Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Ethics Committee Faults Torricelli on Gift Violations

The old joke has a new cast:

"The greatest miscarriage of justice since Senator Torricelli was acquitted of receiving a bribe that David Chang was convicted of paying."

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

A Q&A exchange between me and Eugene Volokh:
[Eugene's responses in italics.]

The topic was Gilmore v. Ashcroft -- FAA ID Challenge in which John Gilmore is suing the Feds to be allowed to fly domestically without ID.

So, does John have a chance?


So it is your view that the Feds can ban anyone (except those wealthy enough to rent, buy, or build their own aircraft) from flying, for life, using secret orders, and without any
access to judicial process.

Seems a bit extreme to me.

Could they do the same thing for riding in a car or walking?

What about boats?

My view is only that they can insist that people show id.

So if there is a "Don't Fly" list, you would support people being able to sue to get off it?

Of course.

How can they force you to present something that they can't force you to have in the first place?

Same reason as for driver's licenses to drive. If you don't want an identification, that's fine -- but then you won't be allowed to do certain things where identification is necessary for security reasons.

I promised that I wouldn't send him any more mail for at least a week but now the time is up.

One doesn't need a driver's license to ride in a car. The government is now claiming that you need ID to ride in a commercial aircraft. Since the development of passports for international travel at the beginning of the 20th century, passports (or other travel documents) have been necessary to enter other nations. Commercial carriers began to check them on boarding not for security reasons but because if passengers were refused entry at their destination the carrier was responsible for their maintenance and return.

The problem with such ID requirements is not merely that ID is required. The problem is that the activity can be barred for reasons other than lack of ID. You will also be banned for your characteristics. After all, what's the point of requiring ID to fight terrorism if you can't ban terrorists from flights. Or people who fit a terrorist profile. Or people who owe child support (drivers licenses, fishing licenses, and passports are denied to those owing child support).

An ID requirement, when you combine it with online verification and authorization, creates a federal license requirement to engage in the particular activity. In the above case, a federal license to fly on a commercial aircraft. In other proposals, a federal license to take a job, open a bank account or rent an apartment.

A federal license that can be denied for any reason since it is issued via a computer analysis system driven by a secret algorithm.

It's a license because the federal government is required to affirmatively grant you permission before you can do something.

The right to fly is controlled by the Computer Assisted Passenger Profile System (CAPPS) -- soon to be replaced by the presumably wider-ranging CAPPS2. At the heart of CAPPS is a secret algorithm that determines whether you are or may be a terrorist. You can't know what facts or behaviors cause CAPPS to ban you from a flight since the algorithm is not for public consumption.

In fact, since the Feds have not set up an administrative procedure for you to challenge a denial of flight boarding (or any of the future activities that will be subject to CAPPS2 and similar systems) only those with the $25K to 100K needed to bring a federal civil suit will be able to challenge their denials. The Feds require private businesses that deny you credit to follow an appeals process but don't impose such a requirement on themselves in the much more significant denials that CAPPS2 will make. And even for the rich, these court challenges will be hard to win since the reasons for the denials will be a state secret.

So those who support such ID requirements and such federal licenses should be required to answer a basic question -- what activities should be subject to state and federal permission and which activities should not?
E-Books Not Exactly Flying Off The Shelves

E-Books Not Exactly Flying Off The Shelves
Most Readers Stick to Paper Despite Technology's Hype

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 6, 2002; Page C01

Whatever happened to e-books?

Not too long ago and not very far away, certain citizens of the digital world were oh so convinced that an e-book future -- in which the content of traditional books would be electronically zapped to home computers, laptops and specially designed devices -- was just around the corner.
There are those in the industry who continue to emote about the e-book and praise its capabilities, but the plain old reading public -- on the beaches, in the coffee shops, at the Metro stations -- just aren't buying into e-books. You don't see a horde of people devouring Huck Finn on a handheld or "Ulysses" on a laptop.
Palm Digital Media provides content for owners of personal digital assistants, a market of 25 million people. It offers some 5,500 e-titles in its catalogue at
But maybe e-books never really caught fire because there was never a deep desire for them in the first place. The 500-year-old book -- with white paper pages and night-black ink -- is a perfectly good technology for providing word-based information.

Electronic devices, on the other hand, can deliver words and more -- voices and video and music and interactivity. You can play Scrabble on a handheld. Or chess. Or rock-and-roll. You can chat. Or e-mail. Or you can call home or surf the Internet. Why use them to read vast chunks of printed matter?
Aileen McHugh, director of electronic publishing at Johns Hopkins University Press, is not so sure. "I think there's a future for books online," she says. "For searching. I think there might be a future for course materials, for students downloading them."

But "for books that people read," she says, "I don't think there's a huge future in e-books."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Usual folderol about e-books. I am in the heavy reader demographic "above 40 years of age". And I am a heavy reader. I used to read physical books while walking around and I still do but only in electronic form.

The article missed a few significant items like Baen Books' Webscriptions which has sold thousands of titles since they opened. I get a lot of books from them, myself, because they are a hard science fiction/military science fiction house and that's what I tend to read. Generally SF and Romance have done best in e-book format. Baen offers its books in all formats - online html, downloadable html, RTF, Microsoft Reader, a Palm OS reader, and Rocket Book. And they don't encrypt their e-book files. Perhaps that's why they are profitable and selling more than just about anyone else. Perhaps Digital Rights Management is neither necessary nor sufficient for success in vending digital media.

I read all my e-books on my Handspring Visor because its small form factor means it's always there and can hold plenty of books so I never run out. I also carry court cases that I want to read and other documents that I've converted. On downside -- I'm going through about 3 Visors a year because when you use them for reading while walking you inevitably drop them. At least they're cheap ($99 for rehabbed devices).

I don't know how readers put up with bulky books that can really only be used one at a time. My fear has always been running out of something to read. Plenty of backups in the Visor.
So I wonder. Is Latvia Offshore?

I am in receipt of a fun piece of spam:

Dear Customer,
Looking for a superior asset protection and tax management tool? Concerned about preserving your wealth in the heart of Europe without personal identity disclosure? We have a superior solution, which is able to meet the most demanding asset protection needs of our prospective customers. Please take your time to study this incredible and exclusive opportunity at
Offshore Cirrus ATM card
Complete anonymity when withdrawing cash
No ID requirements
Would cost you just $180

So I wander over to NSI and discover where "the Heart of Europe" is (OFFSHORE-CARDS.COM) and discover that it is Latvia.

Now it is certainly possible that heroic Latvians could be offering fabulous anonymous bank accounts and credit and debit cards but how would one know this in advance. Then there's the fact that the record was created in May. A bit young. Give it a while to age.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Congressman Wants to Let Entertainment Industry Get Into Your Computer

Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., formally proposed legislation that would give the industry unprecedented new authority to secretly hack into consumers' computers or knock them off-line entirely if they are caught downloading copyrighted material.

I've been reading things like this for a while but I wonder how practical such an attack would be. They won't be able to hack into computers with reasonable firewalls and while they might try DOS attacks, upstream connectivity suppliers might object. Under current P2P software they may be able to do a little hacking but the opposition will rewrite the software to block. DOS attacks and phony file uploads can be defeated with digital signatures and reputation systems (including third party certification). Another problem -- Napster had 55 million customers. That's a lot of people to attack. I don't think Hollywood has the troops.