Phone Encryption

It’s been announced that both iOS and Android are going to have fully encryptable phones which will be a huge boon for our 4th amendment rights. As well as to protect us from more mundane things like theft or simply losing your phone. Our phones these days contain as much or more personal information as our computers do these days. The average person doesn’t have any sort of two step authentication on their personal accounts on their phones. In most case people do have some sort of password protection to get into the phone, but once in it’s fairly easy to get into many applications.

For end users there’s nothing better than having a stronger security measures as in many cases companies poorly manage their security. This can be highlighted from the past week of exploits and those celebrity pictures. Encrypting phones might not prevented the celebrity leak, but in many cases it could. It’s believed that some of the hacks of Paris Hilton years ago came from hacking her phone through a BlueTooth connection, so a fully encrypted phone may have protected her from that hack.

All these things are good, however, the Washington Post has decided that this encryption is a risk to public safety because it will help criminals. This is the exact same argument that people make against BitCoin and full disk encryption. BitCoin ended up spawning SilkRoad, which has been shut down and it’s more likely that more crime is committed with dollars rather than Bitcoin. Full Disk Encryption has been used by both criminals and the more technical savvy. With the recent changes where the government can simply take your laptop at boarder crossings without any sort of warrant. Which means anyone at anytime that could have been flagged by the NSA could have their computer searched at will.

It’s more likely that encryption will protect an average person from an arbitrary search than protect a criminal. It’s likely that without everyone being encrypted, having your computer or phone encrypted would have been a huge red flag, however, with these recent changes that can’t happen. Meaning the average person will be safer as well as the fully legal with nothing to hide security conscious individuals.

The Washington Post, FBI, and other agencies are wrong. Fully encryption on our phones protects our privacy, improves our fourth amendment, and give us more control over our own devices. If the FBI and the US government is successful in creating a backdoor the encryption will be worthless and the put us more at risk as we’ll have a false sense of security.

Stupid laws, poor Decisions, and corruption

Uber and Lyft have been all over the news lately. They’ve been getting pushed out of city after city. They have had rulings go against them, like one in PIttsburgh today. The ironic thing is that the Judges were completely sympathetic to the people of Pittsburgh and Uber/Lyft, but had to rule in that way because of the way the law is written. I think it’s fair to say that the judges believe that if the people of Pittsburgh want these services they will have to work with the city council to have the commission responsible for Taxis change the rules so that Uber and Lyft are legal. Uber plans to running through the holiday weekend, in a similar fashion that they are in Austin, Texas where the services are also illegal.

The Supreme Court of the US has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a case around if a privately held company has to pay for birth control based upon religious exceptions. However, there have been a lot of points indicating that there is hypocrisy in their approach. Through their 401(K) they own stocks in companies that manufacture birth control. They are willing to pay for vasectomies and vVagra, which seem incongruent with their beliefs. To be internally consistent Hobby Lobby should be against paying for vasectomies as well – the only difference between them and the Pill is that it is on the man not the woman. Should the results imply that Hobby Lobby must be internally consistent and be forced to divest those stocks and be prevented from paying for vasectomies? I’m not sure, but I think that there could likely be a lawsuit over that – forcing Hobby Lobby to explain the rationale of refusing to pay for one over the other. Which may have a different unintended consequence of hours getting cut to Wal-Mart levels and no one getting insurance except for salary employees.

Apparently a DOJ antitrust lawyer was invited to a big Comcast shindig for the Olympics. The only reason the person didn’t go was because of the rules put in place to prevent her from going. I think there are two ways to interpret this. First, she’s sincere and wants to go, but is aware that it could look bad for her and Comcast if she went. Second, she’s sincere and is saying that it would be corrupt if she went even though it did look like a lot of fun. I can see both sides, but I think it’s pretty fair when people assume this is part of the general corruption within the US government. Where the government has a revolving door between the regulated and regulators. How can you hope to not have general corruption though being a decent person. You get to know the people you’re working with and you want to help them because that’s what good people do. It’s the most likely type of corruption to happen – corruption through complicity.

All in all, these three stories don’t play well for the US being a shining light on the hill. We’ve seen the MIddle East blow up of late and there’s a lot of discussion as to why. One reason is that we’re trying to push democracy on people that aren’t ready for it, however, are we even ready for it? Each of these stories shows that we have broken laws that could be captured by business or other entities. I think that for a country to export their version of democracy they need to have their house in order and show how well the system can work. I liken it to process improvement. Porsche is one of the best examples around this – they became some of the best Lean consultants in the world through fixing all of their problems first. You need to build credibility and show you can execute, then you partner with a struggling supplier and build the change together. You cannot force it down their throat.

Our system is broken in many places and the past few weeks really highlights that.

Obama’s DOJ assault on civil liberties

Obama’s been really bad for privacy, due process, and discretion when it comes to a litany of topics. Many of these issues aren’t really discussed in the mainstream media and it’s beginning to really bother me. I take that back, it’s been bothering me for quiet some time, but I’m going to be talking about it a lot more now. In fact, many of these issues have dated back to before this past election. I was extremely close to voting for a third party candidate for president because I find it repugnant that the US president would kill US citizens abroad without a trial by jury, because the Bush administration created a legal gray zone called “enemy combatant.” I’m not a fan of conjecturing what our founding fathers think about modern day issues, however, I feel that this one is pretty obvious. People were being imprisoned and killed without trail under British rule. The right to a trail was to ensure this wouldn’t happen to a citizen.

