Titans of Incompetence
Reason #842 for not giving the government and corporations control over so much of our personal information is that they are not very good at keeping it safe or confidential. Take TJX Co., parent company of the TJMaxx retailers, for example.
TJX's database systems allowed a hacker access for six months in 2005. During that time, an estimated forty-five million (yes, 45,000,000) credit card and debit card records were accessed and stolen. The data included transactions at all of the company's operations: T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, and A.J. Wright
stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Winners and HomeSense stores
in Canada and the company's computer systems in Watford, U.K., that
process and store information related to payment card transactions at
T.K. Maxx in the U.K. and Ireland. Some of the stolen data has already been implicated in millions of dollars of thefts in Florida.
This latest theft of 45m records follows the loss of 40m records at CardSystems, and 26m from the VA. I bet each and every one of those outfits assured their users that they had impeccable security and privacy systems in place. Yeah, right.
When You Have Friends Like These...
Question: Who said in a speech today?
"In beloved Iraq, blood flows between brothers in the shadow of illegitimate foreign occupation and hateful sectarianism, threatening a civil war."
Answer: The Bushs' great buddy, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Yes, You Too!
For those of you who think I write too much about government intrusion, perhaps in the belief that if you have done nothing wrong then you have no need to worry about government surveillance, this one's for you, too!
The Washington Post today runs a story about how those watch lists (which we know are faulty, with a too low threshold for inclusion) are used by banks, mortgage companies and other lenders to turn away perfectly legitimate applicants.
"The Office of Foreign Asset Control's list of "specially designated nationals" has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.
"The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security," said Shirin Sinnar, the report's author. "The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don't trample on individual rights."
Penalties for businesses NOT to use the watch lists can be huge fines and imprisonment.
"The law is ridiculous," said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md., who advises car dealers to use the list to avoid penalties. "It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who's on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law."
Perhaps we need more of these stupid examples to filter out, to affect more and more of the general population. In that way, a groundswell of opposition may be developed that can at least slow down this steady advance toward government/corporate surveillance of individuals.
What To Read Over The Summer -- Karl Rove's Emails
In an earlier post, I had mentioned that I thought the documentary gap of 18 days would prove important in the Attorney-General scandal; and in fact the late batch of documents that cover some of that period has already indicated that AG Gonzales misled Congress about his involvement in the firings.
Now we hear that much of the Administration's business has been handled by partisan third-party email accounts, presumably to avoid their being dredged up in any White House document dump. One report has it that Karl Rove uses such accounts for 95% of his business. Luckily Henry Waxman and his Committee have the bit between their teeth, and are asking the serious questions. Josh Marshall makes an excellent case that such emails cannot fall under the protection of "executive privilege", no matter how broadly Bush tries to paint that situation.
This has the potential to be even more fun than the AG document dumps, ridiculous gaps and all!
Update: a further short note from US News.
Some of The Mechanics of Control
Regular readers will know of my obsession with government intrusion into private lives, accelerated so dramatically by the inevitable response to 9/11. Earlier, I had declared that governments' increasing demands for personal data would be my focus for the year. I have been assiduously collecting articles and papers on the subject all year, but I've had no time to put them together into a coherent argument. I'll bget to that soon.
In the meanwhile, the Washington Post has published an article of interest to those who want to understand the mechanics and scope of government-corporate data collection (all the better to avoid them). Specifically, the article describes the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) system. TIDE has ballooned from about 100,000 files in 2003, to almost 500,000 today; and the increase shows no sign of slowing. The TIDE database is used to feed the various "watch lists" used by airlines, and border agencies. Moreover,
"... the bar for inclusion is low, and once on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it."
As a sidebar, the Post also has an interesting graphic that displays the screening process that TIDE is said to be attached to.
Those of us of a certain age may still tingle at the memory of the 18 1/2 minute gap -- supposedly caused by secretary Rose Mary Wood's carelessness -- in a crucial White House tape. For many, it was the discovery of this erasure that irreversibly damaged Richard Nixon's credibility and led inevitably to his resignation over the Watergate cover-up.
