Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dandelion Stew: Creating the Post-Petrol Society

I was getting depressed reading Carolyn Baker's essay Cooking on the Road to Collapse: The Terminal Triangle Rules about the convergence of climate change, resource depletion (especially fossil fuels) and global economic collapse.

But then I followed one of the essay's links to Jan Lundbergh's Preparations and Policies for Petrocollapse and Climate Distortion, which is a very thoughtful and practical piece for planning collective action to prepare our communities for the transition to a post-petrol society.

Jan's article reminds us of the fact that every part of the dandelion is edible.
In suburbia the many large lawns -- and golf courses -- present an opportunity for food production. Applying lawn chemicals made by the petroleum industry should stop right away. Hatred for the non-uniformity of yellow dandelion flowers, for example, on the idealized green patch of biological pavement, must give way to appreciating eating the nutritious dandelion leaves and the medicinal roots. Running water will be possibly rare in the post-petroleum world, so rain catchment must be done to get through dry growing season.
I'm sure that someone will discover how to make dandelion wine in the post-petrol society.

I do think her article is a bit overoptimistic, but then, I'm a cynic. I think the large cities (including the one I live in) are doomed. People will survive, but in the smaller and less-populated areas for exactly the reasons she cites. I fear the west coast and east coast of the United States will not fare well in the post-oil era. At least not until the population subsides to a more sustainable level.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Good news!

I am often guilty of being either pessimistic or cynical, depending upon how you look at it. As my friend Alex pointed out to me, the great thing about being pessimistic is that 90% of the time you're right and the other 10% of the time, you're pleasantly surprised.

But several news items have pleasantly surprised me recently. First, the US has the ability to become energy independent with current technology by erecting a solar farm a mere 100 miles square.

"A farm 100 miles by 100 miles in the southwestern U.S. hypothetically could provide as much electricity as is needed to power the entire country," said SES general manager Bob Liden.|Link|

Now, this would be a total of 10,000 square miles, which is about the same size as Vermont, but would easily fit in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, California, or Texas, all of which are sunny states with lots of empty space.
With solar now providing less than one percent of the world's energy, that would take "a massive (but not insurmountable) scale-up," NYU's Hoffert and his colleagues said in an article in Science. At present levels of efficiency, it would take about 10,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) of solar panels—an area bigger than Vermont—to satisfy all of the United States' electricity needs. But the land requirement sounds more daunting than it is: Open country wouldn't have to be covered. All those panels could fit on less than a quarter of the roof and pavement space in cities and suburbs. |Link|

So, why don't we just do it? This needs to be a platform plank for whichever party wants my vote, dammit. Just build the solar farm with the money we will save by pulling our troops and carrier groups out of the Middle East. Once we're energy independent we will have a lot more flexibility in dealing with the challenges posed by the Middle East.

Second, there is word of a breakthrough in battery technology that might actually make electric cars attractive (using our solar farm power, of course).

And finally, the German chancellor Angela Merkel protested the cancelling of a play out of fear of a reprise of the Danish cartoon drama.
Mrs Merkel denounced "self-censorship out of fear" as unacceptable, reflecting a mood of national indignation that was not limited to the arts set but cut right across all social lines. |Dailymail|
Not that I'm so interested in the play, but it's nice to see that some countries have leaders who actually champion freedom of the expression.

Science Myths

Live Science has a list of the 20 most popular science myths.

Racing towards Armageddon

This Houston Chronicle article lead me to believe there is a new Department of Energy Report on Peak Oil by Robert Hirsch. I found the 2005 report online, but 2006 doesn't appear to be up yet.

In looking for the report, I found a chilling analysis of a presentation by Robert Hirsch where he seems to miss the logical conclusion of the peak oil problem, change our energy-guzzling ways:

“[S]o clearly, the US needs to break its addiction with the internal combustion engine, as to not do so will end life on the planet, be unfeasibly expensive, involve resorting to EROI-negative fuels and environmentally unacceptable fuel extraction processes, and will, as a certainty, kill us all”. |Energy Bulletin|

I'm pretty cynical about any chance of avoiding or even mitigating massive societal disruptions due to peak oil. As the post above indicates, the US Department of Energy is looking the problem dead in the face and taking about alternative fuels for cars. That's denial on a systemic level.

Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore both recently referenced peak oil. First in June, Gore spent a minute talking it up on CNN’s Larry King Live. Then in early July, Clinton—in an interview with Atlantic Monthly—gave substantial credence to the peak oil concept. He also wondered why he had never received a peak oil briefing, given its strategic importance. |EB|
The US government is totally missing the boat on this one, out chasing their tail in Iraq instead of dealing with this looming crisis.

Global warming and peak oil are going to hammer the current world order and probably result in a new dark age of humanity.

So, America, enjoy your Hummers and your double skim cappucinos while you can, because paybacks are hell.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bush's war on America

It seems so odd to me that our most bellicose president in decades doesn't seem to be doing anything to prevent the decline of the military.

"I think, arguably, [this is] the worst readiness condition the U.S. Army has faced since the end of Vietnam," says NBC military analyst and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. |MSNBC|

The whole notion of building the empire while giving tax breaks to the rich is so obviously self-defeating.

Howard Dean in an op-ed piece in September 22nd's Wall Street Journal calls it Bush's war on American families.

The Republican record on managing the federal budget is dismal. Republicans have turned surplus into debt, hope into lost opportunity; they have become the party of borrow-and-spend. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the total cost this year of the president's tax cuts is $258 billion. This means that even with spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the response to Hurricane Katrina, the federal budget would essentially be in balance if the tax cuts had not been enacted, or if they had been offset as required under the pay-as-you-go rules that Republicans allowed to expire. These economic policies amount to a war on American families...|WSJ| (sub'n req'd)(emphasis added)

Blog of Anousheh Ansari

Anousheh Ansari is the Iranian-American engineer and business woman who is now visiting space. You can read her blog here.

I think space tourist is a really unfortunate term. I like to think of her as an explorer and a harbinger of our eventual move off this beautiful planet that we are poisoning daily.Her bio is available from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

USB rechargable batteries

These USB rechargable batteries seem like a nifty idea.

But the real problem is the huge variety of rechargers. Why does every single electronic device need a unique charging device? Walt Mossberg made this point recently and I totally agree, this is an area long overdue for standardization.

And the USB is a pretty universal interface for personal computers these days (except for those freaks who use Macs).


A crowd has been gathering since dawn, I make a pot of coffee while catastrophe awaits me out on the lawn.

I think I'm going to stay in today, pretend like I don't know what's going on.

- ani difranco

The Propaganda Wars

I saw this article on Newsday about Hezbollah using Iranian supplied eavesdropping equipment to crack Israeli radio security in the recent dust-up between the two sides.

So I popped over to Debka to see if they had any (free) coverage and instead I find an article about Chavez and Castro cooperating with Iranian intelligence agencies but refusing to actually allow Iranian missiles into Latin America.

DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report that Ahmadinejad also talked persuasively to Chavez about making a show of deploying a few Iranian-made 2,000-km range Shahab-3 missiles – first in Venezuela then in Cuba – as a menace to the United States.

Chavez has not given Tehran his answer. But both he and Castro will think twice about granting this request, for fear of crossing one line too many for the Bush administration to swallow. However, Iranian ambitions to harm American know no limits....

The three-way talks have thus far yielded a solid decision for Iranian intelligence agents, some of them sabotage specialists, to be sent soon to Cuba and Venezuela. They will operate in the guise of road network and industrial development experts. Their real mission will be to conduct surveys on the practicability of using Cuba and Venezuela as bases for subversive activities against the United States and other parts of Latin America.|Debka|
My thought is that this is obviously Israeli anti-Iranian propaganda. Unless someone has bugged the meeting room, no one is going to have any idea what governmental representatives from these countries said to each other.

Regulating the New Face of War

George Bush's war on decency has demonstrated that the Geneva Conventions are fairly toothless and that they need to be updated to deal with his assault on international law. Hopefully the next president of the United States will have a modicum of respect for the rule of law and will take up the challenging task of reforming these landmark international agreements on the law of war.

