Harmful Effects of Violent Video Games

Does playing violent video games increase tendencies toward violence?  Researched published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that it does.  As reported here, “[c]hildren and teenagers who play violent video games show increased physical aggression months afterward.”  The research is based on two studies performed in Japan and one performed in the U.S. and finds consistent results despite the cultural differences in the two countries.  “The study in the United States showed an increased likelihood of getting into a fight at school or being identified by a teacher or peer
as being physically aggressive five to six months later in the same school year.”  The author of one of the studies put the findings in context:  “A healthy, normal, nonviolent child or adolescent who has no other risk factors for high aggression or violence is not going to become a school shooter simply because they play five hours or 10 hours a week of these violent video games.”

This brings me back to last week’s discussion in Internet law about Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Child Pornography Prevention Act which, among other things, banned virtual child pornography.  The Court relied in part on the lack of a demonstrated causal link (not merely a correlation) between viewing child pornography and engaging in pedophilia.  Based on the reporting about this study, the link may be less tentative than I thought.

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OpenDNS

With Security at Risk, A Push to Patch the Web in today’s NY Times reminded me about OpenDNS, a free domain name system service.  The article, which deals with a serious security flaw discovered in the operation of the domain name system earlier this year by Dan Kaminsky, an Internet security expert, notes that individuals and small businesses can protect themselves from the flaw by using OpenDNS.   I configured my home network router for OpenDNS a few years ago and never thought about it again.  The router failed six months ago and, reading this article this morning, I realized I never changed the default server settings on the new router to use OpenDNS.  Making and implementing the changes took just a few minutes.  The OpenDNS site provides simple instructions for configuring popular routers and changing DNS settings in Macs, PCs, and other devices.  Take five minutes and do it.

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Privacy and Security

A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal titled NSA’s Domestic Spying Grows as Agency Sweeps Up Data (subscription required) reports that–

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called “transactional” data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA’s own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge’s approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA’s enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world’s main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called “black programs” whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

An NSA spokeswoman stated that the Agency “strictly follows laws and regulations designed to preserve every American’s privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” If you find comfort in that statement, consider this description of how the Agency uses its expanded domestic surveillance authority to pursue leads:

If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city — for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans –the government’s spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city. The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit.

The information collected “doesn’t generally include the contents of conversations or emails.” Generally. That’s a word we lawyers use to say “most of the time we don’t, unless we do.” Even without such content the NSA can identify the parties to phone calls and emails, their locations, and their cell phone numbers. The telecoms enable the NSA’s efforts either by copying all data through their switches to share with the NSA, or by ceding control to the NSA over the switches. The White House is pushing a bill that would immunize the telecoms from liability for privacy claims arising from this data collection. The NSA domestic surveillance program includes elements of and technology from the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness initiative that Congress defunded in 2003 following criticism of TIA’s potential for civil rights abuses. Before it was killed the Pentagon renamed TIA to Terrorist Information Awareness to make it seem less creepy. Now the NSA is implementing TIA through its “black budget,” beyond effective non-NSA scrutiny.

The Journal story reminded me of a recent Wired column by the always-prescient Bruce Schneier: What Our Top Spy Doesn’t Get: Security and Privacy Aren’t Opposites. Schneir’s column focuses on a proposal from National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell to monitor all–“that’s right, all–” Internet communications:

In order for cyberspace to be policed, internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search. “Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation,” he said. Giorgio warned me, “We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'”

This states it as baldly as one can. This administration’s top intelligence personnel consider every increase in security to require a corresponding decrease in privacy. As Scheier states “I’m sure they have that saying in their business. And it’s precisely why, when people in their business are in charge of government, it becomes a police state.” Scheier says privacy versus security is a false dichotomy, that the true dichotomy is between liberty and control–and that “liberty requires both security and privacy.”

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Predator Fear

David Pogue’s weekly column in the NY Times linked to a PBS Frontline video segment (part of its Growing Up Online series) titled The Child Predator Fear. Unlike most news treatments the Frontline piece does not raise hysteria. It focuses on a New Jersey family in which the mom fears stalkers lurking on Facebook and her teenage children possess common sense of online dangers. A telling moment: the mom voices specific concern about the safety of her attractive teenage daughters while the camera pans their faces. In other words, in sounding the alarm about Internet predation she is exposing her daughters to view of anyone who sees the video on television or online. The video closes with experts concluding that teenagers engage in risker behaviors and face more danger from their offline activities.

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What Was He Thinking? Department

USA Today reports that Steven Zahorksy of Bridgeport, Connecticut posted an ad on Craigslist–“Mary Jane in Fairfield County”–offering to sell half-ounces of “A Plus” marijuana for $220 and “B Plus” marijuana for $160. A Stamford police officer spotted the ad, arranged to meet Zahorsky at an I-95 rest stop, and there exchanged $320 cash for three-quarters of an ounce. (I guess there was a $10 discount for the extra quarter-ounce.) Police then arrested Zahorsky whose reported response was, in essence “Wha? Marijuana? Whaddya mean? I stopped for a burger.” In his wallet was $320, in his cellphone was the officer’s phone number, and in his apartment were more marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, a digital scale (are triple-beam balances too old-school) and a shotgun. The moral of this story is _____________________.

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Real Player Warning

Stopbadware.org–organized Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center and the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University–warns about the privacy failings Real Player 10.5 and Real Player 11.0. The former does not alert the user that its message center feature will display pop-up ads if the program is not registered, while the latter secretly installs the Rhapsody Player Engine and leaves it in place if the user uninstalls Real Player 11.0. For years I’ve avoided Real Player products as much as possible because, in my experience, they are intrusive and persistent. I gave the company another shot by using Rhapsody for a while but it was a constant headache. I had to uninstall it a few times and in each case it was like cleaning up after a terrible roommate who leaves dirty plates in the living room, smelly socks on the kitchen table, and wet towels on the bathroom floor. I canceled the account after a few rounds of this. Brian Krebs reports the story and proposes some alternatives to Real Player.

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Course wiki projects

Wednesday night I had dinner at Stella in the South End with my former business partner. We dissolved our financial advisory business in 1999 when we both started teaching full-time, me at BU School of Management and David in a Boston public school. He and his family have been in New Delhi for eighteen months where his wife took an assignment for her company and David played golf and taught in an American school. He related how his 10th-grade English students engaged in “deep reading” of classic literature–that is, reading, thinking, and making marginal notes in the velo-bound public-domain works he assembled for them–and turned Agamemnon into a play about a high-stakes soccer match between bitter foes that they then performed for classes of 6th-graders. These experiences echoed the written case assignments and wiki content creation I’ve introduced into some of my courses. Make someone write about what they read, make them find creative ways to engage with the course material, and they will understand it more fully.

The wiki assignments are new to real estate law and Internet law this semester. I want another vehicle for student engagement that can tap into and capture how they learn and create a repository of resources for current and future classmates. This week I sketched out rough ideas for how students might use the wiki with no sense of how they would react to them, and asked for volunteers to create the first projects. It has only been a few days but so far I am pleased. Their initial ideas have outstripped my thinking about what they might do. It proves to me again that the best ideas come from students.

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