On the Record edited by Annie Harrison

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January 31, 2006

AT&T Sued For NSA Collaboration

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class action lawsuit today against AT&T accusing the telecom company of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its efforts to wiretap and data-mine our communications in the name of national security.

The New York Times reported in December that President Bush authorized the NSA to intercept telephone and Internet communications inside the U.S. without a court order. It's now clear that the NSA has been intercepting and analyzing millions of communications from unsuspecting Americans with the help of the country's largest phone and Internet companies.

EFF alleges in its lawsuit that in addition to giving the NSA access to phone and Internet traffic passing over its network, AT&T has given the government access to its 300 terabyte "Daytona" database. These actions violate the privacy rights of AT&T customers and privacy laws, say EFF attorneys who are seeking an injunction to stop AT&T participation in the NSA spying program and billions of dollars in damages for violation of federal privacy laws.

Read more
about EFF's lawsuit or check out the full complaint.

January 26, 2006

Gilmore Loses Airport ID Case

John Gilmore, the privacy rights activist who sued the U.S. government over the airport ID requirement, lost his case yesterday. You can read the decision and decide for yourself if this decision undermines your right to travel.

January 25, 2006

Google. Porn and You

According to a poll released yesterday, 56% of Internet users believe that Google Inc. should refuse the federal government's demand that it turn over millions of search queries. More than a quarter of those polled say they will stop using Google if the company complies with the order.

Seeking to revive an online pornography law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bush administration subpoenaed Google Inc. for a boatload of data. The feds want one million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches for a one-week period. Google has vowed to fight the order.

Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft have all complied with the order claiming that they turned over no personal information. Yeah, sure.

It's good to see conformation that Internet users don't want their personal search engine data getting into the hands of the government. This time, they aren't buying the child porn argument that the government has used before to limit free speech rights.

Federal investigators say they need the data to figure out how often porn shows up in on-line searches - and to help revive the 1998 Child Online Protection Act. The Act was struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds. The government is overreaching again trying to seize the surfing records of people like you and me.

The Act would have required adults to use access codes or other forms of registration before they could see objectionable material on-line. It would have punished violators with jail time or fines of up to $50,000.

The government wants the Google data to argue that the law is more effective than filtering software which the high court ruled was better able to protect children. The issue is now before a federal court in Pennsylvania.

This has been a big teaching moment for lots of Internet users. Amazingly, more than three quarters of the poll respondents, or 77 percent, did not even know that Google collected information that personally identifies them. Google keeps records of IP addresses, which can be traced back to individual computers.

Poll respondents were more open to Google sharing information In cases where the government is trying to prosecute a crime. About 14 percent said that they were willing to give the government access in such cases, while 44 percent said that they were willing in only certain cases. The poll was conducted over the weekend by the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research group in Elk Rapids, Mich.

Google has been a fat data target since it started expanding its services into e-mail, driving directions, photo sharing, instant messaging and Web journals. I opened a Google Adsense account for this blog and got into a pissing match with Google because they refused to let me enter a P.O. address instead of a streeet address on the form. This is not smart idea for people who are targeted for aggregating personal data.

Google has not stated guidelines on how long it keeps data. Data storage is cheap –Google could keep it forever. The company says it won't release the information because it violates the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets.

January 24, 2006

Albert Hofmann Turns 100

While traveling in Switzerland earlier this month, I wrote a story for Wired News about the 100th birthday of Albert Hofmann - the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD. Listening to Dr. Hofmann address a symposium in his honor was an astonishing experience. I will post my own transcript of Hofmann's remarks here on this blog when I get chance. Until then, you can read the version of my story edited by Wired entitled LSD: The Geek's Wonder Drug? or my own unedited version below. The headline written by the Wired editors still makes me smile, but I like my version of the story a bit better.

BASEL, Switzerland -- When Kevin Herbert has a particularly intractable programming problem, or finds himself pondering a big career decision, he seeks insight with a powerful consciousness expanding tool -- LSD-25.

