The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 11 Issue 72

Monday 27 May 1991


o Re: The RISKS of Posting to the Net
Brinton Cooper
Ralph Moonen
Phil Agre
o Re: The Death of Privacy
Roger Crew
Mark W. Eichin
Bill Murray
Geoff Kuenning
Robert Allen
o Smart Highways Need Privacy Tutorial
Marc Rotenberg
o They *are* watching
Jim Sims
o Re: SB266
Willis H. Ware
o Computer illiteracy
Ed McGuire
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Re: The RISKS of Posting to the Net

Brinton Cooper <abc@BRL.MIL>
Thu, 23 May 91 22:45:57 EDT posted a fascinating note describing how a visit by an FBI
agent apparently was triggered by the disclosure of unclassified info about
missile destruct systems.

mmm seemed unfamiliar with the notion that he may have revealed "sensitive"
information.  I guess it's no secret (and may not even be sensitive) that there
is a body of information, growing without bound, that is "unclassified but
sensitive."  Folks not in the employ of the US Government are not likely to be
as aware of this as civil servants.  The notion is that there are many info
items which, while individually innocuous are collectively sensitive.  Also,
there is data from the trade secrets or cost figures of industrial
organizations, and personal data in individuals (e.g. employment applications).
All of this is "sensitive," and we're in deep trouble if we mis-use or
publicize it.

I gather that mmm was not a civil servant or member of the military when he
read the manual which he described.  One wonders, then, how he got it and how
he was supposed to know that it was "sensitive."

The risk isn't too subtle: The growing body of "sensitive" information and the
rules surrounding its release bring us close to a British-style "official
secrets act."  Many of us recall how the stamp of secrecy was misused and
abused in the Nixon administration.  It requires little imagination to the
potential for more widespread abuse in the case of "sensitive but
unclassified."  I believe that we have Reagan and his national in-security
advisor, Adm Poindexter, to thank for this kettle of fish.

Re: The RISKS of Posting to the Net

Fri, 24 May 91 10:30 MDT
Arghh. That's all we need now. Next thing, someone who says potentially
dangerous words on the net, like say, ehh... blue box (Get that guys, BLUE
BOX), or ehh... assassination of BUSH, will get a visit from our beloved Big
Bro. I just hope they don't become aware of the underground nature of Usenet.
If they do, it won't be long before you need a military clearance to even read
news, let alone post!

Aside from that, and not really a RISK, but still: Not many people know that
all transatlantic phone calls are being monitored by speech recognition
equipment of the NSA. If too many keywords like "Bomb", "Assassination",
"Ghadaffi", "Terrorist", etc. are recognised within a certain time, a tape
recorder automagically switches on.  For this reason, I start all my
transatlantic phone calls with a list of ten keywords, just to be sure to waste
some of their undoubtedly vast amount of audio tape.. :-)
                                                            --Ralph Moonen

the FBI and computer networks

Phil Agre <>
Sat, 25 May 91 16:54:28 +0100
Regarding mmm's message in Risks 11.71, I am quite curious whether you had any
moral unease about volunteering all of this information to this visiting FBI
agent.  Of course the information is perfectly public.  But this guy obviously
had censorship very much on his mind, and I do think it would be just as well
if he had never heard of the existence of the Internet.  Think how alt.drugs
and rec.pyrotech and the like sound to him: rather like how the network sounds
to someone who has just read a histrionic newspaper article about how the
government is subsidizing the operation of a little-known computer network that
is used for the distribution of pornography (e.g.,, which surely passes
over some US government wires or computers, if only through government funded
research projects, on a regular basis, someplace or other).  What did you have
in mind in volunteering all of this to a representative of a government agency
with a long bad record of interference in individual liberty, whose every third
sentence included words like censorship?  Suppose an aide to Jesse Helms called
you up and asked you for the most damaging factoids about government-funded
computer networks that you could think of.  Would you be sure to tell him or
her that it's now possible to send netmail to the Soviet Union, using the .su
domain?  Do you think that a big, spurious public controversy would be a good
thing?  How about open FBI files on all regular contributors to rec.pyrotech?
Maybe you have reasonable answers to these questions.  But I can't think of
what they might be.
                                             Phil Agre, University of Sussex

Re: The Death of Privacy

Roger Crew <crew@CS.Stanford.EDU>
Fri, 24 May 1991 03:41:14 GMT
> We are well on our way to a cashless society.  I predict that it
> will eventually be illegal to own cash.  Certainly whenever a drug
> dealer is busted today, you hear all about the (gasp!) several
> thousand dollars in cash found.  Heck, *I* know people who keep that
> much at home, and they are defin[i]tely not drug dealers.

It is already the case, under the RICO laws, that large amounts of cash can
simply be confiscated.  No warrant is necessary.  I'm not sure what the
necessary preconditions are, but evidently the standard road-stop to check for
license & registration together with some notion of "probable cause" suffices.
Police in south Florida are using this against suspected drug-runners with
devastating effect.

