What's New | 5 Apr 00:06 2003

WHAT'S NEW Friday, 4 Apr 03

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 4 Apr 03   Washington, DC

1. PRESIDENTIAL SECRECY: WHAT IS IT THEY'RE TRYING TO COVER UP? 
The 1978 Presidential Records Act made records of past presidents
available for Congressional investigations.  The President,
however, was allowed to invoke executive privilege if disclosure
would threaten national security or reveal the deliberative
processes of the executive branch.  You probably thought we'd
progressed beyond the custom of hereditary authority, but in
November 2001, Executive Order 13233, "Further Implementation of
the Presidential Records Act," extended that executive privilege
to a deceased President's descendants.  Warning that Executive
Order 13233 could severely limit investigations of former
Administrations, Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) has now introduced a bill
to revoke the order.  Just last week, we reported that President
Bush had signed yet another Executive Order that would postpone
automatic declassification of documents from the same era. 

2. EPHEDRA: WELL, NOW THAT YOU BRING UP SCIENTIFIC PROOF...  The
American Heart Association has joined the chorus calling for a
federal ban on ephedra, a herbal stimulant linked serious side
effects including heart attack and stroke (WN 14 Mar 03).  A
spokesman for the powerful ephedrine industry snorted that a ban
would be "irresponsible," since the allegations against ephedra
had not been "proven scientifically."  That's the problem, isn't
it?  Neither has ephedra been proven safe.  As a result of the
1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), the
herbal market is totally unregulated: herbal products don't have
to be proven safe or effective.  But in the case of ephedra, the
bodies are starting to pile up (WN 14 Mar 03).
(Continue reading)

What's New | 11 Apr 22:10 2003

WHAT'S NEW Friday, 11 Apr 03

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 11 Apr 03   Washington, DC

1. PATRIOT ACT: LIBRARIANS DENOUNCE ASSAULT ON THE RIGHT TO READ. 
The USA PATRIOT Act, passed in haste after 9/11, gives the FBI
authority to examine all library circulation records.  The law
also forbids libraries from informing patrons that their reading
habits are being monitored.  Libraries across the country began
shredding circulation records and posting signs warning patrons
that "anything you read is now subject to secret scrutiny by
federal agents."  The American Library Association urged Congress
to repeal the provision in the Patriot Act dealing with library
records.  Contacted by the Vermont Library Association, Rep.
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) last week introduced the Freedom to Read
Protection Act (H.R. 1157).  So far, there are 70 cosponsors.  

2. 17 YEARS AGO IT WAS THE FBI'S "LIBRARY AWARENESS PROGRAM." 
Unfortunately, the goal of the program was not to improve the
literacy of agents.  WHAT'S NEW stumbled on the story first in
1986 after a trench-coated FBI agent asked a student working at
the University of Maryland Physics Library for the record of all
books checked out to a visiting foreign scientist.  The agent
resembled Inspector Clouseau more than Elliot Ness.  The student
called the science librarian.  Maryland is one of 38 states in
which library records are protected by law, and in the absence of
a court order, the librarian refused.  After the New York Times
picked up the story a year later, the FBI ran checks on 266
people who had been publicly critical to see if they were part of
a Soviet plot to discredit the program.  The full story of the
infamous Library Awareness Program is told by librarian Herb
Foerstel in "Surveillance in the Stacks"(Greenwood Press, 1991).
(Continue reading)

What's New | 18 Apr 21:44 2003

WHAT'S NEW Friday, 18 Apr 03

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 18 Apr 03   Washington, DC

1. POLYGRAPH: DOE DECIDES TO SIMPLY REISSUE ITS OLD POLICY.  The
National Academy of Sciences completed its review of scientific
evidence on the polygraph (WN 15 Dec 00).  The NAS report, "The
Polygraph and Lie Detection" (NAS Press, 2003), found polygraph
tests to be unacceptable for DOE employee security screening
because of the high rate of false positives and susceptibility to
countermeasures.  Congress instructed the Department of Energy to
reevaluate its policies on the use of the polygraph in light of
the NAS report.  DOE carefully reevaluated its policies and
reissued them without change, arguing that a high rate of false
positives must mean the threshold for detecting lies is very low. 
Therefore, the test must also nab a lot of true positives.  Since
that's the goal, the DOE position seems to be that the polygraph
tests are working fine and false positives are just unavoidable
collateral damage.  But there is still a countermeasures problem:
anyone can be trained to fool the polygraph in just five minutes. 
WN therefore recommends replacing the polygraph with a coin toss. 
If a little collateral damage is not a problem, coins will catch
fully half of all spies, a vast improvement over the polygraph,
which has never caught even one.  Moreover, coins are notoriously
difficult to train, making them impervious to countermeasures. 

2. SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED: RESTRAINTS ON FLOW OF INFORMATION. 
All governments covet the power to withhold information from the
public, as well as from other governments (WN 21 Mar 03).  The
accepted means is classification, but that obstructs information
sharing within the government, often with serious consequences. 
The solution has been to create a new category of "sensitive but
(Continue reading)

What's New | 25 Apr 21:42 2003

WHAT'S NEW Friday, 25 Apr 03

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 25 Apr 03   Washington, DC

1. ELECTRONIC VOTING: YOU THOUGHT "HANGING CHADS" WERE A PROBLEM!
The Florida fiasco in the 2000 election sent officials across the
country scurrying to modernize voting in their jurisdictions. 
Touch-screen electronic voting machines suddenly became a hot
technology.  They are fast and convenient, but are they reliable,
tamper-proof and free of programing errors?  There is absolutely
no way of knowing!  The machine code is a proprietary secret of
the company that supplies them.  This puts vote counting under
the full control of a private company, with no independent checks
or audits.  Such machines are a serious threat to democracy, yet
few people are even aware that there is a controversy.  Touch-
screen machines that print paper ballots would do, so long as the
voter can check the ballot, which would go in a secure box to be
available for manual counting. Opposition to paperless electronic
voting machines is being organized by David Dill, a computer
science prof at Stanford http://verify.stanford.edu/evote.html. 
He is seeking signatures of technologists, on a statement to warn
the public of this threat to the integrity of the voting process. 

2. FREE ELECTRICITY: THE PAIN IN MAINE IS PLAINLY ON THE WANE. 
Notorious perpetual motion huckster Dennis Lee, barred from doing
business in the State of Washington last year (WN 4 Oct 02), has
now gotten similar treatment on the other side of the country. 
Armed with a report from a physicist familiar with Lee's free
energy scams, the Maine Attorney General filed a Complaint in
Superior Court citing Maine's consumer protection laws.  The
Court enjoined Lee from doing business in Maine and required him
to conspicuously state on his website that his products and
(Continue reading)


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