Don’t Get To “Yes”

Fraudsters and scammers are wily pieces of crap who are basically the scum of the earth.  But you have to grudgingly give them credit:  you never know what they’re going to think of next, and when it comes to taking criminal advantage of the decency and kindheartedness of many people, they have no equal.

101386023-183418541-1910x1000Consider what police are saying about the latest scam.  You get a phone call out of the blue from a number that your phone identifies as from your area code, making you much more likely to answer it because it could be a friend or family member calling in an emergency from a strange local number.  The person on the other ends starts yakking, and early in the conversation the person says “Can you hear me?”  Most people, of course, will say “yes” — and that starts them on the road to perdition.

Why?  Because your “yes” answer is recorded, and then used to indicate your assent to some unwanted product or service.  And if you try to argue that you never agreed to get that magazine subscription or internet debugging service, the recording of your “yes” answer gets used as evidence that you in fact agreed.  In the worst case, the scammer has your credit card number and uses the “yes” with a third party to authorize charges for goods that the crook gets but you are billed for.

It’s tough, because many of us are trained to be polite, even in response to an unwanted call.  We listen to the pitch about the charitable opportunity or the policeman’s benevolent fund and look for an opportunity to say, “thanks, but no thanks.”  But now the advice from law enforcement is to not say anything — and if you’re asked “Can you hear me?,” hang up immediately.

In this case, you just don’t want to get to “yes.”

Have A Happy Wi-Fi Christmas

You go to the food court at a mall, a coffee shop, or some other public space over the holidays, open your laptop or power up your tablet, and start checking for available wi-fi.  When you see a “free” network, you click on it with a chuckle, take a hearty sip of your peppermint stick latte, go through your email, and then start making sure your checking account is squared away before you buy gifts for the last people on your Christmas list.

p1264m1066840fWhat’s wrong with this picture?

Pretty much everything, say data security experts.  It turns out that fraudsters love to set up fake “free” wi-fi networks at public spaces over the holidays, hoping that busy shoppers taking a break, or the bored people accompanying them, will use the networks and expose their personal data, whether it’s passwords, bank or credit card information, or personal data that could lead to identity theft.  Many people who routinely use “free” public wi-fi networks are altogether too trusting, and are willing to agree to just about any terms to get the internet access they crave.

In fact, as the story linked above reports, an 11-year-old kid in Texas won his school science fair this year by proving that point.  He set up anonymous free internet access portals in shopping mall food court areas that had the most draconian conditions available — including allowing the portals to do things like “reading and responding to your emails” and “monitoring of input and/or output” — and more than half of the people offered those conditions agreed to them.  That’s a pretty stiff price for something that supposed to be “free.”

Hackers are everywhere (just ask Yahoo!) and are eager to get to your personal data.  So please:  use precautions and common sense.  Don’t go onto just any “free” network and start exposing your most important and intimate personal and financial data to whoever might have set up that network, or hacked into it.  Think about whether the network really seems to be bona fide.   And consider whether some activities — like on-line banking — really should be exclusively reserved for a network you know and trust.

This holiday season, don’t get ho-ho-hacked.

Terror On Campus

It was a tough morning in Columbus yesterday.  When word spread that there was an active shooter somewhere on the Ohio State campus, everyone in town started thinking about people they know who attend the University, or work there, or might conceivably be down in the campus area.  Because Ohio State is a huge, integral part of the Columbus community, a violent incident on campus could affect a lot of people, students and non-students alike.  We held our breath and hoped.

osu20police20running_1480383566007_7142191_ver1-0As the day wore on, the story changed.  The active shooter became an Ohio State student who apparently pulled a fire alarm at the OSU engineering buildings and labs, then drove his car into the crowd of students and faculty who had exited the buildings in response to the alarm.  After his car hit the crowd, the driver emerged armed with a butcher’s knife and began slashing and stabbing people.  Students broke and ran.  Fortunately, an Ohio State campus police officer happened to be nearby, and he shot and killed the assailant — a student named Abdul Razak Ali Artan — before he was able to injure anyone else.  Eleven innocent people were hurt in the car crash and stabbings, but all are expected to survive.  You can read the AP story about the incident here and the Columbus Dispatch story here.

