Monday, August 8, 2011

Hackers Catch a Break

When we think or hear of hackers we automatically run for the hills because all we can imagine is our precious personal information being stolen from us and used for evil. Hackers are not looked upon favorably, usually labeled as criminals. They have broken down security walls and created viruses that will drive an average person and the government crazy. There is so much of our personal information in cyberspace that is really just a click away to a professional hacker's fingertips.

Hackers, like any other group of people, have websites or chat forums online where they can speak to other hackers and learn new things as the world of technology advances. In addition there is an annual convention held called Defcon where hackers meet and greet other hackers. The nineteenth Defcon Convention was actually this past weekend in Las Vegas. Attendees pay a $150 cover fee at the door; this is a cash only payment in order to keep all attendees anonymous. The use of nicknames or pseduonyms are commonly used as well to protect a hacker's true identity.

At the convention hackers can meet other people that share their same interests, hear speeches from keynote speakers and participate in code breaking contests. Games where hackers attempt to "crack the code" are used as trial runs by big corporations, even federal agencies, to spot where the security flaws are in their system. There are also workshops that teach hackers how to protect themselves and avoid having their information stolen and to protect themselves from being detected by the government.

The convention is not only attended by hackers. Officers from government agencies have been known to come to these conventions to "recruit" hackers and place them in security positions. Attendance of agents has birthed a game in which hackers attempt to "spot the fed." Government agencies, like the National Security Agency (NSA), recruit hackers for the same purpose as Facebook which is to improve their current security system. Jeff Moss, who's previous hacker pseduonym was Dark Tangent, was the founder of the Defcon conventions. He was later picked up by the Department of Homeland Security's Advisory Council to assist in cyber security.

Facebook is another company recruiting hackers to seek out security flaws in their social networking site. Facebook launched a new "bug bounty program" at the beginning of August where hackers are paid at least $500 to hack into Facebook and then report where the security flaws are. Of course the hackers have to sign a disclosure agreement stating that they will not reveal the sites weak points until they are resolved. Google and Microsoft have also jumped on the banwagon and hired hackers to find flaws as well and for a much higher pay.

Now some may believe hiring a hacker is like putting the gun in the hand of a terrorist. How do we know that they will do the right thing once in the hot seat? Can we put that much trust in a person who has the ability to crash our country's mainframe? I believe with the right background checks, I mean extensive background checks, we can make hackers our ally. Extra precautions should be taken since these hackers were not intended to work in a high security field. Its exactly the opposite, they were trained to break them down. But this may be the help we need to avoid future internet corruption. It may be best to take advice from the eyes of the culprit than to try and figure out what they will do next. Having a hacker on our side is like having a spy, a very good spy. And not all hackers are bad, but just like anything else they do get a bad rap. Some people have the skill to hack but don't and these are the hackers that need recruiting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Facebook Got Me Fired

How many times have we been warned to be extremely careful about what we write on the Internet, especially on social networking sites. Nowadays employers and college recruiters resort to sites like Facebook and Twitter to investigate someone's personal life, things that we wouldn't otherwise know, before deciding to make them a member of their professional community. There have been many instances in which a person lost an opportunity due to the content posted on their profile or even removed from the position they held.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal agency who acts on behalf of union workers to ensure that their rights as an employee are not violated and that there are no unfair practices by the employer and company. Recently the NLRB began reviewing cases to verify that employees were fired on fair grounds where they were fired due to remarks posted on Facebook. The NLRB guidelines states that a comment would not be in violation if it is concerted activity, or something that would lead to "group action" which includes forming a union or discussing working conditions in hopes of a resolution. Some tend to make the comparison of discussions about work on Facebook to workers congregating at the water cooler discussing work. But if an employee posts a comment and those responding are not co-workers then this would be a violation because the discussion does not lead to possible improvements in the workplace.

In these instances employees are venting their frustrations but they can take it too far. One case involved a bartender who had a conversation with his sister via Facebook referring to his customers as "rednecks" and that he hoped they "choke on glass as they drove home drunk." Since his conversation was not with a co-worker the NLRB ruled it to be a violation and that his dismissal was valid. The memorandum drafted by the NLRB shows the owner of the bar sent his employee a message through Facebook saying "that his services were no longer required," ah what a twist!

