Berin Szoka is president and founder of the tech policy think tank TechFreedom. The group promotes a wide variety of digital rights and privacy issues. Most recently, they have started a petition demanding reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that law enforcement will have to get a warrant before accessing emails stored in the cloud. With so much attention paid to the NSA snooping, Berin believes that the over 25-year-old ECPA has been overshadowed and is in dire need of changes. Mr. Szoka has agreed to answer your questions about privacy and government policy online. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
sl4shd0rk writes "In 2012, Oracle took Google to court over Java. In the balance hung the legalities of writing code to mimic the functionality of copyrighted software. The trial was set to determine how all future software would be written (and by whom). Oracle's entire case boiled down to an inadvertent 9 lines of code; an argument over a simple and basic comparison of a range of numbers. The presiding judge (who had some background in writing software) didn't buy it stating he had 'written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times before.' A victory for more than just Google. This week, however, Microsoft, EMC, Oracle and Netapp have filed for appeal and seek to reverse the ruling. It's not looking good as the new bevy of judges Indicating they may side with Oracle on the issue."
doom writes "Ian Sample at the Guardian UK does a really thorough write-up of what's going on with the Fukushima Clean-up. From the article: 'Though delicate and painstaking, retrieving the fuel rod assemblies from the pools is not the toughest job the workers face. More challenging by far will be digging out the molten cores in the reactors themselves. Some of the fuel burned through its primary containment and is now mixed with cladding, steel and concrete. The mixture will have to be broken up, sealed in steel containers and moved to a nuclear waste storage site. That work will not start until some time after 2020.'"
tdog17 writes "China says it wants Microsoft to extend support for Windows XP because that will help in its fight to stop proliferation of pirated Microsoft software. A state copyright official says the release of Windows 8 means a substantial increase in the selling price of a Windows operating system, especially in light of the upcoming end-of-life of Windows XP, which is still used by a large percentage of Chinese. That could drive users to buy pirated copies of a new operating system because they are cheaper, he says."
An anonymous reader writes "There's a chronic shortage of tech savvy teacher all over Africa, and at the same time a strong belief that the tech economy is vital to growth. Enter Afrimakers, a crowdfunded project to visit tech hubs in seven continents and leave behind Arduino boards, Raspberry Pis, soldering kits and — most importantly — the smarts to use them. The Indiegogo fund opened up a week or so ago, and they've managed to raise enough for the first two countries so far."
sciencehabit writes "Analysis of the oldest known genetic material ever to be recovered from an early human reveals an unexpected chapter in the story of human evolution. Researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA from the femur of a 400,000-year-old hominin found in the Sima de los Huesos ('pit of bones'), an underground cave in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain. Because the early hominins looked a little like Neanderthals, researchers expected their mitochondrial DNA to share a common ancestor. However, mitochondrial DNA from the Spanish hominin was found to share a common ancestor with an enigmatic eastern Eurasian sister group to the Neanderthals, the Denisovans."
cartechboy writes "As car manufacturers battle over futuristic announcements of when autonomous cars will (allegedly) be sold, they are also starting to more seriously put self-driving technology to the test. Earlier this week several Japanese dignitaries drove — make that rode along — as an autonomous Nissan Leaf prototype completed its first public highway test near Tokyo. The Nissan Leaf electric car successfully negotiated a section of the Sagami Expressway southwest of Tokyo, with a local Governor and Nissan Vice Chairman Toshiyuki Shiga onboard. The test drive reached speeds of 50 mph and took place entirely automatically, though it was carried out with the cooperation of local authorities, who no doubt cleared traffic to make the test a little easier. Nissan has already stated its intent to offer a fully autonomous car for sale by 2020."
Ocean Consulting writes "CNN is reporting that over two million passwords from web service companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo have been captured via a key logging virus. The story is based on information released by security firm Trustwave. The report critiques how bad people are at making secure passwords, but does mention the use of Pony Botnet Controller."