Grant Harris points out that the law of occupation also needs to be updated based upon the the recent practices of putting together international multilateral occupations ostensibly focused on nation-building.
Conventional wisdom holds that international occupation is a temporary byproduct of war. The international law of occupation is grounded in this assumption and consists of a substantive norm of interim administration with limited discretion on the part of the occupant and a procedural norm of unilateralism. Yet many observers of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan intuitively sense that modern occupations are somehow “different” and that new or changed rules apply. That intuition is correct. This Article describes the emergence of a new regime of occupation and an emerging “de facto modern law of occupation” that break dramatically from past practice and the de jure law of occupation. The substantive norm of this new model is nation-building and the procedural norm is multilateralism. The assumptions and parameters of the de jure law of occupation are outdated and incapable of providing a meaningful legal framework for modern occupations. What are the consequences of this new model of occupation and the resultant lacuna of applicable international law? The occupation of Iraq illustrates a paradigm shift in the practice of occupation and proves that the resource and legitimacy needs of modern occupations create an “invisible hand” that pushes occupying powers toward international cooperation and compliance with international norms of behavior. At the same time, however, the era of multilateral occupation contains defects because its de facto rules lack the advantages of positive law and the legal status of territory occupied by the United Nations is ambiguous. |SSRN|

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jesus Ninjas

I've been reading What's the Matter with Kansas lately, and believe me when I say that fear not just for our country, but for all the people on Earth. The radical Muslims and reactionary Christians just feed off each other's hate...add in a few militant Hindus and you've got a party.
Speaking in tongues, weeping for salvation, praying for an end to abortion and worshipping a picture of President Bush — these are some of the activities at Pastor Becky Fischer's Bible camp in North Dakota, "Kids on Fire," subject of the provocative new documentary, "Jesus Camp."

"I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places," Fisher said. "Because, excuse me, we have the truth."

"A lot of people die for God," one camper said, "and they're not afraid."

"We're kinda being trained to be warriors," said another, "only in a funner way."

The film has caused a split among evangelicals. Some say it's designed to demonize. Others have embraced it, including Fischer, who's helping promote the film.

"I never felt at any point that I was exploited," Fischer said.

"I think there is a push right now in a lot of evangelical churches to definitely keep the teenagers and keep the children in the faith," said Heidi Ewing, co-director of "Jesus Camp." "And this is one version of that attempt."|ABC News|

Movimento de Libertação dos Sem Terra

In response to my last post, DR suggested that the violence in Sao Paulo was about land reform, not prison reform. I think DR was referring to the Movimento de Libertacao dos Sem Terra's (Portugese) (MLST) protest in Brazilia on June 6th, 2006.

Tom Phillips described the recent land reform protests this way:
Television images showed confrontations between activists - many with sticks and traffic cones - and security guards, windows being smashed and an attempt to roll a car into the congress building. Police rounded up about 490 suspects and took them to a sports stadium for questioning. |Guardian|

The MLST is a militant splinter group from the Movimento Sem Terra(MST) or Landless Worker's Party in Brazil.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Battle for Sao Paulo

While I'd heard that gang warfare had broken out in Sao Paulo, I didn't realize how bad things were until I read this piece by Tom Phillips.

The violence [in Sao Paulo] was unprecedented in scale, even for a city... renowned for its high crime rate. So bloody were the attacks [on police and citizens] that politicians, media outlets and academics alike have, in its wake, begun describing the start of an 'urban guerrilla war'.

It is a drastic and problematic conclusion - yet one which is in many ways borne out by numerical comparisons with official war zones. During the recent 34-day conflict between Israel and Hizbollah, just over 1,000 civilians are thought to have been killed in Lebanon. In Iraq, 117 British soldiers have been killed since the country was invaded in 2003, while 23 have been killed since the beginning of August in Afghanistan. In Sao Paulo, the figures are no less startling. According to coroners' reports, at the height of May's violence at least 492 people died of gunshot wounds in Sao Paulo state in just over a week.|Guardian|(emphasis added)
There has been so much violence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Darfur of late that Sao Paulo hardly gets any media attention at all.

After all, Sao Paulo's violence is just part of the ongoing struggle between organized crime and law enforcement (even if an extreme example), which is far less troubling than the sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, and state-supported genocide that we're seeing elsewhere in the world these days.

