interweb freedom

(formerly Stop Usage Based Billing)

Posts Tagged ‘email’

Internet Security Tip #1 spam

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on September 12, 2010

red circle with a strike through over the word SPAMWe all know spam is out there. We all get it. The only real way to stop spam is for no one to ever ever answer it.
Mark it as spam and delete it. But so long as one person somewhere in the world clicks ‘reply’ or ‘buy’, it will never go away.

But there are things we can do.

don’t make it easy for spammers

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed along this advice, because it is a simple thing that we can all do.

When sending email to many people it is much better to select “BCC” than “CC”.

  • CC = stands for ‘carbon copy’
  • BCC = stands for ‘blind carbon copy’

When you use “CC” every recipient gets access to every email address.

This is important because if even a single copy of your email goes astray and falls into the hands of a spam harvester, they get the bonanza of a whole pile of email addresses to send spam to or to sell to other spammers to send spam to. Spammers aren’t going away any time soon so we should at least try to make it tough for them.

BCC means that the recipients can only see your email address, their own, and the addressee if there is one. Sending them all BCC would mean that only 2 email addresses appear in the email.

Always use BCC

And no, I’m not saying that you can’t trust the people you sending email to.

The thing to realize is that email travels across the Internet. DPI is the equivalent of unsealing our email.

But in Canada, the CRTC allows Bell Canada to use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to look inside Internet traffic– which includes email. DPI is illegal in Europe due to privacy concerns. It just takes one unscrupulous person with access and spammers have our email addresses.

history lesson: the origin of the carbon copy

Antique typewriter

Before computers, people in the 20th Century had typewriters. Typewriters were machines used for writing. Pressing down on a typewriter key worked the typewriter machine by striking the corresponding letter shaped metal die onto an inked ribbon against paper rolled into the machine.

When using a typewriter, it was possible to make an exact copy by sandwiching a piece of carbon paper between two sheets of typing paper and rolling them both into the typewriting machine. The force applied to the key would first transfer the ink to the paper and then through the flimsy carbon paper transferring the carbon onto the second piece of paper in the shape of the typed character.

The drawback was that the second copy was not crisp. The advantage that every keystroke was reproduced. This second copy was called a carbon copy. It was considered good form for the typist to type “cc” followed by the name of the person who would receive the second copy. In this way, bot copies indicate who received the letter.

A duplicate made without indicating a second recipient was called a “blind carbon copy” or “bcc” since the original recipient is not privvy to either the fact of it’s existence or information about it’s disposition. Often a file copy would be made in this fashion so that the sender retained a copy of his side of the correspondence.

image Credits:
“No Spam” image by laurelrusswurm under a Creative Commons CC0 License

Underwood 11 Typewriter photo by alexkerhead under a Creative Commons Attribution License (cc by)

Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Write Letters to Stop UBB

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on May 18, 2010

No Usage Based Billing

Living in a democracy means that citizens are free to communicate with our government.

Opinion expressed in one letter from one constituent has long been weighted with a great deal of importance. The presumption is that if one person invests time and effort in writing a letter and posting it, there are very likely a whole bunch of people out there grumbling about the issue who simply haven’t invested the time and effort in writing. After all, not everyone is comfortable writing a letter.
envelopes and fancy stationary

the formula

I don’t know what the actual formula is, nor even where to look for it. (If anyone knows, I’d love a link.) But people who have studied this stuff have worked it out that:

X number of petition signers = Y number of letter writers = Z number of email writers

So even though 100 people might sign a petition, and another 100 people might send a letter and a third hundred people may send email, the concerns of these three different groups of people will be treated differently. Doesn’t sound very democratic, does it?

Canada Post canceled Royal Canadian Military College stamp


The thinking goes something like this: it takes only a few seconds to sign your name to a petition.
Therefore the idea presented by the petition may mean little or nothing to those signing it.
Maybe it is something you agree with passionately.
But maybe you just signed it as the easiest way to get the person with the petition off your back.
A petition signed by 100 people would therefore have less authority– much less– than individual letters from those same 100 people.

Canada Post Mary Pickford Stamp

form letters

A form letter is going to be given less weight than an original letter, probably because the sender did not craft the letter themselves. The thinking seems to be that the sender put less work into it personally, so therefore it wasn’t important to them.

I think that is a serious error of logic. Just because some people simply aren’t letter writers, or comfortable putting their ideas down does not make their opinion less valid, it simply means that they have a different skill set than someone like me who writes endlessly.

If someone provides the words in a form letter that expresses what you think, it should be perfectly valid. As an expression of your views it should have just as much weight as an original letter. After all, FINDING the right form letter might even take even more work than writing your own. Not everyone is a writer. Your ability to participate in Canada’s democratic process should not be jeopardized by whether or not you are a confident letter writer.

Canada Post canceled Yousuf Karsh stamp

postal mail

In actual fact, it does not directly cost a citizen anything to mail a letter to our elected representatives. That’s a right that Canadians have based on the fact that our government is supposed to be a democracy. We are allowed to post our thoughts and ideas to our government without having to pay postage.

But if I send a physical letter, known to many in today’s world as “snail mail” because it is not as nearly instantaneous as email, the physical letter has to be collected from the pick-up point, transported to the sorting station, sorted, transported to the destination post office, sorted, and then delivered. When constituent mail arrives at the Parliament Buildings, it has to be sorted for delivery within to the office of our MP, or the Minister of Industry, or the Prime Minister, wherever it is supposed to go. The reality is of course that all of this physical handling is in fact paid for out of government coffers which come from– you guessed it– our tax dollars. So although we are not paying directly out of our pockets, we are paying indirectly out of our tax dollars for sending physical mail to our government.


Canada Post Permanent Stamp

Politicians also seem to put a lot less value on email letters, giving them substantially less importance than a physical letter delivered by Canada Post.

Yet writing an effective email letter is just as difficult as writing a physical letter. It takes the same amount of effort as writing a physical letter.

So why do politicians routinely devalue our email and count it as less than a physical letter? I think this differentiation is purely financial. It probably came from market research that says if a customer invests in a stamp in order to mail a letter, although small it is a financial commitment. And in today’s world we also have to figure out where we can even mail a physical letter since there are fewer post offices and mailboxes available.

When we send email to our representatives, the routing is all done electronically, but in this scenario no Canada Post physical presence is required. In fact there is no physical human labour until the last lap when presumably the email arrives at the office of the recipient. Depending on their computer skills, the letter might in fact be printed or possibly read off a screen by the person we have addressed.

But in reality, if I send an email to my elected representatives, no letter carrier has to carry it. Canada Post does not have to expend any energy in delivering my letter.

Canada Post Permanent Stamp

email is free (for now)

At the moment, email is pretty well free in Canada. Any Canadian who is hooked up to the Internet gets at least one free email address. But you don’t even need that anymore. Even if you don’t have an internet account, you can log onto the internet for free at a public library, or perhaps on a friend’s connection and get a free email account of your very own from hotmail or Yahoo or any one of dozens of free email providers.

The fact that email is free is is a big part of why spam is so prevalent; spam can be automatically sent to hundreds of thousands of recipients at virtually no cost. So long as one person falls for the scam or purchases the product spam will never ever go away.

Except Usage Based Billing means that everything we do online will cost money. Including email. In many cases we won’t be paying the email provider but we will be paying Bell Canada. So those of us who chose to use email will in fact be paying for the privilege of emailing our elected representatives.

Right now though, until UBB is implemented, email is still free. So it does not cost us directly OR indirectly.


My email is set up to request a delivery confirmation when I send email. That way, I get a notification that the email I have sent has been received. This is very handy in a lot of situations. Last year when I emailed politicians about an issue, some of them weren’t tech savvy enough to turn off the email confirmations. Of those, about half confirmed that my email was deleted without being read.

That’s unsettling on more than one level. The whole point of a democracy is that constituents are supposed to have access to their government. Government officials who delete constituent email without reading it are hardly behaving in a democratic manner. Although I do not reside in the electoral ridings of these MPs, in their capacity as members of the Canadians Government, they were serving on a committee deliberating about issues that will affect me. So it wasn’t simply impolite, it was a clear case of deliberately not even giving a hearing to a citizen.

What is even worse was that these same politicians who don’t understand a simple email function like automatic confirmations are making laws about Canadian access to technology. That doesn’t bode well for Canadian access to technology in the 21st century.

Canada Post Permanent Stamp

fiscally responsible government

Since physical mail costs the Canadian Government far more than email, they ought to be encouraging citizen email use, regardless of marketing formulas.

what goes around comes around

When we send our elected representatives email, they respond with email. When we send them physical letters they respond with physical letters.

In my experience, there is always an awfully long time before I get a response. I wonder if the intent is to wait a really long time to answer because by then I will have forgotten what I have written? Like most Canadians I keep copies of my correspondence so it doesn’t matter how long the reply takes, I can always refer back to my original letter. And the response doesn’t ever seem to actually answer my letter.

Canada Post 160 stamp - orange flower

But even if we are not going to get a prompt or good response from our elected representatives, and in fact all members of our government, we still have the right to be heard. Which is why I think we should write letters to our government to tell them why Usage Based Billing is not a good thing for us. And if we send paper letter s through the mail, someone in the office has to at least open it before throwing it out. If it is email, apparently it can be deleted without being read.

Because right or wrong, politicians attach far more weight to paper letters than email.

why write?

Are you struggling to pay for the Internet now? Tell them that.

Canada Post Oscar Peterson cancelled Stamp

Are you making a blog or do you have a web page that you are trying out as a way to promote a home business?

Are you a creator, do you have books, music or movies that you want to distribute online?
Do you have school kids who need to access the Internet to be able to participate fully in their own education?
Are you a shut-in who can access the world through the Internet?
Are you a researcher who needs to be able to access information?
Are you one of the many Canadians who is getting their news exclusively online? Do you use Internet banking? Are you looking for work? Are you selling or are you buying? Do you download public domain ebooks from Project Gutenberg? Or FLOSS? Are you a Facebook denizen or a Twitterer?
Tell them.

what to write?

If you need help with wording, I have written thousands of words in this blog I have been writing since I first heard about UBB. And I’ve put every word I’ve written in this blog directly into the public domain. That gives you the right to pick and choose anything I have said to create your own letter to tell them why you think UBB should be stopped. Because I’ve been trying to make this a work of reference, I’ve listed all the blog articles in the left hand sidebar, so I hope that should help you find any appropriate bits.

Canada Post Red flowers 50 cent cancelled stamp

Since the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement was able to overturn the bad CRTC Windmobile decision, he should also be able to overturn this bad UBB decision.

And for the same reason: it will be bad for Canada’s technological future.

write to your mp

Even if our MPs might not be very tech savvy, the Canadian Government has in fact invested oodles of money in setting up excellent internet access to all aspects of our government. Of course, when Usage Based Billing starts, it will make Canadians hesitate before using these excellent online governmental resources because we may not be able to afford them come UBB.

This excellent link will allow you to find your MP even if you don’t know who it is. This will find the MP for your riding based on your home postal code.
Find your MP

cancelled Canada Post 51 cent stamp with 2 red flowers

write to our government

This is an issue that will affect all of Canada, so all of our government should be aware of it. Because there is so much on the go, however, it is reasonable to assume that many of them are just as much in the dark about UBB as the rest of Canada. So it certainly wouldn’t hurt to write to all of the leaders. Should a Federal Election come to pass in the near future this could be an important issue.

Conservative Party of Canada logo

Prime Minister
The Right Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., B.A., M.A.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Minister of Industry
The Hon. Tony Clement, P.C., B.A., LL.B.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Minister of Heritage
The Hon. James Moore, P.C., B.A.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Liberal Leader
Michael Ignatieff, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Bloc Quebecois Leader
Gilles Duceppe
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
[*M. Duceppe would prefer communication in French, but I’ve heard that he’s classy enough to respond to mono-lingual English speakers in English
(in other words, English would be better than a bad Google translation]

NDP Party of Canada

NDP Leader
The Hon. Jack Layton, P.C., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

NDP Technology Critic
Charlie Angus
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Even though the Green Party got nearly a million votes across Canada in the last election, the green party still has not elected a single member, due to our unfair and antiquated “first past the post” electoral system. If you’re interested in working to change that issue, you might want to contact your local chapter of Fairvote Canada and participate in effecting change so that all Canadians will have a voice in our government.

In the meantime, although unelected, the Green Party Leader Elizabeth May does in fact have a larger constituency than many who hold office, so it certainly would not hurt to contact her about your UBB concerns.

Green Party LogoUnelected leader of the Green Party
Elizabeth May
The Green Party of Canada

Contact the green party of canada

The Pirate Party of Canada is brand new, but since they have come to exist in defense of copyright law and the Internet, it makes sense that they would be interested in fighting Usage Based Billing because it too will impede citizen access. Because they have not yet stood in an election and have no elected representatives, I’m pretty sure that postal mail to the Pirate Party of Canada is not free. However, you can mail them your concerns if you spring for a stamp, or head to their website and leave comments there.
The Unelected Leader of the Pirate Party of Canadapirate party of canada
Jake Daynes
Pirate Party of Canada
43 Samson Blvd #165
Laval QC H7X 3R8

A graphic of fireworks on a Canada Post Permanent Stamp

It certainly wouldn’t hurt to ferret out any smaller political parties that may exist in your riding. According to Wikipedia, there are a great many, so check it out to see a list of canadian political parties which would be an excellent starting point. The more people we have talking about Usage Based Billing the greater the possibility to stop it.

It is also possible to mail a letter to every single Member of Parliament. I would caution you about doing this by email. One person I spoke with in a Facebook CAPP forum told me that she had sent email to all of the Members of parliament during the Premature Prorogation, and had her Yahoo email account frozen because of it– because she was sending the same letter to hundreds of people, her her account flagged it as a spammer.

I suggest if you want to do something like that by email, do it in smaller increments. I’m contemplating sending them all postal mail letters. Wonder how many replies I’d get…

Canadians need to know about Usage Based Billing.

If you haven’t already, sign the petition. There are only 10787 signatures.

If you have already signed, who else should you be asking to sign?

That’s easy: anyone who uses the Internet.

Because Usage Based Billing will harm both Canadians and our Economy.

STOP Usage Based Billing

STOP Usage Based Billing

Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Nutshell Net Neutrality

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on January 20, 2010

The Easter Egg Museum

The Easter Egg Museum is located in Kolomyya, Ukraine. -- Photo by Mia

Ukrainian Law says that Internet Service Providers are not responsible for what their customers do.

This is the concept called Net Neutrality.

Internet Service Providers should NOT be held responsible for what their customers do.

Just as Landlords are not held responsible for what their tenants do.

The tenant may be the father of a family of four whose worst crime is crossing against the lights. Just as easily the tenant may be a serial killer who keeps locks of his victim’s hair in a jewelry box. Or perhaps the tenant is a wax museum artisan who keeps locks of necessary hair samples in a jewelry box at home for repairing exhibits.

The only way a landlord can know which involves serious invasion of privacy. Because it is only by spying on the tenants that the landlord can know. And even then, the landlord is not trained in recognizing or preserving evidence, much less building cases to present in court.

So no one expects the landlord to engage in this type of spying.

Largely because people prefer not to be spied on.

Even an innocent father doesn’t want his landlord pawing through his mail. The police aren’t allowed to open our mail because they want to. Email should be just as protected as postal mail.

Chances are the serial killer has taken precautions that would make it difficult for the landlord to discover the truth anyway. Besides, we’ve all seen the movie… if the landlord DID get the goods on the killer, the tenant would have to arrange an accident…
Paul Gross in the role of RCMP officer Benton Fraser in Due South
If the tenant is in fact breaking the law, either through tax evasion or serial killing, it is NOT the landlord’s job to investigate and prosecute. That’s what law enforcement is for. Centuries of jurisprudence have built in protections for citizens, so that something resembling probable cause must exist before citizen’s rights may be assailed.

Just as it is should not be an ISP’s job to monitor and investigate citizens in the event they may be breaking a law somewhere.

ISP’s are in the business of providing an internet connection, in much the same way that a landlord provides a rental property. In fact, the jargon used for a website’s main page is “home page”.

Spying on customers will be a huge expense for ISPs. Who will foot the bill?

I’ve seen enough spy films to know that intelligence gathering is a time consuming and expensive business. Surely it is not expected that the customers being spied on will pay for the privilege. The ISP can’t be expected to pay for the necessary personnel and equipment.

So the government will have to foot the bill.

But wait: government funds come from the citizens… so in effect the customers being spied on will pay for the privilege.

The internet has stopped being a luxury toy, as individuals and businesses conduct more and more of our real lives online. Internet access is as vital to modern life as phone access was 20 years ago.

We live a great deal of our lives online. Many people do online banking, and of course many commercial transactions take place online.

I correspond with family and friends around the world online. I know to be careful what information I put on facebook.

Internet security will be non-existent if ISPs are allowed or ordered to spy on us.

If they do, nothing on our computers will be secure.

Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

B: Packets and the Internet

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on October 6, 2009

No Usage Based Billing

No Usage Based Billing

[The First Part of this series was <<A: Open Source. This is the second installment of my Stop Usage Based Billing alphabet series. After this one, the others should be a breeze. The third section will be C: Deep Packet Inspection>>]

what are packets and why should I care?

Before looking at DPI, we need to understand what packets are. In order to maximize efficiency, every thing that crosses the internet is first disaasembled into smaller chunks of information. A packet, in computerese, is made up of a clump of information that has been packed into a packet.

Everything that crosses the internet does so in packet form.  Every bit of email, every bit of spam, every image, every word, every download from Maple Music is converted into packets.  All of the elements on a web page, from the embedded YouTube video to the web page text crosses the internet in packets.  A process known as packet switching then ensures that everything is transferred from source to destination as efficiently as possible.

Each internet user’s computer connects to the internet though their Internet Service Provider or ISP. Each ISP uses a protocol to communicate with the other components of the internet about the packets that go through their territory. The internet doesn’t go in straight lines. People who understand it usually represent the internet as a cloud.

My sent email is disassembled into packets which cross the internet cloud to reach Grandma's computer.

My sent email is disassembled into packets which travel across the internet cloud to reach Grandma's computer.

Even though it appears that the email I send to Grandma is a single thing, it will actually be broken down into manageable packets for the journey, just like everything else that goes out over the internet. Since I’m a visual thinker I’ve created a diagram to clarify how this all works.

crossing the internet

In the top left corner you can see me@teksavvy where I’ve written an email on my computer. When I press “send”, my email program tells me the message has been “sent”. But before it actually goes anywhere it is disassembled into segments, and each segment is put inside a packet. In addition to the segment of data from my email, each packet also contains the addressing information, a verification system and everything necessary to correctly reassemble all the pieces of the email at the receiving end. Every time the packet encounters a new protocol, a new layer of wrapping is added to the packet.

We don’t usually see is how the email is broken down into smaller clumps, or packets. To differentiate between them, I’ve given each of the six resulting packets their own rainbow colors, so we can more easily see the routes they might follow through the internet cloud.

The DSL arrow shows my email packet crossing the DSL phone lines from my home to Bell Canada’s local switching office where my email packets will connect with the DSLAM and enter Bell Canada’s Gateway Access Service

After adding its wrapping to my packets, the GAS equipment forwards my email along the Bell Canada phone cable to the Central Office on Front Street in Toronto. This is a Bell CanadaColocation Center which houses the equipment used by the Independent Internet Service Providers, who can access the Bell Canada infrastructure here. On the diagram this is where we can see my email packets emerging from Teksavvy’s equipment, as this is where the Independent ISP takes over email transport.

For this visual representation of how the internet works, I’ve broken my email down into six packets, so you can follow each packet’s route by color. It is impossible to predict which route the packets will follow, so although I’ve pictured each packet travelling along a completely distinct route, in reality if it is possible the packets would most often travel together. If they can’t all fit along the optimum route, some of the packets will be routed differently. The idea is to get all of the packets to the destination at about the same time.

When my ISP sends out the packets into the internet cloud, the packets will go through one or more separate peering networks. These in turn may pass the packets through one of the major Internet Exchange Points or IXPs like MAE West which make up the backbone of the Internet.

graphic representation of a packet

graphic representation of a packet

No matter how widely spaced the packets may travel through the internet, as you can see on the diagram, they will all converge on their destination. In my example my email was sent to grandma@aol. So the various email packets arrive at the AOL destination IP address where the packets can now be opened and reassembled and checked before the email can be delivered intact to grandma’s computer.

The internet is made up of a lot of different components all connected together in one very large interconnected network. But there are many different parts, and they all use different protocols to communicate with each other.

As packets travel from system to system, each protocol adds another new layer of packaging to the packet before forwarding it on. So as it crosses the internet, each packet acquires more and more layers, like an onion.

When the packet you have sent is received by the ISP at the end of the line, the packets are opened, checked to make sure that nothing has been damaged, then the email will be reassembled and passed on to the recipient. If a packet has gone astray, the destination IP router will store the existing bits and request that the missing packet be resent.

Although I am using email as my example, everything on the internet is transfered in the same manner. Packets are the lifeblood of the internet. Packets are content.
8195 signatures

STOP Usage Based Billing

STOP Usage Based Billing

Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »