How IT Administrators Disable USB Ports in Offices

How IT Administrators Disable USB Ports in OfficesDesktop computers equipped with open USB ports are a common sight among offices. Unlike earlier computers that needed to sport obscure ports or connectors designed for each specific hardware, today’s typical USB port allows workers to utilize a multi-use, universal embrasure for a variety of productive tasks such as printing, scanning, storage, and networking, among many others.

However, enabling this kind of openness in the workplace for gizmos or other hardware can post great security threats since mischievous office staff can virtually plug in any capable flash drive, external hard disk drive, or even normal music player to copy or transfer sensitive corporate data to their devices in a breeze. Some ‘smart’ employees even resort to the unethical practice of copying licensed software for personal use through USB ports, while some wicked parties use them to inject Trojan horses, viruses, or spyware into their office networks.

While putting in and pulling off stuff into workplace networks can be convenient and efficient, some IT experts still find it potentially harmful. In the interest of network security, some admins only find it prudent to deliberately disable USB drives to prevent employees from using them. The ways in which IT administrators address security concerns involving USB ports are as follows.

The Smart Ways

  • Changing the BIOS settings for each workstation and then assigning passwords to the BIOS settings to prevent non-admins from modifying them.
  • Disabling write access or write privileges to USB ports via Windows Registry so that data cannot be transferred to a connected device (and thus rendering them as read-only).
  • Completely disabling users from attaching and reading USB storage devices by editing values of certain registry entries or adding new registry keys.
  • Disabling USB ports from the Device Manager function of Windows or uninstalling the USB mass storage drivers completely.
  • Creating a Group Policy that disables read and write access to USB devices attached to computers within the network.
  • Unplugging the built-in USB ports from the PC card or bracket within the motherboard to prevent users from connecting to this common PC component.

The Not-So-Smart Ways

  • Completely disabling USB ports by “gumming” them up, e.g., filling them with thick epoxy adhesives to render the ports unusable for life (the radical solution).
  • Fixing tapes over USB ports to prevent USB device insertion (the dumb solution).
  • Downloading paid or free software such as Intel’s USB Blocker or IntelliAdmin’s USB blocking tool for those who don’t want to mess around the registry entries.

Choosing among either the smart or the not-so-smart ways has a downside for IT administrators, however. Both approaches can eventually appear counter-productive because workers can no longer use and attach wireless mouse, USB keyboards, and/or cameras, printers, or microphones to their computers, which, for the most part, are still essential to the daily work grind.

Specifically, if sysads choose to go ply the radical route — a.k.a. making physical changes to the actual setup of the PCs — then future users of any given workstation will never be able to use the USB ports ever again. In essence, this is impractical because it’s akin to ruining an entire system just to disable one measly component.

Henry Conrad is a 29-year-old game developer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aside from gaming and being a tech junkie, he also dabbles in creative writing, which allows him to create great storylines and backgrounds for his characters. Follow him on Twitter and join him in Google+.

Image: USB Stencil Red by *USB* (via Flickr)

Open Garden Surrounds Devices with Internet Access

Open Garden Surrounds Devices with Internet AccessOpen Garden is an application that assists those of us who need to access the Internet via varying electronic devices. To most of us, this process is done through tethering. Tethering is the art of connecting one or more devices to an Internet connection, normally by another device such as a cellphone or smartphone. Tethering, in my opinion, is a true art form because your success or failure depends on several factors including your ability to:

  • be patient.
  • follow directions by others who have successfully tethered similar devices.
  • know how your carrier treats tethering and/or if they may attempt to block your attempts at tethering additional devices.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on tethering, I have successfully tethered my laptop and tablet computers using my smartphone as the hub for the connection. My Samsung Android-powered smartphone operates through T-Mobile’s pre-paid plan and provides me with a 4G connection. To successfully tether my other devices through this plan, I use the free version of PdaNet 3.50, along with the free version of FoxFi, which together turn my phone into a mobile hotspot. The combination of these programs has allowed me to successfully connect up to six various devices to my smartphone, however, to ensure that others cannot access my account, I have set up an SSID with password protection.

For me, this system works great unless, like other Internet warriors who need a constant connection for personal or business use, we find ourselves unable to connect to our cellphone carrier. The inability to connect could be the result of something as common as finding that you are too far away from the nearest cell tower or that you are traveling on an airplane and don’t want to pay its one-time $15 connection fee. However, it could also be that you have reached your cellphone data limit. Knowing that these situations invariably cause user frustration, wouldn’t it be nice if we could piggy-back onto someone else’s phone and share their Internet access?

While this may seem like a shady alternative if you are one of us who have an Android system, Mac OS, or Windows, there is an option that could allow us this access. The application is called Open Garden and it is free to install on your system. Since it is not currently available to those using an iOS device, the program popularity is still relatively obscure. However, according to the software company that produces this free application, a version for iOS devices will be coming soon. When this happens, the app’s popularity is sure to increase, thus expanding the usable connections for all of us who find ourselves within range of another Open Garden user.

So how does Open Garden function?

What makes Open Garden different from other Wi-Fi tethering applications is that Open Garden is also a mesh network app. A mesh network is one that uses the Open Garden app to get you tethered to a variety of electronic devices and then selects which of these devices provides for the best Internet connection. In the future, Open Garden will be able to develop what are called ‘ramps’ to connect to multiple connections at once.

What are the drawbacks of Open Garden?

The biggest drawback I found was that, in order for the application to function, you need Bluetooth active on your devices. While I understand that the majority of newer devices in the marketplace are now Bluetooth enabled, what if your device doesn’t support Bluetooth?

I have two laptop computers and an Amazon Kindle Fire that do not support Bluetooth. I also have a Google Cr-48 Chromebook computer with Bluetooth and an Apple iPad that supports Bluetooth. However, even though these are Bluetooth enabled, neither of them is currently supported by Open Garden. To me that means that, until Open Garden expands its offering of supported platforms, the developers are going to experience problems in expanding the popularity of the application. Another issue I have is that the developers fail to mention if they intend to make their application compatible with Windows 8 RTM when the new operating system is introduced later this year. If they don’t, this could be a major drawback to increasing the salability of the program.

Does Open Garden function properly?

I have installed the Open Garden application on both my Samsung Android-powered phone — which has Bluetooth support — and on my Windows 7 machine. I found the installation on both systems to be easy and straightforward. I also found that it worked quite well for me despite the fact that I have read, in various forums, that others have had issues with connecting devices together. However, for me, it worked “right out of the box.” I disconnected, turned off the computer and my cellphone, restarted both, and connected immediately without any problem at all. Your mileage may vary.

Would I recommend using Open Garden?

I believe it is too early to recommend Open Garden because of its device support limitations, which include failure to support the Apple iPad (the most popular tablet on the market) and one of the most popular cellphones, the Apple iPhone. Part of its failure to support these products is most likely due to Apple’s tendency to keep a close rein on the applications it approves for its devices. I believe that this, in itself, curtails the usability of Open Garden. However, If Open Garden does become available on the iTunes Store for Apple iPad and Apple iPhone users, I would recommend giving it a try. If for some reason, however, that doesn’t occur and Open Garden is not offered by Apple, I believe the application will have little value and would not recommend the app.

Just my two cents. What do you think?

Comments welcome.

Source: Open Garden

How Wi-Fi Helps Dramatically Cut Small Business Costs

It seems that no matter where you go these days, there is Wi-Fi available. Connecting to the web has become a part of our daily lives and being able to do so where you eat, shop, and mingle is part of what makes social networking really work. But are there more benefits of Wi-Fi to small business owners than attracting young tech-savvy visitors to their stores?

Even if your business doesn’t see customers face-to-face, Wi-Fi has been embraced as a cost saving tool for businesses that don’t want to go through the expense of having someone run expensive ethernet cable through their building. Having everyone’s work station on a wired connection is a pricey ordeal especially in an office environment. The contractor, cable, ports, routers, switches, and maintenance all require a substantial cost to the business owner. For an office requiring 25 ethernet jacks, the cost of having wired networking set up can reach in to the tens of thousands.

Setting up one or even multiple secured wireless routers is substantially cheaper and easier, and you won’t need a small team of contractors running cable to do it. All you need is a little know-how and a closet or spare desk space.

Wireless N brought about a much faster connection allowing practically the same throughput users were enjoying with wired 10/100 class connections. While some budget desktops used for business don’t currently support Wi-Fi out of the box, USB adapters are currently very cheap and generally work very well.

What if your office is just big enough that the signal isn’t very strong in certain areas of the building? Wireless repeaters and range expanders are an excellent way to boost the signal to reach the extra space.

Security is a concern often associated with wireless networking, and for good reason. Some popular and older methods of securing these networks are easily cracked and vulnerable to attacks. There are, however, methods for securing a wireless network that are pretty solid. The use WPA/WPA2-Enterprise, firewalls, VPNs, and VLANs the right way can lock down a wireless signal making it extremely difficult for a hacker to access the network in any realistic amount of time. Again, nothing is foolproof.

Wireless networking has and continues to save small businesses money. In some cases, the cost savings from minimizing the use of wired networking can be substantial enough to make a serious difference in a company’s financial outlook.

Do you agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below explaining your preferred method for cutting costs.

Microsoft Pulls Sexting Ad To Promote Their KIN Phone

Microsoft originally had used an ad that showed a teen taking a picture of his chest under his shirt, which he than sent to a a teen woman. The ad smacked of a an approval of sexting and the company pulled the ad. Microsoft later stated that it took serious the problems associated with sexting, in light of some of the bad press that sexting has been getting lately. Consumers Report originally suggested that the ad came seriously close to promoting sexting which promoted Microsoft to reconsider running the advertisement.

In a recent news story it also states that:

A Microsoft spokesperson tells Consumer Reports, “Microsoft takes the issue of sexting very seriously and it was never our intent to promote it in any way.”

KIN1 Pictured Above
What do you think of Microsoft pulling the KIN advertisement? I personally believe that it was the responsible thing to do.
Comments welcome.

Kid Bloggers – Have Adults Ruined It For Them?

I was surprised when I read this that a recent study shows that teens are abandoning blogging. The numbers of teens who originally blogged has been reduced from a high 28% in 2006 down to 18% in 2009. There are many theories about why teens have reduced their numbers in the blogging field, some which is being blamed on adult bloggers. In another surprise teens have not flocked to Twitter either. It is estimated that only about 8% of teens Tweet.

Teens, not surprisingly, are a secretive bunch and shy away from being in the public limelight. So where are the teens hiding out at? How about social networks. It is estimated that 75% of teens have used one social network last year, with 55% still being social on a network today.

But what the study doesn’t say is why kids really have giving up on blogging. It merely states that ‘you know what they say – as soon as the adults show up, the party’s over.’

But is this really true? What do you think?

Comments welcome.

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China Arrests 5,394 For Internet Porn Or Is It Net Censorship?

China claims it is cracking down on Internet Porn and has arrested 5,394 criminals during the previous year. The Chinese governments states that the web sites they have closed down were havens for perverts and that those responsible would be prosecuted. But some are thinking that China is using the excuse of porn to close down web sites with anti government sentiment.

According to a Reuters article it states that:

With an estimated 360 million Internet users, China has a bigger online population than any other country. But the ruling Communist Party worries the Internet could become a dangerous conduit for threatening images and ideas.

The ministry did not say how many of the 5,394 suspects arrested were later charged, released or prosecuted.

The anti-pornography drive has also netted many sites with politically sensitive or even simply user-generated content, in what some see as an effort by the government to reassert control over new media.

China has banned a number of popular websites and Internet services, including Google’s Youtube, Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, as well as Chinese content sharing sites.

So there you have it. China doesn’t like social networking sites in which free ideas and thoughts can be shared. The Chinese government considers such sites as a potential haven for anti government sentiments that must be squished.

Comments welcome.

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FTC To Look At Facebook Privacy Concerns

Will Facebook Change Their Policy?

You may be aware that Facebook recently changed their privacy settings that by default allows anyone on the Internet access to your personal stuff. Though Facebook states that any user can turn this feature off, some consumer groups believe that this is a violation of privacy laws. Ten consumer groups have filed complaints with the FTC asking that Facebook be investigated for these changes.

In a recent article it also states that:

The move could push users to share more information to a broader audience, mirroring the structure of Twitter, the increasingly popular microblogging service. It also theoretically could create more opportunities for online marketers.

But Facebook’s privacy changes have elicited widespread criticism. EPIC said in its statement that the service “should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers,” adding that the changes “violate federal consumer-protection law.”

EPIC is joined in its complaint by groups including the American Library Association, the Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation.

My personal belief is that Facebook is loosening their security in order to provide marketers access to the 350 million members. If anyone believes that the folks at Facebook set up the social networking site because they love you, you are sadly mistaken. The purpose was to make a buck. The buck making starts now.

But that is just my two cents. What do you think?

Comments welcome.

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Can Your Facebook Friends Get You Labeled As Being Gay?

Two students at MIT were engaged in a term project about ethics and the law for social networking sites. During their investigation they stumbled on a situation in which they could actually determine the sexual preference of those who use Facebook by their online friends. The students used software to determine not only who your online friends were, but also gender and statistical analysis for their conclusions.

The study also concluded the following facts:

The pair weren’t interested in the embarrassing photos or overripe profiles that attract so much consternation from parents and potential employers. Instead, they wondered whether the basic currency of interactions on a social network – the simple act of “friending” someone online – might reveal something a person might rather keep hidden.

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said. People may be effectively “outing” themselves just by the virtual company they keep.

The work has not been published in a scientific journal, but it provides a provocative warning note about privacy. Discussions of privacy often focus on how to best keep things secret, whether it is making sure online financial transactions are secure from intruders, or telling people to think twice before opening their lives too widely on blogs or online profiles. But this work shows that people may reveal information about themselves in another way, and without knowing they are making it public. Who we are can be revealed by, and even defined by, who our friends are: if all your friends are over 45, you’re probably not a teenager; if they all belong to a particular religion, it’s a decent bet that you do, too. The ability to connect with other people who have something in common is part of the power of social networks, but also a possible pitfall. If our friends reveal who we are, that challenges a conception of privacy built on the notion that there are things we tell, and things we don’t.

“Even if you don’t affirmatively post revealing information, simply publishing your friends’ list may reveal sensitive information about you, or it may lead people to make assumptions about you that are incorrect,” said Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights organization in San Francisco. “Certainly if most or many of your friends are of a particular religious or political or sexual category, others may conclude you are part of the same category – even if you haven’t said so yourself.”

Is this guilt by association? I believe it is. I am an devote Democrat but many of my very good friends and relatives are Republicans. We have an unwritten rule when it comes to discussions that we avoid two subjects, religion and politics. We respect each others opinions and do so in a civil manner.

But if these people are my Facebook friends, could one conclude that I am secretly a Republican?

Share your opinion and your thoughts and let us know what you think.

Boston Globe article is here.


NFL To Personnel – No Tweeting During Games

The NFL is taking a position that they do not want any NFL personnel to Tweet during game play. The problem goes back to the NFL draft when some personnel were Tweeting to fans their selection of players. Because of Twitter and Facebook availability to almost everyone in the world, The NFL is taking a position that Tweets of plays could interfere with media organizations reporting this information.

According to a recent news article it also states that:

The NFL said that it will let players, coaches, and other team personnel engage in social networking during the season. However, they will be prohibited from using Twitter and from updating profiles on Facebook and other social-networking sites during games.

In addition, they will not be allowed to tweet or update social-networking profiles 90 minutes before a game and until post-game interviews are completed.

The rules even extend to people “representing” a player or coach on their personal accounts.

The NFL didn’t just stop with the league itself, though. The organization also said that media attending games will be prohibited from providing game updates through social networks.

“Longstanding policies prohibiting play-by-play descriptions of NFL games in progress apply fully to Twitter and other social media platforms,” the National Football League said in its statement. “Internet sites may not post detailed information that approximates play-by-play during a game.

“While a game is in progress, any forms of accounts of the game must be sufficiently time-delayed and limited in amount (e.g., score updates with detail given only in quarterly game updates) so that the accredited organization’s game coverage cannot be used as a substitute for, or otherwise approximate, authorized play-by-play accounts.”

What’s next? Will the NFL try to prohibit fans at the stadium from Tweeting as well? Will the NFL some day resort to cell phone jamming at their stadiums?

What do you think?

Comments welcome.

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MySpace – In Worse Shape Than First Thought

The one thing I love about the Internet is how it changes almost on a daily basis. The once darling of the Internet, MySpace, appears to be in worse shape than first thought. Though new executives have been brought in to whip things into shape, MySpace could be facing the same problems that have plagued the other once darling of the Internet, Yahoo!

What makes the Internet so different is that there is no brand loyalty by users. When a better or new social networking site appears such as Twitter, we flock on over to the new kid on the block – which leaves the old social networking site stripped of their previous users. In the case of MySpace it is being hit with more than just a mass exodus.

According to an article over at the Silicon Valley Insider, it states the following:

Myth 1: MySpace usage may not be growing, but it’s not shrinking either.

During former CEO Chris DeWolfe’s tenure, MySpace made a lot of noise in public about its 120 milllion or so unique visitors, but the new team on the scene has discovered that “the true [user] engagement numbers are horrendous.”

Myth 2: With its year-old portal advertising strategy, MySpace doesn’t need Google to make money

Google hates the $900 million, 3-year MySpace ad deal it did back in 2006. When it renews the deal, Google will probably only guarantee around $50 million per year. This will cut MySpace’s annual ad revenues in half, from $600 million to $300 million.

Layoffs. New Corp is a cutthroat company. Jon and Owen know they can’t let MySpace lose $100 million to $150 million during their first year and keep their jobs much longer. The easiest and probably smartest way for them to keep that from happening will be to cut MySpace’s 1,500-strong headcount in half.

But will MySpace be able to reinvent itself and get people back? That is a question that some seem to feel may turn out to be ‘no’. If one looks at Yahoo! as an example, that company has not been able to reinvent itself and garner Google fans who have not returned.

What do you think? Can MySpace make a comeback?

Comments welcome.

Source.

The Best Little Whorehouse On Twitter

The Sun is reporting that a brothel is operating on Twitter. The news agency reports the following:

A BROTHEL is touting its services via social networking site TWITTER.

‘House of Divine’ advertises which girls are on duty each day — and issues ‘special offers’ to punters’ mobile phones.

The firm, based in Milton Keynes, Bucks, also sends appeals for working girls to enlist.

Lib-Dem MP Julia Goldsworthy labelled the brothel’s use of Twitter “cynical and inappropriate”. Twitter declined to comment yesterday.

I do not expect anyone who reads this to immediately go to the web site of ‘House of Divine’. LOL

Comments welcome.

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New Twitter logo – Clicks for Tricks!

Ford Fiesta – To Be Advertised Via Social Networks

Ford is going to try an experiment using social networking sites. Ford is in the process of signing up 100 people that have created accounts on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, My Space and other sites, to share their experiences with the Ford Fiesta which will be introduced in 2010. Ford is hoping that by using the social networking system they will be able to use real world people sharing their real world experiences. According to an article over at Wired it states that:

“While were trying to build excitement and awareness for the vehicle with the Fiesta Movement campaign, there’s something bigger happening here,” Scott Monty, Ford’s social media boss, told Wired.com. “We’re also going to be building broader awareness of Ford.”

Social networking sites sell everything from soda to singers these days, but the auto industry has been slow to catch on. It might seem like a big risk — what if someone’s car craps out? But Ford, and the entire industry, for that matter, desperately needs to embrace the message it sends, said Ian Shafer, CEO of the marketing firm Deep Focus.

“It shows that Ford cares what customers think,” he said.

That’s supremely important when everyone is bashing Detroit and taxpayers wonder why they should pay to keep Chrysler and General Motors alive. Something like the Fiesta Movement campaign also could give Ford an edge with a huge — and incredibly web-savvy — demographic.

Ford isn’t shunning traditional advertising for the car, and it undoubtedly will invite the guys from Car & Driver, the Detroit Free Press and other mainstream outlets to review the Fiesta before it goes on sale at the end of 2010.

So is the Ford Fiesta a new vehicle? Yes and no. Ford has been producing the Fiesta since 1976 in overseas markets, having sold over 10 million of the compact cars worldwide. Ford also briefly try to sell the Fiesta in the US but it failed to draw many takers. Now Ford will attempt to sell the Fiesta once again in a different climate and economic situation facing the US, and they are betting that Americans will flock to the car.

But will people trust ‘the agents’ to provide real world experiences? Or will consumers suspect that ‘the agents’ are just shills for Ford? 

What do you think?

You can take a look at what Ford calls ‘the agents’ over at the Fiesta web site. 

Comments welcome.

Ford Fiesta agents

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Will Twitter Fail? You Decide

The New York Observer, as well as several other blog sites, are predicting the fall of Twitter. Citing phenomenal growth, up to 1,374% between February 2008 to February of this year, the newest social networking site seems like it is unstoppable. But now some are stating that the Tweeters will fail because of attacks by worms or by those who are duping Tweeters. Citing the Amazon fiasco about gay books were banned by the online retailing super giant, it is easy to see how Tweeters can be taken advantage of.

There is even a blog site that covers the backlash that Twitter is facing which states:

Now, with online social networking an accepted way to interact with friends and acquaintances, malware can spread like wildfire burning the dry tinder of casual relationships. The race to accumulate the most number of followers, a goal of many on Twitter, encourages connections that would otherwise not occur in the “real” world. Yet the brain doesn’t always seem to make that distinction. One who might seem threatening or simply give off a bad vibe when met in person is just another anonymous avatar in Twitter. Eons of evolutionary instinct cannot be undone so quickly in the digital age. In short, we are too trusting of those we perceive as friends in the online world.

Additionally, a technique used to save characters in order to stay under the 140-character tweet limit may inadvertently make malware infections easier. TinyURL is a Web site that allows a user to shorten an unwieldy Web link into something more manageable. The downside is that all TinyURLs look alike; there’s no indicator that it may lead to a rogue server in another country or to a phishing expedition. A solution to this problem may be to have a rollover tooltip indicating the ultimate destination of the link.

In the end, though, it will be difficult to see how Twitter will prevent future malware exploits. As Microsoft has learned with Windows over the years, when one vulnerability is closed, the purveyors of such devious code find new openings. It may be left up to the vigilance of the individual Twitter user. But with millions of users, many of them new and inexperienced, that may be too much to ask for.

But will malware alone spell the end of Twitter? How about rumors? What do you think?

Comments welcome.

NY Observer article

Twitter Backlash site

Could Private Social Networking Postings Be Used Against You?

Millions of us post on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Geeks and other social networking sites, expecting what we post is private and shared only with those we allow into our site. But all of this could change if a court allows access to a Facebook site to discover if a plaintiff in a court case has incriminated himself by making statements against his best interest.

The case is to be decided in a Canadian court case. According to The Star In Toronto the articles states the following:

Lawyers for Janice Roman, the defendant in the lawsuit, believe information posted on John Leduc’s private Facebook site – normally accessible only to his approved “friends” – may be relevant to his claim an accident in Lindsay in 2004 lessened his enjoyment of life.

As a result of the ruling by Justice David Brown of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, Leduc must now submit to cross-examination by Roman’s lawyers about what his Facebook page contains.

Brown’s Feb. 20 ruling also makes clear that lawyers must now explain to their clients “in appropriate cases” that postings on Facebook or other networking sites – such as MySpace, LinkedIn and even blogs – may be relevant to allegations in a lawsuit, said Tariq Remtulla, a Toronto lawyer who has been following the issue.

This could easily apply in a personal injury case in which a litigant claims his or her quality of life has been affected, Remtulla said.

“If you are alleging that, as a result of an accident, you have not been able to enjoy life the same way and there is a photo taken after the accident showing you skiing or exercising … that could be relevant,” the civil litigation and intellectual property lawyer said in an interview yesterday.

One can see the ramifications if the court allows the private information be made public. What do you think?

Should the information be made public?

Comments welcome.

Source.