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About this Author
Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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June 24, 2005

May 28, 2005

Taking Public Transportation to the Next Level

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The Guardian reports that Portsmouth is taking its public transportation to the next level with a sophisticated and public wireless network (Rush Hour Revolution)

What Portsmouth desperately needed was to get more people out of cars and on to public transport. But the city's congested streets played havoc with bus timetables, and unreliable scheduling deterred people from taking the bus. To encourage more people to ditch their cars, the city invested in a wireless mesh network: a web of wireless antennae, situated at bus stops, which supply the city streets with a huge amount of air-bound internet bandwidth.

In practical terms, this means that passengers at any of the city's 37 real-time passenger information bus shelters are told exactly how long they will have to wait. This is not an estimate based on timetables, but accurate up-to-the-minute information beamed directly from the bus. Because bus operators have access to the exact location of their fleet, they can set schedules accordingly.

The city's 308 buses have been equipped with their own "ruggedised" PC, running a version of Windows. Each bus is able to monitor its precise position with a GPS (global positioning system) connection and upload information about its accurate arrival time using a mesh mobile radio data modem.

Such systems could really do a lot to make public transportation more viable. Permitting the data to be used by others would allow for clever developers to create new applications based on using the public transportation network efficiently. Have you ever planned a route via one of the mapping websites? Well, why not be able to schedule a public transportation route and get real-time information on it?

via Smart Mobs

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Tools | WiFi

May 12, 2005

September 01, 2004

Game Consoles and VoIP

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Posted by Ernest Miller

There has been much talk about the use of Xbox Live as a VoIP platform, such as this article from C|Net News back in February 2004 (Playing Games with VoIP). Today, there are a number of interesting articles concerning gaming consoles and VoIP.

Jeff Pulver, the dean of VoIP, has an interesting speculation about who will dominate the VoIP space in 2005 (Nintendo and Sony May Dominate the Consumer VoIP Marketplace in 2005):

Both Nintendo and Sony are now leveraging the power of IP communications to incorporate both IP Voice and IP Video inside of their products, without directly marketing these products as VoIP devices on their own. Both the DS and PSP are well positioned to be living examples of “killer applications” for IP Communications. So while these companies won’t be calling their platforms powered by: “VoIP Inside”, we just need to smile when we read about the buzz surrounding these really cool consumer products.

Details regarding the DS and PSP has been written about in countless gaming magazines over the past few months but it was only recently that my kids connected the dots and told me about these new products that are well positioned to redefine gaming amongst the 10 year-old set (and their parents.)

It may be just a matter of time before some of the more creative forces within the VoIP industry start to announce the availability of commercial VoIP communication services associated with these really cool devices.

Indeed. Especially considering the news from Gamespot today (Analyst note: Nintendo DS invites free voice-over-IP chat):
In its Electronic Entertainment Industry Update released today, TNI Securities reports that the recently revealed headset port on the Nintendo DS will be used in conjunction with the built-in wireless 802.11b networking capabilities to offer voice-over-IP chat--in effect, allowing gamers to use the DS to make free phone calls at wireless network hotspots.
That is real news (via Gizmodo).

What is most interesting to me is the WiFi capability. Many people dismiss WiFi as a VoIP platform due to coverage issues and what not. However, I think there is a lot more potential than most people realize. Coverage doesn't have to be perfect if the connectivity is free and the capability is built into a device you have already. Instead of cameraphones, phonecameras. You use it mostly as a camera, but it has limited phone capabilities when you need that, too.

This won't happen overnight, but Nintendo has sold an awful lot of GameBoys ...

UPDATE 1845 PT

Slashdot has more (Nintendo DS To Allow Free VoIP Calls).

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Telecomm | WiFi

March 15, 2004

A Race the FBI Can't Win: The Increasingly Asymmetric Costs of Wiretap Surveillance vs. Wiretap Avoidance

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Posted by Ernest Miller

LawMeme briefly summarizes and collects a number of articles on several law enforcement agencies' (FBI, DOJ and DEA) recent petition to the FCC to expand government wiretap capability (FBI seek to expand the system-formerly-known-as-Carnivore).

C|Net News reports that the petition "aims to give police ready access to any form of Internet-based communications" (FBI adds to wiretap wish list):

Legal experts said the 85-page filing includes language that could be interpreted as forcing companies to build back doors into everything from instant messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs to Microsoft's Xbox Live game service. The introduction of new services that did not support a back door for police would be outlawed, and companies would be given 15 months to make sure that existing services comply.