"It must be changing something about the internal communication in my brain. Whatever my inner process is that lets me solve problems, it works differently, or maybe different parts of my brain are used, " said Herbert, 42, an early employee of Cisco Systems who intervened to ban drug testing of technologists at the company.

Herbert says he's solved his toughest technical problems after dropping LSD and listening to drum solos by the Grateful Dead – who were among the many artists inspired by LSD.

"When I'm on LSD and hearing something that's pure rhythm, it takes me to another world and into another brain state where I've stopped thinking and started knowing," said Herbert.

Herbert, who lives in Santa Cruz, California, joined 2,000 researchers, scientists, artists and historians from 40 countries who gathered here over the weekend to celebrate the 100th birthday of Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD in 1938.

In many ways, the conference LSD: Problem Child and Wonder Drug, an International Symposium on the Occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann, was a scientific coming-out party for the substance Hofmann uncovered.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, a derivative of lysergic acid found in the alkaloids of the ergot grain fungus, has been illegal worldwide since the early 1970's and still generates controversy.

The conference was picketed Saturday by a splinter group from Scientology opposed to drug use. But Hofmann received a congratulatory birthday letter from the Swiss president, roses, and a spontaneous kiss from a young woman in the crowd.

The storied history of LSD began during the darkest days of World War II, five years after Hofmann discovered the molecule. The chemist had what he described as a "peculiar presentiment" compelling him to resynthesize the drug. Soon afterwards, without intentionally ingesting the substance, Hofmann had a transcendent experience akin to one he experienced as a child. In a second
intentional trip, Hoffman took too large a dose and had a frightening experience that gave way to a feeling of rebirth.

"LSD wanted to tell me something," Hofmann told the gathering Friday. "It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation." During the 1950's and 1960's, LSD was used by psychiatrists and psychotherapists and was studied by the CIA as a potential interrogation weapon. LSD was criminalized after it was rejected by the government and widely embraced by the youth culture.

Aged but still eloquent, Hofmann said Friday that he hoped the symposium would encourage the renewed therapeutic and ceremonial use of LSD in supervised settings.

Hofmann says he would like to see a modern version of the Eleusinian Mysteries, an ancient Greek ritual of renewal which persisted for two millennium beginning in 1500 BC. Mythologist Carl P. Ruck and chemist Peter Webster said at the symposium that they believe that an ergot preparation was the active ingredient for the Kykeon beverage used to promote spiritual awakening during the ritual.

"When Hofmann synthesized the chemical in LSD, he stumbled upon a 4,000-year-old secret," said Ruck, author of Road To Eleusis.

In 1958, Hofmann was the first to isolate the psychoactive substances of psilocybin and psilocin from Mexican magic mushrooms Psilocybe
which were among a variety of sacred plants used around the world to invite ecstatic and spiritual experiences.

The United States Supreme Court is now considering an appeal brought by the New Mexican chapter of the Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) which uses the outlawed ayahausca brew in its ceremonies and cites the Eleusinian Mysteries as a precedent for a psychoactive Eucharist.

In Basel, symposium attendees sang, talked, danced to music, and viewed works by visionary artists including painter Alex Grey. Conversations and gatherings stretched long into the night -- especially for those in altered states of consciousness.

Participants wishing to describe their LSD experiences were
encouraged to contribute to a library of drug experiences at the Erowid web site. Earth and Fire Erowid, who operate the site, presented a sampling of comments at the symposium and document the 2-5 known deaths that have been associated with LSD. They note that according to the National Household Survey, the percentage of Americans who say they have tried LSD has held steady at about ten percent for about twenty years.

Geri Beil of Cologne, Germany, who attended the symposium, recalled his own ecstatic LSD experience on an Indian beach on New Year's day 2000. "I was crying from happiness, thankful that life was given to me and so thankful to my parents that they created me," said Beil. "This experience has not disappeared, it has had a lasting effect."

Like Herbert, many scientists and engineers also report heightened states of creativity while using LSD. During a press conference on Friday, Hofmann revealed that he was told by Nobel prize winning chemist Kary Mullis that LSD had helped him develop the polymerase chain reaction which helps amplify DNA sequences.

