A Geek With Guns

Discount security adviser to the proles.

Archive for the ‘Your Government Doesn’t Love You’ tag

Being Able To Lookup Your Neighbor’s Income Online Is A Terrible Idea

without comments

Statists come up with the dumbest ideas. One of latest stupid statist ideas is the idea that Norway’s practice of posting everybody’s tax returns online is a good idea:

But maybe the demand that Trump post his returns doesn’t go far enough. Maybe everyone’s tax returns should be a matter of public record. It sounds nuts, but in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, it’s the law, and it works. Norway’s been putting out records since 1814; in Sweden, they’ve been public since 1903.

Public tax returns help reduce gender and racial pay disparities, make labor markets more efficient, encourage workers to bargain for higher pay, prevent tax evasion, and create a rich font of data for economists and other researchers. The US ought to give the idea a try.

Why should anybody have any right to privacy at all? We might as well just put our medical records, voting records, and any other type of records online for everybody to see! And fuck those people who want to have control over their personal information. They’re obviously hiding something.

If you read the article you will discover that the author is a jealous individual trying to disguise that jealousy as pragmatism. He starts off by arguing that making tax return information publicly available would improve the job market. This claim is backed up by a great deal of statist nonsense such as imply that markets require perfect information (they don’t) and claiming that it’s impossible for employees to find out what their fellows at other companies are making if tax return records or private (apparently it never occurred to the author that you can just ask). But he eventually get’s to his real point:

Another thing about pay transparency: It makes it harder to evade your taxes. Adding scrutiny from not only the tax collection agency but your neighbors and competitors makes it tougher to fudge your reported income.

Making tax returns publicly available makes it easier for the State to steal wealth to fund its law enforcers, war machine, economic protectionism, and other atrocities. This is ultimately what every statist’s opposition to privacy boils down to. As believers in the One True State, they want to make it as difficult as possible for anybody who opposes their political god. Are private tax returns making it harder for their political god to steal? Make the records public! Is end-to-end cryptography making it harder for their political god to keep the citizenry in line? Restrict effective cryptography! Are anonymizing services allowing people to peacefully cell illicit goods? Ban anonymizing services!

This is why privacy is so important. The State and its worshippers want to know as much about you as possible. That way they can better know what you have so they can steal it and identify dissidents so they can crush them. Know that when somebody advocates that privacy must be curtailed they’re necessarily arguing that the State must be further empowered. Also know that the empowerment of the State always comes at the expense of individual freedom.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 20th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Fly, You Fools

without comments

In addition to creating fake terrorist attacks so it can claim glory by thwarting them, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) also spends its time chasing brilliant minds out of the country:

FBI agents are currently trying to subpoena one of Tor’s core software developers to testify in a criminal hacking investigation, CNNMoney has learned.

But the developer, who goes by the name Isis Agora Lovecruft, fears that federal agents will coerce her to undermine the Tor system — and expose Tor users around the world to potential spying.

That’s why, when FBI agents approached her and her family over Thanksgiving break last year, she immediately packed her suitcase and left the United States for Germany.

Because of the State’s lust for power, the United Police States of America are becoming more hostile towards individuals knowledgable in cryptography. The FBI went after Apple earlier this year because the company implemented strong cryptography so it’s not too surprising to see that the agency has been harassing a developer who works on an application that utilizes strong cryptography. Fortunately, she was smart enough to flee before the FBI got a hold of her so none of its goons were able to slap her with a secret order or any such nonsense.

What’s especially interesting about Isis’ case is that the FBI wouldn’t tell her or her lawyer the reason it wanted to talk to her. It even went so far as to tell her lawyer that if agents found her on the street they would interrogate her without his presence. That’s some shady shit. Isis apparently wasn’t entirely dense though and decided it was time to go while the going was good. As this country continues to expand its police state don’t be afraid to follow her example.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 19th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Linksys Won’t Lock Out Third-Party Firmware

without comments

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an agency that believes it has a monopoly on the naturally occurring electromagnetic spectrum, decreed that all Wi-Fi router manufacturers are now responsible for enforcing the agency’s restrictions on spectrum use. Any manufacturer that fails to be the enforcement arm of the FCC will face consequences (being a government agency must be nice, you can just force other people to do your work for you).

Most manufacturers have responded to this decree by taking measures that prevent users from loading third-party firmware of any sort. Such a response is unnecessary and goes beyond the demands of the FCC. Linksys, fortunately, is setting the bar higher and will not lock out third-party firmware entirely:

Next month, the FCC will start requiring manufacturers to prevent users from modifying the RF (radio frequency) parameters on Wi-Fi routers. Those rules were written to stop RF-modded devices from interfering with FAA Doppler weather radar systems. Despite the restrictions, the FCC stressed it was not advocating for device-makers to prevent all modifications or block the installation of third-party firmware.

