Saturday Night Open Thread: More Privacy Threats

Another threat to our right to privacy is looming, courtesy of Sen. Charles Schumer who has teamed up with Republican John Cornyn.

What's it this time? He thinks people who buy pre-paid phones are either terrorists or drug dealers and has introduced a bill to prevent you from buying one without providing ID. And, the seller would have to keep your info for 18 months.

There are a lot of reasons to buy pre-paid phones. Reporters talking to sources, spouses who want some privacy, people with bad credit who can't get a contract.

Does anonymity have a legitimate social value? “There has to be a little bit of a safety valve for whistle-blowers and battered spouses who want to get off the grid,” said Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties organization.

What's next? We can't pay for things in cash without providing our names? I won't even answer a question about my zip code, let alone give my name, if I'm buying something with cash. Stores just want to get you in their database anyway they can.

And if you think law enforcement isn't looking at you, think again. [More...]

Among the names people in New York City have used when buying prepaid cellphones are Lady Gaga, King Kong, Sugar Love and Jesus Mom, according to investigators with the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

Did the investigators got those names from subpoenaing the records of a few suspected drug dealers? Or did they get ahold of the records for all phones sold by a particular store or stores?

The feds have no problem getting wiretap orders on pre-paid phones. I don't think it's slowed them down a bit. As soon as they tap X and hear him talking to Y about something they believe is code for drugs, they get a pen register and trap and trace for the number, pre-paid or not. They don't need a name. They refer to the phone user/subscriber as "fnu/lnu" (first name unknown, last name unknown.) Days or weeks later, they've figured out who it is and then tap the pre-paid phone. It's no more difficult to tap a cell phone or a pre-paid phone than it is a land line.

Bad Schumer.

This is an open thread, all topics welcome.

Update: We're doing a server reboot at 11:45 pm to add some updates. It will take about 45 minutes and may make us unavailable sporadically during that time.

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    Progressive (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by lentinel on Sun May 30, 2010 at 03:29:38 AM EST
    I often see Schumer referred to as a "progressive".


    Primary challenge: Randy Credico (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Ben Masel on Sun May 30, 2010 at 09:51:50 AM EST


    Immediate pull out of Afghanistan
    Immediate pull out of Iraq
    Immediate pull out of Colombia
    End Drug War at home and abroad
    Repeal Patriot Act
    Legalization of Marijuana
    Abolish Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
    Repeal 1996 Omnibus Crime Bill
    Constitutional amendment abolishing death penalty
    Ban on racial profiling
    Promotion of jury nullification
    National ban on private prisons

    Decriminalization of all drugs
    Ban on torture and rendition
    Law prohibiting federal prosecutors from becoming judges
    Clemency for all immigrants
    Closing of ICE units
    Stiff penalties for prosecutors who suborn perjury
    Repeal Gatt and Nafta
    US return of Guantanamo to Cuba
    Full lifting of Cuba Embargo
    Clemency for political prisoners and all prisoners convicted for nonviolent drug offense

    Elimination of  Byrne Grants for misguided policies

    Schumer Must Go (none / 0) (#11)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:31:33 AM EST
    Another check off to Randy Credico.

    Indeed (none / 0) (#16)
    by lambert on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:01:50 PM EST
    So what's your point? Ha.

    Yeah (none / 0) (#20)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:26:35 PM EST
    Hillary and Obama too.

    I guess they need the votes so they make promises.


    Simple answers to simple questions (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by lambert on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:04:43 PM EST
    Jeralyn asks:

    What's next? We can't pay for things in cash without providing our names?

    I'd answer No, actually.

    What's next is outlawing cash entirely. After all, the banksters can't extract a rent from a cash transaction, right?

    You know, I would not be sorry to see cash go (none / 0) (#22)
    by andgarden on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:41:49 PM EST
    I was having just that discussion last week with my grandmother: she was irritated that Redbox wanted a card for a $1 rental. I said I was happy to avoid cash when possible; she disagreed.

    Nobody carries a rolodex anymore. So why grisly old $5 bills?


    Because that means a national (none / 0) (#32)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:49:39 PM EST
    card which can be turned off anytime..

    And it means transaction charges 100% of the time (none / 0) (#34)
    by lambert on Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:51:30 PM EST
    As for example.

    True (none / 0) (#35)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun May 30, 2010 at 07:23:48 PM EST
    I would just withdraw it all at one time.

    server update at 11:45pm (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jeralyn on Sat May 29, 2010 at 10:25:28 PM EST
    Just added this above:

    We're doing a server reboot at 11:45 pm to add some updates. It will take about 45 minutes and may make us unavailable sporadically during that time.

    ids (none / 0) (#2)
    by jharp on Sat May 29, 2010 at 10:33:19 PM EST
    Here in Indiana they just started checking ID's for alcohol purchases for everyone on every purchase. Or at least at CVS and the convenience stores.

