Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

Texas to pass landmark email privacy law

Texas is on the verge of passing legislation that patches a hole in federal privacy law. Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, no warrant is needed to spy on email once it has been opened, or if it is unopened on a server for more than six months. The Feds have fought efforts to reform this antiquated law, which the DHS and its affiliated snoops rely upon to conduct mass-scale, warrantless surveillance. The Texas law is somewhat symbolic (since it won't stop Fed snooping), but it's still an important step toward establishing a better norm in privacy standards for files on cloud-based services:

On Tuesday, the Texas bill (HB 2268) was sent to Gov. Perry’s desk, and he has until June 16, 2013 to sign it or veto it. If he does neither, it will pass automatically and take effect on September 1, 2013. The bill would give Texans more privacy over their inbox to shield against state-level snooping, but the bill would not protect against federal investigations. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year without a single "nay" vote.

This new bill, if signed, will make Texas law more privacy-conscious than the much-maligned (but frustratingly still in effect) 1986-era Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). With the ECPA, federal law enforcement agencies are only required to get a warrant to access recent e-mails before they are opened by the recipient.

As we've noted many times before, there are no such provisions in federal law once the e-mail has been opened or if it has been sitting in an inbox, unopened, for 180 days. In March 2013, the Department of Justice acknowledged in a Congressional hearing that this distinction no longer makes sense and the DOJ would support revisions to ECPA.

Unprecedented e-mail privacy bill sent to Texas governor’s desk [Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica]

Massive fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX

A fertilizer plant in West, Texas caught fire and exploded last night. According to one eyewitness, "Every house within about four blocks is blown apart." The small town is north of Waco, and the early details are horrifying, including the collapse of a crowded nursing home. People reported hearing the explosion 45 miles away. The tweets have more detail, as does this MeFi thread. A sense of the size of the explosion can be garnered from this video. Cory

Unicorn farts: the smell of April Fool's day


Lizzy writes from Austin's magnificent toy emporium Toy Joy:

Here at Toy Joy, April Fools Day smells like Unicorns! Specifically, Unicorn Farts! Not only is April 1 celebrated globally as a holiday of mischief, it also happens to be the best day for harvesting the rarest of poots: Unicorn Farts! Currently offered both in store at Toy Joy and at ToyJoy.com for the low price of $2.95, this enchanted product is sure to bring a smile to your prince or princess.

* 100% Organic Concentrated Unicorn Farts
* Unique Addition to Most Fart Collections!
* Important Ingredient for Magic Spells.
* Handy Household Fragrance.
* Delicious on Salads!

We anticipate a high demand for these rarest of odors, and recommend stocking up on this magical product. Unicorn Farts won't be around forever!

Please feel free to contact the wizarding team at Toy Joy for additional information on this product, or the harvesting process. Send all emails to questions@toyjoy.com.

Texas cop repeatedly tazes the Statue of Liberty

A Fort Worth, TX cop told a guy in a Statue of Liberty suit to move along from the road-median where he was advertising Liberty Tax Services. Lady Liberty did not immediately comply ("Get away from me! What are you doing? Go talk to my boss!") so the cop tazed the Statue of Liberty. Three times. As Lowering the Bar points out, this has bad optics.

People in Liberty suits have rights, too, but not the unrestricted right to solicit customers from a median. While this does implicate the First Amendment, it would be the kind of time, place, and manner restriction that usually passes muster. The situation would be different if a local government tried to completely ban the use of such "moving signs" or (as I prefer to call them) "business mascots," which of course is something that has happened before. See "The McHenry Code," Lowering the Bar (Sept. 6, 2006).

b Coincidentally, that incident (which happened in Illinois) also involved "Lady Liberty," as well as the Verlo Mattress Factory's "Mattress Man," a 4-by-3-foot ambulatory mattress with "comically large hands." McHenry's city council had decided that such "live moving signs" were distracting drivers (which is part of the point of having one) and causing a nuisance because people honk at them. (The council also threw in an alleged "safety risk" to the person in the costume, saying they might get heatstroke.) If I recall correctly, the council later reversed itself on the complete ban, thus giving Liberty some limited freedom.

You Know, It Just Sends the Wrong Message When You Tase the Statue of Liberty

Makerspace at SXSW

Aaron sez, "SXSW Create is a free and open to the public event during SXSW Interactive that will showcase local and national hackers, makers, and creators. It is a hands-on, interactive, and exciting event intended to showcase creativity and innovation that will inspire and encourage others to create themselves. It is located at 101 Red River, directly behind the Austin Convention Center."

Reversible Hello Kitty Hamburger

Like I mentioned in the Blooming Flower post, I'm headed home with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and toys for my five year old. Another awesome score from this trip is the Hello Kitty Reversible 8" Plush: Hamburger, a plush Hello Kitty toy that inverts and forms a Hello Kitty hamburger. It's a thing, then it's another thing! (And there's a turkey version, too).