First time accepted submitter Josiah Zayner writes "Katie Drummond at The Verge reports that 'the Infectious Diseases Society of America warned that the pipeline of new antibiotics was "on life support," with only seven drugs in advanced stages of development to treat multidrug-resistant gram-negative superbugs. That's in part because, unlike drugs prescribed to treat chronic conditions, antibiotics are only taken for a few days or weeks at a time — meaning they're less profitable for pharmaceutical companies.' Dr. Josiah Zayner, a synthetic biology fellow at NASA, and Dr. Mark Opal, a neurobiologist and drug development specialist have started an Indiegogo campaign: The ILIAD Project. ILIAD stands for the International Laboratory for Identification of Antibacterial Drugs. Contributors to the project will receive Science kits with all the materials needed for testing environmental samples, such as plants, insects, and bacteria, for antibiotic properties. The information will then be documented in Open manner on Wiki-style website to create the first Massively Multi-Scientist Open Experiment."
ckwu writes "As a way to generate renewable electricity, researchers have designed methods that harvest the energy released when fresh and saline water mix, such as when a river meets the sea. One such method is called pressure-retarded osmosis, where two streams of water, one saline and one fresh, meet in a cell divided by a semipermeable membrane. Osmosis drives the freshwater across the membrane to the saltier side, increasing the pressure in the saline solution. The system keeps this salty water pressurized and then releases the pressure to spin a turbine to generate electricity. Now a team at Yale University has created a prototype device that increases the power output of pressure-retarded osmosis by an order of magnitude. At a full-scale facility, the estimated cost of the electricity generated by such a system could be 20 to 30 cents per kWh, approaching the cost of other conventional renewable energy technologies."
sciencehabit writes "This morning, an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a lawsuit in a New York court in an attempt to get a judge to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons and should be freed from captivity. The suit is the first of three to be filed in three New York counties this week. They target two research chimps at Stony Brook University and two chimps on private property, and are the opening salvo in a coordinated effort to grant 'legal personhood' to a variety of animals across the United States. If NhRP is successful in New York, it would upend millennia of law defining animals as property and could set off a 'chain reaction' that could bleed over to other jurisdictions, says Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a prominent critic of animal rights. 'But if they lose it could be a giant step backward for the movement. They're playing with fire.'"
New submitter Raging Bool writes "The BBC is reporting that acquired phobias or aversions by mice can be passed on to subsequent generations. From the article: 'Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations. A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their 'grandchildren.''"
thomst writes "Robert Barnes of the Washington Post reports that the US Supreme Court has declined to hear petitions from Amazon.com and Overstock.com requesting that a decision by the New York State Supreme Court permitting that state's 2008 law requiring sales taxes be collected on Internet sales, even if the seller has no 'business presence' in New York. The New York Court of Appeals ruled that Amazon's relationship with third-party affiliates in the state that receive commissions for sending Web traffic its way satisfied the 'substantial nexus' necessary to force the company to collect taxes, and New York's Supreme Court had affirmed the ruling. The Federal high court's refusal to hear the petitions leaves the state law in effect, even though it appears to conflict with the Court's 1993 decision in Quill v. North Dakota."
Qedward writes "Volvo is starting a pilot project that aims to have 100 self-driving cars on Swedish public roads around the city of Gothenburg by 2017. The project is called 'Drive Me' and is a joint initiative between the Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg, Volvo said Monday. Together they will make an effort to eliminate deadly car crashes in Sweden, said Erik Coelingh, technical specialist at Volvo Car Group. In the next few years, Volvo will develop its Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) in its XC90 model. The goal is to have the first self-driving cars available to 100 consumers by 2017, Coelingh said. They will be able to let their cars navigate about 50 typical commuter arteries that include motorway conditions and frequent traffic jams in and around Gothenburg, the country's second largest city."
cagraham writes "According to IBM's latest Data Benchmark report, 21.8% of all online Black Friday sales were made from mobile devices. Mobile traffic, meanwhile, accounted for 39.7% of all Black Friday traffic. Interestingly, iOS users accounted for 18.1% of online sales, while Android users accounted for just 3.5%. The data come from IBM's real-time monitoring over 800 U.S. online retailers. The report also notes that tablets generated less traffic than smartphones, but accounted for almost twice the number of sales. Overall, online sales for Black Friday grew 18.9% year-over-year."