Tamper Tantrum

Get ready to see your local justice system spirited away over the next few years, thanks to a flaw in a brave new computer imaging system that Miami-Dade County is using to scan and file court records. "The SPIRIT system is not adequately secured or protected to ensure the reliability and accuracy of record keeping and judges' rulings," eight senior programmers who maintain the system wrote in a May 28 e-mail sent to three county judges, the county manager, and the Miami-Dade mayor. "Records can be easily tampered with practically by anyone working in this system without any reliable audit trail." The fatal flaw: SPIRIT requires everyone using it to enter the exact same ID and password to access the image database. In their memo, the eight programmers, who are all county employees, said their bosses, who are private consultants, had ignored their security concerns for four years.

Currently SPIRIT, which stands for Simultaneous Paperless Image Retrieval Information Technology, is being used only for traffic court filings, but the plan is to put the entire county court system's records on it one day. The project has been in the works since the early Nineties. SPIRIT sources estimate it has already cost at least $20 million. Accenture, the former subsidiary of Andersen Consulting (Enron's now defunct accounting firm) that designed SPIRIT and remains a project consultant, is hoping to take it to other cutting-edge municipalities across the country. But a few glitches need to be eliminated before SPIRIT takes the nation by storm.

For example: "You could wipe out all the records and there would basically be no trace that you did it," warns Johnny Hoben, one of the eight programmers, all employees at the county's Enterprise Technology Service Department. Right now at least 240 people "could access the database directly and mess around with the data," he notes. About 200 of them are data-entry types who toil in the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building; about 40 others are stationed at several smaller courthouses in Miami-Dade. A gaggle of private consultants who've left the project could also have the ID and password in their heads.

Every day clerks scan citations into the SPIRIT system by the dozen. Each image is indexed with a case number. There are currently about 17 million such images on file. To retrieve an image, you need the number. "If you delete that index number, you no longer have any reference to the image and it basically disappears from the system," Hoben says. The scanned image of your DUI, reckless driving, or speeding violation will be on SPIRIT's platter (like a big DVD), but it may as well not be. The hard copy of your citation could still be in a box in a storage room somewhere, but even you may not recall that it exists.

A more creative tamperer could open up an image in Adobe Photoshop, says Byron Jones, another of the county's concerned senior programmers. "You could change it from, say, a DUI, where you're going to lose your license and maybe go to jail, to something like careless driving, where you might get three points or six points on your license," Jones submits. "Right now there are only three or four people on the project with the technical experience to do something like that, and I'm one of them. But that's the whole point. The system should never be designed so you have to trust anyone. You shouldn't have to trust me to be ethical as a programmer. There should be enough checks and balances and so forth to make it so that even I can't do that sort of thing."

So why not issue individual IDs and passwords? Because Accenture, the consulting firm responsible for SPIRIT, wrote the program to have only a single ID and password. "It's hard-coded into the application. You'd have to rewrite it. That's the problem," Hoben adds. That job could take a year and add hundreds of thousands of dollars to an already expensive project.

Tom James, chief information officer for the Miami-Dade Clerk of the Courts, disagrees with the programmers. "This is the way most systems are built. It's nothing unusual. They would hold us to a higher standard than any other system," he insists. "We believe the system is secure. We believe that we ought to have trustworthy people running it. And we believe we do for the most part."

James calls the security issues "minimal," but acknowledges that he is now taking steps to address them. So what took so long? "We have to prioritize and we have to assess what the risks are," he declares. "And in our judgement the types of risks that they're talking about are so improbable that we didn't feel like it was all that important."

Fanatic FolliesThanks to further advancements in Atlantic Broadband's ongoing commitment to incompetence, Miami Beach subscribers will soon find themselves without the Independent Film Channel. The IFC, which is dedicated to alternative, art-house, sometimes low-budget cinema (its devotion to Donnie Darko is largely responsible for the cult hit's emergence and rerelease as a mainstream hit), will be dropped from the cable provider's roster of channels this week. This is not good news to South Beach resident and film buff Peter Nellhaus,though Nellhaus has mixed feelings about IFC owing to his dashed dreams of minor game-show fame.

Last month, Nellhaus was a contestant on the IFC's Ultimate Film Fanatic, which pits film freaks against each other in a battle of geekitude, for which the winner earns the dubious bragging rights of being the UFF. The program's hosts and judges include former porn star Traci Lords, blaxploitation pioneer Richard Roundtree (John Shaft!), and a Silent Bob-less Jason Mewes. Unfortunately for Nellhaus, the episode on which he is to appear is scheduled to air August 20, a few days after Atlantic is supposed to stop carrying the channel.

Nellhaus says he did well in the trivia round of the show, when he correctly named the first X-rated animated film (Fritz the Cat). But he flubbed the debate section, in which he argued that the Stanley Kubrick version of Lolita was better than its successor. How did he lose that one? "I was debating against a guy who was younger and cuter than me," he theorizes, dissing the panel of judges. "When we got back to the green room we could tell somebody was smoking." Could it have been Reefer Madness that caused such a crazy decision, The Bitch wondered? "Could be," he allowed. "Could be."

A rep at the cable company, which also provides Internet service to much of Florida, e-mailed The Bitch with the following explanation for the service disruption: "We r dum we dont no how 2 do stuf cuz we are 2 stupd LOL!" The Bitch jests. Actually the channel is being dropped because Atlantic Broadband and the IFC have been unable to agree on a distribution deal.

For his part, Nellhaus says this episode is "making me more seriously consider getting Dish or DirecTV."

Coalition of the Extremely Obnoxious

The Personal Watercraft Industry Association (yes, there is such a thing) launches a campaign today at JetSki of Miami at 3800 NW 27th Ave. (protest, anybody?) to reintroduce personal watercraft to Biscayne National Park. Considering that this area is surrounded by open water, what sense of entitlement gives these idiots the idea they should be allowed to befoul the park, too?

Unhomed and Unheard

Residents of Little Haiti's Keystone Mobile Home Park, forced to find new housing after the City of Miami purchased the land, are struggling to relocate, according to a local housing activist. Karolyn Stuart, of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), says many of the park's tenants don't have the money for deposits on new apartments. "Many of them are leaving their mobile homes behind because, over the years, they've become permanent structures," Stuart says. "We've tried to meet with different officials about trying to get some help for these people, but no one wants to pay any attention to us."

Among the city officials Stuart tried to talk to on behalf of the park's 100 families: Commissioner Art Teele ("He didn't respond to our letter, and he hasn't returned any of our calls to his office"), Mayor Manny Diaz ("He never returned numerous phone calls or letters, and someone from his office just told us: öIt's not a city issue'"), and city manager Joe Arriola ("His assistant is getting us an appointment for sometime this month, but a lot of people are already in trouble -- they're being evicted, and the whole park has to be cleared by September 16").

Popularity Contest

On his campaign Website, corporate attorney Andres Rivero promises voters he will bring intelligence and integrity to the Miami-Dade County Commission. Touting his experience as a former federal prosecutor, Rivero promises to root out corruption and cronyism at county hall if he is elected on August 31. Rivero is vying against former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, erstwhile Miami City Manager Carlos Gimenez,and four other fringe candidates in the contest to replace County Commissioner Jimmy Morales, who is running for county mayor.

In an effort to boost his "reformer" image, Rivero has been bashing Gimenez for accepting campaign contributions from high-profile lobbyists and county contractors. Indeed Gimenez has smoked his opponents in the fundraising department, amassing a $138,297 war chest, according to campaign finance reports. Gimenez's nascent political machine comes courtesy of lobbyists such as Rodney Barreto, Courtney Cunningham, Eli Feinberg, Eston "Dusty" Melton, and Brian May and their spouses. Each of them contributed a $250 donation, the maximum allowed by law, to Gimenez. In a brazen display of campaign bundling, twelve members of the Munilla family, a Miami clan which owns a construction company that regularly wins county contracts, donated a combined $3000 to Gimenez. "It's pretty clear where all the special-interest money is going to in this race," says Rivero, who has raised $68,049 and has qualified for $50,000 in public campaign financing. "What the people need is a former prosecutor who will stand up to the special interests who control county hall."

Before Rivero moves on to his next stump speech, The Bitch reminds him of his recent history as a hired gun for some very well-connected businesspeople. Rivero represented Marilyn J. Parker, a former county contractor who admitted to bribing Miami-Dade's ex-airport construction chief, Richard Mendez, in 2002. Parker got three years' probation, and she had to repay the county $145,000.

Rivero was also the attorney for Miami Airport Duty Free Joint Venture, a minority firm that performed no work, yet was paid $14.6 million from a county airport contract, according to the Miami-Dade Inspector General. The minority venture's principals include Sergio Pino, a major Republican Party fundraiser and tract-home builder, and Jorge de Cardenas, a long-time lobbyist and political strategist who served a year in prison for his involvement in the Operation Greenpalm kickback scheme.

But nothing beats Rivero's representation of Tomas Mestre, a South Dade-based waste industry tycoon who SLAPPed (as in Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) Redland homeowner Ellen Perez in 2001. Mestre claimed Perez "intentionally made false statements" against his company, Ouster, Inc., to put it out of business. Mestre eventually dropped the suit, but Perez paid the ultimate price: She was forced to sell her home to pay off legal and medical bills.

So whose interests will Rivero the Commish represent and protect? "People understand that lawyers are advocates," Rivero says. "Sometimes you have popular clients. Sometimes you have unpopular clients."

No Name, No Motive

On August 11, 2004, the elitist Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidates' forum that excluded the only black candidate and the only disabled candidate in the race to be the next mayor of Miami-Dade County. The chamber invited the so-called leading contenders: Carlos Alvarez, José Cancela, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Maurice Ferré, Jay Love, and Jimmy Morales.

Yet the GMCC snubbed Deliverance Charles Blue and David Slater based on recent polls that show both men are well behind the presumed frontrunners, according to the chamber's executive vice president, Barry Johnson. "We are going to be pressed for time, so we decided to only invite the six leading candidates," Johnson told The Bitch a day before the forum. Shortly after speaking to Miami's favorite canine, Johnson invited Slater and his wife, as well as Blue, to attend the forum as lunch guests, but that the two contenders would not be allowed to join the other candidates at the podium.

Needless to say, the chamber's snub didn't sit well with Slater, an Army veteran and former television traffic reporter who has an artificial kneecap in his left leg. He claims the chamber's advocacy director, Alice Ancona, informed him that Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler did not want Blue or Slater to participate. Fiedler moderated the forum. "He doesn't want to believe Blue or myself are serious candidates," Slater fumed. "This is completely un-American, especially during such a wide-open local election."

Nevertheless Slater accepted the chamber's lunch invite. He was joined by campaign supporter Denny R. Wood, a paraplegic, who confronted Fiedler prior to the forum's start. Fiedler insisted he had nothing to do with the decision to exclude Blue and Slater. "The chamber established the criteria by which the candidates were invited," Fiedler said. "I'm sorry."

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