Category - Technology

‘Mind-Blowing Abuse of Power’: Walmart Spied on Workers With FBI, Lockheed Martin’s Help

Common Dreams, By Nadia Prupis, November 25

Retail giant Walmart enlisted the help of a private military contractor and the FBI to spy on workers pushing for a $15 hourly wage and organizing Black Friday protests in 2012 and 2013, newly released documents (pdf) reveal.

“We are fighting for all workers to be paid a fair wage and enough hours to put food on the table and provide for our families,” said Mary Pat Tifft, a Wisconsin Walmart employee of 27 years. “To think that Walmart found us such a threat that they would hire a defense contractor and engage the FBI is a mind-blowing abuse of power.”

A document made public Tuesday by worker organization OUR Walmart reveals company testimony to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January stating that Walmart had enlisted the help of arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor workers who were organizing for higher wages and the right to unionize. OUR Walmart workers said they were illegally fired and disciplined for taking part in the “Ride for Respect” strike during Walmart’s shareholder meeting in June of 2013.

But the surveillance had long been in progress. Walmart executives mobilized the so-called “Delta” emergency response team in 2012 when they first got wind of plans for a nationwide Black Friday worker strike. As Bloomberg explained in an investigative piece published Tuesday, “the stakes were enormous.” In addition to the NLRB testimony, the new reporting states, “The details of Walmart’s efforts during the first year it confronted OUR Walmart are described in more than 1,000 pages of e-mails, reports, playbooks, charts, and graphs.”

Twitter Has Censored Gory Images of the Paris Attacks

French authorities reportedly asked the company to block certain content.

Mother Jones, By Josh Harkinson, November 17

Over the past three days, Twitter has been preventing its users in France from viewing certain images and keywords related to the Paris attacks. The censorship, first reported today by the French newspaper Le Monde, applies to a keyword used by supporters of the Islamic State, tweets advocating terrorism, and, more controversially, graphic photographs taken inside the Bataclan after the terrorist attacks there left dozens dead.

On Sunday, France’s National Police used its Twitter account to ask social media users not to contribute to “the spread of photos of crime scenes,” out of “respect for victims and their families.” It encouraged Twitter users to send links to photos from the Bataclan massacre to PHAROS, a government website that compiles reports of illegal online activity.

On the same day, French law enforcement officials sent a request directly to Twitter, demanding the removal of certain tweets, according to Lumen, a Harvard University database of government takedown requests. The reasons the authorities gave for the request were a “serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)” and “secrecy of the investigation.”


“France has become nothing short of a nightmare when it comes to free speech,” says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. “The French government has aggressively rolled back free speech protections for years. I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech, however, it has become precisely that.”

It’s OK to hack your own car, US copyright authorities rule

Reuters, October 27

Car owners and security experts can tinker with automobile software without incurring US copyright liability, according to newly issued guidelines that were opposed by the auto industry.

The Library of Congress, which oversees the US Copyright Office, agreed with fair use advocates who argued that vehicle owners are entitled to modify their cars, which often involves altering software.
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Automakers including General Motors and other vehicle manufacturers such as Deere & Co opposed the rules. They said vehicle owners could visit authorized repair shops for changes they may need to undertake.

However US copyright officials decided that altering computer programs for vehicle repair or modification may not infringe a manufacturer’s software copyright.

Senate passes controversial cybersecurity bill Cisa 74 to 21

Senate votes in favor of bill critics including Edward Snowden say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked

The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 27

The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial cybersecurity bill critics say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked, over the objections of civil liberties groups and many of the biggest names in the tech sector.

The vote on Tuesday was 74 to 21 in support of the legislation. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. None of the Republican presidential candidates (except Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor) were present to cast a vote, including Rand Paul, who has made privacy from surveillance a major plank of his campaign platform.

Ahead of the vote a group of university professors specializing in tech law, many from the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, sent an open letter to the Senate, urging them not to pass the bill. The bill, they wrote, would fatally undermine the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).
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Europe passes controversial net neutrality legislation that could create Internet fast-lanes

VentureBeat, By Paul Sawers, October 27

The European Parliament has passed controversial net neutrality legislation that could lead to a two-tier Internet.

