Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Life in the open 

Through the writing of this blog, I learned that new technologies have mostly had a negative effect on individual privacy. However, from day to day, we are powerless to protect ourselves from the ever more watchful eye of surveillance. Video cameras are everywhere, and it is now normal to simply expect to always be on tape.

With new technologies encroaching on our privacy everyday, many people have reacted by willingly giving up their privacy. For example, many people freely distribute their cell phone numbers and other personal information. Instant Messenger profiles often give away a person’s hobbies and interests. Directories exist to locate almost anybody’s residence. If so much information is available, why bother to attempt to protect it?

Privacy issues today remind me of the ending of the movie Enemy of the State. After a lawyer is finally free of surveillance and stalking by the NSA, he finds that his ally, an ex-NSA employee, has placed surveillance devices in his home. Rather than continue to seek shelter from surveillance, he resigns himself to accept the fact that somebody may always be watching.

Modern Day Privacy 

This blog project has forced me to look further into the invasion of our privacy through electronic means. I did not realize how many new technologies can be used to monitor people. This is simply the natural evolution of technology; everything is the same as it used to be but it now modernized. Instead of having a debate in person people have online chat-room debates. Many years ago men and women did not need to worry about identity theft unless someone physically stole their credit card or social security card, but now we must be careful whenever using electronic money so that no thief can obtain access to our information. These new technologies, as we have discussed, can work for the good of all or can be abused.

It has been interesting seeing how each of us have different viewpoints about some of the different topics. The Patriot Act specifically saw a little actual debate instead of just journal entries. This project allowed for our group to think about how further advances in technology could reduce privacy, since we will all be going into fields that have potential to infringe upon people’s privacy. Like Freddy said, I believe I will also think about how my actions on the job will affect average consumers.

Privacy these days is not simply closing the windows at night and locking the doors; we must safeguard ourselves from many different fronts. The assault against personal privacy comes from many directions including the government, the internet, advertising agencies, and corporations. Information is priceless and many people wish to have it and will pay top dollar for it. The information business has just adapted quicker to the modern technologies than people’s innate thoughts and habits regarding their personal privacy.

Monday, April 19, 2004

My Reflections on Privacy 

     As I look back on the posts in this blog I am beginning to realize how much we value our privacy and how quickly it is being taken away. With each new generation, new technologies are created that decrease our amount of privacy. Spyware is littering our computers, tracking our internet usage and reporting the statistics back to advertising firms. Identity theft is becoming easier and easier to commit because of the internet and society’s lack of knowledge of internet safety. The world of video surveillance boomed a while back and now we can hardly go anywhere without being watched. Even if you are not around a camera you could be getting your picture taken by a satellite camera in space above you. And now the files we keep on our computers are not safe. Industries and corporations are spying on our computers, making sure we don’t have anything they don’t approve of. To make matters worse, the government passes the USA PATRIOT Act, eliminating even more privacy.

     But as more of our privacy is eliminated, more and more people are getting frustrated. Privacy used to be a subject that nobody thought too much about. Now it is a hot topic. People are concerned for their privacy. I hope that as people realize how much they miss their privacy actions will be taken to restore it. Economics would suggest this to be the case. As more and more people demand privacy, firms will begin to think of ways to sell privacy. Right now the security agency is booming, but maybe one day a privacy agency will take its place.

Privacy is a Person's Best Friend 

As I reflect back on the previous issues the group has discussed, I realize how valuable one's privacy truly is. In the world today, privacy is being invaded by everything from Spyware to the Patriot Acts. Video surveillance has hit an all-time high with the implementation of camera phones, which are often being used as a spy method for Peeping Toms. While not a lot can be done about many of these issues, citizens can be educated on their rights and privacy, and how to protect both. I agree with Freddy when he called this a "mock ethics review." That is what most of this boils down to... ethics. The breakdown of the ethical foundation of the United States has led residents to live more public lives as a result of their lack of privacy.

More and more people are beginning weblogs, similar to this one, and posting some of their most intimate thoughts, feelings, and events on the Internet, for others to read. Privacy is declining at a rapid rate in the 21st century, yet the fire is being fueled by the public's willingness to lead such open lives. In total, the boundary separating private and public aspects of people's lives is quickly diminishing. Eventually, it will become taboo to live a private life.

Final Thoughts 

This is a closing statement to a journey that we have taken through this group blog and English 1102. For me personally, this blog has required me to think more critically about the effects of technology on society. I see this as a mock ethics review for everyone in this group because after graduation each of us is going into a field heavy in technology. I know that once I find a career in my major, I will now consider how the technology that I am creating can interact with society.

