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Counterpoint March 21st: Crimea & Elections feat. Alex & Meg

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | March 22nd, 2014 |

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

So this week, we talked about Crimea again. We had previous Counterpointers Alex and Meg join us and weigh in. The conversation seemed to be heading towards “it’s not our problem,” a viewpoint shared by one of my personal heroes, Ron Paul. After that, we moved to the Jolly/Sink election, and good ‘ol Reps vs. Dems in various upcoming elections. Shout-out to Meg McGee, our previous host, and Alex Alduncin, a previous commentator, for coming on the show. We also had a higher-that-normal volume of listener texts (which we love). Anyways, if you missed it and want a replay, hit the jump below–

Counterpoint 3/7/14: Ukraine, State of the State, & House of Cards, feat. Kamila Orlova

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | March 8th, 2014 |

 

(Image credit: Operation World)

 

This week, we were luck enough to have Kamila Orlova, a student here at UM who hailed from Russia, to speak with us about the Ukrainian situation. Additionally, I let Jordan rant about his gripes with Florida Governor Rick Scott, and for the last few minutes of the show, we talked about the first season of House of Cards (we will talk about the second season in the near future). Discussion was good, as usual, even though we were missing our usual conservative commentators, but I thought I played a decent devil’s advocate to bridge the gap. Anyways, hit the jump below to listen to the show. Keep it locked.

Counterpoint 2/28: Clinton Visits UM, Arizona and Venezuela

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | February 28th, 2014 |

(Photo credit: history.com)

This week, we discussed Hillary Clinton’s visit to UM (she did not announce, unfortunately), the Arizona governor’s veto of a broadly worded bill that some say would have legalized prejudice against homosexuals by business owners, and the precarious situation in Venezuela. Hit the jump for the audio–

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Speaks at the University of Miami by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Brazil to Defend Against NSA Snooping

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | October 15th, 2013 |

 

[Image Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP]

Over the weekend, Brazil announced its plans to throw off the NSA’s ability to snoop in on their internal affairs. The system is still in development, but the idea is that a new form of secure communication is being developed that will not allow traditional NSA intrusions into it. The move comes after revelations that the NSA had infiltrated Brazilian governmental communications. An email system with the same intent is being developed for the public.

If only the same was happening in the U.S… But oh well, I’m relatively happy for Brazil actually doing something about the NSA. This brings up the idea of extra-legal justice: since the NSA is actively violating legal and moral standards, it is certainly acceptable to abandon diplomatic channels and solve the problem unilaterally. A similar solution needs to be developed in the U.S. I’ve put forth the needs for privacy before, so I’ll keep it short– it’s not just the idea that you’re being watched, it’s the mentality that comes with it: that one will never truly be able to create/express themselves freely without the threat of silent eyes judging them from some dark cubicle in some data center. It may seem like some paranoid musing, but we’ve seen after the Snowden leaks that at the very least, it’s not out of the question.

Anyways, it’s a slow news cycle: anything other than the debt ceiling, the shutdown, or the ensuing bickering that comes with it has been pushed way off to the side. Don’t forget to tune in Friday, when we’ll be talking about all of the above and more.

 

COUNTERPOINT airs Fridays at 1pm EST.

The iPhone 5s: the Start of Widespread Genetic Tech?

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 25th, 2013 |

(Image credit: The Denver Post)

 

In case you missed it, the new iPhone went on sale recently. Normally this wouldn’t be even remotely newsworthy, but this iPhone is different: it comes with a fingerprint sensor.

The iPhone 5s (Apple’s latest offering) is able to read and store the fingerprint of the owner and if chosen, other people as well. I can’t possibly be the only one who smells something fishy here: hot on the heels of the Snowden leaks, the new must-have product just so happens to have this technology?