It's enough to make you appreciate that benefits of living in a police state, even if it is dysfunctional and oppressive in its own way.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

HP learns a privacy lesson

Some have opined that privacy is dead. David Brin's book length treatment of this idea in The Transparent Society is well worth reading. But I have to disagree with him and other commentators who forecast the demise of privacy in general or even just informational privacy.

Privacy is certainly evolving, but it's far from moribund.

The recent resignation by the chair of Hewlett Packard's board of directors, Patricia Dunn, reveals that there are consequences for violating people's privacy. What is shocking to me is that the chair was so daft to think that she could violate the privacy of the members of the board and they wouldn't care.

It's one thing to violate people's privacy when they're your own peasants employees, but to think she could get away with treating her own corporate board like this is the height of hubris.

The story hit the news when a recent SEC filing by Hewlett Packard corporation revealed that a director had resigned due to concerns regarding the legality and propriety of actions by the corporation.

“[F]ollowing his resignation [from the Board of Directors,] Mr. Perkins sought information from HP concerning the methods used to conduct HP’s investigations into the leaks, asserted that phone and e-mail communications had been improperly recorded as part of the investigation, and informed HP that he had recently consulted with counsel regarding that assertion...HP informed Mr. Perkins that no recording or eavesdropping had occurred, but that some form of “pretexting” for phone record information, a technique used by investigators to obtain information by disguising their identity, had been used. Mr. Perkins, although no longer a director, then requested that HP conduct an inquiry into the propriety of the techniques used to conduct the investigation.” |HP’s Form 8-K|
The California Attorney General’s office is investigating whether the pretexting violated California's identity theft law.
"Pretexting like this is technically hacking," [California Attorney General Bill Lockyer] said. "This is illegal under state and federal law." Specifically, Lockyer said, the HP case runs afoul of California Penal Code Section 502, which prohibits "tampering, interference, damage, and unauthorized access to lawfully created computer data and computer systems." He also said the case involves Penal Code Section 530.5, which bars use of people's personal info "for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services or medical information in the name of the other person without the consent of that person." |San Francisco Chronicle|
Not only were the records of HP’s Board of Directors obtained through pretexting, but also the phone records of several reporters, according to C-Net’s Jim Kerstetter.

Now, the U.S. House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Committee is also requesting information on HP’s actions.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Natural Born Loser

"Steven Stanke admitted in court Monday that he was shooting up meth and talking on his cell phone while driving more than 100 miles per hour when he hit and killed a Lino Lakes police officer a year ago." |Pioneer Press|

I think that's a textbook definition of reckless. Did I mention that the car was stolen as well? I'm glad he's not my client...


Tasers have Deterrent Effect

Apparently the reputation of tasers is becoming so widespread and is so formidable that many criminals (at least in Edmonton, Canada) stop fighting as soon as the laser sight hits them.

I'm not sure if the deterrent effect comes from the reports of police using the tasers to repeatedly shock people or whether it's the reports of people dying suddently after being shocked. Maybe it's a bit of both.

Siberian Permafrost Melting

Last year I mentioned a report that melting Siberian permafrost is releasing lots of methane
which will exacerbate global warming.

The bad news is that a new study indicates that it Siberia is releasing three times as much methane as previously thought.

The good news is that we probably don't need to worry about the fact that Social Security is horribly broken.

Betrayal by the Bush Administration

As we honor the September 11th dead, it's important to recall that the Bush administration has betrayed them with its flagrant war in Iraq that had nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with empire.

They have betrayed us by not seriously implementing the suggestions of the 9/11 commission, by not securing our ports, by not hardening our nuclear facilities, by not reaching out to moderate Muslims, by tying our military down in political quicksand in Iraq, by torturing prisoners, by refusing to acknowledge the black sites for years, by scorning the UN, by calling the Geneva Conventions quaint.

This administration has done its utmost to destroy the separation of powers and shred the Constitution in the last five years. They have done their damnedest to turn this country into a police state.

But as Katrina showed us, this Administration hasn't made us any safer...quite the opposite.