Specifically about our postings, our earlier discussions seemed to focus on how technology interacted with society and our later posts gave more of a view on how society tried to regulate technology. The earlier posts discussed the use of adware, over reliance on internet technologies and identity theft, and the use of cameras to invade on personal privacy. Our more recent discussions were about police regulating activities by using technology to invade privacy and finally about the implications of the Patriot Act. Because our earlier posts were about how the technology was being applied in ways other than was originally meant, we simply discussed how we did not approve of these applications and there wasn’t much debate. This was not the case with our most recent posts. We had more disagreement between members and different viewpoints were presented. I preferred these posts because people got to argue for their opinions and it was much more interesting. Also, on some issues I was introduced to some opinions that I had not previously considered.

Closing thoughts to be considered, which might possibly create another spin off blog, are analyzing the effects of intrusive technology and how it is being used to invade personal privacy. Specially, how people are living their lives more publicly because they realize they virtually have no private life anymore. This intrusion of privacy is causing people to open up and live their lives publicly through their blogs.

Patriot Act Debacles 

After the creation of the constitution, the groundwork for the process of establishing laws in the United States was laid, and the framers went on to the task of getting the system underway. The very first thing they accomplished was creating the bill of rights. The first ten amendments to the constitution provide a solid group of freedoms that form the core of political ideal in America. The framers, unilaterally regarded as the truest political thinkers of our history, found that the most important issue to be addressed was that individual freedoms should not be taken away. Indeed, the bill of rights has been critical in many court cases and has been the basis for challenging scores of unconstitutional laws that abridge upon the freedoms held in such high respect two hundred years ago.

However, George W. Bush’s USA Patriot act was passed and has not been challenged in the Supreme Court. It currently stands as by far the most prominent encroachment on the bill of rights. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, a great deal of faith was placed in the President, and nationalism soared high. Nobody wanted to challenge the legislation made in that time period, and with a majority in the house and a closely divided senate, little opposition stood up to Bush’s Patriot act.

The Patriot act is a clear violation of many basic privacy rights. It allows the authorities much more leeway to place individuals under surveillance, even without the approval of a judge. Although some checks still exist to verify that law enforcement agents are not abusing surveillance measures, there is an understandable lack of dedication within law enforcement to monitor itself. The bill of rights came first, and is here to stay; the Patriot act is largely unconstitutional.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Say No to the Patriot Act 

I have to disagree with Kelly on this one. The Patriot Act is a blatant intrusion of all of our first amendment rights. It opens many doors that will allow the government and its subordinate agencies to legally spy on innocent citizens. While the legislation seems benign and just at first it has potential to be abused. During the “Red Scare” of the 1950s and 60s the CIA and NSA had the power to privately investigate American citizens to evaluate their threat to the nation. These organizations had files on countless Americans who had never been part of a crime in their whole life. Many of them were monitored for their political stances. During the 1970s the power of the CIA was reduced with the passing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This act stopped the CIA’s practice of spying on certain Americans but the new Patriot Act could jumpstart the system again. I do not like the thought of my tax money going to pay spies who will subsequently spy on me for the sake of my own security.

The cost to run these new agencies will put our country further into debt. Right now we are fighting a war and President Bush decides to spend more money on national security by paying for spies. We may never know how much money will be taken out of the national security budget and used for the surveillance of Americans. These added costs will raise taxes again and for what cause? Would you pay for a private investigator to follow you around everyday, look into your medical records, job history, and credit reports? The Patriot Act will allow all of those records to be searched through without your notice. The monetary cost of the Patriot Act is only secondary to the emotional cost of a country losing trust in its government.

My Feelings on the USA PATRIOT Act 

     Less than seven weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” (USA PATRIOT Act) was passed in the Senate by a 98-1 vote. It was an easy law to get passed given that Nationalism was at an all-time high. But since its passing the law has become one of the most controversial items of Bush’s presidency. The opinions are heated on both sides of the debate, and no one side dominates the other. Many Americans feel safer under the PATRIOT Act and wish to even extend the power of it, while others feel less safe and believe the government could abuse its power and they want to abolish them. The opposition also believes that the PATRIOT act is unconstitutional and that it violates the Bill of Rights.

     I am of the opinion that the PATRIOT Act is wrong. I believe it’s unconstitutional, I believe it encroaches on liberty, freedom, and privacy and I believe the powers could be abused by the government unless kept in check. The act allows the government to get around a lot of protection that used to be in place for citizens of this country. The act gives the government power to wiretap phones without a warrant or a subpoena, confiscate property of suspected terrorists, spy on citizens without judicial review, conduct secret searches, access library records, and many others. I don’t want the government to have so much power. The act goes against the very principles our country was founded on; freedom, liberty, and justice to name a few. All I can hope for is that when the PATRIOT Act goes up for review next it will not pass again. It is a danger to America.

Saturday, April 17, 2004


I have to admit at first I didn’t know very much information about the Patriot Act. I wasn’t sure of exactly what powers it granted the government and how it affected United States citizens. The main thing I knew about this controversial act was that very thing, it was controversial. After some research I have to say this piece of legislation scares me.