“But so what?” you say. It’s just a fingerprint, and those are taken all the time; for jobs, arrests, etc. so why does this even matter? Personally, I don’t think the actual data does, after all, I just said fingerprints are taken all the time, but this is huge for the “surveillance culture” we have creeping up on us: for the first time ever, there is the widespread use of a technology that uses a genetic marker to identify people on a regular basis. While I’ll admit that “fingerprints” and “genetic marker” generally aren’t lumped together as synonymous, “DNA” and “genetic marker” usually are, and that’s what this technology is paving the way for. That sounds far off into the future, but DNA-verification has been around for a while, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the general public. What’s more, while it’s not generally accepted that specific genetic information can be reliably determined from a fingerprint, DNA-verification could pave the way for corporations to target ads with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth. Got a cold? (For those not familiar, the common cold– like any virus– can actually make slight alterations to genes) Your iPhone 151s could one day be offering you coupons for CVS before you know you’re sick.

Something to ponder as you go about your day.

From Under the Bridge to Into Our Hard Drives: Patent Trolls

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 13th, 2013 |

(Image credit: iDownloadBlog)

 

You might be wondering “what on Earth is a patent troll?”, so I’ll tell you– “patent troll” is a label for any person/company/firm/etc. that makes a business of threatening to people for alleged patent infringement: almost homogeneously, these people buy patents from other companies/inventors with absolutely zero intention of using the patents for anything other than ammunition for litigation (not to be confused with the MPAA, the RIAA, or the copyright system in general). Rather than using patents in their intended manner– to ensure an inventor has time to complete his/her invention– the patent troll uses the temporary legal monopoly granted with a patent as a means to extort money from inventors who come up with new ideas/inventions or extensions on previous ideas/inventions that may at first glance seem similar to the patents which the patent trolls hold. It is estimated that any actual litigation that is brought by patent trolls and does not get settled before a court battle leads to the patent trolls losing over 75% of the time.

The patent trolls are not a new phenomenon, but they certainly have grown to prominence since the rise of big software. Software development is unique in that software’s “life” goes by considerably faster than most physical items and it is often the case that something becomes standardized in a fraction of the time of physical items. This creates the opportunity for mass patent trolling: if someone obtains a patent for a piece of software that has become a standard before the patent has expired, it is incredibly likely that someone somewhere has made an improvement on that standard, and since this improvement was not done by the patent holder, the patent troll has a prime opportunity to launch a legal missile. Another litigation-mongering opportunity occurs when a piece of closed-sourced software (not free for everyone to tinker with) resembling an open-sourced software (free for everyone to tinker with) that is not well known gets a patent, and since the open-sourced software wasn’t patented, the new patent owner can try to sue, even if the closed-source software was developed after the invention or even adoption as a standard.

These scenarios sound perfectly viable for patent trolls, but in reality, the “perfect patent troll situation” rarely occurs. Most often, the later example– of closed-source software patents being used to attack open-sourced software– is the case. Or not at all; sometimes the patent trolls simply choose someone who has just enough money to pay a settlement, but not enough to want to go to war with the patent trolls, which can get pretty costly, easily reaching the millions mark for a regular patent case. This is where the problem lies: the immoral patent trolls lose over 75% of the time, but simply by bringing a suit, they are almost guaranteed a settlement because the target often won’t be able to afford a lawsuit, even if they are innocent.

The solution? Make it so that it’s in the patent trolls best interest to be actually right about bringing a suit. Make it so that the plaintiff pays the fees if the case is found to be a pile of garbage. This would make it so that the average target of the patent trolls would be able to go to court and win ~75% of the time. This isn’t a fix in itself, but it’s a start. To be honest, I think the entire patent system is far outdated and needs to be updated from scratch to the modern world. Somewhere in that reform, I think the best way to stop wrong patent lawsuits is to place risk on the accuser as opposed to how it is now where the risk is all on the defendant. As a side note, it would be nice if there were no software patents, given the building-block nature of software itself, but I seriously doubt that a majority would go along with removing patents for software.

 

NSA Took a “Look-See” at Al Jazeera’s Internal Communications

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 1st, 2013 |

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Digital-surveillance-image-via-Shutterstock.jpg

(Image Credit: The Raw Story)

Since all the headlines are being dominated by the Syria situation, there isn’t a lot of current material for me to write about in my column, so this week, I’ll quickly touch on the favorite punching bag for the tech world at the moment: the NSA. A while ago, it was revealed by some of the documents Edward Snowden obtained and then released that the agency had hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal correspondences. The information comes a week after the revelations that the NSA had hacked into UN video calls.