This thing is pretty spectacular in person. I bought it on recommendation of a nice sales clerk at Austin, TX's Toy Joy, where you can buy bats by the scoopful marvel at the Spider Duck.

If you're headed to SXSW, you should really get all your friends in a taxi and ride out to Toy Joy and then eat some of the spectacular barbecue at Ruby's BBQ, kitty-corner from the shop. It's pretty much the perfect outing, and at least as cool (if not cooler) than anything you'll actually see presented on the conference floor.

Secure documents


More scenes from a book tour: SECURE DOCUMENTS!

Secure documents do not enter sign, Pasadena High, Houston, TX, USA

Spider Duck


Scenes from a book-tour, part sqrt(-1): the SPIDER DUCK, at Austin's magnificent Toy Joy.

Spider Duck, Toy Joy, Austin, TX, USA

Cory in Austin tonight!

Hey, Austin! I'm in town today, doing an event at Book People at 7PM, and then an EFF-Austin benefit. Saturday, I'm in Portsmouth, NH, then on Sunday I'm in Nashua, NH. Cory

Junk food


Scene from a Houston grocery store, courtesy of a touring author's life. I did not buy any of these things.

Junk food, grocery store, Houston, TX, USA

Floorplan for supposed sex-dungeon in Houston's Hotel ZaZa


Remember the potential weirdo sex-dungeon in Houston's Hotel ZaZa? A reader with inside knowledge writes,

That "two-way mirror" in 322 hangs on the bathroom wet wall for the more spacious suite 321 next door. So in the "secret voyeur room" case, you'd be standing in the bathroom next door and looking through a piping chase full of sanitary and domestic water lines. The bricks are a veneer that they decided to stop at the frame of the mirror. It doesn't seem like this room was specially built for secret sex shows or whatnot. At least, no more than any other hotel room with potential for pinhole cameras and so on.

I think it really is just an awkwardly placed and sized room, dictated by adjacent suite and service elevator lobby/shaft requirements. (See attached snippet from floor plans.) The associated balcony sits in a corner, so it is in fact larger than the balconies in the adjacent conventional rooms, as the ZaZa rep claims. I have no explanation for why some owner, architect and/or interior designer thought this would be a good theme for a room, though.

Cory in Houston today!

Hey, Houston! I'll be at Brazos Bookstore tonight at 7PM with my new novel Homeland. Tomorrow, I'll be in Austin at Bookpeople and then a benefit for EFF-Austin, and then I'm heading north to New Hampshire where I'll be at RiverRun Books and the Liberty Forum. And there's still many more cities! Cory

New Orleans schools ban teaching Creationism, reject Texas Creationist "science" textbooks

The Orleans Parish Public School Board has rejected the Louisiana Science Education Act, which followed Texas's lead by putting Creationism into the state's schools. A Board decision prohibits the teaching of Creationism in science class, and forbids the use of Texas's revisionist, Creationist "science" textbooks.

The policy says: "No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the state of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories."

It stresses the separation of science and religious teachings:

"No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes."

Orleans Parish School Board votes to ban creationism [Tania Dall/WWLTV] (Thanks, Patrick!)

The TSA is an irredeemable shitshow, part ten bazillion

This time it's TSA at DFW, who detained a weeping 12-year-old girl with a genetic bone disorder in a wheelchair, separated from her family, on public display, for an hour. Her hands had tested positive for explosive residue, but it was a false alarm. No apologies from the TSA. Oh, and if she was the world's sneakiest suicide bomber, congrats, TSA, you kept her right there among all the other travelers for an hour, while you believed that she was about to blow herself to kingdom come. The Shitshow Agency, indeed. Cory

Hotel break-ins blamed on flaw in keycard system

Back in August, I blogged about a presentation at Black Hat, where a security researcher named Cody Brocious presented a paper on a vulnerability in hotel-door locks made by Onity, showing a method for opening many hotel-room locks with a simple, Arduino-based device.

Now comes the first reported case of a hotel-room break in using this technology "in the wild." A Hyatt in Houston's Galleria district was broken into using this method, according to the hotel, which had not replaced its locks even though it knew about the vulnerability.

In a statement sent to me, a White Lodging spokesperson says the company became aware of the vulnerability in its Onity locks in August, based on reading one of the stories I wrote about Brocious’s lock-hacking technique over the summer. But White Lodging says Onity only implemented a fix for that flaw in its locks after the September break-ins at the Houston Hyatt, around two months after I first alerted Onity to Brocious’s work.

Following those September incidents, White Lodging resorted to plugging the port at the bottom of its Onity locks with “epoxy putty,” according to the letter it sent to guests at its Houston location. The hotel company says it’s now working with Onity to put a more permanent solution in place, either plugging the locks’ ports or replacing their circuit board at every location it manages. “We sincerely regret that these thefts occurred, and hope that measures we have taken satisfy your concerns,” reads the letter to guests from White Lodging vice president Thomas Riegelman.

Security Flaw In Common Keycard Locks Exploited In String Of Hotel Room Break-Ins [Forbes/Andy Greenberg]