Hackers as Racketeers

FBI Director Louis Freeh, who wants to restrict your right to use strong encryption that law enforcement can’t break, now thinks it’s a fine idea to apply federal racketeering laws (Register story) to hacking. Before you applaud, consider what this would mean.

The RICO statutes were originally aimed at so-called kingpins of organized crime, and then became a favored weapon in the War on Some Drugs. The laws invite abuse.

One of the biggest abuses has been in the area of forfeitures, where the government takes property allegedly used for illegal acts. The way the forfeiture laws work, however, is to give the government great incentive to take now and return never, even when the alleged criminal has done nothing wrong. That’s because the laws put the burden of proof on the person whose property has been taken — turning the Constitution on its head, but legally because, in the perverse logic accepted by our court, there’s no harm to the person. It’s legal theft, and law enforcement does it all the time.

But then, law enforcement would never target an innocent person, right? Just ask all the people who’ve been framed by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Latest Ridiculous Patent?

NextCard, the credit-card company, says it’s nearing a patent (San Francisco Chronicle) on applying for credit online. If so, this would be yet another example the Patent and Trademark Office gone off its collective rocker.

If taking an application for credit isn’t obvious, nothing is. Patents are not supposed to be granted for obvious things, but they’re being granted all the time for things we do in the offline world, with the novelty being that the activity is now online.

Software and business method patents are a total scandal, but Congress and the Patent Office just lets the system keep rolling along. Consumers, and the free enterprise system, will be the ultimate losers in this foolish game.

Windows 2000 Bug Reports, Continued

Mary Jo Foley, the reporter who wrote of an internal Microsoft document discussing more than 60,000 possible bugs in Windows 2000, got the usual Microsoft treatment along the way. The company wouldn’t discuss the specifics when she asked for a comment before running her story. Then Microsoft denied the whole thing to everyone else, including me. Then it punished Foley, canceling interviews with senior executives at the Windows 2000 launch.

During the antitrust trial, Microsoft executives repeatedly told the court that internal documents didn’t mean what they plainly did mean. The judge didn’t believe a word of their testimony, as his findings of fact proved.

When it comes to believing what Microsoft says, extreme skepticism is always the best approach. See what Microsoft does.

Speaking of the Windows 2000 launch, it was incredibly depressing to see the actor Patrick Stewart shilling for Microsoft. I thought the man had more class.

Silicon Valley Light Rail — Not an Easy Commute

The other day I had to leave my car at home. I decided to take public transportation to my office. Not fun.

The trip, which takes 20-25 minutes by car, took 75 minutes by a combination of foot, light rail and taxicab. And I didn’t have wait more than two or three minutes at any stop for the next mode of transportation.

I would much rather take public transit than drive. But not when it takes three times as long to make the trip. That’s nuts.

This entry was posted in SiliconValley.com Archives. Bookmark the permalink.