Free Markets, Free People

cell phones


Cell phone jamming: violation of civil rights or good law enforcement tactic?

I come down on the side of the former – a violation of my civil rights.  When does the government unilaterally get to decide  if I’m able to talk to someone (or communicate by other means, such as Twitter) on a device I’ve contracted with a private company and for which they provide service?  When it sees a compelling public safety risk. 

And what would define that public safety risk?    Well that’s kind of up in the air.  Take the expected riots in Chicago for the NATO summit.

Apparently that qualifies

According to the Daily Beast, a little known Bush era regulation gives law enforcement the ability to jam cell phones … you know like they did in Tehran when the people attempted to stand up to their government.  Or Syria?

Not only do the FBI and Secret Service have standing authority to jam signals, but they along with state and local authorities can also push for the shutdown of cell towers, thanks to a little-known legacy of the Bush administration: “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303," which lays out the nation’s official “Emergency Wireless Protocols.”

The protocols were developed after the 2005 London bombings in a process that calls to mind an M.C. Escher work. First, the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) formed a task force— composed of anonymous government officials and executives from Cingular, Microsoft, Motorola, Sprint, and Verizon—that issued a private report to President Bush. Another acronym-dragging committee, also meeting in secret, then approved the task force’s recommendations. Thus, according to NSTAC’s 2006–07 annual issue review, SOP 303 was born.

"In time of national emergency," the review says, SOP 303 gives “State Homeland Security Advisors, their designees, or representatives of the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center” the power to call for “the termination of private wireless network connections… within an entire metropolitan area.” The decision is subject to review by the National Coordinating Center, a government-industry group responsible for the actual mechanics of the shutdown. The NCC is supposed to “authenticate” the shutdown via “a series of questions.” But SOP 303 does not specify, at least not publicly, what would constitute a “national emergency,” or what questions the NCC then asks “to determine if the shutdown is a necessary action.”

“[T]he termination of private wireless network connections …”.  That should send a chill up your spine.  This is the realm of dictatorship. 

What if I have nothing to do with whatever the disturbance in the area might be?  What if I have an emergency?  What if I can’t get to a land line?  Who in the hell are these people to deny me access to a private service I pay for and they don’t?

And all for their convenience, because that’s the point.  Protesters use wireless services and social media like Twitter to organize.

Instead of Law Enforcement learning to monitor that and react sufficiently well to blunt its effect, they prefer to use the sledge hammer approach and shut down service to all in an area.

I have a contract with a provider.  That provider agrees to provide me uninterrupted service for payment.  I pay.  Government decides to void that contract at its own whim and possibly endanger my life and safety by doing so.

Oh, and here’s a little ground truth:

“It’s the nature of law enforcement to push the envelope,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police instructor and professor of police practice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s act first and litigate second.”

Understatement of the year.  For instance:

While it’s against the law for individuals or nongovernmental organizations to sell or use jammers, the devices are easily found online. The U.S. military was among the first to use communications shutdowns, and local government demand for the technology has been building for years, even as the legal rules for its use have remained ill-defined. Prison wardens want to snuff out the use of smuggled cellphones by inmates; school officials hope to disable students’ phones; the National Transportation Safety Board wants to disable all “portable electronic devices within reach of the driver” while cars are in motion.

I’m sure you can dream up many more rights abusing nanny state scenarios (yeah, jamming illegal prison cell phones actually seems legit) than those listed.  Imagine a state banning cell phone use in cars and installing jammers along all major highways.  Imagine a car wreck with injuries.  Imagine the law suits to follow.

For once the ACLU and I are on the same side:

The ACLU, Verizon, and a coalition of public-interest groups noted that cellphone blackouts would, with few exceptions, violate the Constitution and federal communication law, as well as threaten public safety by eliminating the means to share vital information or call 911.

