schneier on wiretapping the internet

from Bruce Schneier:

Formerly reserved for totalitarian countries, this wholesale surveillance of citizens has moved into the democratic world as well. Governments like Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom are debating or passing laws giving their police new powers of internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell. More are passing data retention laws, forcing companies to retain customer data in case they might need to be investigated later.


Any surveillance system invites both criminal appropriation and government abuse. Function creep is the most obvious abuse: New police powers, enacted to fight terrorism, are already used in situations of conventional nonterrorist crime. Internet surveillance and control will be no different.


An infrastructure conducive to surveillance and control invites surveillance and control, both by the people you expect and the people you don’t. Any surveillance and control system must itself be secured, and we’re not very good at that. Why does anyone think that only authorized law enforcement will mine collected internet data or eavesdrop on Skype and IM conversations?

and the clincher:

It’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state. No matter what the eavesdroppers say, these systems cost too much and put us all at greater risk.

Building the technology to support pervasive surveillance is harmful. Participating in that form of surveillance, even/especially in exchange for free zombie-super-poking apps, is a shameful waste of liberty.

on civil civic politics

2010-09-29 - nenshi for mayor.jpg

I was going to write a long, rambling post about tolerance and freedom of speech, but can’t seem to do it without a strong infusion of bile against the mouthbreathing cretins that removed the candidate’s poster.

on perceived value

The University recently wrapped up some research into the perceptions of teaching and learning on campus. The report includes this gem, aimed squarely at the department I’ve been a part of for nearly a decade:

There were polarised views about the centralised professional development centre. These ranged from overt appreciation for their work and views that they supplied an essential service to faculty members, to criticism of the lack of specificity of topics, lack of flexibility in timing of courses, and concerns with the overriding emphasis on technology-facilitated learning. Undertaking professional development was reported as not rewarded or recognised in the university.

That doesn’t sound polarised to me – it sounds like faculty members think we perform a pretty important job, but are severely resource-constrained.

The “centralised professional development centre” has faced effective budget cuts every year of its existence. We have lost half of our staff over the years through layoffs and attrition. We’ve been told not to use the photocopier to keep costs down. We’ve seen the (soon to be retiring) Provost set up special projects that duplicate our services, funneling resources there rather than to the central professional development centre where they could benefit more than a handful of lucky chosen profs. We have to focus what we do in ways that can best help faculty who are under resource constraints of their own – leading to the emphasis on technology-facilitated learning.

I don’t see how we could possibly be doing any better, given the context we’re in.

no analytics

For the first time since I can remember, I’m not running any analytics packages on either of my blogs. I’d been running either SiteMeter, or Google Analytics, or Stats, or Piwik, since (almost?) day 1. I’d sworn off third party analytics apps recently, because I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to be feeding companies with detailed information about everyone that comes through my sites. And I realized today that I don’t need analytics at all any more.

Which is odd, considering how completely addicted I used to be to watching the “live visitors” views. I now only have access to Analog-processed apache logs, which are so crude that there can’t be any stats-lurking on my part.

The final kicker for me was the continued performance problems on my shared webserver. The database kept getting wedged, and the server was sluggish. So, I decided to punt the self-hosted Piwik analytics app as a final effort to lighten the load. Now, all visitors get served static (un-analytic-laced) files, and things should be nice and snappy. And maybe I’ll spend fewer brain cycles pondering the ups-and-downs of website traffic trends. That stuff just doesn’t matter.

I’ve deleted Piwik, nuked the database that it was building, and rebuilt the static file caches so they only contain clean files. Where possible, I’ve nuked the third-party stats records as well (but Stats doesn’t let me do that, even though I also sent an email to their support team asking nicely…).