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Jeff Schult 8/23/98


Shades of the KGB

A Russian Internet expert says Russia's secret police are poised to implement a regulation that will permit them to monitor all electronic mail and Internet communications in the country without having to show a warrant, according to reporting by CNN and Radio Free Europe. Anatoly Levenchuk, the webmaster of a special site devoted to educating the public about the new regulation, says he is exposing the regulation, code-named SORM-2, as an attempt by the secret police to return to totalitarian-style tactics. Levenchuk says SORM-2 -- which stands for "systems for ensuring investigative activity" -- is an enhancement of SORM-1, a regulation already in place in Russia. According to Levenchuk, SORM-1, permits surveillance of specific electronic mail or Internet communication, but only after officials petition the courts for a warrant. Levenchuk says SORM-2 will permit the FSB -- the successor to the KGB --to bypass the need for a warrant and thus be able to monitor, at will, the electronic mail and Internet correspondence of anyone using a Russian Internet service provider. Levenchuk says the SORM-2 regulation requires all Russian Internet and network providers to install a so-called 'black box,' or special surveillance device, in their main computers and devote a high-speed line directly to each local FSB department.

Before everybody starts saying "darn those old Commies, anyway," let’s keep in mind that, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FBI in THIS country wants:

The capabilities to track wireless phone users without meeting constitutional standards and to continue monitoring all parties to a conference call after the suspect has dropped off the call.

Require carriers to disclose "the exact physical location" of wireless phone users without any court approval.

And, of course, the United States government will prosecute you as a traitor if you attempt to export products containing even pretty good encryption.

Maybe our government is "different," but it’s a matter of degree.

Levenchuk’s page is at http://www.fe.msk.ru/libertarium/ehomepage.html


Real Numbers

Statistics given out by Internet service providers are generally suspect, and tend to be self-serving? How can I make this generalization? I’ve worked both sides of the fence, as a journalist and in marketing for Internet service providers. Trust me on this one – ISPs, large and small, prefer to only release numbers that make them look good.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised this week when an executive of ImpSat, Latin America’s largest ISP, released to an ISP marketing mailing list this past week some information I have no reason to be inaccurate. Fabian Caettaneo asked that other ISPs share data with him in return. None did, publicly, anyway. But here were his Internet use numbers for seven countries in Latin America.

Flat Rate users

I’m going to refer back to this the next time there’s a study reached on usage in the United States, because one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t find out how much people use the Internet by asking users – they will always overestimate. That’s why so many people are upset if an ISP caps "unlimited usage" per month, even at 200 hours.

It kind of made me wonder if 25 percent of AOL’s revenue comes from people who don’t use AOL.

Fastest? Read on …

Speaking of statistics, even the best ones are open to misinterpretation. You may have read a story this week propagated by the Ziff-Davis News Network that said that Santa Barbara, Calif., has the "fastest" Internet access and Hartford, Conn., the slowest. ZD based their story on a report by Inverse Technologies, a company with a good reputation for tracking and quantifying online performance.

The trouble with the story is that Inverse Technology’s report had nothing to do with speedy connections. It only measured call failure rates. ZD did not return email asking about this little problem.

I call into Hartford to three different providers on a regular basis and I’d love to complain – but the fact is, we have good dial-up connectivity here. I’d urge ZD to read before they write …

Campaign Finance Online

Never let it be said that I always pick on governments. Sometimes they do the right thing …

The Silicon Alley Reporter reported this week that the New York City Campaign Finance Board's ("CFB") website now has a searchable database of campaign contributions to New York City candidates.

CFB will offer more public disclosure resources than any other jurisdiction in the country, according to CFB Executive Director Nicole A. Gordon.

The site's flexible database lets users search the campaign filings of the 190 candidates who participated in the voluntary New York City Campaign Finance Program for the 1997 municipal elections, in addition to filings already received for the 2001 election cycle and for special City Council elections in 1996 and 1997.

The CFB is one of the only places in the country where the entire process from filing to disclosure is handled electronically. Candidates can use the Board's candidate filing software (C-SMARTŠ) to submit computerized data that is then uploaded into the agency's Campaign Finance Information System.

Next, I want a federal lawmaker to tell me why we can’t spend a few of our tax dollars to implement such a system nationally. They’re so all-fired anxious to keep track of us and what we do. Let’s point the Internet back at them …


Bristol Technology Sues MS

Here’s a lawsuit against Microsoft that isn’t maybe as sexy as the Justice Department’s, but it shows new ways in which it could allegedly act to destroy small and innovative companies.

Bristol Technology Inc., a leader in cross-platform development tools, filed suit this week against Microsoft Corp., seeking relief under the Sherman Antitrust Act from the software giant’s anticompetitive behavior. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Conn., alleges that Microsoft injured Bristol and the rest of the software industry through predatory manipulation of the access to the information that is the source of its monopoly power: the Windows programming interfaces.

I can summarize this pretty quickly: Bristol has had huge success porting Windows NT applications to platforms other than Windows. Do I have to say more?


Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet can be reached at jeffbot at this domain.