Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bioscan for library use

There've been a lot of disturbing things happening in the name of seurity, lately. Two of the biggest:
congress okayed Real ID cards, a probable precursor to national ID cards, as a measure to guard against illegal immigrants, and the Naperville, IL public library system has decided to spend a huge chunk of money "securing" public computer access.

Over $40,000 - that's more than $300 per computer - will be spent to outfit each of the library system's public access computers with fingerprint scanners. This is in response to the realization that many people are logging on via a friend or family member's library card. Many parents probably choose to enable filters on their children's accounts, and may be upset that these kids are getting around the filters so easily, but fingerprint scanning is not the answer. Parenting is. If the library has other issues with people using each other's cards, I'm not sure what they are. The library system doesn't list obtaining cards under its schedule of fees, so it isn't a revenue generating mechanism. While it may throw off statistical analysis, the pages accessed are still accessed - so they still need to be considered when deciding how to best serve library patrons. Sure, someone may steal a patron's card and utalize the computers for illegal purposes, but fingerprint scanning won't stop that. This will be one of those instances where someone who really wants to use the computer for nefarious purposes will.

The biometric scanner has not been created that can't be beaten, and most fingerprint scanners can be beaten by any teenager. Not only do the old methods of breathing on the sensor, or dusting the sensor with graphite filings (pencil dust, anyone?) still work on many of them, but with some Silly Putty and Jello, anyone can create a fake fingerprint. It will still be easy for kids to get their friends and siblings to let them use their IDs, and now it will be a lot more fun to do.

Besides the ease of getting around the system, I'm uncomfortable with the library board's belief that such a measure is necessary and good. With the USA PATRIOT Act insisting libraries turn over records when served with a warrant without informing the patron whose info has been requested, storing any personal data that isn't 100% relevant to library records is irresponsible. Perhaps the board is carried away with the library system's consistant top-ranking (for the past six years the library has been rated the #1 library in its population range; HAPLR). The library isn't in the top-ten ranking of Electronic Resource User category. Did they think that biometric scanners would help put them there? Did they think?

The company from whom they're getting the scanners, US Biometrics, is also located in Naperville. While this may be coincidence, it is something that warrants looking into. None of the Naperville library board members are managers of US Biometrics, but are there other ties? Or did the company offer a donation if the library uses its systems? Which organization approached the other? Since the May 18 library board meeting minutes are not yet online, these questions aren't answered. Hopefully they will be, once the minutes are posted.

A public library is an inappropriate place for fingerprint scanners. Even US Biometrics seems to agree. From its website:
The bottom line is US Biometrics has a role to play when PINs, passwords, and physical documents are not enough for authentication. These are instances in which US Biometrics uses unalterable physical biometric traits of an individual to secure his or her identity.

In a library, on public access computers, PINs, passwords, and physical documents are enough for authentication. Biometrics are overkill.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mourning, Not Legislation, For Pope

Few would deny the legacy of Karol Józef Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II (May 18, 1920-April 02, 2005). He was a man who was able to help the world through the major crises of the late 20th century, a man whose strength and presence helped reassure and inspire.

Lech Walesa, founder of Solidarity, credits the Pope’s visit to Poland, in 1979, with inspiring many to join the movement against communism. Pope John Paul II's words and actions on that visit are often said to have made people realize that they were not alone in their dissatisfaction.

“You are not who they say you are. Let me remind you who you are.”

He reminded the Poles of their culture and history. He reminded them that they did not have to live in a communist regime. He created, in the words of his biographer (George Weigel), “a revolution of conscience.”

The continued existence of Solidarity was unique in the Soviet Block. Officially, it was a trade union, but it served as a launching ground for much of the anti-communist movement. The success of Solidarity inspired similar movements in other Communist Block countries. Because Pope John Paul II helped inspire the people who came to Solidarity, he is often, quite rightly, credited with helping bring about the fall of communism in much of the world.

His visit to Chile in 1987 was designed to help the people of Chile look at themselves and their neighbors as people; to see the sameness in one another and help alleviate the fear created from living under Pinochet's rule. Eighteen months later, in the first democratic Chilean election in 19 years, the Christian Democratic candidate was elected. Pope John Paul II's visit may well have played a part in this.

Tolerance and respect were two of the mainstays of his preaching. He worked to bring about understanding of, and cooperation between, faiths. He sought greater cohesion within the Catholic Church and among its members through the promotion of a distinct Catholic identity.

I don’t agree with many of his decisions (sticking with the old Catholic school of thought about contraception, females in the priesthood, and homosexuality, for instance), but I can understand his reasons for making many of them. I have respect for the man. That said, I do not think that President Bush should have ordered all federal government offices to lower American Flags to half-mast until the Pope’s internment.