    I'm nearly 50 and get checked at at CVS Drug Store every time. By the same clerk.

    I'm older and ditto. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sun May 30, 2010 at 08:32:39 AM EST
    Yes, some places just have a policy to check everyone no matter the age just so no clerk can use the excuse that "Well he looked old enough."

    A pair of deuces (none / 0) (#4)
    by Rojas on Sun May 30, 2010 at 08:25:47 AM EST
    Schumer and Cornyn, aways a winning hand.

    Jeralyn Big Legal Question for you. (none / 0) (#6)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sun May 30, 2010 at 08:35:12 AM EST
    Can an individual that is not a lawyer represent himself before the US Supreme Court?

    Has it been done?  Recently?  

    Would you please direct me to some information on it.


    Pro se representation is allowed (5.00 / 2) (#27)
    by Peter G on Sun May 30, 2010 at 02:39:04 PM EST
    in all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, and has been since the Judiciary Act of 1789 (the first law governing the federal courts).  The last pro se litigant that comes to mind is atheist activist Michael Newdow, who argued his own case (challenging the "under God" clause in the Pledge of Allegiance) in 2004. (He lost on what might be called a technicality, but by all reports did a very good job of arguing the case.) Newdow is a law school graduate, but is also a doctor and practices medicine, not law, for a living, as I understand it.

    According to Wiki, Newdow graduated (none / 0) (#30)
    by oculus on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:02:28 PM EST
    from Univ. of Michigan Law School and passed the state bar.  

    Unsolicited reply. Here are the (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:47:38 AM EST
    rules of the U.S. Supreme Court.  I don't see any provision for a non-lawyer to argue. Cornell

    Wiki knows all. I should have remembered (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:43:41 AM EST
    Lawson, as he is from here.  link

    Lawson was pro se in the lower courts (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by Peter G on Sun May 30, 2010 at 02:49:10 PM EST
    but the Supreme Court appointed Mark Rosenbaum of the Southern California ACLU to argue Lawson's side of the case at that level, according to the "oyez" website, which knows all as far as the Supreme Court is concerned.  I tend to think that if someone utterly unqualified insisted on representing him- or herself before the Court, the Supremes might either cancel the argument and decide the case "on the papers" or appoint an amicus curiae to argue that side.

    Thank You All. (none / 0) (#39)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:35:03 PM EST
    A few friends and I argued a traffic case ourselves already in lower county magistrate court and essentially won, but the magistrate actually intervened (we think, on the officer's side) with the jury, and then tried to reduce the case as if it had just been a guilty plea on the ticket and came back with an offer (the original paying the fine upfront offer).  Anyway we didn't accept,
    so it is now going "forward again?" and we are mad, and the court and the traffic cops are mad so we wondered how we could continue to do this "cheaply" as well as in our own way thumb our noses at some crappy rules where a few people think they own the process, and the hell with common sense.

    I'd be really surprised if this traffic (none / 0) (#40)
    by oculus on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:49:58 PM EST
    ticket (jury trial????) makes it to SCOTUS.

    Well it is the principle! (none / 0) (#43)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Mon May 31, 2010 at 02:54:19 PM EST
    My friend who had a good case but had some other violations wanted to delay until earlier "points" had expired.  In that he succeeded.

    That was the reason to get a jury trial mainly.

    But there was other factors that came to our attention that led us to believe that the officer was lying on several counts.

    I was to be called by my friend as an "expert witness" on the radar issues.

    The judge wouldn't allow it.  Would not allow the radar to be disputed and said I and my friend had no standing as "experts" to dispute the radar.  That the "dumb cluck" patrolman who went to a 3 day training seminar was an expert but neither my friend or I was.

    I have two degrees in engineering, electrical and mechanical.  I have extensive and extended training in radar beyond what I can even mention here in an unclassified site.  I heard the patrolman talking stupid about the radar and the way he could select my friend's car out of a bunch of cars.  Some of which my friend said were going faster.

    It was a gross fabrication, and I should have been allowed to testify!!

    Maybe the case itself isn't important but the principles are, and these principles allow innocent people to be charged of crimes.


    Also! (none / 0) (#44)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Mon May 31, 2010 at 03:01:30 PM EST
    We came back and found the magistrate and the patrolman basically browbeating the jury who wanted to find for my friend.
    That was when the offer was made to change the penalty fine back to what it would have been if the ticket had not been contested.!
    She tricked the jury into thinking that their intended verdict had changed something and when they agreed to go along with her she then slipped it to my friend and to the jury.

