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Regarding the mandated data retention sections of the SAFETY Act of 2009

Sent via e-mail to Senators Specter and Casey, as well as Congressman Altmire, all of Pennsylvania…

Senators and Congressman,

I write in regards to a bill with the short title “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth (SAFETY) Act of 2009″. This bill was introduced with virtually the same text into the House by Mr. Smith of Texas as H.R. 1076 and into the Senate by Mr. Cornyn as S. 436.

While the overall goal of the bill — a reduction in the use of the Internet to facilitate the trafficking of child pornography — is noble, I am concerned that a key section of the bill is overbroad and unenforceable.

The section to which I am referring is Sec. 5, the “RETENTION OF RECORDS BY ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION SERVICE PROVIDERS.” I include the text of the section here for reference:

Section 2703 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “(h) Retention of Certain Records and Information- A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.”

My interpretation leads me to understand that this section would require any person operating an electronic communication or remote computing service to retain at least two years of logs of temporarily-assigned network addresses.

If interpreted as broadly as possible, this law could require every person who owns an Internet router — a very common, inexpensive, often wireless-capable networking device — to retain these logs for two years. These devices have a very limited storage capacity and generally do not have logging facilities enabled by default.

This law would essentially obsolete every home and small business router, as Americans would be compelled by federal law to buy a certainly more expensive router capable of storing an great amount of log files. This device would also have to be capable of backing up these logs to one or more external devices in order to ensure that the owner is protected from device failures. The price of these new routers would be much higher than the current market price of a router and this legislation would open the possibility of lawsuits against router makers when a router fails to log or retain the logs.

While this procedure is standard rigmarole for computer- and technology-savvy Americans, including information technology professionals, it is a difficult and potentially costly one for those who are not so inclined.

A single power outage or accidental or natural disaster could put someone in a position where they have violated federal law, as they acted as an electronic communication and remote computing service provider and did not retain records as federal law requires.

This is, of course, assuming that the federal agents responsible for enforcing this legislation do in fact police it. Instead, this new data retention requirement will go largely unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unenforced. It will become a law used to convict the ignorant, the careless, and the negligent instead convicting those actually responsible for exploiting children.

I can assume that one or more of you has a wireless router in your home. This law would apply to you, as well. You would need to ensure that your wireless router logs all addresses which it assigns, and you would need to ensure that your logs are retained for at least two years. If for some reason something happened and those logs were lost, you would be guilty of violating federal law.

Moreover, the identifying information contained within these logs is easily fabricated and even easier to masquerade. Two of the three major operating systems can masquerade the most commonly used unique network hardware identifier — a MAC address — with a simple command. A trivial program does the trick for the third. Such a simple fact would easily dismiss a MAC address as evidence in a court test of this entire law, not just the section against which I am campaigning.

I understand that these bills have probably been referred to committees for further exploration. I urge you to exercise extreme caution if this bill comes up for vote alone or as a part of a larger piece of legislation. I urge you to see Section 5 stricken in its entirety on the grounds that it is unenforceable and overbroad.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. If you wish to discuss these or other technology-related bills, my phone is always handy and I’m always willing to share my knowledge.

Colin Dean
Volant, PA

CC: Senator Casey, Senator Specter, Congressman Altmire

Blog reader note: Slashdot links to an excellent summary by C|Net’s Declan McCullaugh entitled Bill proposes ISPs, Wi-Fi keep logs for police.

Letter to PA US senators regarding their stance on FISA amendments

Senator Robert Casey, Jr.
383 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
By Fax to (202) 228-0604

Senator Arlen Specter
711 Hart Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
By Fax to (202) 228-1229

Dear Senators:

I write regarding S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act of 2007. I have read a summary of the bill, as well as the relevant sections of the full text where appropriate.

In my own interpretation of the text, which is by no means expert, I see two major items:

  • It permits the President, through the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, to, in a word, spy on Americans without a warrant.
  • It effectively grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that collaborated with the Bush administration in previous warrant-less spying, thereby creating an legal way for other companies to engage in similar crimes in the future (only Qwest Communications insisted on warrants). It instead replaces as defendants the telecommunications companies with the federal government.

The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In my interpretation, the fourth amendment states that no person shall be searched or seized without a warrant.

I am interested in how you believe that the first of these does not violate the fourth amendment, since the bill authorizes a search of person without a warrant.

I believe telecommunications companies should be held accountable for possibly breaching the privacy agreements with customers. Is it not up to the people to ensure that the government follows its laws? However, I believe that many opponents of that section fail to recognize that the federal government will replace the telecommunications companies were it sees fit.

