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    Opinion Columns about Privacy and Computers, Cellphones, Social Networks and Security

    Here are a few recent opinion columns about privacy issues.

    New York Times: Cellphone Searches

    The New York Times editorial board wrote about searches of cellphones and a case recently decided by the Ohio Supreme Court:

    The Ohio Supreme Court has struck an important blow for privacy rights, ruling that the police need a warrant to search a cellphone. The court rightly recognized that cellphones today are a lot more than just telephones, that they hold a wealth of personal information and that the privacy interest in them is considerable. This was the first such ruling from a state supreme court. It is a model for other courts to follow. […]

    When the police arrested Antwaun Smith on drug charges they seized his cellphone and searched it, examining his call records. The police did not have a warrant or the consent of Mr. Smith.

    The Ohio Supreme Court ruled this month, by a 4-to-3 vote, that the search violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. […]

    Few federal courts have considered the issue of cellphone searches, and they have disagreed about whether a warrant should be required. The Ohio ruling eloquently makes the case for why the very personal information that new forms of technology aggregate must be accorded a significant degree of privacy.

    TechCrunch: Privacy Theater: Why Social Networks Only Pretend To Protect You

    Rohit Khare, the co-founder of Angstro, has built social address book He says this has given him insight into the privacy policies of social networking sites. He writes about the substantial problems he has found in the policies of Facebook and other such sites.

    I’d be wishing everyone a happier New Year if it were easier to mail out greeting cards to friends on Facebook and colleagues on LinkedIn. I’d like to use, our free, real-time social address book, but their ‘privacy’ policies prevent us from downloading contact information, even for my own friends.

    At least those Terms of Service (ToS) that force us to copy addresses and phone numbers one-by-one also prevent scoundrels from stealing our identity; reselling our friends to marketers; and linking our life online to the real world. Right?

    Wrong. When RockYou can stash 32 million passwords in the clear; when RapLeaf can index 600 million email accounts; and when Intelius can go public by buying 100 million profile pages; then our social networks have traded away our privacy for mere “privacy theater.” […]

    As long as the same information that social networks piously prohibit their own customers from using is being bought and sold on the open market by giant marketing companies, social networks are only pretending [to] protect your privacy.

    Tennessean: Security vs. privacy is a false choice

    Torin Monahan, an author and Vanderbilt professor, writes about privacy and security in the Tennessean.

    While surveillance may increase security or infringe upon privacy, it also commits government agencies to costly financial obligations and subjects people to intensified control. Each of these machines costs about $190,000, a major investment considering there are roughly 500 commercial airports in the U.S. One could say that no price is too high for security, but this ignores the fact that the would-be attacker, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, did pass through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which is one of the few airports screening passengers with backscatter machines. […]

    Security systems also control people in troubling ways. Airports are now notorious for their surveillance rituals. People line up, remove clothing and shoes, and submit to electronic and physical frisking — all without knowing their rights or the limits of TSA authority.

    All of this is part of a larger program to keep people compliant, uneasy and uncertain, ostensibly so that potential terrorists won’t be able to discern and exploit points of weakness. Nonetheless, there’s something inherently undemocratic about an illegible social space, wherein citizens are kept in the dark about their rights and forced to submit to ever-increasing surveillance.

    Red Tape Chronicles: 12 things computer users should fear in 2010

    Bob Sullivan writes about 12 threats to data privacy and security.

    [S]erious threats abound and bad guys are mostly still outpacing good guys in our virtual world, which will be slightly more dangerous than this year. Here are 12 reasons why:

    1. E-mail attachments are back

    The LoveBug and Melissa virus, which did bring the Web to its knees 10 years ago, both used the simplest of delivery mechanisms — an e-mail attachment.  Sure enough, that method stopped working after companies banned attachments and users wised up. Attachment viruses nearly dried up.  Then, a new generation of users came online who hadn’t learned the Melissa lesson and older users forgot. So this year, virus writers began dusting off their old methods and — surprise! — they worked again.  Next year, be on guard for unexpected attachments,  says Carl Leonard, head of the Websense threat lab.

    “Sometimes you think this stuff has gone away and then it comes back,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing an uptick in Trojans that come through e-mail.” […]

    4. Social networking

    Facebook-based attacks grew dramatically in 2009, and will continue to increase in the coming year.

    There are basically two flavors — viruses that take advantage of the platform’s liberal rules for information sharing among applications; and impersonation/identity theft, where a criminal hijacks an innocent user’s account and tricks trusted friends and family. But other variations are certain to appear. Criminals can use publicly available information to personalize attacks (“Hey, check out these pictures from Paramus Catholic’s Class of 1986!”). Facebook is easily farmed for password-generating information such as “What was your high school mascot?”  And all those “click here” e-mails from Facebook are a Christmas present for would-be phishers, who can easily imitate them.

    “People are getting comfortable in social networking situations and I think that they should really re-examine their level of trust and interaction,” said Mary Landesman, senior security researcher at ScanSafe.

    And remember, even if Facebook old-timers are too smart for all these tricks, the service is teeming with older newbies.  If you’ve been friended by mom (or grandma) you know what I mean.  They’ll have to endure the Facebook privacy learning curve, too. Be generous.  Spend a few minutes with older relatives this holiday getting them to tighten up their privacy settings. […]

    8. Cell phones

    Speaking of iPhones, 2010 might be the year that we see a significant attack against cell phone or smart phone users. Such an attack has been predicted for years, and has not yet materialized.  But each year, cell phones become more powerful, contain more personal information and are used for more financial transactions. In other words, they become “juicier targets” for criminals, says Lee.  An obvious attack — like something that wipes out phone books — might not be the breakthrough cell phone virus.  Lee says consumers should be on the lookout for a simple automated way to use mobile phones to steal cash. One possibility: some TV shows urge consumers to send text messages at $1 apiece. What happens when a criminal figures out how to redirect such messages, or initiate them?

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