By Mehroz Baig
Over the past few years, The Commonwealth Club of California has hosted a number of experts who’ve discussed Prop 8 and its repercussions. Take a look at what they had to say and what they predicted as Prop 8 made its way up to the Supreme Court:
• Retired Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California Vaughn Walker, who first struck down Prop 8 in California. He spoke at the Club in April 2012, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his earlier decision.
• Theodore B. Olson, a partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a former U.S. solicitor general (2001-2004) talks about his experience challenging Prop 8 in federal court. Olson has argued 58 cases in the Supreme Court, and in 2009 he teamed up with his sometimes Democratic adversary David Boies to challenge California’s Prop 8.
Listen to the full program online.
• Civil rights attorney, Frederick Hertz, on same-sex marriage laws—listen to his thoughts online.
• Molly McKay, the media director for Marriage Equality USA; Jennifer Morse, president and founder of Ruth Institute at the National Organization for Marriage; and Therese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney for San Francisco and attorney for the plaintiffs in the court case challenging Prop. 8; and Kevin Snider, chief counsel for Pacific Justice Institute. In this video, they discuss the legal issues that federal and state courts are encountered with Prop 8 and the appeals filed against it:
The story of whether or not Russian leader Vladimir Putin stole the Super Bowl ring of New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft has generated cross-continental political controversy. The Russian prime minister, for his part, has denied he stole the ring.
But the story is not a new one. In January 2011, New York Times columnist David Brooks talked about it during a visit to San Francisco's Commonwealth Club of California. He told the story as part of a discussion about, well, how weird people can be:
But the story I tell to illustrate [how odd people can be] was told to me by Bob Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots. He was in a business delegation to Russia and he had a meeting with Putin with his other business leaders. Kraft's team is a great team, and they've won the Super Bowl, and he had on his finger his first Super Bowl ring. Vladimir Putin saw this ring and said in the middle of the meeting, "Can I see that ring?" Kraft handed it to him, and Putin put it on his finger.
Then during the meeting Putin was gesturing with the ring on his finger and at the end of the meeting Kraft says, "You know, Mr. President, I'd be happy to make you a copy of that ring, but that particular ring has great sentimental value to me; it's our first Super Bowl ring." Putin pretends he doesn't hear him, and he puts the ring in his pocket.
Kraft goes back to the State Department and says, "I don't want to make a big international incident, but I'd really like that ring back; I'll make him a copy, I'd be happy to." So the State Department people, the embassy, send their feelers out to the Kremlin. They come back to [Kraft] the next day and say, "You know, we think we're gonna issue a press release that you've decided to donate that ring to the Russian people." And that's exactly what happened.
Read more about weird people and other topics from Brook's program at The Commonwealth Club in The Commonwealth.
PHOTO: Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Photo by Bryan Hewitt.
On Monday, the San Francisco political roundtable Week to Week included a spirited discussion about the cascading revelations about U.S. government monitoring of phone and internet communications. What limits should there be? Who should control information? At what price do we buy security?
Less than a week earlier, The Commonwealth Club's Climate One host Greg Dalton conducted a wide-ranging conversation with Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas. Schmidt and Cohen were discussing their new book, The New Digital Age, which naturally gets into all kinds of issues of technology, privacy, and security.
The discussion took place before the recent revelations about PRISM, the program that allegedly gives the U.S. government direct access to user information on central databases of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other tech giants. However, Dalton asked the duo about government information gathering, personal privacy, and the Utah Data Center, all of which would be central to the controversies that arose just a few days after their conversation. Here, in their own words, is the discussion of these issues.
GREG DALTON: The [data] collection ability has given some people concern about big data or the privacy. I'd like to ask about the Utah Data Center, which is being built by the National Security Agency in the United States, [and which] reportedly collects 60 billion iPhones worth of data. That's five zettabytes? You know what those are; I don't. It's a lot of data. It's going to be online later this year.
How should the U.S. approach that? Reportedly, Thomas Drake is an NSA whistleblower who says they will collect information on Americans. Should we be concerned about that much data in the hands of the government, given the power of the tools you've been talking about?
ERIC SCHMIDT: In the industry, we've gone through a series of these proposals, and they're often somewhat over-hyped, which is what they can actually do. Let me suggest what can be done; I don't know if this proposal could be done. And then we can debate whether this is a good idea.
As I understand it, the NSA's job is essentially foreign communications; they're not allowed to operate in the United States, but I could be wrong there.
DALTON: That's the law, but there's question whether they're actually following that.