But:

Now other efforts to cut through the legal haze have emerged. In response to the wireless shutdown in San Francisco last summer, California State Sen. Alex Padilla introduced what would be a first-of-its-kind bill stipulating that to cut off service a judge must sign off that the move is necessary to avert “significant dangers to public health, safety or welfare.” If approved, the bill, which has the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, could become the gold standard for state policy. San Francisco transit officials codified their own policy, which remains quite vague, after the public backlash to their shutdown. It calls for “strong evidence” of dangerous and unlawful activity, a belief that an interruption will “substantially reduce the likelihood of such an activity” and that the interruptions are “narrowly tailored.”

No.  That agrees to the premise that government should have that power and then tries to define it “narrowly”.  I don’t agree with the premise of government’s right to do this.  If they want to talk about an exceptional power in time of a declared National Emergency, I’m willing to listen.  But we all know how wide “narrowly” becomes when law enforcement is given an ability to use such a power.  They’ll use it for their convenience, screw your rights.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


A Federal program that provides free cell phones is being abused? Go figure …

I know, I know … it’s just so unusual, right?

What if you could get a free phone with a calling plan whose cost was paid by the federal government? What if you could have eight free cell phones? You can, and people do, Rep. Tim Griffin told The Daily Caller. The annual bill runs over $1 billion, and he’s trying to stop it.

The federal government started the Lifeline program to provide phones to low-income Americans. It originally provided only landlines, but cell phones were added several years ago.

“That’s when the program absolutely exploded and has become a nightmare,” Griffin said in a phone interview with TheDC. Calling it “Uncle Sam’s unlimited plan,” the Arkansas Republican has proposed a bill that would scale back the program to its original form: landlines only.

“People are not only getting [one free cell phone], they’re getting multiples. There are reports of people getting 10, 20, 30 — just routinely getting more than one, selling them, storing them up, whatever,” Griffin said.

The phones come with 100 minutes or more of free air time.  And they’re not just basic models either, they’re smart phones, like that one you paid a couple of hundred dollars for along with the contract you are obligated to pay each month.

Silly you.  Playing by the rules and trying to make it on your own.  Ever wonder what that line on your bill that says “universal service fund” was all about?  Well, this is what its about.  Your government giving away cell phones with no apparent accountability and you paying for them.

And the companies filling the requests for these phones?  Much like what happened in the housing market, they’ve been given incentives by government to fill as many requests as they can.

This is an outgrowth of a program that was initiated to ensure that low-income people had a land line and access to emergency services.  Then came cell phones and somehow the yahoos in DC thought it was only “fair” (one supposes) to give those who qualify as low-income individuals access to them too (why, I’m not sure, if the intent was to have a point of access to emergency services, a land line serves that purpose).

The inevitable result is good old waste, fraud and abuse to the tune of a billion dollars a year – something for which government is justly famous.

Oh, and here’s my favorite part:

The Federal Communications Commission, the government agency that is in charge of Lifeline, has also called for an overhaul of the program to deal with fraud and abuse. The FCC’s proposed changes call for a database to keep track of who already has phones, to prevent any one person from gaming the system. The proposed overhaul would also institute “a one-per-household rule applicable to all providers in the program.”

Seriously?  Now they think they need a “database” of users?  Now?

Have they any idea of who has the phones now? 

And, most importantly, why wasn’t this done in the beginning?  You know, we do live in the computer/information age.  How hard would that have been?

Just another in a long line of well thought out, well run and efficient government programs.

Yeah, let’s campaign for even more, shall we?

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


No Cojones — Jerry Brown blows off his responsibility to safeguard the rights of Californian’s

I have to say, the position CA governor Jerry Brown has taken on warrantless cell phone searches is a total abdication of his responsibility to the citizens of California:

California Gov. Jerry Brown is vetoing legislation requiring police to obtain a court warrant to search the mobile phones of suspects at the time of any arrest.

The Sunday veto means that when police arrest anybody in the Golden State, they may search that person’s mobile phone — which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and even where the phone has traveled.

Brown’s excuse for vetoing it?