[…]

Still, it’s a lot easier to lock down a device’s firmware than it is to prevent modifications to the radio module alone. Open source tech experts predicted that router manufacturers would take the easy way out by slamming the door shut on third-party firmware. And that’s exactly what happened. In March, TP-Link confirmed they were locking down the firmware in all Wi-Fi routers.

[…]

Instead of locking down everything, Linksys went the extra mile to ensure owners still had the option to install the firmware of their choice: “Newly sold Linksys WRT routers will store RF parameter data in a separate memory location in order to secure it from the firmware, the company says. That will allow users to keep loading open source firmware the same way they do now,” reports Ars Technica’s Josh Brodkin.

This is excellent news. Not only will it allow users to continue using their preferred firmware, it also sets a precedence for the industry. TP-Link, like many manufacturers, took the easy road. If every other manufacturer followed suit we’d be in a wash of shitty firmware (at least until bypasses for the firmware blocks were discovered). By saying it would still allow third-party firmware to be loaded on its devices, Linksys has maintained its value for many customers and may have convinced former users of other devices to buy its devices instead. Other manufacturers may find themselves having to follow Linksys’s path to prevent paying customers from going over to Linksys. By being a voice of reason, Linksys may end up saving Wi-Fi consumers from only having terrible firmware options.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 19th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Why Does The TSA Suck? It’s Your Fault You Stupid Slave!

without comments

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been receiving a lot of well deserved flak in recent months. Security theater lines have been growing and now the TSA recommends air travelers show up two hours early to ensure they get through. It reminds me of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). When wait times increase the agency doesn’t hire more staff or make its processes more efficient, it demands people take more time out of their day. This shouldn’t surprise anybody though. Nobody has the option of using a competitor to the TSA, DMV, or any other government agency so the agencies have no motivation to improve their service.

But the public is pissed, which means boring congressional hearings could be in the TSA’s future. Probably hoping to avoid going to yet another meeting where they have to pretend to pay attention while congress members pretend to provide oversight, the heads of the TSA are trying to find some reason for its failure that will satiate the public. I doubt the reason it’s giving will work though since it’s resorted to blaming everybody besides itself:

The comments reflect a statement released earlier this week after long lines were reported at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia airport security checkpoints. When asked about those long lines, the TSA essentially blamed you in a press release, specifically passengers who bring too many carry-on items:

There are several factors that have caused checkpoint lines to take longer to screen passengers… including more people traveling with carry-on bags, in many cases bringing more than the airline industry standard of one carry-on bag and one personal item per traveler;

Passenger preparedness can have a significant impact on wait times at security checkpoints nationwide…Individuals who come to the TSA checkpoint unprepared for a trip can have a negative impact on the time it takes to complete the screening process.”

Not surprisingly, it’s also blaming air passengers for not paying the agency its desired extortion fee:

In the past three years, the TSA and Congress cut the number of front-line screeners by 4,622 — or about 10 percent — on expectations that an expedited screening program called PreCheck would speed up the lines. However, not enough people enrolled for TSA to realize the anticipated efficiencies.

Perhaps the TSA should look inward. One of the biggest contributing factors to the length of security theater lines is likely the agency’s inconsistency. If you know what you have to do when you reach the checkpoint you can prepare ahead of time. For example, you might untie or entirely remove your shoes and take off your belt. You might also remove your liquids and laptop from your bags. When you arrive at the actual checkpoint you can efficiently put everything through the x-ray machine, opt out of the slave scanner, and be through as quickly as possible. But you can’t prepare yourself ahead of the checkpoint because you have no idea what you’ll be expected to do until some idiot with a badge is barking order at you.

If PreCheck is supposed to help reduce wait times and the TSA is actually committed to reducing wait times the agency should make the program free. That would encourage more people to sign up for it. You can tell that the program is more about extorting the public than making wait times shorter but the simple fact that PreCheck isn’t free (and since the TSA is a government agency it doesn’t have to concern itself with making a profit so making the program free isn’t a big deal).