"When you study natural science and the miracles of creation, if you don't turn into a mystic you are not a natural scientist," said Hofmann. He believes LSD brings users closer to nature, a bond that he says has been damaged by the intrusion of technology.

In his presentation, artist Alex Grey noted that Nobel prize winner Francis Crick, discoverer of the double helical structure of DNA, told friends that he received inspiration for his ideas from LSD - a revelation covered by href="http://www.mayanmajix.com/art1699.html">news reports.

The gathering included a discussion of how early computer pioneers used LSD for inspiration, including Douglas Englebart, the inventor of the mouse, Myron Stolaroff, a former Ampex engineer and LSD researcher who was attending the symposium, and Apple-cofounder Steve Jobs. In the 2005 book
What the Dormouse Said
, New York Times reporter
John Markoff quotes Jobs as describing his LSD experience "one of the two or three most important things he has done in his life."

In addition to enhancing creativity, supporters say LSD has promising medical uses. Psychotherapists and psychiatrists at the symposium discussed research into the therapeutic usefulness of psychedelic drugs.

Dr. Michael Mithoefer presented the preliminary findings of his study in Charleston, South Carolina, which is investigating whether MDMA is effective for treating post traumatic stress disorder in people traumatize by crime or war.

Dr. John Halpern of Harvard University discussed his proposed study using MDMA to treat anxiety in cancer patients which is now awaiting DEA approval.

The Florida-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is sponsoring these inquiries and research in Canada investigating the use of ibogain to treat drug addiction.

And a study at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, supported by the Heffter Research Institute, is investigating whether psilocybin effectively eases the anxiety of terminal cancer patients. Psychiatrist Charles Grob says his research group has located six of the needed twelve subjects and is looking for more participants.

While the data has yet to be analyzed, Grob told the gathering that study results have been promising and applauded the opportunity to share the data in an international gathering.

"It's very encouraging to see such a large number of people, including very knowledgeable people, getting together and sharing a common vision that these compounds have tremendous potential to facilitate healing, especially in areas that do not respond well to conventional treatments," said Grob.

"There is global healing in these compounds which have been used for millennium by indigenous people that have much to teach modern man and modern woman."

MAPS founder Rick Doblin says his goal is to make psychedelic medicines into prescription drugs. But he notes that LSD is not yet being studied for therapeutic purposes. "We have been deeply touched by our experiences with psychedelics and it is hard that there is not a single legal study with LSD given to humans anywhere in the world," said Doblin. "We need to bring what is underground and illegal back into a legal context."

But Doblin notes that a group of people who say LSD provides relief from their cluster headaches have organized
online and are pushing for a study at Harvard to explore this possible therapy. Doblin says that if Harvard accepts the MDMA study, it could pave the way for the symbolically important return of psychedelic research at Harvard. His goal, says Doblin, is to secure an LSD study in time for Hofmann's 101st birthday.

Dr. Andrew Sewell, a psychiatrist and neurologist from the Harvard Medical School who studies alcohol and drug abuse, says most problems with LSD occur when users take an unknown dose they don't feel comfortable with, in an uncontrolled setting, without supervision to shield them from dangerous situations.

"LSD flashbacks are well-confirmed phenomenon but they are relatively rare and don't seem to cause as much trouble as the media would have you believe," said Dr. Sewell who is attending the LSD symposium.

Dr. Sewell says people who have underlying mental disorders should not take LSD because it could make their symptoms worse. "Like any powerful drug, if LSD is used incorrectly it can cause more harm than good," said Dr. Sewell. "LSD is a potentially dangerous drug and should be taken under medical supervision."

"There is no evidence that LSD causes permanent brain damage and quite a lot of evidence that it doesn't," continues Dr. Sewell. "We are lucky that we have over 1,000 papers written in the 50's and 60's when LSD was given to thousands and thousands of research subjects so we have a pretty good idea at this point what it does and does not do."

Asked if the world need his invention, Hofmann said he hoped that the Basel LSD symposium would help create an appropriate place for LSD in society. "I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD," said Hofmann. "It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be."

