Mobility

Don't try to control what you don't understand

A new bill in consideration by the US House of Representatives illustrates three reasons people who don't understand security should not dictate security policy.

Representative Peter King of New York wants your cellphone camera to make obnoxious noises. He wants this, he says, to protect us from ourselves -- to make sure that vulnerable women will be alerted by a "tone" when some miscreant takes an "upskirt" photo of her. It's all about our security, after all.

He is pursuing this goal with H.R.414, a new House bill luridly titled The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act. The summary as of 9 January 2009, when it was introduced, reads:

Requires any mobile phone containing a digital camera to sound a tone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera's phone. Prohibits such a phone from being equipped with a means of disabling or silencing the tone. Treats the requirement as a consumer product safety standard and requires enforcement by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Questionable phrasing aside, perhaps his zeal in attempting to ensure our security against casual acts of perversion is to be commended -- but I doubt it. The reasons this law are a bad idea are legion. I'll share a few of them that occurred to me within minutes of hearing about this law, to illustrate the three biggest reasons people who don't understand security should never be allowed to dictate security policy according to their own whims.

First: It Won't Help

Security policy dreamed up by people who don't know what they're doing is typically deficient. Worse yet, it is often entirely ineffective. The CPPA Act is a good example of that kind of ineffectiveness. The only consolation is that, being a Congressman, Rep. King probably didn't really care about effectiveness as much as he did about being seen to "do something", thus justifying his reëlection to his target constituency.

10 reasons it won't work:

  1. A miscreant could cover the speaker with his or her finger, or even with tape. Most cellphones aren't all that loud.
  2. A miscreant could get a cellphone that runs open source software -- such as T-Mobile's G1, which uses Google's Linux-based Android OS -- and hack the software.
  3. A miscreant could void the cellphone's warranty, by opening up the case and disconnecting the speaker.
  4. A miscreant could use a non-cellphone camera.
  5. A miscreant could get a cellphone from an unregulated jurisdiction (read: another country).
  6. A miscreant won't care if the camera goes "click" while taking a picture of a woman in the shower -- or even near a busy street -- because she probably won't hear it.
  7. A miscreant might just change the audio file for the camera sound to one that doesn't make any noise. Most cellphones allow custom and configurable sounds.
  8. This tactic has already been shown to be worse than useless in Japan, where cellphone cameras are the last thing anyone would use for "upskirt" photos. The state of the art has moved on. It might be argued that, by forcing "upskirt" photos further underground, the miscreants in question have become more enterprising and more difficult to catch in Japan.
  9. This is quite impractical for video. Problem not solved.
  10. At best, this might promote a false sense of security -- which would reduce the level of actual security. Security theater is not the answer to security threats.

Second: It Will Hurt

There are a lot of good reasons one might want to take photos silently. Some of them even relate to making people safer. Passing this law would cause difficult to define economic damage to various industries (most particularly those directly related to cellphones), and more obvious problems for user convenience. It may even reduce our security. Security policy developed entirely by people who don't know what they are doing is often not only ineffective, but counterproductive.

5 reasons it will make things worse:

  1. Sometimes, candid photos aren't unwanted, and hurt nobody.
  2. A good citizen might just be sick of the annoying noises when taking pictures of friends.
  3. A good citizen might not want to be annoying while taking pictures of a presentation in a work meeting, or otherwise take visual notes in a formal setting where camera "tones" might be frowned upon while taking pictures isn't.
  4. A good citizen might want to take pictures of a violent criminal while remaining hidden so the criminal can be tracked down and caught later.
  5. A good citizen might want to take pictures of police officers or other officials abusing their authority without getting wrongfully arrested and having his or her cellphone taken away.

Third: It Will Waste Resources

Focusing energy on policy developed by people who aren't competent to develop good policy has effects beyond mere unintended consequences after it is enacted. It also wastes resources in planning, implementation, maintenance, and enforcement stages of policy enactment. Time, energy, money, and other resources that could be better spent elsewhere are instead diverted to pointless security policy that doesn't solve any problems at all.

My favorite reason this is a stupid law is the most obvious:

  1. Congress has better things to do right now than playing with this piece of legal hackery. Is it any wonder we're in the midst of an economic crash, when this is the kind of behavior we get out of our elected officials during a crisis?

