Privacy

Trump Signs Surveillance Extension Into Law (thehill.com) 91

President Trump took to Twitter this afternoon to announce that he has signed a six-year renewal of a powerful government surveillance tool. "Just signed 702 Bill to authorize foreign intelligence collection," Trump tweeted. "This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election. I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!" The Hill reports: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the Senate voted to renew with a few small tweaks this week, allows the U.S. to spy on foreigners overseas. The intelligence community says the program is a critical tool in identifying and disrupting terror plots. But the broader surveillance law, which governs U.S. spying on foreigners, has become politically entangled with the controversy over the federal investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia. Some Republicans have claimed that the FBI inappropriately obtained a politically motivated FISA warrant to spy on Trump during the transition and on Friday, Capitol Hill was consumed with speculation about a four-page memo produced by House Intelligence Committee Republicans that some GOP lawmakers hinted contained evidence of such wrongdoing.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 143

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Businesses

Apple Says It Will 'Contribute' $350 Billion in the US Economy Over the Next 5 Years (cnbc.com) 162

Apple said on Wednesday it will invest $350 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years, touting the creation of 20,000 new jobs and a new campus thanks, in part, to the prospect of tax reform. From a report: The company said it expects tax repatriation payments of about $38 billion, indicating that it will bring a portion of its $250 billion overseas cash back to the U.S. As of November, the company had $268.9 billion in cash, both domestically and overseas. The job creation will focus on direct employment, but also suppliers and its app business, which it had already planned to grow substantially. "We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible," chief executive Tim Cook said in a statement.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 261

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
AT&T

US Lawmakers Urge AT&T To Cut Commercial Ties With Huawei and Oppose China Mobile Citing National Security Concerns (reuters.com) 60

U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters. From the report: The warning comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing's role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters. The U.S. government has also blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns, including Ant Financial's proposed purchase of U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International.
Democrats

Democrats Are Just One Vote Shy of Restoring Net Neutrality (engadget.com) 330

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer now says Democrats in the Senate are a single vote away from restoring net neutrality. According to the senator from New York, they now have a total of 50 votes for a Senate resolution of disapproval that would restore the Open Internet Order of 2015 and deliver a stiff rebuke to Ajit Pai and other Republican members of the FCC. It would also prevent the agency from passing a similar measure in the future, all but guaranteeing Net Neutrality is permanently preserved. Right now the resolution has the support of all 49 Democrats in the Senate and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. But Schumer and the rest of the caucus will have to win over one more Republican vote to prevent Vice President Mike Pence from breaking tie and allowing the repeal to stand. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate has 60 days to challenge a decision by an independent agency like the FCC. Democrats have less than 30 days to convince a "moderate" like John McCain or Lindsey Graham to buck their party. Further reading: The Washington Post (paywalled)
Government

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better? 498

shanen writes: Regarding politics, is there anything that Americans agree on? If so, it's probably something negative like "The system is broken," or "The leading candidates are terrible," or even "Your state is a shithole." With all our fancy technology, what's going wrong? Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps. Negative campaigning increasingly relies on computers to target the attacks on specific voters. Even international attacks exploit the internet to intrude into elections around the world. Here are three of my suggested solutions, though I can't imagine any of today's politicians would ever support anything along these lines:

(1) Guest voting: If you hate your district, you could vote in a neighboring district. The more they gerrymander, the less predictable the election results.
(2) Results-based weighting: The winning candidates get more voting power in the legislature, reflecting how many people actually voted for them. If you win a boring and uncontested election where few people vote, then part of your vote in the legislature would be transferred to the winners who also had more real votes.
(3) Negative voting: A voter could use an electronic ballot to make it explicit that the vote is negative, not positive. The candidate with the most positive or fewest negative votes still wins, but if the election has too many negative votes, then that "winner" would be penalized, perhaps with a half term rather than a full term.

What wild and crazy ideas do you have for using computers to make elections better, not worse?
United Kingdom

Ecuador Grants Citizenship To WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange (cbsnews.com) 252

hcs_$reboot writes: Ecuador has granted citizenship to Julian Assange, who has been holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over five years. Quito, Ecuador, has said naturalization should provide Assange with another layer of protection. However, naturalization appeared to do little to help the Australian-born WikiLeaks founder's case, with the British foreign ministry stressing that the only way to resolve the issue was for "Assange to leave the embassy to face justice." Earlier on Thursday, Britain said that it had refused a request by Ecuador to grant Assange diplomatic status, which would have granted him special legal immunity and the right to safe passage under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
United States

Top US Government Computers Linked to Revenge-Porn Site (thedailybeast.com) 97

Joseph Cox, reporting for The Daily Beast: Data obtained by a security analyst and shared with The Daily Beast reveals the behind-the-scenes of the epicenter of revenge porn: a notorious image board called Anon-IB, where users constantly upload non-consensual imagery, comment on it, and trade nudes like baseball cards. The data shows Anon-IB users connecting from U.S. Senate, Navy, and other government computers, including the Executive Office of the President, even as senators push for a bill that would further combat the practice, and after the military's own recent revenge-porn crisis. "Wow tig ol bitties. You have any nudes to share?" someone wrote in November, underneath a photo of a woman who apparently works in D.C., while connecting from an IP address registered to the U.S. Senate.

Anon-IB is a free-to-use message board where users post images, typically of women, and which is split into various genre or location sections. Some parts are focused on countries, while U.S. sections may narrow down to a state. Many users pursue so-called wins, which are nude or explicit photos, and may egg each other on to share more images. Anon-IB was also intertwined with a 2014 breach of celebrity nudes referred to as The Fappening. "Looking for wins of [redacted]. She used to send nudes to my friend all of the time. Would love to see some more," someone connecting from the U.S. Senate IP address wrote last August.

United States

North Carolina Congressional Map Ruled Unconstitutionally Gerrymandered (nytimes.com) 409

An anonymous reader shares a report: A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina's congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections. Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina's Legislature had been "motivated by invidious partisan intent" as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. The ruling and its chief demand -- that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 -- infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.
Privacy

Congress Is About To Vote On Expanding the Warrantless Surveillance of Americans (vice.com) 226

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On Tuesday afternoon, a handful of U.S. Representatives will convene to review an amendment that would reauthorize warrantless foreign surveillance and expand the law so that it could include American citizens. It would, in effect, legalize a surveillance practice abandoned by the NSA in 2017 in order to appease the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which found the NSA to have abused its collection capacity several times. If it passes Tuesday's review, the bill may be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives as early as Thursday. Drafted by the House Intelligence Committee last December, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 is an amendment to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It is one of six different FISA-related bills under consideration by Congress at the moment, but by far the most damaging to the privacy rights of American citizens.

FISA was enacted in 1978, but Section 702, referred to by former FBI Director James Comey as the "crown jewels of the intelligence community," wasn't added until 2008. This section allows intelligence agencies to surveil any foreigner outside the U.S. without a warrant that the agency considers a target. The problem is that this often resulted in the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens as well due to two loopholes known as "backdoor searches" and "about collection." Backdoor search refers to a roundabout way of monitoring Americans' communications. Since intelligence agencies are able to designate any foreigner's communications as a target for surveillance, if this foreigner has communicated with an American this means this American's communications are then also considered fair game for surveillance by the agency.

Government

Senate Bill to Block Net Neutrality Repeal Now Has 40 Co-Sponsors (thehill.com) 106

New submitter Rick Schumann writes: The senate bill to block the FCC repeal of Obama-era internet net neutrality rules now has 40 co-sponsors, up from the 30 co-sponsors it had yesterday. The bill, being driven by Senate minority Democrats, requires only a simple majority vote in order to be passed, although Washington insiders are currently predicting the bill will fail. "The bill would use authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to block the FCC's repeal from going into effect," reports The Hill. "And with more than 30 senators on board, the legislation will be able to bypass the committee approval process and Democrats will be able to force a vote on the floor."
Privacy

UK Backs Off From Banning Reidentification Research (theguardian.com) 10

An anonymous reader writes: The United Kingdom has recently debated banning reidentification in its new data privacy law. This proposal has quickly been identified as dangerous and criticized, as it was argued this is not only ineffective but would also put at risk legitimate security and privacy researchers. Following public outcry, the UK government amended the bill to include safe-guards allowing researchers to study anonymization weaknesses. Researchers will also gain a new channel of disclosure via the Information Commissioner Office (ICO). According to The Guardian, "Researchers will have to notify the ICO within three days of successfully deanonymizing data, and demonstrate that they had acted in the public interest and without intention to cause damage or distress in re-identifying data."
United States

Trump Pushes To Expand High-Speed Internet In Rural America (reuters.com) 317

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday to make it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings, part of a push to expand high-speed internet in rural America. Reuters reports: "We need to get rural America more connected. We need it for our tractors, we need it for our schools, we need it for our home-based businesses," a White House official told reporters ahead of Trump's speech at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "We're not moving mountains but we're certainly getting started," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview Trump's actions. The White House described the moves as an incremental step to help spur private development while the administration figures out what it can do to help with funding, something that could become part of Trump's plan to invest in infrastructure. "We know that funding is really the key thing to actually changing rural broadband," a second White House official said. Reuters cites a 2016 report from the Federal Communications Commission, noting that 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet service.
The Internet

Senate Will Force Vote On Overturning Net Neutrality Repeal (theverge.com) 143

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has mustered the 30 votes necessary to force a vote on the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announced that she's signed onto Markey's request to overturn the new rules, under the Congressional Review Act -- which lets Congress nullify recently passed regulations with a simple majority. Markey announced his intention to file a resolution of disapproval in December, just after the FCC voted on new rules that killed net neutrality protections from 2015. These new rules were officially published last week, and with 30 sponsors, Markey can make the Senate vote on whether to consider overturning them. If this happens, it would lead to a debate and final vote. That's not remotely the end of the process: if it's approved, the resolution will go to the House, and if it passes there, the desk of Donald Trump, who seems unlikely to approve it.
Twitter

Why Twitter Hasn't Banned President Trump (theverge.com) 449

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Amid vocal calls for the company to act, Twitter today offered its first explanation for why it hasn't banned President Donald Trump -- without ever saying the man's name. "Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society," the company said in a blog post. "Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions." In its blog post, Twitter reiterated its previous statement that all accounts still must follow the company's rules. The statement seemed to leave open the possibility that it might one day take action against Trump's account, or the accounts of other world leaders who might use the platform to incite violence or otherwise break its rules. "We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly," it said. In response to the claims that Twitter doesn't ban President Trump because he draws attention -- and ad revenue -- to the company, Twitter said: "No one person's account drives Twitter's growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind."
Businesses

Leading Lobbying Group for Amazon, Facebook, Google and Other Tech Giants is Joining the Legal Battle To Restore Net Neutrality (recode.net) 77

A leading lobbying group for Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Twitter and other tech giants said Friday that it would be joining the coming legal crusade to restore the U.S. government's net neutrality rules. From a report: The Washington, D.C.-based Internet Association specifically plans to join a lawsuit as an intervening party, aiding the challenge to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's vote in December to repeal regulations that required internet providers like AT&T and Comcast to treat all web traffic equally, its leader confirmed to Recode. Technically, the Internet Association isn't filing its own lawsuit. That task will fall to companies like Etsy, public advocates like Free Press and state attorneys general, all of which plan to contend they are most directly harmed by Pai's decision, as Recode first reported this week. As an intervener, though, the Internet Association still will play a crucial role, filing legal arguments in the coming case. And in formally participating, tech giants will have the right to appeal a judge's decision later if Silicon Valley comes out on the losing end. "The final version of Chairman Pai's rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers," said the group's chief, Michael Beckerman, in a statement. "This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet."
Businesses

What Happens When States Have Their Own Net Neutrality Rules? (bloomberg.com) 179

Last month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai dismantled Obama-era rules on net neutrality. A handful of lawmakers in liberal-leaning U.S. states plan to spend this year building them back up. FCC anticipated the move -- the commission's rules include language forbidding states from doing this, warning against an unwieldy patchwork of regulations. But lawmakers in New York and California aren't aiming to be exceptions to the national rules; they're looking to, in effect, create their own. From a report: In New York, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy introduced a bill that would make it a requirement for internet providers to adhere to the principles of net neutrality as a requirement for landing state contracts. This would mean they couldn't block or slow down certain web traffic, and couldn't offer faster speeds to companies who pay them directly. Fahy said the restrictions on contractors would apply even if the behaviors in question took place outside New York. She acknowledged that the approach could run afoul of limits on states attempting to regulate interstate commerce, but thought the bill could "thread the needle." Even supporters of state legislation on net neutrality think this may go too far. California State Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill this week that would only apply to behavior within the state, saying any other approach would be too vulnerable to legal challenge.

But this wouldn't be the first time a large state threw around its weight in ways that reverberate beyond its borders. The texbook industry, for instance, has long accommodated the standards of California and Texas. [...] The internet doesn't lend itself cleanly to state lines. It could be difficult for Comcast or Verizon to accept money from services seeking preferential treatment in one state, then make sure that its network didn't reflect those relationships in places where state lawmakers forbade them, said Geoffrey Manne, executive director of the International Center for Law & Economics, a research group.

Censorship

France's President Macron Wants To Block Websites During Elections To Fight 'Fake News' (gizmodo.com) 299

French President Emmanuel Macron has a rather extreme approach to combat fake news: ban entire websites. In a speech to journalists on Wednesday, Macron said he planned to introduce new legislation to strictly regulate fake news during online political campaigns. Gizmodo reports: His proposal included a number of measures, most drastically "an emergency legal action" that could enable the government to either scrap "fake news" from a website or even block a website altogether. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," Macron said. "When fake news are spread, it will be possible to go to a judge... and if appropriate have content taken down, user accounts deleted and ultimately websites blocked."

Macron, himself a target of election interference, also outlined some less extreme measures in his speech yesterday. He proposed more rigid requirements around transparency, specifically in relation to online ads during elections. According to the Guardian, Macron said the legislation would force platforms to publicly identify who their advertisers are, as well as limit how much they can spend on ads over the course of an election campaign.

Cellphones

White House Bans Use of Personal Devices From West Wing (cbsnews.com) 205

In the wake of damaging reports of a chaotic Trump administration detailed in a new book from Michael Wolff, the White House is instituting new policies on the use of personal cellphones in the West Wing. CBS News reports: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released the following statement on the policy change: "The security and integrity of the technology systems at the White House is a top priority for the Trump administration and therefore starting next week the use of all personal devices for both guests and staff will no longer be allowed in the West Wing. Staff will be able to conduct business on their government-issued devices and continue working hard on behalf of the American people."

Wolff reportedly gained access to the White House where he conducted numerous interviews with staffers on the inner-workings of the Trump campaign and West Wing operations. Sanders told reporters Wednesday that there were about "a dozen" interactions between Wolff and White House officials, which she said took place at Bannon's request. The White House swiftly slammed the book and those who cooperated with Wolff.

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