McGruber (1417641) writes "Return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. The concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe. Sounds great, except to Intuit, maker of Turbotax: last year, Intuit spent more than $2.6 million on lobbying, some of it to lobby on four bills related to the issue, federal lobbying records show."
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coolnumbr12 writes "In a new leak published by the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica, Edward Snowden revealed new secret programs by the NSA and GCHQ to decrypt programs designed to keep information private online. In response to NSA's Bullrun and GCHQ's Edgehill, Google said it has accelerated efforts to build new encryption software that is impenetrable to the government agencies. Google has not provided details on its new encryption efforts, but did say it would be 'end-to-end,' meaning that all servers and fiber-optic lines involved in delivering information will be encrypted."
An anonymous reader writes "The New York Times is reporting that the NSA has 'has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show. ... The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.'" You may prefer Pro Publica's non-paywalled version, instead, or The Guardian's.
cycoj writes "The NSA says that there is no central method to search its own email. When asked in a Freedom of Information Act request for emails with the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period, the agency, which has been collecting and analyzing the data of hundreds of millions of Internet users, says it can only perform person-per-person searches on its own email."
dstates writes "ProPublica, the award winning public interest journalism group and frequently cited Slashdot source, has published an interesting guide to app technology for journalism and a set of data and style guides. Journalism presents unique challenges with potentially enormous but highly variable site traffic, the need to serve a wide variety of information, and most importantly, the need to quickly develop and vet interesting content, and ProPublica serves lots of data sets in addition to the news. They are also doing some cool stuff like using AI to generate specific narratives from tens of thousands of database entries illustrating how school districts and states often don't distribute educational opportunities to rich and poor kids equally. The ProPublica team focuses on some basic practical issues for building a team, rapidly and flexibly deploying technology and insuring that what they serve is correct. A great news app developer needs three key skills: the ability to do journalism, design acumen and the ability to write code quickly — and the last is the easiest to teach. To build a team they look to their own staff rather than competing with Google for CS grads. Most news organizations use either Ruby on Rails or Python/Django, but more important than which specific technology you choose is to just pick a server-side programming language and stick to it. Cloud hosting provides news organizations with incredible flexibility (like increasing your capacity ten-fold for a few days around the election and then scaling back the day after), but they're not as fast as real servers, and cloud costs can scale quickly relative to real servers. Maybe a news app is not the most massive 'big data' application out there, but where else can you find the challenge of millions of users checking in several times a day for the latest news, and all you need to do is sort out which of your many and conflicting sources are providing you with straight information? Oh, and if you screw up, it will be very public."
An anonymous reader writes "You don't necessarily have to a hacker to be viewed as one under federal law. ProPublica breaks down acts of 'hacktivism' to see what is considered criminal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It points out that both Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning were charged under the CFAA. Quoting: 'A DDoS attack can be charged as a crime under the CFAA, as it “causes damage” and can violate a web site’s terms of service. The owner of the site could also file a civil suit citing the CFAA, if they can prove a temporary server overload resulted in monetary losses. ... The charges for doxing depend on how the information was accessed, and the nature of published information. Simply publishing publicly available information, such as phone numbers found in a Google search, would probably not be charged under the CFAA. But hacking into private computers, or even spreading the information from a hack, could lead to charges under the CFAA.'"
An anonymous reader writes "A 2011 ProPublica series found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by its X-ray body scanners at airports across the country. While countries in Europe have long prohibited the scanners, the TSA is just now getting around to studying the health effects." I'm not worried; the posters and recorded announcements at the airport say these scanners raise no health concerns.
An anonymous reader writes "Proud voters are already posting their ballots on Instagram but ProPublica's Lois Beckett reports that you may want to check your state laws first since showing your marked ballot to other people is actually illegal in many states."
