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web posted May 15, 2000

Independent test concludes FBI didn't fire on Branch Davidians

An independent of study of aerial infrared tapes taken by the FBI on the final day of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, seven years ago found no evidence that FBI agents shot at the compound.

A British company, Vector Data Systems, analyzed the video shot on April 19, 1993 and compared it to footage from a reenactment conducted in March. The analysis was paid for by Special Counsel John Danforth, appointed by the Justice Department to provide an independent investigation of the government actions in the Waco case.

Vector's 65-page report said the 57 instances of flashes on the original tape were caused by reflections of light and atmospheric conditions.

The findings support the FBI's position that its agents did not fire shots at the burning compound.

Lawyers representing the relatives of the Branch Davidians in a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government claim the flashes were caused by gunfire that cut off the Davidians' escape.

Plaintiffs' attorneys said a separate review of the tape conducted by their analysts shows 15 instances of government gunfire, three flashbang detonations, 18 instances of Davidian gunfire, and one sighting of a person on the ground.

Deputy FBI Director Thomas Pickard promptly issued a statement hailing the findings in the Vector study.

"This analysis vindicates those FBI people long accused of shooting into the compound," Pickard said. "The FBI's longstanding and steadfast position that no shots were fired has now been strongly and indpendently corroborated."

Pickard, second-in-command to FBI Director Louis Freeh, added, "We are grateful for these impartial findings. Scientific analysis can now replace speculation and rhetoric".

It is unclear what impact the report will have in the wrongful death trial, which is scheduled to start next month.

The Davidians' attorneys are still expected to argue that the FBI fired at the compound and to call their own experts to the stand.

At a hearing last month, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith said the Vector report would be treated like any other expert testimony and is not considered by the court as conclusive evidence.

Toronto man cracks code in ads

A Toronto man has deciphered the coded message that Zero-Knowledge Systems embedded in its recently launched North American ad campaign.

Zero-Knowledge, based in Montreal with an office in California, specializes in privacy software that enables people to surf the Web anonymously.

It took Marc Mulligan, a systems analyst with Toronto Dominion Bank's information technology division, "a bit less than 10 minutes" to crack the code and reveal the three-word question: "whos [sic] john galt?", after the message was highlighted by the Financial Post last month.

Mulligan, 29, who has a math degree from the University of Waterloo's computer science department, broke the encryption while sitting at his kitchen table after dinner. The message was encrypted using what he described as relatively unsophisticated hexadecimal encoding.

The John Galt referred to is the hero of Atlas Shrugged, a novel by Ayn Rand. Ms. Rand is known for popularizing the philosophical theory of objectivism, which, as she explains in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged, is "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

Sharon McCarry, director of marketing with Zero-Knowledge, said Rand's emphasis on the primacy of the individual is considered inspirational by many people who work in the privacy software field because they tend to see themselves as defenders of the notion of personal freedom.

Zero-Knowledge's ad campaign, consists of five print ads, began running on April 24 in major U.S. magazines, including Newsweek, Forbes and Fast Company. Each ad contains a sequence of numbers and letters that are coded references to letters of the alphabet.

McCarry said Mulligan was the first person to crack the code and inform the company.

For his efforts, he has received a computer mouse pad, baseball cap and long-sleeved shirt. McCarry said the company also plans to give him a copy of its anonymizer software, Freedom.

Brits to spy on the Net

The British government plans to set up a multimillion-dollar spy center capable of tracking every e-mail and Internet hit in the country -- a move it says will help fight cybercrime, but which civil libertarians contend heralds the arrival of an Orwellian state.

The new cyber-snooping base, which will bear the unassuming title of Government Technical Assistance Center, reportedly will be housed within the fortress-like London headquarters of the MI5 spy agency.

It will be established as part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, expected to become law this fall.

"We regard it as an outrageous piece of legislation," said Yaman Akdeniz, director of the watchdog group Cyber-Rights and Cyber Liberties.

As part of the bill, Internet service providers will have to establish secure channels to transmit information about Internet traffic to the government cyber-center.

The bill also gives law enforcement authorities the power to demand that Internet users hand over the keys to decode encrypted messages. Encryption is commonly used by business and in e-commerce transactions to protect credit card numbers and other sensitive information.

Civil liberties groups argue the legislation sets a sinister precedent by requiring individuals and companies to prove they cannot hand over encryption keys or face prosecution.

"The bill creates a new offense -- not providing this information to the government," Akdeniz said. "It will be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights in terms of self-incrimination and a switch in the burden of proof."

The legislation is wending its way through Parliament, but the government already has established a so-called encryption coordination unit to oversee creation of the $40 million spy center.

The government argues the bill protects individual rights, setting out strict conditions under which law enforcement agencies can demand keys to unlock encrypted data or intercept records of Internet traffic.

"The bill does not give the authorities any new powers to obtain material which they cannot already do," said Home Office Minister Charles Clarke, the Cabinet minister responsible for the project.

"Accusations that the bill reverses the burden of proof are simply wrong. Innocent people are not going to suffer under these proposals."

Although authorities must obtain a warrant before demanding access to information, critics argue the grounds for getting one are vague. In addition, they say warrants should be issued by judges instead of by Cabinet ministers, as provided for by the bill.

