So here's the scary number: the major wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and a couple little guys like U.S. Cellular and Cricket) revealed that in total, in 2011, they received 1.3 million requests for user data from law enforcement agencies. They released this information only after an inquiry by Congressman Edward J. Markey. This is the first time we've had any overarching glimpse at how (and how often) the carriers work with law enforcement.
This is a major step forward towards transparency. It received a front-page New York Times story, and certainly a fair bit of coverage elsewhere. It provides much more information than we've ever had before, especially from AT&T, which lists a few categories of requests as well as the specific (very tiny) number of requests AT&T refused to honor. But! That 1.3 million number leaves out some legitimately important information. Most important: what information is revealed, exactly, and how often do the carriers comply?
Now that I'm a week into my little working abroad experiment, I thought I'd provide a quick update on which of my gadgets is making me smile as much as this gouda is, and which are making me sad like this crappy grocery-store-bought anonymous white cheese is. Did I mention I'm eating a lot of cheese?
Nokia N73: "You sound just like you're next door," said my Luddite father from Minnesota as I gabbed away and wandered accidentally into Paris's Chinatown (talk about disorienting). Pop may be talking in clichés again, but it is amazing that we can have instantaneous conversation from that far away. The N73 and the WorldClass service from T-Mobile has been nearly flawless: great coverage, clear calls. Only once did it get wonky, dropping calls and losing its signal last night in my apartment. My only other gripe: Call forwarding from my Verizon cellphone back home seems to be working; however, those callers cannot leave voicemails. Those who dial directly to the T-Mobile number can. Odd. The somewhat poky data connection is fine for emergency surfing but super-handy for my favorite feature—the built-in Flickr uploading tool that lets me post shots directly from the phone's three-megapixel camera. It's the first time I've actually bothered using a cameraphone.
Belkin Wi-Fi Skype Phone: "I can hear everything I'm saying echoed back," said just about every caller I've spoken to on this thing. I had high hopes for doing a lot of Skypeing here, but the call quality just hasn't been consistent, so I've been turning to the cell instead. I suspect that's more of a Skype issue than a Belkin one, and other than failing to recognize my WPA Wi-Fi security, setup and everyday usage is a breeze.
Belkin Wi-Fi Travel Router: It's so cute, I want to love it, but the little brat seems to drop my network, necessitating a reset, about every other day. So every time I have to go back and re-set up the SSID, I'm adding a number to keep track of the restarts. Right now, we're surfing on haney6 (and probably pissing off any leechers in the building, since whether or not I re-set up security each time depends on my mood).
As for all my other toys, I haven't gotten too dirty with the Garmin or the N800 yet, and my entertainment hard drive already bricked, crashing my laptop whenever I plugged it in and failing to recognize the hard drive inside when I plugged it into the TV here.
I'll post more later, but if anyone has any great tips for tech while abroad, please share 'em in the comments. And again, if you're in the area, drop me a line. I have lots of cheese to share. —Mike Haney