Basically what the Patriot Act has the potential to do is remove many restrictions placed on the government that the founding fathers set in place. These restrictions were set up so that the government would not be able to abuse its citizens, similarly to the English government which they had just broken away from. I understand what Kelly has to say about this; the Patriot Act was designed to further national security. However, what nation will be left if the rights of its citizens are violated? The founding father, Ben Franklin, stated this concept nicely when he said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The purpose of a government is to protect the safety of its citizens, but that safety should not come at the cost of personal liberties. The pure intentions of the Patriot Act (further protection of US citizens) is good, however the method with which this is implemented is completely wrong.

With the US Patriot Act coming up for renewal by President Bush, I believe that it is very important to consider all the implications of this Act and VOTE NO!

Patriot Acts: Personal Space Invaders? 

The basic gist of the Patriot Acts is to "give federal officials greater authority to track and intercept communications, both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes," according to The CRS Report for Congress. These were implemented in order to protect American citizens from terrorists and corruption. I believe that while these acts are beneficial overall, it is still a slight concern that this is intruding too far on citizen's privacy. For instance, the acts allow for regulated (and approved) government electronic surveillance. I believe that this technology is very useful, yet the fact that it exists is somewhat scary. I do however, believe that it is necessary for the United States government to have. While some may argue that it is an invasion of privacy, if someone is doing something that is malignant to the United States, he or she deserves to be caught and put into jail. These acts are designed to protect the United States, yet are devised in such a way to not intrude on the privacy of innocent citizens in a similar fashion as warrants are issued. I think that these acts are a good addition to the US government as long as they are only used as described.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A Reply to Internet Police 

As society’s use of internet activity increases, it is only natural that policing of this activity should increase as well. With constant leaps in internet technologies it is difficult for police agencies to keep ahead of cyber criminals. This is why internet crimes have had such a dramatic increase in recent years. However, internet police are taking many steps to keep law abetting citizens protected.

I personally find this comforting to know that I have some form of protection to count on when I think about how many felons are sharing the same internet as I am. I agree with Kelly when she mentions that it is good that police pose as children in chat rooms to catch sexual offenders preying on children. Some might argue that this is a violation of privacy and entrapment, but the fact is when these felons actually plan to meet these children then they are going to do damage to these kids. It is not a matter of spying and taking personal information about someone who might commit a crime; they actually are going to commit a crime. Mentioning this idea of using the internet to monitor a once convicted felon’s actions, I have a slightly different viewpoint. I disagree with police taking personal information to monitor a one-time-convicted criminal’s activities. I feel that it violates their personal rights because they are not currently committing a crime like the chat room sexual predators.

Internet policing is also be used to monitor and catch file sharers. While I am a file sharer, I have to say that based strictly on legality it is quite illegal. These are copyrighted goods that are being distributed without compensation. Now I mentioned that I am a file sharer and after stating the previous sentence one might ask why I continue to file share. I do it for the same reason as Kelly mentioned, price fixing. The record labels have long been known to fix prices on CDs. The linked article is about a settlement which took place in 2000 in which five major record labels were convicted of price fixing from 1995-2000 and forced to give compensation to buyers. Whether the means of file sharing is justified by the ends is up to the individual. However, with the policing of this activity, I am not all that upset. As stated, from a legal view, I see it as illegal.

In general, I agree with most of the policing of internet activities; however, I am always wary of violations of personal privacy.

Online Freedom of Speech 

Can people monitor chat rooms for offensive content? There are some officials who believe that chat rooms should not have the same first amendment rights as other forms of communication. A man was ranting about Superior Court Judge Jane Ore Melvin in a political chat room and came under fire for defamation. The article can be found here. The judge wanted to find out the real identity of the defamer so that she could sue him, but his rights to privacy were defended. This situation reminded me of the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. In the movie the main characters, Jay and Silent Bob, find that people are making fun of them on online message boards. The two men decided to find out the information of all of the kids and go and kick their asses. I believe that the chat rooms are just like a normal public forum. People should have their right to an opinion. The main difference is that it is much easier to hide behind your computer when making harsh comments against a person than taking it up with them personally. People use chat rooms, blogs, and message boards as ways to vent their opinion out to the masses. The danger lies in the fact that lies can be easily spread among the Internet since many more people will read the fallacy. An intelligent reader can normally distinguish between fact and fantasy but it can be difficult without the standard cues of seeing a person in person. Users should not be persecuted for simply expressing their opinion in a more modern way than protesters in the past.

Internet Police 

Another aspect of society that has been implemented into the Internet realm is that of crime fighting and prevention. As more internet crimes are committed (see previous posts), the need for internet police also grows. The tasks of these investigators (sample site here) include computer forensics, stopping pedophiles, and policing file sharing. To what degree are these men and women a necessity though?

