technology

Just what can the NSA do with information

Micky Aldridge (CC)

How many times have you thought about returning an email to someone, and realized that you couldn’t immediately find that person’s original message? Stands to reason that once you’re at that point, you end up dropping the cursor into the little search bar that’s sitting on the top of just about every email client and webmail page, started typing in the person’s name, to run a search. It’s something that just about everyone with an email account anywhere has done, and taken for granted. Now, imagine if you couldn’t do that - or you couldn’t search for a specific topic within your emails.

Well, that’s what the NSA would like to have people believe about their system. According to a report from Pro Publica, the agency can’t seem to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that happen to include at least a single domain for the outside source of emails, and a specific time period to search for said emails.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

Congress must reform high-skilled worker visa system

immigrants

The renewed debate over immigration reform has led to some very strong opinions, but one particular issue that has been lost in the mix is the need for more high-skilled workers in the United States.

The visa system for high-skilled workers — known as H-1B visas or STEM visas — is in dire need of modernization. This system allows businesses to temorarily employ foreign workers who have college degrees in various fields, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The system, however, limits the number of workers who can obtain these visas to 65,000 per year, meaning that many high-skilled workers see employment in other countries instead of waiting to come to the United States.

Along with a number of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) recently introduced legislation — the Immigration Innovation Act (also known as the I-Squared Act) — that would bring a much needed overhaul to the H-1B visa system and more economic benefit to the United States.

The Immigration Innovation Act would increase the annual cap on high-skilled workers who can obtain H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 and also provide a manner of flexibility that would allow the cap to be raised even higher to meet labor demand inside the United States. The legislation would also remove the cap for high-skilled workers with advanced degrees, which is currently limited to 20,000 per year.

A coalition of freedom-minded groups — including the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute — have endorsed the plan.

Minnesota Criminalizes Learning

online

In the “You Can’t Make This Shit Up” file:

Honorable mentions go to New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for driving out Uber’s online taxi-hailing service and to automobile dealers’ groups in four states for trying to have Tesla dealerships declared illegal. But the grand prize in this week’s unexpectedly heated competition for most creative use of government to stifle innovation has to go to Minnesota.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the state has decided to crack down on free education, notifying California-based startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents. Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, partners with top-tier universities around the world to offer certain classes online for free to anyone who wants to take them. You know, unless they happen to be from Minnesota.

Citizens United and SOPA/PIPA

You know, letting corporations donate to political campaigns and have free speech rights will destroy the country. Giving corporations the right to speech, like us, is a monumental threat to democracy. They would make us all beholden to the 1%. They would buy campaigns, transform this country into a plutocracy or, worse yet, a full blown corporatocracy. Who knows what terrible things they could do to our country. Why, with their money and resources, they would be able to warp and corrupt public opinion, and turn them against the government. They might even lead a campaign to stop online censorship!

I find it somewhat amusing that the progressives who railed against Citizens United so furiously are now finding themselves the beneficiaries of that decision. Citizens United allowed corporations and such organizations as unions to spend money on political campaigns, though they could not be donated to political parties or candidates, and had to be spent separately. What else was the SOPA Strike Wednesday but a political campaign, with Hollywood on one end trying to use the political system to do away with due process in order to reap more profits, and tech companies and grassroots citizen-activists on the other trying to prevent such a mockery of law? I’m not a legal expert, but it would appear to me that if Citizens United hadn’t been decided the way it were, and the McCain-Feingold Act was still in place, this campaign might not have gotten off the ground, or if it did, it might not have been as wildly successful as it was.

It’s Working: #StopSOPA Protests Make Senators Back Off

Most times, petitions, protests, and the like to seem to have very little effect. People protested against the Iraq War, but we went in. People protested against TARP and the bailouts, but we bailed them out anyways. People protested against Obamacare, and it was passed anyways.

Today is different.

Judging from the news I’ve been seeing, it appears that the SOPA Strike is having an appreciable effect. I’ve already noted that Sens. Rubio and Cornyn, two sponsors, have switched sides on the bill. Declan MuCullough over at CNet reports that there is even more antipathy than I previously thought:

Rep. John Carter, [R-Mars? -Ed.] a Texas Republican who is listed as a SOPA sponsor, “reserves judgment on the final bill,” a spokesman told CNET today. “He’s certainly not saying pass the bill as-is — there are legitimate concerns in this bill.” (See CNET’s FAQ on the topic.)

[…]

The home pages of Craigslist and Google feature exhortations to contact members of Congress and urge them to vote against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate version called Protect IP. Amazon.com and Yahoo’s Flickr have also joined in. (Craiglist’s snarky note: “Corporate paymasters, KEEP THOSE CLAMMY HANDS OFF THE INTERNET!”)

New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats who are Protect IP sponsors, sent CNET a joint statement saying: “While the threat to tens of thousands of New York jobs due to online piracy is real and must be addressed, it must be done in a way that allows the Internet and our tech companies to continue to flourish.” They said they believe “both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns.”

Intro to Stop SOPA Day: The 411 on SOPA Evil

Welcome, United Liberty readers! Today we are solely focusing on the evil that is #SOPA and #PIPA, the two bills that are in Congress and aiming to destroy the Internet. Thousands of websites are going dark to protest, including such giants as reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, Wordpress.com, Scribd, and Wikipedia. Google is also joining in, though they aren’t going completely dark, they’re putting notifications on their front page, which will help the protest get a lot more attention.

