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An anonymous reader writes I received some interesting mail this week from the House Majority PAC. First, a "voter report card" postcard telling me my voting record was "excellent" (I'm a good citizen!), but also letting me know that they "plan to update this report card after the election to see whether you voted". OK, so one of the Democratic Party's super PACs want me to vote, but it seems to be something of an attempt at intimidation. Today, I received a letter in which they really put the pressure on. Here are some excerpts: "Who you vote for is secret. But whether or not you vote is public record. Our organization monitors turnout in your neighborhood, and we are disappointed that many of your neighbors do not always exercise their right to vote." So why contact me instead of them? Voting is a civic duty, but it isn't illegal to abstain. That's my neighbors' business, not mine. It's one way of expressing dissatisfaction, isn't it? And if there are no candidates you wish to vote for, then why should you vote for someone you don't want? But Big Brother PAC has other ideas: "We will be reviewing the Camden County [NJ] official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not." The letter is signed "Joe Fox Election day Coordinator". So what happens if I don't vote? Well, at least I got a scare this Halloween. Are PACs using similar tactics in other states?
157 comments | 6 hours ago
HughPickens.com writes: Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the Education Department wants to make sure loan programs that prey on students don't continue their abusive practices. Now Kimberly Hefling reports that for-profit colleges who are not producing graduates capable of paying off their student loans could soon stand to lose access to federal student-aid programs. In order to receive federal student aid, the law requires that most for-profit programs, regardless of credential level, and most non-degree programs at non-profit and public institutions, including community colleges, prepare students for "gainful employment in a recognized occupation" (PDF). To meet these "gainful employment" standards, a program will have to show that the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent of his or her discretionary income or 8 percent of total earnings.
"Career colleges must be a stepping stone to the middle class. But too many hard-working students find themselves buried in debt with little to show for it. That is simply unacceptable," says Duncan. "These regulations are a necessary step to ensure that colleges accepting federal funds protect students, cut costs and improve outcomes. We will continue to take action as needed."
But not everyone is convinced the rules go far enough. "The rule is far too weak to address the grave misconduct of predatory for-profit colleges," writes David Halperin. "The administration missed an opportunity to issue a strong rule, to take strong executive action and provide real leadership on this issue." The final gainful employment regulations follow an extensive rulemaking process involving public hearings, negotiations and about 95,000 public comments and will go into effect on July 1, 2015.
270 comments | 11 hours ago
An anonymous reader writes: When news broke last week that the Hungarian government was planning to tax internet traffic at a rate of about 62 cents per gigabyte, people on the internet were outraged. But it went beyond that: there were protests in the streets in Hungary, and the European Union warned against the plan. Now, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has put the plans on hold, saying, "This tax in its current form cannot be introduced." It's not completely dead — Orban has planned consultations over the next year to look for other ways to tax revenue generated over the internet.
48 comments | yesterday
HughPickens.com writes We know that about 10 million more people have insurance coverage this year as a result of the Affordable Care Act but until now it has been difficult to say much about who was getting that Obamacare coverage — where they live, their age, their income and other such details. Now Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz report in the NYT that a new data set is providing a clearer picture of which people gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The data is the output of a statistical model based on a large survey of adults and shows that the law has done something rather unusual in the American economy this century: It has pushed back against inequality, essentially redistributing income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades. The biggest winners from the law include people between the ages of 18 and 34; blacks; Hispanics; and people who live in rural areas. The areas with the largest increases in the health insurance rate, for example, include rural Arkansas and Nevada; southern Texas; large swaths of New Mexico, Kentucky and West Virginia; and much of inland California and Oregon.
Despite many Republican voters' disdain for the Affordable Care Act, parts of the country that lean the most heavily Republican (according to 2012 presidential election results) showed significantly more insurance gains than places where voters lean strongly Democratic. That partly reflects underlying rates of insurance. In liberal places, like Massachusetts and Hawaii, previous state policies had made insurance coverage much more widespread, leaving less room for improvement. But the correlation also reflects trends in wealth and poverty. Many of the poorest and most rural states in the country tend to favor Republican politicians.
618 comments | yesterday
An anonymous reader writes Despite the death of the EU Data Retention Directive in April, and despite the country having taken six years to even begin to obey the ruling, the Swedish government, via its telecoms regulator, has forced ISPs to continue retaining customer data for law enforcement purposes. Now the last ISP retrenching on the issue has been told that it must comply with the edict or face a fine of five million krona ($680,000).