SCHMIDT: You can't ask a theoretical question [and] then assume that the people are sufficiently incompetent, they're not going to follow the law. So I think we have to assume that any activity is legally appointed. If it's not legal, then people should not do it. Certainly in America. So assuming that this is a legal activity, presumably what they would be doing — and again I'm speculating — is they'd be assembling some of this information and doing data-mining. The way you would do data-mining is you would look for patterns.
A simple example is that they're looking for people who are racketeering. You know, you'd look for the signals there. Computers are quite good at tracing this. So far, I've got everybody here in the audience quite upset; you're worried about this, you're worried about your civil liberties.
On the other hand, there's some evidence that the surveillance world is actually losing because of the amount of data that's going on. That, in fact, the amount of communication has so overwhelmed the very legitimate and proper functions of the police and the FBI and so [we] are in fact less safe as a result.
I'm not going to take a position on the specifics, but I would suggest that when you think about it, think of it in a more nuanced way. Our government does need a certain amount of ability to watch — again, legally and correctly, again [within the] law and [in] a democracy in a country like the United States. The question is, the proliferation of devices has made it very difficult for them to do it.
DALTON: Jared, your response to people concerned about their civil liberties with all these tools and tracking?
JARED COHEN: You talk about specific government-level, and then just for us as individuals, I think getting nervous about this assumes that different bureaucratic arms of the government are willing and able to work together. I'm quite serious. You have different agencies that have different authorities to collect different types of data; they're not so good at working together. So there's a level of confidence and cohesion that just isn't there.
And this is a democracy.
Eric and I went to Mexico to look at how the Mexican government was dealing with the drug cartels; it's killed more than 60,000 people in the last five to six years. We went to see this sort of underground bunker that's called Platform Mexico, where they have unbelievable -- I mean you want to talk about real government cohesion around data related to their citizens, it is here in Mexico. And this is democracy. We walk out of this thing thinking, we really hope that no autocracy ever gets their hands on that —
SCHMIDT: There was more than that, because you can imagine that for legitimate reasons. There's a terrible drug war, terrible infiltration of the police, you have to go back in Mexico. So let's assume that they get the problems fixed and five or ten years from now, [despite] of the civil liberties or protections that the Mexican citizens have, once their systems are built, they're not turned off.
This caused us to say, and we say this in the book, that you need to fight for your privacy or you're going to lose it. We were in Britain last week; there was a terrible terrorist act — one soldier was killed by one apparently lone Muslim extremist in the entire country. And the whole country's excited about this, it's obviously a terrible thing, one person's dead. The home secretary calls for broad regulations and surveillance of the Internet. Not a good thing.
So it's easy for governments to overreact and take away your privacy, your security, and so forth in the name of the security. We would say that the open principles, the way in which we work today, is a much, much better way. You'll be ultimately safer with our approach.
DALTON: There's a proposal in California, the Right to Know [Act]. It would allow citizens in California to request data from organizations so they could know what companies know about them, and that's similar to what exists in Europe. But Silicon Valley industry has opposed that. Can you tell us about your position on the right to know from consumers, how much information companies have about them?
SCHMIDT: I don't know the specific legislations so I couldn't comment.
DALTON: It was quite broad and it was …
SCHMIDT: In general, Google answers this by agreeing with the principle. For example, in Google there's a panel you can get to where not only will it show what Google knows about you but you can delete it. That I think is the correct standard. The general view we have is the information that we collect through our normal course of business with you is really for you to control. And there are some laws that cover that. So for example, you can't just delete all your searches, though we will allow you to do it yourself manually.
But generally, we keep your searches for 12-18 months, and that's largely governed by some other laws. And then we anonymize and get rid of it.
DALTON: Let's quickly ask the audience. How many of you knew that you could really find out and then delete the information Google knows about you? Maybe a third of the audience. A lot of people don't see —
SCHMIDT: One-third is pretty good. So two-thirds have now been educated by the one-third.
DALTON: Jared Cohen, should people be able to have more access to information that companies hold about them?
COHEN: We have a whole chapter in the book where we look at the future of privacy and security. There's sort of a broader point that we try to make: When you look at the existing debate around privacy, it really does center around issues related to this first 2 billion that are already online. When we traveled around to some of these other environments, you bring up privacy to people and they just sort of look at you like a deer in headlights, like, "who gets privacy?" when you're living in North Korea or Libya or Myanmar.
So we came back with a sense that when you're going to talk about privacy, you need to also talk about security. The two concepts are deeply intertwined. One observation we make is that every generation seems more willing to share than the previous generation. It seems more comfortable with it. Maybe that trend will change. In the book, we make a small argument around the role that parents will play. In the future and on the book tour, we've sort of become champions for the idea that the good old-fashioned methodology of parents intervening and talking to their kids is actually still going to be relevant.
Listen to the audio of the complete program with Schmidt and Cohen.
By Mehroz Baig, Butler Koshland Fellow, Commonwealth Club
In a world of Silicon Valley technology where tourists take photos using iPads and Google Glass can practically read your mind, it may sound surprising that there remains a sector of our population that is only now beginning to learn about the Internet. Yet that is true of older Americans. According to a 2012 Pew Research study (link opens a PDF), 53 percent of Americans aged 65 or older use the Internet or at least email. But once they get online, 70 percent use it on any given day. It is likely that more and more older adults will begin to use the Internet and use it more extensively as our demographics shift toward an older population.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people aged 65 or above rose by 15.3 percent in the U.S. and 18.3 percent in California, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (link opens a PDF). A United Nations Population Fund report (link opens a PDF) reports that “around the world, two persons celebrate their 60th birthday every second.” And over the next 20 years, the Stanford Center on Longevity projects that California’s older adult population will double, from 4.3 million in 2010 to 8.4 million in 2030.
As prevalence of Internet use increases among older adults, so does the possibility of scams and frauds, many of which lead to financial abuse of the elderly. “It’s surprising how many elders are on their computers and on their iPhones,” said Talitha Guinn, director of the Elder Abuse Prevention program at the Institute on Aging. “It opens them up to a whole level of exploitation.” The losses from and the impacts of financial elder abuse are increasing. According to a MetLife Mature Institute report (link opens a PDF), the estimated loss due to elder financial abuse in 2011 was $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase from 2008.
Martha Deevy, director of the Financial Security Division at Stanford’s Center on Longevity agrees. “Fifteen years ago, email didn’t exist, so the fact that almost 45 percent of these incidents are originating from the Internet is pretty profound.” A study (link opens a PDF) by the Center on Longevity found that “the means by which fraudsters contact targets and obtain money mirror trends in everyday transactions, with the Internet outpacing all other mechanisms.” However, Deevy is quick to point out that there is no profile for victims; different people can be defrauded under different circumstances. “There’s a myth that older people are more susceptible to being victims of financial fraud, but we find that older people are more targeted.”
During the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the San Francisco Police Department received and assessed 445 cases of elder and dependent adult financial abuse, according to a report by the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. This was the third year in which the percentage of cases increased. However, crimes like these are difficult to prosecute: Of the 100 elder abuse cases received by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, only 35 were filed. Of those, 29 led to convictions by guilty pleas, two were brought to trial and one conviction resulted from those trials. This data includes all cases of elder abuse, not just financial abuse cases.
Elder financial abuse as a category is highly complicated, with abuse taking place in many forms and through many people. Guinn notes that family members perpetrate 90 percent of all abuse, but financial abuse provides more avenues for stranger involvement. Though email is one way through which scams advance and are perpetrated, social networking sites also offer another outlet, especially as increasing numbers of older adults use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. According to Pew, one in three seniors uses Facebook and LinkedIn and for adults over 50, the main reason for using social networking sites is to stay in touch with family members. That opens the gates for scams such as the “grandson scam,” where a perpetrator pretends to be a grandson or granddaughter in an emergency and asks for money, targeting potential victims through spam emails or through viruses that hack into social media accounts.
Experts simply suggest being extra vigilant and realizing that your information may not be as private as you might imagine. “We believe that self awareness is really the best prevention,” Deevy said. Additionally, there are a myriad of resources available for older adults to learn more about online safety as well as to report any incidents of abuse. Guinn encourages people to be familiar with Adult Protective Services and other resources such as those available through the Institute on Aging. Additionally, Facebook has information on security measures — however, their advice is targeted to a general audience and is not specific to older adults.
Guinn adds that in addition to being aware of resources, preventing isolation can also prevent elder abuse. She notes that isolation is the greatest risk factor for abuse. Ironically, for many older adults, it is perhaps that isolation that pushes them to learn and use the Internet in the first place.
Recent news on elder abuse in the Bay Area:
- 2 charged in Berkeley elder abuse embezzlement case
- East Bay banker charged with stealing $2 million from elderly clients
- Millbrae caretaker to stand trial on assault, elder abuse charges
- “Blessing scam” suspects convicted of swindling Chinese seniors in San Francisco
- Woman sentenced to jail for ‘sweetheart scam’ that targeted Campbell man
- To report abuse or neglect in San Francisco: (415) 355-6700 or (800) 814-0009 (24 hours)
- San Francisco Department of Adult & Aging Services
- California Department of Aging Resources Section
- California Area Agencies on Aging by County
- Institute on Aging
- Institute on Aging’s Resources for Elder Abuse Prevention
- Stanford’s Center on Longevity
- National Center on Elder Abuse