Jonathan Rausch evaluates Bush's impact this way:
Bush will leave a legacy, in the form of four headaches.

The fiscal mess. Bush's tax cuts and spending increases turned a $236 billion federal surplus in fiscal 2000 into a deficit of more than $400 billion four years later, an astonishing reversal. That the current year's deficit may come in at something like $300 billion is little cause for comfort; with Baby Boomers due to retire and an expensive Medicare drug benefit kicking in, the country's fiscal position is weak.

The Iraq mess. The invasion was a gamble; the failure to scrub the prewar intelligence and properly manage the postwar occupation were mistakes. The gamble might still pay off, but the mistakes have astronomically raised the gamble's cost in lives, money, prestige, and U.S. strategic focus and position (Iran has been the invasion's signal beneficiary).

International opprobrium. The Iraq adventure fueled a precipitous decline in America's image abroad, and Bush's pugnacious style during his first term and his tin ear for foreign opinion made a bad situation worse. This is more than just a public-relations problem. National prestige is diplomatic capital; the more unpopular America becomes, the higher the price of foreign support. Mark Malloch Brown, the UN's deputy secretary-general, recently said that suspicion of the United States has grown to the point where "many otherwise quite moderate countries" are inclined to oppose anything we favor.

An extralegal terrorism war. If the country seriously intends to prevent terrorism, then spying at home, detaining terror suspects, and conducting tough interrogations are practices that the government will need to engage in for many years to come. Instead of making proper legal provisions for those practices, Bush has run the war against jihadism out of his back pocket, as a permanent state of emergency. He engages in legal ad-hockery and trickery, treats Congress as a nuisance rather than a partner, and circumvents outmoded laws and treaties when he should be creating new ones. Of all Bush's failings, his refusal to build durable underpinnings for what promises to be a long struggle is the most surprising, the most gratuitous, and potentially the most damaging, both to the sustainability of the antiterrorism effort and to the constitutional order. |Reason|

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Rationale for Privacy Regulation

A recent post focused on Congressional efforts to amend the privacy laws in the United States. Today I saw a piece in CIO Insight by Jeffrey Rothfeder discussing the fact that companies have no economic incentive to abide by their own privacy policies.

CEOs and other executives may be neglecting privacy safeguards and rigid privacy policies because the cost of failing to protect data is not as high as is commonly believed. It is de rigueur for chief executives to publicly state that protecting customer data is critical, because trust is an essential part of the relationship businesses have with consumers. Yet a closer look at the price of an actual breach reveals that, while not insignificant, it can be relatively minimal. In a recent study of 14 lost-data incidents, encryption company PGP Corp. found that the average opportunity cost of a data breach, measured by the "loss of existing customers and the increased difficulty in recruiting new customers" was about $75 per lost customer record. For typical successful retailers or financial services firms with billions in annual earnings, that represents an acceptable hit to the bottom line.

Moreover, in most cases, companies can easily avoid legal penalties for a data breach. There are nearly three dozen state laws that require companies to notify consumers if their private information has been leaked and a risk of identity theft exists. As long as these procedures are followed, companies are free from criminal liability for the leak itself.

"While there's a general sense that it's embarrassing to be involved in a data breach, and it is true that a breach doesn't do anything for your reputation as a trusted business, privacy is a business decision that ultimately comes down to a risk calculation. And many companies believe—wrongfully, from my perspective—that the price of data loss simply isn't high enough," says Gary Lynch, business continuity management practice leader at Marsh Risk Consulting, a division of New York City-based Marsh Inc.

Most executives don't like to think of it this way, but, so far, companies have created strong privacy policies only when forced to by federal legislation with very specific data-protection provisions. |CIO Insight|
This provides an excellent example of why corporate self-regulation on privacy protection has failed and underscores the need for a regulatory approach to privacy that involves systemic oversight and real penalties.

Personally, I like the approach taken by the Canadians who have an Information and Privacy Commissioner federally and one in every province (although Alberta did defund their privacy commissioner for a while).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Party Like There's No Tomorrow

The World Health Organization is reporting that a virulent type of tuberculosis is on the rise which is resistant to our second tier of antibiotics.