Brown’s veto message abdicated responsibility for protecting the rights of Californians and ignored calls from civil liberties groups and this publication to sign the bill — saying only that the issue is too complicated for him to make a decision about. He cites a recent California Supreme Court decision upholding the warrantless searches of people incident to an arrest. In his brief message, he also doesn’t say whether it’s a good idea or not.

Instead, he says the state Supreme Court’s decision is good enough, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand last week.

“The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections,” the governor wrote.

What wonderful reasoning, huh? Jerry Brown would never have had a problem with Plessey v. Ferguson because, you know, the court’s decision would have been viewed by him as “good enough”.

Why not make them decide then while coming down on the side of the citizens who believe that device is something which shouldn’t have open access to government?   Why not approve the bill and make the court decide it is wrong and must be repealed.  Why not make the court justify such searches?  Why not come down on the side of privacy and against the invasion of privacy?

Isn’t that what government is supposed to do – protect the rights of its citizens from unlawful search and seizure?  Brown has decided it is up to the citizens to sue to stop such an invasion and not him.  So he’s going to side with those who believe that there is no inherent right to privacy when it comes to one’s cell phone and make the citizen’s of California seek protection in the courts.

Total abdication of responsibility by an elected official – something that has become more and more commonplace even though, in most cases, not as blatant.  This is an assault on the 4th Amendment and it is being aided and abetted by a sitting governor.

Radley Balko notes the abdication as well and references something one of his commenters pointed out:

Cell phones are also not simple “containers” to the extent that modern phones show both local data and vastly more data information stored in cloud services, often all integrated together seamlessly to the user. These law enforcement searches are actually retrieving information stored in “containers” elsewhere.

In other words, this gives them instant access to data for which they’d otherwise have to get a warrant. It allows police to go far beyond searching just the device itself.  It allows them access to records and data far removed from where the search is taking place without a warrant. 

Now, you tell me: how difficult, assuming probable cause exists, would it be for the police to hold the device, submit probable cause to a judge and obtain a warrant without losing any of the expected “evidence” the phone would provide?

And, how many of you believe, given this abdication by Brown, that police won’t take advantage of and use “traffic stops” to seized and search cell phones of those they suspect of other crimes?

Yeah, they’d never do that.

Isn’t it the job of a governor to err on the side of the citizen’s rights?

Governor Brown should be ashamed – mortified – at the abdication of his role as protector of the people of his state.   And the people of his state should do what is right and make sure that when the time comes, he’s given his walking papers.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


TSA symptomatic of government’s growing fascism

You know, for the most part I’m not one to throw around inflammatory words if I can help it.  I think their use normally marginalizes the person using them as most folks tend to immediately turn off whatever that person has to say thinking them to be an extremist.

But frankly, I just don’t know how else to describe what I see going on out there.  Listening to current and former TSA officials say things like “hey, no one likes 4th Amendment violations, but we’re going to have to do it”, just sends a chill down my spine.  Talk about the banality of evil.

That’s not the only example.   Take cell phones for instance.  Your benevolent, freedom loving government is considering requiring technology in future cars that will allow them to disable cell phones.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said using a cell phone while driving is so dangerous that devices may soon be installed in cars to forcibly stop drivers — and potentially anyone else in the vehicle — from using them.

“There’s a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we’re looking at that,” said LaHood on MSNBC. LaHood said the cellphone scramblers were one way, and also stressed the importance of “personal responsibility.”

[…]

“I think it will be done,” said LaHood. “I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives.”

Emphasis mine – but it highlights the rationalization used by government drones to restrict your freedoms and violate your rights.  It is the new “for the children”, the latest of excuses used to limit your freedom. 

The TSA and the nonsense spouted by LaHood are only the most visible examples of this growing phenomenon. Government, under the rationalization that it had to save us from financial failure, has intruded upon and taken over vast areas of the economy – health care, car companies, financial institutions.

It’s even trying to further expand its intrusion into the food production industry with a bill now being debated in the Senate (and which has 7 GOP senate cosponsors). The bill would place restrictions on even hobbiest farmers. It would also expand the powers of the FDA and place some power in the hands of Homeland Security.