It is understandable that an employer would fire a worker if what they say reflects negatively aganist the company thereby hurting its image. Even though you are speaking outside of the workplace it can still have an effect on your position. Comments made on the Internet are usually readily available to the public which can change their perception of a company once read. There are cases which I believe resulted in an unnecessary firing. If an employee continuously bashes a company saying the products sold are worthless crap or if the customer service is horrible then yes that would be grounds for dismissal because it can harm profits. But if the comments are in regard to a fellow co-worker who the employee cannot get along with that has no effect on the company's performance. It really is a personal matter that should be resolved between the two workers.

Here are a more examples of people that were fired because of what they posted on social networking sites.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Obama speaks after Senate passes the bill (Live Blog)

The President talks about equality and everyone giving in their fair share. He also mentions that he will try to maintain educational and health programs as well as increase the number of available jobs and raising the minimum wage. It all sounds good but how can you place more money in different places, especially for higher wages, when you don't have money to pay past due bills. It is inevitable that taxes will increase. But will the president and Congress use that money to let's say increase wages? If so then we are going around in a circle, ignoring the current debt we have by using the money for the "wrong" thing. I'm not saying that increasing wages is wrong and shouldn't be done. But take care of our first problem which is debt. This is not the circle of life we should be living, we should not be repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We need to learn from our mistakes and look for a solution. The President is doing a good job but it is not the best. Until then we are in a continuing circle of debt in which I don't see a clear way out anytime soon.

Senate Passes the Bill (Live Blog)

At the beginning of the speech there were a couple of tid-bits pointed out about previous presidential terms. Clinton has always been referred to as a great president, regardless of his misjudgement. There was a lot that he had done to help the people and the economy, such as, the millions of new jobs that were instated. Yet these jobs plus more were lost during the Bush administration. I was also amazed at the fact that at the start of Bush's term there was a surplus of $7 trillion dollars. What?! Where did all this money go over his eight years in office? Shouldn't this money have been used to pay our debts first then apply the remaining amount to future and new programs. It's obvious that the money was not used wisely. We should use people as an example and learn from them and their mistakes. If Clinton had such a successful run why not mimic some of his plans and branch off onto new and better ideas that would accommodate us at this time.

The speaker also mentions the need to have spending cuts in addition to an increase in revenue. And where will this additional revenue be coming from you ask? From an increase in taxes. Here we go again. If I receive X amount of money that does not cover the current taxes I must pay for then how is Congress to believe that I can pay for these additional tax hikes? Washington does realize that money does not grow on trees right, so how do they expect me to come up with this money?

The Democratic speaker next discusses a new joint committee that would be formed. Now will the members of this committee be composed of current representatives in the House and Senate? The same people who were putting up a fight to compromise? What makes things so different now that we are to believe this committee will have a 100% open mind?

In the end thankfully the Senate passed the bill with a total of 74 votes YEA and a total of 26 votes NAY. We are a step closer to implementing our "master plan." Now I can't wait to hear what the President has to say now that both houses and parties have reached an agreement.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Super Gabby

As all the representatives gathered in the chamber waiting to cast their vote, we in class mentioned that one person for certain would not be in attendance, Gabrielle Giffords. In early January Giffords was shot in the head in an assassination attempt but luckily she survived. Since then she has not appeared at any congressional meetings as she was recuperating. Tonight was a surprise not only for the passing of the bill but because Giffords made a special appearance in the chamber to cast her vote in the decision right before the allotted fifteen minutes were up. Giffords was welcomed cheers, hugs and a standing ovation. This joyous moment I initially thought were the Republicans celebrating their approaching victory of the bill being passed. As Senator Pelosi mentioned Giffords is an symbol of strength and courage. Her being there showed how important the passing of this bill was to her and to America. She made the effort to be there for the vote because she did not want to risk losing the vote and the bill not being passed. Though her vote in favor of the bill did not have much impact for her Republican party as they crushed the Democratic vote, it was more of a sign of her dedication to this country and how important this change is for our future.

