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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sweden's response to the fake news terrorist attack on Friday................

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Should you take your phone to the United States?

By Rory Cellan-Jones

Technology correspondent for BBC News

17th Feb 2017

"The next time you plan to cross a border, leave your phone at home." That is the rather startling advice in a blogpost that is being widely shared right now. Its author, Quincy Larson, is a software engineer, who has previously written about the importance of protecting personal data. He now fears that data could be at risk every time you cross a border. His concerns were sparked by the story of Sidd Bikkannavar, an American-born Nasa engineer, who flew home from a trip to Chile last month. On arrival in Houston, he was detained by the border police and, by his own account, put under great pressure to hand over the passcode to his smartphone, despite the fact that the device had been issued to him by Nasa. Eventually, Bikkannavar did hand over both the phone and the passcode. It was taken away for 30 minutes and then returned, and he was free to go. Larson sees this as a very dangerous precedent: "What we're seeing now is that anyone can be grabbed on their way through customs and forced to hand over the full contents of their digital life." We also know that the new homeland security secretary, John Kelly, has talked of requiring visa applicants to hand over passwords to their social media accounts - though whether that could apply at the border too is not clear.

And on Thursday, a new Republican congressman took to Twitter to announce proudly that he had introduced his first bill - to require the review of visa applicants' social media. Larson predicts that a policy where travellers are asked to download the contents of their phones will soon become commonplace, not just in the United States but around the world. Hence his advice to leave your mobile phone and laptop at home and rent devices when you get to your destination. Which seems a little extreme. I can't imagine being separated from my smartphone on a flight - and I'm sure many others feel the same. So I decided to seek some advice from the UK Foreign Office and the US embassy in London. Was there a danger that I would be forced by border officials to unlock my phone or hand over my social media passwords?

The Foreign Office told me their travel advice did not cover this subject because they had not received any calls about it. But they did suggest that if I happened to be trapped in immigration at JFK airport with a border agent demanding my passcode, I could call the British embassy and arrange a lawyer. As for the American embassy, well I called before lunchtime on Thursday and got a perfectly pleasant response. They would need to speak to Washington and would get back to me later about the matter of my smartphone and my Facebook and Twitter accounts. As I write, it's Friday morning and I've heard nothing. Perhaps Washington has other matters on its mind. So perhaps I'd better take what I believe is known as a "burner" phone the next time I fly across the Atlantic.

[Ok, can anyone say ‘Police State’? It would seem the so-called ‘security’ issues trump (get it!) privacy ones. Isn’t this kind of thing covered by the 4th Amendment BTW – not exactly being an expert on US Constitutional Law? Maybe Rory is right and ‘burners’ are the way to go? I see a business opportunity there. Or I could just decide never to visit the US, never to cross a border, never own a cell phone and definitely never have any Social Media accounts! Maybe being a LUDDITE is the best way to oppose Governments in the future. They can’t hack what you haven’t got!!]

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just Finished Reading: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (FP: 2009)

Jackson, Mississippi – 1962. ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (played by Emma Stone in the 2011 movie adaptation) is back home from college and is very confused. Her favourite maid, who helped bring her up and who became a friend has gone, vanished from her family home, and no one will tell her what happened. Increasingly at a loose end and looking for something to do – anything other than husband hunt as her mother suggests – she gets a job in the local paper writing a home help column. Unfortunately Skeeter knows practically nothing about cooking, cleaning or any other domestic chore. Desperate to fulfil her first assignment she turns to her school friend’s maid Aibileen (played by Viola Davis) to help. Reluctant at first Aibileen starts to find that her time with Skeeter starts to become more than another chore. Slowly the two women from radically different backgrounds become friends. So when old school friend Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) devises a ‘health’ campaign to prevent the Help using the same bathrooms as their white employers it’s more than just something to disagree upon – it’s personal. But what can Skeeter do to combat her socially powerful friend? Looking for a way to undermine what she sees as both hypocritical and deeply wrong Skeeter decides to write a book from the Helps point of view – both the good and bad about black servants bringing up white children in a deeply divided and segregated society. But even Skeeter has no idea just how powerful and dangerous her book will be and just how much it will change everyone involved in the project and everyone in Jackson who reads it.

This was a totally random purchase some years ago in my local supermarket. I still don’t know exactly why I bought it (not having seen the movie) except that it was demonstratively different and most definitely not my usual read. So it languished in one of my book piles until I decided to read 10 books made into movies. I’m glad I did. It was, at least to begin with, a slow read. I’m not exactly familiar with the period or the place – only having a vague notion of life in those times and in the South picked up from the odd movie or in passing from a documentary or book – so I found myself concentrating more than normal on everything that was going on. Once I had enough of the background under my belt and felt safe enough to ‘walk around Jackson’ on my own things got a bit faster and the pages flew by. This was an excellent, if at times uncomfortable, read full of interesting (and occasionally deeply annoying) characters. I think, from the blurb at the back of the book, that Skeeter was largely based on the author but that was no bad thing for a first novel. The sense of place is really palpable and the different voices throughout the book help to give some very different perspectives on life in early 60’s Mississippi. Between the drama, and there’s plenty of that, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments and I found myself chuckling through a fair bit of it. But it had a strong central message too – about common humanity and friendship across the race barrier. I liked young Skeeter a lot and I think you will too. Highly recommended.