Even then, this seems like quite a slippery slope. The federal government forces a private entity to do something in secret, then passes a federal law replacing the private entity with the federal government when the public finds out and sues the private entity. The federal government pleads “state secrets” and the suit is closed.

I await your interpretation of and reason for voting in favor of S. 2248, a bill which I feel violates the U.S. Constitution.

Sincerely,

Colin Dean

Conscious, responsible voting with the Constitution in mind

Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Editor, New Castle News
27 North Mercer Street
New Castle, PA 16103
Editor, The Herald
52 South Dock Street
Sharon, PA 16146
Editor, The Holcad
Westminster College Box 157
New Wilmington, PA 16172

Dear Editor,

February 5 is this coming Tuesday, commonly known in the elections world as Super Tuesday, the day when a large number of states will hold presidential primaries and caucuses. We Pennsylvanians won’t vote until April, but our opinions and voices count nonetheless.

I write not to endorse a singular candidate, but to encourage each readers to be a responsible voter and research the candidates, considering each candidate’s stance on the major issues, as well as the smaller issues. I won’t list the issues for fear of omitting someone’s favorite issues or including an issue which I feel is important and which others feel is unimportant.

It’s easy for we Americans who are registered Republicans or Democrats to simply pick the media’s so-called “frontrunner,” and ignoring the other candidates who may or may not be more qualified than he or she. We live in a society where information is available and prevalent. A few minutes at a computer with Internet access can reveal more of the candidates’ message, persona, and agenda than any newspaper, television program, or radio message can hope to deliver in an acceptable time frame.

While accessing the Internet, visit Google.com, type in each candidate’s name, and see what results. Visit YouTube.com and do the same. Visit each candidate’s web site and visit political sites and blogs. If you don’t have a computer, please visit the local library or contact someone who would be willing to let you use their computer for a short period of time.

Lastly, I urge readers to reexamine the U.S. Constitution and all of the amendments—not just the Bill of Rights—while doing their investigations of the candidates. I’m sure many readers haven’t seen either since their days in school. Reconsider the role of the president and the federal government and what the framers of the Constitution and the United States had in mind, and consider how those ideas apply today. A president must swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, and any candidate who does not actively seek to do so even while campaigning is not a suitable candidate.

Sincerely,
<signed>
Colin Dean

Kucinich excluded from Des Moines Register debate

I wrote this to editor Carolyn Washburn as a response to the news that the Des Moines Register is excluding Dennis Kucinich from the newspaper’s debates this month.

Ms. Washburn,

I’m sure you have received a plethora of email from Dennis Kucinich supporters, and hopefully supporters of other candidates, as well. Personally, I support Republican Ron Paul, but feel that Kucinich is the cream of the Democratic crop.

“It was our determination that a person working out of his home did not meet our criteria for a campaign office and full-time paid staff in Iowa” is the quotation from the Register, and the article, “Kucinich, Top-Rated Democrat, Excluded From Des Moines Register Debate,” can be found in the PR Newswire/US Newswire archive.

This statement is quite astounding. I fail to see how formal campaign office and full-time paid staff have anything to do with elections. I fail to recall a section of any part of US election law that says that a candidate must have a campaign office with a full-time staff in order to be considered eligible for the presidency. These things are commonplace these days in our elections because of the cost of nationalizing a campaign and maximizing public attention given to the candidate.

I direct your attention to another industry: the software industry. How many companies are run from a developer’s basement? How many companies use the local Starbucks as an office? I can think of a few off-hand, including the company for which I work.

I applaud Kucinich for maximizing the amount of money he can spend on advertising and such by minimizing his physical presence. The Paul campaign has done something similar, and it has raised more money per dollar spent than any candidate in recent years, thanks to the efforts of people like Kucinich Iowa Field Director and State Coordinator Marcos Rubinstein who chose to work from their homes.

I applaud the Register for following the rule, that is, if this rule was pre-existing and stated outright. The problem I and others have is not with the enforcement, but with the flawed rule itself. I see the point to the rule–the Register wishes to deny the participation of people who would declare their presidency just so they can participate in the debate.

However, this rule affects a popular candidate–a federal congressman from a state which has birthed the most presidents, a congressman who is a nationally-known and nationally-supported, viable candidate for the presidency. The effects of this decision can only stifle the election process and cause readers, local and national, to question the Register’s credibility as an unbiased source of election coverage.

I deeply urge you and the Des Moines Register to reconsider this decision and choose to include Dennis Kucinich in the debate. I thank you for your time in reading my message.

