Category Archives: freedom

Charitable Donations: The Problem of Restricted Funds

By donating funds to disaster-specific charitable organisations and campaigns we restrict the use of our funds to the relief of that problem only. This can cause long-lasting issues for charities and worldwide disaster recovery efforts in the future.

To ensure the charitable help best, the charitable should ensure they give unrestricted funds that are not earmarked for specific disasters.

[Médecins Sans Frontières] has already received enough money over the past three days to keep its Haiti mission running for the best part of the next decade. MSF is behaving as ethically as it can, and has determined that the vast majority of the spike in donations that it’s received in the past few days was intended to be spent in Haiti. It will therefore earmark that money for Haiti, and try to spend it there over the coming years, even as other missions, elsewhere in the world, are still in desperate need of resources. […]

The last time there was a disaster on this scale was the Asian tsunami, five years ago. And for all its best efforts, the Red Cross has still only spent 83% of its $3.21 billion tsunami budget — which means that it has over half a billion dollars left to spend. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s money which could be spent in Haiti, if it weren’t for the fact that it was earmarked. […]

If a charity is worth supporting, then it’s worth supporting with unrestricted funds. Because the last thing anybody wants to see in a couple of years’ time is an unseemly tussle over what happened to today’s Haiti donations, even as other international tragedies receive much less public attention.

Terrorism and Our Responses

Shortly after the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 incident, Bruce Schneier provided links to a number of articles that published interviews, quotes or essays from him. As expected, Schneier calmly reiterates his old advice that is as valid now as it was pre-9/11.

The one not to miss: Is aviation security mostly for show?

The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. […]

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, […] the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them. […]

We’d do much better by leveraging the inherent strengths of our modern democracies and the natural advantages we have over the terrorists: our adaptability and survivability, our international network of laws and law enforcement, and the freedoms and liberties that make our society so enviable.

In an interview with The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg Schneier was asked if we are “moving toward the Israelification” of airport security. Unsure what Israelification referred to, a quick search led to an excellent article discussing how airport security works in Israel:

Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.

That, in a nutshell is “Israelification” – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Interestingly, a large proportion of Israel’s airport security is rooted in behavioural profiling: the meta-data.

Ability to Inhibit Prejudices Diminishes with Age

As we age we become less able to inhibit prejudiced inferences, relying more on ethnic and sexist stereotypes to interpret situations, research into the science of prejudice suggests.

There are a lot of clichés thrown around about the elderly, but one that seems to be true—or at least is backed up by research—is the belief they tend to be more prejudiced than younger people. This phenomenon—noted in The New York Times as early as 1941—is widely assumed to be the result of socialization. After all, today’s senior citizens grew up in an era when racism was widespread and gays stayed in the closet. Of course they aren’t as open-minded as their children and grandchildren.

A decade ago, a research team led by William von Hippel of the University of Queensland challenged that assumption. The psychologists proposed that older people may exhibit greater prejudice because they have difficulty inhibiting the stereotypes that regularly get activated in all of our brains. They suggested an aging brain is not as effective in suppressing unwanted information—including stereotypes.

Matthew Yglesias recently noted that current marriage equality acceptance in the U.S. decreases with age, suggesting that equal marriage rights are inevitable as the older generations cease to have voting power and/or die. When I consider this in light of the above, however, I wonder if this really is the case?

via Intelligent Life

The abstracts of the two papers discussed in this article: Stereotype Activation, Inhibition, and Aging and Aging and Stereotype Suppression.

Identification through Anonymous Social Networking Data

Anonymity is “not sufficient for privacy when dealing with social networks” is the conclusion from a study that has successfully managed to de-anonymise large amounts of sanitised data from Twitter and Flickr.

The main lesson of this paper is that anonymity is not sufficient for privacy when dealing with social networks. […] Our experiments underestimate the extent of the privacy risks of anonymized social networks. The overlap between Twitter and Flickr membership at the time of our data collection was relatively small. […] As social networks grow larger and include a greater fraction of the population along with their relationships, the overlap increases. Therefore, we expect that our algorithm can achieve an even greater re-identification rate on larger networks.

There’s been some meritorious coverage of this study. This from BBC News:

The pair found that one third of those who are on both Flickr and Twitter can be identified from the completely anonymous Twitter graph. This is despite the fact that the overlap of members between the two services is thought to be about 15%.

This from Ars Technica:

It’s not just about Twitter, either. Twitter was a proof of concept, but the idea extends to any sort of social network: phone call records, healthcare records, academic sociological datasets, etc.

via Schneier

CCTV Prevalence in Britain

For many years the British public has often been told that the United Kingdom has 4.2 million CCTV cameras—that’s one for every fourteen residents—as widely quoted by politicians, various media, and even the police.

This statistic is rarely questioned, but thanks to a recent episode of the excellent More or Less (UK-only?) suggesting that this statistic was, at best, dubious, I decided to do some reading.

I didn’t have to read much.

The statistic comes from a 2002 report from the URBANEYE project, looking at the prevalence of video surveillance in London (pdf). From the Conclusion:

In our Putney sample, 41% of premises had CCTV systems in operation. These institutions had an average of 4.1 surveillance cameras. If we use these figures to extrapolate the extent of CCTV coverage in London and the country as a whole we come up with the following results. If we begin by assuming that the extent of CCTV coverage in Putney is broadly representative of CCTV coverage across the whole of London, we could estimate that 41% (102,910) of the 251,000 business registered for VAT in London would have a CCTV system. Between them these businesses will have 421,931 surveillance cameras. If we add to these the number of surveillance cameras operating in other public institutions (open-street systems, transport, hospital, schools etc.) it would not be unreasonable to ‘guesstimate’ that Londoners are monitored by at least 500,000 CCTV cameras. This means that in London (with a population of 7.2 million residents) there is approximately one camera for every fourteen people. From these figures we would suggest that in the UK (with a population of almost 60 million) there are at least 4,285,000 cameras in the UK.

The Putney sample was a paltry 211 premises. And Putney, as one of the 35 major areas in Greater London, is hardly representative of the UK as a whole. Even the CCTV User Group says the results are “extremely questionable”.