TIA moratorium?

Some good news: The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to insert a moratorium on the Pentagon’s TIA, a controversial data-mining program that critics say would amount to a domestic spying apparatus. If fully implemented, TIA would link databases from sources such as credit card companies, medical insurers and motor vehicle agencies in hopes of snaring terrorists.

But it’s not over yet: Final passage of the moratorium is not certain. Because the House of Representatives’ version of the omnibus appropriations bill does not include any limits on TIA, a conference committee will have the final say.


I hate Quicken, 2003 version

I hate Quicken.

But I’ve used it for years because it was better than MS Money, which was the only other game in town. Quicken crashes frequently and causes more problems on my computer than any other program I use. Once it lost some data, but they Intuit Support insisted that it was some other program’s fault and so I had to pay for the tech support call. And they couldn’t get my data back, sorry about that.

It’s almost tax time, and the latest Turbo Tax has a new activation requirement so it can only be used on one computer and one tax form. It’s also causing a lot of problems: The current user reviews on C-Net are at 92% negative with 133 votes. Many can’t get it to install, others are crashing. So I considered switching to Tax Cut. (Side note: There’s one particular form I need this year and neither of their web sites will tell me if the form is included or which version of the program I might need but to get the right form.)

The pricing is all based on rebates. If you buy Turbo Tax then you get Quicken free. If you buy Tax Cut then you get MS Money free. So before getting Tax Cut I decided to download the 60-day trial version of Money and see if I could go to it. It easily imports Quicken data with just a few click. Yeah, sure. Easy for them to say. I’ll admit that my Quicken file is fairly complicated since some of the data had to be coerced into the program’s format in the early versions of the program, but only about 70% of the data went across correctly into Money. Going back and forth between the two programs allowed me to find some of the errors, but it would be a 80 hour process to fix all of it. Especially since one or the other of the programs keeps crashing; usually Quicken takes over all the memory and then Money starts having problems.

So I’m stuck with Quicken, which implies using Turbo Tax because of the rebate structure. It is definitely not worth paying for an upgrade to Quicken and it needs to be upgraded every year to use the online features such as getting stock quotes.

Now I hate Quicken, Turbo Tax and MS Money. I’ll probably never know on Tax Cut.

Has copy protection affected you?

The EFF is looking for stories from people that have encounter problems with copy protected CD, DVD limitations, etc., such as:

  • Ever bought a copy-protected “CD” and found that it doesn’t play in a device like your car stereo or computer?
  • Ever bought a foreign DVD only to discover it won’t play on your American DVD player? Did you have to buy a multi-region player to get around it?
  • Do you hate it when DVDs force you to watch ads every time you play them?

They will collect and forward the stories to the government during the comment period on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I have only encountered unskipable commercials on DVDs (really annoying if you accidentally hit the stop button), but go through the extra step of checking every CD I buy on my computer to make sure it plays correctly.

The Rave Act

Lots to write about, but it’s all too long. Maybe I just shouldn’t explain and just provide links. Naw.

In an especially sneaky move, the Rave Act has been reintroduced in Congress. Under another name. Buried in S. 22, a popular omnibus domestic security bill proposed by Democratic Senator Tom Daschle. So what, you don’t go to raves, right? Somehow it has become my responsibility to make sure that tenants living on my property don’t do drugs. Of course it would be an illegal invasion of privacy for me to try to find out if they’rebreaking the law;they are entitled to their privacy and I can’t just show up at their door and demand to know what they’re doing.

Here is one take on this portion of the bill:

The RAVE Act unfairly punishes businessmen and women for the crimes of their customers. The federal government can’t even keep drugs out of its own schools and prisons, yet it seeks to punish business owners for failing to keep people from carrying drugs onto their property. It is a danger to innocent businessmen and women, especially restaurant and nightclub owners, concert promoters, landlords, and real estate managers. Section 4 of the bill goes so far as to allow the federal government to charge property owners civilly, thus allowing prosecutors to fine property owners $250,000 (and put them out of business) without having to meet the higher standard of proof in criminal cases that is needed to protect innocent people.

The “crack house” provisions would also make it a federal crime to temporarily use a place for the purpose of using any illegal drug. Thus, anyone who used drugs in their own home or threw an event (such as a party or barbecue) in which one or more of their guests used drugs could potentially face a $250,000 fine and years in federal prison. The provisions also effectively makes it a federal crime to rent property to medical marijuana patients and their caregivers, giving the federal government a new weapon in its war on AIDS and cancer patients that use marijuana to relieve their suffering.

For the point-by-point analysis, go here.

The name of the bill is the “Justice Enhancement and Domestic Security Act of 2003“. It covers everything from terrorism to a national Amber Alert system to telemarketing fraud. There ought to be a law against this type of legislation — the type that makes lawmakers look bad if they don’t support it because of some of the popular sections, but makes it easy to pass questionable things because they won’t be noticed.

ChoicePoint is watching you

Big Brother Isn’t Gone, He’s Been Outsourced:  It looks like a mini-TIA program already exists and it’s named ChoicePoint.  The difference is that the government has to pay to use it.  This gets them around the Privacy Act of 1974, which was designed to discourage such wholesale data gathering.


