Facebook

Facebook Donated To 46 of 55 Members On Committee That Will Question Zuckerberg (usatoday.com) 160

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be questioned about user privacy protections next week by members of the House and Senate committees, but as USA Today notes, many of these members were also "some of the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from Facebook employees directly and the political action committee funded by employees." An anonymous reader shares the report: The congressional panel that got the most Facebook contributions is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which announced Wednesday morning it would question Zuckerberg on April 11. Members of the committee, whose jurisdiction gives it regulatory power over Internet companies, received nearly $381,000 in contributions tied to Facebook since 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center is a non-partisan, non-profit group that compiles and analyzes disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission.

The second-highest total, $369,000, went to members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which announced later that it would have a joint hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Zuckerberg on Tuesday. Judiciary Committee members have received $235,000 in Facebook contributions. On the House committee, Republicans got roughly twice as much as Democrats, counter to the broader trend in Facebook campaign gifts. Of the $7 million in contributions to all federal candidates tied to the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network, Democrats got 65% to Republicans' 33%. Of the 55 members on the Energy and Commerce Committee this year, all but nine have received Facebook contributions in the past decade. The average Republican got $6,800, while the average Democrat got $6,750.

Communications

Russia Files Lawsuit To Block Telegram Messaging App (reuters.com) 70

Russia's state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has filed a lawsuit to block Telegram in the country because the instant messaging company has refused to hand over the encryption keys that would allow Russian authorities to read messages sent using the service. From a report: Ranked as the world's ninth most popular mobile messaging app, Telegram is widely used in countries across the former Soviet Union and Middle East. Active users of the app reached 200 million in March. As part of its services, Telegram allows users to communicate via encrypted messages which cannot be read by third parties, including government authorities. But Russia's FSB Federal Security service has said it needs access to some messages for its work, including guarding against terrorist attacks. Telegram has refused to comply with its demands, citing respect for user privacy.
Canada

Canada Has Pulled Off a Brain Heist (axios.com) 351

An anonymous reader writes: Seoul-born Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, a professor at Brown University known for her work on fake news, is moving to Canada. So is Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a Harvard chemistry professor working on quantum computing and artificial intelligence. They are among 24 top academic minds around the world wooed to Canada by an aggressive recruitment effort offering ultra-attractive sinecures, seven-year funding arrangements -- and, Chun and Aspuru-Guzik said in separate interviews with Axios, a different political environment from the U.S. The "Canada 150 Research Chairs Program" is spending $117 million on seven-year grants of either $350,000 a year or $1 million a year. It's part of a campaign by numerous countries to attract scholars unhappy with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and other political trends, sweetened with unusually generous research conditions.
United States

US Suspects Listening Devices in Washington (apnews.com) 137

For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminal could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages. From a report: The use of what are known as cellphone-site simulators by foreign powers has long been a concern, but American intelligence and law enforcement agencies -- which use such eavesdropping equipment themselves -- have been silent on the issue until now. In a March 26 letter to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that last year it identified suspected unauthorized cell-site simulators in the nation's capital. The agency said it had not determined the type of devices in use or who might have been operating them. Nor did it say how many it detected or where.

The agency's response, obtained by The Associated Press from Wyden's office, suggests little has been done about such equipment, known popularly as Stingrays after a brand common among U.S. police departments. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation's airwaves, formed a task force on the subject four years ago, but it never produced a report and no longer meets regularly. The devices work by tricking mobile devices into locking onto them instead of legitimate cell towers, revealing the exact location of a particular cellphone. More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware.

Facebook

Zuckerberg On Facebook's Role In Ethnic Cleansing In Myanmar: 'It's a Real Issue' (vox.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vox: Facebook's fake news problems extend far beyond Russian trolls interfering in U.S. elections. Overseas, false stories have turned into tools of political warfare -- most notably in Myanmar, where government forces have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, the country's Muslim minority group. In an interview with Vox's Ezra Klein, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed Facebook's role in fueling and inciting anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiment. "The Myanmar issues have, I think, gotten a lot of focus inside the company," Zuckerberg said. "And they're real issues and we take this really seriously."

He recalled one incident where Facebook detected that people were trying to spread "sensational messages" through Facebook Messenger to incite violence on both sides of the conflict. He acknowledged that in such instances, it's clear that people are using Facebook "to incite real-world harm." But in this case, at least, the messages were detected and stopped from going through. "This is certainly something that we're paying a lot of attention to," Zuckerberg continued. "It's a real issue, and we want to make sure that all of the tools that we're bringing to bear on eliminating hate speech, inciting violence, and basically protecting the integrity of civil discussions that we're doing in places like Myanmar, as well as places like the U.S. that do get a disproportionate amount of the attention."

United States

Trump Says He Wants Skilled Migrants But Creates New Hurdles (apnews.com) 327

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: It may be a while before President Donald Trump gets another chance at creating a new, "merit-based" immigration system, a keystone of his four-part plan that Congress rejected last month. In the meantime, his administration is busy making it harder, not easier, for skilled migrants to come work in the United States. The State Department has ended an Obama-era program to grant visas to foreign entrepreneurs who want to start companies in the United States. It is more aggressively scrutinizing visas to skilled workers from other countries. And it is contemplating ending a provision that allows spouses of those skilled workers to be employed in the U.S.

The administration and its backers contend it's trying to fix flaws in the existing, employer-centric skilled immigration system while advocating for a complete overhaul of America's immigration system. "The stuff that they're actually doing is not so much restricting skilled immigration as enforcing the law," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports reducing immigration. "They're rolling back some of the extralegal measures that other administrations have taken." A primary avenue for skilled immigrants to enter the United States is the H1B visa for specialty workers, which is heavily used by the technology industry. About 85,000 visas are issued annually in a lottery system. Some critics argue they are a way for companies to avoid hiring U.S. citizens; Trump himself has said H1B recipients shouldn't even be considered skilled.
Further reading: On Easter Sunday, Trump threatens to end DACA and 'stop' NAFTA.
Businesses

EPA Prepares To Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars To Be Cleaner and More Efficient (nytimes.com) 378

Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, reporting for The New York Times: The Trump administration is expected to launch an effort in coming days to weaken greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for automobiles, handing a victory to car manufacturers and giving them ammunition to potentially roll back industry standards worldwide. The move -- which undercuts one of President Barack Obama's signature efforts to fight climate change -- would also propel the Trump administration toward a courtroom clash with California, which has vowed to stick with the stricter rules even if Washington rolls back federal standards. That fight could end up creating one set of rules for cars sold in California and the 12 states that follow its lead, and weaker rules for the rest of the states, in effect splitting the nation into two markets.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to frame the initiative as eliminating a regulatory burden on automakers that will result in more affordable trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles for buyers, according to people familiar with the plan. An E.P.A. spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Pruitt had sent a draft of the 16-page plan to the White House for approval.
Further reading: EPA to its employees: Ignore science when talking about climate change (ArsTechnica)
Businesses

President Trump Slams Amazon For 'Causing Tremendous Loss To the United States' (cnet.com) 559

President Trump escalated his attack on Amazon on Thursday, saying that the e-commerce giant does not pay enough taxes, and strongly suggested that he may try to rein in the e-commerce business. From a report: The president took aim at Amazon's tax contributions, its use of the US Postal Service and practices that put "many thousands of retailers out of business!" The accusations aren't new. The tweet was likely prompted by an Axios story on Wednesday that claimed Trump was weighing "going after" Amazon over alleged antitrust activities or violations of competition laws. The Axios story appeared to contribute to a selloff of Amazon stock Wednesday, with Amazon shares dropping 4.4 percent, even though Trump's disdain for Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, was already well-known. Bezos owns The Washington Post, whose coverage has been less than glowing about the new president, which may be a factor in Trump's attacks. Trump's tweet, in full: I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!
Encryption

Justice Department Revives Push To Mandate a Way To Unlock Phones (nytimes.com) 171

"FBI and Justice Department officials have been quietly meeting with security researchers who have been working on approaches to provide such 'extraordinary access' to encrypted devices," reports The New York Times (alternative source), citing people familiar with the matter. Justice Department officials believe that these "mechanisms allowing access to the data" exist without weakening the devices' security against hacking. Slashdot reader schwit1 shares the report: Against that backdrop, law enforcement officials have revived talks inside the executive branch over whether to ask Congress to enact legislation mandating the access mechanisms. The Trump White House circulated a memo last month among security and economic agencies outlining ways to think about solving the problem, officials said. The FBI has been agitating for versions of such a mandate since 2010, complaining that the spreading use of encryption is eroding investigators' ability to carry out wiretap orders and search warrants -- a problem it calls "going dark." The issue repeatedly flared without resolution under the Obama administration, peaking in 2016, when the government tried to force Apple to help it break into the iPhone of one of the attackers in the terrorist assault in San Bernardino, Calif. The debate receded when the Trump administration took office, but in recent months top officials like Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Christopher A. Wray, the FBI director, have begun talking publicly about the "going dark" problem. The National Security Council and the Justice Department declined to comment about the internal deliberations. The people familiar with the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity, cautioning that they were at a preliminary stage and that no request for legislation was imminent. But the renewed push is certain to be met with resistance.
The Internet

Craigslist Personals, Some Subreddits Disappear After FOSTA Passage (arstechnica.com) 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the wake of this week's passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) bill in both houses of Congress on Wednesday, Craigslist has removed its "Personals" section entirely, and Reddit has removed some related subreddits, likely out of fear of future lawsuits. FOSTA, which awaits the signature of President Donald Trump before becoming law, removes some portions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The landmark 1996 law shields website operators that host third-party content (such as commenters, for example) from civil liability. The new bill is aimed squarely at Backpage, a notorious website that continues to allow prostitution advertisements and has been under federal scrutiny for years. In a bizarre turn of events, the Department of Justice also warned the House in February 2018 that the bill "raises a serious constitutional concern," as it would apply retroactively -- a seeming violation of the Constitution's ex post facto clause. Congress passed it anyway. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post: "It's easy to see the impact that this ramp-up in liability will have on online speech: facing the risk of ruinous litigation, online platforms will have little choice but to become much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion -- and what sorts of users -- they allow, censoring innocent people in the process."
Security

More Evidence Ties Alleged DNC Hacker Guccifer 2.0 To Russian Intelligence (techcrunch.com) 210

An anonymous reader shares a report: It may be a while since you've heard the handle "Guccifer 2.0," the hacker who took responsibility for the infamous DNC hack of 2016. Reports from the intelligence community at the time, as well as common sense, pegged Guccifer 2.0 not as the Romanian activist he claimed to be, but a Russian operative. Evidence has been scarce, but one slip-up may have given the game away. An anonymous source close to the U.S. government investigation of the hacker told the Daily Beast that on one single occasion, Guccifer 2.0 failed to log into the usual VPN that disguised their traffic. As a result, they left one honest IP trace at an unnamed social media site.

That IP address, "identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency's headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow," the Daily Beast reported. (The GRU is one of the Russia's security and intelligence organs.) Previous work by security researchers had suggested this, but it's the first I've heard of evidence this direct. Assuming it's genuine, it's a sobering reminder of how fragile anonymity is on the internet -- one click and the whole thing comes crashing down.

Bitcoin

Sierra Leone Government Denies the Role of Blockchain In Its Recent Election (techcrunch.com) 20

The National Electoral Commission Sierra Leone is denying the news that theirs was one of the first elections recorded to the blockchain. "While the blockchain voting company Agora claimed to have run the first blockchain-based election, it appears that the company did little more than observe the voting and store some of the results," reports TechCrunch. From the report: "The NEC [National Electoral Commission] has not used and is not using blockchain technology in any part of the electoral process," said NEC head Mohamed Conteh. Why he is adamant about this fact is unclear -- questions I asked went unanswered -- but he and his team have created a set of machine readable election results and posted [a] clarification. "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Agora's Leonardo Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." In Africa the reactions were mixed. "It would be like me showing up to the UK election with my computer and saying, 'let me enter your counting room, let me plug-in and count your results,'" said Morris Marah to RFI. "Agora's results for the two districts they tallied differed considerably from the official results, according to an analysis of the two sets of statistics carried out by RFI," wrote RFI's Daniel Finnan.
Bitcoin

Trump Bans Venezuela's New National Cryptocurrency (cnbc.com) 170

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday banning any transactions within the United States involving any digital currency issued by, for, or on behalf of the Government of Venezuela. The order applies to U.S. citizens as well as anyone within the United States, and includes cryptocurrency issued on or after January 9. President Trump's order is in response to recent attempts by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime to "circumvent U.S. sanctions by issuing a digital currency," the White House said in a statement. Venezuela launched its oil-backed cryptocurrency in February to help pull the country out of a continuing economic crisis. President Maduro said each petro token will be backed by one barrel of the state's national petroleum. Maduro also said roughly 100 million tokens would be issued -- estimated to be worth around $6 billion. Bitcoin prices dropped about $200 to around $8,388, according to Coinbase, following the order.
United States

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, a Big Supporter Of Universal Basic Income, is Running For President (techcrunch.com) 465

In a recently published podcast, Andrew Yang, tech entrepreneur and founder of Venture for America, said he is vying for the Democratic party nomination to run for President of the United States. From a report: Yang outlines his radical policy agenda, which focuses on Universal Basic Income and includes a "freedom dividend." He talks about the very real and immediate threat of artificial intelligence, how new technologies are erasing millions of jobs before our eyes, and why we need to put humanity first. He also addresses "the big four" and what he plans to do about Amazon.

During the interview, Yang called out governments inability to address large scale problems and the challenges that technology is creating in modern American society. "I believe that we need to start owning these realities [of automation and artificial intelligence taking away jobs] and these challenges as a people, as a country, and as a society, and start being honest. I'm running for president to solve the big problems and to show that these things are not beyond us," Yang says. Yang's own plan to address the increasing power tech companies are wielding in the world involves something called a "freedom dividend", which would paid for by a value-added tax. The revenue from that tax (levied on "gains from the big four") would be redistributed via the "freedom dividend" to citizens, Yang says.

Facebook

Facebook Under Pressure as EU, US Urge Probes of Data Practices (reuters.com) 68

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced calls on Monday from U.S. and European lawmakers to explain how a consultancy that worked on President Donald Trump's election campaign gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users. From a report: Facebook's shares fell more than 7 percent, wiping around $40 billion off its market value, set for their biggest drop since September 2012, as investors worried that new legislation could damage the company's lucrative advertising business. "The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook's data practices, and the picture is not pretty," said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley's use of data. Lawmakers in the United States, Britain and Europe have called for investigations into media reports that political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the private data on more than 50 million Facebook users to support Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign. Further reading: An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.
Facebook

Did Cambridge Analytica Harvest 50 Million Facebook Profiles? (theguardian.com) 135

Slashdot reader umafuckit shared this article from The Guardian: The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump's election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, in one of the tech giant's biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box... Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on."

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals... On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook's external lawyers warned the Observer on Friday it was making "false and defamatory" allegations, and reserved Facebook's legal position...

The evidence Wylie supplied to U.K. and U.S. authorities includes a letter from Facebook's own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles... Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said. "That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back."

Wylie worked with Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the "thisisyourdigitallife" app, "who has previously unreported links to a Russian university and took Russian grants for research," according to the article. Kogan "had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company's terms...

"At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters."
Bitcoin

Sierra Leone Records World's First Blockchain-Powered Election (techcrunch.com) 72

The citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls on March 7 but this time something was different: the country recorded votes at 70% of the polling to the blockchain using a technology that is the first of its kind in actual practice. The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results. TechCrunch reports: "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." "Sierra Leone wishes to create an environment of trust with the voters in a contentious election, especially looking at how the election will be publicly viewed post-election. By using blockchain as a means to immutably record ballots and results, the country hopes to create legitimacy around the election and reduce fall-out from opposition parties," he said.

Why is this interesting? While this is little more than a proof of concept -- it is not a complete voting record but instead captured a seemingly acceptable plurality of votes -- it's fascinating to see the technology be implemented in Sierra Leone, a country of about 7.4 million people. The goal ultimately is to reduce voting costs by cutting out paper ballots as well as reducing corruption in the voting process.

United States

US Says Russia Hacked Energy Grid, Punishes 19 for Meddling (apnews.com) 229

Associated Press: Pushing back harder on Russia, the Trump administration accused Moscow on Thursday of a concerted hacking operation targeting the U.S. energy grid, aviation systems and other infrastructure, and also imposed sanctions on Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 election. It was the strongest action to date against Russia by the administration, which has long been accused of being too soft on the Kremlin, and the first punishments for election meddling since President Donald Trump took office. The sanctions list included the 13 Russians indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose Russia investigation the president has repeatedly sought to discredit. U.S. national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies had determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks beginning a year ago that have infiltrated the energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation and manufacturing sectors. Further reading: Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors (US-Cert); U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid, other sectors (Reuters); U.S. says Russian hackers targeted American energy grid (Politico); Trump administration finally announces Russia sanctions over election meddling (CNN); U.S. sanctions on Russia cite 2016 election interference -- but remain largely symbolic (USA Today); U.S. Sanctions Russians Charged by Mueller for Election Meddling (Bloomberg); and Trump Administration Sanctions Russians for Election Meddling and Cyberattacks (The New York Times).
Facebook

Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections (theintercept.com) 83

Sam Biddle, reporting for The Intercept: When Mark Zuckerberg was asked if Facebook had influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the founder and CEO dismissed the notion that the site even had such power as "crazy." It was a disingenuous remark. Facebook's website had an entire section devoted to touting the "success stories" of political campaigns that used the social network to influence electoral outcomes. That page, however, is now gone, even as the 2018 congressional primaries get underway.

In the wake of a public reckoning with Facebook's unparalleled ability to distribute information and global anxiety over election meddling, bragging about the company's ability to run highly effective influence campaigns probably doesn't look so great. Facebook's "success stories" page is a monument to the company's dominance of online advertising, providing examples from almost every imaginable industry of how use of the social network gave certain players an advantage. "Case studies like these inspire and motivate us," the page crows.

Government

Trump's Pick for New CIA Director Is Career Spymaster (bloomberg.com) 313

An anonymous reader shares a AP report: President Donald Trump's choice to be the first female director of the CIA is a career spymaster who once ran an agency prison in Thailand where terror suspects were subjected to a harsh interrogation technique that the president has supported. Trump tweeted Tuesday that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and that he has selected Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo. Haspel, the current deputy CIA director, also helped carry out an order that the agency destroy its waterboarding videos. That order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges. Haspel, who has extensive overseas experience, briefly ran a secret CIA prison where accused terrorists Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
United States

Trump's Meeting With The Video Game Industry To Talk Gun Violence Could Get Ugly (washingtonpost.com) 498

Anonymous readers share a report: President Trump is set to pit the video game industry against some of its harshest critics at a White House meeting on Thursday that's designed to explore the link between violent games [Editor's note: the Washington Post article may be paywalled], guns and tragedies such as last month's shooting in Parkland, Fla. Following the attack at Marjory Stoneman High School, which left 17 students dead, Trump has said violent games are "shaping young people's thoughts." The president has proposed that "we have to do something about maybe what they're seeing and how they're seeing it." Trump has invited video game executives like Robert Altman, the CEO of ZeniMax, the parent company for games such as Fallout; Strauss Zelnick, the chief executive of Take Two Interactive, which is known for Grand Theft Auto, and Michael Gallagher, the leader of the Entertainment Software Association, a Washington-focused lobbying organization for the industry.

Three people familiar with the White House's planning, but not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed those invitees. A spokeswoman for the White House declined to share a full list of participants on Wednesday. ESA confirmed its attendance this week, but the others did not respond to questions. Opposite of them are expected to be some of the video-game industry's toughest critics, including Brent Bozell, the founder of the Parents Television Council, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, the three people said. After another shooting -- the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. -- they each called on government to focus its attention on violent media rather than just pursuing new gun restrictions.

Censorship

Sri Lanka Blocks Facebook, Instagram To Prevent Spread of Hate Speech (lankabusinessonline.com) 123

Sri Lanka has blocked social media websites Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to avoid the spread of hate speech in the country, local media reported on Wednesday. From the report: Even though there is no official confirmation from the authorities, the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Wednesday said the government has decided to block access to certain social media. Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) has started to monitor all social media platforms to curb hate speech related to communal riots escalated in Kandy district. Telecommunication service providers (ISPs) have also restricted internet access in Kandy district on the instructions of the TRC.
Communications

YouTube's New Moderators Mistakenly Pull Right-Wing Channels (bloomberg.com) 277

In December, said it would assign more than 10,000 people to moderate content in an attempt to curb its child exploitation problem. Today, Bloomberg reports that those new moderators mistakenly removed several videos and some channels from right-wing, pro-gun video producers and outlets in the midst of a nationwide debate on gun control. From the report: Some YouTube channels recently complained about their accounts being pulled entirely. On Wednesday, the Outline highlighted accounts, including Titus Frost, that were banned from the video site. Frost tweeted on Wednesday that a survivor of the shooting, David Hogg, is an actor. Jerome Corsi of right-wing conspiracy website Infowars said on Tuesday that YouTube had taken down one of his videos and disabled his live stream. Shutting entire channels would have marked a sweeping policy change for YouTube, which typically only removes channels in extreme circumstances and focuses most disciplinary action on specific videos. But YouTube said some content was taken down by mistake. The site didn't address specific cases and it's unclear if it meant to take action on the accounts of Frost and Corsi. "As we work to hire rapidly and ramp up our policy enforcement teams throughout 2018, newer members may misapply some of our policies resulting in mistaken removals," a YouTube spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We're continuing to enforce our existing policies regarding harmful and dangerous content, they have not changed. We'll reinstate any videos that were removed in error."
Government

US Response 'Hasn't Changed The Calculus' Of Russian Interference, NSA Chief Says (npr.org) 126

An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: The admiral in charge of both the nation's top electronic spying agency and the Pentagon's cybersecurity operations would seem a logical point man for countering Russia's digital intrusions in U.S. election campaigns. But National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday there is only so much he can do. That is because, according to Rogers, President Trump has not ordered him to go after the Russian attacks at their origin. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee's ranking Democrat, asked Rogers, "Have you been directed to do so, given this strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognize already?" "No, I have not," Rogers replied. But the spy chief pushed back on suggestions that he should seek a presidential signoff. "I am not going to tell the president what he should or should not do," Rogers said when Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal pressed him on whether Trump should approve that authority.

"I'm an operational commander, not a policymaker," he added. "That's the challenge for me as a military commander." Rogers agreed with Blumenthal's estimation that Russian cyber operatives continue to attack the U.S. with impunity and that Washington's response has fallen short. "It hasn't changed the calculus, is my sense," the spy chief told Blumenthal. "It certainly hasn't generated the change in behavior that I think we all know we need."

Democrats

Net Neutrality Repeal Will Get a Senate Vote In the Spring, Democrats Say (arstechnica.com) 127

Congressional Democrats today introduced legislation that would prevent the repeal of net neutrality rules, but they still need more support from Republicans in order to pass the measure. According to Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), they will force a vote on the Senate version of the resolution sometime this spring. Ars Technica reports: Democrats have been promising to introduce a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution ever since the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal its net neutrality rules in December. But lawmakers had to wait for the FCC's repeal order to be published in the Federal Register, which only happened last week. The CRA resolution would nullify the FCC's repeal order, allowing net neutrality rules that were passed in 2015 to remain in place. The resolution has public support from 50 out of 100 senators (all Democrats, all Independents, and one Republican), putting it one vote shy of passage in the Senate.

"The grassroots movement to reinstate net neutrality is growing by the day, and we will get that one more vote needed to pass my CRA resolution," Markey said. "I urge my Republican colleagues to join the overwhelming majority of Americans who support a free and open Internet. The Internet is for all -- the students, teachers, innovators, hard-working families, small businesses, and activists, not just Verizon, Charter, AT&T, and Comcast and corporate interests."

Businesses

Trump Administration Cracks Down On H-1B Visa Abuse (cnn.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN Money: The Trump administration is cracking down on companies that get visas for foreign workers and farm them out to employers. Some staffing agencies seek hard-to-get H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, only to contract them out to other companies. There's nothing inherently illegal about contracting out visa recipients, but the workers are supposed to maintain a relationship with their employers, among other requirements. In some cases, outsourcing firms flood the system with applicants. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said in a new policy memo released Thursday it will require more information about H-1B workers' employment to ensure the workers are doing what they were hired for. Companies will have to provide specific work assignments, including dates and locations, to verify the "employer-employee" relationship between the company applying for an H-1B and its visa recipient.

H-1B visas are valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years. The USCIS says it may limit the length of the visa to shorter than three years based the information an employer provides. For example, if an employer can't prove the H-1B holder is "more likely than not" needed for the full three years, the government might issue the visa for fewer than three years. The memo also says the administration wants to prevent employee "benching." That's when firms bring on H-1B visa holders but don't give them work and don't pay them the required wages while they wait for jobs.

United States

Russian Spies Hacked the Olympics and Tried To Make it Look Like North Korea Did it, US Officials Say (washingtonpost.com) 71

Ellen Nakashima, reporting for the Washington Post: Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], according to U.S. intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a "false-flag" operation, said two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials in PyeongChang acknowledged that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremonies but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible. That evening there were disruptions to the Internet, broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Many attendees were unable to print their tickets for the ceremony, resulting in empty seats.
United States

House Democrats' Counter-Memo Released, Alleging Major Factual Inaccuracies (vox.com) 211

Long-time Slashdot reader Rei writes: Three weeks ago, on a party-line vote, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo from committee chair and Trump transition team member Devin Nunes. The "Nunes Memo" alleged missteps by the FBI in seeking a FISA warrant against Trump aide Carter Page; a corresponding Democratic rebuttal memo was first blocked from simultaneous release by the committee, and subsequently the White House. Tonight, it has finally been released.

Among its many counterclaims: the Steele Dossier, only received in September, did not initiate surveilance of Page which began in July; the Steele dossier was only one, minor component of the FISA application, and only concerning Page's Moscow meetings; Steele's funding source and termination was disclosed in the application; and a number of other "distortions and misrepresentations that are contradicted by the underlying classified documents". Perhaps most seriously, it accuses Nunes of having never read the FISA application which his memo criticized.

Vox argues the memo proves that no one was misled when the surveillance was authorized. "The FBI clearly states right there in the FISA application that they believe Steele was hired to find dirt on Trump... After the Schiff memo was released on Saturday, House Republicans released a document rebutting its core claims. Their response to this damning citation is -- and I am not making this up -- that the vital line in which the FBI discloses the information about Steele was 'buried in a footnote.'"
Communications

NRA Gives Ajit Pai 'Courage Award' and Gun For 'Saving the Internet' (arstechnica.com) 563

The National Rifle Association (NRA) today gave its Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award to Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "Pai was about to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland when the award presentation seemed to catch him by surprise," reports Ars Technica. "The award is a handmade long gun that could not be brought on stage, so it will be housed in the NRA museum until Pai can receive it." From the report: "Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the Internet," American Conservative Union (ACU) Executive Director Dan Schneider told the audience. The ACU is the host of CPAC; Schneider made a few more remarks praising Pai before handing the award presentation over to NRA board member Carolyn Meadows. Pai "fought to preserve your free speech rights" as a member of the FCC's Republican minority during the Obama administration, Schneider said. Pai "fought and won against all odds, but the Obama administration had some curveballs and they implemented these regulations to take over the Internet." "As soon as President Trump came into office, President Trump asked Ajit Pai to liberate the Internet and give it back to you," Schneider added. "Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know."

The signature achievement that helped Pai win the NRA courage award came in December when the FCC voted to eliminate net neutrality rules. The rules, which are technically still on the books for a while longer, prohibited Internet service providers from blocking and throttling lawful Internet traffic and from charging online services for prioritization. Schneider did not explain how eliminating net neutrality rules preserved anyone's "free speech rights."
Right Wing Watch posted a video of the ceremony.
The Courts

Manafort Left an Incriminating Paper Trail Because He Couldn't Figure Out How to Convert PDFs to Word Files (slate.com) 189

There are two types of people in this world: those who know how to convert PDFs into Word documents and those who are indicted for money laundering. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is the second kind of person , Slate reports. From the report: Back in October, a grand jury indictment charged Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates with a variety of crimes, including conspiring "to defraud the United States." On Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment against the pair, substantially expanding the charges. As one former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post, Manafort and Gates' methods appear to have been "extensive and bold and greedy with a capital 'G,' but ... not all that sophisticated." One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here's the relevant passage from the indictment. I've bolded the most important bits:

Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI's income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a "Word" document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that "Word" document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the "Word" document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
So here's the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller's investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company's income, but he couldn't figure out how to edit the PDF.
Government

President Trump: 'We Have To Do Something' About Violent Video Games, Movies (arstechnica.com) 866

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In a White House meeting held with lawmakers on the theme of school safety, President Donald Trump offered both a direct and vague call to action against violence in media by calling out video games and movies. "We have to do something about what [kids are] seeing and how they're seeing it," Trump said during the meeting. "And also video games. I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is shaping more and more people's thoughts." Trump followed this statement by referencing "movies [that] come out that are so violent with the killing and everything else." He made a suggestion for keeping children from watching violent films: "Maybe they have to put a rating system for that." The MPAA's ratings board began adding specific disclaimers about sexual, drug, and violent content in all rated films in the year 2000, which can be found in small text in every MPAA rating box.
Government

FCC To Officially Rescind Net Neutrality Rules On Thursday (reuters.com) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to publish on Thursday its December order overturning the landmark Obama-era net neutrality rules, two sources briefed on the matter said Tuesday. The formal publication in the Federal Register, a government website, means state attorneys general and advocacy groups will be able to sue in a bid to block the order from taking effect. The Republican-led FCC in December voted 3-2 to overturn rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content. The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. Congressional aides say the publication will trigger a 60-legislative-day deadline for Congress to vote on whether to overturn the decision. U.S. Senate Democrats said in January they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal, leaving them just one vote short of a majority. The December FCC order will be made public on Wednesday and formally published on Thursday, the sources said.
Social Networks

Facebook VP of Ads Criticised For Tweeting that Russian-bought Ads Had Not Been Designed to Sway the US Election (bbc.com) 263

Facebook's vice-president of adverts has been criticised for tweeting that Russian-bought ads had not been designed to sway the US election. From a report: Rob Goldman's tweet was retweeted by President Donald Trump. His view contradicted special counsellor Robert Mueller's recent indictments, in which 13 Russians were charged with meddling in the election via social media and other means. Mr Goldman is reported to have apologised to Facebook staff. In a series of tweets, Mr Goldman said that Russia's misinformation activity had been designed to "divide America" but added that "the majority of the Russian ad spend [on Facebook] happened after the election." However according to the indictment, the ads were only part of Russia's activity on the social-media platform. In the document, Facebook is mentioned 35 times. According to Wired, he sent a message to staff that read: "I wanted to apologise for having tweeted my own view about Russian interference without having it reviewed by anyone internally. The tweets were my own personal view and not Facebook's. I conveyed my view poorly. The special counsel has far more information about what happened [than] I do -- so seeming to contradict his statements was a serious mistake on my part."
Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 123

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Social Networks

US Charges Russian Social Media Trolls Over Election Tampering (cnet.com) 503

The US Justice Department has filed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. From a report: In an indictment [PDF] released on Friday, the Justice Department called out the Internet Research Agency, a notorious group behind the Russian propaganda effort across social media. Employees for the agency created troll accounts and used bots to prop up arguments and sow political chaos during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled to deal with fake news, trolling campaigns and bots on their platforms, facing the scorn of Capitol Hill over their mishandlings. The indictment lists 13 Russian nationals tied to the effort.
Encryption

Two Years After FBI vs Apple, Encryption Debate Remains (axios.com) 175

It's been two years since the FBI and Apple got into a giant fight over encryption following the San Bernardino shooting, when the government had the shooter's iPhone, but not the password needed to unlock it, so it asked Apple to create a way inside. What's most surprising is how little has changed since then. From a report: The encryption debate remains unsettled, with tech companies largely opposed and some law enforcement agencies still making the case to have a backdoor. The case for strong encryption: Those partial to the tech companies' arguments will note that cyberattacks and hacking incidents have become even more common, with encryption serving as a valuable way to protect individuals' personal information. The case for backdoors: Criminals are doing bad stuff and when devices are strongly encrypted they can do it in what amounts to the perfect dark alley, completely hidden from public view.
United Kingdom

UK Blames Russia For Cyber Attack, Says Won't Tolerate Disruption (reuters.com) 143

Britain blamed Russia on Thursday for a cyber-attack last year, publicly pointing the finger at Moscow for spreading a virus which disrupted companies across Europe including UK-based Reckitt Benckiser. From a report: Russia denied the accusation, saying it was part of "Russophobic" campaign it said was being waged by some Western countries. The so-called NotPetya attack in June started in Ukraine where it crippled government and business computers before spreading around the world, halting operations at ports, factories and offices. Britain's foreign ministry said the attack originated from the Russian military. "The decision to publicly attribute this incident underlines the fact that the UK and its allies will not tolerate malicious cyber activity," the ministry said in a statement. "The attack masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt," it said.
Earth

Trump Administration Wants To Fire 248 Forecasters At the National Weather Service (fortune.com) 524

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune: After a year that saw over $300 million in damages from hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters, the Trump administration is proposing significant cuts to the National Weather Service (NWS) and hopes to eliminate the jobs of 248 weather forecasters. The idea, which is part of the 2019 fiscal budget proposal and caught the agency by surprise, is being derided by the NWS's labor union, which says the cuts will impact the reliability of future weather forecasts and warnings. All totaled, the Weather Service faces cuts of $75 million in the initial proposal. Some or all of those cuts could be jettisoned before the bill is voted upon. "We can't take any more cuts and still do the job that the American public needs us to do -- there simply will not be the staff available on duty to issue the forecasts and warnings upon which the country depends," said Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

Further reading: The Washington Post
ISS

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 236

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.
Democrats

32 Senators Want To Know If US Regulators Halted Equifax Probe (engadget.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Earlier this week, a Reuters report suggested that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had halted its investigation into last year's massive Equifax data breach. Reuters sources said that even basic steps expected in such a probe hadn't been taken and efforts had stalled since Mick Mulvaney took over as head of the CFPB late last year. Now, 31 Democratic senators and one Independent have written a letter to Mulvaney asking if that is indeed the case and if so, why.

In their letter, the senators expressed their concern over these reports and reiterated the duty the CFPB has to not only investigate the breach but to bring action against Equifax if deemed necessary. "Consumer reporting agencies and the data they collect play a central role in consumers' access to credit and the fair and competitive pricing of that credit," they wrote. "Therefore, the CFPB has a duty to supervise consumer reporting agencies, investigate how this breach has or will harm consumers and bring enforcement actions as necessary."

Businesses

Anti-China Bill Being Softened After US Companies Complain (reuters.com) 71

Proposed legislation in Congress aimed at preventing China from acquiring sensitive technology is being softened after protests by big U.S. companies who fear a loss in sales, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. From the report: Two bills in the House of Representatives and Senate would broaden the powers of the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in hopes of stopping Chinese efforts to acquire sophisticated U.S. technology. The bipartisan legislation has the support of President Donald Trump's administration. "We are concerned that it vastly expands the scope and jurisdiction (of CFIUS)," said Nancy McLernon, chief executive of the Organization for International Investment, a group that represents global companies with U.S. operations. Given the alarm that the legislation has caused, Senator John Cornyn's staff is drafting changes to address industry concerns, according to three sources. Cornyn's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Founder John Perry Barlow Has Died At Age 70 (eff.org) 61

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that its founder, John Perry Barlow, has passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. He was 70 years old. From the report: It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow's vision and leadership. He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance. Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity's problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: "I knew it's also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism.'" Barlow's lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into "a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth... a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity."

Communications

Fake News Sharing In US Is a Rightwing Thing, Says Oxford Study (theguardian.com) 997

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Low-quality, extremist, sensationalist and conspiratorial news published in the U.S. was overwhelmingly consumed and shared by rightwing social network users, according to a new study from the University of Oxford. The study, from the university's "computational propaganda project", looked at the most significant sources of "junk news" shared in the three months leading up to Donald Trump's first State of the Union address this January, and tried to find out who was sharing them and why. "On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters consumes the largest volume of junk news, and junk news is the largest proportion of news links they share," the researchers concluded. On Facebook, the skew was even greater. There, "extreme hard right pages -- distinct from Republican pages -- share more junk news than all the other audiences put together." The research involved monitoring a core group of around 13,500 politically-active U.S. Twitter users, and a separate group of 48,000 public Facebook pages, to find the external websites that they were sharing.
Facebook

Facebook Hired a Full-Time Pollster To Monitor Zuckerberg's Approval Ratings (theverge.com) 109

According to The Verge, Facebook hired a full-time pollster to track Mark Zuckerberg's approval ratings last year as the young CEO was making his 50-state tour across the country. The pollster, Tavis McGinn, reportedly "decided to leave the company after only six months after coming to believe that Facebook had a negative effect on the world." From the report: It was April, and Facebook was caught up in the fallout of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After initially discounting the possibility that fake news had contributed to Donald Trump's victory, Facebook acknowledged that Russia-linked groups had spent more than $100,000 on political advertising. Zuckerberg undertook a nationwide listening tour modeled after a modern political campaign. McGinn would fill another role common to political campaigns: leading an ongoing poll operation dedicated to tracking minute changes in Zuckerberg's public perception. "It was a very unusual role," McGinn says. "It was my job to do surveys and focus groups globally to understand why people like Mark Zuckerberg, whether they think they can trust him, and whether they've even heard of him. That's especially important outside of the United States."

McGinn tracked a wide range of questions related to Zuckerberg's public perception. "Not just him in the abstract, but do people like Mark's speeches? Do they like his interviews with the press? Do people like his posts on Facebook? It's a bit like a political campaign, in the sense that you're constantly measuring how every piece of communication lands. If Mark's doing a barbecue in his backyard and he hops on Facebook Live, how do people respond to that?" Facebook worked to develop an understanding of Zuckerberg's perception that went beyond simple "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down" metrics, McGinn says. "If Mark gives a speech and he's talking about immigration and universal health care and access to equal education, it's looking at all the different topics that Mark mentions and seeing what resonates with different audiences in the United States," he says. "It's very advanced research."

Businesses

US Consumer Protection Official Puts Equifax Probe on Ice (reuters.com) 145

From a report on Reuters: Mick Mulvaney, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has pulled back from a full-scale probe of how Equifax failed to protect the personal data of millions of consumers, according to people familiar with the matter. Equifax said in September that hackers stole personal data it had collected on some 143 million Americans. Richard Cordray, then the CFPB director, authorized an investigation that month, said former officials familiar with the probe. But Cordray resigned in November and was replaced by Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's budget chief. The CFPB effort against Equifax has sputtered since then, said several government and industry sources, raising questions about how Mulvaney will police a data-warehousing industry that has enormous sway over how much consumers pay to borrow money. The CFPB has the tools to examine a data breach like Equifax, said John Czwartacki, a spokesman, but the agency is not permitted to acknowledge an open investigation. "The bureau has the desire, expertise, and know-how in-house to vigorously pursue hypothetical matters such as these," he said.
Government

GOP Memo Criticizing FBI Surveillance is Released (washingtonpost.com) 875

The controversial four-page memo created by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee alleging abuse of surveillance authority by the Justice Department and FBI has been released Friday after being declassified by the president. The memo is unredacted. (Alternative link for the memo.) The Washington Post: The four-page, newly declassified memo written by the Republican staffers for the House Intelligence Committee said the findings "raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain (Justice Department) and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) calling it "a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process."

The memo accuses former officials who approved the surveillance applications -- a group that includes former FBI Director James B. Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates and current Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein -- of signing off on court surveillance requests that omitted key facts about the political motivations of the person supplying some of the information, Christopher Steele, a former intelligence officer in Britain. The memo says Steele "was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations -- an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI."
The FBI Agents Association on Friday said that agents "have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission." The full statement: The men and women of the FBI put their lives on the line every day in the fight against terrorists and criminals because of their dedication to our country and the Constitution. The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world's preeminent law enforcement agency. FBI Special Agents have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission.
Government

White House Seeks 72 Percent Cut To Clean Energy Research (engadget.com) 390

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The Trump administration has made it very clear that it is pro fossil fuels and has little interest in pushing programs the promote renewable energy. Now, the Washington Post reports that the president's proposed 2019 budget slashes funds for Energy Department programs focused on energy efficiency. While the proposal is just a jumping off point, the fact that it seeks to cut such funding by 72 percent underscores where the administration's interests lie and in which direction its policies will continue to go. The draft budget documents viewed by Washington Post staff showed that the president is looking to cut the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) budget to $575.5 million, down from the current $2.04 billion level. Included in the budget cuts are funds for programs researching fuel efficient vehicles, bioenergy technologies, solar energy technology and electric car technologies. Additionally, the draft budget proposal seeks to cut jobs, dropping staff levels from 680 down to 450. One EERE employee told the Washington Post, "It shows that we've made no inroads in terms of convincing the administration of our value, and if anything, our value based on these numbers has dropped." The report notes that the Energy Department had requested less extreme spending cuts, but the Office of Management and Budget pushed for the more substantial ones found in the draft proposal. It's also worth noting that the proposal could still be changed before being released in February.
Communications

FCC Chairman Slams Trump Team's Proposal To Nationalize 5G (axios.com) 248

The Federal Communications Commission's Republican chairman on Monday opposed a plan under consideration by the Trump White House to build a 5G mobile network, nationalizing what has long been the role of private wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon. From the report: "I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network," he said. The FCC's reaction doesn't bode well for the proposal the Trump administration is considering, first reported by Axios on Sunday night, since it's one of the main government agencies when it comes to wireless issues.
Facebook

Russian Trolls Created Facebook Events Seen By More Than 300,000 Users (cnn.com) 220

"Posing as American activists, Russian government-linked trolls created 129 Facebook events between 2015 and 2017," writes CNN. An anonymous reader quotes their report: On multiple occasions, the events prompted real Americans to take to the streets. In a written statement Facebook gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee released on Thursday, the social media network said that the events created by one Kremlin-linked troll group were seen by more than 300,000 Facebook users. About 62,500 users marked that they would attend the event, and an additional 25,800 expressed an interest in attending.

Facebook told Congress it does "not have data about the realization of these events," but CNN has previously found evidence that the Russian group successfully convinced Americans to attend the demonstrations. The events were organized on a range of divisive issues and were designed to pit Americans against each other.

"The company also told Congress it had removed Kaspersky Lab from a list of free anti-virus offerings it provides users."
Facebook

Robert Mueller's Team Reportedly Interviewed Facebook Staff As Part of Russia Probe (thehill.com) 229

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has interviewed at least one Facebook employee tasked with helping the Trump campaign's digital operations during the 2016 campaign, Wired reported on Friday. The report, which cited a source familiar with the matter, does not say when the employee was questioned nor does it detail the focus of the interview. Mueller's team has been investigating for months any collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia. During the election, Facebook deployed employees to embed with the Trump campaign to assist its digital operations. The company also worked with Hillary Clinton's campaign team but did not have employees embedded with them. The company has also been scrutinized by Congress for selling more than 3,000 ads to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian "troll farm" alleged to have carried out misinformation operations online during the campaign.

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