The Silver Lining

On the plus side, this bill has no co-sponsor, and it has landed in the lap of what may be the busiest House committee. They are likely to throw it out after only the most cursory consideration as not being worth their time and energy, especially since it is a bill introduced by a Republican in a Democrat-controlled Congress.

One good thing to come from this is the fact that we get to use it as an illustrative example of why people who don't understand security should not be allowed to dictate security policy.

About

Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.

90 comments
lindynanny13
lindynanny13

I thought living, and supporting the military in 1982 Germany was scary!

doug.creach
doug.creach

It's a despicable act. Why can't we just make taking the picture in the first place illegal? Of course, some ACLU clown will sue over freedom of expression.

chris
chris

Should it/is it illegal to create something yourself? mind you, I am not taking a side here, just wondering if people know. someone may not take a photo, but a good graphics guy can sure make it look like one. Is that consider child porn? It's not an actual person.

TheOnlyRick
TheOnlyRick

I'm pretty sure is already illegal, but with silent phones, it's also pretty easy to do without getting caught. I take issue with a few points. A lot of the 'It won't help' and 'It will hurt' arguments cancel each other out: If it's that easy to silence a phone, then you'll OK in the fairly contrived situation of seeing the officials abusing their authority, so you'll be able to snap away without getting wrongully arrested. Also, I don't think that in the middle of a recession, the *only* thing that people should ever think about is the recession. I know time should be used wisely, but I disagree that war and economics are the only the only things that should be discussed for the next 5 years... Also, he's not dictating security policy - he's 'putting it out there' so that everyone can have a look at it and decide if it's important. I don't know a whole load about stem cell research, (and not many people do) but in a democracy you're allowed to have views on it.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]I'm pretty sure is already illegal, but [. . .] it's also pretty easy to do without getting caught.[/i]" Fixed it for you. "[i]If it's that easy to silence a phone, then you'll OK in the fairly contrived situation of seeing the officials abusing their authority, so you'll be able to snap away without getting wrongully arrested.[/i]" Not really. Miscreants tend to be devious in circumventing countermeasures; law-abiding citizens, statistically, just tend to be annoyed when they're affected by such countermeasures. Don't forget the fact that, generally, law-abiding citizens won't be planning ahead for the day when they need to take pictures of law enforcement officers beating the crap out of someone (for instance) -- whereas someone planning to take upskirt photos can plan ahead by snipping speaker wires in the comfort of his/her home. "[i]Also, I don't think that in the middle of a recession, the *only* thing that people should ever think about is the recession.[/i]" I don't think so either, but our "representatives" in Congress certainly don't need to be dreaming up ways to waste time and money on something completely friggin' useless, and even counterproductive, like this. The fact the economy is tanking just adds to the distracting stupidity of something like this. "[i]Also, he's not dictating security policy - he's 'putting it out there' so that everyone can have a look at it and decide if it's important.[/i]" He's [b]trying[/b] to dictate policy. He's proposing policy, and trying to cajole others into going along with it. Congress is, in some respects, like the board of directors of a corporation. Wouldn't you think of the situation as someone on the board that knows nothing about security trying to dictate security policy if you heard that board meetings were being convened to discuss whether it makes sense to make everybody in the company use the same password so security will be "improved" (by making sure it's a strong password)? "[i]I don't know a whole load about stem cell research, (and not many people do) but in a democracy you're allowed to have views on it.[/i]" Of course you are -- but that doesn't mean you should be telling a researcher what kind of microscope he has to use, or even trying to cajole fellow members of Congress (if you were a Representative) into telling researchers what kind of microscope has to be used.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]The people who know the most about lawmaking *are* legislators. They just are.[/i]" Saying it doesn't make it so. I just figured I'd point out the flaw in your argument. "[i]They know about the legal process, they know about the horsetrading, backscratching and nippletweaking that has to go on behind the scenes.[/i]" I don't think that knowing how to get a law passed is really the most productive skill for someone who is going to use that skill to pass bad laws. "[i]While it's still clearly polemic[/i]" Clearly, you wouldn't be satisfied unless and until I came up with a six-paragraph ramble that attempts to equivocate its way to a conceptual compromise that doesn't mean anything. "[i]It wasn't pedantry of me to distinguish between 'dictating', and 'following the normal legal process that takes place in the States'.[/i]" Your attempt to divest the pursuit of bad policy from a position of authority of any negative connotation is getting pretty ridiculous at this point. Don't hurt yourself, bending over backwards to grant a free pass to someone trying to pass bad laws, please -- I don't want to have to pay your medical bills as a taxpayer (thanks to more bad laws [b]dictating[/b] that my money be taken from me to pay for the treatment of your self-inflicted injuries). "[i]Regardless, I have a mistrust of any arguments based on analogies. The point about analogies is that they are not the thing that is actually being discussed.[/i]" The point of analogy is to make something clear that may not have been recognized without the analogy, to demonstrate a principle of cause and effect via experience more likely to be common to the audience. The trick to proper use of analogy is to avoid carrying it too far. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater; the fact some people carry analogy too far doesn't devalue analogy in general as a pedagogical tool. "[i]Why produce a sound argument about a Director dictating IT policy, if it wasn't what you were trying to say about Peter King?[/i]" Peter King was the effin' analogy, in this case. Your attempt to defend the proposition of a bad law in Congress on the grounds that it's within the restrictions of "normal" procedure doesn't change that. The problem here is that you're carrying the analogy too far -- intentionally, to try to build a straw man argument, as far as I can tell. "[i]In a dispute, it is very rare for both parties to agree the analogy *is* actually analagous.[/i]" If the analogy clarifies one person's position, something has been accomplished. Let it go. "[i]I could have made the analogy that Congress is like a concerned mother looking after her children[/i]" If you did, I would have responded that Congress [b]shouldn't[/b] be "like a concerned mother looking after her children", even if it [b]was[/b] like that. I wouldn't use that as an excuse to try to claim analogies are [b]bad, mmkay?[/b] and imply you're incompetent to make a point. "[i]'Having a right doesn't make it right.' Uhhhh... right. But that pithy little phrase is irrelevant if I'm an expert on choosing microscopes.[/i]" No -- it's not irrelevant. You seem to think that some microscope expert in Poughkeepsie should be able to mandate the use of a particular brand and model of microscope nationwide, which strikes me as really bad policy. I'm a security expert -- but that doesn't mean I should lobby Congress to disallow the use of OSes I consider substandard for security purposes. Instead, it means I should try to educate people on the relative security merits and flaws of various OSes and let people choose for themselves.

