31 December 2002

Dail Must Block Big Brother Bill from McDowell: an opinion piece I have on the editorial pages of today's Irish Times (If you are Irish and unfamiliar with this pressing and crucial issue I urge you to check out the privacy archives link at left. If you aren't Irish -- the Dail is the Irish parliament, the Garda are the Irish police force, and a Deputy is a member of parliament).

'If you've done nothing wrong, you don't have to worry." That's been one of the key arguments presented by governments and law-enforcement agencies across the world as they attempt, in the wake of September 11th, to bring in new surveillance and data retention schemes.

The Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, implied as much when he recently defended the Department of Justice's secretive plans to introduce just such a regime in the Republic.

Since early summer, his department has been drafting a Bill which would require the retention of detailed traffic information about all of your personal and business phone calls, mobile calls, faxes, e-mails and Internet surfing habits in gigantic databases for a minimum of three years - the longest period proposed by any EU state.

Under EU data protection and privacy directives, such detailed and intimate information can now just be held to fulfil billing needs - usually, three to six months - then must be destroyed. With this proposal, such information would be retained only on the grounds that you - and every single Irish citizen - are a potential suspect whose everyday activities may need to be investigated in coming years.

Such information, Mr McDowell insisted on News at One, would only be accessed by the Garda in appropriate investigations (although the Department of Justice recently told the Council of Ministers that not one Garda investigation had been hampered by the lack of the kind of data-retention scheme it is now proposing). But what is an appropriate investigation and who decides what is "wrong"?

The Garda Síochána's ongoing attempts to force Deputy Brendan Howlin (Labour) and Senator Jim Higgins (Fine Gael) to hand over their personal phone and fax records underlines just how slippery such determinations can be and how open to potential misuse and abuse.

See the full piece for more detail and examples of abuse by law enforcement worldwide of such databases.

12:01:51 PM  #   your two cents []

Doc Searls had a link in an item a few days ago to a professor in the history department at my old alma mater (and one of first links on the infant Arpanet!), UC Santa Barbara. That got me to poking around the dept. website, since I loved the subject and took loads of history courses as an undergrad.  I discovered two of my favourite professors are there still : the wonderful Sears McGee (Tudor and Stuart history) and Hal Drake (Roman History). I was especially fond of Prof Drake, whose classes were always exciting and interesting and challenging. He was very tough but very fair and a fantastic teacher, always happy to make you a coffee in his office hours and listen to your undergrad gabbing. When I eventually was teaching at university level myself, his methods of teaching and handling classes, and ways of transmitting his enthusiasm and love of his subject, were always at the front of my mind.

Harold DrakeSometimes it takes part of a lifetime to realise who the people are that really shape us -- because it's often so subtle at the time, and you don't realise the effects until you are years older and doing this or that and you realise you have an insight or a passion or an understanding of something because of the way someone guided you aeons ago. One of those people at college level, for me, was Prof Drake, who is great at getting unmolded lumpen young students to think in challenging new ways, to read critically and joyfully, to feel their way into a subject and explore. Those are skills that hold you in good stead all your life, in every subject under the sun (or moon). I dropped him a note just to say thanks -- because you don't often think about saying something so simple to the people that mattered in some pretty important ways in your past, especially not the people who taught you. So consider doing it, if you know someone similar -- people who teach see hundreds of students pass through their classes, and (as I know from experience) sometimes you feel pretty worn out, and wonder if anything you tried to convey ever got across to anybody. The really good teachers have an influence that extends so far beyond the classroom... and a fresh new year is a great time to let them know.

2:24:05 AM  #   your two cents []
John Kenneth Galbraith. "Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory." [Quotes of the Day]
1:57:39 AM  #   your two cents []
Year in Privacy: Citizens Lose. Each year, governments chip away at citizens' civil liberties. It's a tactic the United States condemned during the Cold War but now uses in the war on terror. [Wired News]
1:20:37 AM  #   your two cents []
Giving robots the gift of sight. A Carnegie Mellon University professor known for predicting the evolution of super-capable robots says he's just given robots better eyesight. [CNET News.com]
1:14:59 AM  #   your two cents []

I'm baaaaack!! And, I am a HAPPY, HAPPY geek (wannabe) girl! I thought I'd lost my Radio backup -- part of the whole miserable clean install/screwed-up disk saga (the hardware people are still blaming the s/w, the s/w people the h/w). But I found a Zip disk tucked away to one side on which -- praise the computer god who very, very occasionally smiles down upon us -- I'd made a second backup of Radio. So, I did not lose all my archives, etc. I'm feeling very emotional about this... [grin]... so much so that I think I need to crank some MP3s into the headphones (some oldies -- Baba O'Reilly is good and triumphal...). Only when doing backup and install do you realise which apps and data really, really matter to you, at a deep emotional level... and I guess it's MP3s and blog archives. Time for a new book for a new millennium, My Blog, My Self (the story of one woman who finds her sense of self from her relationship with her motherrr...whoops! That was the 70s... I mean, her blog...

Anyway, suffice to say that I locked myself in the house for three days and backed up, read advice, etc and then went at the computer like a she-demon. Not because the clean install was that scary -- I'd done it before, and I've done system recoveries to Win 98, and XP holds your hand to a large degree -- it was the fact that I had no search function, and no way of finding or even identifying by looking at them, the important files or perhaps-important files. And most of the files I wanted, the PC could no longer 'see'. So no folder, no icons, nada...

I ended up with the PC not being able to read the drive on the first install attempt. Ended up having to go to the Dell recovery disk, and installing Win 98 just so that I could wipe and reformat the drives. Then did a clean install of Win XP on that. Which went fairly well -- I even created my drive partitions smoothly, nay, effortlessly, which was very exciting... (it's so nice to tell/confess this to an audience who doesn't look at you with worried and widened eyes, thinking this is utterly pathetic). Then as I was formatting the second partition I got the exact same soft grinding noise, and the PC froze. So: question of the day: drive or software problem?! Dell still says it's the software and to do another clean install. This seems a bit excessive when I already reformatted the whole damn drive and did a clean install.

In the meantime, the PC is running at a nippy pace, and all the functions have come back, and I am clutching my Radio folders to my breast in relief -- so glad they didn't vanish forever.

I emailed my old pal Z (hi, Z!) about these general frustrations, noting, "I guess the good thing is that I now know some DOS commands and how to create hard drive partitions etc!" I liked his response -- sometimes you get so used to your low expectations for anything hardware or software-related that you forget the right perspective is really his:

I love this - imagine if the "good thing" about having a toaster that didn't work was that you got to learn about house wiring and fire putting-out (there's no passive, gerund sort of word for that, is there?). Only computers still get to turn consumers into the Maytag repair man.

Now -- to get some more apps and documents back on the PC, while cranking some more MP3s, sipping a little Cointreau, watching the activity bars on-screen. Sin e mo sceil for the moment... 

1:12:08 AM  #   your two cents []