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Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Spy Something....

Pick up your phone and make a phone call…who’s listening?  Text a friend…who’s reading your text? Post a picture on Instagram…who can view your pictures (beyond those of which you allow to “follow” you)?  Post something on FaceBook…who can read your post?  Is “Big Brother” watching?  Should he be watching?
It is an old well-worn phrase when it comes to the state and surveillance that if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide then there is nothing to worry about. Shortly after the PRISM scandal broke government officials stated, “if you are a law abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life you have nothing to fear, nothing to fear about the government or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that.” In other words the intelligence agencies were doing good work “to stop your identity being stolen, and to stop a terrorist blowing you up tomorrow. But if you are a would-be terrorist, or the center of a criminal network, or a foreign intelligence agency trying to spy, you should be worried because that is what we work on”.
William Hague was responding to suggestions that GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters – the UKs equivalent of the NSA) might be obtaining information on British citizens through a US program called PRISM. PRISM is a NSA Program which works with the giants of Silicon Valley to extract everything from email to VoIP, photos to video conferencing. This is done from “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” i.e. pretty much anyone who is anyone in the US internet business. Chillingly the Edward Snowdon who leaked the information about PRISM says “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type”.
Only a day before there was another leak about US surveillance activities, this one about cell phones. The leak was a copy of a court order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordering the handing over of “all call detail records or "telephony metadata" created by Verizon… including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call”. Such information might seem harmless but can reveal surprising amounts, and from a privacy perspective it is completely indiscriminate as it covers everyone on the network. This is a far cry from obtaining a court order to get information about a few phones that are known to be used by terrorists.
Major opponents to this “collection of innocent data” ask the question, “Who is moderating the people moderating all of us?  What is to prevent these people in these government agencies from using the information they obtain against the citizens of their country?”
Those that support the programs argue that some surveillance is necessary. It is a key part in preventing terrorist attacks from occurring so the question has always been about a balance between security and privacy. Before the leaking of the details of surveillance by the NSA and GCHQ most people in democracies either thought the balance was about right or more should be done to ensure security. In the United States today 47% say that the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties, up 15% since October 2010, against only 35% believing that the security policies have not gone far enough to protect the country.

Blog Topic Question: Is this whole “spying” issue really an “issue” or are people just making something out of nothing?  Is it absolutely necessary, in today’s world, for us to be expected to give up personal liberties in order to be safe?  Thirdly, can we really trust governments to not abuse the information of which they are collecting?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Obesity as a Disease?

The American Medical Association – the largest organization of physicians in the United States – this month formally recognized obesity as a disease. "The purpose of the policy is to advance obesity treatment and prevention," wrote AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven. "It issues a call for a paradigm shift in the way the medical community tackles this complicated issue so that we can reduce the number of Americans suffering from the effects of heart disease, diabetes, disability and other potentially life-changing health conditions."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults are obese. The CDC estimates that obesity also affects 17 percent of children, "triple the rate from just one generation ago." An estimate from the nonprofit RTI International says that about 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030 if obesity trends continue.

Dr. Lou Aronne, an obesity expert, told CBS News that the AMA's move will "have a tremendous impact on legislation in Washington [and] with insurance companies," as insurance policies now "generally exclude obesity treatment." While Medicare removed language saying obesity is not a disease from its coverage manual in 2004, Medicare Part D will still not pay for weight loss drugs.

But not everyone is thrilled with the AMA's move. Linda Bacon, a nutritionist at the University of California at Davis, said, "the AMA just determined that some people are sick based on how they look. What's next? (Click to read this article) Will they pronounce being black as a disease because there are higher rates of cardiovascular disease in black communities?" Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, meanwhile, downplayed the whole debate: "I think it matters little whether we call obesity a disease, a condition or a disorder. We are already talking about the obesity epidemic. It matters less what we call it than what we do to prevent it."

Blog Topic Question:
Was the American Medical Association right to call obesity a disease or have we simply became obsessed with imagery in the United States so that we believe "oversized" individuals are an embarrassment?