Tag Archives: NSA

The Problem

John Oliver had a pretty big get on Last Week Tonight on Sunday, Edward Snowden, NSA leaker and revealer of the ways in which our government is spying on our data. The problem is, we don’t know who this man is, or why we should really give a hoot. Oliver interviews a number of people on the street who, if they have heard the name Snowden at all, incorrectly identify him as Julian Asange from WikiLeaks.

Oliver tried to tease out reasons why the American public should care from a very technically minded person. Ultimately Oliver chose to frame it as “can the government see my dick pics?” Sure, it’s crude and an oversimplification of the privacy rights of citizens, but it’s something that at least some of us will care about. And the analogy worked as Oliver quizzed Snowden on the ways in which certain government programs can see our unmentionables if we’re foolish enough to ever have them touch the Internet ever.

I think there are a couple of problems when we try to have a complicated discussion as a society. We’re not all very technically minded, and the technically minded among us aren’t very good at teasing out what should be common knowledge, and what is just easy to them because they’ve spent years working with the stuff. And societally, we’re not good at assessing long term risk. We eat too much even though it negatively affects our health in the long run. We don’t save enough for retirement because it’s so far away, you get the idea.

I have this problem all the time when trying to explain something technical to someone else, even when I think it’s pretty simple. Part of this is I’m not actually that inclined to be a teacher. I like writing about technical problems, but sit me next to someone on a computer trying to work something out and I go a little crazy. I’m tempted to snatch the keyboard and mouse away and just do it rather than try to explain in non-technical terms.

Other times it’s simply a matter of thinking something is easier than it is, or thinking we’ve explained ourselves when we really haven’t. And the American people have a shorter attention span than we’d care to admit. We need  a simple analogy. And that’s not all that unreasonable of a demand. There are a lot of things we should technically care about, international crisis in Iran, Yemen, Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram (if I spelled it incorrectly, then good ). We’re supposed to worry about climate change, our health, health care, the rapid pace of technology and how our technology is made. The list goes on and on.

So, yeah, maybe not all of us have dick pics, but what do we have that we’d rather the government not see? If we’ve put that thing on a computer, the government has probably seen it.

Discuss.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Trube On Tech

The Rally – Results and Photos

For those who’ve been following the FourthCon diaries, here’s some photographic evidence.

Restore the Fourth Cleveland

1

The rally went down as planned on Saturday. Thanks to everyone who came!

Total turnout was 14, which I admit was disappointing since twice as many had said they would come. But we made the best of it. We protested for three hours, holding signs, passing out flyers, and talking to people all over the square. A lot of people were interested, and we explained the issue to many who had no idea what was going on. One guy made a sign and joined us on the spot!

We had a good time at the after party, too. It was a hot day, but nothing some cold drinks and good company couldn’t fix.

Thanks to those who signed up as members. I’ve been sick the past couple days, but I’ll try to get something out to you soon.

23456789101112

View original post

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fourth Con Travel Log (Day 2 – Saturday)

Brian said that my description of the day would be “I went to the NSA rally, and I had an amazing sandwich.” He was partly right. I actually had two.

But more on the sandwiches later.

This time the rally was in the middle of downtown Cleveland, on the northwest corner of the Cleveland public square, not far from statues of cannons, and men from 1854. Turnout was … a little lighter than expected. For a while we were worried that it was just going to be the five of us: Myself, the lord and lady Buckley, Josh (the NSA agent from the trailer), and Brittany (wife of the other guy in the trailer who wasn’t Brian). The rally was supposed to start around noon. By 12:15 two others had shown up, out of the 27 or so who said they would come on Facebook.

After a quick walk around the square to look for stragglers, finding no one but a group of revivalists with megaphones, we returned to find our group doubled. It’s possible either Brian’s height, or my mutton chops were scaring them off initially, but two bite patriotic brownies convinced them to stay.

It turns out the intersection of people who will stand in a public square and protest something, and those that will listen to them, is a group of some pretty colorful people. Our initial encounter with the public was a woman in a motorized scooter, who found our resident NSA agent to be particularly adorable (though she did say we were all a pretty handsome bunch for the record). She even asked if he liked to date older women. She talked to us for a considerable period of time, and when asking me for my phone number prompted me to present one of my lamer excuses “I’m not very good with numbers.” That’s right, the guy who wrote a fractal book about mathematical art doesn’t remember numbers. But she didn’t know that, and thankfully the well intentioned lie allowed us to share the public contact info, without getting too personal.

Most encounters were friendly, with only a couple of more vocal hecklers. The ability to hand out flyers definitely helped, as it allowed us to spread the word to people without immediately interfering with their day, though I know in a couple of cases it did prompt people to come back to have a conversation with us. Turns out the privacy issue is one that a lot of the public is passionate about. They don’t want the government looking in on their business, and rightly so.

