Category - Technology

Mandatory data retention passes Australian parliament

The government and Labor have jointly ensured that the telecommunications data of all Australians will be retained for two years for warrantless access by law-enforcement agencies.

ZDNet, By Josh Taylor, March 26

The Australian government has relied on the votes of the Labor opposition to pass legislation on Thursday that will force telecommunications companies to retain customer data for two years for warrantless access by law enforcement.

The legislation — which will see call records, assigned IP addresses, location information, billing information, and other customer data stored for two years — passed the Senate on Thursday with the support of Labor senators.

The government and Labor shot down over a dozen amendments from the Greens, and several amendments from crossbench senators including those from David Leyonhjelm, Dio Wang, and Nick Xenophon.

The amendments would have forced the data to be held in Australia, would have required warrants for all accessing of the data, and would have limited the storage to three months — bringing Australia closer into line with international standards.

“Voice Biometrics”: The first circle of Hell

Pando, By Mark Ames, March 22

If you can think of something truly horrible and dystopian, then it’s a safe bet that it’s already a VC-backed tech industry, doubling in size every year.

This time, it’s “voiceprint” technology — companies and governments storing human “voice prints” as unique and efficient for surveillance purposes as fingerprints,and now an industry that’s expected to nearly double in size by next year to nearly $1 billion in annual revenues. An industry that boasts of storing 65 million human voice prints in corporate and government databases here and in Europe – and that’s while it’s still in its infancy.

I learned all of this from a stunning AP report from late last year, but which I only read properly recently. It’s titled “Voiceprints being harvested by the millions”:

“Their technology measures the characteristics of a person’s speech as air is expelled from the lungs, across the vocal folds of the larynx, up the pharynx, over the tongue, and out through the lips, nose, and teeth. Typical speaker recognition software compares those characteristics with data held on a server. If two voiceprints are similar enough, the system declares them a match.”

The article focuses mostly on how voiceprints are used for positive security purposes — citing Barclays using a new voiceprint identification program for its wealthy clients, which it now plans to expand to all of its 12 million clients.

Institute: China now world’s third-biggest arms exporter

AP, By Christopher Bodeen, March 15

China has overtaken Germany to become the world’s third-biggest arms exporter, although its 5 percent of the market remains small compared to the combined 58 percent of exports from the U.S. and Russia, a new study says.

China’s share of the global arms market rose 143 percent during the years from 2010-2014, a period during which the total volume of global arms transfers rose by 16 percent over the previous five years, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a report released Monday.

Its share of the world market was up from 3 percent in the 2009-2014 period, when China was ranked ninth among exporters of warplanes, ships, side arms and other weaponry, said the institute, known as SIPRI.

Protesters stage anti-robot rally at SXSW

USA Today, Jon Swartz, March 15

Austin, TX — “I say robot, you say no-bot!”

The chant reverberated through the air near the entrance to the SXSW tech and entertainment festival here.

About two dozen protesters, led by a computer engineer, echoed that sentiment in their movement against artificial intelligence.

“This is is about morality in computing,” said Adam Mason, 23, who organized the protest.

Signs at the scene reflected the mood. “Stop the Robots.” “Humans are the future.”

The mini-rally drew a crowd of gawkers, drawn by the sight of a rare protest here.

Warning – Treacly auto-start video at the link. Also, USA Today.

CIA looks to expand its cyber espionage capabilities

Washington Post, By Greg Miller, February 23

CIA Director John Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency’s cyber-espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said.

The proposed shift reflects a determination that the CIA’s approach to conventional espionage is increasingly outmoded amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media and other technologies.

U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State.

Several officials said Brennan’s team has even considered creating a new cyber-directorate — a step that would put the agency’s technology experts on equal footing with the operations and analysis branches, which have been pillars of the CIA’s organizational structure for decades.

Via emptywheel: After Failing at the White House, Then Illegally Hacking SSCI, Brennan Wants Cyber

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill

The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24

Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.

”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.

”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”

[…]

Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.

The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
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F.C.C. Net Neutrality Rules Clear Hurdle as Republicans Concede to Obama

New York Times, By Jonathan Weisman, February 24

Washington – Senior Republicans conceded on Tuesday that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality.

“We’re not going to get a signed bill that doesn’t have Democrats’ support,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “This is an issue that needs to have bipartisan support.”

Google warns of US government ‘hacking any facility’ in the world

Google says increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise ‘monumental’ legal concerns that should be decided by Congress

The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington, February 18

New York – Google is boldly opposing an attempt by the US Justice Department to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data, warning that the changes would open the door to US “government hacking of any facility” in the world.

In a strongly worded submission to the Washington committee that is considering the proposed changes, Google says that increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide”.

The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.

Huh.

THE CODE: A declassified and unbelievable hostage rescue story

How the Colombian army sent a hidden message to hostages… using a pop song

The Verge, By Jeff Maysh, January 7

Colonel Jose Espejo was a man with a problem. As the Colombian army’s communications expert watched the grainy video again, he saw kidnapped soldiers chained up inside barbed-wire pens in a hostage camp deep in the jungle, guarded by armed FARC guerillas. Some had been hostages for more than 10 years, and many suffered from a grim, flesh-eating disease caused by insect bites.

It was 2010, and the straight-talking Espejo was close to retirement after 22 years of military service. But he couldn’t stand the thought of quitting with men left behind enemy lines. He needed an idea, and when he needed an idea, he always went to one man.

Juan Carlos Ortiz was dunking his kids in the pool at his home in Coconut Grove, Miami, when he got the call from Colonel Espejo. With his easy charm and seemingly natural talent for creating clever commercials, the 42-year-old advertising executive had earned himself a Don Draper-like reputation in Colombia.

The ambitious Ortiz had shot to fame at the Colombian office of Leo Burnett — the legendary ad agency behind Tony the Tiger — where he created an anti-drug TV spot for the Colombian President’s Office. The ad showed an addict on a bus mistaking a fellow passenger’s dandruff for cocaine and snorting it up his nose. It made Ortiz the first Colombian to win a gold Lion at Cannes, the advertising industry’s Oscars. He returned to Bogotá a national hero and received a commendation from the nation’s first lady.

NSA has hidden software in hard drives around the world

Reuters, By Joseph Menn, February 16

San Francisco – The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen, and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

Human Traffickers Caught on Hidden Internet

A new set of search tools called Memex, developed by DARPA, peers into the “deep Web” to reveal illegal activity.

Scientific American, By Larry Greenemeier, February 8

In November 2012 a 28-year-old woman plunged 15 meters from a bedroom window to the pavement in New York City, a devastating fall that left her body broken but alive. The accident was an act of both desperation and hope—the woman had climbed out of the sixth-floor window to escape a group of men who had been sexually abusing her and holding her captive for two days.

Four months ago the New York County District Attorney’s Office sent Benjamin Gaston, one of the men responsible for the woman’s ordeal, to prison for 50-years-to-life. A key weapon in the prosecutor’s arsenal, according to the NYDA’s Office: an experimental set of Internet search tools the U.S. Department of Defense is developing to help catch and lock up human traffickers.
Read More

Scientist considered father of birth control pill dies

AP, January 31

San Francisco — Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died.

Djerassi died of complications of cancer in his San Francisco home, Stanford University spokesman Dan Stober said. He was 91.

Djerassi, a professor emeritus of chemistry at Stanford, was most famous for leading a research team in Mexico City that in 1951 developed norethindrone, a synthetic molecule that became a key component of the first birth control pill.

“The pill” as it came to be known radically transformed sexual practices and women’s lives. The pill gave women more control over their fertility than they had ever had before and permanently put doctors — who previously didn’t see contraceptives as part of their job — in the birth control picture.

In his book, “This Man’s Pill,” Djerassi said the invention also changed his life, making him more interested in how science affects society.

In 1969, he submitted a public policy article about the global implications of U.S. contraceptive research, according to the Stanford News Service. In 1970, he published another article about the feasibility of a birth control pill for men.

“The thoughts behind these two public policy articles had convinced me that politics, rather than science, would play the dominant role in shaping the future of human birth control,” he wrote.

[…]

“He also is the only person, to my knowledge, to receive from President Nixon the National Medal of Science and to be named on Nixon’s blacklist in the same year,” Zare added.


SF Gate: Stanford chemist who developed birth control pill dead at 91

Mr. Djerassi was not humble about his role in the invention. He wrote three autobiographies, including “The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse,” “In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen,” and, on the 50th anniversary of oral contraception, released a book called “This Man’s Pill,” but his immodesty was well-earned, said colleagues and peers.