Watching and Waiting (Live Blog)

The time is trickling down to the last second as we all wait anxiously for a decision to be made on the debt deficit. This is one of the latest news topics that I have followed closely over the last couple of weeks. Representatives of the House have fifteen minutes to cast their vote for the bill. As of 6:52 pm the YEA out beat the NAY by almost half. It may be too early to judge but it seems that the outcome may be a positive one. Just as in the presidential election there is a goal that needs to be reached for a decision, in this case a count of 216 is needed in order to pass the bill. It is amazing that the majority of Democrats are voting against the bill. Which in a way seems ridiculous because they rather have nothing than something. By accepting this bill it is an entry way to a better plan to move forward where improvements can be made.

As the last two minutes wind down cheering can be heard in the background as they see the YEA outweigh the NAYs. And at the end of time the YEAs win, the bill has been passed by the House of Representatives. YEAs total of 269 and NAYs total of 161.

In seeing the final result I let out a sigh of relief. It was my hope that a decision would be made to pass the bill. This decision has helped us as a country overcome a bump in the road. The passing of this bill is a step in the door. I consider myself a Democrat and if I had been in their shoes I would have voted in favor of the bill. At this point we are in such a dire state that something, anything needed to be done. Now what we need to do is hope that all goes well and that the outcome goes as planned. The passing of this bill is an assist in making the passing of future bills a bit easier. From here everyone as a group can build. There is not much that Americans can do. The weight is placed on Washington's shoulders to follow through, we as Americans can only lead by example.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Debt Speech

On Monday night President Obama addressed the nation in a fifteen minute speech giving Americans a status update on the continuing debate on how to resolve our nation's $14 trillion debt. The president speaks in a calm, sympathetic tone as he reviews the different points that have been discussed by both parties during this long and arduous process. The government had the funds to pay off their bills but instead of applying that money wisely the debts were ignored and new programs, or problems, were piled on and it is now the problem of American citizens. We have come to a breaking point where a decision needs to be made as soon as possible. Democrats and Republicans both believe that the debt ceiling should be raised so the country does not go into default but the manner in which the debt should be resolved differs in each party.

Currently we are in a recession. Meaning that people are skimming by trying to survive as the number of available jobs decrease thereby increasing unemployment rates. Many Americans do not have enough money to go shopping and make big purchases which would contribute to the state's revenue and help the economy.

The Republican party is known to represent the wealthy percentage of the population and the Democrats represent the middle and lower classes, which the majority of the population consists of. While the middle class have to pay every itemized tax, many wealthy citizens and large corporations are able to get around certain taxes through the use of deductions. Now this isn't fair when the ones who can afford to pay every tax are given a break which in a sense gives them more money than they earned. The Republicans are steadfast on not giving up these generous tax deductions which of course the Democrats see as unfair because they are not putting in their fair share.

This is where the Republicans need to grow up and see the bigger picture. Right now the Republicans are being selfish and greedy in not wanting to give up their deductions. They need to realize the critical state of our country and how much we can benefit from their "additional" contributions. There is only a small percentage of the population that is wealthy which should set off a green light that the middle class who is carrying the burden cannot do it alone and need assistance.

On top of not wanting to pay forward the money that they technically do owe, they are also asking to cut spending on important programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are programs that the middle and lower classes make use of, so of course the upper class would want to cut spending on something they don' use. Another program that would be effected by spending cuts is the military. Here we would see a decrease in the United States' involvement in the Middle East. This does help in forcing the President's hand to bring our troops home, so there is a positive side to this cut. The United States has overstayed our welcome in the Middle East, not that we were ever welcomed there to begin with.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Animal, Pet, Companion…All in One