Our final quorum of 13 was small but effective. We moved to a more trafficked, if sunnier part of our small quadrant, which was at the intersection a couple of crosswalks and along a couple of really busy roads. Many cars, and several buses honked at us, including a novelty horned car that knew exactly how awesome their horn was. A few of us handed out flyers, while others were more in the attracting attention game. I was more in the latter camp, reprising my “My Bytes Have Rights” sign, and generally hanging out in the shadiest part of the corner I, the lady Buckley, and the NSA knight errant Josh could find.

One reality we hadn’t really expected may be largely because we don’t live in Cleveland. The majority of the people who talked to us were African-american. This is not to say that we expected any one group to be more interested than another, because this is an issue that affects all of us, but this was the group that was the most polite, actually took our flyers, and engaged us in conversation. Several even said “God bless” for what we’re doing, which is awesome! Most white people we saw snubbed us, and got along with their day. I don’t really know what that says about anything, but it’s an interesting thing to observe first hand.

Internally we were a diverse group in terms of viewpoint if not skin color, but at least united on the single cause. I think we’re still working the kinks out in terms of talking points, and in terms of length of rally. We were there until three, and my sore feet and sunburned face say two hours might have been better, plus sunblock, but that’s my fault cause I’m a stubborn guy and my wife wasn’t with me.

Brian did a great job organizing this thing, and I was really happy to be able to come out and support the cause again, and my good friend. I write this again after a late night of talking about writing, and how everything went before I am back on the road again home. By the time you read this I will have had my lovely reunion with the little red haired girl, and all will be right with the universe.

Okay now the sandwiches.

The first was a Reuben from Jack’s deli, right on the corner of the public square. On no less than three signs, this establishment advertised “hot corned beef”. Obviously I thought I should go and try the hot corned beef. I got a sandwich called “The New Yorker”. Three pieces of rye bread (so double decker), with Swiss, coleslaw, sauerkraut, mustard and enough thinly sized corned beef that I practically had to unhinge my jaw to eat it. Given the fact that the place smelled a bit like cigarillos and the proprietors did not quite look “New Yorker” I was a little wary of how this would sit, but trust me it was one of the best decisions of my day.

Until the Barley House, our after party venue for eight brave protesters. In addition to much needed Sam Adams and fries that tasted like they were from a state fair, I purchased the buffalo poor boy (though I was equally tempted to buy another Reuben as my companion next to me had done). I was not disappointed by the poor boy however. I’m not even entirely certain I can describe to you exactly what was on it, but I know there was tomato, onion, coleslaw, buffalo grilled chicken, fries, and great thick almost Texas toast style bread. If my jaw had to open wide for the Reuben, it was practically on the floor for this sandwich.

I hope I have you all drooling now. I imagine by the time you read this I will have resumed eating food, as right now additional nourishment seems deeply unnecessary.

One more thing I need to highlight.

Brian is a braver man than I when it comes to walking right up to people and talking to them. There were some characters that had I seen them in a different context I would probably have walked away to avoid them. I’m not saying this is a good impulse, but it’s just the world I grew up in. For better or worse, Brian seems oblivious to these sorts of things, in a not “put on” sort of way. Maybe it’s a different view inside his head, but from the outside he will talk to anyone, and he gets people to talk to him. This is a remarkable skill, one that I only know how to achieve through writing. It was a little thing but we were talking to an older gentlemen, one of the last we were to talk to for the day, as I decided to go with Brian on one of his sweeps of the square. He was wearing a mishmash of clothes, and was a little hard to understand. But he was polite and understood what I was talking about when I mentioned the NSA and the fourth amendment and that whole issue. It was clear that he needed something else though. When Brian finished talking to the lady he had started with he came over, and together we managed to glean that the man had been recently released from the hospital and needed somebody to pick him up. Brian pulled out his phone, and called a number for the guy to get him picked up. It’s a little thing, but most people would walk right on by. Not Brian, and that’s why I count him as one of my best friends.

Well these have both been pretty wordy posts, and I do need to actually sleep before my drive tomorrow. Signing off at a little after midnight in the Buckley dining room, your friend and wandering writer, Ben.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fourth Con Travel Log (Day 1 – Friday)

Over the weekend I was up in Cleveland with the good people of Restore the Fourth. As with our protest on July 4th, I traveled up to Findlay the night before to hang out with Brian and the lady Buckley, and plan the following day’s course of action. Most of this was written at the Buckley dining room table. It’s kind of a special thing to write in the house of one of the writers you admire. Wonder why Brian never writes at my house?

