A police officer on a public road has a right to privacy?!

In March 2010 motorcyclist Anthony Graber ripped down I-95 in Maryland on his crotch-rocket, hitting speeds of up to 127 mph, and popping a wheelie at almost 100 mph while passing a bus. Not a poster child for highway safety. Admittedly a boneheaded display of highway recklessness by any standard. I do mean “admittedly.” Admitted how? A camera mounted on Graber’s motorcycle helmet captured the whole thing. How do I know? Because he posted the video on YouTube.

In addition to his driving prowess, the camera also captured his subsequent encounter with a Maryland State police officer. But this is where the story gets interesting. Graber’s helmet cam shows him looking backward on the off-ramp, revealing one or two cars behind him (hard to make out in the video). One of the cars behind him may be a marked police cruiser. No sound in the video at this point, so it’s hard to tell if there is a siren or not. He looks forward again and pulls his bike to the side of the road. At this point a grey sedan comes up from the right side and cuts him off, nearly hitting him. A man jumps out of the unmarked car, looking quite normal except for the aggressive posture and agitated look on his face. Oh yeah, and the handgun he brandishes as he moves rapidly toward Graber. In response, Graber starts backing up his bike. (Graber stated later that he assumed he was about to be shot.) Over the next five seconds, the armed man approaches Graber, grabs the handlebars and yells, “Get off the motorcycle” three times. Finally he says, “State Police.”

Graber got written up for speeding, as he should have been. Then he posted the encounter on YouTube, inducing the State of Maryland to invade his home, seize four computers, and charge Graber with violating state wiretapping laws as well as a law against “recording illegal activity.” George Orwell and I cry out in unison, “Are you state officials as nuts as you appear onscreen?!”

The case went to trial in September 2010 in Harford County Circuit Court where governmental common sense made its first appearance. Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. dropped all charges except for the traffic violations. He stated, “Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.” Thank you, Judge Plitt!

The question at the heart of this case concerns the reasonable expectation of privacy that should be afforded a police officer in the execution of his or her responsibilities in a public setting. My take? Let’s start with none and work up from there.

All your blog spam are belong to us… (part deux)

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All your blog spam are belong to us…

I recently inventoried the blog spam that my filter is catching. I’m amused by some of the offshore messages left in the blog comments. Thought I’d share a few of these (sans URL and full sales pitch, of course) for our collective entertainment.

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Text messaging is not the devil

About a week ago the Deseret News ran an article entitled, “Parents urged to text teens.” The article quoted me extensively (and accurately) and was pretty balanced. I can’t say the same for some of the comments. It’s interesting enough to read posts on random discussion boards across the Web, but it’s another thing when the anonymous writer calls you out personally. Let me share an example:

Texting is impersonal and rude and drives families apart whether this guy knows it or not. Talk to you [sic] teens and forget the texting, its [sic] meaningless and useless means of communication with your family. Ditch the phones and use your voice and vocal chords to communicate, it does more for your teens and makes it a personal conversation. Texting is not communicating, its avoiding your family and a real conversation with them.

Class is now in session…

Texting is a technology, like cell phones, computers, automobiles, electricity, the wheel, fire, whatever. Pick anything. Technology is not evil. Technology is not the devil. We humans are tool builders and creators, and modern technology is a tool. All tools have both positive and negative usages.

After fire, we had cooked meat plus warmth in the winter, and then soon after we had smoke inhalation, burn wounds, and arson. I’m sure that didn’t stop the enthusiastic “Anti-Fire Coalition” from picketing the campfires.

After the wheel was invented, we had improved transportation, followed soon after by the first wheel accident (followed shortly by the arrival of the first insurance agent). The “Society for the Prevention of the Wheel” gained support for a time, but the technology ultimately, um, rolled over their efforts.

There’s no question that texting is less personal than face-to-face communication, but sometimes that’s the best you’ve got. I never advocated that parents stop communicating and hanging out in the same physical space with their children. My point is that when kids are otherwise unavailable, or are remote from your personal space, there may be significant benefits to texting them when the alternative is no communication whatsoever. Turns out even when it’s not the only option, most teens experience a text message from their parents as a positive interaction. A comparable majority feel that their relationships with their parents are better because of text messaging.

The worked-up commenter fails to grasp (or at least to express) that there is a broad spectrum of activities that can be classed as communication. Some communication methods are intimate, like whispering sweet nothings in someone’s ears, holding hands and kissing. Not the right approach at all times, in all places, or with all people. Some methods are face-to-face but casual and friendly, like conversation over breakfast or casual exchanges between friends. Some communication methods are not face-to-face at all, like a phone call from another state. And some communication methods (brace yourself…) are not verbal at all, but textual, like newspapers, billboards, or written letters. Some even involve computers, like email and (gasp!) text messaging. Now let’s be very clear. Like all tools ever invented, every communication method may be used *or* abused. You can kiss or you can hit. You can verbally express love or hate. You can whisper or you can scream. You can send an encouraging email or start a flame war. Same goes for text messaging…

Newsflash: Text messaging does not drive families apart. However, improper use of text messaging, including obsessive and constant texting by teens to friends (real or imagined) outside the family is almost always emotionally damaging. It weakens the strong family ties that are essential to the healthy development of teenagers. Bone-headed adolescent forays into inappropriate activities such as sexting is morally reprehensible as well as spiritually destructive.

Lecture over. Oh wait, one last comment from the back…

Talk about a dysfunctional family, this guy is promoting his and seems to be proud of it. His family probably carries pictures around in their wallets to remember who they are when they bump in to each other in public.

Yes. Texting can be impersonal and rude.

Same can be said for comments left on online message boards.

An “Internet Safety Podcast” First: Interviewee, not Interviewer

This past week I was a guest on the KBYU-FM Classical 89 program “Thinking Aloud.” I’ve done a few interviews for the Internet Safety Podcast, but this was the first time I was on the receiving end of the thought-provoking questions. The program host is Marcus Smith, and he does a very good job in the interviewer’s chair.

The 30-minute interview aired Wednesday, April 8, 2009, and was made available as a podcast on the KBYU-FM website on April 9, 2009. The program was entitled, “Way Too Wired and Overly Connected.” You can click the program link and listen from the KBYU-FM website or you can go to the Internet Safety Podcast site and listen there.

Here’s the description from the KBYU-FM site:

We have gained many comforts and abilities through technology, but at what price? We’re not looking to rain on the technology parade, but merely to reflect on just how radically our lives have indeed been altered by it. Join us to explore some subtle risks of technology, problems that most people don’t seem to notice or care much about.

quietube: YouTube without the distractions

Like a lot of things I encounter surfing “the InterWebs” these days, I have a serious love/hate relationship with YouTube. The positive value is fantastic. The negative skank factor is a huge turn-off, and frankly… almost impossible to turn off. Even when you visit a video with redeeming value, there’s inevitably some goofball from Peoria using the comments section to demonstrate via effusive expletive his lack of expressive verbal power. So dumb. So unnecessary. And let’s not forget the video response spams enticing the viewer to explore skanky content, and the “related” videos on the side, in case there wasn’t enough skank elsewhere on the page.

Enter quietube (www.quietube.com). The concept (and the execution) is brain-dead simple. Go to the page. Here’s what you’ll see.


Drag the little box that says “quietube” to the bookmark toolbar in your browser. The next time you are looking for something on YouTube, as soon as you find it, just click the “quietube” button in your bookmark toolbar, and you’ll be taken to the same video on the quietube site, where you’ll see… (drumroll please) … just the video. No comments. No video responses. No skank. You can then copy the URL of this quietube version of the video and email that link to friends and family, knowing that you are providing them with some cool and/or valuable entertainment without thrusting them into a skanky Internet back alley.

You need to understand that this isn’t a YouTube replacement. You can’t go to quietube and surf YouTube from there. But you can at least watch without undesirable garbage, and send links to YouTube videos with greater safety.

As an example, I present to you, one of my favorite viral videos of all time, “Charlie Bit My Finger,” courtesy of quietube.

For the Twitter community and others concerned with URL length, you can click the link entitled “TinyURL for this page” and be taken to TinyURL which will deliver you an even shorter link to the same video. So for the TinyURL afficionados, you can check out the example video here.

Internet slogan for the decade with no name: “Less is more.”

Memo to the industry: There’s a market for non-skanky content. 🙂

The Walmart Cashier and Cell Phone (Dis)Courtesy

Tonight I made a quick stop at the local Walmart on my way home from campus. Standing in line with my items I noticed the lady in front me in one of those self-absorbed cell phone trances. You know the trance. You’re in the zone, speaking too loudly, oblivious to anything around you, sharing your personal conversation with a host of perfect strangers, and yet sleep-walking through the physical world in which your oblivious body moves.

As I watched with interest, I saw the Walmart cashier looking at the cell phone trance lady with an amused but detached look, as if daring the cell phone trance lady to acknowledge the Walmart cashier’s humanity. I also noticed that the cell phone trance lady never once made eye contact with the Walmart cashier or exchanged a single word of verbal communication. The cell phone trance lady took four tries to get her PIN correct (she seemed distracted somehow) and then scuttled off, sharing her animated conversation with all in the path of her oblivious sleepwalking.

As the cell phone trance lady vacated the space in front of me, I turned to the Walmart cashier and somewhat enthusiastically said, “How are you this evening?” She was gently jolted out of her detached revery, and returned my warm greeting. I then told the Walmart cashier that I was a university professor with a research interest in the interplay between technology and society and asked her two questions: 1) How frequently does a cell phone trance person (such as we had just witnessed) come through the line? 2) How does it make you feel?

In answer to the first question, she guessed that about 10% of all the people that came through her check-out line in a given day were in a cell phone trance and failed to make eye contact or exchange a single word with her. 10% is not a huge number per se, but the cultural implications of 1-in-10 people in a check-out line at Walmart failing to simply acknowledge the humanity of the person taking their money is staggering. The Walmart cashier commented, “I could charge these people double and they’d never even notice.”

In answer to the second question, she waxed a bit more reflective and said with some emotion, “It’s VERY rude. What are people thinking?!” Then a pause. She continued with some resignation, “It’s VERY VERY rude.” She was being honest and a bit tender in her communication at this point. I could tell that she hadn’t intended to get a little emotional, but I could see it welling just beneath the surface. The sleepwalking cell phone trance people will never notice their impact on the Walmart cashier and others around them because they can’t be bothered to connect even for a minute while performing the transaction at the cash register.

Dr. K sez: If you are talking on a cell phone in a store, when you approach the cashier, either terminate your call or tell the person on the other end that you need to interrupt the conversation for a minute or two. Then pull the phone away from your head and interact with the cashier. It’ll only take a couple minutes. Repeat after me… “People in my physical space are as important as people in my virtual space.” Smile. Say, “Thank you.” The Walmart cashier is a real person, worthy of your validation. Baby steps…

Learning to Weld :)

I really like the feature that Amazon.com provides, where they send you emails about books you might be interested in, based upon other books you’ve purchased. It’s a great value add for me as a customer.

I recently received the following email from Amazon. Really made me smile. 🙂


In case the picture is too small to read on your browser, here’s the first sentence:

We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated The Internet and Your Kids: Healthy Habits for a Safe Online Home have also purchased Learning to Weld on DVD.

I’m now left wondering what the connection could possibly be between the people who purchased both items… 🙂

Communities for Decency: 1st Annual Technology Summit, May 31, 2008

For those of you in Utah, Communities for Decency is sponsoring the 1st Annual Technology Summit on May 31, 2008. The conference will be held on BYU campus in 3228 Wilkinson Center. There’s no charge to attend, but they’d really like folks to register so they have an idea of how many to expect.

You can get full information at the Communities for Decency website.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the program:

8:30-8:50    Registration

8:50-9:00    Welcome: Cindy Moreno, President, Communities for Decency

9:00-9:30    Keynote: Fraser Bullock, Founder, Citizens against Pornography

9:30-10:15    Troy Rawlings, Davis County Attorney

10:15-10:30    Break and Refreshments

10:30-11:30    Charles Knutson, BYU Professor (yeah, that’s me)

11:30-12:30    Panel Discussion: Kyle Bullock (CFD Technology State Board Member), John Carosella (VP of Content Control, Blue Coat Systems), Dan Gray (Co-Founder and Clinical Director, LifeSTAR Network Program of Utah), Charles Knutson, Troy Rawlings, Jack Sunderlage (CEO, ContentWatch), Carl Wimmer (Utah State Representative)

Early reports suggest a pretty good turnout, which is great, especially considering this is the first year. Come spend half a day if you’re interested in understanding technology and how to protect your families. See you there!

Your mom goes to Facebook

Last spring I joined Facebook. I was doing research on internet safety, and wanted to get a better look at some of the popular social networking phenomena. Facebook seemed like a tame place to take the social networking plunge. Keep in mind that I didn’t do anything there. I just showed up. No picture, no real information about me. Think grandpa with a press pass at a Hannah Montana concert.

My college age kids (two daughters, one son) quickly became excited and added me as a friend. (Nice to know that $200/month in milk for the past 10 years actually meant something to them.) Apparently I was cool for being on Facebook. Sweet! I’ll take it wherever I can get it at this stage. I was added by a few other students that I knew. I invited nobody, and lurked occasionally. Still posted no picture. Don’t want to appear like I’m taking this too seriously. Just an adult passing by the sandbox. Moving along. Just an old guy. Nothing to see here. As you were, children.

So I lurked… and surfed… like once or twice a month. I learned a few things on Facebook–like the unmarried daughter now had a boyfriend. Isn’t that something? I live 12 miles away, and am a professor on the very campus where this sweet daughter of mine attends college, and I learned about her new relationship on Facebook. Nice looking guy actually. Checked him out. Great set of pictures. Cool major. Saw who his friends were. Seems like a great guy. Met him in person a few weeks later. Yep, great guy.

The following week I received an invitation from a business associate with whom I’ve done work in years past, and who is part of my professional network on LinkedIn. Nick, what are you, weird?! What are you doing on Facebook? Don’t you see my press pass? Hannah Montana for crying out loud!

I accepted his invitation. Didn’t want to be rude.

I surfed for information on a student. Checked out his friends. His dad is on Facebook. Picture and everything. Yeesh. Preferences? His dad’s favorite book? I asked this 22-year-old how he felt about his dad being on Facebook. “Cool!” Huh. I stare at my press pass, wondering if I’ve bypassed a coolness acceleration moment by remaining a non-committed Facebook lurker. I mean, someone has to provide adult supervision here.

I asked one of my daughters some time later why I never see her on MSN Messenger anymore. “Mostly I chat on Facebook now, Dad.” OK. Hmmm. I log back in. I’ve received an invitation request from… my wife?! What is THAT all about?! “The girls showed me how to get set up on Facebook and I decided to see what all the hoo-hah was about.” You go girl. I’ll stay here in the back, away from the Hannah Montana mosh pit of adolescent energy.

Next week I check out my wife’s profile, which publicly declares that she is, in fact, married to me. She has posted a profile, and it includes a picture of… US. My cover is blown. My visage is now on Facebook. Oh dear. What to do? Her list of friends now includes a healthy chunk of our extended family, most of them college age, all of whom think my wife has scored some sort of pinnacle of coolness.

They all start inviting me to be their friends as well. Riding my wife’s coolness coattails. Not the first time. I accept all incoming requests, as long as I know them.

One week later, family pictures begin to show up in photo albums on my wife’s page, visible only to individuals whom she has personally accepted into her network of friends. (Whew! I taught her that one, after my Education Week classes on Internet Safety.) Great pictures. How come I’ve never seen these before? “They’ve been on my laptop, but I figured I’d share them with the entire extended family.” Pictures of our April trip to Hawaii. The extended family is going crazy. Comments on the pictures. I can’t resist. I add a few comments of my own. My wife likes them. She thinks I’m funny. 🙂 Always a positive score in the Knutson household when the mom thinks the dad is funny.

More invitations, more pictures, the mom feels “Happy and Content,” according to her Facebook page. Yesterday her page announces that she “is looking forward to date night. It’s the best night of the week!” That’s date night with me, BTW. More upswing on the home front. On my page, Facebook implores me to “Update your status…” Like I want the world to know my status.

I ponder the press pass. I break down. I post a picture of myself. Of course the mom is in the photo. Touche’. I accept eight more invitations from people I care about a great deal.

Baby steps…