Colin Dean
Former Editor-in-Chief, The Holcad

New bill: Students will lose federal financial aid if institution lacks copyright prevention measures

I dispatched this letter today, and I urge you to send a similar letter to your own member of Congress:

Congressman Jason Altmire
1419 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman,

I just heard about a bill called the “College Opportunity and Affordability Act” which was introduced into the House of Representatives, or at least a committee of it, this past Friday, November 9. It was brought to my attention by a C|NET News article by Declan McCullagh entitled “Democrats: Colleges must police copyright, or else.” I have included a copy of this article for your perusal.

While I would have liked to have read the entire bill, it is 747 pages long, so I had to skim and search using keywords such as “copyright,” “theft,” and “digital.”

The parts of the bill which are of great concern to me—and concern is an understatement—are the entirety of Section 487 part A (found on approximately page 381) and Section 705 part A paragraph 10 (approximately page 475).

The former amends Section 485(a)(1) (20 U.S.C. 1092(a)(1)) , and, from my understanding, requires institutions to publicly post or otherwise remind students of the existence of and penalties for copyright infringement, as well as the steps the institution takes to prevent and detect digital copyright infringement. While it is good citizenship for an institution to remind its students of its own policies and state/federal law backing those policies, a law requiring it is outside the bounds of the federal government’s responsibility.

The latter reads

(10) the support of efforts to establish pilot programs and initiatives to help college campuses to reduce illegal downloading of copyrighted content, in order to improve the security and integrity of campus computer networks and save bandwidth costs;

My concern here is that the copyrighted content which is most often illegally trafficked is comprised of primarily music and movies, both of which are produced by major donors to political goings-on, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. I do realize that textbooks are also often illegally trafficked, but I do not recall any publicly announced civil or criminal lawsuits against traffickers of digital textbooks, or at least ones that garnered significant media attention from even independent news outlets.

Liaisons with corporations aside, the “security and integrity of campus computer networks” is not threatened by music and movie sharing. Audio and video files are data files and contain no executable code. This means that viruses, spyware, and other malicious programs do not enter campus networks by means of music and movie sharing, but possibly through security holes in software produced by companies such as Microsoft and Apple.

Additionally, bandwidth costs are ephemeral. Internet service providers to institutions bear the responsibility to raise prices if the institution itself does not upgrade its service of its own accord and distribute the difference in price to its students. That upgrade would raise students tuition at a medium-sized institution by perhaps two or three dollars per year, much less than the cost of implementing a system—in both raw money and man hours—to reduce bandwidth usage or punish students for misuse of the network.

However, I find Section 494 (approximately page 411) in its entirety to be wholly overbearing and excessive, and a needless intervention of the federal government in the matters between two industries. The federal government is taking the side of a for-profit giant with bottomless pockets and questionable motives and methods instead of the side of the mostly non-profit industry responsible for the education of young adults, or a better side to take: neither.

It is my understanding after having read the entirety of Section 494 that institutions which do not post policies and do not “develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrent to prevent such illegal activity” (494(a)(2)) will lose or be ineligible to gain federal funding for all students, regardless of whether or not a student has committed copyright infringement, or owns or even uses a computer. This provision is entirely atrocious. Revoking a student’s ability to get federal financial aid because the student’s institution lacks a plan to protect the interests of a private industry is simply ludicrous.

I hope that you, Congressman Altmire, understand the outrageousness of these sections and paragraphs and will work to strike them and related provisions entirely from the College Opportunity and Affordability Act authored by George Miller of California and Ruben Hinojosa of Texas. I also hope that, when it is about to be voted upon by the entire House, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act will be read in its entirety so that the members of congress will know exactly what they are voting on.

Thank you for hearing my concerns.

Sincerely,

Colin Dean

Enclosure: Copy of aforementioned article (two pages)

Ars Technica has excellent coverage of this atrocity.

A4 vs US Letter: logic behind the sizes

I read a very informational article on the differences between and the logic behind A4 and US Letter paper sizes. The A series of paper is based on the ratio of 1:sqrt(2), or 1:1.414, as a paper with dimensions of that ratio can be folded in half length-wise and the resulting size retains the ratio. The US series does not keep its ratio, but skips between sizes.

From TFA:

Which raises the question, why the difference at all? If both sizes are arbitrary, why bother with maintaining a difference. The answers are long and involved, and mostly outside the scope of this article. At the core, however, it comes down to one thing: A4 isn’t an arbitrary size.