It’s definitely a bummer to be away from the little red haired girl for most of the weekend. I left straight from work, so really our last night together was Thursday (Wednesday if you take into account the church meetings she had Thursday night). Still my wife is very supportive, both of the windmills I choose to tilt at, and for me spending time with my friends. Fortunately, we were able to hang out for lunch up in Delaware, which is always a treat.

Friday turned out to be a pretty hectic day at work. This often seems to be the way of things. Thursdays are actually my favorite day as they seem to be the calmest and most efficient days for me. Friday always pretends like it’s going to be a lazy day, and ends up being the craziest day of the week, coupled with the fact that I am leaving for a trip with no time to say goodbye to the wife, or even the dog. I’d say goodbye to the cat, but she probably won’t even realize I’m gone since most of her attention has been captured by a giant stuffed catnip pepper we got for her a few weeks ago. Every time I see here with it I sing a few bars of “I’m in love with a pepper.”

I’ve been having mixed feelings about Restore the Fourth lately, and hadn’t actually been planning on going to this rally until about 10 days ago. I think part of it is the energy expenditure. I’m still pretty worn out from getting the Fractal book out, and I’m gearing up to work on Surreality, so my reserves are kind of low. It’s definitely an important issue, as even the last few weeks have shown. But time away, even to see friends, can be a little taxing.

But at the same time I do enjoy a good trip. I spent some time putting together a mix CD for the car ride (yes some of us don’t have an MP3 plugin or satellite radio, and I hate wearing headphones while driving). Some Pomplamoose to lead out the mix, some solid Massive Attack, Fatboy Slim, Bonobo and Olafur Arnalds in the middle, and 99 Luftballoons to finish it out. I was in a bit of a weird mood, but that’s not exactly unusual. I also spent a decent bit of the night before trying to decide exactly what technology to take with me. It should give you some idea of where I am in the “real book experiment” when I tell you that I seriously considered leaving my paperback behind, as I was already taking two eReaders. The netbook is of course a necessity (otherwise how would I obsessively check Bundle Dragon and compose posts like this?)

The rest of my packing was done in kind of a hurry. I’ve been reading Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek, and Thursday night, since the wife was at a meeting, I thought I’d finish my current chapter, do some Surreality reading, and then pack. Suffice it to say I now have some legitimate reasons to say “Damn you, Wheaton!” as I ended up reading him for over an hour, and getting nothing done on my book. Still breaks are good, and maybe I’ll have to take a crack at some of the book reviewing rules my dad post last week.

I got out of work pretty close to on time and marveled at how quickly I can get out of city life and into farm town. There are times when I think of Delaware as being on the edge of the big city, and a drive up 23 can certainly reinforce that fact. It kind of pleases me that most of what separates Mr. Buckley and me is along the same street, and it also makes for little need for directions, except when navigating through a subdivision where most of the streets begin with “fox”. Every time I drive up to Findlay I pass “Coons Candy” which boasts hundreds of different varieties, but for the life of me I’m never sure when they’re open (turns out 10-6 most days).

Seeing as how it had been a long day, and I had an hour and a half or so’s drive, I stopped at a Steak and Shake to try a cookie dough milkshake. I love cookie dough (it is probably my favorite ice cream ever) but as a milk shake, especially one eaten while driving, it was not terribly practical. Every few sips a chunk would get stuck in the straw, and I’d have to chew my way halfway down to dislodge it. Dietetic in a strange way I guess. I finished right around the time I passed the large pro-life signs about 10 miles from the end of 23.

The evening was spent largely celebrating the big BDB’s birthday, where I learned that Mrs. Dash can do wonders to zucchini. Brian’s prep for the rally gave me some time to chat with the lady Buckley, whose coming cubicle situation is unenviable. But best of all Brian and I had some time to talk about writing, this time story related and not the latest fractal iterations. Not that I don’t still love fractals, as Friday’s post should be good evidence of, but it has been a real treat to get back to fiction. I can’t wait to share this book with you, and hopefully others soon.

Well this getting a bit long for a post in which I drove and ate good food. There are five of us in the car up to Cleveland tomorrow, for a good 2.5 hours each way before our 3 hour time in the public square. I’m excited to see how many people turn out, but even if it’s only a few I know we’ll have a good time and spread some awareness.

Better get to bed before the netbook dies. Cheers!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

You signed the EULA!

Last week Google said Gmail users have no expectation of privacy.

Part of the justification for this is a court case from 1979 stating:

“A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

That’s basically all e-mail, since your average user does not manage his own mail server, and send only to other accounts who manage their own servers. So any e-mail the passes to or from Gmail can be scanned by Google for targeted advertising or anything else.

But we knew this is happening so why would we be worried about it? If it’s transmitted over the internet it’s not private. And we agreed to all of these terms when we clicked the ‘I Agree’ button on the End User License Agreement. And we all read those right?