    A cop showed me an interesting thing (none / 0) (#45)
    by Rojas on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 07:54:11 AM EST
    about RADAR. He could point the unit at the AC vents in his patrol car and get a reading based on the fan speed. His actual demonstration went something like this. Fan settings: Low, school zone, radar display 27. Med, city street, radar display 42. High, highway, radar display 67.

    This was over three decades ago. I have no idea if the unit was actually reading the impeller speed or if this was a result of conducted or radiated emissions from the DC motor. Nonetheless, I have often wondered if this feature or bug, depending on your point of view, is still available.


    Is this a worthless, useless bill? (none / 0) (#8)
    by EL seattle on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:05:13 AM EST
    Can't the bad actors here (drug dealers, terrorists, black market operators) have other people (addicts, recruits, desperate poor folks) - who currently have zero connection to the criminal enterpise - buy the pre-paid phones for them in their stead?  Or will there be a weekly/monthly in-person ID registry renewal required?

    Conflict of jurisdictions (none / 0) (#10)
    by Lupin on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:10:37 AM EST
    This being a legal blog, I thought I'd mention the French trial over the July 2000 Concorde crash at the Paris airport.

    There's a good article in The Guardian summing up the case here:

    We expect a court decision by the end of the year. Note that the prosecution has asked that two of Continental's American employees (who used to be based in Paris) should be given 18-month suspended jail sentences.

    One of the employees has returned to Texas and has visibly no intention of ever returning to France, whatever the verdict; the other one actually appeared in court to defend himself.

    Because we recently had a discussion here about jurisdictional conflicts with respect to the infamous Polanski case, I thought it was worth bringing it up.

    Since we're talking suspended sentences anyway, this is rather academic as far as the two employees are concerned, and no doubt Continental will appeal whatever verdict, heavy fines, etc. may (or may not) be assessed against it

    A friend just posted photos she took during (none / 0) (#13)
    by oculus on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:50:14 AM EST
    blimp ride.  Beautiful.  1200 feet altitude.  1/2 hour for $199.  I thought it sounded like fun until she told me the price.  That's 2/3rds of a round trip ticket to NY!

    lol (none / 0) (#15)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:01:20 PM EST
    Well a friend of mine who is an artist, loves to make films, a money pit. He makes drawings, and calculates the amount of film he can shoot and process, by the size of the drawing. Drawing prices are by size.

    Tricky, because you'd think that he would just make very large drawings. No, very large drawings are expensive and do not sell as well as little drawings. So he makes lots of little drawings...

    'this one sells for $200. I can buy x feet of film....'  we all get creative in order to feed our habits.


    Will The Spill Chang Our Habits? (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:54:35 AM EST
    Are the worst spill in U.S. history and images of dead birds and toxic syrup lapping at Gulf shores shocking enough to be a tipping point for energy policy and consumer behavior, however?

    Will Americans rush to smaller cars or spend more to buy hybrids? Will politicians embrace gas taxes and charges on large carbon polluters or adopt other measures to punish fossil-fuel burning and encourage alternative energy use?....

    "I don't think it's a game-changer," said Antoine Halff, the head of commodities research at Newedge, a New York-based brokerage firm. "It drives home the risky nature of meeting the demand for oil," but he predicted perspective largely would be offset by a more powerful reflex: "People like to have their cake and eat it too."...

    The searing images of the spill already are having some impact. In a USA Today/Gallup poll released this week, 55 percent of those polled said environmental protection should be prioritized, even if it meant limiting U.S. energy production.

    In the same poll, however, 50 percent said they still supported increased offshore drilling, perhaps realizing the nation depends so heavily on oil that change will be difficult. The lion's share of the oil used domestically goes to power cars, trucks and airplanes, and alternatives such as hybrid-powered engines remain too expensive and inefficient for most Americans.

    Read more

    Certainly does not look like anyone is remotely thinking of anything but blaming BP and Obama for ruining the guzzling party, making the beaches spoiled. Talk of sacrifice seems to be low on the to do list.

    I have bought a few jars of peanut butter (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Rojas on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:26:08 PM EST
    but I didn't partake in the role of the dice that poisoned so many last year.
    We are standing on this oil soaked beach because that's exactly where a coin operated congress let BP take us.

    PB As Alternate Energy Source? (none / 0) (#21)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:28:02 PM EST
    Wow, I had not heard that one.  

    Oh that's right (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Rojas on Sun May 30, 2010 at 01:51:36 PM EST
    the Sierra Club gave BP a high rating so we should ignore the objective evidence of a corporate culture of corruption. They've just had a run of bad luck.

    Empathy Down (none / 0) (#18)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:24:32 PM EST
    Compared to college students 30 years ago:

    "The ease of having 'friends' online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don't feel like responding to others' problems, a behavior that could carry over offline," O'Brien said.

    not conclusive:

    Other recent studies have shown mixed results on the character of today's youth . For instance, one study of more than 450,000 high-school seniors born at different time periods showed today's youth are no more self-centered than their parents were at their age.


    thanks, Squeaky (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by jeffinalabama on Sun May 30, 2010 at 01:16:37 PM EST
    that's more research to look up next week when I go back to the office.

    I haven't necessarily noticed a lack of empathy, but I have noticed a lack of preparation that seems to have grown over the past few years... not saying the students don't prepare for classes (although some prefer to go in cold and to take in knowledge by osmosis, I guess), but in terms of reading at all, there seems to be less. Most popular among my students? the twilight series and Harry Potter, with a large dose of 'left behind' thrown in.

    Students want to know the 'bottom line,' how much they have to read, specifically what they need to study, and no more.

    I think a large part of this has to do with increasing adolescence to adultolescence-- not becoming a 'true' adult in our culture until sometime in the early to mid 20s for 'normal' or 'average' youth. more to say, but I don't want to clog the blog!


    Yeah (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 01:28:53 PM EST
    The other study which calls into question the current lack of empathy, suggests that the "generation gap" may lead adults to romanticize their own college days, and criticize the youth of today as being lazy and self involved.

    Sounds like the age old cycle to me.

    Although, I do believe that the move to solitary video games, and social networking sites, have had a negative effect on kids social skills. It used to be that play required several children to be in the same room together, playing a board game, or other group activity.  Now much of it is solo.


    Although playing those board games (none / 0) (#31)
    by oculus on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:05:31 PM EST
    encouraged cutthroatish and cheating.  I don't remember any empathy coming from my friends or siblings.

    Well (none / 0) (#38)
    by squeaky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:06:45 PM EST
    Social skills do include dealing with cutthroats and cheating. And grown ups model empathy, particularly when someone gets hurt.

    Kids do not usually acquire empathy until later, but at least the seeds are planted and they learn how to deal with different social situations.

    But who knows, we somehow manage to survive and the older generation always seems to ask, 'what has happened to the younger generation?.... they have lost all sense of (fill in the blank).'


    Here's an interesting passage... (none / 0) (#33)
    by EL seattle on Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:42:53 PM EST
    ...from Jaron Lanier's recent You are not a gadget that might relate to this concern:

    "I know quite a few people, mostly young adults but not all, who are proud to say that they have accumulated thousands of friends on Facebook.  Obviously, this statement can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced.  A real friendship ought to introduce each person to unexpected weirdness in the other.  Each acquaintence is an alien, a well of unexplored difference in the experience of life that cannot be imaginged or accessed in any way but through genuiune interaction.  The idea of friendship in database-filtered social networks is certainly reduced from that."

    - Jaron Lanier, You are not a gadget, p.53, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010

    I think that we are in the process of redefining a lot of phrases and concepts to match a new "reality" so that we can that make things go faster and easier on the internet.  Whether or not each one of these new "internet definitions" will eventually supplant the "old definitions" remains to be seen.


    There is a science fiction story (none / 0) (#36)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun May 30, 2010 at 07:46:28 PM EST
    ....can't remember the tittle, author or magazine... I think it was in Astounding Science Fiction mid to late 40's.... that postulated a future when every one lived separately connected only electronic communication... dates for breeding were arranged.

    I sometimes wonder if we are not headed in that direction.


    Perhaps Asimov's (none / 0) (#41)
    by Molly Pitcher on Mon May 31, 2010 at 07:16:48 AM EST
    "The Naked Sun," set on the planet Solaria and a sequel to "The Caves of Steel."  Have never forgtten it.  (And there was a text game based on it, I believe.)

    Two very good stories (none / 0) (#42)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon May 31, 2010 at 09:45:09 AM EST
    but this was a short story or short novelette..

    Now it's stuck somewhere in what's left of my brain. If it doesn't float to the surface soon I'll have to dig through a bunch of issues from my collection.


    I tried to find a listing of (none / 0) (#47)
    by jeffinalabama on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 11:18:44 AM EST
    contents online, but all I could find was cover art.

    Sorry, but I did try.

    and "Naked Sun" is a fantastic yarn. I also remeber well "The Stars, Like Dust."


    In fact, (none / 0) (#46)
    by diogenes on Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 11:07:55 AM EST
    The ones who get caught are really people like domestic abusers, whose threatening/harassing calls can be traced.