I understand that “Al Jazeera” and “Al Qaeda” share an “Al” prefix, but seriously? It’s a news network, not a terrorism organization. The report cited communications sent to the network by “interesting targets” as the reason for the hacking. Even if the so-called “interesting targets” were anything/anyone that should be on the U.S.’s radar, it is unacceptable that the government is/was able to tap into a news source’s communications, no matter how “anti-American” their bias may be.

While anyone could probably guess what I think about this from the above paragraph, I think it’s worth mentioning that this seems to be part of a bigger pattern recently: as we learn more about the PRISM program and the NSA in general, the doomsayers’ predictions are starting to come true. As I said earlier, a while back it was revealed that the NSA spied on the UN video conferences, which is worthy on an article itself, but I’ll only invoke the fact that we are friendly and cooperative with the UN for now; the news that the PRISM program was used by low-level NSA employees; and also that NSA employees had regularly used the program to spy on their love interests, among other notable pieces of Snowden’s leaks. Taken separately, these are “only” egregious, but taken together, the chilling effects on personal liberties are potentially massive.

Personally, I think it’s time for another Amash Amendment to go up for a vote; this needs to stop.

Attack on Tor

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | August 8th, 2013 |

(Image Credit: Tor Project)

 

Before I start, here’s a reference for those who aren’t totally sure about what Tor is or how it works–

(Image Credit: EFF)

 

Near the end of the weekend, somebody (I’ll get to who later) compromised Freedom Hosting, a hosting service that was heavily invested in Tor (The Onion Router). The company was responsible for a huge chunk (about half) of the hidden network’s sites and many of the more well-known ones including Tor Mail, a completely anonymous email service. The details of the attack are starting to be sorted out, but a few facts have already been nailed down. The move comes after Freedom Hosting’s founder, Eric Eoin Marques, was arrested on suspicion of child pornography, so many are speculating that the two events are related.

 

Tor network was originally conceived by the Navy as a way of anonymizing communications between correspondents, but was abandoned mid-way through development. It was later picked up by DIY-ers and completed into what we see today. Due to the nature of the network, any one user cannot identify another, even for server-client interactions, making a breach of anonymity from the inside near-impossible. The exploit in question was placed on Freedom Hosting’s sites after the company was either seized or otherwise compelled to do so (details unconfirmed at time of writing) and injected a JavaScript executable that made the target send an unencrypted request over HTTP to a specified server in Virginia, exposing the IP address of the user that normally would be impossible to find. Therefore, I’ll admit that the title of this piece is somewhat misleading: the network itself has not been compromised, but the company that hosted a majority of it has.

 

So: who did it? Many (myself included) initially speculated that the exploit was the work of the FBI, citing the arrest of Eric Marques, and the fact that it’s the FBI’s job (more or less) to take down child pornographers. As the matter was looked into it became apparent that the server receiving the non-encrypted IP addresses was owned by a corporation in Virginia that routinely leases server space to agencies like the FBI and NSA, prompting more speculation. However, at time of writing, nobody has stepped forth to claim credit for the exploit, leading some to wonder if it was a non-official entity. The latest evidence in the exploit points toward its purpose to be solely identifying and not actually hacking, so at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Hopefully more will become known later this week.

 

If a state actor is responsible, I seriously question the motives. We can all agree that child pornography and abuse is bad by any measure, but taking down essential services that people the world over use to keep safe from tyranny or even just to keep private is not the way to go about removing it. Take Tor Mail mentioned earlier: with the recent revelation that the NSA is monitoring literally everything on the Internet, is it not reasonable that there was a push towards anonymous encrypted email? Heck, I myself have/had (depending on the outcome of this situation) a Tor Mail for the simple reason that I don’t like being spied on. Even if Eric Marques is guilty of hosting and distributing child pornography, I believe a more effective and efficient way to go after those responsible would have been to target the specific websites which are accused of doing so rather than the entire company that may or may not have hosted them. The FBI has previously been allowed to run a child pornography site before, and doing so in this instance would have made for a much shorter list of names than half of Tor network.