TheOnlyRick
TheOnlyRick

Re Cynicism about politicians. I like cynicism, but not when it's used against me... The people who know the most about lawmaking *are* legislators. They just are. They know about the legal process, they know about the horsetrading, backscratching and nippletweaking that has to go on behind the scenes. Re: 'dictate' and 'trying to dictate' I am happier with the phrasing. While it's still clearly polemic and trying to push the reader into a particular way of thinking, it is much, much closer to the truth. It wasn't pedantry of me to distinguish between 'dictating', and 'following the normal legal process that takes place in the States'. Regardless, I have a mistrust of any arguments based on analogies. The point about analogies is that they are not the thing that is actually being discussed. Why produce a sound argument about a Director dictating IT policy, if it wasn't what you were trying to say about Peter King? In a dispute, it is very rare for both parties to agree the analogy *is* actually analagous. I could have made the analogy that Congress is like a concerned mother looking after her children, or the chiefs of a tribe or (etc). Who is to say that one analogy is more accurate than another? Pretty soon the discussion disappears up it's anal(ogical) sphincter... Apotheon - I'm not disagreeing with everything you say. (Geddit? Another disagreement!) "Having a right doesn't make it right." Uhhhh... right. But that pithy little phrase is irrelevant if I'm an expert on choosing microscopes. R. PS - It would be one-in-a-million chance, but I hope my mum doesn't read this. She would (quite rightly) be annoyed that I spend more time arguing with strangers than I do speaking to her.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

libertarians with conservatives. Many of us just want less government involvement in our lives, and US conservatives have given you eight years to realize that that's not necessarily a conservative virtue.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