Tuberculosis causes about 1.7 million deaths a year worldwide, but researchers are worried about the emergence of strains that are resistant to drugs.

Multidrug-resistant TB is already a concern because at least two of the main first-line drugs won't work against the strain.

Now, extensive drug-resistant TB or XDR-TB is emerging, in which the bacteria resist not only front-line drugs, but also three of the more than six classes of second-line drugs. While more potent, these medications have more serious side-effects, are more expensive and may need to be taken for as long as two years.

On average, about one per cent of all strains are drug-resistant, and of those, between five and 15 per cent are extensively drug-resistant, said Dr. Anne Fanning, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta's faculty of medicine....

The XDR-TB strains were found most frequently in the former Soviet Union and Asia. Cases are also on the rise in Africa.

"Given the underlying HIV epidemic, drug-resistant TB could have a severe impact on mortality in Africa and requires urgent preventative action," WHO said in a statement.|CBC|

According to this Tuberculosis fact sheet published by WHO, TB becomes antibiotic resistant when people stop taking the medications before the course of treatment is complete.

Drug-resistant TB is caused by inconsistent or partial treatment, when patients do not take all their medicines regularly for the required period because they start to feel better, because doctors and health workers prescribe the wrong treatment regimens, or because the drug supply is unreliable. A particularly dangerous form of drug-resistant TB is multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), which is defined as the disease caused by TB bacilli resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most powerful anti-TB drugs. Rates of MDR-TB are high in some countries, especially in the former Soviet Union, and threaten TB control efforts.

While drug-resistant TB is generally treatable, it requires extensive chemotherapy (up to two years of treatment) that is often prohibitively expensive (often more than 100 times more expensive than treatment of drug-susceptible TB), and is also more toxic to patients. |WHO|

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Political storm threatens Darfur

The Darfur region seems destined to descend back into horror. Unfortunately it has been given short shrift by the US and the UN is going to be stretched thin by the Lebanon deployment and there is reason to wonder if they will summon the political will to intervene effectively in Darfur, now that the Sudanese government is throwing out the African Union peacekeepers.
The [Sudanese] government says it is sending its own 10,000-strong force to Darfur to "consolidate the security situation". Part of the Sudanese force that arrived in the region last week is reported by [African Union] officials to have launched bombing raids and other attacks on rebel-held villages in Darfur. Government troops have also driven rebels out of the town of Um Sidir, near the capital of North Darfur state.

Last week the UN's humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, warned of "a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale" in Darfur unless the UN security council intervened. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still reliant on foreign aid, which could dry up if violence increases. "Insecurity is at its highest level since 2004, access at its lowest levels since that date and we may well be on the brink of a return to all-out war," he said. |Guardian|

Sunday, September 03, 2006

On the absurdity of the term Islamic Fascism

Lately this administration has been using the phrase Islamic Fascism to describe those they want Americans to fear. But as Professor Ali Khan points out, the term is overly broad and offensive. Professor Khan writes:
Islamic fascism as a descriptive label also fails to capture the limited meaning of describing militants who are supposedly fascists. The label comes across as a prescriptive indictment, suggesting that Islam is intolerant, violent, and aggressively self-righteous in imposing its values on non-Islamic cultures. If Anglo-American politicians are using the label in this broad sense, and thus accusing Islam and not merely the militants, they should say so. If they are using the label in a limited sense and do not wish to antagonize the entire Muslim world or malign the faith of Islam, they must abandon the label. The label of Islamic fascism even in a limited sense is not an intelligent use of the language, for it is susceptible to multiple interpretations. Its use in the broad sense is highly provocative and counterproductive to the war on terrorism. It foolishly alienates all Muslims.

Second, there might be a democratic argument for politicians using abusive language involving Islam. But no American politician would describe pedophilia scandals in some Catholic churches as Catholic pedophilia. |Jurist|

How about if Bush stated that our government's purpose was simply to oppose fascism and then he resigned?

On the poor state of data security

The recent rash of data thefts in government, business, and education alongside AOL's data privacy meltdown demonstrate the lack of effective data privacy protection in the United States.