 

While this story is still developing, I want to end on a slightly inquisitive note: this happened during DEF CON (a hacker’s convention), meaning a good number of the people who bother to look into this kind of thing were busy out of town, and also on the heels of the NSA’s XKeyscore revelation, which “collects nearly everything a user does on the Internet.” These combined make me somewhat suspicious of this incident; more so than I normally would be for a compromise of a major anonymity service.

Not Aiding the Enemy, But Still Found Guilty

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 31st, 2013 |

Image Source: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about Bradley Manning this week. In case you missed it, Bradley Manning has finally been given a verdict: guilty of more than a handful of crimes, but not guilty of one very important charge– aiding the enemy. I’ll get more into the specifics of that charge later, but the remaining 20 charges carry a combined maximum of 136 years in prison, so PFC Manning is anything but in the clear. The sentencing has already begun, and could last into the last days of August.

I’ve written on Manning before, so I won’t go into the back-story again, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he has already spent three years in prison before his trial, so it has been agreed upon that his sentence should be reduced by 1,274 days. Anyway, time to move onto the big charge: aiding the enemy and why even though he has been found guilty of other crimes, this one is a win for whistleblowers. Most of the logic behind going after Manning as harshly as the military did was something along the lines of “if it’s available for everyone in the world to see, then that includes our enemies, so therefore public disclosures are equal to giving the information directly to the enemy.” As I’ve argued before, this is not the case here, even though that line of reasoning may seem valid, one must take intent into account: if one’s intention is to truly “aid the enemy,” then it follows that one would not inform one’s own side of such aid, as making information public would. Instead, by releasing information publicly, it allows both sides to see it, giving a “heads-up” to both parties: the “enemy” side gets information X and the “non-enemy” side gains the information that the “enemy” side has information X, which could be useful to the “non-enemy” side.

Further to that point, Manning’s information was not immediately disclosed; it was given to Wikileaks, providing a window of time in which the military could have changed tactics, had any even been compromised in the first place. Given those two points, I believe Manning when he says that he was merely a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

As for the other charges: any wrongdoing Manning may have done is far outweighed by the benefit to the public’s right to know. This should be true of all whistleblowers: exposing something that needs to be exposed should not come with a life imprisonment threat.

More on the PFC Manning case this Friday during the show [1pm EST].

Amash Amendment Fails: Close But No Wired-for-Sound Cigar

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 |

(Image Credit: Florida Today)

 

Well, I was kind of hoping to be writing about a win for the Amash Amendment, but I suppose a loss will have to do. In case you missed it, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and ultimately defeated (205-217 with 12 abstaining) an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would have taken away funding for the NSA’s blanket telephone spying. The day before the vote, the White House and NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander held “emergency meetings” to urge Congress to vote against it.

 

Me being… me, I have to admit that I’m more than a little disappointed that this amendment didn’t pass. It would have been a quick and clean way to put a full stop to blanket phone surveillance while still allowing for targeted surveillance of suspects under investigation. That said, when the White House is scared enough to hold “emergency meetings” ahead of domestic spying prevention votes, I get hopeful. As the advocacy organization Demand Progress put it: “even though we lost, the other side is flipping out right now.” Not bad for an amendment that was voted on only two days after it left committee.

 

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that more or less, the vast majority of people are against the NSA’s surveillance programs (multiple ones have been revealed now: PRISM, ECHELON, BLARNEY, etc.) but it appears as though the tide is only starting to turn on the issue. Obama has welcomed “discussion” on the issue, but it seems almost impossible to have a well-formed discussion about it since the programs are already in place and running: it’s like a kid asking a parent’s permission to eat a cookie after he’s already started eating the cookie. As for curbing the surveillance programs, we might have to wait for the 2014 election cycle: all House seats and 33 Senate ones are up for grabs and at the rate the “spying discussion” is going, it could hopefully become a major issue.

 

In the meantime however, I would remain hopeful: the Amash Amendment might have failed, but that was only looking at phone surveillance, which has historically been less antagonizing than Internet surveillance. It might be just a tick away from justifiable to retain phone metadata, but I have a feeling that Internet surveillance won’t go over so well when the time comes.