This information purchasing has already had a big impact on us:
[ChoicePoint] provided county electoral boards with a list of convicted felons to be used in purging voting lists during the last presidential election. Unfortunately, the state was Florida, the list was wildly inaccurate, and an estimated 8,000 citizens, many of them African-Americans, were deprived of their right to vote in the election — 15 times George Bush’s margin of victory over Al Gore. (source: http://www.choicepoint.net/news/gatrend.html)
It’s a problem from a privacy standpoint, but it also affects your personal finances.  Not only are the big 3 credit bureaus (Equifax, Trans Union and Experian) tracking us, but they’re selling the information to ChoicePoint and Fair Issac (FICO score).  And if you want to make sure the information is right, all of them want to charge you money to see the information that they have on you (and I know from personal experience it’s often wrong).


A catch-22:  In order to get loans or credit, the consumer is motivated and encouraged to verify and correct information in the databases (and pay for the privilege of doing this). In effect they must give up their privacy to the government (and whoever else is willing to pay for a report checks up on you) and help fund Big Brother at the same time.

Our rights removed for “security”

What would happen if you woke up living in a quasi-police state? Since when did our Constitution become the problem rather than the answer? Professor Jonathan Turley writes in the L.A. Times about how once-guaranteed rights are now being scapegoated as threats to our security. (LA Times website requires free registration.)


GeoURL is a location-to-URL reverse directory. This will allow you to find URLs by their proximity to a given location. Find your neighbor’s blog, perhaps, or the web page of the restaurants near you.

There is isn’t much near me yet.

Censored cartoonists

In the aftermath of September 11, freedom of speech has been under attack. Political cartoonists are not immune. In some cities cartoonists have been fired or lost freelance jobs because of cartoons critical of U.S. policy or for using “wrong” metaphors. Even nationally-known artists, such as Boondocks cartoonist Arron McGruder and Ted Rall have been censored or repudiated.

It is now posted at the ACLU’s US Patriot Art.

Unintended Consequences of the DMCA

Unintended Consequences: Four Years under the DMCA is a very lengthy summary of the ways the DMCA has been used and misused. Examples include trying to eliminate aftermarket laser printer toner vendors, stopping a hobbyist who developed custom programs for Sony’s Aibo robotic “pet” dog from freely distributing the programs, and the effect that fear of DMCA lawsuits is having on research and public discussions.

Update May 2017: The original link to Four Years under… no longer exists, so I replaced it with the Five Years link. A more recent one is https://www.eff.org/wp/unintended-consequences-under-dmca. It looks like they gave up in 2010.

Spying that may be off your radar

An article on government spying in on ZDNet (which is “sort of a cross between a techy and a consumer info site) is the scariest one yet.”
You’ve probably already read biometric research in a project area called Human ID at a Distance, which includes face recognition and “gait performance” detection. Facecams already are in use in airports, city centers and casinos.
But I hadn’t heard:
  • Spybots code-named MicroStar are being developed that will have a six-inch wingspan, weigh only 86 grams, fly at 500 feet, and will use infrared and video sensors.
  • Last week the Washington Post reported that the federal government may permit unmanned aircraft to fly above the United States. “I believe that the potential applications for this technology in the area of homeland defense are quite compelling,” said Sen. John Warner, added that the drones could be used by domestic police agencies.
  • Last week, the Associated Press reported that an Oregon state task force wants a law requiring all cars to sport GPS receivers and recorders. The stated purpose: To measure how far you drive and calculate how much you owe in road taxes.
  • In October, police in one Colorado county started pressuring businesses to require fingerprints when customers make purchases with checks or credit cards. Police in Arlington, Texas are asking businesses to participate in a similar program.
  • The Electronic Privacy Information Center used the Freedom of Information Act in August 2001 to obtain government documents that talked about reading air travelers’ minds and identifying suspicious thoughts.
And to wrap it up, there has never been even one congressional hearing investigating DARPA, Poindexter and his Total Information Awareness plans.

Music CD Settlement

In September, the five top U.S. distributors of compact discs and three large music retailers agreed to pay $143 million in cash and CDs to settle allegations they cheated consumers by fixing prices. Part of the settlement, about $44 million in cash, is earmarked to pay customers who bought CDs between 1995 and 2000 cash:  from $5 to $20, depending on how many people wind up dividing the money.  But by the end of December, only about 30,000 people nationwide had applied for a piece of the pie at the settlement’s website.

Poindexter: behind your missing privacy

Steve Lopez writes a column for the LA Times, recently a semi-tongue-in-cheek piece about the Democrats not being able to get their message out (temporary link, the Times only posts articles for a couple of weeks and then you have to pay). Most of it describes the trouble that’s been causes by Shrubya’s policies.

One part I especially liked:

Dangerous men in charge:

Remember the Iran-Contra scandal? Remember John “Mr. Buck Stops Here” Poindexter getting convicted of lying to Congress and slithering free on a technicality?

Dubya loves him.

Poindexter’s the man behind the Homeland Security Act provision that allows government snoops to look at your e-mail, your phone records and virtually everything else about your private life.

Even William Safire was horrified by this guy, and he’s the nation’s preeminent conservative columnist. But I think Safire was even more horrified at the civil liberties abuses of Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

I found a fairly brief overview of TIA, which is what the reference to snooping is about. It was harder to find anything brief about Poindexter. For more TIA stuff, go to EPIC’s TIA page.