Personally, I think that it is great that policemen and women are catching Internet predators by posing as young children in chat rooms... except for the whole "entrapment" thing. I'm not sure how far the law was stretched in these instances, but the acts are removing pedophiles from the streets, which makes the community better to live in. Clearly if these men and women are preying on younger children they meet in chat rooms and often inviting them to meet in person, they should be punished in some manner. On the issues of file sharing though, I disagree with the need of policing with this matter. I believe that people should be able to freely exchange information on the Internet, that's its purpose. While I understand that musicians and software companies need to make a living, I think that upwards of $15 a pop for a CD is ridiculous, especially because it costs fractions of that to produce. I'm not the only one who feels this way, John and Ben Snyder do as well.

In conclusion, I believe that police are necessary on the Internet, for certain crimes. I view that police should be used to capture the true criminals, such as pedophiles, not pimple-covered teenagers attempting to figure out what Frank Sinatra sounded like. Internet crime is a problem, file sharing is not.

Policing of Filesharing on College and University Campuses 

     In the past few years the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has waged an expensive and, for the most part, unsuccessful war against file-sharing. I say unsuccessful because I have seen not a decline in the amount of file-sharing but an increase. But in other ways it can be viewed as successful for them. They have taken many individuals and corporations to court and won. Recently, the RIAA added new tactics to their attack on file-sharing.

     This article discusses how the RIAA recently began targeting college and university campuses. The only problem with this is that “While the RIAA is well armed with its arsenal of lawyers, it lacks the technical expertise to implement its policies.” As a result the industry has placed the burden of policing file-sharers to the administrators of the networks. A computer administrator at Dartmouth explained that “‘what the industry has done with DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] is shifted a lot of the policing to people like me.’” This is unfair to the network administrators. It is not part of their job to police their networks for the RIAA. If the RIAA wants them to do this they should pay them something for it. But the only incentive they give is the threat of legal action against the administrators, the university and the students involved in sharing files. They find people on the networks sharing files and then they tell the administrators to deal with it. These network administrators are losing time they could spend doing their jobs because the RIAA can’t deal with the problem.

     Another problem with this system is the possibility that it violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This act states that “school officials are permitted to access student records but outside organizations like RIAA would need ‘to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena.’” If IP addresses and ISP records are considered student records than the RIAA is in violation of FERPA.

File Sharing and Privacy 

File sharing, especially music piracy, is usually discussed in the context of ethics or law. However, the technologies used for file sharing have important privacy-related implications as well.

On May 15, 2003, testimony was given in the U.S. House of Representatives to educate the delegates on the issues of file sharing privacy. The testimony is very informative and can be found here. It points out that it can be very easy to accidentally share personal information, such as bank account records, over networks like Kazaa without knowing it. Until recent versions, Kazaa software presented no warning before sharing an entire hard drive. Obviously, sharing this information opens the user up to the threat of identity theft, and there is a very direct loss of privacy that results from inadvertently sharing personal emails, for example.

In addition, some file sharing software comes bundled with adware or spyware that takes advantage of a user for marketing information. Peer to Peer sharing has inherent risks of virus and worm infection, because files are being passed among millions of users, many of whom do not take the necessary precautions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Miniature Cameras: No Longer James Bond Technology 

Digital photography is becoming more widely available as well as coming in smaller packages than ever before. It is scary that a person can be holding a cell phone with a built in camera and can be taking a picture of you without your knowledge and consent. Technology like this used to be featured in the spy films because that is exactly what it is, spying. With film cameras people did not waste as many pictures as they do with digitals because each picture was worth money to develop. Digital cameras do not cost any money to develop the pictures, or to upload them onto the internet and share them. Other than a monthly service fee the camera phones do not cost any money to use. People can use their new cameras to take pictures of whatever they want be it monuments, other people, or people’s cars. I have been guilty of taking pictures of cars be it an exotic car, tacky looking car, or just a nice pimped out ride. One thing I will not do is take pictures of random people. There are many guys that will use their camera phones to send pictures of pretty girls to their friends. I’m sure that somewhere there is a website devoted to hot girls that you see on the street and photograph. Freddy used a good example of the Girls Gone Wild videos. These men went around and videotaped girls who were incredibly inebriated and more often than not had no clue what was happening at the time. These camera phones are simply a more modern version of stalking or voyeurism and many men probably enjoy the thrill of snapping a quick picture of a complete stranger.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

CCTV and Satellite Photography 

     I was searching around on the internet when I found this website on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), also known as video surveillance. It is a page of FAQ’s about CCTV. The page discussed how CCTV has been used effectively to reduce crime and ‘anti-social behavior’. The technology has reduced major felonies such as burglary and assault as well as minor ones such as littering and traffic violations. Everywhere we go we see this technology in place, or don’t see it. If you step into a store you are likely being watched by a camera, either openly or hidden. In some parts of Atlanta if you run a red light a camera will snap a picture of your license plate, and a ticket will be mailed to your house.