Mr. Djerassi had a compelling and lifelong interest, both as a scientist and as an artist, in issues of “individual agency,” and he took pride in the social and cultural shifts that were brought on by the Pill, said Darney. He got to know Mr. Djerassi well during the 1980s, when they worked to bring RU-486 — a drug now called mifepristone that is used to terminate pregnancies — to the United States.

“Carl was interested particularly in individual freedom and self-determination, and believed that all of us, women included, should have that opportunity,” Darney said. “He saw birth control and access to abortion as agents of that opportunity.”


Statement of the Family of Dr. Carl Djerassi, January 30, 2015

Dr. Carl Djerassi, renowned scientist, author, and philanthropist, died peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, in his home in San Francisco, California on Friday, January 30, 2015. Dr. Djerassi’s death resulted from complications due to cancer. He was 91. His life and career included remarkable productivity and achievement in science, academia, and the arts, as well as personal tragedy in his expulsion from his childhood home following the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 and the death of his daughter in 1978.

Dr. Djerassi is survived by his son, Dale Djerassi, stepdaughter Leah Middlebrook, and grandson, Alexander M. Djerassi. He will be missed dearly.

Millions of cars tracked across US in ‘massive’ real-time spying program

American Civil Liberties Union warns scanning of license plates by Drug Enforcement Agency is building a repository of all drivers’ movements.

The Guardian, By Rory Carroll, January 26

Los Angeles – The United States government is tracking the movement of vehicles around the country in a clandestine intelligence-gathering programme that has been condemned as a further official exercise to build a database on people’s lives.

The Drug Enforcement Administration was monitoring license plates on a “massive” scale, giving rise to “major civil liberties concerns”, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday night, citing DEA documents obtained under freedom of information.

“This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, told the Guardian.

“On this as on so many surveillance issues, we can take action, put in place some common sense limits or sit back and let our society be transformed into a place we won’t recognize – or probably much like.”

[…]

The primary goal was to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking but the database expanded to monitor vehicles associated with other potential crimes, it said.

Barrett Brown sentenced to 63 months for ‘merely linking to hacked material’

The journalist and former Anonymous member says of prison term and fine in statement: ‘They’re sending me to investigate the prison-industrial complex’.

The Guardian, By Nicky Woolf, January 22

New York – In a rebuke to a legion of online supporters and what the journalist and one-time member of Anonymous called a “dangerous precedent”, Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in prison by a federal judge in Dallas on Thursday.

Brown’s backers from across the web had hoped he would be able to walk free with his 31 months of time served for what they insist was “merely linking to hacked material”. But the 33-year-old, who was once considered something of a spokesman for the Anonymous movement, will face more than twice that sentence. The judge also ordered him to pay more than $890,000 in restitution and fines.

In a statement released after his sentencing, Brown was sarcastically upbeat: “Good news!” he wrote. “The US government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.”

[…]

Gallagher warned that the long sentence would nonetheless set a precedent for journalists. “Basically,” he said, “if you share a link to publicly available material without knowing what’s in it – maybe it could contain stolen credit card info – you could be prosecuted.”

“Any journalist that uses hackers as sources is extremely chilled by this,” Gallagher added.

Europe’s answer to France terror ‘attack on free speech’ is greater Internet censorship

After three days of terrorist attacks in the French capital, European leaders are pushing for stronger measures to crack down on online “extremist” content.

ZDNet, By Zack Whittaker, January 12

About half of Europe’s member states are pushing for greater online censorship powers in the wake of the terror attacks in France earlier this month.

In a joint statement, interior ministers from 11 European member states — including Germany, Poland, Spain, and the U.K. — expressed condemnation of the attacks, while stressing further cooperation between their law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Members of the European Union, along with a delegation from the U.S. government — including outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder — adopted, among other sentiments, a resolution to create a partnership of major Internet providers to report and remove material associated with extremism.

“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” the statement said.

The statement also said the Internet was a focal point in the “fight against radicalization,” and there was a need to strengthen resources across the region, including greater border surveillance.

WSJ Digits blog: France Pushes for Scrubbing Internet of Terrorism-Related Content

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