The Unibomber Had A Point. [UPDATED]

FX has a new limited series about the hunt for the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski. I didn’t pay much attention to the story when it was going on; I just thought it was one more Harvard-grad-turns-serial-killer episode, and that was that. I certainly didn’t pay attention to his “manifesto.” The series, however, enlightened me.  As I understand it, Ted believed that technology was destroying society, making us all slaves to it, and taking the joy out of life. I have yet to see how blowing people up addressed this problem, but then he shouldn’t have to be right about everything. The evidence has been mounting since 1995, when he killed his final victim,that  the Unabomber  wasn’t quite as crazy as we thought.

I could bury you in links, but will not.  We are slaves, for example, to passwords. I teach lawyers that their devices containing client confidences should, to be properly protective of them under ethics standards, have passwords of at least 18 random letters, characters and numbers, with the password for every such device being different, and all of them changed every month. Or you can go the John Podesta route, use “password.” and get hacked, and eventually disciplined by your bar association, once they decide to get serious.

[CORRECTION: In the original post, I relayed a link to a site where you can check your password to see if it’s been compromised. I had been forwarded the link by another tech-interested lawyer. But as I was just alerted by a commenter (Than you, Brian!) It’s apotential trap and an unethical site, making you reveal your password to check it. I apologize for posting it. See how dangerous and tricky this stuff is? See? SEE?.I fell for the trap of depending on technology to protect us from technology! Ted warned us about that, too.]

Then there is this feature in The Atlantic. An excerpt: Continue reading

THREE Comments Of The Day (Really Useful Ones): “Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick On The Internet Privacy Bill”

There were not one but three excellent, informative, detailed comments, one after the other,  in response to the post about the GOP’s elimination of the recent Obama FCC regulations of Big Data gathering by broadband providers. Technology competence is, I believe, the greatest looming ethics issue for the professions, and it is important for the general public as well. All three of these Comments of the Day are educational. If only the news media and elected officials were as well-informed as Alex, John Billingsley, and Slick Willy.

I am very proud of the level of the discourse on Ethics Alarms, and these three Comments of the Day on the post Ethics Quote Of The Month: Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick On The Internet Privacy Bill are prime examples.

First, here’s slickwilly:

How to be safe with electronic data

First rule: anything online is vulnerable, no matter who secures it. It follows that any computer/device connected online is also vulnerable.

Second rule: Public WiFi is hack-able, and doing so is not that difficult. Someone just has to want to. Using it for playing games could make you vulnerable, and using it to access your financial information (banks, brokers, etc.) is stoopid

Third rule: Anything you do electronically is forever. Any tweet, snap chat, Facebook post, cell phone text or conversation, email, web post, browsing activity, and anything else may be saved by someone. Some of those are harder to get than others: browsing activity takes a snooper on the data line, or a court order to set a snooper up at your ISP. For instance, all cell phones activity is now all saved by the NSA, including where the phone was when. No, no one looks at it, not until they have a reason to research a person, perhaps years later. ‘Smart’ TVs can record you in your own home, without your knowledge, unless you take steps to stop it (electrical tape over cameras/microphones is a start, but still not enough)

Fourth rule: Any public activity can be recorded today. Besides CCD cameras everywhere and license plate readers on many roads, facial metrics can track you in most urban and many rural areas. Even going into the desert or mountains could be spotted via satellite, should the motivation be enough to look your way.

So don’t leave your computer connected to the Internet 24/7 (a power strip that stops electricity from reaching the computer helps cut connectivity when ‘off’), do nullify the ability of other devices to spy on you in your home, and never say anything electronically you do not want going public. Use complex passwords, and never the same for multiple sites. Password safes are better than written notes (and Apple Notes are silly to use for this.) How much you protect yourself depends on your level of paranoia.

Do you have something to hide? A secret you would rather not be made public? Do not document it electronically! Or use the method below.

Now, how to be safe with electronic information: Place it exclusively on an air-gapped (no network connection at all) computer. Place that computer in a heavy steel safe. Encase that safe in concrete, take it out to a deep ocean trench, and drop it overboard. Forget the coordinates where you dropped it.

