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Declan McCullagh
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Declan McCullagh

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Just got back from hearing +Michael Gordon Shapiro's amazing “Identity” guzheng concerto at the San Francisco Symphony -- a memorable way to welcome the Chinese New Year. Mike told me afterward that "Identity" is available on iTunes, and I found it here: I took the attached photo as we were sitting down (today's performance was actually sold out).
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Declan McCullagh

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+Anthony Levandowski is getting some well-deserved recognition for his work on self-driving cars:  I wrote about his autonomous Prius for +CNET here in 2008 (it remains an interesting story today!):
Two of Google’s signature innovations, Street View cameras and self-driving cars, were actually developed by 510 Systems, a small start-up that the tech giant quietly bought in 2011
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Declan McCullagh

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Rain this evening! On the San Francisco peninsula! Not very much so far, but it's the first of the season.

(Photo is a Douglas fir on my property. Taken with a Nexus 5 that chose a reasonably long shutter speed. Foreground illumination was a Surefire P3X Fury.)
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Declan McCullagh

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On a private Silicon Valley mailing list I'm on, a #privacy  debate is underway, with a fellow living in Portola Valley was saying he has no problem with his license plates being recorded. Portola Valley is, of course, a beautiful, wealthy, rural enclave just west of Palo Alto, and is one of Forbes' 10 most expensive places to live in the United States.

My response to him:

Tomorrow one of your PV neighbors will set up a computer-connected camera on private property and aimed at the street. It records all those “plates exposed" going by and, by doing optical character recognition with free software such as ANPR MX (C# code, BSD-licensed), it records every time a car goes by. The DMV will happily provide drivers’ names based on the license plate*; there’s even a process for “bulk quantities” of data.** That information doesn’t include a home address, but that’s easy to come by through other searches.

Then the neighbor launches It updates in real time showing whenever someone is at home, and marks their house in bright red if they’re gone on an extended trip. If there are odd patterns of movement compared to a baseline — perhaps suspicious late-night outings — those can be flagged as well. Any visitor to can sign up for handy free email alerts reporting at what time their targeted house becomes vacant each weekday morning. Other network-linked cameras in PV can supplement the database, so that everyone driving in town will have their movements monitored, archived, and publicly visible at all times.

With more than one network-linked camera separated by a known distance by roads with known speed limits, it would be simple to calculate speeding violations and send automated alerts, with MP4 videos attached as evidence, to the sheriff and CHP. can also be cross-referenced against databases showing, say, marijuana convictions; if your movement profile matches a known drug trafficker, law enforcement can be alerted. (Sorry about those false positives!)

Are you still as certain there should be no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in your movements in public? I haven’t even mentioned drones, face recognition software, and monitoring based on mobile device WiFi MAC and Bluetooth addresses yet. :)


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+Peter Bachman I never once said that this wasn't technically achievable, I was just pointing out that it wasn't legal. I understood the #privacy  debate to be in the context of law, not in the context of theoretical achievability or psychological phenomena.

In the example, "the neighbor launches" should have been immediately followed by, "then the neighbor gets taken to court and gets shut down." That's the end of that example.

Going back to the technical achievability of this for a moment, the other problem is the data. The example suggests that once you see a license plate, you will be able to easily match that to an address and publicly accessible information. Then, it provides links to a couple of DMV web pages. What it fails to point out is that you have to go through a laborious process of filling out paperwork for each license plate you want information on, and you have to give an explanation as to why you require that information, and you must pay $5. There is no bulk request for this, only a bulk request for the forms to fill out.

Is it feasible that someone could track each car to their home over a period of time to build a database of license plates to addresses? Sure. Of course, they would raise some suspicion. Let's say this person gets away with that and maps out every license plate with every address in a given area. Now, they have to concern themselves with changes of address. They'll also have to concern themselves with short-term and long-term visitors, where they may have collected bad data. Once they've got their data cleaned up and up-to-date, now what? If they do nothing with the data, what was the harm, other than general creepiness? If they do something with the data that is illegal, they're nothing but a social outcast and the rest of society moves on without them once they are brought to justice.

I don't think that anybody is under the impression that there aren't bad people in the world, nor does anyone expect that privacy extends past their front doors. There is, however, an expectation that the law would continue to prevent such activity as the theoretical website.
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Declan McCullagh

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This is a counterintuitive blog post by +Elie Bursztein, Google's anti-abuse research lead, explaining about why the company switched to numeric captchas.

The reason? Human minds work in odd and mysterious ways. We waste time trying to process the meaning of captcha words. So "cutest" is significantly -- semantically -- easier to solve than "guilty" even though they're the same character count. Sometime it's just simpler to ask someone to type in "324484" instead.
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hi hello to all friends good morning to all & hw are you to all have a very 2x nice day and alwys GOD BLESSED YOU ALL.......
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Declan McCullagh

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+Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president for social (including Google+), is leaving after 8 years. Good luck in whatever you end up doing next, Vic!

Here's a farewell note from +Larry Page on Vic's departure:
And Then

Last month, my wife's uncle died in a tragic accident in LA when the bicycle he was using to get lunch was hit by a truck. At the memorial service his daughter relayed a very touching story. 

She said her dad (who was her best friend) called every day to talk. But instead of opening the call with the customary "How are you" or "What's going on", her dad always opened the conversation with "And then?" Her father viewed each conversation as a continuation of the last, and what pained her the most was that there were to be no more "and thens". I cried. 