If you’re new here, or you’re new to the whole SOPA and PIPA debate in general and want to know more about why these bills plainly suck, you’re in the right place. But rather than reinvent the blogging wheel, I’m instead going to give credit where credit is due, and direct you to Mashable’s Chris Heald, who has done an absolutely fantastic job dissecting these bills and showing you why they are some of the worst things that have ever been put before Congress (after the horrific NDAA, of course.)

The post is very long, because it dissects them so thoroughly. Here are some highlights I want to share with you, that I think are most applicable:

We’ll expand on this further down, but the really scary thing here is that there isn’t any qualification that the site be solely for the purpose of theft, only that it facilitate it. Since copyright violation is ridiculously easy, any site with a comment box or picture upload form is potentially infringing. Furthermore, DMCA Safe Harbor provisions are no defense. You, as a site operator, become liable for copyright infringement committed by your users, even if you comply with DMCA takedown requests.

[…]

 

BREAKING: #Wikipedia to go dark Wed to Protest #SOPA

It’s official, from The Hill:

Wikipedia will blackout on Wednesday to protest two controversial Internet piracy bills, founder Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter Monday.

“Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday,” Wales wrote.

The protest will apply only to the English version of the popular online encyclopedia and will last for 24 hours.

Wales estimated that the English Wikipedia receives about 25 million visits per day, but he said the site could receive even more visits during the blackout due to the publicity.

There you have it, folks. Now this protest actually will be effective. 25 million will see that Wikipedia is against SOPA, leading to 25 million who will also be against it. And that’s just a conservative estimate.

The Senate will vote on SOPA’s counterpart January 24. We need to let everyone in the Senate know how bad this bill is—and hopefully, with the weight of Wikipedia behind us, maybe they’ll sit up and take notice.

Wikipedia to go dark to protest #SOPA?

There are very few petitions that I think will actually do something. Usually, I simply don’t bother. Nobody reads them or listens to them. However, there are exceptions, and here is one of them.

Apparently, Wikipedia is considering going dark to protest the censorship monstrosities “Stop Online Piracy Act” and “Protect IP Act,” and DemandProgress has a petition website up where you can pledge to donate $1 if they do go dark, or simply sign a nonmonetary petition to do so. I have pledged the money, not only because I oppose SOPA, but also because I have used Wikipedia a lot over the years, and I would like to give back to that community.

We’ve been over why SOPA is a bad idea here many times. There are sincere technological problems with SOPA, along with political issues. It’s a cure that’s worse than the disease. The backers behind SOPA are pirates themselves. Wikipedia would also not be alone in this, if it does go through. All of these are reasons why we need to do something about this bill, and do it now.

8 Technological Reasons to Stop SOPA & PIPA

There’s legislation in the House and Senate right now that is very troubling to me. In the House, it’s called the Stop Online Piracy Act (abbreviated SOPA); in the Senate, it’s called PROTECT IP (or PIPA). The goal of the legislation is to stop online piracy, which is definitely a problem. The Senate will be voting on it later this month, and for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been in awe at the absurdity of this legislation while trying to find a proper way to respond to it.

I’m a freedom loving, Constitution defending, small government guy who writes my own personal opinion about politics (which, for the record, may or may not always be the view of my employer). My day job (the one that actually pays bills) is as a systems administrator for a very large company. I’ve spent the vast majority of the last 13 years since my college graduation dealing with the technology of the Internet, and I know it quite well.

My career in IT and my fondness for liberty make me one of a relatively small number of political bloggers qualified to address this issue from both the technological and political points of view. Today I am discussing the technological issues around this legislation; tomorrow I’ll post the political problems with it.

This weekend I spent a lot of time poring over this legislation, blog posts, and white papers about it. I made my own notes and then merged my concerns of this legislation with those I found elsewhere on the Internet. This post is a fairly exhaustive list of the technological problems with SOPA and PIPA.

When a domain is seized, the pirated content still exists on the server. Additionally, it can still be accessed by its IP address. There is nothing, outside of draconian national firewall rules, that can be done to stop Americans from accessing this content.

The Proletariat Uprising Against Evil Corporations

With the economy in a sustained recession, unemployment at or above nine percent for approaching three years, and tens of millions of Americans struggling just to put food on their table, perhaps few people or organizations have been showered with such hostility and ill-repute as have “corporations.” Yet, of all of the root causes of our current economic malaise, such contempt may nowhere be more misplaced.

Obama, after the shellacking his party took in the 2010 elections and with no end in sight to the economic downturn, has turned to finding a scapegoat or two to deflect blame for the anger and frustration America feels. His two favorite targets are Republican “obstructionism” and those evil, faceless corporations that steal from the poor to sate their insatiable greed.

Maybe he has a point though. After all, we all know that Steve Jobs became one of the richest men in the world as the head of Apple by hiring legions on thugs to go out across America to households and college campuses, brandishing guns and clubs and threatening violence if the poor masses did not give these brutes their money in exchange for little pieces of molded plastic and silicon and copper which Jobs called “Macs” and “iPods”, “iPhones” and “iPads”. His reign of terror was so complete that every time Jobs released a new version of these little pieces of plastic, hundreds and thousands of people would camp out overnight at one of his stores to give up their money in exchange for these gadgets, in the hope that by voluntarily doing so his thugs would not show up at their homes, schools and places of businesses and threaten them there.

 
 


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