January 23, 2006

Back To The Motherland

I've just returned from a month of traveling. I try to get out of the US about twice a year, go on a walkabout, and talk to people outside my own country. I post to this blog infrequently when I'm on the road. But I learn a lot about the world when I pry myself out of my comfortable base camp here in San Francisco.

My travels this winter started in Berlin where I covered the Chaos Computer Congress run by the Berlin-based computer hacker group the Chaos Computer Club. I wrote a story about the Congress for Wired News called Hackers Rebel Against Spycams that just scratched the surface of the cool hacks and activism going on among the hacker community in Berlin. Needless to say, not many of these folks want to visit me in the US and be fingerprinted and photographed and I can't blame them. The most interesting discussion at the Congress took place between CCC member and security researcher Frank Rieger and Rop Gonggrip founder of the Dutch ISP XS4All. Entitled "We Lost the War" Rieger and Gonggrip suggested that we have lost the worldwide fight for privacy, lost the war against the surveillance industry and almost lost the fight for free access to the Internet. Have we lost these fights?

From Berlin I headed off to Florence to look at art and talk politics with some Italian friends. Life is beautiful in Italy, it seduces you like a narcotic. But activists complain that Italian PM Silvio Burlusconi still has a lock on the country's media outlets and very little real political dissent gets through. Internet charges are still high there preventing people from getting much news off the Net. Italy, say my friends there, tends to import the worst of American culture (TV sitcoms etc) without any democratic innovations, like, say the ability to file class action lawsuits. A judge in Milan has hauled a priest into court to challenge the existance of Jesus, however, so all is not lost in Italy. "What happened to America?" asked my Italian dinner companions. "We looked to it as a beacon of democracy and then they began locking people up without trial and torturing political prisoners."
What can one say to a comment like that? You put down your fork, appologize on behalf of your entire country, and then go find a beautiful place on the Palazzo Vecchio and have a cry.

The last leg of my journey took place in Switzerland. Even with my bad French, I could tell the Swiss really had a handle on current events. "Osama bin Laden is a creature of the US," said my Swiss friends in Laussane who were well-versed with the arguments in Michael Moore's movie Farenheit 911. "Bush has a lot of power, but the Swiss system does not allow the executive branch to concentrate power." Sensible Swiss. No wonder people want to bank there.

I moved on to Basel, Switzerland where I had a chance to hear my favorite Swiss researcher, Albert Hofmann, honored at symposium called LSD: Problem Child and Wonderdrug: International Symposium on the Occassion of he 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann. I didn't get any sleep for the entire event, but I wrote a story about the symposium for Wired News.

I've only felt to be in the presence of a true mystic twice in my life. The first time was interviewing the Dali Lama and the second was hearing Dr. Hofmann describe his discovery of LSD. Hofmann, a very sober- minded former chemist for Sandoz, said that during the dark days of World War II, LSD called out to him to impart a message of reunification with the natural world. Hofmann is hoping that LSD can be decriminalized and find a useful place in society similar to role a similar ergot compound had in the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. My story for Wired described the many scientists who found inspiration with this substance, including Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.

January 03, 2006

Picasso in Berlin

Traveled across Berlin today to see the Picasso exhibit at the New National Gallery. The pictures in the show were Picasso's private collection. The ones he refused to sell.

January 01, 2006

Berlin: New Year's Day

Another cold but supremely entertaining day in Berlin with friends from the Chaos Computer Club. The Chaos Communications Congress wrapped up earlier on Friday with excellent presentations on Bluetooth and Blackberry hacking together with a roundup of the top computer security vulnerabilities for 2006. The Congress was attended by 3,000 people working on a solid network with more connectivity than Africa.

The after party was held at the C-Base, a private hackers space built to resemble a starship fallen to earth. The C-Base crew threw another party last night and put on a splendid fireworks display. The DJs spun German house music all night and long into this morning. Much dancing, talking, and hanging out. Such a fine place, Berlin, with far stronger data privacy laws, humane drug policies, legalized prostitution, and a government that understands the dangers of incremental facism. An enormous relief to be here - so far from the immediate disfunction of the U.S.