     Despite these positive aspects, the public is still troubled by the technology. One of the questions was “What does the public think of CCTV?” I thought it was interesting to note that most people believe that neither the government nor private security firms should be allowed to install CCTV in public places, and the primary reason for this concern is that “these cameras could be abused and used by the wrong people”. This shows that most people would still rather have more privacy in their lives than an increase in safety. Most people regard privacy as a right, while thinking of safety as a privilege. Privacy gives us the freedom to do anything without the fear of being watched and recorded. Even law-abiding citizens want privacy. Cameras make people nervous. They make people conscientious of their actions. And, thus, citizens don’t want them everywhere.

     Personally, I fall into the above-mentioned category of the public. If I know that I’m being watched, no matter who is doing the watching, I get edgy and nervous. I don’t like to know that my actions are being recorded. Also, I feel like it is my right to have privacy. I don’t like the idea that nowhere I go is completely secure. Recently, a friend of mine showed me this. It is satellite photography taken of the entire world by the US government. When we used it we zoomed in until we found our dormitory, and then I found my house. The technology is really impressive, and very fun to play around with, but at the same time kind of frightening. I could make out the trampoline in the back of my house quite clearly; it was about the size of a quarter. If you don’t want to check it out yourself, here is a picture of the Skiles building.

A Deeper Look into the World of Cameras 

As David and Kelly mentioned, camera technology has taken major strides recently. As little as a few years ago, cameras were comparatively large pieces of equipment and they would take a good amount of time to develop the pictures. Video came in limited formats and also required a good amount of equipment to take shots. Today, cameras are being mounted on cell phones and video can be taken from miniature recorders. With this versatility, cameras can now be used to take pictures almost anywhere, anytime. This concept threatens personal privacy because people are constantly in danger of being filmed because these cameras can be placed anywhere.

Using this new miniature technology to film people without them knowing it is very scary. I do not like to think about possible images of me being circulated around without my knowledge. Taking a picture of someone is basically taking an image of their identity. Their identity is being recorded and reproduced. All of this is made easier because technology has advanced to make cameras more portable.

When I think of disputes of personal identity and taking pictures without consent, I remember the classic debate over the movies Girls Gone Wild. Many girls featured in these movies were very upset to realize that they had been photographed without consent in the right state of mind. Eventually the movie producers won out but it still illustrates how one image can be reproduced in such massive amounts.

Basically because of the evolution of technology and photography, people have to very cautious about whether or not they may be photographed. Going beyond caution is strict law enforcement of this issue. As camera technology progresses, the laws governing this technology also need to progress.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The World Has Eyes 

Camera surveillance is everywhere. Surveillance equipment has become so cheap and easy to use that it is quickly spreading to every corner of America. Inside stores and public places, we can almost expect to be constantly on tape. Luckily, there are laws restricting the use of surveillance. Businesses with surveillance cameras are required to post notices that photography is taking place, and for the most part, they do this well. However, it is still sometimes hard to know where surveillance exists.

A growing phenomenon is photography by individuals. Affordable digital cameras, especially in cell phones, mean that anybody can take a picture at anytime. Most of this photography is illegal – law prohibits the presentation of film that contains a person’s likeness without consent. However, in small situations, the law is unenforced and ignored. When it comes to people freely photographing others, issues of legality simply do not matter.

The simple truth is that everywhere we go, we are under de facto photographic surveillance. Authorities, businesses, and individuals are all watching. The world no longer just has ears: it has eyes.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Video Surveillance: Friend or Foe? 

With all the new technology that is being developed, it is very useful for places such as department stores and grocers to use video surveillance and cameras to prevent from shoplifting. However, the addition of the devices not only in stores, but also now available in phone form (camera phones), may also add more issues relating to people's privacy. Is it possible that while attempting to instill good values, these appliances are also causing harm to citizen's personal lives.

Often these surveillance devices are used to catch criminals, whether it be shoplifters or rioters (as was the case with the recent NCAA Championship win by UConn). Such devices have also been used to invade others privacy as well. For instance, when reading one of my favorite news websites, I stumbled across this website, Phonepiks(possibly NSFW), which was advertised as having cool pictures taken by people with camera phones. I was intrigued by the link and was appalled that one of the featured categories contains pictures of women, mostly taken of women off the street without their consent. I am for one insulted by this blatant disrespect of privacy.