Internet service providers have expressed concerns about the cost to the industry of complying with the new regulations -- estimated at $32 million -- and of the vagueness of the rules.

Some predict the new rules will also scare Internet users away from encryption technology, dealing a blow to the government's stated aim of making Britain a hotbed of e-commerce.

"Everything in the bill is a little bit undefined," said Roland Perry, regulation officer for the London Internet Exchange, a grouping of some 100 service providers.

"Who needs to sign the bits of paper, what they might be requesting -- there's a national standard for that negotiated between industry and law enforcement, and if we're not careful this bill might throw all that away," he said.

While countries like China and Singapore monitor their citizens' Internet use, Akdeniz says the British government's move is unprecedented in Europe.

"Of course, the government has to improve law enforcement techniques and adapt to information technology," he said. "But that doesn't mean they have to turn it into an Orwellian state. We are moving toward Big Brother."

Britain's Internet service providers already must tread more carefully than their counterparts in some other parts of the world, including the United States.

In March, Internet service provider Demon Internet Ltd. apologized and agreed to pay damages in an out-of-court settlement with a man who said he was libeled by items posted on a Web site.

The case was seen as setting a precedent that service providers could be considered publishers and held responsible for information transmitted on their networks.

In the United States, by contrast, the Supreme Court ruled this month that service providers are not legally and financially liable when someone is defamed in e-mail communications or bulletin board messages.

Alberta passes bill to expand and regulate private health care

Alberta's groundbreaking private health bill passed the night of May 10 in an emotional legislature session filled with shouts and sirens and angry clashes in the public gallery.

"The Alberta Health Care Protection Act will be one of the strongest pieces of legislation in Canada to protect the Canadian health system," Premier Ralph Klein told the house prior to his Conservative government members voting unanimously to pass the bill on third reading.

Prior to the vote, four twentysomething protesters had to be wrestled down and hauled from the public gallery, which overlooks the government side of the chamber, after they interrupted Klein's speech.

"One-two-three-four! Ralph Klein's a corporate whore!" they bellowed, tossing shredded pieces of paper over the guard rail and onto government members.

As the three males and one female were hustled out, one managed to climb over the brass guard rail and appeared ready to jump five metres to the yellow-carpeted floor of the chamber when he was yanked back by security guards.

"Throw him over!" someone from the floor of the legislature yelled while the Speaker hollered for order.

"See you later fascists!" another protester shouted as he was hauled away. "See you next election!"

Both the Tories and Opposition Liberals then turned on each other, shouting: "Are you happy now?" and "Way to go!"

Minutes later, a balding, middle-aged man in a tan leather jacket stood up in the gallery and began angrily shouting and pointing down at the Tories, singing, "Na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye!"

Three security guards wrestled him down and hauled him out of the gallery. He was taken in plastic handcuffs to a makeshift security office in the legislature basement, bleeding from the middle of his forehead.

Meanwhile, outside the legislature another 100 protesters braved chill winds and rain to blow whistles, chant slogans and hoist signs. One brought an ear-splitting siren, usually heard at hockey rinks, that roared through the walls of the chamber, forcing Klein to speak louder and, at one point, to ad lib.

"When they see (the effectiveness of Bill 11) to be the truth, the sirens will stop howling," he said in a half-hour speech that was interrupted more than 17 times by the thunderous desk-pounding of his caucus and ended with a 30-second standing ovation.

Fifty-two of the 64 elected Tories voted in favour of the bill - the other 12 were not present for the vote - while all 16 Liberals, the lone New Democrat Raj Pannu and Independent MLA Pamela Paul voted against it. The remaining seat in the 83-seat legislature has been empty since former NDP Leader Pam Barrett stepped down for health reasons.

The bill has taken centre stage in the national debate over health care because it allows private operators to do minor surgeries and keep patients for extended stays - which critics say creates private hospitals and is the beginning of the end of medicare.

Bill 11 will now receive royal assent by Lt.-Gov. Lois Hole. Regulations will be drafted over the summer, and Klein's cabinet plans to proclaim it by fall to give it force of law.

After the vote, Liberal Leader Nancy MacBeth said: "While this government may feel they won the debate in the legislature by their heavy-handedness, we are just beginning the fight, and that fight will culminate at the next election, when Albertans will have the final say."

Health Minister Halvar Jonson said he was "very pleased" with the passage.

"It's been a long, much-debated and thoroughly examined bill. It's a very important one but I think it's very definitely the right way to go," he said.

Pannu said he wasn't surprised at the public gallery fracas: "Inside and outside, Albertans are extremely frustrated, extremely angry (with the bill).

"Democracy is a noisy affair and there are a few people sitting up in the galleries exercising their lungs. I don't have a big problem with it."

The government came under opposition fire for using its majority in the legislature to unilaterally cut short debate at all three stages of the legislative process.

Klein has said cutting off debate on the bill, which had more than 47 hours of discussion, was necessary to thwart the Liberals and New Democrats from continuing to stall the bill by making endless speeches on it.

The bill has dominated the public agenda since Klein then went on TV in November to announce the principles on which it would be based.

There have been testy public debates and nightly protest rallies at the legislature.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government has been monitoring the bill and promises to fine Alberta if the legislation violates the Canada Health Act, which promises free, universal access to health care.

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