That's just wonderful. And I suppose only the US government will have access to these backdoors?

The Washington Post (reg. req.) talks to one of the leading experts on wiretapping, CDT's James X. Dempsey (Easier Internet Wiretaps Sought):

But privacy and technology experts said the proposal is overly broad and raises serious privacy and business concerns. James X. Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a public interest group, said the FBI is attempting to dictate how the Internet should be engineered to permit whatever level of surveillance law enforcement deems necessary.
"The breadth of what they are asking for is a little breathtaking," Dempsey said. "The question is, how deeply should the government be able to control the design of the Internet? . . . If you want to bring the economy to a halt, put the FBI in charge of deploying new Internet and communications services."

Dempsey is right. The amount of intervention in technology development necessary for the FBI and DOJ to accomplish what they want with regard to wiretapping is enormous. The costs will be both direct (money out of consumer's pockets) and indirect (loss of innovation). However, that is only half the picture. Unfortunately for the FBI, the costs to defeat the wiretapping are relatively small and will continue to decrease. We have here an asymmetric situation that will only grow more asymmetric as time goes on.

The problem is with the underlying architecture of the internet. Advances in technology along with the end-to-end/layers principle mean that it will always be cheaper to add encryption to the edges of the network than to increase the amount of surveillance at the center of the network. How much does it cost to write an encrypted VoIP app? Not much. How much does it cost to build the surveillance mechanism and conduct the surveillance across all possible ISPs? A heck of a lot more.

Ok. Now that the first encrypted VoIP app is compromised ... how much will it cost to build another encrypted layer on top of the first one? How much will it cost to conduct surveillance on this new layer? Hmmmm, if this progression continues, as we add additional layers of encryption and surveillance, the costs will increasingly diverge. Not a game you can win ultimately. In fact, it doesn't make much sense to even start. The FBI should be happy with what they've got.

Nor should we forget how darn cheap computing is getting. I wish my first computer had the power of a Treo 600. How hard is it to write voice encryption software for Treos and all the follow-on smart phones? How hard will be to add additional layers to the communications stack especially given all the various options for communication being made available through ubiquitous grid-network wireless?

If I were the FBI, I wouldn't waste my time on a battle I ultimately couldn't win and instead would concentrate my efforts on the place where I could still achieve my goals - the ends. You want to know what someone is up to online? I would recommend, for example, key loggers, "real" spyware, and social engineering. It ain't gonna be easy, but you have a chance of winning in the long term. The sooner you quit a race you can't win, the faster you can enter a race where you have a chance.

Bonus FBI Inanity: Sunday, March 14th was the 54th birthday of the FBI's "Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List." What better way to celebrate than with a humorous quiz? For example,

5. What Bible-carrying female impersonator was captured in 1964 while working as "Bobo the Clown" with a traveling carnival?
ANSWER: Leslie Douglas Ashley. And for extra credit, Isaie Aldy Beausoleil [apparently another man] was arrested in 1953 dressed as a woman...acting v-e-r-y suspiciously in a Chicago ladies' restroom.
7. Who was arrested in Japan, extradited to the U.S., and in Honolulu presented FBI Agents--in all seriousness--with [sic] a Monopoly "Get Out of Jail Free" card?
ANSWER: James Robert Ringrose, arrested in 1967.
And this one is really a laugh riot, har-d-har-har:
4. What Top Ten terrorist who was apprehended in 1995 said at his trial in New York City, "I am a terrorist, and I am proud of it"?
ANSWER: Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York and planned the bombing of an American airplane in the Far East, an act that was prevented. Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy of Manhattan's Federal District Court called him "an apostle of evil [who] wanted to kill for the thrill of killing human beings."

Bonus FBI Inanity 2: A Strengthened Partnership to Protect Children: Name that Sexual Predator! - That's the real name for the page - no foolin'. Frankly, I am somewhat disturbed when law enforcement agencies turn child abuse into a game.

UPDATE

Brother Dana has some observations here: Following The Chinese Way

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Civil Liberties | Cryptography | Cybercrime | Internet | Privacy | Security | WiFi

December 01, 2003

C|Net News Speaks Out Against Open Access

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Posted by Ernest Miller

C|Net News has published an unsigned commentary lamenting the lack of encryption defaults on WiFi gear (A fate worse than lack of access). According to the opinon piece, the Wi-Fi Alliance does not request WiFi manufacturers to turn on Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) as a default.