The next area that’s really starting to disturb me is the efforts to shut down some types of DDoS activities. It was just discovered within the past few days that the FBI has backdoor access into a company that does DDoS for hire. Which likely means that they’re used as part of the US Cyber Security Defense League of National Homeland Safetiness. It also means that anyone that uses a service like this can be tracked and arrested for using the service, if the FBI decides to – essentially if the FBI feels that the use would have been justified from their perspective the customer wouldn’t be bothered. However, this isn’t the case at all when it comes to teenagers, young adults, or whatever age you are if you’re in Anonymous, Lulzsec, or just Kim Dot Com. According to a great Guardian article, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/may/04/security-alert-war-in-cyberspace, there’s a general all out attack on people that decide to use the internet in new ways to do different things. These are people that are notifying others of risks to their own security. For example, Weev, was just sentenced to 3 years in prison for alerting AT&T that the had some email addresses associated with iPads exposed, sure he went through Gwaker, but this information was easily accessible and in plain text. This creates a risk to all security researchers, the people that are called “white hats” that are the good Samaritan hackers which find security exploits, inform the firm give them 30 days or so to fix the issue and then release the information into the public to force the fix. Many cases of hacking are “Black hat” hackers that are really up to no good, but as the generation younger than mine continue to explore the web there will be continued clashed of culture of what is right and wrong on the internet. To me, these prison terms (and attacks that lead to Aaron Swartz’s suicide) is the old guard trying to assert authority in an area they don’t understand and cannot control.

The final area of DOJ assault is on whistle blowers and journalists. I’ve long been an advocate for releasing more information to the public and applying more scrutiny to the government. The scandals with the IRS, Benghazi, and military leaderships only indicate we need more transparency not less. The Obama administration has taken the idea of national security needs to new heights and this has created a pervasive atmosphere throughout the US that governments can simply do as they please. For example New York City, which famously said privacy is off the table, refuses to respond to legally binding Freedom of Information Requests. They are simply ignored. If it’s good for the federal government then it’s good for state and city government! Greater transparency to the public is the only way to prevent corruption throughout the government. I believe the only reason we learned of the IRS fiasco is because it was a government issued report to the public. Otherwise, it would have been buried for years and we wouldn’t have heard of it for some time, and even then there would have been a nasty fight over getting the information public.

Back to my main point of the assault on journalism – the DOJ secretly sopenaed phone records from the AP, then charged an investigative reporter from Fox as a co-conspirator which allowed the DOJ to access emails and other records skirting typical judicial oversight when dealing with the press. Furthermore, nearly all aspects of the US Government feel they can just access whoevers email they want without a warrant.

All of these things are setting really bad precedents and we need to hold people accountable to them. I know that many of you out there are apathetic towards voting. Instead of not voting, vote for a third party. Aside from Obama and the guy that ran against Lamar Smith, I voted third party for anything I could. I knew it wouldn’t have much of an impact, but I’m starting to do that and I plan to continue to do so. I also plan to support activities to get money out of our government. You should too.

AT&T deal is most likely dead

We all should be extremely happy that this deal failed. Even those that don’t live in the US. Two major US agencies were investigating the eventual impact of a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. From a consumer point of view what would have been the impact of the merger?

Well, there could be benefits, for instance T-Mobile users will get access to a much larger network. They will have higher quality signal connection in more cities and in more areas through out the US. T-mobile has one of the smaller network area coverage of the 4 remaining cellphone providers in the US. (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile). AT&T users may get some relief in large cities like San Francisco and New York. It is likely that the combination of the two companies’ networks will increase the total capacity in a given city.

AT&T and T-Mobile claim that not only will these things be better for the customers of both providers but there will also be an increase in investment in the network. However it really doesn’t seem to be the case. Based on their own documents they show that it would actually reduce the yearly investment in the cell networks for the new network overall, reduce the number of employees and likely increase the prices of cell service.

Why is this expected? Well, if the networks are combined there will likely be a reduced need for RF Engineers. These guys are effectively the “Can you hear me know guy” from Verizon commercials. They both design the interaction between the cell sites and look into where the coverage, how much capacity there is for calls/text/data in a given area and if there will be dead spots within their expected coverage area. If a group of engineers for both T-Mobile can cover all of NYC and there’s a group at AT&T to cover the same area, well some of them will have to go.

What about the investment though? Well, if capacity suddenly increases in areas that are cramped for capacity, then there will be less investment. Additionally, if there is excess capacity in areas that don’t have the growth potential for fully meeting that capacity the new merged company would be stupid not to redeploy those areas that have less capacity. This means that AT&T could potentially go a few years without actually buying new equipment to meet capacity demands.

Why would prices go up? I wrote an article about how monopolies at the Urban Times. Effectively, when there are not pressures driving a company to lower prices to attract more customers prices will rise or stay the same. Which will be significantly higher than the costs of the company. With only two other competitors, which most people assume Verizon would buy Sprint, there is little pressure to innovate and keep prices low. Additional the cost of switching keep prices higher too.

Because of these reasons it’s a very good thing that the US government stepped in to prevent this merger. It also indicates that the government is still willing to step in and act in the best interest of the people. In fact, the collapse of this merger could be a good thing for T-Mobile users as the company will get a settlement of $4 Billion. This should be invested in their network and will increase their ability to compete. Another reason we should be happy for this collapse, is that T-Mobile is a very innovative company in terms of adoption of new types of cell phones. T-Mobile has also had excellent customer service compared to the other cell phone providers.