Author Archives: sglitowitz


“TrapWire is a counter-terrorism technology company that produces a homonymous predictive software system designed to find patterns indicative of terrorism attacks” (Wikipedia). According to Wikileaks information this program takes information gathered from video cameras in major cities (Washington DC and Seattle are mentioned by name) and provides the ability to detect persons, or suspicious behavior. Wikileaks also revealed that TrapWire is owned by the company Abraxas which is staffed by ex-CIA members with a lot of experience and time in the CIA.

Consider a few of these cases through the eye of common sense and rule utilitarianism.

If a city has a warrant to surveil a person, TrapWire allows the process to be mostly automated within city limits saving the city time and money. This appears to be a legally and morally (again, rule utilitarianism) right because the city received a warrant through the judicial process which is supposed to err on the side of caution with respect to a citizens rights

Now consider a crime that has been committed and the police find a suspect. The suspect is convicted because TrapWire tracked his movements back showing motive and premeditation resulting in the death penalty. In this case it seems that TrapWire is functioning to illegally surveil the suspect because the city never received a warrant through the judicial process before hand to track the suspect. On the other hand, if the city were to piece together the same information by looking through every video camera in the city, would that be considered good sleuthing? Now the rule utilitarian has to start creating a lot of sub-rules to handle these situations specifically.

If the judicial process could be trusted then authorities using TrapWire would be doing so in a manner that would be applicable in all situations. But who’s watching the watchers?

Printer Unique Identification Technology

According to this article the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been aware of and alerting the public to unique printer identification or “printer dots” since about 2004. It goes on to state that the companies who have implemented this have done so of free will and in collusion with the United States government. The EFF has kindly provided a list of printers that have been tested for “anomalous yellow dots” that indicate unique identification. This article explains what the results mean and how they were obtained as to expose their methodology to as much scrutiny as possible. According to this document obtained by the EFF through a Freedom of Information Act request Canon, Brother, Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Konica, Minolta, Mita, Ricoh, Sharp, and Xerox are complicit in these acts.

The implementation of a tracking device, especially without informing the citizen/consumer of its existence, is very troubling because it directly violates the right to anonymous, free speech, a pillar of our cultural identity. A more troubling idea is that not only can the government read and interrupt this data, but so can anybody with the knowledge to do so which includes _AT LEAST_ the a handful of people in each of the above mentioned companies. This also opens the door for a person or persons to forge a paper from another persons printer and use it against them while being much harder to detect or disprove.

Interestingly enough act utilitarianism could plausibly used to justify this, especially since most people are ignorant of this fact, but the more applicable idea of moral rights theory is in a strange stalemate depending on who is asked. Founding father Ben Franklin stated “[s]ell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power,” or more colloquially, “[h]e who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”

Are the freedoms sacrificed worth the security gained?

More IP Shenanigans

This article covers a few high profile cases related to intellectual property. It discuses how Apple is looking to patent “a combination of a sensor, processor and what Apple calls a ‘protective mechanism’ all within the handheld device.” Google is fighting anti-trust law suit which allegates that Google promotes its own travel services too widely, “stifl[ing] competition in the advertising industry.” Disney and other production companies sued Isohunt claiming they facilitate copyright infringement.

The case with Apple is an excellent example of how the patent system can stifle creativity and progress. Their description is so generic that it will prevent any company from devloping a protective device even if it uses an entirely different methodology to achieve the same goal. Apple is trying to patent the entire concept of protecting a “handheld device”, not just a method of doing so. This case shows the legal processes and protections undermining undermining progress.

The case with Google counterpoints Apple by showing how a company has thrived in the face of government opposition by creating an effective advertisement system without attempting to prevent other companies from doing the same.

Lastly the case involving Isohunt illustrates the paradox of how intellectual property rights are handled. Isohunt provides the ability for users to share torrrents similarly to how Google allows users to share content on Youtube or provide their [Googles] search functionality. Disney and Paramount Pictures are not suing Google in spite of the numerous links and videos that infringe upon copyright on a much larger scale, so why Isohunt? It appears these companies are preying on a weaker company in order to set or reinforcea legal precedence.

And yet, a persons property is do with what they wish, so by purchasing an album they may give it to whomever they wish. However, sharing the album with millions of people is clearly a violation of fair use, or is it?

A study done by the Institue for Prospective Technological Studies (European Commission) concludes that there would be a 2% drop in legal music sales if illegal filesharing web sites did not exist. Their research also showed that the majority of people who download music illegally would not buy music even if there were no filesharing sites. Other studies corroborate this claiming filesharers spend 30% more on music than those who do not fileshare.

With evidence that claims immoral  actions, according to Katianism or Rule Utilitarianism, actually profit for the people claiming to be harmed what are we to do?

Canadian Business Groups Lobby For Right To Install Spyware

I saw this article talking about how “a group of 13 industry associations – including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Marketing Association, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada” are petitioning for the ability to have unrestricted access to your computer and adjoining resources to prevent piracy. This quote, from the site, explains what is being requested.

This provision would effectively legalize spyware in Canada on behalf of these industry groups. The potential scope of coverage is breathtaking: a software program secretly installed by an entertainment software company designed to detect or investigate alleged copyright infringement would be covered by this exception. This exception could potentially cover programs designed to block access to certain websites (preventing the contravention of a law as would have been the case with SOPA), attempts to access wireless networks without authorization, or even keylogger programs tracking unsuspecting users (detection and investigation). Ensuring compliance with the law is important, but envisioning private enforcement through spyware without the involvement of courts, lawful authorities, and due process should be a non-starter.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other business groups want to ensure that the anti-spam law does not block their ability to secretly install spyware on personal computers for a wide range of purposes. In doing so, these groups are proposing to turn the law upside down by shifting from protecting consumers to protecting businesses. The comment period on the draft regulations may have closed, but it is not too late to tell Industry Minister Christian Paradis or your local Member of Parliament to reject demands that would gut the anti-spam bill and legalize spyware for private enforcement purposes.


The problem stems from the fact that these companies products are not a physical object that can only exist at one place at one time, but instead exist digitally and can be replicated. In this instance the involved companies and organizations are more than willing to sacrifice the right to privacy afforded to their customers in favor of allowing invasive monitoring software to “ensure” that their software is not being pirated.

Prior to this (as mentioned in the article) Sony caused a scandal by including in their compact discs a root kit to protect their intellectual property (digitalized music in this case). One problem was that their root kit created vulnerabilities in the customers machine making it susceptible to malware. The other problem was it violated the rights of customers and resulted in a number of law suits against Sony, and ultimately a discontinuation and removal of the root kit.

Other organizations such as the RIAA and MPAA have used a different tactic best described by Grand Moff Tarkin, “[f]ear will keep them in line.” This fear has been recently realized in the case of Aaron Swartz case, but has been going on for a while by bullying and extorting people with egregious lawsuits demanding huge sums of money to force an out of court settlement.

This doesn’t even address the issue of how much revenue is truly lost due to piracy? In this case it seems that the customer is best off voting with their dollars (or lack there of, OSS) and political processes when the opportunity permits.

To wrap it up, here is a humorous image illustrating the differences between pirated movies and purchasing the DVD.