Another assault on your privacy?

From the Associated Press...

"A leading television manufacturer, Sony Electronics, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said yesterday they had signed an agreement that would allow viewers to rid themselves of set-top boxes yet still receive advanced 'two-way' cable services, such as pay-per-view movies."

"In most cases, cable viewers also could dispose of another remote control because they could use their TV's control rather than one tied to the set-top box."

"The agreement marks a significant meeting of the minds between cable companies and one of the world's dominant makers of consumer electronics. The two industries have been feuding for a decade about how best to deliver cable service to customers while allowing them to buy equipment of their own choosing."

"Sony agreed to use the cable industry's technology in its sets as soon as possible but could not say when the first such televisions might appear in stores."

"The agreement is between Sony and the nation's six largest cable companies: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks. The six companies serve more than 82 percent of cable subscribers."

Wiretap may mean more than listening in to your phone calls ...

CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) is the basic law that demands that all common carriers such as telephone companies, cellular companies, Internet Service Providers (which includes most cable companies) and other such firms enable their devices to permit easy interception of your private conversations and communications.

Can the government listen to in-home conversations which may be accessible with the newly announced communications-enabled media devices?

It apparently has already happened in the realm of in-car conversations being monitored by the authorities...

From the New York Times ...

"The decision, by a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, arose from a criminal investigation in Nevada. An unidentified company challenged a series of court orders requiring it to create a roving bug for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The appeals court overturned the orders, but its reasoning suggested that the issue will recur."

"The technology involved, used by OnStar, ATX and others, combines a global positioning satellite transmitter with a cellular telephone. Drivers can use the services to seek information and emergency help."

"Most of the court file in the Nevada case is sealed, and the appellate decision did not discuss the nature of the investigation or specify the brand of the system in question. But the court's description of the system's features is consistent with one offered by ATX, which provides telematics services for cars from BMW, Ford, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, among others."

"The device discussed in the decision allows drivers to punch one of three buttons: for emergencies, general information and roadside assistance. The phone has a speaker and microphone, and it turns out that the microphone may be activated surreptitiously, allowing government agents to listen in on conversations in the car."

"Geri Lama, a spokeswoman for OnStar, said that her company was not involved in the case and that OnStar's setup was not capable of what she called ''stealth listening.'''

And yet, there are numerous mentions of the exact model of the On-Star equipped vehicle, the defendants and other details in press reports. Which tends to make Lama appear to be the equivalent of a White House spokesman reporting ONLY what THEY were told. <Source>

However, another publication further explains: from Granneblog  ...

"The FBI found out about this passive listening feature and promptly served OnStar with a court order forcing the company to give it access. The court order the FBI gave OnStar was not something out of the Patriot Act involving international terrorism or national security but a simple criminal case."

"According to court records, OnStar complied with the order but filed a protest lawsuit against the FBI."

"Yet the FBI was able to enforce the original legal order and completed its surveillance because OnStar’s lawsuit took nearly two years to pass through the court system."

"The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in OnStar’s favor. The ruling was not based on invasion-of-privacy grounds or some other legitimate constitutional basis. The FBI lost because the OnStar passive listening feature disables the emergency signal, the very life-saving call for help that the advertisements tout as the main reason to purchase the system."

"The technical problem of blocking the emergency signal is clearly one that the FBI tech teams can overcome. Thus, under the current ruling, the FBI can resume using OnStar to monitor subject vehicles once it has solved the emergency issue."

Circuit review necessary?

Since we have allegedly seen that the OnStar communications system in General Motors vehicles can permit the authorities, ostensibly with a legal wiretap order, to listen to the conversations of those in and around your vehicle with no notification to the driver or those in and around the vehicle, is it reasonable to demand that Sony and other similar manufacturers provide the schematics for their products so that they may be reviewed by security and privacy experts?

What can YOU do?

Resist any and all extensions of the law which permit extraordinary powers under the Patriot Act and other counter-terrorism initiatives from being used in ordinary criminal cases.

By allowing warrantless searches and wiretaps in ordinary criminal investigations, we will have ceded our Constitutional rights to the government without so much as a fight. 

It happened with the RICO statute which was subverted by two-bit politically ambitious prosecutors to go after people who were not, in any manner, associated with racketeering or corrupt organizations.

With liberal activist judges or hardliner judges who routinely support government activities without question, one can not be sure that our civil and constitutional rights are not under a continuing assault by those who are acting for personal or political reasons.

When these new devices are unveiled, you may need to ask yourself exactly what functions the electronic microprocessors have been programmed to perform? Do these systems adhere to the extra-legal broadcast flag technology that may limit the ways in which you enjoy your programming? Do the systems report back to some anonymous computer what programs you are watching (like cable systems and TiVo) so the ratings information can be sold to the entertainment industry? Will the system monitor other  devices attached to your system using their embedded GUID (Globally Unique IDentifier)? Will the system embed the GUID of the originating device when you burn a CD or DVD as some systems already do? Will each transmission over the devices electronic interface carry your GUID information? And these are just some of the questions that need to be asked.

You might consider joining and participating in the programs of the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) to assist in protecting your constitutional rights. Check out their web site at for more information.

Remember, each time a piece of our privacy is ceded to the government, it is gone forever.

-- steve

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Reference Links:

Sony, Cable Firms Agree To Eliminate Set-Top Boxes -

Court Leaves the Door Open For Safety System Wiretaps|New York Times

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