While video surveillance can be used for beneficial means, in some cases it most certainly is not. I feel that the use of this new technology is great when used properly and with respect to all those involved. Of course, this can never be assured.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Identity Theft: a product of technology 

I am afraid of identity theft. The idea that somebody could potentially spend my money is truly terrifying. The insidious nature of identity theft adds to the perceived risk: it defrauds the victim, while at the same time making the victim appear fraudulent. Precautions against identity theft are also tricky and unclear. Obviously, it is never a good idea to lose track of a document bearing a social security number or bank account number. If a bank card is lost, it should be reported immediately, and credit card offers should be destroyed, not just thrown away. However, the very nature of financial information is that it must be divulged in order to be useful. Keeping your credit card number safe becomes all that much harder when you begin to give it out for online and over the phone transactions. Many types of official forms, such as voter and taxpayer forms, require social security numbers and other personal information. These pieces of information can plausibly fall into the wrong hands during recordkeeping. Everyday life tends to put most people at risk for identity theft, which is why it is such a common tragedy.

Modern technologies are both positive and negative as relates to identity theft. Technological influence is what makes fraud possible. The dominating presence of credit cards and electronic money allows criminals to manipulate others’ funds at a distance. At the same time, new technologies are being developed to increase monetary security. For example, a thumbprint may eventually be required to use a credit card, making it harder to pass off somebody’s card as your own. The internet allows consumers to check their credit rating easily to screen for suspicious activity.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Credit Card Theft 

Identity theft it a very real problem with technology today. Andrew discussed about someone calling his room to find out information to steal his identity, I’m going to discuss a different approach at identity theft. With the creation of online stores and commerce people began sending their credit card numbers throughout cyberspace and many did not use to proper precautions to safeguard their information. Most websites today use advanced encryption technology to protect the information of the card user at their store, but some websites are set up as scam sites to steal this prized information.

The popular web service paypal.com was imitated by another website that used a very similar website name. This copy-cat site was designed to look exactly like the paypal site straight down to the sign-up page; the catch was that instead of signing up for paypal you were actually giving the scam company all of your credit card information. This scam company could then do as it wished with your credit card. I believe the site has been shut down but am not sure. It was a very clever scheme that most likely duped many people into willingly giving out their personal information.

There was another group out in Texas that tried a completely different approach to identity theft. Instead of asking for your information through phone calls or websites they went straight to the ATMs that people were comfortable using. They attached a scanner to the outside of the card reader and a camera over the keypad. Using these devices they could scan the information off the credit or debit card and then videotape the PIN number. They installed them on ATMs at actual bank locations. Innocent people used the machines believing them to be safe and lost money off their credit cards.

Identity theft can occur to anyone and we all must take all the safeguards to prevent it from happening to us.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

A Personal Experience with Identity Theft 

     Before I came to Tech I didn’t really have any personal experiences with identity theft. I don’t own a credit card, so I was never worried about someone stealing my number. I have a check card, but I rarely use it. If I make any online purchases, it’s only from respectable companies, which makes it a lot less likely for theft. But several weeks after moving into my dorm room I got a strange phone call.

     When I looked at the caller ID it said Parkland, Fl. 954-345-2343. I didn’t recognize the number, but I picked it up anyway. There was a man’s voice on the other end, and he told me he was with the Georgia Tech Department of Housing. He told me that students were required to make a final authorization by phone, affirming that they were living on-campus. I thought that it sounded sketchy since I had not heard about anything like this, but I stayed on the line. He started asking me questions. His initial questions were very general, for example “What is your full name?” “What is your date of birth?” and stuff like that. I answered those because it was information that I let people know all the time. But then he asked me my social security number, and that’s when I got very suspicious. I told him that I wasn’t going to give him my social security number. He told me that he needed it in order to confirm that I was indeed Andrew Marshall. I then told him that Georgia Tech switched over to a new system that used a 9-digit number called your GT-ID# in place of using Social Security Numbers. He insisted that he needed my social security number. At that point I told him once again that I wouldn’t give him my social security number, and I hung up the phone.

     When my roommate got back from classes that day I told him what had happened. I still wasn’t sure if it was a scam or not, but he agreed that it was wise not to give them my number. Later that day our phone rang again, and it was the same number on the caller ID. Derek, my roommate, picked up the phone this time. When he answered it the person on the other end was a woman and she asked for Derek. She told him that she was with VISA, and she had a great deal on a student credit card. Derek then asked her if she was with VISA then why had someone called from the same number earlier claiming to be with the Georgia Tech Department of Housing. She claimed that she didn’t know what he was talking about and that nobody had called earlier. Derek hung up the phone. For a couple weeks we received calls from this number, and each time they had a different story.