While providers all over Europe have rejoiced in not being obliged any longer to provide infrastructure to retain six months of data per customer, Sweden and the United Kingdom alone have insisted on retaining the ruling — particularly surprising in the case of Sweden, since it took six years to begin adhering to the Data Retention Directive after it was made law in 2006. Britain's Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill, rushed through in July, actually widens the scope of the original EU order.
37 comments | yesterday
Advocatus Diaboli writes with a selection from The Intercept describing instructions for commercial spyware sold by Italian security firm Hacking Team. The manuals describe Hacking Team's software for government technicians and analysts, showing how it can activate cameras, exfiltrate emails, record Skype calls, log typing, and collect passwords on targeted devices. They also catalog a range of pre-bottled techniques for infecting those devices using wifi networks, USB sticks, streaming video, and email attachments to deliver viral installers. With a few clicks of a mouse, even a lightly trained technician can build a software agent that can infect and monitor a device, then upload captured data at unobtrusive times using a stealthy network of proxy servers, all without leaving a trace. That, at least, is what Hacking Team's manuals claim as the company tries to distinguish its offerings in the global marketplace for government hacking software. (Here are the manuals themselves.)
36 comments | 2 days ago
AlbanX writes The Australian Government has introduced a bill that would require telecommunications carriers and service providers to retain the non-content data of Australian citizens for two years so it can be accessed — without a warrant — by local law enforcement agencies. Despite tabling the draft legislation into parliament, the bill doesn't actually specify the types of data the Government wants retained. The proposal has received a huge amount of criticism from the telco industry, other members of parliament and privacy groups. (The Sydney Morning Herald has some audio of discussion about the law.)
56 comments | 2 days ago
MarkWhittington writes Professor Richard Binzel published a commentary in the journal Nature that called for two things. He proposed that NASA cancel the Asteroid Redirect Mission currently planned for the early 2020s. Instead, he would like the asteroid survey mandated by the George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act of 2005, part of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, funded at $200 million a year. Currently NASA funds the survey at $20 million a year, considered inadequate to complete the identification of 90 percent of hazardous near-Earth objects 140 meters or greater by 2020 as mandated by the law.
111 comments | 2 days ago
Presto Vivace writes H-1B records that are critical to research and take up a small amount of storage are set for deletion. "In a notice posted last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said that records used for labor certification, whether in paper or electronic, 'are temporary records and subject to destruction' after five years, under a new policy. There was no explanation for the change, and it is perplexing to researchers. The records under threat are called Labor Condition Applications (LCA), which identify the H-1B employer, worksite, the prevailing wage, and the wage paid to the worker. The cost of storage can't be an issue for the government's $80 billion IT budget: A full year's worth of LCA data is less than 1GB."
186 comments | 2 days ago
hazeii writes Though legal proceedings following the Snowden revelations, Liberty UK have succeeded in forcing GCHQ to reveal secret internal policies allowing Britain's intelligence services to receive unlimited bulk intelligence from the NSA and other foreign agencies and to keep this data on a massive searchable databases, all without a warrant. Apparently, British intelligence agencies can "trawl through foreign intelligence material without meaningful restrictions", and can keep copies of both content and metadata for up to two years. There is also mention of data obtained "through US corporate partnerships". According to Liberty, this raises serious doubts about oversight of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee and their reassurances that in every case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception signed by a minister was in place.
Eric King, Deputy Director of Privacy international, said: "We now know that data from any call, internet search, or website you visited over the past two years could be stored in GCHQ's database and analyzed at will, all without a warrant to collect it in the first place. It is outrageous that the Government thinks mass surveillance, justified by secret 'arrangements' that allow for vast and unrestrained receipt and analysis of foreign intelligence material is lawful. This is completely unacceptable, and makes clear how little transparency and accountability exists within the British intelligence community."
93 comments | 2 days ago
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes Slashdot member and open source developer Ben Kallos @KallosEsq — who is now a NYC Councilman — is pushing to make it a precondition to Comcast's merging with Time Warner that it agree to provide free broadband to all public housing residents in the City (and by free I mean free as in beer). Kallos, along with NY's Public Advocate, Letitia James, is leading a group of state and local politicians calling on Comcast to help bridge the digital divide in NY.
259 comments | 2 days ago
reifman writes The Internet's been abuzz the past 48 hours about reports the FBI distributed malware via a fake Seattle Times news website. What the agency actually did is more of an example of smart, precise law enforcement tactics. Is the outrage online an indictment of Twitter's tendency towards uninformed, knee-jerk reactions? In this age of unwarranted, unconstitutional blanket data collection by the NSA, the FBI's tactics from 2007 seem refreshing for their precision.
