Sept. 16--It takes a licking and keeps on ticking
One would have to be as old as the space program itself to remember when that Timex Corp. slogan first hit the air waves. But it still applies, at least to one relic of bygone NASA days. When Voyager 1 left the Earth's orbit in 1977 -- the same year that "Star Wars" hit the screen -- it was built for a four-year picture-taking mission to Saturn.
If it survived, the VW Bug-sized probe, equipped with an eight-track tape deck and computers with 240,000 times less memory than an iPhone, would be catapulted to the outer reaches of the solar system. It not only endured those initial years, it's still going and has achieved interstellar status. Scientists say that Voyager 1 has now become the first man-made object to exit the solar system. A big thumbs-up to a spacecraft that still captures our nation's imagination -- some 36 years later and 11.7 billion miles from home. A continued bon voyage to this hearty space bug.
Look who else is spying on you
Before any revelations about the government vacuuming up phone records and snooping on email, some people already had concerns about electronic surveillance by Google and other Internet providers that make money by collecting and selling information their users.
This past week brought a reminder that, despite the expressions of shock about the government's activities, some of the biggest Internet companies surreptitiously collect information, too. A federal appeals court in San Francisco refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Google crossed a boundary when it gathered email, user names, passwords and other unsecured information from inside people's homes. Google harvested the information from unsecured wi-fi networks while driving through neighborhoods taking photos for its "street view" mapping feature.
Too bad we can't count on a similar ruling against the NSA.
Reopening the courthouse steps
Sonoma County's judges got an earful from the public, civil liberties groups, local lawyer and even former colleagues about an August order that made the steps of the Hall of Justice off limits for demonstrations and proselytizing. "Making this all the more unsettling," we said in an Aug. 29 editorial ("A courthouse tradition ends here), "is that these rules were implemented without any attempt at getting public input, and there is no clear avenue for appeal."
It seems that the executive committee of the Sonoma County Superior Court heard the message. "Our court will seek comments from those segments of our community which have expressed concerns and deal with those concerns in hopes of creating an order which is understood by the community and preserves the important constitutional rights involved," President Judge Rene Chouteau said in a statement issued Friday. Thumbs up to the court listening to the public and convening this discussion.
Giving journalists protection they need
Forty-nine states, including California, already have shield laws to protect the identities of whistle-blowers and other confidential news sources. But when it comes to reporting on federal issues, there is no such protection for reporters. But that could change. A bill that would allow journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources moved through the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday on a 13-5 vote and is now headed for the Senate floor.
The vote prompted Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to say, "We're closer than we've ever been before to passing a strong and tough media shield bill." We recognize that getting approval in the Senate is different from getting approval in the House. But given the repeated failures in the past of similar efforts, it's important to celebrate progress with a thumbs-up when we can.
(c)2013 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
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