FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that the FCC will be "dropping its legal defense of a new system for expanding broadband subsidies for poor people, and will not approve applications from companies that want to offer the low-income broadband service," reports Ars Technica. The Lifeline program, which has been around for 32 years and "gives poor people $9.25 a month toward communications services," was voted to be expanded last year under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. That expansion will now be halted. Ars Technica reports: Pai's decision won't prevent Lifeline subsidies from being used toward broadband, but it will make it harder for ISPs to gain approval to sell the subsidized plans. Last year's decision enabled the FCC to approve new Lifeline Broadband Providers nationwide so that ISPs would not have to seek approval from each state's government. Nine providers were approved under the new system late in former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's term, but Pai rescinded those approvals in February. There are 36 pending applications from ISPs before the commission's Wireline Competition Bureau. However, Pai wrote today, "I do not believe that the Bureau should approve these applications." He argues that only state governments have authority from Congress to approve such applications. When defending his decision to revoke Lifeline approvals for the nine companies, Pai said last month that more than 900 Lifeline providers were not affected. But most of those were apparently offering subsidized telephone service only and not subsidized broadband. Currently, more than 3.5 million Americans are receiving subsidized broadband through Lifeline from 259 eligible providers, Pai said in today's statement. About 99.6 percent of Americans who get subsidized broadband through Lifeline buy it from one of the companies that received certification "through a lawful process," Pai wrote. The remaining 0.4 percent apparently need to switch providers or lose service because of Pai's February decision. Only one ISP had already started providing the subsidized service under the new approval, and it was ordered to notify its customers that they can no longer receive Lifeline discounts. Pai's latest action would prevent new providers from gaining certification in multiple states at once, forcing them to go through each state's approval process separately. Existing providers that want to expand to multiple states would have to complete the same state-by-state process.
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mi writes: California prosecutors on Tuesday charged two activists who made undercover videos of themselves interacting with officials of a taxpayer-supported organization with 15 felonies, saying they invaded privacy by filming without consent. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a longtime Congressional Democrat who took over the investigation in January, said in a statement that the state "will not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations." Didn't we just determine that filming officials is not merely a right, but a First Amendment right? The "taxpayer-supported organization" is Planned Parenthood, and the charges were pressed against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Daleiden has called the charges "bogus," claiming that Planned Parenthood "has violated the law by selling fetal tissue -- an allegation that has been investigated by more than a dozen states, none of which found evidence supporting Daleiden's claim," reports NPR. "Daleiden claimed the video showed evidence that Planned Parenthood was selling that tissue, which would be illegal. Planned Parenthood said the footage was misleadingly edited and that the organization donates tissue following legal guidelines and with permitted reimbursements for expenses, which investigations have corroborated."
On Tuesday, Congress sent proposed legislation to President Trump that wipes away landmark online privacy protections. In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. Now call it a poetic justice, online privacy activist Adam McElhaney has launched an initiative called Search Internet History, with an objective of raising funds to buy browsing history of each politician and official who voted in favor of S.J.Res 34. On the site, he has also put up a poll asking people whose internet history they would like to see first.
Update: The campaign, which was seeking $10,000, has already raised over $55,000.
Update: The campaign, which was seeking $10,000, has already raised over $55,000.
An anonymous reader shares a BBC report: Britain's departure from the European Union is "an historic moment from which there can be no turning back," Theresa May has told MPs. The prime minister said it was a "unique opportunity" to "shape a brighter future" for the UK. She was speaking after Britain's EU ambassador formally triggered the two year countdown to the UK's exit by handing over a letter in Brussels. It follows June's referendum which resulted in a vote to leave the EU. In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister said: "Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people and it acts too on the clear and convincing position of this House." She added: "The Article 50 process is now under way and in accordance with the wishes of the British people the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union."
