There certainly are a lot of TSA search stories these days but it's an important topic, so we'll keep covering it as long as there are interesting stories. The latest, found via Slashdot, is of a three year old girl who got a full pat down while screaming at the TSA agents not to touch her. Update: Pointed out in the comments is that this actually happened "pre-enhanced pat down." This original story was from 2009, but the press seems to have picked up on it again... Apparently, she was initially upset at having to send her teddy bear through the machine and she then refused to go through the scanning device herself. Her actions somehow set off the scanner's alarm, leading to a TSA agent trying to do a forced pat down. The girl's father is a reporter and caught 17-seconds of the pat down on his mobile phone.
Oddly, it appears that the Tribune Company is pulling down this video every time it appears on YouTube. It's not clear why the Tribune Company won't allow it to stay up but others keep re-uploading it. This version is working as I type this, but it might not be for long.
JJ sends over the latest news of our surveillance society gone nutty. It seems that the Austin Public Library in Texas has officially decided to ban baseball caps, sunglasses and hoodies. What does that have to do with surveillance? The Austin American-Statesman has the word:
The library came up with the rule so that customers can't hide their faces, said Toni Grasso, the libraries' administrative manager in the office of programs and partnerships.
"We have security cameras in place, so like banks and courthouses, we're asking people to remove sunglasses and anything that hides the face, for the security of staff and customers," Grasso said.
As someone who (really, not kidding) frequently goes to my local library wearing all three of these "banned" items, I'm hoping this sort of thing doesn't become a trend.
from the safety-is-less-important-than-monopolies dept
Danny alerts us to the story of how sporting goods maker Riddell was able to drive competitor Schutt Sports into bankruptcy thanks to patent lawsuits. Riddell first sued Schutt for patent infringement on its football helmet design, winning a $29 million jury award. Right afterwards, it sued Schutt again, this time for shoulder pad design. A week later, Schutt declared bankruptcy. Now I'm sure, some will be quick to claim that this is exactly what the patent system is designed to do, but it does seem pretty troubling that, especially when it comes to safety issues, we're allowing one company to have a total monopoly on a type of safety gear. What's wrong with actually competing in the market?
from the if-you-want-safety,-do-something-to-increase-safety dept
paperbag writes in to let us know that Florida has now legalized redlight cameras. Such cameras are now available all over, but it remains frustrating that people continue to justify the cameras with an excuse of "safety." The bill approving this was named after a guy who was killed by a red-light runner, and was pushed for by the guy's wife, with the claim that this makes people safer. Except that's wrong. Study after study after study has shown that such cameras increase accidents. Yes, those are mainly rear-ending accidents, rather than the more dangerous t-bone accidents, but if you really want to increase safety, studies have shown there's a simple way: you increase the length of time for the yellow/amber light. But that doesn't make money.
And, indeed, it seems pretty clear that this particular bill is all about the money. That's why the state law also requires that local governments that put in place redlight camera deals have to pay a tithe to the state from whatever they make:
With the new law, the state would get a cut of the local governments' newfound revenue source, leaving the local governments with a smaller share of the fines to pay private camera companies.
The state estimates that its revenues would increase by about $38 million in 2010-11, compared with $12 million for local governments. By 2013-14, the state would take in about $125 million under the law, compared with approximately $78 million for local governments.
That's because the law sends $70 to $100 of each $158 fine to the state, while requiring local governments to pay camera vendors in lump sums, not a per-violation trickle.
Nice job Florida. Use the name and memory of a dead man to approve a cynical plan that doesn't make people safer, but which is really designed to boost the coffers of the state government.
Patent system supporters regularly point (slightly misleadingly) to the claim that the patent system gives patent holders the right to exclude others from using their inventions. And, thus, most lawsuits we see around patents revolve around cases involving a company manufacturing a product that includes a patented invention. But what about a lawsuit for a company that deliberately chose not to license or use a patented technology, because it was too expensive?
Welcome to today's world.
A few years back, there was a lot of attention paid to videos from a company called SawStop that made a pretty cool product that protected your fingers from a table saw. You may have seen the videos:
The company tried to license the invention to various table saw makers, but after evaluating the technology, many were not convinced how well it worked and felt that the cost was way too high (both for themselves, and for consumers). In fact, some appeared to fear that if they did adopt this technology and then someone still got hurt, they were asking for a big lawsuit for promoting this technology as a safety feature.
But what about the other way around? Could someone be so bold as to actually sue for using a table saw that did not have this technology?
ChurchHatesTucker alerts us to the story of a lawsuit in Boston that involved a guy whose hand was damaged in a table saw accident while using a table saw from Ryobi. The guy's complaint was that Ryobi should have included this technology and that it should be required to protect hands. And, amazingly, the jury sided with the guy.
Yes, you read that right. The jury effectively claimed that any table saw maker is liable for injuries if it does not license this technology and build it into its table saws.
That, of course, conflicts with that basic "exclusivity" part of patent law -- and would effectively mean that SawStop has now been given total defacto control over who can be allowed to sell table saws in the US. That clearly is not what the law was intended to do. The government should never require companies to have to purchase a patent license for a technology they don't believe the market wants. And, in this case, the ruling has resulted in numerous other lawsuits against other table saw makers -- and a near guarantee that the price of table saws will go way up. Old saws can't be retrofitted, and table saw makers need to totally change their manufacturing process and greatly increase costs to offer this technology.