The new legislation was originally designed to ensure an open and level-playing field to “protect the right of every European to access Internet content, without discrimination.” In effect, the new rules should have prevented Internet companies from blocking or “throttling” content, services, or apps, and charging companies or people more to restore parity. However, there is plenty of wiggle room in the legislation to cause concern.

There are loopholes that separate out “specialized” or “innovative” services, including Internet TV (e.g. video streaming), high-definition (HD) video conferencing, and some health care services. These loopholes are — in theory — designed to support bandwidth-intensive services such as remote telesurgery, but the language contained within the legislation is vague and open to the creation of fast-lanes whereby some companies can pay for faster Internet.

EPA accuses Volkswagen of cheating Clean Air Act, orders recall

MSNBC, By Tony Dokoupil, September 18

Volkswagen has been cheating federal emission standards since 2008 spewing as much as 40 times more pollution than allowed by equipping its cars with a “defeat device” that fools the official test, the Obama administration said on Friday.

The violations carry potential fines of more than $35,000 per vehicle, which means the German automaker is on the hook for as much as $18 billion, plus the cost of retrofitting nearly 500,000 recalled vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation to the company, citing two breaches of the Clean Air Act, and ordered the recall.

“These violations are very serious,” Cynthia Giles, an assistant administrator in the EPA’s enforcement office, told reporters on Friday. “Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health.”

The violations pertain to four-cylinder diesel engine Jettas, Beetles, Audi A3 and Golf models built between 2009 and 2015, and Passat models made between 2014 and 2015. “Volkswagen admitted that the cars have defeat devices,” the EPA said. In a statement to CNBC, Volkswagen said they are cooperating with investigation and are unable to comment further.

So awesome!

Researchers Apply For Permission To Alter DNA Of Human Embryos

Some say gene editing shouldn’t be performed on human embryos until its effects are better understood.

The Huffington Post, By Sam Levine, September 18

The first British researchers have applied for permission to alter the DNA of human embryos to better understand the reason women have miscarriages, amid a broader debate over whether the testing is appropriate.

Earlier this year, Chinese scientists became the first in the world to modify human embryos. Researchers from the Francis Crick Institute are the first to seek permission to use the technique in Great Britain, where it is currently illegal except for research purposes.

The researchers hope to better understand the key genes involved in the first stages of fertilization and ultimately to determine the reason some women miscarry, according to The Guardian. The embryos, which are donated by couples who have a surplus after IVF treatment, would be destroyed after the research is completed. They cannot legally be studied for longer than two weeks.

New Boss on Construction Sites Is a Drone

Drones are being used to capture video footage that shows construction progress at the Sacramento Kings’ new stadium in California.

Technology Review, By Will Knight, August 26

For some construction workers, any thoughts of slacking off could soon seem rather quaint. The drones will almost certainly notice.

The site of a lavish new downtown stadium for the Sacramento Kings in California are being monitored by drones and software that can automatically flag slow progress.

Once per day, several drones automatically patrol the Sacramento work site, collecting video footage. That footage is then converted into a three-dimensional picture of the site, which is fed into software that compares it to computerized architectural plans as well as a the construction work plan showing when each element should be finished. The software can show managers how the project is progressing, and can automatically highlight parts that may be falling behind schedule.

First almost fully-formed human brain grown in lab, researchers claim

The Guardian, By Helen Thomson, August 18

Research team say tiny brain could be used to test drugs and study diseases, but scientific peers urge caution as data on breakthrough kept under wraps.

An almost fully-formed human brain has been grown in a lab for the first time, claim scientists from Ohio State University. The team behind the feat hope the brain could transform our understanding of neurological disease.

Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old foetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development.

The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells and is the most complete human brain model yet developed, claimed Rene Anand of Ohio State University, Columbus, who presented the work today at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Previous attempts at growing whole brains have at best achieved mini-organs that resemble those of nine-week-old foetuses, although these “cerebral organoids” were not complete and only contained certain aspects of the brain. “We have grown the entire brain from the get-go,” said Anand.