Monthly Archives: December 2013

International Standard Name Identifier Gets the Hasbrouck Treatment

Ed Hasbrouck takes on the International Standard Name Identifier and asks some good questions about data sources, data quality, data retention laws, and transparency. Apparently they’ve been assigning numbers — 6.4 million so far — to authors based on a fairly opaque and seemingly unreliable system. Why? The motives may be good:

The mission of the ISNI International Authority (ISNI-IA) is to assign to the public name(s) of a researcher, inventor, writer, artist, performer, publisher, etc. a persistent unique identifying number in order to resolve the problem of name ambiguity in search and discovery; and diffuse each assigned ISNI across all repertoires in the global supply chain so that every published work can be unambiguously attributed to its creator wherever that work is described.

If you’re an author, you can look up to see if you have a number (or more than one?), via the ISNI search form.

It seems I was assigned 0000 0003 5245 3354, but it’s linked to only a small fraction of my publications. Queue up the Prisoner?

Kidding aside, and even if the ISNI’s motives are good ones, if Hasbrouck’s facts are right (and my experience with Ed is that they usually are) then there are some flaws in the system — I wonder how (if?) the ISNI will respond.

Posted in ID Cards and Identification | 1 Comment

Anonymity is Hard: Harvard Bomb Hoax Investigation Surmounts Tor + Guerilla Mail

According to the affidavit from FBI Special Agent Thomas M. Dalton, the person who sent a fake bomb threat to cause Harvard to evacuate several buildings during exams used a throwaway email address from Guerrilla Mail, which he contacted via Tor. The FBI caught him anyway because the sender of the bomb threat accessed Tor via the Harvard wireless network.

The Guerrilla Mail FAQ says that “Logs are deleted after 24 hours,” but the FBI apparently got there inside that window. Presumably using the Guerrilla Mail logs, the FBI determined that the sender of the emails used Tor, an anonymization tool, to connect to Guerrilla Mail. Although the affidavit doesn’t spell any of this out, Harvard’s logs allowed it to figure out who had been using their wireless network to connect to Tor. They then somehow — correlating who among the limited pool of Tor-users with the people who had exams in the buildings evacuated due to the bomb threat? — fingered a suspect (or suspects?). I’d love to know how many people were in the intersection of those two sets. When confronted by the FBI a Harvard undergrad who confessed. One has to wonder, though, if there would have been sufficient evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt without that confession. After all, there are other ways to contact Tor.

Tor is widely considered to be the best tool available for online anonymity, so this serves as a cautionary lesson on how difficult it is to be anonymous on line.

The text of the affidavit is below:
Continue reading

Posted in Law: Internet Law | 1 Comment

Facing White Privilege

In I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System Bobby Constantino, a former prosecutor, discovers a number of things: it’s tough to get arrested for a misdemeanor while white; cops routinely mistreat prisoners in urban jails; probation officers couldn’t really care less.

If any of these sound like they might be news to you, you should read his well-written article in the Atlantic.

Posted in Law: Criminal Law | Leave a comment

Judge Leon Rules that NSA Bulk Telphony Meta-Data Collection Program is Likely Unconstitutional (Updated)

It takes a legal leap to do it, but U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled today that the NSA’s dragnet metadata collection program is likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment (the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”). It’s only ‘likely’ because this is a ruling on a request for a preliminary injunction, but there’s no doubt about the drift even on a very rushed read.

To get there Judge Leon has to take several steps, at least one of which will likely be controversial.

1. Judge Leon finds (some of) the plaintiffs have standing. I don’t think this will be the controversial part, although I commend the text around footnote 36, and especially footnote 36, to anyone who has doubts.

2. Judge Leon holds that the APA review is implicitly precluded by FISA and by the Patriot Act. Generally, courts do not find implied preclusion of the APA, and I never like it, but I do not think this will be the controversial part of this opinion.

3. Judge Leon holds that the collection and analysis of telephone metadata is a search. I think this obviously is the right answer on first principles. Doctrine makes it harder to reach that conclusion than it should. For starters, there’s the problem of the pen register precedents — the Supreme Court has said that installing and using a pen registers is not a search, and they collect pretty much the same data as does the NSA — just one line at a time, and for limited intervals. Doctrine does not make it easy to say that the scope and scale of the NSA’s activities are so transformative as to make Smith v. Maryland, 442 US 735 (1979) (pen register not a 4th Amendment search) inapplicable. But that’s what Judge Leon more or less does. He also relies, somewhat less persuasively, on the close relationship between the government and the carriers as far exceeding any reasonable expectation of erosion of privacy. Slightly more persuasive is the argument that technological change — the ways in which the data can be used — make it time to rethink Smith as does the change in the way we use phones — one mobile per person, instead of one fixed line phone in 90% of homes when Smith was decided. I think the most one can say here is that if the Supreme Court wants to revisit Smith as five Justices may have signaled in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012) [Smith and Jones, what great names for privacy and mass surveillance cases!], then here’s the chance to do so.

4. Judge Leon rejects the ‘special needs’ exception to the Fourth Amendment. I think this exception is a mistake on principle, but again it’s doctrine. But here the doctrine is less helpful to the NSA, especially as it appears that it introduced no evidence — despite being invited to do so — as to the efficacy or utility of the bulk meta-date program. That might change, though, if the trial ever gets to the merits.

Incidentally, all the other trial courts that have addressed the bulk telephony metadata collection program ruled that it was legal.

Judge Leon stayed his own order pending appeal, which is certain. How timely that Obama’s new nominees to the D.C. Circuit will be on duty for the all-too-likely en banc!

Posted in Law: Privacy, Surveillance | 5 Comments

Holiday Greetings from the ACLU

“The NSA is coming to town…”

Posted in Surveillance | 1 Comment

Why the Budget Deal is Awful, in One Chart


(from DownWithTyranny!)

Posted in Econ & Money | 3 Comments