This seems blatantly wrong. If the government is going to require companies to use a patented technology, it seems that the only reasonable solution is to remove the patent on it and allow competition in the market place.
The irony here is that, while we're accustomed to talking about the tension between privacy and security--to the point where it sometimes seems like people think greater invasion of privacy ipso facto yields greater security--one of the most serious and least discussed problems with built-in surveillance is the security risk it creates.
Indeed, we were just discussing how more surveillance can make us less safe by creating a bigger backlog, but Sanchez is pointing out that it's even worse than that. More surveillance can make us less safe because it can more easily expose data that should have been deleted. Creating surveillance databases creates a huge opportunity for attack. Remember those telco databases we were talking about that make it easy for law enforcement officials (hopefully with a warrant) to track your location by GPS? You have to imagine those make a nice target for hacking as well... And that's true of any such surveillance database. While they're supposed to help keep us "safer," they also put a ton of valuable info in a single place -- which makes them attractive targets for those who wish to make us less safe.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, we had a post detailing why greater surveillance wouldn't have helped prevent the attacks. The data was all there, it just wasn't put together. And yet, in the time since then, the government has, in fact, continually focused on gathering more surveillance (warrantless wiretaps, anyone?), rather than on making better use of the data that is there. Back in 2002, in another post, we discussed how collecting more surveillance data in data retention schemes also made it harder to find the useful data and harder to connect the dots on the data that you had.
With the attempted terror attack on Christmas, it appears that this focus on doing more surveillance rather than better security was a major part in "failing to connect the dots" that allowed the plot to get as far as it did. The EFF points us to a report noting that the reason why Abdulmutallab was allowed on an airplane into the US in the first place -- despite widespread warnings, was that there was a backlog in processing all the data:
Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be "clogged" -- overloaded -- with information having nothing to do with Terrorism. As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored.
At what point do people realize that collecting more data doesn't make us more secure, and actually can do the opposite. As is pointed out at the Salon link above, the idea that you even can sacrifice liberty for security is wrong. The famous saying may say that you "deserve neither," but increasingly people are realizing that sacrificing liberty doesn't necessarily get you more security anyway.
I'm actually writing this post just minutes after passing through TSA security at JFK, where I was stopped to investigate the fact that I have a candle (a gift) in my carry-on luggage. I'm not sure if this sort of thing makes us any safer (I have my doubts about this kind of "security theater"), but the overall experience was fine and the TSA folks were perfectly nice and professional and let me go on my way (yes, with the candle) in less than a minute. However, apparently some TSA agents have decided that they should serve a purpose well beyond their assigned domain of air travel security. They've been investigating other crimes as well, sometimes going on pure fishing expeditions if they think something looks suspicious, even if it has nothing to do with air travel safety. For example, people have been detained for traveling with large quantities of cash. However, after being sued multiple times, the TSA recently agreed to change its rules to limit its agents actions, so that they are no longer allowed to investigate random crimes and are officially limited to just focusing on air travel security.
We've seen it in a few other places, but reader Don Gatza let's us know that Schaumburg, Illinois is the latest city to dump its redlight cameras. The city found that, despite promises to the contrary, the redlight cameras did not decrease accidents (not even the "t-bone" accidents that proponents of such cameras insist they help combat). The city claims that even though a single intersection generated 10,000 tickets and over a million in revenue in just a few months, it's going to drop the cameras, because "It was not our intent to use them as a revenue generator." If only other communities were so enlightened.
Of course, there was a second potential factor in the decision as well. Apparently pissed off ticket recipients had been complaining and promising to stop shopping at Schaumberg businesses -- leading local businesses to fear a loss in customers and revenue. Of course, this is the same thing that towns with notorious speed traps have found: people avoid going there, harming local businesses. Hopefully more local businesses start recognizing that giving out automated tickets that do nothing to improve safety also tend to harm local businesses as well. In the meantime, if officials want to improve safety in Schaumburg intersections, studies have shown that the best way to do so is rather simple: increase the timing of yellow lights, and then add a longer pause between one direction turning red, and the perpendicular traffic's lights turning green.
We've seen that, thanks to the economy, states like Maryland and New York are ramping up programs for speed and red light cameras. However, that's not true of all places. Mississippi recently went the other direction and banned such traffic cameras, following a similar backlash in Arizona. A recent Wall Street Journal article takes a look at all of this (including the fact that some of the bigger traffic camera companies are based in Arizona) and raises the key question: why won't local governments just increase the length of yellow lights on traffic signals. That, alone, would save numerous accidents (and lives). Yet, many governments have been doing the exact opposite: putting lives at risk, just to bring in more revenue (often to pay off those private companies that installed the cameras). On top of that, there are still plenty of locations that don't leave any pause between switching lights between cross traffic. Here in California, for example, it's quite rare for there to be any pause between a light turning red in one direction, and the perpendicular traffic light turning green. Studies have shown that a slight pause -- where all directions are red -- decreases the number of accidents as well. And yet... governments focus on using traffic cameras solely to increase revenue.