of everyone, my previous post at the least implying that I don't think they know much about lawmaking, surely everyone doesn't agree that [i]they (politicians) know lots about making and passing laws...[/i] I might, on the other hand, agree that they know a lot about making and passing badly conceived, written, and loophole ridden laws.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]I resemble that remark.[/i]" I don't.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]I don't think it's such a self-evidently stupid idea as the writer thinks.[/i]" It's something that should have been discussed with someone who knows something about the topic before being proposed as a bill in Congress. Simply having an idea is not a good reason to run the risk of getting it signed into law, especially if one isn't qualified to judge the consequences of such a law. . . . and it's pretty self-evidently stupid to anyone that knows anything about security and privacy. That's the point: one should consult with someone for whom it would be self-evidently [b]something[/b] before submitting it for review by Congress. "[i]they tend to know about lawmaking[/i]" I'm curious -- what do you think they know about it? In my experience, the only thing legislators really need to know to get (and keep) the job is how to get (re)elected. "[i]Unless he's delusional, he is not trying to *dictate* policy[/i]" He's trying to arrange for Congress to dictate policy. Are you happier with the phrasing, now? Criminy. Did it occur to you the word "dictate" may have been more in reference to the analogous IT management circumstances? "[i]Directors in a corporation and Congress operate so differently that your analogy sheds no light.[/i]" It sheds light -- but you're not going to see it if all you're looking for is shadows (i.e., excuses to disagree with everything I say). "[i]If I *did* have a view on what type of microscope researchers should use, (and I could justify my position), then I have a right to lobby my Member of Parliament to get the law changed. (Note - 'lobby' not 'dictate').[/i]" Having a right doesn't make it right.

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

that we are conservative? I resemble that remark..

TheOnlyRick
TheOnlyRick

Many would dispute about whether the laws are good or bad, but surely everyone would agree that they (politicians) know lots about making and passing laws... Also, remember that every single law that has ever been passed has displeased at least 25% of the population, but that in itself is no reason to decide that is the end of lawmaking. (I make the point 'cos I'm finding out that the culture on TR is one of conservatism.)

TheOnlyRick
TheOnlyRick

I don't think it's a good idea, in fact I think it's a fairly bad idea. Clearly it wouldn't stop all perving, in fact it wouldn't even stop all perving with cameraphones. But: I don't think it's such a self-evidently stupid idea as the writer thinks. It's something that could reasonably be suggested and discussed, even by people who aren't TR members! Lawmakers can't be experts in all areas of human life (but they tend to know about lawmaking) - so I'm still happy for them to make proposals, most of which will be shot down by their colleagues, opposition, the media and very, very occasionally, the public. Unless he's delusional, he is not trying to *dictate* policy - he just isn't powerful enough. 'Proposing' and 'cajoling', yes, dictating, no. There's quite a difference! Directors in a corporation and Congress operate so differently that your analogy sheds no light. I'm not a fan of your second analogy (You've twisted it to fortify your position), but: If I *did* have a view on what type of microscope researchers should use, (and I could justify my position), then I have a right to lobby my Member of Parliament to get the law changed. (Note - 'lobby' not 'dictate'). R.

Greybeard770
Greybeard770

This reminds me of a law (another Tech Republic story) presented by a state representative in Pennsylvania. The law would make it unlawful to be involved in transfer of child pornography. Hopefully, we are all in favor of the law so far. But it was written such that the companies who owned the copper used to transfer the file would also be liable. What ISP would be willing to operate in a state where they were responsible for everything that went across their wires?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... hold the USPS responsible for letter bombs. Legislators all to often imagine a simplistic view of the issue on which they are legislating.

techrepublic
techrepublic

I was going to say that this allows me to be further ashamed being the Republican that I am - but it is more accurate to say that I am actually ashamed that this fellow : Representative Peter King : not only thinks that he is conservative, but has elected to align himself under the flag of the GOP. Obviously he has not got one bright feather stuck in reality on either end of the 'relevant' stick. Folks that produce non-sense such as this not only waste their own time, but the time of others up there that are desperately trying to run us into the ground. Perhaps he just got all caught up in the excitement and wanted to help do his part of pouring water into the boat vs out of it. But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong... Sincerely and without hesitation, _________________________ Max Laing, D. MP CEO / Project Development Allowing Success & ActionCore, Inc. "Where We Plug In BOTH Ends Of The Cable!" Supporting... - http://GetPreQualified.Com - http://DCConsult.Com - http://BigDaddyData.Com - http://CyberSeams.Com Interviews With Max... - http://beyondtheordinary.net/maxlaing.shtml

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'm late to teh discussion so it may already have been mentioned. here's what I see happening though. If the bill goes through and cameras ahve to make some smoke-alarm like sound then everybody flips over to video. You can't have your video loosing sound because of a "cameray warning tone" in the background and a smartphone with video but not audio pickups isn't going to sell these days. The camera shutter click sound that smartphones usually make now is enough and chances are good that every parent in the playground is wondering about the guy with no kids sitting alone on the bench with his smart phone out.

dmk45044
dmk45044

This is only marginally an IT issue. You're using Tech Republic simply as a pulpit to howl at Congress and society more generally. Please stick to your knitting.

seanferd
seanferd

that is TR. Getting in the face of Congress. Also: cell phones are definitely a subset of IT.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Congressional precedents like this could lead to regulations that directly impact IT -- requiring useless security measures because they sound well-intentioned.

chris
chris

asks you to disable the "dinger" on all the company phones.

maxwell edison
maxwell edison

.....to dictate [i][b]X[/i][/b] policy. Where [i][b]X[/i][/b] equals: Health Care Retirement Accounts Education Business Automobile manufacturing etc. The list could go on and on.

apotheon
apotheon

TechRepublic has me writing about IT Security here -- not about Everything, or I might have talked about that broader application of the principle a bit more.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Not great. Good and necessary. Not sufficient.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Hence, I allow as how your original "allowed" was but frustrated sentiment and not integral to the laser sharpness of your good, but not great, piece.

apotheon
apotheon

. . . but I'm not sure these articles really provide the venue for reimplementing the Union.

santeewelding
santeewelding

By which you would secure us -- "should not be allowed" -- from legislators already of our last resort.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]Not sufficient.[/i]" What would have made it sufficient?

maxwell edison
maxwell edison

But I didn't think you'd mind if I took the opportunity to expand the same question into other areas - just as food for thought, so to speak. Great piece, by the way.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]I didn't think you'd mind if I took the opportunity to expand the same question into other areas[/i]" Of course not. As long as they aren't trollish, they don't distract from meaningful discussion of the original topic too much, and they provide some food for thought, I enjoy these digressions. "[i]Great piece, by the way.[/i]" Thanks muchly.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Let's put a warning bell on all members of Congress that sounds whenever they introduce legislation.

chris
chris

need to do a study on it first. get lots of states involved and pork it up :-)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

How about an "invisible fence" collar that shocks them every time they introduce a new bill? Then maybe they'd have to decide if the pending legislation was really worth the literal pain of introducing it.

apotheon
apotheon

How about we make it illegal for a member of Congress to knowingly introduce an unconstitutional bill? Any time a federal statute is found unconstitutional, we could end up with a Congresscritter facing charges.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Most members of Congress don't know anything in the first place, so you'd never be able to show they knowingly introduced the bill. And the ones who do know something aren't stupid enough to propose unconstitutional legislation in the first place.

apotheon
apotheon

If someone "tests" airport security, as in the case of the [b]TSA Communication[/b] project, he or she may hold up a line a little bit and get mistreated by TSA. If someone "tests" constitutionality by trying to get away with passing unconstitutional laws, he or she may end up violating the rights of millions of US citizens. In the former case, the idiot probably gets what (s)he deserves. In the latter case, [b]everybody else[/b] gets what the idiot deserves. edit: typo

chris
chris

airport security

apotheon
apotheon

I remember a while back McCain, in an interview, literally said he knew a bill was unconstitutional -- but he decided to vote for it anyway, just to see if it would get past the courts.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

write-ins that have nothing to do with the original bill. Those together would make for a good start for accountability laws for Government. :)

chris
chris

getting rid of those little riders? both parties blasted him I thought? maybe it was McCain?

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is the snag that catches the (Moroccan) government with respect to discussion as treasonous, and not subject to revision by those very ones who enacted it. Take care that what we wish for does not amount to a suicide pact in event of the unanticipated. In the meantime, until we are prescient, we put up with extralegalism.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I don't expect it to live by any new ones...

techie.brandon
techie.brandon

How about making all purposed legislation available to the masses via internet in a easy to search and well organized and centralized manner... That might just be a little too transparent though...

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

put an electric shocker around their necks that will zap the cr@p outta them whenever they introduce flawed legislation?

chris
chris

it smells like, like....

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Just nix all of them and build a government of your peers instead.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

That's how this mess got started.

santeewelding
santeewelding

As above. Who bells the cat?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Of course I was joking. The problem with regulating Congress is that Congress is an object lesson in how bad regulation can be.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Because your browser supports Unicode just fine. It's something on the server side that's borking it. Probably translating to/from ASCII or some such.

neilb
neilb

Is that you can SEE the accents when you're typing the bloody post! :)

neilb
neilb

Then, reality and TR took a hand. No accents AND a double-post!

apotheon
apotheon

Touch? is just French for "touch" anyway.

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