New submitter s.petry quotes a report from The Mercury News: Two Bay Area tech executives are accused of filing false visa documents through a staffing agency in a scheme to illegally bring a pool of foreign tech workers into the United States. An indictment from a federal grand jury unsealed on Friday accuses Jayavel Murugan, Dynasoft Synergy's chief executive officer, and a 40-year-old Santa Clara man, Syed Nawaz, of fraudulently submitting H-1B applications in an effort to illegally obtain visas, according to Brian Stretch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. The men are charged with 26 counts of visa fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, use of false documents, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to prosecutors. Each charge can carry penalties of between two and 20 years in prison. Prosecutors say the men used fraudulent documents to bring workers into the U.S. and create a pool of H-1B workers to hire out to tech companies. The indictment charges that from 2010 to 2016, Dynasoft petitioned to place workers at Stanford University, Cisco and Brocade, but the employers had no intention of receiving the foreign workers named on the applications. Nawaz submitted fake "end-client letters" to the government, falsely claiming the workers were on-site and performing jobs, according to the indictment.
Slashdot reader s.petry adds: "While not the only problem with the H-1B Visa program, this is a start at investigating and hopefully correcting problems."
Slashdot reader s.petry adds: "While not the only problem with the H-1B Visa program, this is a start at investigating and hopefully correcting problems."
linuxwrangler writes: Chinese drone maker DJI proposed that drones be required to transmit a unique identifier to assist law enforcement to identify operators where necessary. Anyone with an appropriate receiver could receive the ID number, but the database linking the ID with the registered owner would only be available to government agencies. DJI likens this to a license plate on a car and offers it as a solution to a congressional mandate that the FAA develop methods to remotely identify drone operators. "The best solution is usually the simplest," DJI wrote in a white paper on the topic, which can be downloaded at this link. "The focus of the primary method for remote identification should be on a way for anyone concerned about a drone flight in close proximity to report an identifier number to the authorities, who would then have the tools to investigate the complaint without infringing on operator privacy. [...] No other technology is subject to mandatory industry-wide tracking and recording of its use, and we strongly urge against making UAS the first such technology. The case for such an Orwellian model has not been made. A networked system provides more information than needed, to people who don't require it, and exposes confidential business information in the process."
New submitter fatp writes: Hong Kong Free Press reports that the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) has lost two laptops containing the personal data of all 3.7 million voters after the chief executive election [on Sunday]. The REO said "the personal data was encrypted and there was no evidence that it had been leaked." Only 1,194 people had right to vote in the election.
From a report: The U.S. Commerce Department will remove Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp from a trade blacklist after the company admitted to violating sanctions on Iran, the Commerce Department said in a notice made public on Tuesday.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: The U.S. House of Representatives has just approved a "congressional disapproval" vote of privacy rules, which gives your ISP the right to sell your internet history to the highest bidder. The measure passed by 232 votes to 184 along party lines, with one Democrat voting in favor and 14 not voting. This follows the same vote in the Senate last week. Just prior to the vote, a White House spokesman said the president supported the bill, meaning that the decision will soon become law. This approval means that whoever you pay to provide you with internet access -- Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, etc -- will be able to sell everything they know about your use of the internet to third parties without requiring your approval and without even informing you. That information can be used to build a very detailed picture of who you are: what your political and sexual leanings are; whether you have kids; when you are at home; whether you have any medical conditions; and so on -- a thousand different data points that, if they have sufficient value to companies willing to pay for them, will soon be traded without your knowledge. With over 100 million households online in the United States, that means Congress has just given Big Cable an annual payday of between $35 billion and $70 billion.
Best known for its uTorrent client, BitTorrent Inc has been focusing more on other projects for a while. But now, with another shake-up imminent, the company has made a fresh commitment to focus on uTorrent and Mainline clients. From an article on TorrentFreak: Caught between the bad publicity generated by millions of pirates using the software for less than legal activities, a reliance on its huge revenue, plus its role in distributing content from signed-up artists, BitTorrent Inc. has at times been required to delicately maneuver around the client's very existence. Now, however, that might be about to change. According to a report from Variety, changes are underway at BitTorrent Inc that could see uTorrent and its Mainline sister client come back into the limelight. First up, the company has yet another new CEO. Rogelio Choy joins the company after spending two years at parking service Luxe Valet. However, Choy is also a former BitTorrent employee, serving as its Chief Operating Officer between 2012 and 2015. The hiring of Choy reportedly coincides with a shake-up of BitTorrent Inc.'s product line. BitTorrent Live, the patented live video streaming project developed by BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen, will be set loose as a separate, venture-funded company, Variety reports.
