Bloggers and snoopers are natural enemies

ON BLOGS

May 21, 2006|By TROY MCCULLOUGH | TROY MCCULLOUGH,SUN COLUMNIST

Bloggers, by and large, are hands-off people.

Some of the strongest voices against government interference in the lives of private citizens come from the blogosphere, so it should be no surprise that many bloggers were outraged by the reports about the National Security Agency's collection of millions of Americans' phone records.

This is just the type of government meddling that sets off the online laissez-faire types.

(Though many so-called conservative bloggers were quick to write off criticism of the NSA's secret efforts as liberal fear-mongering. What an upside-down world we must live in where "conservatives" ardently defend unfettered government snooping into the private lives of Americans.)

An anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Truth (mainstusa.blogspot.com) called Verizon to complain when she heard that the company may have been among those to turn over records to the NSA:

"I asked for two things: (1) Immediately suspend any NSA access to my account; and (2) A refund of my service charges for the last five years."

While on hold, she noted a curious recording: "The taped announcement ends with `As always, privacy of your account is your right, and our duty.'"

No word on whether she's received that refund check yet.

Blogs are increasingly being used by newsmakers to speak out against perceived inaccuracies in the press - one of the latest examples being the Los Angeles Police Department's new blog (lapdblog.typepad.com/lapd_blog).

In a welcome message to readers, Chief William J. Bratton said, "By using this Blog, the LAPD hopes to maintain an open dialogue with the communities we serve and those who have an interest in the men and women of this organization."

But Bratton also noted another use for the site: "Our online journal is an interactive tool that we use to deliver real-time, unfiltered information."

Some of that "unfiltered information" came in a lengthy post responding to a Los Angeles Daily News editorial that had criticized the department's handling of city crime statistics.

"For the Daily News to accuse us of `fudging' the numbers is not only wrong it is dismissive of an attention to detail in crime reporting that is unparalleled in our profession," the post titled "LAPD RESPONSE TO DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL" stated.

With blog posts like these, who needs a letters page?

John Graham-Cumming runs a site called SpamorHam (extravalent.com/spamorham) where he enlists the help of people to mark suspicious e-mail messages as spam or as legitimate in an attempt to check the accuracy of the top automated spam checkers.

Computer algorithms are good filters, Graham-Cumming contends, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned human common sense.

Or so he thought.

According to a recent blog post, Graham-Cumming reports that the humans have proved to be only about 89 percent accurate in correctly classifying a message as real or as spam, meaning that more than one in 10 messages would end up in the wrong e-mail box if left up to Graham-Cumming's human filter.

Keep this in mind the next time you curse your e-mail program for failing to keep someone from offering you a great deal on Cialis from Mexico.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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