Archive for the ‘US’ Category

Being a little more anonymous online

November 9, 2016

With increased State sponsored surveillance and changes in the political tenor even in formerly moderate countries more people are asking “how to I keep my communications secure?”.

Sadly for most people the complexities of being totally opaque are too onerous, add too much complexity, or are simply not worth the effort.

But there’s no need to give up totally and just roll over. There are still things you can do to keep some of your communications at least less likely to be exposed.

If you’re in a vulnerable group – which sadly in the US today potentially means people of color, (im)migrants, women and those who don’t fit into conventional gender roles – then maybe it’s time to start taking a bit more care about your digital footprints…


Why, after 8 years, do my vaccinations suddenly matter?

July 1, 2014

As anyone who has jumped through the migration hoops to get a US Green Card there are many parts of the process that don’t actually hold up to inspection by the Socratic method. Or for that matter any other measure of common sense.

The one that baffles me today (while I wait for the totally opaque PERM process to complete) is vaccination. (more…)

Where did America’s enemies come from?

July 15, 2013

America is surrounded by enemies. Overseas there are Insurgents, Freedom Fighters, Rebels, an Axis of Evil and a dozen other threats to American interests. Closer to their white picket fences and apple pie are Home Grown and Self Radicalized Terrorists.

These demonized nebulous threats are being used to strip away years of progress – from rights and protections granted by the Constitution through to the simple expectation of being able to travel without running the gauntlet of mall cop security theater. They are being use to justify wholesale spying on the American people and politicians and citizens of other sovereign – in some cases “friendly” – nations.

The question people should be stepping back and asking is how this happened. They need to do what they can to stop it, but it helps to understand why America has all these threats leveled against it.

Externally the threats have come from American interference – CIA training rebels and freedom fighters who promised to help further America’s interests in a region (who then resented American interference and use the same techniques against their former allies) or outright agression in the name of “bringing democracy” or a blustering self justified search for weapons of mass destruction. In many cases those seemingly altruistic actions have been driven by commercial interests or to secure resources. Why doesn’t America bring the same effort to bear in mineral poor parts of Africa as it does “liberating” oil rich Middle Eastern territories.

Then we have the home grown terrorists. Some of those are simply disturbed individuals, but many are driven to the point of desperation in a country which simply doesn’t care. They feel deserted, betrayed or abandoned by a system which should have supported them – again, the race for the almighty dollar is dismantling the education system, making healthcare less accessible than in some third world countries and reminding us all that the origin of the world privilege was “private law” where money talks and big corporations and the rich very rarely pay for their actions.

Of course with the current climate of fear and the media slavering over every opportunity to monetize the collective paranoia anyone can be labelled a terrorist – a protester in the Texas legislature who just wants to be heard; a whistleblower who exposes criminal abuses of power or negligence; a person who just wants some fair recompense from a bank that illegally foreclosed on them with no restitution required.

The upshot of this is a that America is isolating itself. Companies and countries are thinking twice about doing business or associating with America. Americans are not welcome. And this seems to fit in with the other policies which are coming to the fore in a country determined to deliver on the blueprints laid out in the Handmaiden’s Tale and Idiocracy.

More TSA weirdness

February 27, 2013

As I travel a fair bit for work and pleasure I get to enjoy the TSA “Freedom Massage” and the rest of the theater on a fairly frequent basis. At the checkpoint I’ve seen fairly inconsistent behavior even at the same airport (and while there are some terrible jumped up lunchroom monitors wearing the uniform there are also some great folks manning the front line as well).

Not the main topic of this post, but as I’ve noted before I opt out for freedom. But when I do I also get to skip the metal detector. If I was really determined to get something sharp passed the pat down I’m sure I could find a way. (more…)

Why play by the rules?

August 30, 2011

When we moved to the US we did everything by the book. We produced the reams of paperwork and stood in line in Embassies and at the immigration desk at the airport and tried not to get too frustrated by the inane processes and offhand welcome we got.


Because we like it here we changed visa status from E-3 (Australian reciprocal) to H-1B (and my wife and daughter to H4 – a status which has no employment authorization) and went through even more paperwork (but a lot of duplication) and endured the nerve wracking trip home to sit in a queue at the US Embassy for a 5 minute “interview” to get the new stamps (and then repeated the process for our renewal). At the same time we’re going through the Green Card process so there has been more paperwork, more forms to fill in and the wonderful Labor Certification process (advertising my job to see if we can find someone local to do it… luckily we didn’t, so I get to stay and I’m comfortable in the fact that I’m not stealing jobs from Americans)


As an Employment Based Green Card applicant filed in the EB-3 category though it looks like another 6 years or so before the backlog clears and we get a decision (yes, that’s another 6 years where my wife and daughter can’t work but we don’t even know what the outcome will be) but that’s okay… we’re working through it and keeping our fingers crossed.


But then we see stories in the press about how relatives of the US President manage to get Social Security Numbers even though they are here illegally and have outstanding deportation orders against them and that there is a plan to grant an effective amnesty to 300,000 illegal immigrants and provide them with work permits and you start to wonder if being patient and playing by the rules is the right way to go?!


If the Government is choosing to reward illegal immigrants with expedited reviews of their cases and work permits what impact will that have on the backlog for legal migrants, and the efforts to address the issues faced by H4 spouses and children of H-1B workers who can’t get a work permit until they are approved for a Green Card?


I understand this is a politically charged topic, I appreciate that for a number of illegals there are very compelling reasons and I realize that especially in the current economic situation this is a very contentious topic and there are no easy answers… but for a country founded on migration and defined by the inscription “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” on the Statue of Liberty it seems like a slap in the face to those who still want to make a home here


TSA – Boarding passes and ID checks

July 23, 2011

Every time you fly now in the US (and other places) you have to run the gauntlet of uniformed, unionized, shelf stackers who are providing the front-line troops for the Theatrical Security Agency and their contemporaries.

You’d think they would stop folks getting to the gate without valid IDs and boarding passes wouldn’t you?

The recent discovery of a traveler managing to board a plane with someone else’s boarding pass got me wondering how simple it was to actually get past security and while you may get turned away before you board a plane it’s just another demonstration of how farcical a lot of this knee-jerk political posturing is.

It turns out back in 2006 someone launched a site to let you print fake boarding passes. Rather than do something about the problem the FBI shut his site down and subjected him to investigation, though all charges were later dropped.

In 2008 – two years later – the TSA had a self-congratulatory blog post about how they’re aware of the problems posed by photoshop and are working to introduce more secure barcodes… in some airports, for some airlines, for flyers who are using mobile check-in, rather than print-at-home boarding passes.

Now, in 2011 while I have seen evidence of these the problem seems to be that the TSO’s are not always sure what to do when presented with one and, even worse, the handheld scanners seem to be in such short supply that trying to use one (as I did recently) requires a wait while they try and get a scanner to the desk or give up and just waive you through.

So, we know the checks for the boarding passes at least to get you airside are a joke, but at least they’re checking everyone’s ID right?

Well… maybe not. In the US if you refuse to show ID or claim to have simply forgotten it then you can still get past, though you’ll be subject to more questions (though in the first example the guy was able to use a library card as ID) so in theory you could bypass that check as well.

Couple these loopholes with the TSAs less than stellar record of stopping folks getting through checkpoints without the means to harm their fellow travelers and we have a pretty sorry state of affairs.

So, what would it take to close these loopholes, or at least tighten things up to require a more sophisticated attack? At the very least every TSO station needs to have the ability to confirm – in real-time – the validity of a boarding pass. Is the passenger who’s details appear on the card match the ID, do the details match the flight manifest, does the type of boarding pass (print-at-home, airline issued) match what the system think has been issued (has the passenger even checked in for this flight) as well as supplemental information like have they checked luggage (an international passenger with just a paperback and no checked luggage for instance should warrant a little more examination), and the system has to be applied across the board for everyone passing the gate.

There seem to be a number of other loopholes – airline staff get by with just a wave of their airline credentials, as do TSA agents even when they don’t appear to be recognized by colleagues. How about a separate “staff” enterance for them to stop them being held up by regular passengers (or causing frustration by queue jumping – I know they need to get to work, but it’s frustrating having them turn up en masse and totally disrupt a lane) and what about the ground staff, both airport and airline personnel as well as the guys delivering bottles of water to the newsagent… what checks do they face before they get airside?

The TSA have an important job to do – keeping travelers safe – but they appear to be expending a lot of effort, even a decade after 9/11, on looking busy rather than actually creating a secure environment…. And it’s Tax dollars and rises in ticket prices that are funding it so the day we stop questioning it is the day we say we’re happy with the way they’re doing their job.

Does the TSA think Terrorists are stupid?

June 25, 2011

I travel for business and pleasure fairly regularly and I like to play a little game I call “opting out for freedom” where I don’t subject myself to any security measure that isn’t applied across the board to every person getting within damaging range of an aircraft.

While I’m not an American, as I live here at the moment it’s interesting to watch how the TSA is using a nebulous threat to eat away at the historic protections, and accuse anyone who questions their actions or motives of being a terrorist.

The Constitution of the United States, a document which is supposed to set out the rights for its citizens and ensure that the Government does not abuse those it is elected to govern, includes as part of the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” … some would argue that the new image scanners and pat downs are a clear violation of that. It’s interesting to read the comments from “Blogger Bob’s” post when the TSA implemented the new “enhanced pat-downs” and the total lack of meaningful response. More PR drivel from the Theatrical Security Agency.

“Theatrical Security Agency?” you say. “Surely you got that wrong?”

Well, I don’t think so. All of their measures are reactive (taking off your shoes, no liquids over 3oz) and even the new scanners (millimeter wave and backscatter x-ray) have been demonstrated to be flawed at detecting the very things they claim to detect (but don’t point that out or the lobbyists who work for the firms earning millions of dollars to install these devices will shout you down). Do they make us any safer? I suspect not… in fact I couldn’t find a single press release about a successful nullification of a security threat thanks to all these measures.

In fact, it’s possible to argue that by concentrating people at checkpoint lines and piling up even mundane confiscated items (like nail-clippers or Utili-keys) the security agencies are creating potential death-traps. Luckily only in fiction so far (though a similar attack has already happened in Russia)


Iain M Banks – Transition

But this is all old news.

Why do I wonder if the TSA thinks Terrorists are stupid?

I’ve noticed something travelling over the last few months which disturbs me. Because if I notice it without evil intent and simply as a way to make my journey through the enforced conga line of my (currently twice weekly) TSA then you have to imagine that terrorists may have thought this out themselves (after all if they are clever enough to wage international war against America, get paid and trained by America, learn how to fly planes in America they’re probably smart enough to spot the obvious)

The new scanners… are all theater. In every one of the airports I’ve travelled through in the past few months there’s one common factor… there is always a way to avoid them. In some airports there are lanes that simply don’t go past the scanner, and I’ve yet to see a person forced to go around to a machine. In other airports there are often lanes where the scanner isn’t operating or not staffed so everyone is simply going through the metal detector arch. Even in places where it’s in use the “random” selection is anything but… just the other morning I watched the 50+ people in the queue ahead of me get split so alternate pairs were sent through the new imaging device… I was able to save myself the trouble of opting out simply by timing when I stepped away from the conveyor belt after consigning my bag to the xray.

As September 11 2009 proved terrorists aren’t always lone wolves (in fact as TWA 847 and 840 or the simultaneous hijacking of 5 aircraft in 1970)… what’s to stop a number of people walking past security with the parts to a weapon or the components of a liquid bomb that then get consolidated. Heck, I’ve even arranged travel before so I could meet a colleague at an airport – in our case it was to exchange paperwork, but once inside the security cordon with some imagination and a decent travel budget, it’s probably not hard to muddy the waters though backtracking via the now ubiquitous security cameras would at least help unravel the trail after any such event.

The problem the TSA, and others like them, face is huge. They have to be seen to be doing something but they can never be 100% successful. Politically motivated, doomed for failure, influenced by lobbyists, staffed by minimum wage unionized civil servants they know they are doomed to failure but while the money’s there for the taking (and conspiracy theorists would suggest they can be used to wind back civil liberties) they’ll keep on doing what they do.

There may be no solution, and there’s certainly no easy answer. Redesigning airports from the ground up to provide multiple layers of security, adding Israeli style human filters, implementing 100% coverage with security measures, reducing hand luggage while increasing automated scanning of cargo, stopping the CAI meddling in other counties affairs and stop going to war to support the oil/mineral economy – these will all help… but faced with a determined threat all these prophylactic measures will do is make the terrorist work harder to achieve their goals.

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” – Benjamin Franklin.