Businesses know that the customer is usually right. A private security provider knows that absurdly long wait times in line will reflect negatively on the venue that hired them, which may hinder their chances of getting another contract in the future. Because of that they are more motivated to make the screening process as efficient as possible. They don’t tell an angry venue owner that the wait times are due to the incompetence of the customers because that excuse isn’t going to fly. But the government doesn’t have customers, it citizens (which is a fancy term for people being preyed on by the State). That being the case, it has no problem blaming its own failures on its citizens.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 18th, 2016 at 11:00 am

The War On Drugs Breeds More Dangerous Drugs

with one comment

Imodium may be the new over-the-counter scary drug but it appears that W-18 is the new illicit scary drug (which is in desperate name of a marketing department to give it a better name):

For the second time in a year, police in Alberta have uncovered a drug called W-18, a synthetic opioid that’s 100 times more powerful than fentanyl — and 10,000 more powerful than morphine.

Police in Edmonton announced Wednesday they seized four kilograms of the substance in powder form during a raid carried out in December during a fentanyl investigation. The powder was then sent to Health Canada, which confirmed on Tuesday that it was W-18.

Staff Sergeant Dave Knibbs told a press conference that this amount of powder could have produced hundreds of millions of W-18 pills.

A stronger substance that people can voluntarily put into their bodies? The horror!

In all seriousness though, W-18 is likely a more dangerous drug than fentanyl but it is also a byproduct of the war on drugs. The iron law of prohibition states that the potency of a prohibited substance increases along with the enforcement of the prohibition:

Super potent pot is not a market failure. It is simply the result of government prohibition. In fact, it is one of the best examples of the iron law of prohibition. When government enacts and enforces a prohibition it eliminates the free market which is then replaced by a black market. This typically changes everything about “the market.” It changes how the product is produced, how it is distributed and sold to consumers. It changes how the product is packaged and in particular, the product itself. The iron law of prohibition looks specifically at how prohibition makes drugs like alcohol and marijuana more potent. The key to the phenomenon is that law enforcement makes it more risky to make, sell, or consume the product. This encourages suppliers to concentrate the product to make it smaller and thus more potent. In this manner you get “more bang for the buck.”

During alcohol prohibition (1920-1933), alcohol consumption went from a beer, wine, and whiskey market to one of rotgut whiskey with little wine or beer available. The rotgut whiskey could be more than twice as potent of the normal whiskey that was produced both before and after prohibition. The product is then diluted at the point of consumption. During the 1920s all sorts of cocktails were invented to dilute the whiskey and to cover up for bad smells and tastes.

Therefore, the current high potency of marijuana is not a market phenomenon, nor is it a market failure. It is primarily driven by government’s prohibition and the odd incentives that this produces on the sellers’ side of the market. Under these conditions consumers may prefer higher potency marijuana, ceteris paribus, but it is not primarily a consumer driven phenomenon.

W-18 is the byproduct of stronger enforcement of opioid prohibitions. Since law enforcers are concentrating their efforts on opioids such as heroine and fentanyl the producers are responding by making a more concealable version (as the product is more potent less is needed for the desired effect) that is easier to transport under the watchful eye of the badged men with guns.

This is just another example of how the war on drugs has actually made the drug market more dangerous. In addition to adding the risk of men with guns kicking down the doors of drug users at oh dark thirty and shooting their family pets, the war on drugs has also made the substances themselves more dangerous by creating an environment that motivates producers to increase the potency. So long as the war on opioids continues we will see more potent forms. In a few years W-18 will likely become a footnote in history; just another less potent version of a new opioid. This trend will continue until the war on drugs is ended and producers are no longer encouraged to make ever increasingly potent substances.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 18th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Fear Is The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel

without comments

Stingray is a product name for an IMSI-catcher popular amongst law enforcers. Despite the devices being trivial enough that anybody can build one for $1,500, law enforcers have been desperate to keep the devices a secret. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), for example, would rather throw out cases than disclose its Stingray usage.

Here in Minnesota law enforcers are also busy keeping tight wraps on Stingray usage:

A Fox 9 Investigation has revealed that tracking warrants for a surveillance device called StingRay have routinely been kept sealed, despite a law requiring them to become public with 90 days.

The StingRay device is used by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about 60 times a year, said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. Hennepin County Sheriff also had a StingRay, but a spokesperson said they discontinued it after using it only four times.

Why the secrecy? If you were expecting a detailed legal defense you’re going to be left wanting. The only defense law enforcers can muster is fear. Whenever a law enforcement department is pressed about the secrecy of Stingray devices they respond with the scariest case they can think of that involved the device

“This technology has been absolutely critical in locating some of Minnesota’s most violent criminals, more quickly than we ever were before,” Evans said.

Photo State of surveillance: StingRay warrants sealed despite changes in Minnesota law
Law enforcement used the technology last month when a disgruntled client allegedly gunned down a clerk at a St. Paul law firm and then went on the run. Police had the suspect’s cell phone and tracked him down.