Was it an act of terrorism?  Authorities are investigating whether Artan became self-radicalized somehow, and was responding to calls from terrorist groups, like ISIS, encouraging members to engage in car attacks and knife attacks against westerners.  According to witnesses, Artan wasn’t speaking when he emerged from the car and started his slashing attacks.  We’ll have to wait for authorities to piece together his back story from the evidence they gather, and while the investigation proceeds our city will hold its breath a second time.  That’s because Artan apparently was of Somali descent, and Columbus has a large Somali community — and when something like this happens, there are inevitable fears of a backlash.  Having lived in Columbus for decades, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but people will be walking on eggshells for a while.

Whether Artan’s attack is officially found to be an act of terrorism, or just the violent attack of someone who became deranged, for a brief period yesterday there was terror on the Ohio State campus.  Students were put in danger, their parents tried frantically to find out whether their children were OK, and our community had to deal with another of the distressingly frequent acts of random violence.

It just sucks.

Under The Van

When we went to lunch on Tuesday, Broad Street was blocked off at the intersection of Broad and High, and we could see lots of police cars and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, gathered a block away at the intersection of Broad and Third.  As we crossed the street, I asked the friendly policeman what was going on.  He grinned, shrugged, and said that a protester had chained himself to the underside of a van.

“An anti-Trump protest?” I asked.  “Nope,” the officer said.  “The guy is protesting a pipeline.”  And as we walked in front of the Statehouse, we saw some protesters out front, handing out leaflets that read “water is life” and complaining that Ohio had sent some state troopers to help North Dakota deal with protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which native Americans and other groups contend will harm tribal lands and threaten water supplies.

When we came back from lunch an hour later, the hubbub was finally dying down.  The police had removed the protester and had the van on a flatbed truck, ready to be hauled away, as shown in the photo above.  The protester was an Athens County man who is part of an environmental group called Appalachia Resist, and he was arrested and charged with inducing panic, disorderly conduct, hindering, and failing to comply.

It seemed weird to protest the Dakota Pipeline in Columbus, Ohio, to the point where you would chain yourself to the underside of a van and block traffic for hours at one of downtown’s busiest intersections.  Even if you felt strongly about the wisdom of Ohio dispatching troopers to another state, staging a protest that just inconvenienced people and probably pissed them off doesn’t seem like an approach that is reasonably calculated to win people to your point of view.

The Technology Of Fighting Terrorism

Officials say that Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the New York City dumpster bombing that occurred on Saturday night, was captured in part because of an array of security cameras.  Several cameras took footage of Rahami lurking near the site of the bombings, and the photos and a license plate reader allowed officials to track and eventually apprehend Rahami.  As part of the process, authorities also sent out an alert to NYC cell phone users identifying Rahami as the suspect and asking for help in finding and capturing him.

57e06ccb130000930639d159The security cameras that took pictures of Rahami are part of a system of 8,000 cameras in Manhattan.  Officials call it the “Ring of Steel.”  Footage from the cameras, which are both government and private owned, is fed into the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, where it is monitored by police.  And the camera system apparently will only grow more extensive — New York is considering installing cameras in every street light, too.  There also are more than 200 license plate readers in New York City that can triangulate information with GPS systems to allow help officials track and capture suspect vehicles.

Other technology weapons deployed in the fight against terrorism in NYC include biological, chemical, and radiation sensors, “shot monitors” that detect gunfire, a system that collects alerts on suspicious packages or persons, and computer systems that analyze and organize the mass of information being received.

8,000 cameras already, and more on the way.  Real-time video feeds.  License plate readers.  Cell phone alerts.  Countless monitors.  GPS systems.  Vast computer data storage and analytic programs.  It’s the 21st century, folks, and we’ve got the high-tech law enforcement technology to prove it.  And don’t forget, too, that everyone you encounter on the streets has a device in their purse or pocket that will allow them to take a picture or video of anything interesting, too.

New York City must be the most photographed, monitored, analyzed place on Earth.  People who are concerned about the erosion of privacy — like me — can bemoan a future where innocent people are being routinely photographed, videotaped, and monitored by law enforcement as they go about their affairs, but whether we like it or not it’s the reality of the modern, terrorist-fighting world.  This time, the systems worked.