There are animals and then there are animals that are pets. Many pets are considered a family member, someone who has been around for years through good times and bad times. A pet can bring that feeling of happiness and comfort to a person’s life the same way another human can. At the same time an owner wants to give that animal, whether it’s a dog or a rabbit, the same love and attention they share with a relative, sort of. As long as it’s not slimy and creepy, I’m a huge animal lover. And even though I may not be a fan of the creepy crawlers I do have a great deal respect for all animals as a living being.
No matter the species, animals have a life of their own with a heartbeat, a brain and feelings. With that being said an animal should be treated with the same reverence as the human body. Now that thought may be a bit farfetched as there are people in this world who do not have respect for another person’s well-being and inflict harm on others without remorse. It is a shame that there are people who would harm defenseless animals who cannot make a cry for help, who cannot escape, who cannot call on someone to stop the violence. It is even more disgusting when this kind of abuse is done for fun, those who get a rise out of torturing something time and time again.
In the blogs POLITICAL CONNECTicut and furanimalrights, the authors touch on abuse cases involving dogs. In furanimalrights we are introduced to a German Sheppard named Chief who was poisoned with antifreeze and later died. Antifreeze is a known substance used to kill a person or animal and an attempt to do so without being detected. What could have this adorable dog possibly done to deserve such treatment? Nothing! There is not one reason as to why Chief deserved this brutally painful death at the hands of his owner’s neighbor. The move to create antifreeze with a bitter taste would be an indicator that there is something fishy going on, but this is a move that should have been done a long time ago. Isn’t it weird how we always say that, why wasn’t this done earlier?! Who would have thought though that we would need to take such precautions? But why limit this change to Georgia; it should be something that is done by all companies that sell antifreeze because this is something that the world can benefit from. As is mentioned in the blog social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to raise awareness to others and can also be used to get in touch with companies and demand that this action be changed all across the board.  
POLITICAL CONNECTicut featured an entry on the newly passed bill last month in Connecticut to further the efforts in preventing animal as well as child abuse. Research showed that there is a connection when it comes to abuse of children and animals. Someone who is an abuser is likely to harm almost anything in its path whether it’s an animal or a person. When an abuse case is reported it is entered into a system of either the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the Department of Agriculture depending on the victim. Now when an abuse report is entered in one system the other system will be notified basically to keep an eye on the offender in an effort to prevent further abuse towards others. Again the infamous question, why wasn’t this done earlier with evidence from so many previous cases of abuse? Unfortunately a certain level needs to be reached sometimes in order for new preventive measures to occur. This is a great system but it should be shared with the rest of the country as Connecticut is not the only state that has cases of abuse.
This is an epidemic that needs to be stopped. How can one sit through commercials sponsored by the ASPCA and other similar organizations and not feel sorrow, not want to stop the violence? I have a soft spot for animals and when I see a commercial like this my heart goes out to them because I know that there are other animals that did not make it, who were not saved. I have always wanted a dog and it is commercials such as these that have moved me to vow that when I do get a dog I will go to such an organization and bring these abused animals to a warm and loving home. I was not able to prevent the abuse of the past but I can make a better future for them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Facing the Rule Book Down Under

Facebook has done wonders for the media and entertainment worlds. It brings us closer to our friends, family and our favorite actors and musicians. It is something to helps pass the time on those long, boring days. Facebook can also be used as a means for businesses either as promotion or expanding their company to the internet. Facebook is an international phenomenon. Everybody, well almost everybody, wants to be on Facebook. It's the "cool" thing to do that everyone wants to be a part of. Even the more, achem, mature crowd is on Facebook using it to keep in touch with their kids and possibly grandkids. Though Facebook is an attractive vehicle for communication, is it suitable for people of all ages?

There is one issue that is always popping up no matter the subject. And that issue would be how a child is affect by what they experience in their daily lives. Children are the most vulnerable age group and it is the responsibility of adults to protect them. You may believe the elderly are the most vulnerable because they appear to be frail in comparison, but the experience they have gained over the years puts them a step above children. The way a child is raised does have a huge effect on how they conduct themselves as they get older. So there may be a lot of pressure on a parent to assure their child comes out "normal" based on societys' standards. As long as a child is shown the difference of what is acceptable behavior they should turn out "normal."