     It kind of scared me that somebody had tried to steal my social security number. I had never had anyone try to steal my identity before. It made me aware that it could happen to me or anyone. It became even more real to me when I was talking with other people in my dorm about it. After I described what happened somebody realized that the same thing had happened to him, but he had given his social security number. He said that they had called him at 8 am on a Saturday, and he was barely awake. He hasn’t mentioned anything about it since, so I assume that the people didn’t do anything with his number or were unsuccessful when they tried to use it. But it is still a scary idea. I would’ve been terrified if I had been in his place. And if these people called a lot of students then they probably were able to trick a fair number of them. The only thing that can stop this type of identity theft is knowledge and carefulness. There is no security or protection against this other than awareness of the threat.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Identity Theft: No One is Safe 

Freddy and I have something very much in common: when we first thought of the subject of identity theft, we thought of the Citibank credit card commercials. While these commercials are humorous, they also prove a point. Almost anyone with some technological expertise can hack into certain databases, and steal your credit card numbers, Social Security number, and other vital information that can be used by others. Not only can anyone steal this, anyone can be a victim of it as well. Unfortunately, this statement includes my parents, who were victims of identity theft, although it did not relate to technology.

The problem with identity theft is that so much information is being processed on the internet these days, it is somewhat easily accessible by others. No matter how secure a server or database is, as technology improves, so do its hackers. This is similar to the bacteria strains that gain resistance to antibiotics after time. It is very difficult to create software and other items to prevent identity theft. While often this secure technology often works for a while, it is often not very long before someone figures out how to crack it. Hackers, especially the extremely experienced ones, can break into sites such as Ebay, Amazon, bank websites, etc and steal various information from innocent people. The amount of information being exchanged on the internet, and the number of products being purchased, makes citizens very vulnerable to identity theft.

As Freddy has stated, there is a lot that companies are doing to prevent identity theft. No matter what though, the most important thing that someone can do is be careful about who or what they give there personal information to on the internet. While the statistics for identity theft are somewhat low, the number of instances may be minimized by being careful with your information.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Can Identity Theft Happen to Me? 

I’m sure that most people have seen the newest advertising campaign that Citi Credit Card has developed. These advertisements feature an elderly lady, an old man, and a young woman. All three people speak with a voice that is unnatural and then at the end of the clip, it is revealed that each of these people has become the victim of identity theft. I always find these ads to be humorous; however, they send a very striking message. All of the people in the commercials are what most would call ordinary, everyday people. “Identity theft could never happen to me” is the attitude that most take towards this subject. These ads spotlight this assumption and present a good message to most Americans -- no one is safe.

Today’s technology allows for criminals to gain access to your private information in more ways than was historically possible. A person can take almost every secure step that is recommended to prevent identity theft, but he or she can never be completely safe. Identity theft can happen to anyone. Sometimes actions that criminals take to get secured information are outside the realm of normal human control. Companies such as banks have databases that contain personal, vulnerable information. While very difficult, it is still “possible” for some people to gain access to that information. Also, a one time problem with some companies was that they would simply dispose of customers personal files through ordinary trash. Anyone could rummage through the dumpster outside these companies and find data on people that have used that company.

Now that the pessimistic opinion has been mentioned, it is worthy to note that people can take many steps to help the lower the odds of identity theft. A very useful website for identity theft statistics and prevention is the Federal Trade Commission. Identity theft is something to never take lightly (as mentioned on the website it can take many years to recover from identity theft); however, I don’t think that it is something that should consumer our lives.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Evils of Spyware 

     Spyware is an internet term that not many people are familiar with. If you are a college student you are far more likely to know what spyware is than the average computer user. I say this because college campuses are very susceptible to internet threats, such as spyware and viruses. But even a lot of college students have little to no knowledge of spyware.

     I learned about spyware at least a couple years before coming to Georgia Tech, but this is only because I had a couple of computer geek friends who told me about it. When my two friends told me what spyware was, I was initially not very concerned. I had never had troubles with the internet so I didn’t see why I needed to worry about this spyware thing. But when I learned what spyware could be used for I began to get alarmed. Some types of spyware are relatively harmless, for example, the spyware that sends you banner ads. This type of spyware still bothers me, though. It’s an invasion of my privacy, and it’s annoying that they can get away with this. Other types of spyware are more harmful. On the front page of the Lavasoft (The Company that made Ad-Aware, a program that finds and deletes spyware from your computer) website is a short introduction to spyware. One paragraph states that spyware

can track your surfing habits, abuse your Internet connection by sending this data to a third party, profile your shopping preferences, hijack your browser start page or pages, alter important system files, and can do this without your knowledge or permission.

These more malicious types of spyware are not nearly as common, but they still exist. For example, many versions of the popular file-sharing program KazaA install spyware/adware in addition to the actual program. The spyware used in KazaA causes pop-ups and pop-unders (Similar to pop-ups except that they open behind the browser window that a user is currently viewing instead of in front) to open when you surf the internet or just use the program. I am of the opinion that pop-ups and pop-unders are two of the most agitating types of internet advertising. In fact I’d put them right up there with spam.

     Spyware and adware are very irritating and an invasion of internet users’ privacy. But, I doubt that spyware will ever be eliminated, even if it is outlawed. So if you feel the same way that I feel about spyware, then I recommend downloading and running Ad-Aware on your computer if you do not already have it. It is probably the best program for eliminating spyware and it is free unless you want the pro version, which isn’t much different except for a few added features.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Should We Trust Spyware? 