OverTheGeicoE writes "If you're concerned about possible health effects from TSA's X-ray body scanners, you might be pleased to learn that TSA is making changes. TSA is removing X-ray body scanners from major airports including Los Angeles International, Boston's Logan, Chicago's O'Hare, and New York City's JFK. Then again, these changes might not please you at all, because they are not mothballing the offending devices. No, they are instead moving them to smaller airports like the one in Mesa, AZ. Is this progress, or is TSA just moving potentially dangerous scanners from 'Blue' areas to 'Red' ones right before a presidential election?"
theodp writes "ProPublica's Lois Beckett reports that the Obama for America campaign's new mobile app is raising privacy concerns with its Google map that recognizes one's current location, marks nearby Democratic households with small blue flags, and displays the first name, age and gender of the voter or voters who live there (e.g.,'Lori C., 58 F, Democrat'). Asked about the privacy aspects of the new app, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign wrote that 'anyone familiar with the political process in America knows this information about registered voters is available and easily accessible to the public.' Harvard law prof Jonathan Zittrain said the Obama app does represent a significant shift. While voter data has been 'technically public,' it is usually accessed only by political campaigns and companies that sell consumer data. 'Much of our feelings around privacy are driven by what you might call status-quo-ism,' Zittrain added, 'so many people may feel that the app is creepy simply because it represents something new.'"
wiredmikey sends this excerpt from SecurityWeek: "A recent article on ProPublica dissected two commonly quoted figures about cybersecurity: $1 trillion in losses due to cybercrime itself and $388 million in IP losses for American companies. Both figures have been scrutinized and challenged by many, and viewed as typical security vendor FUD. ... The $1 trillion figure is attributed to anti-virus vendor McAfee, while the $388 million in IP losses number belongs to Symantec's Norton division. According to ProPublica, 'The report was not actually researched by Norton employees; it was outsourced to a market research firm, StrategyOne, which is owned by the public relations giant Edelman.' The problem with both of these figures — $1 trillion and $388 million — is, as Microsoft researchers pointed out earlier this year in a report fittingly titled 'Sex, Lies, and Cybercrime,' they are studded with outliers. In one example they cite that a single individual who claims $50,000 losses, in an N = 1000 person survey, is enough to extrapolate a $10 billion loss over the population. In another, one unverified claim of $7,500 in phishing losses translates into $1.5 billion over the population. The Microsoft researchers concluded: 'Are we really producing cyber-crime estimates where 75% of the estimate comes from the unverified self-reported answers of one or two people? Unfortunately, it appears so. Can any faith whatever be placed in the surveys we have? No, it appears not.'"
Pigskin-Referee sends this excerpt from an article at ProPublica: "Jonathan Mayer had a hunch. A gifted computer scientist, Mayer suspected that online advertisers might be getting around browser settings that are designed to block tracking devices known as cookies. If his instinct was right, advertisers were following people as they moved from one website to another even though their browsers were configured to prevent this sort of digital shadowing. Working long hours at his office, Mayer ran a series of clever tests in which he purchased ads that acted as sniffers for the sort of unauthorized cookies he was looking for. He hit the jackpot, unearthing one of the biggest privacy scandals of the past year: Google was secretly planting cookies on a vast number of iPhone browsers. Mayer thinks millions of iPhones were targeted by Google."
First time accepted submitter samazon writes "According to a recently proposed abstract by the United States Geological Survey, hydraulic fracturing, or more specifically the disposal of fracking wastewater, may be directly correlated to the increase in seismic activity in the midwest. Results of the paper will be presented on April 18th, but the language of the abstract seems to imply that there is a connection. After years of controversy regarding hydrofracking including ground water contamination and disclosure of chemical solutions, the results of the study, if conclusive, could influence the cost of natural gas due to increased regulations on wastewater disposal." The actual language of the abstract leaves a fair amount of wiggle room: "While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production."
OverTheGeicoE writes "U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, plans to introduce a bill that would require a new health study of the X-ray body scanners used to screen airline passengers nationwide. If the bill becomes law, TSA would be required to choose an 'independent laboratory' to measure the radiation emitted by a scanner currently in use at an airport checkpoint and use the data to produce a peer-reviewed study, to be submitted to Congress, based on its findings. The study would also evaluate the safety mechanisms on the machine and determine 'whether there are any biological signs of cellular damage caused by the scans.' Many Slashdotters are or have been involved in science. Is this a credible experimental protocol? Is it reasonable to expect an organization accused of jeopardizing the health and safety of hundreds of millions of air travelers to pick a truly unbiased lab? Would any lab chosen deliver a critical report and risk future funding? Should the public trust a study of radiology and human health designed by a US Senator whose highest degree is a bachelor's degree in government?"
Wednesday is here, and with it sites around the internet are going under temporary blackout to protest two pieces of legislation currently making their way through the U.S. Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect-IP Act (PIPA). Wikipedia, reddit, the Free Software Foundation, Google, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, imgur, Mozilla, and many others have all made major changes to their sites or shut down altogether in protest. These sites, as well as technology experts (PDF) around the world and everyone here at Slashdot, think SOPA and PIPA pose unacceptable risks to freedom of speech and the uncensored nature of the internet. The purpose of the protests is to educate people — to let them know this legislation will damage websites you use and enjoy every day, despite being unrelated to the stated purpose of both bills. So, we ask you: what can you do to stop SOPA and PIPA? You may have heard the House has shelved SOPA, and that President Obama has pledged not to pass it as-is, but the MPAA and SOPA-sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) are trying to brush off the protests as a stunt, and Smith has announced markup for the bill will resume in February. Meanwhile, PIPA is still present in the Senate, and it remains a threat. Read on for more about why these bills are bad news, and how to contact your representative to let them know it.
Note: This will be the last story we post today until 6pm EST in protest of SOPA.
Note: This will be the last story we post today until 6pm EST in protest of SOPA.
OverTheGeicoE writes "The Transportation Security Administration is getting a lot of negative attention, much of it from the U.S. government itself. A recent congressional report blasted the TSA for being incompetent and ineffective (PDF). A bill to force the TSA to reduce its screening of active duty U.S. military members and their families was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives. After a TSA employee was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman while in uniform, a bill has been introduced to prevent TSA agents from wearing police-style uniforms and badges or using the title 'officer.' The bill's sponsor calls these practices 'an insult to real cops.' The FBI is getting involved by changing its definition of rape in a way that might expose the TSA's 'enhanced pat-down' screeners to prosecution. Lastly, public support for the TSA's use of X-ray body scanners drops dramatically when people realize there is a cancer risk."
zokuga writes "ProPublica reports that the TSA is backing off a previous promise to conduct a new independent study of X-ray body scanners used at airport security lanes around the country. Earlier this month, an investigation found that TSA had glossed over research about the risks from the X-rays."
OverTheGeicoE writes "ProPublica has a story on how x-ray scanners became the controversial yet mandatory security fixtures we in the US must now endure. The story title, 'U.S. Government Glossed Over Cancer Concerns As It Rolled Out Airport X-Ray Scanners,' summarizes a substantial part of the article, but not all of it. The story also describes how government attitudes about the scanners went from overwhelmingly negative in the early 1990s to the naive optimism we see today. How did this change occur? The government weakened its regulatory structure for radiation safety in electronic devices, and left defining safety standards to an ANSI committee dominated by scanner producers and users (prison and customs officials). Even after 9/11 there was still great mistrust of x-ray scanners, but nine years of lobbying from scanner manufacturers, panic over failed terrorist attacks, and pressure from legislators advancing businesses in their own districts eventually forced the devices into the airports. The article estimates that 6 to 100 cancers per year will be caused by the x-ray scanners."
ZipK writes "Three years after numerous citizens and news organizations requested the release of Sarah Palin's gubernatorial e-mails, the State of Alaska is finally making ready to make them available. In print. In Juneau. News organizations must fly or sail to Juneau and pick up the 24,000 page disclosure in person. The state claims it impractical to release the original electronic versions of the e-mails, so the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, Mother Jones, ProPublica and MSNBC each plan to turn some or all of the printouts back into searchable, easily distributed electronic data. Thanks, Alaska." Where's WikiLeaks North?
decora writes "Last year ProPublica won the first Pulitzer for an online news site. This year, they have been awarded the first Pulitzer for a series that did not appear in print. The series was Eisinger and Bernstein's 'The Wall Street Money Machine,' which described how hedge funds and financiers profited from the collapse of the economy. ProPublica publishes under a Creative Commons license and hosts a Nerd Blog where they write about journalism-related hacking and publish open source tools they have developed."