204 comments | 2 days ago
wiredmikey writes: The White House's unclassified computer network was recently breached by intruders, a U.S. official said Tuesday. While the White House has not said so, The Washington Post reported that the Russian government was thought to be behind the act. Several recent reports have linked Russia to cyber attacks, including a report from FireEye on Tuesday that linked Russia back to an espionage campaign dating back to 2007. Earlier this month, iSight Partners revealed that a threat group allegedly linked with the Russian government had been leveraging a Microsoft Windows zero-day vulnerability to target NATO, the European Union, and various private energy and telecommunications organizations in Europe. The group has been dubbed the "Sandworm Team" and it has been using weaponized PowerPoint files in its recent attacks. Trend Micro believes the Sandworm team also has their eyes set on compromising SCADA-based systems.
98 comments | 2 days ago
theodp writes: A year-long investigation by NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit and The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) raises questions about the H-1B visa program. In a five-part story that includes a mini-graphic novel called Techsploitation, CIR describes how the system rewards job brokers who steal wages and entrap Indian tech workers in the U.S., including the awarding of half a billion dollars in Federal tech contracts to those with labor violations. "Shackling workers to their jobs," CIR found after interviewing workers and reviewing government agency and court documents, "is such an entrenched business practice that it has even spread to U.S. nationals. This bullying persists at the bottom of a complex system that supplies workers to some of America's richest and most successful companies, such as Cisco Systems Inc., Verizon and Apple Inc."
In a presumably unrelated move, the U.S. changed its H-1B record retention policy last week, declaring that records used for labor certification, whether in paper or electronic, "are temporary records and subject to destruction" after five years under the new policy. "There was no explanation for the change, and it is perplexing to researchers," reports Computerworld. "The records under threat are called Labor Condition Applications (LCA), which identify the H-1B employer, worksite, the prevailing wage, and the wage paid to the worker." Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, added: "It undermines our ability to evaluate what the government does and, in today's world, retaining electronic records like the LCA is next to costless [a full year's LCA data is less than 1 GB]." President Obama, by the way, is expected to use his executive authority to expand the H-1B program after the midterm elections.
279 comments | 2 days ago
Anita Hunt (lissnup) writes: Hot on the heels of Brazil's recent initiative in this area, Italy has produced a draft [PDF] Declaration of Internet Rights, and on Monday opened the bill for consultation on the Civici [Italian] platform, a first in Europe. "[A]s it is now, it consists of a preamble and 14 articles that span several pages. Topics range from the 'fundamental right to Internet access' and Net Neutrality to the notion of 'informational self-determination.' The bill also includes provisions on the right to anonymity and tackles the highly debated idea of granting online citizens a 'right to be forgotten.' Measures are taken against algorithmic discriminations and the opacity of the terms of service devised by 'digital platform operators' who are 'required to behave honestly and fairly' and, most of all, give 'clear and simple information on how the platform operates.'"
95 comments | 3 days ago
sneakyimp writes: The Antares rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded on launch due to a "catastrophic anomaly" after a flawless countdown. No injuries are reported and all personnel are accounted for. According to the audio stream hosted by local news affiliate WTVR's website, the Cygnus spacecraft contained classified crypto technology and efforts are being made to cordon off the wreckage area. Additionally, interviews of personnel and witness reports are to be limited to appropriate government agencies so that an accident report can be generated. This accident is likely to have a detrimental effect on the stock price of Orbital Sciences Corp, traded on the NYSE. The Antares rocket's engines are based on old soviet designs from the '60s. While this is sure to be a blow to NASA due to the cost, it may well boost the fortunes of SpaceX, a chief competitor of Orbital Sciences. Both companies were recently awarded resupply contracts by NASA.
442 comments | 3 days ago
HughPickens.com writes: Ron Nixon reports in the NY Times that the United States Postal Service says it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations, in many cases without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization. In addition to raising privacy concerns, the audit questioned the efficiency and accuracy of the Postal Service in handling the requests. The surveillance program, officially called mail covers, is more than a century old, but is still considered a powerful investigative tool. The Postal Service said that from 2001 through 2012, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies made more than 100,000 requests to monitor the mail of Americans. That would amount to an average of some 8,000 requests a year — far fewer than the nearly 50,000 requests in 2013 that the Postal Service reported in the audit (PDF).