The internet has many demons but it is also a useful tool when used correctly. As I said Facebook is great way to communicate with people and its fun! But there are a lot of people that take advantage of the freedom that Facebook is offering. It is a known fact that some people use the internet in hurtful ways. To prevent this from happening Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team asks its users to be at least thirteen years old to create an account, if not they should ask their parents for permission before setting up an account. Requesting a person's age is supposed to help in filtering what content is deemed age appropriate. But there is no way for Facebook to verify someone's age online, so their methods are not foolproof.

Last week the Australian government discussed taking the initiative to grant parents full access to their child's profile and possibly raise the age requirement to eighteen so that a Facebook account can be created. The following are a few reasons behind precautions that Australia is attempting to instill.

Bloomberg News reported the main reason the Australian government is favors increasing the age limit to eighteen is "over online bullying that led teenagers to commit suicide." In recent years there have been numerous teen suicides as a result of cyber bullying. This is not to say that teens were not bullied when the internet first came out but now there are more ways to taunt children and the suicides have now become more publicized in the news.

Another form of bullying which was not mentioned in the articles is the presence of sexual predators online. Children are seen as easy targets because they are naive and usually very trusting. Children cannot decipher when a person is being genuinely kind or overly creepy. They don't see that it is suspicious for an adult to want to friend a child that they do not know while parents will think an adult would want to cause harm to a child in this instance.

Second, would be the accessibility to inappropriate material. There are group pages and individual profiles that discuss sex, drugs and alcohol in addition to photos displaying lewd acts. Children will see this material and may attempt to act out what they see online. They begin so by taking sexually suggestive photos and posting them online, which in extreme cases can be labeled as child pornography. The sexting epidemic can also be applied here through the use of chats, comments and private messaging. Violence and weapons are another dangerous topic that a child could stumble upon.

Now the above mentioned are valid reasons for wanting to protect children as much as possible on the internet but there are some issues that may arise. First of all how can a person's age be verified through the interent. A child can easily lie about their age in order to set up the account. Facebook states that if they have knowledge that a user is under thirteen years of age Facebook will be delete their page but again how can that be proven. Children can also set up a Facebook page without their parents knowing and unfortunately parents do not have the ability to cancel their youngsters account. Currently parents are not granted any access to their child's account, unless they are their friend can they see the profile but they still cannot make any changes to the profile or settings.

To ban people under eightteen is not the road to take because there are underage people who use the site correctly. It is a fun and educational past-time where users can play games and keep in touch with others that live far away. Facebookers should make use of all the privacy and account settings that are available to them; the less information available to the public the less accessible you make yourself. Facebook needs to create a filtering system in which a parent can set up an account and any information that is intended for the child be first sent to the parent. From there the parent can supervise what information is received and what information they will allow their child access to. In addition to supervision parents need to teach their children to be very careful about what they post online because once its submitted it will remain in cyberspace forever.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Foul Play

Who doesn’t play video games? From young to old, girls and boys. We have all played some type of video game, though the frequency in which we play does differ depending on the individual. There are a variety of game genres from sports to adventure and even simulations of war. Many games have stirred controversial debates in particular those that promote violence and gun play, such as the Call of Juarez series. All video games go through a screening process, similar to the screening that movies encounter before being released to the public. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the organization that conducts the screening process and developed a rating chart to distinguish which games are “age appropriate” based on a game’s content.

The Call of Juarez series brings us back to the times of the Wild West in the 1800s. The realism of western gunfights is brought to our television screens for us to play out in the comfort, and of course safety, of our home. The video game series is known for its graphic images, strong language and intense violence in addition to inferences of sex and drugs granting them each an M rating. As popularity increased and the gaming technology advanced it seems war games in general have become grittier, more ruthless and more life-like.
The latest game Call of Juarez: The Cartel hit stores on July 19 and has caused a wave of controversy. This game bases its storyline on the real life events of the current drug war between the United States and Mexico. When the Mexican drug cartel bombs a US law enforcement agency, agents are sent in retaliation to hunt down the cartel.