Ephrat Livni, writing for Quartz: Unless you're a golfer, you probably don't think about golf balls. But a new US lawsuit about these little-dimpled spheres has an economics lesson for all shoppers, showing why consumers have cause for concern when companies use court for sport. Costco, the wholesale membership club, rocked the golf world in 2016 when it started selling its Kirkland Signature (KS) golf balls at about $15 per dozen, a quarter to a third the price of popular top-ranked balls. Industry insiders called it a "miracle golf ball" for its great performance and low cost, and Costco sold out immediately. It's planning to release more in April. In response to the bargain ball's reception, however, Acushnet -- which makes the popular Titleist balls -- sent the membership club a threatening letter. It accused Costco of infringing on 11 patents and engaging in false advertising for claiming that KS balls meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.
A new report published by the nonpartisan think tank Center for a New American Security shows us where a lot of NASA's money is being spent. The space agency has reportedly spent $19 billion on rockets -- first on Ares I and V, and now on the Space Launch System rocket -- and $13.9 billion on the Orion spacecraft. If all goes according to plan and NASA is able to fly its first crewed mission with the new vehicles in 2021, "the report estimates the agency will have spent $43 billion before that first flight, essentially a reprise of the Apollo 8 mission around the Moon," reports Ars Technica. "Just the development effort for SLS and Orion, which includes none of the expenses related to in-space activities or landing anywhere, are already nearly half that of the Apollo program." From the report: The new report argues that, given these high costs, NASA should turn over the construction of rockets and spacecraft to the private sector. It buttresses this argument with a remarkable claim about the "overhead" costs associated with the NASA-led programs. These costs entail the administration, management, and development costs paid directly to the space agency -- rather than funds spend on contractors actually building the space hardware. For Orion, according to the report, approximately 56 percent of the program's cost, has gone to NASA instead of the main contractor, Lockheed Martin, and others. For the SLS rocket and its predecessors, the estimated fraction of NASA-related costs is higher -- 72 percent. This means that only about $7 billion of the rocket's $19 billion has gone to the private sector companies, Boeing, Orbital ATK, Aeroject Rocketdyne, and others cutting metal. By comparison the report also estimates NASA's overhead costs for the commercial cargo and crew programs, in which SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK are developing and providing cargo and astronaut delivery systems for the International Space Station. With these programs, NASA has ceded some control to the private companies, allowing them to retain ownership of the vehicles and design them with other customers in mind as well. With such fixed-price contracts, the NASA overhead costs for these programs is just 14 percent, the report finds.
Facebook has officially launched their "Town Hall" feature that allows users to locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives. The social media company also announced that they will be launching local election reminders in an effort to get more users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections. TechCrunch reports: The feature was recently made available in the "More" menu on mobile and on desktop to a subset of users. When you launch it, you would be presented with a list of reps at the local, state and federal level, and you could click to visit their Facebook page or send them a message, call them, or email. Not all reps offer their contact information via Facebook, however. And Facebook doesn't yet pull in the missing phone numbers or emails from off-site sources, like official government websites, for example. The company tell us that's something it wants to address in time, though. Today, Town Hall is available to all U.S. Facebook users and some of its features will now be integrated in the News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by one of your elected officials, a new feature below the comments will invite you to call, message or email the rep. After doing so, users will then be prompted to share a post saying that they contacted the rep, as a means of encouraging their friends to do the same. Facebook says that this Contact Your Rep post is not shown to everyone, but only to those who are also already engaging with an elected official's post, through a like or comment. Additionally, Facebook says it will now offer Election Reminders for local elections. The new, local election reminders will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. in areas with a population of over 10,000 people, and will include both primaries and general elections.
The House oversight committee claims the FBI's facial recognition database is out of control, noting that "no federal law controls this technology" and "no court decision limits it." At last week's House oversight committee hearing, politicians and privacy campaigners presented several "damning facts" about the databases. "About 80% of photos in the FBI's network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver's licenses and passports," reports The Guardian. "The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are most likely to misidentify black people than white people." From the report: "Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation," said the committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, adding that in the private sector it can be used to protect financial transactions and prevent fraud or identity theft. "But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public." Furthermore, the rise of real-time face recognition technology that allows surveillance and body cameras to scan the faces of people walking down the street was, according to Chaffetz, "most concerning." "For those reasons and others, we must conduct proper oversight of this emerging technology," he said.
An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2024 the clock will run out on the International Space Station. Maybe. That's the arbitrary deadline that Congress imposed back in 2014, at which point they'll have to decide whether or not to keep funding the ISS. And yeah, that's a whole seven years away. But then again...it's only seven years away. The ISS takes up half of NASA's human exploration budget -- half of the pile of money allotted for things like sending humans to Mars or to an asteroid. And if they want to push further into space exploration, NASA can't keep sinking three to four billion dollars a year into the ISS. Not that it's really their decision. Congress -- specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology -- decides how much money NASA will get. And because politicians aren't experts in space travel, they keep holding hearings to discuss what they could possibly do with the ISS in seven years' time. Let private industry take it over? Let it crash and burn into the South Pacific? Let the program keep running? The latest hearing took place last week. These are hard questions, in part because people have very different opinions on what's valuable about NASA, and therefore about whether the ISS is still useful. Maybe you think that NASA should really be about exploration, about pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we can travel. In that case, the ISS might not be your first priority. That's a huge chunk of the budget that goes toward bringing things back and forth to low Earth orbit instead of venturing to other planets.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grappled over whether to upend a quarter-century of practice and limit where patent-infringement lawsuits can be filed. From a report on Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple and Alphabet Google. The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland's home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana. Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States. Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called "patent trolls." The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.
A Court of Appeal in Rome has overturned a 600,000 euro ruling against four unlicensed sites that offered streaming movies to the public. From a report: When it comes to passing judgment on so-called 'pirate' sites, Italy has more experience than most around Europe. Courts have passed down many decisions against unlicensed sites which have seen hundreds blocked by ISPs. Today, however, news coming out of the country suggests that the parameters of what defines a pirate site may not be so loosely interpreted in future. It began in 2015 when the operator of four sites that linked to pirated movies was found guilty of copyright infringement by a local court and ordered to pay more almost 600,000 in fines and costs. As a result, filmakers.biz, filmaker.me, filmakerz.org, and cineteka.org all shutdown but in the background, an appeal was filed. The appeal was heard by the Rome Court of Appeal in February and now, through lawyer Fulvio Sarzana who defended the sites' operator, we hear of a particularly interesting ruling. "The Court ruled that the indication of links does not qualify as making direct disposal of files protected by copyright law," Sarzana told TF in an email.
Microsoft has quietly removed a feature on its document sharing site Docs.com that allowed anyone to search through millions of files for sensitive and personal information. From a report on ZDNet: Users had complained over the weekend on Twitter that anyone could use the site's search box to trawl through publicly-accessible documents and files stored on the site, which were clearly meant to remain private. Among the files reviewed by ZDNet, and seen by others who tweeted about them, included password lists, job acceptance letters, investment portfolios, divorce settlement agreements, and credit card statements -- some of which contained Social Security and driving license numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers, and email and postal addresses. The company removed the site's search feature late on Saturday, but others observed that the files were still cached in Google's search results, as well as Microsoft's own search engine, Bing.
Last week, United States and United Kingdom officials announced new restrictions for airline passengers from eight Middle Eastern countries, forbidding passengers to carry electronics larger than a smartphone into an airplane cabin. Now The Guardian reports, citing a security source, the ban was prompted in part by a plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad. From the report: The security source said both bans were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors. One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. Discovery of the plot confirmed the fears of the intelligence agencies that Islamist groups had found a novel way to smuggle explosives into the cabin area in carry-on luggage after failed attempts with shoe bombs and explosives hidden in underwear. An explosion in a cabin (where a terrorist can position the explosive against a door or window) can have much more impact than one in the hold (where the terrorist has no control over the position of the explosive, which could be in the middle of luggage, away from the skin of the aircraft), given passengers and crew could be sucked out of any subsequent hole.