In Arizona in 2011, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor, discovered that her mail was being monitored by the county's sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Wilcox had been a frequent critic of Arpaio, objecting to what she considered the targeting of Hispanics in his immigration sweeps. Wilcox sued the county, was awarded nearly $1 million in a settlement in 2011 and received the money this June when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. Andrew Thomas, the former county attorney, was disbarred for his role in investigations into the business dealings of Ms. Wilcox and other officials and for other unprofessional conduct. "I don't blame the Postal Service," says Wilcox, "but you shouldn't be able to just use these mail covers to go on a fishing expedition. There needs to be more control."
111 comments | 3 days ago
McGruber writes: Back on February 4, "Science Guy" Bill Nye debated Creationist Kenneth Alfred "Ken" Ham. That high-profile debate helped boost support for Ham's $73 million "Ark Encounter" project, allowing Ham to announce on February 25 that a municipal bond offering had raised enough money to begin construction. Nye said he was "heartbroken and sickened for the Commonwealth of Kentucky" after learning that the project would move forward. Nye said the ark would eventually draw more attention to the beliefs of Ham's ministry, which preaches that the Bible's creation story is a true account, and as a result, "voters and taxpayers in Kentucky will eventually see that this is not in their best interest."
In July, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority unanimously approved $18.25 million worth of tax incentives to keep the ark park afloat. The funds are from a state program that allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of as much as 25 percent of the investment in the project. Since then, the Ark Park's employment application has became public: "Nestled among the requirements for all job applicants were three troubling obligatory documents: 'Salvation testimony,' 'Creation belief statement,' and a 'Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG statement of faith.' (AiG is Answers in Genesis, Ham's ministry and Ark Encounter's parent company.)"
That caused the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet to halt its issuance of tax incentives for the ark park. Bob Stewart, secretary of the cabinet, wrote to Ham that "the Commonwealth does not provide incentives to any company that discriminates on the basis of religion and we will not make any exception for Ark Encounter, LLC." Before funding could proceed, Stewart explained, "the Commonwealth must have the express written assurance from Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in any way on the basis of religion in hiring." The ark park has not yet sunk. It is "still pending before the authority" and a date has not yet been set for the meeting where final approval will be considered.
437 comments | 3 days ago
sciencehabit writes: If you want to figure out how many people live in a particular part of your country, you could spend years conducting home visits and mailing out questionnaires. But a new study describes a quicker way. Scientists have figured out how to map populations using cellphone records — an approach that doesn't just reveal who lives where, but also where they go every day. The researchers also compared their results to population density data gathered through remote sensing technologies, a widely-used method that relies on satellite imaging to gather detailed information on population settlement patterns and estimate population counts. They found that the two methods are comparable in accuracy when checked against actual survey-based census data, but estimates from mobile phone data can provide more timely information, down to the hours.
57 comments | 3 days ago
HughPickens.com writes: Nicolas Niarchos has a profile of 2600 in The New Yorker that is well worth reading. Some excerpts: "2600 — named for the frequency that allowed early hackers and "phreakers" to gain control of land-line phones — is the photocopier to Snowden's microprocessor. Its articles aren't pasted up on a flashy Web site but, rather, come out in print. The magazine—which started as a three-page leaflet sent out in the mail, and became a digest-sized publication in the late nineteen-eighties — just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. It still arrives with the turning of the seasons, in brown envelopes just a bit smaller than a 401k mailer."
"There's been now, by any stretch of the imagination, three generations of hackers who have read 2600 magazine," Jason Scott, a historian and Web archivist who recently reorganized a set of 2600's legal files, said. Referring to Goldstein, whose real name is Eric Corley, he continued: "Eric really believes in the power of print, words on paper. It's obvious for him that his heart is in the paper."
"2600 provides an important forum for hackers to discuss the most pressing issues of the day — whether it be surveillance, Internet freedom, or the security of the nation's nuclear weapons—while sharing new code in languages like Python and C.* For example, the most recent issue of the magazine addresses how the hacking community can approach Snowden's disclosures. After lampooning one of the leaked N.S.A. PowerPoint slides ("whoever wrote this clearly didn't know that there are no zombies in '1984' ") and discussing how U.S. government is eroding civil rights, the piece points out the contradictions that everyone in the hacking community currently faces. "Hackers are the ones who reveal the inconvenient truths, point out security holes, and offer solutions," it concludes. "And this is why hackers are the enemy in a world where surveillance and the status quo are the keys to power."
71 comments | 4 days ago