iPhone Tracking

Pursuing iPhone Thief, Officer Knew Right Buttons to Push is a cute little tale of a thief’s comeuppance and a perfect microcosm of the tradeoffs between security and privacy. The article relates how a New York City cop used the Find My iPhone app to locate and recover a stolen iPhone (and arrest the thief) in less than 30 minutes. The app is free to download and install and simple to use: enter the Apple ID and Apple Store password of the target phone in the app’s search screen, select Go, and the phone’s location pops up on Google Maps. You can track the phone as its location changes, lock it, and play a submarine-sonar beeping sound or send and display a message on it. All that’s required is that the target phone be signed into and have Track My Phone enabled on Apple’s iCloud.

And that’s where one trades privacy for security. Once activated anyone who knows the owner’s Apple ID and password can track the phone’s location. My wife left the house early this morning to play tennis. After reading the article I checked her location–indeed she was at the tennis facility. (Current iPhone technology does not allow me to verify that she was indeed “playing tennis” there.)

Comforting, or creepy?

ACTA

As reported in “Meet SOPA’s Evil Twin, ACTA,” SOPA’s demise has brought the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement–ACTA–into focus. (The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has posted ACTA’s text.)  The U.S. was among the group of nations that signed ACTA last October; 22 European countries signed it last Thursday, prompting protests throughout Europe (ars technica, “Opponents protest signing of ACTA without adequate debate“). The U.S. signed ACTA as an Executive Agreement that (the Obama administration claims) does not change U.S. law and thus need not be submitted to Congress, limiting public commentary on its provisions.  Jack Goldsmith and Larry Lessig challenged the Constitutionality of the administration’s secret ACTA negotiations in a  March 2010 Washington Post Op-Ed.

[ACTA’s] proposals [contained in a leaked January 2010 draft] might or might not make sense. But they ought at least be subject to public deliberation. Normal constitutional procedures would require the administration to submit the final text of the agreement for Senate approval as a treaty or to Congress as a “congressional-executive” agreement. But the Obama administration has suggested it will adopt the pact as a “sole executive agreement” that requires only the president’s approval.

Such an assertion of unilateral executive power is usually reserved for insignificant matters. It has sometimes been employed in more important contexts, such as when Jimmy Carter ended the Iran hostage crisis . . .

The Supreme Court, however, has never clarified the limits on such agreements. Historical practice and constitutional structure suggest that they must be based on one of the president’s express constitutional powers (such as the power to recognize foreign governments) . . .

Joining ACTA by sole executive agreement would far exceed these precedents. The president has no independent constitutional authority over intellectual property or communications policy, and there is no long historical practice of making sole executive agreements in this area. To the contrary, the Constitution gives primary authority over these matters to Congress, which is charged with making laws that regulate foreign commerce and intellectual property.

Obscured by SOPA, ACTA managed to fly under the radar to multi-national ratification. The question is whether it’s too late.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) joined the chorus of criticism this week when he called ACTA “more dangerous than SOPA” at a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s not coming to me for a vote,” he said. “It purports that it does not change existing laws. But once implemented, it creates a whole new enforcement system and will virtually tie the hands of Congress to undo it.”

Show Your Civic Illiteracy

For proof of how many Americans fail to comprehend the scope of fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution–not that more proof is needed–read this story about a high school student who successfully challenged the presence of a Christian prayer that has been affixed to the wall of her public school for almost 50 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion.

In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group.

Based on the presence of this prayer in a public school for 49 years and the response of some of its inhabitants to Jessica Ahlquist’s assertion of a well-settled principle established by the First Amendment’s establishment clause I agree that Cranston is indeed “a dense city.” The decision’s opponents are of course entitled to voice their opinions, but one wishes they demonstrated some knowledge of establishment clause jurisprudence before excoriating her.

Educate, Then Legislate

Researching the policy debates surrounding SOPA I came across “Dear Internet: It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How Congress Works.” Clay Johnson, its author, posted it in response to “Dear Congress: It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How the Internet Works,” which rightfully criticized members of Congress for their wilfull ignorance of fundamental aspects of Internet architecture during debates on SOPA. Johnson’s point is that “online activists, the free culture crowd, and the pro-open and free Internet crowd needs to get a clue too. See — it’s just as important for us to understand how Congress works as it is for the Congress to understand how the Internet works. In Washington, those who ‘educate’ Congress the best usually end up with the winning legislation.” As a teacher this is what most interests me, helping students understand how policy is translated into legislation and other modes of regulation. I’m not talking about the mechanics of How a Bill Becomes a Law, but understanding that law is the manifestation of policy. The topic of tomorrow’s Internet law class is “Architecture, Values, and Regulation,” introducing students to Larry Lessig’s concept that with respect to the Internet, Code is Law. (Here’s Lessig’s 2000 article by that title in Harvard Magazine; he developed the concept most fully in Code v.2.) It’s not surprising that after years of being the foremost thinker about modes of Internet regulation Lessig turned his attention to how money, lobbying, and corporate influence affects how policy becomes law.