Since then I've thought a lot about how similar this is to our life's endeavors. We pour our heart and soul into our work and it becomes something we love and cherish. But even the challenges we work on today will one day become "and thens" as we move on to the next. 

Today I'm announcing my departure from Google after almost 8 years.

I have been incredibly fortunate to work with the amazing people of Google. I don't believe there is a more talented and passionate collection of people anywhere else. And I'm overwhelmed when I think about the leadership of +Larry Page and what he empowered me to do while at Google. From starting Google I/O, to being responsible for all mobile applications, to creating Google+, none of this would have happened without Larry's encouragement and support.

I'm also forever in debt to the Google+ team. This is a group of people who built social at Google against the skepticism of so many. The growth of active users is staggering, and speaks to the work of this team. But it doesn't tell you what kind of people they are. They are invincible dreamers. I love them. And I will miss them dearly.

Finally, thank you to all those who I've met on Google+. The community here has been so supportive that I don't even know how to say thank you. You all make Google+. Without you, this social network wouldn't exist. Your support for Google+, and for me personally is something I will never forget. 

But, now is the time for a new journey. A continuation. An "and then". I am excited about what's next. But this isn't the day to talk about that. This is a day to celebrate the past 8 years. To cry. And smile. And to look forward to the journey yet to come.

And then....
+Vic Gundotra 

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Amen and god bless you even more so to your next journey.
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Declan McCullagh

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CIA anti-torture whistleblower John Kiriakou is out of prison but needs a full-time job. If you can help, see his tweet below.

Here's an excerpt from an interview he did with The Intercept from behind bars ( last month:

Q: Now that you have seen the report, did the “rectal hydration” shock you as another detail you didn’t know? 

A: Sickening. I can’t imagine under any circumstances a justification for something like that. There are ways to hydrate prisoners, there are ways to provide nourishment for prisoners who are on hunger strikes. It’s not by shoving hummus up their asses. That’s not how you provide nutrition for somebody that’s in your custody. That was shocking to me.
“I REALLY need a job. Must be 40 hrs and not from home. I don't want halfway house to send me back to prison just for unemployment. Ideas?”
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Declan McCullagh

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This was the view from my living room this evening, with Douglas firs and redwoods framing the moon rising over the San Francisco bay. Remember a total lunar eclipse is tonight at 3:25am PT!

(Gear: Canon 1Ds Mark III, 70-200 f/2.8L, sitting atop some dented but sturdy no-name-brand tripod.)
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A very nice view.
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Declan McCullagh

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I heard today from an old friend who I photographed 14 years ago with her then-new Siberian husky who is now growing old. She just emailed me my own photo, which I took with a Canon EOS 5 -- yes, a film camera. I was shooting a lot of black and white film then, and having it developed and scanned at a camera store in Washington, D.C. at 9th and Pennsylvania Ave SE. This scan is beautifully grainy, and shows off the dynamic range of black and white negatives. My friend says: "You got that MOMENT, that emotion, that love, whatever it was. Really, you have no idea how much that photo means to me."

Sometimes photographers get lost in their work, or forget about it over time, and don't remember what how much a photo capturing just the right moment can mean to people.
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I'm taking a break from working on +Recent mobile news app to speak at this Internet Society (INET SF) "cyber surveillance" event today in Silicon Valley. It's at Santa Clara University. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood!
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I just finished reading this post by +Elie Bursztein on Google's official security blog about how he and his colleagues made Chrome faster and more secure against eavesdropping (which nowadays is nearly synonymous to hardening against #NSA cryptanalysis).

Though note that Google's hardening of Chrome began in March 2013, months before the world had heard of some guy named Edward Snowden. And unless I'm mistaken, it looks like Android's cipher suite is now much better: iOS users are still stuck with AES or RC4. Thanks, Apple! :(
Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:00 PM. Posted by Elie Bursztein, Anti-Abuse Research Lead Earlier this year, we deployed a new TLS cipher suite in Chrome that operates three times faster than AES-GCM on devices that don't have AES hardware acceleration, including most Android phones, ...
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+Declan McCullagh thanks for the clarification 
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#Blowback : FedGov's massive eavesdropping apparatus -- which as we now know extends domestically to U.S. citizens -- prompted Edward Snowden to leave Hawaii and leak to journalists. Now the WSJ reports that FedGov's Russian spying is problematic because the Russians have, wisely, taken countermeasures.

If FedGov hadn't expanded NSA surveillance to domestic spying, perhaps Edward would still be on a beach in Hawaii with his girlfriend. And FedGov wouldn't have this rather significant (alleged) problem on its hands today.
In Crimea, U.S. intelligence officials are concluding that Russian planners might have gotten a jump on the West by evading U.S. eavesdropping.
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Good point, Declan...but what about the US citizens who engage in terrorist acts? How do we prevent that? Or must we suffer more Boston Marathon-type incidents? The NSA's activities should be regulated and court orders should be obtained, but we can't rule out keeping an eye on suspected terrorists...
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Founder, Recent Media (
    2014 - present
  • CBS Corporation
    2008 - 2014
  • CNET Networks
    2002 - 2008
  • Wired
    1998 - 2002
  • Time Inc.
    1996 - 1998
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Creating forthcoming news recommendation engine and Android/iOS app -- sign up for the beta at Ex-CBS, CNET Networks, Wired, Time Inc.

Living on San Francisco peninsula. Recent-related email: Contact: and
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End Piracy, Not Liberty – Google

Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.. Two bills bef

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