Monday, March 12, 2012

Another link dump

Yeah, it's time for one of these again... lots of news-worthy articles, none of which completely justify a full post but all of which I think are important. It was either a link dump or a whole bunch of Twitter posts that would probably get ignored, so here we are. As usual, I'll give a quick summary and then my brief thoughts.

The first two articles are semi-related, as both of them concern people's shocking willingess to sacrifice their basic rights.

Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants' Facebook passwords
Bob Sullivan,

Pretty simple, but troubling.
If you think privacy settings on your Facebook and Twitter accounts guarantee future employers or schools can't see your private posts, guess again. 
Employers and colleges find the treasure-trove of personal information hiding behind password-protected accounts and privacy walls just too tempting, and some are demanding full access from job applicants and student athletes. 
In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state's Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall... 
Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to "friend" a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a "reputation scoreboard" to coaches and send "threat level" warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.
I hate that I have to explain why this is dangerous--the usual excuse/response is "I don't care, I've got nothing to hide". That's not the point. Whether or not you've got anything to hide, you've got a right to privacy that absolutely must be protected. The whole concept of an "unalienable right" is that even you cannot opt to forfeit that right--one cannot sell oneself into slavery, hard as we may try with unpaid internships and the like.

I'm particularly troubled by the "threat level" warnings about student-athletes--we need to stop treating everyone as though they're a potential terrorist. It's ridiculous and it's wholly in opposition to the founding principles of this nation. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, he who would sacrifice liberty in pursuit of security deserves neither. Why are we all so eager to sacrifice liberty these days?

How Big a Deal is H.R. 347, That "Criminalizing Protest" Bill?
Gabe Rottman,

There's been a lot of hub-bub surrounding this most recent bill, which would seemingly criminalize protests of the ilk of the recent "Occupy" variety. The ACLU blog tempers the conspiracy theorists slightly, but still raises some disconcerting points.
It's important to note — contrary to some reports — that H.R. 347 doesn't create any new crimes, or directly apply to the Occupy protests. The bill slightly rewrites a short trespass law, originally passed in 1971 and amended a couple of times since, that covers areas subject to heightened Secret Service security measures. 
These restricted areas include locations where individuals under Secret Service protection are temporarily located, and certain large special events like a presidential inauguration. They can also include large public events like the Super Bowl and the presidential nominating conventions (troublingly, the Department of Homeland Security has significant discretion in designating what qualifies as one of these special events)... 
H.R. 347 did make one noteworthy change, which may make it easier for the Secret Service to overuse or misuse the statute to arrest lawful protesters. 
Without getting too much into the weeds, most crimes require the government to prove a certain state of mind. Under the original language of the law, you had to act "willfully and knowingly" when committing the crime. In short, you had to know your conduct was illegal. Under H.R. 347, you will simply need to act "knowingly," which here would mean that you know you're in a restricted area, but not necessarily that you're committing a crime... 
Also, while H.R. 347, on its own, is only of incremental importance, it could be misused as part of a larger move by the Secret Service and others to suppress lawful protest by relegating it to particular locations at a public event. These "free speech zones" are frequently used to target certain viewpoints or to keep protesters away from the cameras. Although H.R. 347 doesn't directly address free speech zones, it is part of the set of laws that make this conduct possible, and should be seen in this context.
Basically, we're now allowing DHS to determine what does and does not constitute a legal demonstration of our right to free speech. That's cool, if we assume that everyone within DHS is absolutely acting in the best interests of the citizenry (as opposed to certain hand-picked moneyed interests)... but what if they're not?

Reading the Privacy Policies You Encounter in a Year Would Take 76 Work Days
Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic

This is brilliant, even if the research is a couple years old. Many of you are probably aware that by visiting a website, you are implicitly agreeing to that site's privacy policy, whether or not you have read it (which you haven't).
One simple answer to our privacy problems would be if everyone became maximally informed about how much data was being kept and sold about them. Logically, to do so, you'd have to read all the privacy policies on the websites you visit. A few years ago, two researchers, both then at Carnegie Mellon, decided to calculate how much time it would take to actually read every privacy policy you should... 
So, each and every Internet user, were they to read every privacy policy on every website they visit would spend 25 days out of the year just reading privacy policies! If it was your job to read privacy policies for 8 hours per day, it would take you 76 work days to complete the task. Nationalized, that's 53.8 BILLION HOURS of time required to read privacy policies.
Hahahaha, oh wow. Good thing this kind of stuff doesn't threaten to follow us around, right? Ah, crap... Again, people, with the privacy? Seriously?

Alright, that's it for today. Unless, of course, you feel like reading another one of my rants about how TARP didn't actually make money--but let's be honest, you don't. Anyway, get some sleep tonight, people--I lost one hour of sleep this weekend and I swear it feels like I lost 20. So be it.

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