In viewing the trailer it is evident which elements of the game are deemed controversial. The Call of Juarez series specifically focuses on Mexico and exploits its negative downfalls. The United States law enforcement is being represented in an unfavorable manner as well. The narrator states this is the New Wild West, where “bad cops” who consider themselves “above the law” kill in cold blood and steal drug money. Government officials of Brownsville, Texas are opposed to the game because it presents police and agents as corrupt. In the game the officers in pursuit are in a sense renegades, serving justice in regards to their own personal agenda rather than upholding the law in a just fashion. In the trailer one of the main characters, who is an officer, describes himself, his colleagues and the cartel as one in the same. Here it is explicitly clear that it is intentional for law enforcement to be depicted as corrupt. I noticed one scene in the trailer that can be considered police brutality and use of excessive force; the fight scene between the female agent and the criminal who she riddles with bullets driving him over the ledge.

The Mexican government is upset in how the country and its people are being exploited. This is a very difficult time for Mexico between the ongoing drug wars, the unofficial yet powerful control the cartel has over its government and the great numbers of deaths on a daily basis. Kevin Kelly and Steve Johnson are video game critics who gave their opinion of the game in February before the game’s release. They sympathize with the Mexican government that the content is very controversial and agree that the main reason for their opposition is the effect the game will have on children. Violence is an ongoing, almost normal activity of everyday life in Mexico. Kelly and Johnson mention that the Mexican schools even conduct a duck and cover drill in the event of gunfire in the area. This drill is an example of how serious and widespread the situation is in Mexico. The constant violence that children see everyday is sending them a message that this will forever be the way of life. With that kind of mentality children may thereby believe that this is the road to take if they have any chance of surviving. Kelly, Johnson and the Mexican government believe that the less exposure the children have to violence the better. For this reason the Mexican government has gone as far as to ban the video games from the country. Morally it is in bad taste of the gaming company to produce such a game knowing the current state of the country of Mexico. But to ban the game is a bit excessive because there are players who would be able to control themselves and distinguish between fantasy and reality.
The game in a sense hits too close to home. The tragic events occurring in Mexico are too fresh in our minds for it to be made into a game for our enjoyment when this is the reality for some. Yet video games have not been shown to increase the level of violence in a gamer. The Mexican government seems to be fighting against ethics rather than if the game is truly harmful to a child. How much more can a fictional video game affect a child who sees dead bodies on a regular basis?

There are other video games that have been released that are just as violent. Games such as this usually attract players because this is a world where they are allowed to act out in ways without consequences. Opposition such as this will not cease the production of war games, especially when the ESRB allows game creators to go back to the drawing board to tweak their content in order to pass the rating process. Though the ESRB rating guide helps to keep certain material away from children it is also the job of the parent to reinforce certain aspects of child rearing and teach them between right and wrong. The game then can be used as a teaching tool, a possible deterrent; if you do this then you will be punished. The games are based on real events, things we see broadcasted in the news everyday so there is no way to totally shelter a child from the world’s negativeness. Either way the theme of war will still be the foundation of the video game.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


After being in business for thirty years NASA has finally sailed its last ship as of July 8, 2011. Now I don’t mean to be a party-pooper but NASA what have you done for me lately? In my twenty-four years of living there are only a couple instances where I was reminded that there is a government agency that specializes in the research and exploration of outer space. I have Hollywood to thank for that and the weather man who was reporting last week. Personally I don’t believe that the research NASA has done and the missions they have completed over the past thirty years have any effect on my life, which would include my education, employment and financial situation. Yet NASA has contributed a wealth of information that other agencies could not match.
Though this would be NASA’s last mission, the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis did not receive as much press as I thought it would have. Two main headlines in the media were pertaining to a delay in the launch due to weather conditions and the more obvious reason being the last shuttle launch for a long time. Television stations had live feed of the launch as well as many websites and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. NASA has their own Twitter account which is updated constantly by employees at NASA. The astronauts have cameras and laptops on board that they use to communicate with the space station, who then keeps the viewers up to date through tweets.
Group pages dedicated to NASA had comments from users about the launch of Atlantis. The consensus is that people seem to be disappointed that the NASA program is ending and hope that it will return soon. Other comments praised the accomplishments of NASA, still no negative commentary. Does the fact that there is no negativity, arguments or disagreement in reference to ending the NASA program mean Americans don’t care what the outcome of NASA really is? If this is true then I am not alone in my feeling that NASA is in a way useless to our needs.
The knowledge that is gained doesn’t have a substantial effect on the country, so I believe that we can do without NASA. The government is pouring billions of dollars, our tax dollars, each year into the NASA program to fund the research and exploration missions. But how do we benefit from NASA? The answer is we really don’t. In the past thirty years NASA has not found anything that has extremely changed our way of living here on Earth. I view NASA more as an after-school science club; they conduct research and experiments for their own personal advancement and that of their “club.” NASA is something of interest but it is not a necessity.
With the current economic state of our country the government should be more conscious of where funding is granted. This financial crisis though came as no surprise as it was apparent back in 2008 that we had hit a recession. If the government was willing to end NASA funding and terminate the program, why wait until three years later to do so. All the money that was spent on research leading up to last week’s launch could have been given to a much more needy organization, such as, rebuilding the disaster left by Hurricane Katrina or increasing job wages.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is the government a friend or foe?