Body Shaming And Social Shaming

Earlier this year Playboy model Dani Mathers got into trouble.  She took a photo of a naked woman in the locker room at her gym and posted it on Snapchat with a snide and mocking comment about the woman’s appearance.

dann_2The reaction to Mathers’ Snapchat was immediate and overwhelming.  She got kicked out of LA Fitness for life for violating a firm policy against photography in locker rooms, and the gym also reported her to police.  She lost a long-standing radio gig.  And Mathers faced withering criticism on social media for “body shaming” an unsuspecting older woman who was just at the gym for an innocent workout.  Mathers apologized, saying that she knew that body shaming was wrong and that the ill-advised posting of the photo was not an indication of the kind of person she was.  And there the story seemed to end.

But now there are reports that the woman Mathers photographed, who previously had not been identified, has come forward and spoken to police to indicate that she would be willing to testify against Mathers, and the LA city attorney’s office is reviewing the case.  Should Mathers be prosecuted for violating the woman’s privacy?  Under California law, taking a photo of someone in a private setting in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

It’s not an easy question, because Mathers’ Snapchat gibe stirs up some strong emotions. It was a callous display of precisely the kind of airheaded contemptuousness and sense of superiority that normal people associate with the brainless “beautiful people.”  Mathers has all day to work out and stay fit; she makes her living solely on the basis of her appearance.  Most of us don’t have that luxury.  We have to work, and we don’t have personal trainers and dietitians and assistants to help us keep the weight off.  And when we do get to the gym, we shouldn’t have to put up with mean-spirited mockery from the hard body brigade.  On the other hand, though, should hardworking prosecutors be spending time on privacy issues rather than prosecuting more serious crimes?

In this case, I would leave it up to the woman whose privacy was so appallingly violated.  The California law was written to protect her rights, and if she wants to bring charges I think the prosecutor should follow her lead.  She may well decide to be kind — kinder, certainly, than Mathers was in sending her Snapchat in the first place — and accept Mathers’ apology.  In either case, Mathers should be the one who is ashamed.  And we should give some thought to who people like Mathers really are the next time we see some pretty face endorsing a product or a politician.

Allocating Scarce Law Enforcement Resources

On Sunday we drove back to Columbus from Cedar Point.  It was the heart of the Labor Day weekend, traffic was heavy, and the Ohio Highway Patrol was out in force.  We saw more than a dozen OHP cars as we made our way south.  In many instances, the officers were standing outside their cars, aiming their radar guns at oncoming traffic, identifying speeders with a stern finger point, and waving them over to the berm for a ticket.  It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

m-cars-dodge-chargerAs I passed OHP patrol car after patrol car, I found myself wondering:  is this really a good use of our scarce law enforcement dollars?

In America, we’ve got serious crime problems in many of our cities.  The murder rates in places like Chicago are shocking.  Gang violence seems to be on the rise.  In southern Ohio, a heroin epidemic is raging, and overdoses recently spiked as a deadly new form of heroin apparently mixed with an animal tranquilizer hit the streets.

By contrast, the stretch of I-71 between Ashland and the outskirts of Columbus isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime.  There’s speeding, sure . . . but in the grand scheme of things speeding on an interstate highway is a pretty mild offense.  Do we really need to have dozens of well trained, well equipped police officers patrolling a highway and ticketing speeders, or would it be better to have those law enforcement personnel employed to hunt down deadly drug dealers, break up violent gangs, and protect society against murderers?

I’m not saying that American highways should be turned into lawless zones, and we clearly need some form of highway patrol to help stranded motorists, deal with accidents, and catch drunk drivers, reckless lunatics, and road ragers.  But none of the people I saw get ticketed on Sunday fell into that category.  They were just average folks who were moving with the flow of traffic in the passing lane at speeds slightly above the posted limit, and now they’ll find their wallets a few hundred bucks lighter.

Some people contend that modern traffic law enforcement is all about generating those speeding fines and putting the resulting funds into governmental coffers.  I suppose defenders of aggressive traffic speeding enforcement would argue that rules are rules, and a show of force like we saw on Sunday is going to convey the unmistakable message that cops are watching and people need to obey the law.  As somebody who thinks that “broken windows” theory makes sense as a matter of human nature, I can see that . . . but I also think that a more rational allocation of resources should be made.  If you assume that we have a finite amount of law enforcement dollars — and we clearly do — I’d rather see it used to address more egregious and deadly criminal conduct.