[…]

“Just this week we were able to locate a level 3 sexual offender that was non-compliant, a suspect in a series of serial rapes, and a homicide suspect, this week alone,” he explained.

This usually satisfies journalists and the general public but shouldn’t. Whenever a law enforcer brings up a scary case where they used a Stingray device the immediate response should be, “So what?”

So what if the devices were used in secrecy to find a suspected murderer or a level three sex offender? Will these devices suddenly cease working if they’re subjected to the same oversight as any other law enforcement technology? Will they power off forever the minute a warrant is unsealed? No.

Law enforcers have no legal justification for keeping these devices secret, which is why they’re resorting to fear tactics. The question everybody should be asking is why they’re so desperate to keep these devices in the shadows. I theorize that there is a known weakness in the technology that would make them potentially inadmissible in court. What other reason could there be to go so far as to throw out individual cases rather than unseal warrants and release technical details about the devices? It’s not like the devices are a novel technology that nobody knows how to make or defend against.

Drug Abuse Cannot Be Fixed Through Legislation

without comments

Every year we’re told about the hot new legal drug that people are abusing. Shortly afterward we’re told about the hot new legislation that is supposed to curtail the abuse. Nobody seems to recognize the pattern though. This year the new drug being abused appears to be Imodium:

They call it the poor man’s methadone.

The epidemic of opioid addiction sweeping the country has led to another form of drug abuse that few experts saw coming: Addicts who cannot lay hands on painkillers are instead turning to Imodium and other anti-diarrhea medications.

The active ingredient, loperamide, offers a cheap high if it is consumed in extraordinary amounts. But in addition to being uncomfortably constipating, it can be toxic, even deadly, to the heart.

Now we just need to wait for the legislation that orders Imodium to be treated the same way as all drugs containing pseudoephedrine.

The cycle of abuse and legislation is counterintuitive. At first glance it seems sensible to restrict access to drugs people abuse. But looking at the cycle with a critical eye reveals a major problem: when one drug is restricted addicts find a substitute.

Restricting opioids didn’t stop addicts from being addicts. It merely pushed them to abuse Imodium instead just as restricting heroine lead to the substitute of easier to produce krokodil. Addiction is a medical issue. It cannot be legislated away. So long as politicians continue to treat addiction as a legal issue addicts will be pushed into finding, often more dangerous, substitutes.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 13th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Everybody Is Sick Of The TSA

with one comment

This week I had to fly to another state for work. Unfortunately, that meant having to submit myself to the jack booted thugs at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) has been in the news as of late for having even more miserable security lines than other airports. This is due to the airport closing all but three of the security lines (the airport use to have more open gates but for reasons unknown — that totally have nothing at all to do with the TSA wanting flyers to buy its PreCheck scam — it closed all but three of them).

My flight was very early in the morning so I actually got through security in about half an hour. I didn’t even have to opt out of the slave scanner since they only ran me through the metal detector. In fact I didn’t even have to pull out my liquids, laptop, or remove my shoes. The goons working the airport were actually being reasonable for once.

Returning to the Twin Cities wasn’t as nice. The TSA goons there wanted me to go through the slave scanner so I had to waste time opting out and getting sexually assaulted. They also pulled my carryon off of the scanner, dug through it, and swabbed everything in it (I didn’t win an unlucky drawing, they were doing this to almost every piece of luggage). All in all I probably spent forty five minutes going through security.

The TSA is the epitome is government idiocy. It’s cumbersome, doesn’t fulfill its purpose, and inconsistent. I think the inconsistency is the most annoying part. When I go through security I’m not sure whether I’ll have to take off my shoes, belt, and wristwatch or be barked at for doing so. Will I have to remove the liquids from my bag? Will I have to pull my laptop out of its bag? I have no idea because the TSA agents seem to make up the rules on the spot. This means the lines end up being even longer because people have no idea what the fuck they’re supposed to do. If they take their shoes off before getting to the scanners they may get barked at and have to waste time putting them back on. The same goes for removing liquids and laptops from bags. There’s no way to speed up the line by planning ahead because you have no idea what you’ll be required to do before you get to the scanners.

It seems that my frustrations aren’t unique. New York City is now talking about replacing the TSA with private security agencies:

Management of the New York City area’s three major airports is fed up with long lines at security check points, and they have given the Transportation Security Administration an ultimatum: Either shorten the lines or we’ll find someone else to do it.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, tasked with running John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports, is threatening to privatize the process of screening passengers before boarding their flight, according to a document sent from the Port Authority to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger.

