20 years ago today a federal judge in the US authorized the first legal computer wiretap. Prior to October 23rd, 1995, wiretap authorizations had been used primarily as a means to monitor telephone conversations of organized crime and drug suspects. The wiretap on Harvard computers during the last two months of 1995 ultimately led to the arrest of 21-year-old Julio Cesar Ardita of Buenos Aires who later pled guilty to illegal wiretapping and computer crime felonies.
A March 1996 press release announcing an arrest warrant for Ardita noted how careful investigators were to protect the privacy of the innocent. "Court authorization was deemed necessary in this case because the Harvard computer system does not post a banner informing users who log onto the system that their communications might be monitored." How quaint.
The government also touted its ability to preserve the confidentiality of legitimate transmissions even while on the lookout for baddies. "We intercepted only those communications which fit the pattern," said US Attorney Donald K. Stern. "Even when communications contained the identifying pattern of the intruder, we limited our initial examination to 80 characters around the tell-tale sign to further protect the privacy of innocent communications." Attorney General Janet Reno added, "This case demonstrates that the real threat to computer privacy comes from unscrupulous intruders, not government investigators." Times sure have changed.
20 years later, thanks to Edward Snowden, we know just how unscrupulous and overzealous government investigators can be. Covert and public programs designed to thwart terrorism have swept impossibly vast quantities of personal data into NSA databases. Data collected in bulk that can then be mined after entering a broad justification into a simple on-screen form — no court authorization required. As Snowden told Glenn Greenwald in 2013, "I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email."
Today's a reminder, perhaps, that we can’t be both free, and free from risk. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Five stories to start your day
It's been almost five years since Adele released her last album, the massive, chart-topping 21, and now she's finally gearing up to release its follow-up, 25. Curiosity surrounding the album has...
Even for all the hours we spend on Facebook every day, lately it seems like the app has been draining iPhone batteries faster than normal. According to many users, the new battery menu in iOS 9,...
Ever since Elon Musk published his first preliminary designs for the Hyperloop in 2013, the technology has always involved a certain amount of science fiction. Two years later, with companies now...
I gave up on Windows Phone almost a year ago, citing a lack of apps and Microsoft's mobile platform getting left behind. While the app gap has always been a problem, Windows Phone is now five...
There's a lot of pushback against the idea of games critics talking about stereotypes and social issues — I've seen it described as a distraction from the "real" informative details about things...
Sumo of the day
今日は和歌山巡業！土俵の外でも熱い戦いがありました 手前から天風関、魁鵬、貴天秀さん pic.twitter.com/2rBKPbD4Kl— 石浦将勝 (@ghetto_stone) October 19, 2015