I think what bugs me most about this issue is how conversations about the law, and what’s right for the country have changed. We each have entered into dozens of hundred page contracts by using software, browsing the internet, or even activating a computer. This is a bit of  a change from when we used to discuss the issues of the day in a bar.

The thing is, we all still think about life this way. Our bar may be Facebook or an actual bar, but we don’t think of life in terms of contracts we’ve signed without reading, we think about what’s right. We think about the constitution and the bill of rights, probably the last set of legal documents we actually understood.

We are all bound by decisions we’ve made without understanding them, and it feels like that’s something that ought to change. I think many of us didn’t have an expectation of privacy, at least not a conscious one. In fact if anything we’re a generation of over-sharers.

But the real extent of how much can be learned about a person just from their e-mail or what they post on Facebook is staggering. We understand that anything we write in a public space like Facebook or WordPress or even an internet forum needs to be for public consumption, but what about private notes to loved ones, or even just the many profoundly silly things we do?

I’m not sure what the alternatives are for e-mail. It’s not like we can all start sending letters, and I’m not sure what our expectations of privacy can be in the postal system anyway.

But we do need to think about these issues, and discuss them in the public square, without just saying ‘meh’. And we need to have a longer attention span. After all, technology is only getting more advanced and our next privacy challenge, Google Glass, is just around the corner.

9 Comments

Filed under Trube On Tech

You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.

The words of a Whitehall official (UK) to  of the Guardian.

I’m attending FourthCon this weekend, another in a continuing set of protests by the group RestoreTheFourth that is concerned with privacy rights, particularly in light of the NSA leaks.

The wonderful trailer for this event is below:

Why is RestoreTheFourth still protesting? They had their fun on July 4th but now it’s time to move on to the next thing in the news cycle.

This seems to be our prevailing attitude whenever something significant happens in the news. Are you still talking about the George Zimmerman verdict? How about Sandy Hook? We all acknowledge that these events bring up important issues worthy of public debate, but only for a week or two.

That’s one of the things that’s been notable about how the Guardian has been doing its reporting (and other papers like the Washington Post). New details of the NSA leak trickle out every week, including this one from the Washington Post about a recent NSA audit that found thousands of privacy violations. This kind of reporting, rather than a huge knowledge dump all at once, is an effort to keep the issue in the public consciousness, an effort that faces some long odds.

Alan Rusbridger reported yesterday on The Guardian about the detain of Glenn Greenwald’s (author of a lot of the initial Snowden coverage) partner and on the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian by British officials. Given the nature of our technological society, destroying a few hard drives has little impact on the actual reporting of a story, but it sends a powerful message.

Someone wants this reporting to stop.

You’ve had your fun. Now let’s move on.

We’re not about to.

3 Comments

Filed under Trube On Tech

The Private Life of Ben Trube, Writer

So what does the internet, or specifically Google know about me? Turns out quite a bit:

SixYearsOfMyGmailThis is a representation of the last six years of my gmail account, created by the new MIT Immersion project. By analyzing my gmail’s metadata (not the content), Immersion was able to make connections between most of my groups of friends and even projects dating back years.

Take this little section:

MensGlee

This is the Ohio State University Men’s Glee Club of which I was a member for five years, more specifically a list of the guys who I enlisted to sing during my proposal to the little red haired girl.

MirrorLakeCropped

This is not a picture of that proposal.

Or how about we take a look over here:

MidnightBells

This little pentagram is from a CSE animation class I took one of my last years at OSU. We made this:

Over here we have my bible study and a few others from Smoky Row:

SRBC

Here’s Brian D. Buckley and our mutual friends (as well as our Restore the Fourth chapter):

Brian

There are a number of other interesting data points including the two “little red haired girls” (maiden and married name e-mail accounts), a group from by brief work at the Byrd Polar Research center, as well as my old CSE adviser. There’s even a scarface (Jonathan Coulton minion, not Al Pacino gangster).

Now consider this, there’s evidence to suggest that the degree of separation between most people is closer to three (not the six from the Kevin Bacon Game). In recent revelations, John Inglis of the NSA revealed that the FISA court gave them authority to collect the cell phone information of anyone three “jumps” from a known or suspected terrorist or terrorist sympathizer. It’s likely e-mail is included in this ruling as well. Just think for a moment about combining my little network with all of the networks of everyone I’ve talked to, and everyone they’ve talked to, and everyone that group has talked to. Do you think it’s possible that someone in that last group is on a watch list? If so, then your data is probably sitting somewhere in Utah data center, among the zettabytes.

Have a good morning. And give the MIT Immersion project a go. You’ll be surprised what you can learn.

PS: Immersion seems to ignore any newsletters or blog notifications or other mass e-mail traffic that also goes through my gmail. Adding this data in would probably create a net twice as big just on my end.

4 Comments

Filed under Trube On Tech