Perhaps "18" is a significant number in Presidential scandals because today, amid the sound and flurry of thousands of emails concerning the US Attorneys' scandal, a gap of 18 days has been noted in the stream. And a crucial 18 days too, immediately before the time the attorneys were fired. What happened? Tony Snow and the White House denied all responsibility:
Q Okay. You keep saying the Justice Department, the response -- that these emails, the 3,000 pages is unprecedented, is very responsive. Why, then, is there this gap from mid-November to about December 4th, right before the actual firings? Why is there a gap in the emails?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Why don't you ask them?
Q Well, you're the White House, the Justice Department serves under --
MR. SNOW: I know, but I'm not going to be the fact witness on Justice.
Q But you're the one representing that this has been very responsive. Now when there's a gap you say go to them.
MR. SNOW: Yes, and I've been led to believe that there's a good response for it, but I'm going to let you ask them because they're going to have the answer ...
Q Tony, just for the record, this gap between mid-November and early December, is there a gap because there are no emails pertaining to this situation between then, or are there more emails to come out?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know. Like I said, that's why I think you need to go back and ask the Department of Justice. They've done the document production; we have not been in charge of it. I would refer questions to them ...
Q And then there's a gap in emails. Was there any -- perhaps any emails about the President in there? And did the President have to sign off on this? Because the question was raised --
MR. SNOW: The President has no recollection of this ever being raised with him."
I suspect this gap will prove of some importance. I'll keep watch.
The New York Times quotes the Justice Department spokesman:
"Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said, “The department has provided or made available to Congress all the documents responsive to Congress’s requests over the time period in question.” He added, “To the extent there was a lull in communications concerning the U.S. attorney issues, it reflects the fact that we have found no responsive documents from that time period, which included the Thanksgiving holiday.”
The Republican nomination battle has already turned into a race to the Right, with social issues (from a fundamentalist perspective) up front and centre. This isn't surprising considering the mess the Right has made of foreign affairs in the last 7 years.
However, talking about affairs, Joe Klein and Greg Sargent have noticed that Family Values are a long way away from the GOP candidates' resumes. In fact, while the leading Democratic contenders have ZERO divorces among them, the leading Republicans have NINE!
Bible belching hypocites the lot of them!
Photographs of Place and Play
This weekend we went to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see two photographic exhibitions.
One floor of the gallery is taken up with Fred Hertzog's evocative images of Vancouver over the last 40-50 years. He mastered the use of the notoriously difficult Kodachrome film, and he brings the city alive with the people he selects for his studies.
The ground floor currently has a fascinating exhibit: Acting The Part -- Photography as Theatre. This is a mostly historical collection, showing how photographers from the beginning have staged scenes for their photographs. It also covers some advertising shots and images of stage and film luminaries in their roles. Excellent curation, with informative text.
Well worth the visit if you are in town.
Bush's Honour Guard
This was the honour guard for Bush's arrival in Brazil today....
Where's that Monroe Doctrine guy when you need him?
My reading in February was as good as in January, I am pleased to say.
I began the month with "Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form," by Michael Sims. A marvelous tour of the external body -- from hair to toes, and everything in between -- covering the biological evolution of the part and, more entertaining, the cultural and literary responses to the part through history. It is one of those books where you learn something, sometimes important but often just odd, on every page.
The month concluded with "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" by Jack Weatherford. This is a tour de force in resurrecting the character and legacy of the world's greatest empire builder from the politically-motivated calumnies of the "Englightenment" that have survived to this day. The title is fine, even though Genghis himself dies about a third of the way through the book: the successes and failures of his successors through to Kublai are clearly linked to how closely they modeled themselves on the great man. Weatherford convinced me in the final chapters that the European Renaissance owed more to the Mongols than it ever did to Greece and Rome. Excellent scholarship and a good read.