The point is, nothing is fool-proof

You can take steps to lower the probability that your information gets out, but even using paper and quill pen was only so good as the physical security the document was placed under. Learn some simple steps and you will remove yourself from the radar of most predators. People are careless, apathetic, and just plain dumb, so anything you do helps keep you safer.

I keep such information in a secure, encrypted flash drive that is not stored in a computer USB slot. Could someone break the encryption, should they find the drive and wish to spend the effort? Sure. But if they want me that badly they will get me, one way or another. Why would they? I do not have any deep dark secrets or hidden crimes in my past. Even so, why should my business be available to anyone just to browse through?

Your mileage may vary, but doing nothing is unethical in my responsibilities to my family.

Now John Billingley’s contribution:

Continue reading

Calling Balls And Strikes

Robot Umpire

Calling balls and strikes in major league baseball has to be mechanized. This is obvious and beyond argument, and the only question is what will finally make the bitter-enders abandon their rationalizations and capitulate to reality.

I last wrote about this in 2012 in a post titled “Umpire Accountability, As the Day Of The Robot Approaches,” following a 1-0 game in which a batter in a position to tie the game was called out on strikes by an umpire named Larry Vanover, who rang him up with three balls out of the strike zone for the final 9th inning out. This particular contest was between two teams that had finished the previous season with one of them edging out the other for the play-offs by a single game, on the last day of the schedule. The pitches called strikes in this particular at bat weren’t even close to being over the plate. You could see that all three were wide with the naked eye as they arrived in the catcher’s mitt; you could see it in the computer graphic on the screen, and after the game, the pitches’ locations were charted to show that they were, in fact, balls. I wrote…

Baseball fans invest too much time and emotion into following the games and their teams to just shrug off results warped by obvious incompetence. The kind of atrocious umpiring demonstrated by Vanover…poses a direct challenge to baseball’s integrity. What will baseball’s leaders do about it?

They have only three choices:

1.They can, for the first time, take public and punitive action against umpires whose poor performance exceeds a missed call or a human mistake, and demonstrates inexcusable incompetence or a lack of professionalism. First time: a stiff fine. Second time: a suspension without pay. Third time: dismissal.I know that the umpires union in Major League Baseball protects its incompetents as zealously as the teachers unions, but baseball has its product to protect.

2. Baseball’s leaders can make a commitment to automated strike and out calling, and cut back on crews to one field umpire to keep order and one booth umpire to read the printouts, watch the TV screen, and study the replays.

3. Baseball can reject integrity and credibility, and continue to let the Vanovers on the field wreck the games and alienate fans.

So far, disgracefully, the sport has chosen #3, but the clock is ticking. Continue reading

Comment of The Day…And An Ethics Quiz, Too! : “Ethics Quiz: The United Airlines Give-Away”

"Oh, this piece of junk? Yeah, who knows who its supposed to be---some guy named Veal or Beale or something painted it, I think. It's been in the attic. Make me an offer!"

“Oh, this piece of junk? Yeah, who knows who it’s supposed to be—some guy named Veal or Beale or something painted it, I think. It’s been in the attic. Make me an offer!”

The Ethics Quiz regarding whether or not it was unethical to take full advantage of United Airlines’  accidental fire sale on tickets spawned several good hypotheticals, including this one, from Tyrone T., an occasional Ethics Alarms commenter who, I happen to know, thinks about these matters as his occupation. I know the answer to this one (I’ve seen it before), so I’ll hold off until you’ve thought about it a while.

Here is Tyrone T.’s Comment of the Day on the post “Ethics Quiz: The United Airlines Give-Away”:

“So, if you are hired by your client to find the cheapest fare, can you act ethically and refuse to take advantage of the error? Consider the following:

“Alexander Mundy is a lawyer and an acknowledged expert in American painting. He has several clients who regularly retain him to negotiate the purchase of museum quality art. Recently, a client hired Mundy to negotiate the purchase of a portrait of George Washington as a young man.

“The client explained, ‘I saw it on a house tour five years ago and tried to buy it then, but the woman who owned it said it was a family heirloom and wasn’t interested in selling. I heard that she died recently and her husband is having an Estate Sale. You have authority to purchase the painting for up to $500,000.’

