSA's 12 Banned Items of Christmas
In a photography forum, Surapon recounts the sad story of how the TSA took away his Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster, a blower for removing dust from equipment, at an airport in New York.
According to him, he was on his way back to North Carolina from Greece when the TSA flagged his camera-case for manual inspection. The TSA agent reportedly produced the rocket-shaped blower, and then he and a colleague grimly pronounced the dangers of this object, should it be filled with gunpowder and then launched like a rocket through the cockpit.
Since then, Surapon assiduously sliced the decorative fins off his blowers, and has had no further trouble from the TSA.
My New and Improve GIOTTOS Blower-for safety. (Thanks, Visionrouge!)
Two New York Times reporters are suing the DHS
, because the agency stopped them and questioned them extensively at the border, typing their answers into a computer, and then later insisted first that they weren't required to search for records, and then that they had no records at all on the men.
The sock monkey above is called "Rooster Monkburn," and he was created by Phillis May, who makes a sells sock monkeys. When Ms May and her husband traversed the TSA checkpoint at
SEA-TAC St Louis airport, an eagle-eyed TSA operative noticed that Rooster was sporting a sub-two-inch toy pistol, which she seized, threatening to call police. Altogether, now, everyone: U! S! A! U! S! A! U! S! A!
May said the TSA agent went through the bag, through the sewing supplies and found the two-inch long pistol.
“She said ‘this is a gun,’” said May. “I said no, it’s not a gun it’s a prop for my monkey.”
“She said ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘really?’” said May.
The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police.
“I said well go ahead,” said May. “And I said really? You’re kidding me right, and she said no it looks like a gun.”
“She took my monkey’s gun,” said May, who has retained her sense of humor.
TSA agent confiscates sock monkey's toy pistol
[Susan Wyatt/King 5 News]
(Image: Phyllis May)