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After Non-Profit Application Furor, IRS Says It's Lost 2 Years Of Lerner's Email 372

As reported by the Associated Press, via US News & World Report, the IRS says that it cannot locate much of the email sent by a former IRS official over a two-year period. "The IRS told Congress Friday it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner's emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year. Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups." Three congressional committees are investigating the agency because of the allegations of politically motivated mishandling of those applications, as is the Justice Department and the IRS's own inspector general. As the story says, "Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the handling of tea party applications, many of which languished for more than a year without action. But so far, they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or even knew about it." CBS News has a slightly different version, also based on the AP's reporting.

White House Pressures Legislators Into Gutting USA FREEDOM Act 284

The U.S. House of Representatives has substantially reduced the effectiveness of the USA FREEDOM Act, a surveillance reform bill that sought to end mass collection of U.S. citizens' data. House Leadership was pressured by the Obama Administration to weaken many of the bill's provisions. The EFF and the Center for Democracy & Technology had both given their backing to the bill earlier this month, but they've now withdrawn their support. CDT Senior Counsel Harley Geiger said, "The Leadership of the House is demonstrating that it wants to end the debate about surveillance, rather than end bulk collection. As amended, the bill may not prevent collection of data on a very large scale in a manner that infringes upon the privacy of Americans with no connection to a crime or terrorism. This is quite disappointing given the consensus by the public, Congress, the President, and two independent review groups that ending bulk collection is necessary."

Robyn Greene of the Open Technology Institute added, "We are especially disappointed by the weakening of the language intended to prohibit bulk collection of innocent Americans’ records. Although we are still hopeful that the bill’s language will end the bulk collection of telephone records and prevent indiscriminate collection of other types of records, it may still allow data collection on a dangerously massive scale. Put another way, it may ban ‘bulk’ collection of all records of a particular kind, but still allow for ‘bulky’ collection impacting the privacy of millions of people. Before this bill becomes law, Congress must make clear—either through amendments to the bill, through statements in the legislative record, or both—that mass collection of innocent people’s records isn’t allowed."

Silicon Valley's Love-Hate Relationship With President Obama 131

theodp writes: "Covering President Obama's visit to Silicon Valley, the AP reports that the relationship between the White House, Silicon Valley and its money is complicated. Less than a year after David Kirkpatrick asked, "Did Obama Just Destroy the U.S. Internet Industry?", and just two months after Mark Zuckerberg gave the President a call complaining about NSA spying, Silicon Valley execs hosted two high-stakes Democratic Party fundraisers for the President. The White House declined to identify the 20 high-rollers who paid $32,400 per head to sit at the Tech Roundtable. The President also attended an event hosted by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Y Combinator president Sam Altman, where the 250 or so guests paid $1,000 to $32,400 a head for bar service that featured wine, beer and cognac. The following day, Obama celebrated solar power at a Mountain View Walmart before jetting out of NASA's Moffett Field."

DOJ Requests More Power To Hack Remote Computers 76

An anonymous reader writes "The U.S. Department of Justice says it needs greater authority to hack remote computers in the course of an investigation. The agency reasons that criminal operations involving computers are become more complicated, and argues that its own capabilities need to scale up to match them. An ACLU attorney said, 'By expanding federal law enforcement's power to secretly exploit "zero-day"' vulnerabilities in software and Internet platforms, the proposal threatens to weaken Internet security for all of us.' This is particularly relevant in the wake of Heartbleed — it's been unclear whether the U.S. government knew about it before everyone else did. This request suggests that the DOJ, at least, did not abuse it — but it sure looks like they would've wanted to. You can read their request starting on page 499 of this committee meeting schedule."

Obama Says He May Or May Not Let the NSA Exploit the Next Heartbleed 134

An anonymous reader writes "The White House has joined the public debate about Heartbleed. The administration denied any prior knowledge of Heartbleed, and said the NSA should reveal such flaws once discovered. Unfortunately, this statement was hedged. The NSA should reveal these flaws unless 'a clear national security or law enforcement need' exists. Since that can be construed to apply to virtually any situation, we're left with the same dilemma as before: do we take them at their word or not? The use of such an exploit is certainly not without precedent: 'The NSA made use of four "zero day" vulnerabilities in its attack on Iran's nuclear enrichment sites. That operation, code-named "Olympic Games," managed to damage roughly 1,000 Iranian centrifuges, and by some accounts helped drive the country to the negotiating table.' A senior White House official is quoted saying, 'I can't imagine the president — any president — entirely giving up a technology that might enable him some day to take a covert action that could avoid a shooting war.'" Side note: CloudFlare has named several winners in its challenge to prove it was possible to steal private keys using the Heartbleed exploit.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Why No Executive Order To Stop NSA Metadata Collection? 312

An anonymous reader links to this editorial at Ars Technica which argues that "As chief executive, Obama has the power to reform the NSA on his own with the stroke of a pen. By not putting this initiative into an executive order, he punted to Congress on an issue that affects the civil liberties of most anybody who picks up a phone. Every day Congress waits on the issue is another day Americans' calling records are being collected by the government without suspicion that any crime was committed. 'He does not need congressional approval for this,' said Mark Jaycoxx, an Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney."
United States

German Report: Obama Aware of Merkel Spying Since 2010 280

First time accepted submitter pupsocket writes "Yesterday the German newspaper of record, Frankfurter Allgemeine, reported that the President told German Chancellor Merkel that he would have stopped the tap on her phone had he known about it. Today, another German paper, Bild am Sonntag, quoted U.S. Intelligence sources that the President had been briefed in 2010. 'Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue,' the newspaper quoted a high-ranking NSA official as saying."

NSA Can Spy On Data From Smart Phones, Including Blackberry 298

An anonymous reader writes with a report from Spiegel Online that the U.S. government "has the capability of tapping user data from the iPhone, [and] devices using Android as well as BlackBerry, a system previously believed to be highly secure. The United States' National Security Agency intelligence-gathering operation is capable of accessing user data from smart phones from all leading manufacturers. ... The documents state that it is possible for the NSA to tap most sensitive data held on these smart phones, including contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information about where a user has been." As a bonus, the same reader points out a Washington Post report according to which "The Obama administration secretly won permission from a surveillance court in 2011 to reverse restrictions on the National Security Agency's use of intercepted phone calls and e-mails, permitting the agency to search deliberately for Americans' communications in its massive databases ... In addition, the court extended the length of time that the NSA is allowed to retain intercepted U.S. communications from five years to six years — and more under special circumstances, according to the documents, which include a recently released 2011 opinion by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

New Jersey Congressman Seeks To Bar NSA Backdoors In Encryption 200

Frosty P writes "Congressman Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, has proposed legislation (summary, full text) that would prohibit the agency from installing 'back doors' into encryption, the electronic scrambling that protects e-mail, online transactions and other communications. Representative Holt, a physicist, said Friday that he believed the NSA was overreaching and could hurt American interests, including the reputations of American companies whose products the agency may have altered or influenced. 'We pay them to spy,' Mr. Holt said. 'But if in the process they degrade the security of the encryption we all use, it's a net national disservice.'"
United States

The CIA Is Closing the Office That Declassifies Historical Documents 67

Daniel_Stuckey writes "As a result of the sequester-induced budget cuts, the CIA is closing the Historical Collections Division office, which declassifies historical documents, and transferring the divisions responsibilities to the office that handles FOIA requests. The Historical Collections Division is described on its website as 'an important part of CIA's ongoing effort to be more open and to provide for more public accountability.' It is a 'voluntary declassification program that focuses on records of historical value,' including information on the Vietnam War, spy satellites, the Bay of Pigs and other historical scandals and operations."

Obama Administration Overrules iPhone Trade Ban 397

Back in June, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued an import ban on the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 3G due to patent violations. Now, the White House has exercised its privilege to overrule the ban. In his letter to the ITC (PDF), Ambassador Michael Froman said 'he was not making a decision about the merits of Samsung's case, or its right to seek compensation. Rather, he emphasized that because the patent in question was now a widely held technology standard, banning the products in question would be too disruptive to consumers and the economy.' This is the first time an ITC decision has been overruled since 1987.

FBI Quietly Forms Secretive Net-Surveillance Unit 130

An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from CNET: "CNET has learned that the FBI has formed a Domestic Communications Assistance Center, which is tasked with developing new electronic surveillance technologies, including intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications. 'The big question for me is why there isn't more transparency about what's going on?' asks Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group in San Francisco. 'We should know more about the program and what the FBI is doing. Which carriers they're working with — which carriers they're having problems with. They're doing the best they can to avoid being transparent.'"

Obama Administration Wants Your Old Email 639

Nemesisghost wrote to us with a story about attempts to reform the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Under the act, messages left on a server are considered abandoned after six months and are trivially subpoenaed by law enforcement. A group of ISPs is lobbying to extend the protections afforded to locally stored messages to messages stored on third party servers, but the Obama administration is urging Congress not to reform the law.

DHS Seized Domains Based On Bad Evidence 235

An anonymous reader writes "Back over Thanksgiving, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit (ICE) made a lot of news by seizing over 80 domain names. While many of these involved sites that sold counterfeit products, five of the domains involved copyright issues. Four of them involved hiphop-related blogs — including ones that hiphop stars like Kanye West and others used to promote their own works, and the last one was a meta search engine that simply aggregated other search engines. Weeks went by without the owners of those sites even being told why their domains were seized, but the affidavit for the seizure of those five sites has recently come out, and it's full of all sorts of problems. Not only was it put together by a recent college graduate, who claimed that merely linking to news and blog posts about file sharing constituted evidence of copyright infringement, it listed as evidence of infringement songs that labels specifically sent these blogs to promote. Also, what becomes clear is that the MPAA was instrumental in 'guiding' ICE's rookie agent in going after these sites, as that appeared to be the only outside expertise relied on in determining if these sites should be seized."

Artificial intelligence has the same relation to intelligence as artificial flowers have to flowers. -- David Parnas