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Obama proposes FISA reforms

The great surveillance debate is about to heat up again, as President Obama has proposed reforms to the FISA court process in an attempt to address the criticisms of the NSA surveillance program. It will be fascinating to see how this debate evolves. Many of the reforms seem to make sense and suggest a willingness to reach a consensus on this issue. Still, many critics were not impressed. We’ll see how this goes.

Online privacy battle in California

Things are getting interesting in California. Tech companies are fighting privacy advocates over a California bill that would require companies like Facebook, Google and other social networks to disclose to users the personal data the services have collected and with whom they have shared it. It doesn’t restrict what they can do, but the disclosure requirements are still very controversial and could be very expensive.

Surveillance gadgets for the holidays

We can gripe all we want about privacy, but the plain fact is that we can now be recorded for video and sound just about anywhere.

Of course this is useful for fun for people interested in tracking others, and that’ where surveillance gadgets come into play. With super-small HD video recorders, we’re seeing all sorts of surveillance and video recording equipment getting pushed in the consumer market. Now anyone can channel their inner 007 and spy on others.

Above we have a photo of the new Sony Digital Binoculars priced at $1,999.

Look into the first fully digital, 3D, high-def-recording binoculars and you’re not gazing through glass, you’re observing dual independent electronic viewfinders. Why’s that better? You can adjust the image, focus instantly, and with the push of a button start recording the identical view in 1080p high-def, and 3D. The possibilities for the DEV-5 are limitless—birding, sports action, checking out that apartment across the street with the hot neighbor who always leaves the lights on… ok, maybe not (better to simply take advice from The Girl Next Door by getting her tips on love, sex, and dating sent right to your inbox).

Along the same lines we have the Pivothead HD Recording Sunglasses which can be used to record everything around you with POV video. You can record your adventures, but also record other people of course.

Just keep in mind your local privacy laws when using these devices. It’s one thing to record video out in public, but it’s quite another to record people when they have an expectation of privacy.

Ultimate security gadget during a storm

OK, so maybe that a bit of an exaggeration, but this portable radio/flashlight that can be powered by a crank shaft, a solar strip or conventional methods can really come in handy during and after a storm, or while you’re out in the middle of nowhere like on a camping vacation. The Etón FRX3 Radio can also charge up your cell phone, and that’s a really important feature.

Privacy, telematics and car insurance

Here’s a fascinating story of how car insurance companies can monitor your driving.

When Zshavina Meacher of Cleveland traded in her car for a new 2011 Chevy Malibu last summer, her insurance premium jumped to $510 every six months. Her insurer, Progressive Corp., asked her whether she wanted to cut her rate.

If Meacher agreed to install a device in her car that monitors how safely she drives and the results were good, her rates would go down. If the results weren’t so good, her rates would stay the same. She agreed.

During the first few weeks, the device told Meacher that she slammed on her brakes a lot. She stopped the hard braking.
In February, the 23-year-old’s insurance bill dropped by $120 per six months, or 24 percent.

Meacher is happy her rates went down. And Progressive is happy the risk of Meacher getting into an accident went down. Fewer claims will help keep Mayfield-based Progressive profitable.

If you haven’t heard of telematics — a device that monitors your driving — then get ready. While Progressive started dabbling in telematics in the 1990s, it started pushing it in 2010 with its “Snapshot” program, and other insurers have stepped up interest in the last year.

Of course this is voluntary monitoring, and safe drivers can save money on their car insurance, but it raises all sorts of privacy issues. What’s next? Will health insurers want constant monitoring of our heart rates to see if we are exercising?