Monday, November 07, 2011

Monday morning notes

1. The Supreme Court will hear the GPS case tomorrow. Really interesting issues. SCOTUS Blog has all the news and analysis.

2. Speaking of SCOTUS Blog, there is an excellent interview of Justice Stevens posted there. His former clerk Jeffrey Fisher asks some intriguing questions:

Question: Turning to the different chapters of the book, one of the things that leaps out to me are the different internal procedures the Court has used over the years. For example, you mention that when you were a law clerk under Chief Justice Vinson, the Court’s conferences [at which the Justices cast their initial votes on cases and vote on cert. petitions] ran differently than they do now. Back then, there was a rule that everybody had a chance to speak once before anyone voted. Now, by contrast, Justices vote in conjunction with making their initial comments. Do you think that difference matters in terms of outcomes?

Justice Stevens: I think there might well be cases in which the outcome could be affected. I remember debating this with Byron White, among others, who said, “Well really the vote is never firm until the whole conference is over — in fact until the opinion is released.” And, as you know, votes change from time to time.

But I do think that the old model tends to give the junior Justice a better opportunity to convince more senior members of the Court if everybody has withheld his or her vote until everybody has had something to say. It just seems to me it’s a better way to proceed. And as I think I say in the book, Bill Rehnquist and I used to sit next to each other in the conference when I was a junior Justice and he was next most junior, and we both raised it once or twice, and he felt the same way then. But he became Chief, and he changed his view.

Question: What do you think changed his view?

Justice Stevens: He became Chief.

Question: He wanted to vote first, do you think?

Justice Stevens: I think — that’s right, he recognized the fact that the order of precedence may have an impact.

3. Could hackers free everyone at FDC:

Federal authorities are concerned about new research showing U.S. prisons are vulnerable to computer hackers, who could remotely open cell doors to aid jailbreaks.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is “aware of this research and taking it very seriously,” spokesman Chris Burke told The Washington Times.

Mr. Burke was reacting to research by private experts who found that the security systems in most American prisons are run by computer software vulnerable to hackers.

“You could open every cell door, and the system would be telling the control room they are all closed,” said John J. Strauchs, a former CIA operations officer who helped develop a cyber-attack on a simulated prison computer system and described it at a hackers’ convention in Miami last week.

The security systems in most American prisons are run by special computer equipment called industrial control systems, or ICS. They are also used to control power plants, water treatment facilities and other critical national infrastructure. ICS has increasingly been targeted by hackers because an attack on one such system successfully sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program in 2009.
A malicious cyber-intruder could “destroy the doors,” by overloading the electrical system that controls them, locking them permanently open, said Mr. Strauchs, now a consultant who has designed security systems for dozens of state and federal prisons..

Hackers could “shut down secure communications” through the prison intercom system and crash the facility’s closed-circuit television system, blanking out all the monitors, he added.

4. Should those who view child porn on the internet get the same sentence (life) as murderers? The NY Times examines that question here:

A circuit court judge in Florida clearly thinks so: On Thursday, he sentenced Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca, a 26-year-old stockroom worker whose home computer was found to contain hundreds of pornographic images of children, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But the severity of the justice meted out to Mr. Vilca, who had no previous criminal record, has led some criminal justice experts to question whether increasingly harsh penalties delivered in cases involving the viewing of pornography really fit the crime. Had Mr. Vilca actually molested a child, they note, he might well have received a lighter sentence.

“To me, a failure to distinguish between people who look at these dirty pictures and people who commit contact offenses lacks the nuance and proportionality I think our law demands,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, who highlighted Mr. Vilca’s case on his blog, Sentencing and Law Policy.

Sexual offenses involving children enrage most Americans, and lawmakers have not hesitated to impose lengthy prison terms for offenders. In Florida, possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Mr. Vilca was charged with 454 counts of possession, each count representing one image found on the computer.

5. Can police set up a fake cell phone tower to get information from your phone without a warrant? Via Wired:

Federal authorities used a fake Verizon cellphone tower to zero in on a suspect’s wireless card, and say they were perfectly within their rights to do so, even without a warrant.

But the feds don’t seem to want that legal logic challenged in court by the alleged identity thief they nabbed using the spoofing device, known generically as a stingray. So the government is telling a court for the first time that spoofing a legitimate wireless tower in order to conduct surveillance could be considered a search under the Fourth Amendment in this particular case, and that its use was legal, thanks to a court order and warrant that investigators used to get similar location data from Verizon’s own towers.

The government is likely using the argument to avoid a court showdown that might reveal how stingrays work and open debate into the tool’s legality.

Stingrays spoof a legitimate cellphone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless communication devices into connecting to the tower, as they would to a real cellphone tower. When devices connect, stingrays can see and record their unique ID numbers and traffic data, as well as information that points to a device’s location. To prevent detection by suspects, the stingray sends the data to a real tower so that traffic continues to flow.

By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, authorities can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from the mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Down goes Frazier

RIP Smokin' Joe