That’s not the only attack going on in that area.

And the usual suspects are all for this sort of thing.  Oh, of course, you’ll hear them claim publicly about how important our freedoms are and how we should work to preserve them, but when blatant examples of right’s violations surface, they side with security over rights.

They’re also not at all concerned anymore with what they used to decry when it was the opposition holding the presidency.  Remember the outrage on the left about the so-called “imperial executive”, George W. Bush?  Remember the promises of reversing that if Barack Obama won the presidency?

Apparently that’s not that big of a deal anymore:

Former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff John Podesta, now the head of the Center for American Progress, called on President Obama to push forward with his agenda using federal agencies and executive branch power Tuesday, even though Democrats were dealt a blow in the recent midterm elections. Podesta said the American people want the president to move forward with his agenda.

“I think most of the conversation since the election has been about how President Obama adjusts to the new situation on Capitol Hill,” Podesta said. “While that’s an important conversation, it simply ignores the president’s ability to use all levels of his power and authority to move the country forward.”

“Forward” toward what, Mr. Podesta?  Creeping fascism?  Heck, it’s not even creeping anymore.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." – Ben Franklin

We’re rapidly approaching deserving neither. Freedom means risk. Security, in the hands of government, means oppression in its name. If you can’t see that growing more and more everyday, you’re simply blind. Time to say "stop this madness" and "hands off my freedoms" with a bit of emphasis and mean it.

~McQ


This is the Droid you’re looking for

Well, I no longer have a Motorola Droid. It’s gone.

Verizon gives you this 30 day deal where you’re allowed to swap out your phone. so I decided to take a look at the HTC Incredible. To make a long story short, I walked out with one.

The one sticking point with me was that the HTC didn’t have a physical keyboard. But I’ve noticed over the last few days that I didn’t even use the physical keyboard on the Motorola. The Incredible just seemed like a better device, after playing with it in the Verizon store for a while.

It has a 1GH processor compared to the 533MH processor on the Droid. An 8 megapixel camera compared to the Droid’s 5 megapixel one. And the virtual keyboard is pretty good, too. My only complaint so far is that the predictive text feature on the Droid works better. I’m sure I’ll get used to the way HTC has implemented the feature but the Droid’s was better out of the box.

The camera on the Incredible seems to be a lot better than the Droid, and it works a lot faster.

The HTC also has one thing most newer cell phones completely lack, and the the little lanyard attachment point. I have this little utility pouch from Wingnut that I hang off a belt loop of my pants, or my motorcycle pants. I use it to carry a multitool, a backup knife, a Cross Ion pen, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. It also has a cell phone pocket with a quick-release lanyard you can attach to the phone.

Anyway, I have the new Incredible, and so far I’m really liking it. It’s what I’m using to write this post, in fact.

Thank you, Verizon, for letting me use a Droid for a week as a trainer phone for Android, and then giving me a free upgrade to a better phone.

At least, I think it’s a better phone. The real test will come on Sunday, when we see if the call quality to BlogTalkRadio is as good on the HTC as the Droid was last week.


A new pleasure (Updated)

So, yesterday Verizon notified me that I was eligible for a new phone upgrade. I popped ’round to the phone store, and after much hemming and hawing, “settled” for a Motorola Droid.

Itbseems to have a nice application market, one of whose products is the app I’m using to write this post.

Yep. I’m phone-blogging.

It’s really amazing where the march of mobile technology is taking us. Yesterday, I came across an old news video from 1981, which talked about how some newspapers were starting to put out electronic versions–text only, of course–onto computers. Subscribers with computers could log on via modem and download the whole paper. It only took two hours to download, at a cost of $10 per download–the equivalent of $23 in 2010 dollars.

And today, I can instantly publish to the whole world via my phone, for free.

We’ve now advanced to the point where we have phones whose least valuable feature is the ability to make telephone calls.

UPDATE: Sorry about the multiple posts. I kept getting a bad gateway error, so I kept republishing…without looking to see if it published. My bad, not the phone’s.

So far the phone just rocks.