A few days ago I saw a clip by CBS News reporting on an incident that occurred at the Canadian border between U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and a young man who was searched, questioned and detained. We have heard stories where travelers have been pulled aside either for “random searches” or if a red flag appears in the system as the traveler passes through customs. Pascal Abidor is an American citizen who has frequently made trips from Canada to the US, so why was this trip so different. Pascal’s numerous trips to the various Middle Eastern countries of Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon rose suspicions among the Border Patrol. It is understandable from an officer’s point of view to be suspicious of someone who has continued to travel to the Middle East, an area that is infamous for its hostility towards its own people and the U.S. Even still the procedure that was taken was a bit over the top.

All of his personal effects were searched including his electronic devices, which is what makes this story so interesting. Since when and why does national security include searching laptops? Border Patrol asked Abidor to turn on his laptop so they may search files that have been stored, including pictures. Some of those photos he had downloaded from the internet of Islamic militants that were to be used for research as an Islamic Studies major; these photos were seen as a threat. Officials escorted Abidor for further inappropriate questioning, leading to his arrest and seizure of his laptop for eleven days.
A law has not been set to allow government officials to specifically search electronic devices. So it is not strange for travelers to believe that their civil rights are being infringed upon when allowing officials to search electronics. CBS News reported that since 2008 there have been 11,890 travelers subjected to searches of electronic devices. If this is a new procedure that will be implemented at airports and borders then a law should in place that specifically mentions that it is lawful for such searches to be conducted. Creating such a law will put travelers more at ease when they are asked to have their personal items searched. A major reason why people may be hesitant to allow a search of a laptop is the amount of private information that is stored in memory. For example, laptops are used to pay bills which can store banking information even after one has cleared their cookies. Someone who is technologically savvy can press a few keys and go deep into the computer’s brain and be able to retrieve the banking information. Even though it is the government we are dealing with one can never be too careful when protecting their personal information.
CBS News reported that there must be “reasonable suspicion” for a search to be conducted, if not it violates ones “Constitutional rights to privacy and free speech.”  Government attorneys stated in the CBS News report that border agents have more leeway than police when it comes to searches in that a warrant is not always required. Doesn’t common sense say that if you need a search warrant to accomplish a task, then what you’re doing will be infringing upon my civil rights without one? The key word used in the written report was “traditionally,” which can be interpreted as a custom but not a law. If the country based their methods of enforcement on customs then this would be an unstable country. Laws provide stability, comfort and guidance. The laws are clear-cut in what is right and what is wrong, thereby giving citizens a clear understanding of what their rights are. In the case of Abidor what was the “reasonable suspicion,” his many trips to the Middle East? When is it a crime for someone to enjoy travelling? Why couldn’t personnel make the connection that Abidor is an Islamic Studies student and his travels could be part of his research? For someone to be treated as a criminal though they have no criminal record is cause for protest. Technically since there is no law stating laptop searches can be conducted, are our Constitutional rights could be seen as violated. The government is trying to protect us but should that include an invasion of privacy. How much can we truly trust the intentions of the government?