Of course, consumers can easily enable WEP if they so desire (it has been part of the basic instructions for every WAP I've set up). But C|Net is concerned that consumers aren't using WEP because, "Consumers may disregard the risk [of not using WEP] for two reasons: They don't value the resources or data on their network, and WEP is not completely effective against break-ins." Well, number two is certainly a consideration. If I was worried about security, I wouldn't use WEP, I would stick with a physical LAN. However, there is a third option ... not that people don't value their resources, but rather that they do find them so valuable that they would want to share them with others. I value my data and resources, but I also am willing to share those resources through means that require little effort on my part.

C|Net has an answer for those who like to share: bad people might take advantage:

What consumers may not be considering is that open access leaves their networks vulnerable to hijackers who may want to launch an anonymous virus from their broadband connection or download child pornography.

If the virus is anonymous, what does it matter where it is launched from, as long as it can be launched? There is plenty of child porn to be had without going through the trouble of using WAPs. But to the extent that WAPs are useful for downloading child porn, WEP will be a mere inconvenience. In other words, you can make access impossible for the vast majority of good citizens in order to inconvenience technically sophisticated hackers and similar bad actors.

I'm not sure why C|Net is against open access, but the arguments leave much to be desired.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Access | WiFi

November 07, 2003

Proprietary Content a Deadend for WiFi Networks

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Posted by Ernest Miller

C|Net News brings word that WiFi network providers don't get it (Wi-Fi providers move toward ISP model). Apparently, WiFi networks are trying to differentiate themselves by offering unique content. The article states that, "Wi-Fi service providers seem to be following in the footsteps of Internet service providers." If they are, they are a few years behind the times. Since when has it been true for connectivity that "Once you have a big enough or suitable network, the next draw for subscribers is specialized content"? These WiFi networks that attempt to have specialized content are just wasting their time and money. If that is how they think they will get more users and achieve profitability, they are sadly mistaken.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: WiFi

Fight the Broadcast Flag! Use Spread Spectrum!

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Arnold Kling is mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore (Broadcast Flag This). He is calling for massive civil disobedience against the FCC with regard to the Broadcast Flag (An Open Letter to Jack Valenti). However, his idea of disobedience is not to hack the flag, but rather to hack the spectrum. Kling is calling for the public to use the assigned HDTV frequencies for Spread Spectrum Wireless in order to really revolutionize distribution:

By re-allocating spectrum from HDTV to wireless IP, we can kill two legacy birds with one stone. We can hasten the demise of the phone companies--because with a wireless "last mile" the wireless Internet can replace traditional land lines and cell phones; and we can show Jack Valenti, the movie industry, and the television industry what it really means to "score a big victory for consumers."

Nifty idea which I support, however, I'm just not sure how practical it is. Where will I get the hardware and software to do this?

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Broadcast Flag | WiFi

October 27, 2003

You Want WiFi With Your Fries?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The day you can get WiFi with your Happy Meal is getting closer, according to C|Net News (McDonald's orders shakeout for hot-spot providers). Although the service won't be free, the sheer number of locations will create quite a footprint, and will be very easy-to-find. Hopefully, of course, the WiFi service will eventually be free ... costing no more than it does to use McDonald's restrooms. See, (Free WiFi Makes Good Business Sense)

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: WiFi

October 23, 2003

Looking into the Connected Future

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Posted by Ernest Miller

VentureBlog has a good report the recent conference at Dartmouth, Unleashed: The Summit on Wireless and Mobile Computing, and what the future may hold for digital connectivity (Ubiquity Breeds Utility). The article notes how Dartmouth has led the way in being one of the most wired of college campuses, and their experience with the cutting edge may provide insight for the mass market future. The author of the piece, Naval Ravikant suggests, among other things, that:

  • Instant Messenger for voice will emerge
  • Portable devices completely dominate
  • Mobile doesn't mean distant

Read the article for explanations and many more interesting points.

via Due Diligence

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture | WiFi

Free WiFi Makes Good Business Sense

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Computer World has a great article on the many uses companies are putting free 802.11b access to (Free hot spots pay dividends). Guerilla marketing, conventional marketing, keeping customers around longer, saving money on ethernet installation, are all uses of free wifi. Favorite quote:

"What is the ROI on a bathroom?" asked Shaich, pointing out that the day of pay restrooms in restaurants has long since passed.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Access | WiFi