Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making Me Proud

My brother Pete's family always makes me proud. He and his wife Jacqui have raised two wonderful young men, both of whom will no doubt be memorable contributors to society. This morning around midnight, their son Jason came home to the U.S. after nearly eight months sidestepping IEDs in the desert.

My entire family is utterly overjoyed to have Jason back and in one piece. Words don't describe the feelings we are all having, which approached giddiness late last night. I cannot wait to see Jason when he is granted some liberty.

Just a few days ago, Pete and Jacqui dropped off Jason's brother Matt at the Citadel, where he will be attending college on an ROTC scholarship. Matt is a wonderful kid with a great sense of humor. He is a rock star in my book. They are both sweet boys. And they're smart, like their dad.

To top all that off, Jacqui's younger sister Jessica greeted the Obamas at the Naval Air Station in Panama City this week. Here she is, in all her glory, shaking hands with a First Daughter:

How cool is that!? The expression on Jessica's face says it all. She can't believe it herself!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wikileaks: Who Polices the Internet?

This is a question that has been brewing for 30 or so years and has finally come to a head. Who is responsible for governing the information posted on the Internet, and under what laws are the posters of this information governed?

We spoke on this topic at length last summer in my cyber ethics class in grad school. The ethical implications of Wikileaks' recent actions are obvious, and I don't want to get into that issue here. Never mind that some of us might feel that these guys should be taken behind the barn and shot. Clearly the site's owners feel no moral obligation to protect the citizens of the world. As I said, that's a whole other (ethical) debate.

The other side of this issue is the legal implications—the fascinating argument regarding who polices information posted on the ubiquitous Internet. Because the Internet is not constrained by (and is therefore absolved of) geo-political boundaries, technically there are no laws that can be enforced here to stop further postings of classified government materials on the Amsterdam-based Wikileaks site.

The First Amendment cannot apply because that is U.S. law. U.S. laws can only govern web sites hosted in this country. Although the legal system has yet to catch up with the digital age and struggles to do so on a a daily basis in our over-saturated court system, the U.S. does have some basic "Internet" laws in place like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which governs computer hacking. It also passed Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that proscribes circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under copyright. It has the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) that criminalizes unauthorized access to stored communications and limits the government's ability to compel ISPs to produce subscriber records. In 2003, the U.S. enacted a bill Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing messages sent electronically (the CAN-SPAM Act). Sadly, computer-related law does not expand much beyond those big items. See Title 17 and Title 18 of the United States Code for more information.

But because Wikileaks is in Amsterdam, none of our laws apply. There is nothing the Pentagon can do to stop the rogue organization from publicly posting leaked information. . . hence the appeals for the site owners to simply “do the right thing.”

Maybe the U.S. government should instead declare cyber war on its own Federal employees in an effort to prevent further leaks rather than focus its energies on Wikileaks? After all, the information being disseminated is 'classified,' which means that only those who have undergone an ardurous background investigation that is required to obtain a security clearance had access to those documents (or should have had access).

Was the Pentagon paper leak a failure in process (i.e., an error), or was it truly a deliberate leak executed by one or more cleared individuals? No matter how many people the U.S. government gives clearance to, it's impossible to control the actions of each and every one of those individuals. So why not crack down on the electronic systems that store and transmit that data in order to prevent further leaks?

Check out the ‘seeders’ map at the beginning of Wired Magazine's Threat Level feed entitled "Cyberwar Against Wikileaks? Good Luck With That." Clearly this is a global issue, where technically no one country is ‘in charge.’

The fact of the matter is that there is no legal recourse here. Do you think the question of whether (and how and by whom) the Internet is policed will ever be answered? I’d have to say probably not in our lifetimes.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Chance of Afternoon Showers

Here in the South at this time of year, the weather is predictably sunny and hot every day, with the exception of about 20 minutes every afternoon when big black clouds roll in suddenly and leave just as quickly. Sometimes it rains, but more often than not the clouds just pass over.

On Friday around 2pm I had to take a trip up to Alpharetta to meet up with my boss briefly to pick up my check. I hadn't driven my car for a week and had been cooped up in the house working for several days. I was anxious to put the top down on the convertible and enjoy the outdoors.

As I approached the on-ramp to highway 400, I saw clouds to the north. It was that time of the day. The sun was out and the clouds seemed distant. I'd been in this situation a dozen times before (top-down, clouds ahead) without getting rained on, so I continued onto the highway. These clouds were gray and seemed harmless - not like the ominous black clouds that sway me to pull over and put the top up.

A minute later, however, as I approached the toll booth, my windshield was suddenly spattered with a handful of big round drops. I was in the far left lane (the cruise lane at the toll station), so I didn't have a choice but to stay there.

On the other side of the booth, the clouds opened up and very quickly poured buckets on me and my car, top down. It all happened so fast. I made it over to the right lane and onto the shoulder as soon as I could do so safely. It was raining laterally from behind, so I realized that this wasn't going to be a shower that I could just quickly drive through with the top down.

Sooner or later, I knew this would happen to me. There I was on the shoulder getting poured on as the electric top slowly came up out of the trunk and over my head. It only takes about 30 seconds to put the top up, but it seemed a lot longer. My white 'parachute' capri pants were soaked.

I merged back onto the highway and within a minute the downpour had stopped. I looked around at the interior of my car - the seats were all wet. I started laughing. Here I was in my wet car on my way to see my boss (and meet a couple other gals on our team for the first time) when I found myself with see-through pants. I couldn't show up looking like that.

The sun was shining brightly, so I pulled off at another exit and put the top down again. It was about 95 degrees, so I hoped I would dry out pretty quickly.

Sure enough, 15 minutes later when I arrived at my destination, the car was dry, and so was I. Well, that's one way to clean out the interior!