“Mundy goes to visit the old widower and asks whether he would be willing to sell ‘that picture of the young man there.’ Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The United Airlines Give-Away

"Hey everybody! Free fights!!!"

“Hey everybody! Free fights!!!”

Via Forbes:

“For fifteen tense minutes on Thursday afternoon, United Airlines’ fare booking engine was operating at full steam. Someone, likely a Flyertalk user, noticed that fares between Washington DC and Minneapolis were pricing at $10 and posted his finding onto the forum. Attention grew rapidly, with over 100 replies in just an hour, and the news spread to Twitter. The glitch in the system appeared to offer $0 fares plus $5 in tax for many domestic flights, and was apparently caused by human error. Some forum readers reported finding $10 flights between Washington DC and Hawaii, while others scooped up over a dozen tickets to destinations all over the country.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Week,

(as if you couldn’t guess), is:

Was it ethical for people to take advantage of this computer glitch and purchase tickets at an impossible discount?

I bet you also know what my answer is. Continue reading

Umpire Accountability, As The Day of the Robots Fast Approaches

If Robby replaces you, Larry, it's your own fault.

Are baseball’s umpires trying to get themselves replaced by machines? Or perhaps baseball’s brass are conspiring to allow incompetent and lazy umpires to do themselves in, as their miserable work wins over the traditionalists and the Luddites to mechanical ball and strike-calling and their overseers refuse to take decisive action against the worst officials they have. Whatever the explanation, today’s debacle ending the Tampa Rays-Red Sox game in Boston showed an appalling lack of accountability and professionalism in a segment of the game that is critical to its credibility and integrity. Continue reading

Oxymoron Alert: “Ethical Cheating”

What will they think of next?

From Arthur M. Harkins, Associate Professor based in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, University of Minnesota, and George Kubik, comes a scholarly paper that will have students cheering. Here is the abstract…you can buy the paper here.  Personally, I can tell where this is going, and I can think of more productive ways to spend my money.

Here is the abstract…a good workout for those of you who like to spot euphemisms, buzz words, and looming rationalizations:

Title:    “Ethical” cheating in formal education Continue reading

In Search of Accountability, Fairness, Justice and a Champion: the Unending Persecution of Anthony Graves

Job would pity Anthony Graves

Governments and other bureaucracies are capable of unimaginable callousness, stupidity, and wrongful conduct, allowing individual fools to multiply their power to harm exponentially, and then to see an inhuman computer-driven monstrosity run amuck as everyone denies responsibility. You could not devise a better example of this process than what Texas is doing to Anthony Graves.

He is an innocent man convicted of murder in 1994 who was released last October after spending 18 years in prison, condemned to death. He had been convicted with fabricated evidence and coached testimony employed against him by former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Siberia, and a state investigation got a Texas judge to set Graves free. But the maw of Texas bureaucracy wasn’t through ruining his life. Continue reading

Googling Potential Jurors in Court: Not Unethical, Just New

I sometimes facetiously tell legal ethics classes that the average judge is ten years behind the average lawyer in technological acumen, who is five years behind the average 13-year-old. The law and legal ethics consensus is always playing catch-up with technological developments, and every time technology is put to a new or unexpected use in a trial, some judge may react to it like a Cro-Magnon encountering his first flame.

This happened recently in the case of Carino v. Muenzen (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.) During jury selection, plaintiff’s counsel began using his laptop computer to go to the Web and seek  information on prospective jurors. Defense counsel objected,  and the following exchange took place: Continue reading

Thought Police at the Transportation Security Administration

Leave it to the Government to give us a definitive example of this problem: how do we tell if someone is being unethical or just infuriatingly dumb? Most of the time, of course, we can’t tell.  You can conclude, however, that when high-placed leadership in a government agency, without a legitimate reason for doing so,  takes action that makes those who worry about excessive government intrusion into private thought, speech and conduct quake in their boots, the end result is the same. Such actions cause an erosion of trust, the lifeblood of democratic societies. That makes the conduct dumb and unethical. Continue reading