Before I came to Georgia Tech in the fall of last year, I never thought about adware or spyware and like Kelly probably didn’t even not the difference between them or what they were. My lack of concern probably came from the fact that compared to my internet usage now; I hardly ever used the internet at my house. Now that I am connected all the time at an extremely high speed, I use the internet for everything from homework to checking the daily weather. With an increased usage of the internet, I find it personally disturbing that through the use of spyware someone can basically know most of my daily browsing activities. Even though it may seem harmless to David, what gives some company that I have heard of, the right to know what I do from my own personal computer at my own personal house? As David mentioned in his post, the question of whether or not these hidden programs can keep track of personal information that can led to identity theft lingers in the back of my mind. If most people don’t even know that these programs exist, then how do we know that they can’t store more than just web page activities?

The following link to an article about spyware is from CNN.com. I find this article to be very encouraging for it discusses the recently proposed SKYBLOCK Act which mandates that companies notify users before being able to download spyware on the user’s computer. With more legislative action, I believe that a lot of the concerns expressed above and by the other members of the group can be eased.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Spyware and the Average Computer User 

As more people began to access the internet companies found that they could spy on the users using hidden programs. The programs sent data back to the creator who could then sell the data to whoever might want it. Along with spyware, adware was also created although its usage is much less malignant and more of a nuisance. Innocent users accidentally download spyware and adware that is bundles with ordinary programs. Some websites are created with code that will automatically upload the spyware onto your computer. Internet browsers have options for increasing the security by limiting the control some of these websites can have over your computer, but the ultimate control is to have a firewall up and running. The firewall only lets certain programs have access to the internet and will create alerts if unknown programs try to access it. Many computer users neglect to use a firewall, or even pay attention to exactly what they are downloading. A lot of free software downloads come bundled with adware and spyware and there is just a little, easily overlooked, message in the install box to tell you it is going to be installed.
The spyware is a violation of the user’s privacy and should be made unlawful. What if your telephone company began listening in on your phone calls and reporting what you talked about? The internet is no different except that it is a relatively new media. There are a lot of people that do not know how to properly safeguard themselves against spyware since it is not as easy as listening for a person eavesdropping on your phone conversation.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

More from the Land of Spyware 

I, like David, never have really considered the degree of privacy of using the Internet. I did not even know what Spyware or Ad-aware really were until I came to college last semester. I, unlike David, received a virus at the beginning of this semester though, which led me to download Stinger anti-virus software. I also just recently also downloaded Ad-aware, which has to date found 166 cookies in my computer.

Personally, I find it somewhat daunting that companies, the government, or whomever is putting these tracking devices on my machine. Where I surf on the internet is my personal business, and in fact it annoys me even more that companies are using this is conjunction with pop-ups to market their products. The entire situation gives me sort of a creepy "Big Brother" feeling. There is an article written on this particular subject on Salon.com. The article discusses that the government is attempting to pass a bill regulating Spyware, yet in the same instance is leaving personal computers more at risk for attack. Instead of protecting the individual's privacy, they are creating more gaping holes through which companies can enter.

Like David, I do not have enough information to make a really detailed analysis of Spyware and cookies. Based on the information I do have though, I do not support the use of Spyware, given the fact that it is basically a window into our lives. I think that nothing good can come of it, other than boosting a company's stock a point or two.

Friday, March 26, 2004

A Spyware Story 


For our first foray into the complicated world of privacy technology, the five of us have agreed to discuss the affect of internet spyware on our lives. Personally, I have never really worried about my privacy on the internet. I use Mozilla web and email applications in place of the notoriously insecure Microsoft ones, and I am careful about what I download. I have never had a serious virus or worm infection, and certainly do not plan to.

Although this level of paranoia is new to me, I downloaded and ran Ad-aware out of curiosity. Unsurprisingly, it raised several minor red flags. Ad-aware found 5 internet cookies that it classified as “information miners.” These cookies sit behind the scenes and gather what information they can about my web browsing habits. This kind of cookie is very well known for its role in internet advertising. If I visit, for example, a dozen classic car websites, I may begin to see banner ads for cars, car parts, car shows, and the like. Although it is somewhat unsettling to know that my interests are being tracked and fed back to me in the form of targeted marketing, it seems harmless. After all, If I were a car fanatic, I would be most interested in automobile-related advertisements.

On the insidious side, however, having “information miners” reside in my system is somewhat frightening. If I use a credit card to buy something online, could an information miner potentially extract that information and defraud me? Hopefully not, but I lack the technical understanding of web cookies that would allow me to feel safe from these electronic flies on the wall.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Whattup y'all 

This is Bobby reporting in for the super blog.


Welcome to our blog!

-Bobby, Kelly, David, Andrew, and Freddy

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