“We can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of the TSA passenger services,” the letter obtained by ABC News reads.

Although this would be a move in the right direction I doubt it will have a major impact. Any private security agency would still have to abide by the TSA’s security policies. Privatization is of little value when the State restricts any possible innovation with regulatory burdens. However, if enough airports replaced the TSA it would help shake the agency’s iron grip over airport “security” (quotes used because the agency doesn’t actually provide security). If the iron grip was removed there would be a chance that some actual innovation could take place that would make airport security a less annoying experience.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 12th, 2016 at 10:30 am

The State Sucks At Language

without comments

Under any sane legal system the label criminal would be reserved for those who victimize others. But the legal systems of most modern developed countries use the label to describe anybody who has violated any of the State’s decrees, regardless of how arbitrary they may be. Because of this we have people walking around who have been labeled criminals but have never victimized anybody. Fortunately the Department of Justice (DoJ) is finally recognizing this fact, although I doubt it’s intentionally, and is moving away from the term criminal to describe the people it targets:

The Department Of Justice has been phasing out the use of the word “criminal” to describe criminals. On the DOJ website the newer term, “justice-involved individual,” can be traced back to 2009. However, the term has seen more and more daylight over the last couple of years.

I’ve seen quite a few neocons flipping their shit about this but it really is a good move. The DoJ spends a great deal of its time harassing drug buys and sellers, tax evaders, unlicensed firearm dealers, and other people who haven’t actually victimized anybody. That being the case, it makes sense to refer to its targets by something other than criminals.

With that said, the DoJ, like every other government agency, sucks at language. Justice-involved individual is also a misnomer for the same reason the agency’s name is a misnomer; the word justice implies a wrong being righted. Without a victim there is no wrong to right and therefore no justice to be had. A better label would be a legal-involved individual.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 12th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Traditional Cigarette Industry Finally Receives The Protection It Paid For

with 3 comments

E-cigs have become a tremendous problem for traditional cigarette manufacturers. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigs deliver the nicotine people want. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs don’t include the massive list of harmful additional materials. Not only is vaping healthier, it’s cheaper to boot. There is also a taboo around smoking these days whereas vaping is seen as the new cool thing to do. These benefits are allowing the e-cig industry to eat the traditional cigarette industry’s lunch.

What’s the last refuge of a dying industry? The State, of course. Fortunately, for the traditional tobacco industry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is stepping in to stomp down the blossoming e-cig industry:

As the debate over the health risks of e-cigarettes rages on, the FDA is stepping in to “improve public health and protect future generations.” To do that, the US government will regulate e-cigs and vaping gear like it does any other tobacco product. Until now, these products haven’t been subject to government oversight. With the FDA’s changes, the federal law that already forbids tobacco sales to people under 18 will now apply to vaping as well. Sure, this age limit was already being enforced in some places, but this more formal announcement makes it a nation-wide law.

What’s more, vaping products will be subject to the same regulations in terms of packaging and production. Manufacturers will have to register with the FDA and provide a list of products to the agency. Companies will also be required to disclose ingredients, including any harmful or potentially harmful substances, and they’ll have to get approval before putting new tobacco products on the market. In terms of packaging and advertising, e-cigarette and vaping products must also feature a health warning label — just like the brands selling regular cigarettes.

There’s nothing as fun as good old protectionism. The e-cig market has thrived because the lack of government regulations allows new entrepreneurs to enter the market with little startup capital. Since the e-cig industry is fairly new and the products are highly customizable there is a lot of room for new, innovative entrepreneurs. By putting e-cigs in regulatory parity with traditional cigarettes the FDA has ensured that innovation within the industry will drop and that the entire industry will slowly be monopolized into a handful of large companies.

The slowdown in innovation, restrictions from advertising, and other regulatory burdens will allow traditional cigarette companies to stand a good chance of competing successfully again.

“But Chris,” I hear somebody say, “what about the longterm health effects of e-cigs?” To that I say, what about them? All of the concerns about health effects are unrealized at this point so they can’t even been addressed. Entirely hypothetical threats are not a good foundation for policies. Besides, what a person puts into their body is their own business regardless of health side effects. To quote Ludwig von Mises, “If a man drinks wine and not water I cannot say he is acting irrationally. At most I can say that in his place I would not do so. But his pursuit of happiness is his own business, not mine.” If you want to inject some krokodil into your eyeball, inject some heroine between your toes, and vape all at the same time that should be your right.

There is no sound reason for the FDA’s declaration here except to provide the traditional cigarette companies the protections they paid, err, lobbied for.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 10th, 2016 at 10:30 am