PBS documentary uses UBC students to expose US security risk
The UBC School of Journalism continues to break new ground. Tonight PBS will air a documentary that features the work of the students. Led by veteran newsman Peter Klein, the students unearthed shocking holes in US security procedures. Here is the release about the show:
As this month’s digital television conversion makes tens of millions of analog TVs obsolete, and Americans continue to trash old computers and cell phones at alarming rates, FRONTLINE/World presents a global investigation into the dirty secret of the digital age—the dumping of hundreds of millions of pounds of electronic waste around the world each year.
In “Digital Dumping Ground,” airing Tuesday, June 23, 2009, at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), producer/correspondent Peter Klein and a team of his graduate journalism students from the University of British Columbia fan out around the world to track “e-waste” to the notorious Sodom and Gomorrah slum of Accra, Ghana, and to the city of Guiyu, China, the largest e-waste dump in the world. Along the way, Klein and his team discover a shadowy industry that is polluting the environment and poisoning the people who live and work among the waste, scavenging for scrap metals. They also find a potentially serious data security threat, as criminal gangs attempt to harvest data from the West’s old computers and cell phones and exploit it.
“This is the dirty little secret of the high-tech industry,” says Jim Puckett, the activist who first exposed China’s digital dumping grounds years ago. Earlier this year, Puckett returned to Guiyu, where thousands of villagers now spend their days dismantling electronics and melting soldered circuit boards to remove valuable chips—practices which have been linked to dangerously high lead levels in both children and in maternal breast milk. “I was here first in 2001, and it was shocking enough then,” Puckett says. “It’s gone from very bad to really horrific. ... What is happening there now is rather apocalyptic.”
In addition to the health and environmental hazards of e-waste dumps, Klein and his team find another danger at an open-air market in Ghana, where hard drives from the United States and elsewhere are being resold, sometimes to criminal gangs who mine them for credit card data, Social Security numbers and other identifying information. One hard drive purchased by Klein and his team turned out to have come from Northrop Grumman, the U.S. defense contractor: Analysis revealed sensitive information about multimillion-dollar contracts with the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security. The FBI expressed concern about this security breach, and Northrop Grumman has acknowledged it is looking into how its hardware and data ended up in Ghana.
There is an international treaty banning the export of hazardous waste, but the United States is one of only a few countries—others include Haiti and Afghanistan—which have not ratified it. By contrast, in India, Klein and his team find the government has recently enacted legislation to set up a formal e-waste recycling industry to deal with the country’s growing domestic e-waste problem, and several Indian high-tech firms now dismantle e-waste safely and securely.