To get the money back, even if no charges are ever filed, one has to bring a
civil suit against the police department in question and demonstrate that the
money was not illegally obtained.

The Supreme Court has upheld RICO.

Re: The Death of Privacy? (RISKS DIGEST 11.71)

"Mark W. Eichin" <eichin@ATHENA.MIT.EDU>
Fri, 24 May 91 01:06:04 -0400
<> We are well on our way to a cashless society.  I predict that it will
<> eventually be illegal to own cash.

    I stumbled across a television show recently (on some cable channel, I
don't know what one) about the evils of a cashless society, and how it will
become impossible to survive without being part of the "system" (and thus being
tracked by the system...)

    It was titled "The Number of the Beast" and alternated between detailed
explanations of the data flow in electronic funds systems used now and Biblical
quotes regarding being marked with the number of the beast; being marked with
the "number" was supposed to be a metaphor for being identified in the
electronic funds system.

  [I think we've been around on this one before, but I could not find it.  PGN]

Re: Death of Privacy (Jerry Leichter, RISKS-11.69)

Fri, 24 May 91 07:27 EDT
Jerry, I was around thirty years ago.  I remember what privacy meant.  I
remember how it was compromised and manipulated for the purpose of achieving
social conformity.  I remember women who lived alone being ostracized from the
church because they might be divorced and they certainly were not married.  I
remember talking about unmarried men, on the assumption that they were
homosexual, and therefore fair game for gossip, if not violence.  The mechanism
was gossip, and the idea was that if one did not conform, that was how they
would be talked about.

I remember that it was considered perfectly proper to ask a job applicant what
church they belonged to and what political party.  It was not that anyone
seriously believed that church goers were any more reliable than non-church
goers; only that they were subject to social pressure to conform and
excommunication if merely accused of nonconformity.

I remember the activities of the FBI, the files collected by "The Director."
The political and economic pressure to identify one's associates as Communists.
Now we call it McCarthyism, but the idea was ideological conformity.

I remember the gossip about whether such and such a movie star was "queer,"
whether that one had negro blood, or this one drank.  John Garfield never made
another film after being associated with Communists, and Ingrid Bergman could
not work in this country after her divorce.

Do not hold up to me as an ideal the privacy of thirty years ago.  That these
things were only talked about over the back fence, and never in the papers,
only made it worse.  The problem may not have been any worse then, but it was
certainly no better.  Memory plays funny tricks.

No one cares about divorce, any more.  Political ideology is out of favor
everywhere except on college campuses.  Now its worse to be a racist than to be
of mixed race.  Today the assumption is that everyone has been in therapy, but
just twenty-five years ago it was a disqualifying defect in a vice-presidential
candidate.  When I was growing up the suspicion of Jewish heritage was enough
to keep you out of the country club; now membership in the club is enough to
keep you out of office.

Today the issues are communicable diseases, high risk behavior, child abuse,
sexism, seduction, abortion, and drug use, but the intent is still conformity.
Robert Bork was denied a seat on the Supreme Court for opinions that would have
recommended him thirty years ago.

The fact is that there has always and everywhere been a battle between freedom
and information.  Every society in every age has used what information it had
about its members in an attempt to control behavior.  In France the police know
who sleeps in every bed every night.  Now they use computers, but they have
always known.  In China the Party knows who comes and who goes.  They do not
use computers, but they certainly know.

We do not gather at the well any more; we go to the mall rather than the
general store.  We go to MacDonalds rather than the diner.  In our age, the
communities are so large that it takes computers to keep up with everyone, but
the intent and the damage are no different.  The content

Re: The Death of Privacy? (Leichter, RISKS-11.69)

Geoff Kuenning <desint!geoff@uunet.UU.NET>
Fri, 24 May 91 03:20:38 PDT
> It's hard to see how we could have medical insurance on today's scale
> without such records and their relatively wide availability...

I couldn't disagree more; it's trivially easy to see how we can get along
without such records.  The whole purpose of the records is to help insurance
companies avoid the self-selection problem, where their pocketbooks are emptied
by people who get insurance because they know that they have a serious illness.
But in a (gasp) national health-care system, this becomes a non-problem, and
there is no longer any need for widespread exchanges of medical records --
except, of course, that the patient may find it in his or her best interest to
make full information available to the doctor, but that's by choice.

                         Geoff Kuenning   uunet!desint!geoff

Re: The Death of Privacy? (Robert Allen, RISKS-11.71)

Fri, 24 May 91 12:34:05 BST
It is not necessary to build electronic funds transfer systems in such a way
that all purchases can be tracked.  There are acceptable alternatives.

The cash card schemes I have read about in the UK would involve anonymous
cards.  The cards themselves are 'smart' cards; you would take your card to
the bank and transfer money from your account to the card.  You would be able
to transfer as much or as little as you liked.

You could then use the card as cash, for making small purchases.  The card is
not marked in any way with your name, and there is no PIN or signature; if the
card were to be stolen, the person stealing it would be able to use the money
in the card.

In other words, the proposed cashcard is just like real cash in every respect
bar the fact that it's easier to carry around and easier for electronic cash
registers to process.  Clearly carrying large amounts of money on cashcards
would be quite risky from the point of view of possible theft; but then,
carrying large amounts of cash around is risky too.

The system is quite similar to the way Phonecards work; I'm not sure whether
the US has similar schemes, so I'll explain: You can buy Phonecards in shops,
with anywhere between 20 and 200 units of pre-payment for telephone calls
encoded into them.  This corresponds to 1 to 10 pounds sterling on the card, in
units of 5p -- approximately $2 to $20 in units of 10 cents.  The Phonecard is
completely anonymous.  When you have spent all the money on the card on
telephone calls, you have to buy another phonecard.

With the cashcard system, you would be able to re-charge the card you already
have, which is clearly better from an ecological point of view; and unlike
Phonecards, the cashcards should be useful for general purchases.

To summarize, whilst we should be careful to make sure that the electronic
funds transfer systems which get implemented are acceptable from a privacy
point of view, I don't think the situation is necessarily as bleak as Robert
Allen makes it out to be.

Smart Highways Need Privacy Tutorial

Mon, 27 May 91 10:43:15 PDT
As vacationers flocked to the beaches on this Memorial Day, the Washington Post
reported that "smart" highways which would relieve traffic congestion may soon
be a reality.  About $20 million will be spent this year in federal funds to
develop Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems (IVHS).  Last week a Senate
committee approved a measure that would devote $150 million a year for the next
five years to IVHS.  And, according to the Post, proponents call that cheap.
Estimates for lost productivity resulting from traffic congestion are pegged at
$100 billion annually.  The GAO estimates that a full-scale IVHS system could
cut commute time by 50% in such places as Los Angeles.

The article describes technologies that range from variable message signs that
are tied to networks which monitor traffic flow to roadway-based guidewires
with radio-controlled autopilots.  The story also describes tollgates that will
"read code radioed from a rolling car and automatically bill a credit card."

The article notes that in Europe and Japan trials of such systems have been
underway for years.

Privacy aside -- Gary Marx is fond of a song by the Police that begins "every
step you take, every move you make . . .I'll be watching you."  Maybe it's time
for an update -- "every turn you take, every time you brake . . . I'll be
watching you."

It's worth finding out whether the Senate committee has considered the privacy
implications of gathering this data on drivers and whether there are any
proposals to restrict the secondary use of the information.  Likely buyers?
Marketing firms and insurance companies.
                                         Marc Rotenberg, CPSR Washington Office

They *are* watching

Jim Sims <>
24 May 91 18:32:40 GMT
In response to poster's lament about the govt getting access to his phone bill
to see if he was calling the wrong people:

The government *already* has electronic access to your phone call transactions
(numbers & [i think] length of call, not content), without a court order. They
just have to show probable cause for a warrant to tap the *contents* of your
DECUS AI SIG Symposium Representative
The MITRE Corporation, 7525 Colshire Drive MS W418  McLean, Va.   22015

Re: SB266

"Willis H. Ware" <>
Fri, 24 May 91 08:57:55 PDT
SB 266 has been folded in toto into Title V of SB 618 --Violent Crime Control
Act of 1991.  The old Sect 2201 of 266 is now Sect 545 of 618.  Latter is also
sponsored by Biden and deConcini.  It's very long - 194 pages -- and covers
everything but everything.

Here's a list of the major titles:

    Title I         Safe streets and neighborhoods
    Title II        Death penalty
    Title III       Death penalty for murder of law enforcment officer
    Title IV        Death penalty for drug criminals
    Title V         Prevention and punishment of terrorist acts
    Title VI        Drive-by shooting
    Title VII       Assault weapons
    Title VIII      Police and law enforcement training
    Title IX        Federal law enforcement agencies
    Title X         Habeas corpus reform
    Title XI        Punishment of gun criminals
    Title XII       Prison for violent drug offenders
    Title XIII      Boot camps
    Title XIV       Youth violence
    Title XV        Rural crime and drug control
    Title XVI       Drug emergencies
    Title XVII      Drunk driving child protection
    Title XVIII     Commission on crime and violence
    Title XIX       Protection of crime victims
    Title XX        Crack house eviction
    Title XXI       Organized crime and dangerous drugs
    Title XXII      Exclusionary rule
    Title XXIII     Drug testing

Many of these titles have several sub-titles and most have many sections.

computer illiteracy

Ed McGuire <>
Fri, 24 May 91 11:56:44 CST
I received in the mail today a new product announcement.  The product is
software that tutors new computer users in basic operating system concepts,
thereby bringing an end to repetitive questions about logging in, current
working directory, and so forth.

The announcement included comments from users of the product, including this
direct quote:

     "I am very excited about [the product] and highly recommend its
     use to finally accomplish the goal of computer illiteracy."

                              [To badd he didnt spel ilitteracy write.  PGN]

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