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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Black Sites and Digital Rights 

The fabulous thing about a culture that rewards those who shirk responsibility and accountability is that it engenders such arrogance that the self-absorbed perpetrators do a better job of digging their own graves than anyone else could ever wish to. Cases in point. Let’s begin with Sony BMG, who arrogantly decided to secretly install a rootkit -- a hacking tool widely considered to be spyware -- in the computers of their consumers (without their permission) as a component of XPC, the digital rights management technology they used, developed by a small but arrogant upstart start-up in the UK, First 4 Internet.

All it took was one smart and enterprising expert by the name of Mark Russinovich to reveal the sneak attack by Sony – and make no mistake; this was nothing short of an outright attack on its own customer base. And under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which can carry fines and prison terms for anyone who "knowingly causes the transmission of a program ... and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage, without authorization, to a protected computer," Sony’s attack is not simply malicious, it’s criminal.

Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG's Global Digital Business President, dismissively downplayed the violation before an avalanche of negative publicity forced Sony to not simply apologize, but to withdraw the CD’s containing the XPC and offer compensation. (If not to ward of criminal and class action civil lawsuits). "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?" he said in a November 4, 2005 interview on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Where oh where is Courtney Love when one needs her?

While Sony BMG deserves every piece of shit flung their way, it should be remembered that their CEO since August 2004, Andy Lack, a virgin in the music industry, but a well-used whore elsewhere, previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer for NBC, overseeing among other things, entertainment, news and MSNBC. This is the asshole who claims to have redefined “news” by exploiting JonBenet Ramsey more in her death than she was in her short little life.

Sony is already trying to distance itself from First 4 Internet from whom it licensed the XCP malware. The regret -- being caught fucking consumers up the digital ass without protection or consent -- is best expressed by the pomposity of First 4 Internet's CEO, Mathew Gilliat-Smith, who told CNET: “I think this is slightly old news… Obviously there are a lot of people who don't like the technology, and we will take note if we need to.” Take note, fuckface – you do need to.

As if criminal activity that might have occurred is lessened by the passage of time.

As a matter of fact, aside from making your hard drives vulnerable to gang rapes, the other technology First 4 Internet develops is called ICA (Image Composition Analysis) which they market as being the closest thing to artificial intelligence in terms of filtering “pornographic” and “inappropriate” content, by supposedly using text, image and context filters. But at the end of the day, this too, will fall short of the hype or deliver the wrong result and the wrong message. Yep, those exercising inappropriate conduct have designed technology to discern inappropriate content.

They believe, for instance, that they can differentiate between Dirty Daisy and Ann Coulter, even if Daisy is sitting demurely with her legs crossed in a men’s locker room, or Ann is sitting, typically, in a mini skirt with her legs open on the set of Hannity and Colmes. And yes, they know the difference between Michelangelo’s David and Chi Chi LaRue’s David because Michelangelo’s David is so inadequately endowed it would probably be tagged as kiddie porn.

I haven’t studied their technology with the precison of a Mark Russinovich, but let’s just say I’m skeptical. If First 4 Internet or Mathew Gilliat-Smith doesn’t like what I have to say, I’ll take note if I need to.

When Washington Post’s Dana Priest recently reported on the existence of a "covert prison system" or “black sites” set up by the CIA four years ago, her use of confidential sources sparked outrage – particularly as Washington is still reeling from the Valerie Plame CIA outing.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) fired off a strongly worded request that a bicameral investigation into the disclosure be convened immediately. Until fellow Republican, Trent Lott, suggested Republicans were most likely the source of the leak (again!). Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) followed, suggesting waiting until the Justice Department completes its own inquiry.

The “black sites” are nothing short of Stalin style gulags where the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe. Instead of worrying about the reports of illegal detention, cruel and inhumane torture and other horrors that further damage America’s frayed credibility, Frist revealed where his real concerns lie: “I am not concerned about what goes on and I'm not going to comment about the nature of that… My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security – period. That is a legitimate concern."

President Bush insists America does not torture. As he threatens his first ever veto if congress refuses to exempt the CIA from "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees. And as Dick Cheney trolls the back halls of congress, browbeating and ripping the toenails off any senators that opt for humane treatment of prisoners by the CIA. The senate voted 90 – 0 to include the CIA in America’s policy regarding the detention and interrogation of prisoners, both at home and abroad.

We’re not sure if that includes the “black sites” but no matter. When Abu Ghraib II opens wide at the box office, we’ll simply trot out Karen Hughes to pretty up America’s image, along with Jerry Bruckheimer. Maybe the White House can hire Ann Coulter instead.

Or perhaps we can just take a page from the Sony playbook/station...most people don't know what a covert CIA gulag is, so why should they care about it?

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