Two new reports from the Michigan-based Ponemon Institute indicate that the situation is indeed dire. The report commissioned by Vontu indicates that companies may not even know if they have lost data.
81% of respondents report that their organizations have experienced one or more lost or missing laptop computers containing sensitive or confidential business information in the past 12 month period...When asked how long it would take to determine what actual sensitive data was on a lost or stolen laptop, desktop, file server, or mobile device, the most frequent answer was “never”...On average, 64% of respondents admit that their companies have never conducted a data inventory to determine the location of customer or employee information contained in various data stores. |Vontu|
The report commissioned by PortAuthority indicates that many information technology professionals feel that lax managerial practices make it difficult (if not impossible) to secure customer and employee data on corporate networks.
More than 41% of respondents believe their organization is not effective at enforcing compliance with their organizations’ data protection policies and procedures. Many respondents believe that their organizations do not have the right leadership structure or enough resources to properly enforce compliance with required internal control procedures. Another contributing factor appears to be the fragmented use of portable storage technologies such as memory sticks that that allow individuals to completely bypass enterprise-level control systems. |PortAuthority|
Numerous bills have been introduced in Congress this year that would require notification of consumers if their data was stolen including the Notification of Risk to Personal Data Act (HR 1069), the Comprehensive Veterans' Data Protection and Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2006 (HR 5588), Veterans Identity and Credit Security Act of 2006 (HR 5467), the Federal Agency Data Breach Notification Act (HR 5838), the Privacy Rights and OversighT for Electronic and Commercial Transactions Act of 2006 (PROTECT) (S 3713), the [less stringent] Data Accountability and Trust Act (DATA) (HR 3997), the [more stringent] Data Accountability and Trust Act (DATA) (HR 4127), and the Consumer Notification and Financial Data Protection Act of 2005 (HR 3374).

Some privacy advocates feel a state approach is superior to a federal one.
Many of the notification bills in Congress would be weaker than some of the state laws already passed [according to Georgetown Law Professor and privacy expert Daniel Solove]. State laws in California and New York, for example, require notification any time there’s been a breach of unencrypted data and don’t allow companies to decide whether there’s a significant risk. Solove would rather see those state laws stand than see a national breach notification bill pass, he said. Most of the congressional bills are “not very stringent,” he said. “The state innovations here are really good.” |MacWorld|

However, there are reasonable counter-arguments for a systematic federal approach. While requiring notification of data breaches is a step in the right direction, the more difficult task is to establish and enforce standards for managing and controlling data.

Data breach notification laws assume companies are able to detect the loss of personal data in the first place and then determine if lost data contained personally identifiable information. The Ponemon Institute's reports highlight significant deficiencies in current data practices across industry and government.

The more stringent version of the Data Accountability and Trust Act (HR 4127) at least addresses these concerns about preventing data thefts, but recent reports indicate Congress is leaning towards the less comprehensive alternative (HR 3997).

If organizations are unable or unwilling to protect confidential citizen data, they should not be allowed to warehouse the data in the first place.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


We face an enemy that has an ideology; they believe things. The best way to describe their ideology is to relate to you the fact that they think the opposite of the way we think.

- George W. Bush, Master Orator |Link|

High Def Hype

Frank Rose has an interesting piece in Wired on Sony's questionable marketing choices in unveiling the Playstation 3 (PS3). What I thought was most interesting was the discussion of consumer resistance to the high definition revolution.

Like most consumers, I have no interest in replacing all of my electronics in order to gain some marginal advantage in clarity. Now they're trying to sell you HD stereos even, so I can listen to commercials with crystal clarity, I suppose.

Reuters has an article discussing the lack of sales and the unimpressive quality of current videos coming out in HD.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Garden Gnomes

All this transcribing is making me horny.
When I get done here I think I'll go dry hump the neighbor's garden gnomes.
I know they like it.

- Ze Frank

Hat tip to DR at the Bellman

Defeat in Iraq: the writing on the wall...

[The US doesn't] have to withdraw from Iraq for the world to think we were beaten there. The world already knows that. They're just waiting for the US to realize [it].

- Tom Marshall | Link|

Weighing the Alternatives

Injustice is preferable to total ruin.

- Garrett Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons