Sierra Leone Government Denies the Role of Blockchain In Its Recent Election ( 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.

Trump Bans Venezuela's New National Cryptocurrency ( 164

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 ( 446

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 Under Pressure as EU, US Urge Probes of Data Practices ( 67

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.

Did Cambridge Analytica Harvest 50 Million Facebook Profiles? ( 130

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."

Sierra Leone Records World's First Blockchain-Powered Election ( 71

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 ( 226

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 Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections ( 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.


Trump's Pick for New CIA Director Is Career Spymaster ( 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 ( 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.


Sri Lanka Blocks Facebook, Instagram To Prevent Spread of Hate Speech ( 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.

YouTube's New Moderators Mistakenly Pull Right-Wing Channels ( 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."

US Response 'Hasn't Changed The Calculus' Of Russian Interference, NSA Chief Says ( 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."


Net Neutrality Repeal Will Get a Senate Vote In the Spring, Democrats Say ( 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."


Trump Administration Cracks Down On H-1B Visa Abuse ( 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.

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