Ours is not a Catholic country, nor even a Christian country (though it often feels as though it is). Many U.S. citizens are in violent opposition to most of the Catholic Church’s and Pope John Paul II’s positions. However, even if there was no opposition within our citizenry, our government should not take any action that can be construed as favoring one religion above another. An executive order to fly the nation’s flag at half-mast to mark the passing of a religious figure is such an action.

The president’s statement on the Pope’s death was appropriate and necessary. John Paul II was a world leader; that needed to be acknowledged, and Bush’s statement did so eloquently. Attendance at John Paul II’s funeral by the president and first lady is also proper. Bush had met the Pope on more than one occasion, and respected him. As both a world leader and an individual, Bush’s presence at the funeral is fitting. Ordering governmental agencies to lower the flag, however, goes beyond what is expected, or what is appropriate.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Gorbachev Tix

Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, will be speaking at CSU on April 14. On the day tickets were made available, before noon, I hopped online and placed my order. I received an e-mail that the tickets were sold out. I was wait-listed.

Yesterday I received notice that I had made it off the list. There were tickets waiting for me. After a job interview this morning, I drove to CSU. Not only was I able to find a parking spot as soon as I pulled into the lot, but there was over an hour left on the parking meter. Smiling, I crossed the blacktop and headed to the student center. I had ten-minutes to wait until the box office opened, so I wandered around and read announcements. Take-Back-The-Night is coming up, but that's another entry entirely.

When the ten-minutes were up, I went back to the box office and got in line. There was a big sign letting everyone know that the Gorbachev event was sold out. I sighed (but didn't slump), glad that I had placed my order so early. When I reached the counter, I let the woman know I was picking up tickets. She asked for my last name, typed it in, and looked at the screen.

"Ummm, what's your first name?"

My last name isn't common, so I'm assuming that one of my siblings put in a request for tickets, as well. Maybe someday we'll learn to coordinate these things. I gave her my name. She looked at me, her expression much like mine when I try (and fail) to raise one eyebrow.

"Twelve tickets?! You're getting twelve tickets?"

I nodded with a grungy feeling of greed. She sort of shook her head as she printed the tickets. She handed them to me. I had my tickets. I have my tickets. I get to see/hear Gorbachev speak. Woot!

Let me know if you want a ticket. I ordered more than I needed, assuming that some of my friends will want to attend. Of course, I assumed that when Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to speak, too, and was wrong about that, so who knows.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Just a quick note to whoever is watching. . .

The comment function really is available now. Apparently I was lying before.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Losing Bobby Fisher

Bobby Fisher is going home. Home for Fischer, though, is no longer the United States. He's headed to Iceland, the country in which he won the world championship in 1972. That championship is, in many ways, what has made him the fugitive he is today, chased from his motherland by an overzealous government.

In 1972 Fischer defeated Soviet Boris Spassky and catapulted himself to fame. An American beating a "Russian" at chess during the cold war was something to talk about. It showed our superiority. Chess is a game of strategy, a game of skill, and America had bred the champion. We were stronger, better, brighter than our cold war adversaries, and Bobby Fischer had proven it. Now he, a chess player, was known throughout the country. His became a household name.

In 1975, after three years of no tournament play, his title of World Champion was forfeit. Except for three games in 1977, each played against an MIT computer, Fischer had dropped out of the chess scene. But people still remembered him. He was still a champion.

Time passed, and Fischer continued to avoid matches. The world changed; the cold war ended. Wars broke out across the former Soviet Union as that stronghold dissolved. In response to the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, the U.N. adopted Resolution 757 (pdf), on May 30, 1992, imposing sanctions on the former Socialist Republic of Yugolslavia. Section 8.(b) prevented the participation in sporting events on their territory of persons or groups representing the Federal Republic of Yugolsavia.

September 1, 1992, precisely twenty years after his world championship win, Bobby Fischer held a press conference in Yugoslavia. He announced he would knowingly violate these sanctions. On September 30 he began a rematch with Boris Spassky. In less than two weeks, Fischer had won the match and was a wanted man. No more the hometown hero, the U.S. government now threatened him with 10 years imprisonment for playing chess. Bobby Fischer couldn't come home.

Fischer went underground. For more than ten years he successfully stayed off U.S. radar, but on July 13 of last year he was stopped in Japan. The charge - invalid passport. Fisher fought deportation, claiming the U.S. government had illegally revoked his passport which was set to expire in 2007. Japan held him, unwilling to extradite him for playing chess in Yugoslavia, something that wasn't considered a crime by the Japanese government. The U.S. government created a tax-evasion case against Fischer, hoping the Japanese government would extradite him on those charges.

Fischer asked to be released to Iceland, a country that offered him a special passport and residency status. On March 15, The Japanese
Immigration Bureau Chief, Masaharu Miura, said that Fischer would only be sent to the country of which he is a citizen. Within a week Iceland had granted him citizenship and offered him welcome. Today, Bobby Fischer went home.