The Courts

Supreme Court Set To Hear Landmark Online Sales Tax Case (gizmodo.com) 246

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could at least somewhat clarify Donald Trump's complaints about Amazon "not paying internet taxes." It will also decide if those cheap deals on NewEgg are going to be less of a steal. The case concerns the state of South Dakota versus online retailers Wayfront, NewEgg, and Overstock.com in a battle over whether or not state sales tax should apply to all online transactions in the U.S., regardless of where the customer or retailer is located. It promises to have an impact on the internet's competition with brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as continue to address the ongoing legal questions surrounding real-world borders in the borderless world of online.
United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement (axios.com) 116

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.

Microsoft

Microsoft Fights Search Warrants for Overseas Emails in the Supreme Court (microsoft.com) 68

Microsoft's Chief Legal Officer writes about "the landmark Microsoft case that will decide whether the U.S. government can use a search warrant to force a company to seize a customer's private emails stored in Ireland and import them to the United States." On Thursday, 289 different groups and individuals from 37 countries signed 23 different legal briefs supporting Microsoft's position that Congress never gave law enforcement the power to ignore treaties and breach Ireland's sovereignty in this way. How could it? The government relies on a law that was enacted in 1986, before anyone conceived of cloud computing... When the U.S. government requires a tech company to execute a warrant for emails stored overseas, the provider must search a foreign datacenter and make a copy abroad, and then import that copy to the United States. This creates a complex issue with huge international consequences. It shouldn't be resolved by taking the law to a place it was never intended to go...

The U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to seize foreign customers' emails from other countries ignores borders, treaties and international law, as well as the laws those countries have in place to protect the privacy of their own citizens... It's also a path that will lead to the doorsteps of American homes by putting the privacy of U.S. citizens' emails at risk. If the U.S. government obtains the power to search and seize foreign citizens' private communications physically stored in other countries, it will invite other governments to do the same thing. If we ignore other countries' laws, how can we demand that they respect our laws?

Amicus briefs supporting Microsoft have been filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Ireland, France, and the European Commission and European privacy regulators. Microsoft even notes that on this issue, "Fox News agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union."
Businesses

What Happens When States Have Their Own Net Neutrality Rules? (bloomberg.com) 179

Last month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai dismantled Obama-era rules on net neutrality. A handful of lawmakers in liberal-leaning U.S. states plan to spend this year building them back up. FCC anticipated the move -- the commission's rules include language forbidding states from doing this, warning against an unwieldy patchwork of regulations. But lawmakers in New York and California aren't aiming to be exceptions to the national rules; they're looking to, in effect, create their own. From a report: In New York, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy introduced a bill that would make it a requirement for internet providers to adhere to the principles of net neutrality as a requirement for landing state contracts. This would mean they couldn't block or slow down certain web traffic, and couldn't offer faster speeds to companies who pay them directly. Fahy said the restrictions on contractors would apply even if the behaviors in question took place outside New York. She acknowledged that the approach could run afoul of limits on states attempting to regulate interstate commerce, but thought the bill could "thread the needle." Even supporters of state legislation on net neutrality think this may go too far. California State Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill this week that would only apply to behavior within the state, saying any other approach would be too vulnerable to legal challenge.

But this wouldn't be the first time a large state threw around its weight in ways that reverberate beyond its borders. The texbook industry, for instance, has long accommodated the standards of California and Texas. [...] The internet doesn't lend itself cleanly to state lines. It could be difficult for Comcast or Verizon to accept money from services seeking preferential treatment in one state, then make sure that its network didn't reflect those relationships in places where state lawmakers forbade them, said Geoffrey Manne, executive director of the International Center for Law & Economics, a research group.

China

Facial Recognition Algorithms -- Plus 1.8 Billion Photos -- Leads to 567 Arrests in China (scmp.com) 168

"Our machines can very easily recognise you among at least 2 billion people in a matter of seconds," says the chief executive and co-founder of Yitu. The South China Morning Post reports: Yitu's Dragonfly Eye generic portrait platform already has 1.8 billion photographs to work with: those logged in the national database and you, if you have visited China recently... 320 million of the photos have come from China's borders, including ports and airports, where pictures are taken of everyone who enters and leaves the country. According to Yitu, its platform is also in service with more than 20 provincial public security departments, and is used as part of more than 150 municipal public security systems across the country, and Dragonfly Eye has already proved its worth. On its very first day of operation on the Shanghai Metro, in January, the system identified a wanted man when he entered a station. After matching his face against the database, Dragonfly Eye sent his photo to a policeman, who made an arrest. In the following three months, 567 suspected lawbreakers were caught on the city's underground network. The system has also been hooked up to security cameras at various events; at the Qingdao International Beer Festival, for example, 22 wanted people were apprehended.

Whole cities in which the algorithms are working say they have seen a decrease in crime. According to Yitu, which says it gets its figures directly from the local authorities, since the system has been implemented, pickpocketing on Xiamen's city buses has fallen by 30 per cent; 500 criminal cases have been resolved by AI in Suzhou since June 2015; and police arrested nine suspects identified by algorithms during the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou. Dragonfly Eye has even identified the skull of a victim five years after his murder, in Zhejiang province.

The company's CEO says it's impossible for police to patrol large cities like Shanghai (population: 24,000,000) without using technology.

And one Chinese bank is already testing facial-recognition algorithms hoping to develop ATMs that let customers withdraw money just by showing their faces.
Bitcoin

SEC Warns 'Extreme Caution' Over Cryptocurrency Investments As Many People Take Out Mortgages To Buy Bitcoin (qz.com) 233

The head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission has warned bitcoin and other cryptocurrency investors to beware of scams and criminal activity in the sector. In the financial regulator's strongest statement yet, SEC chair Jay Clayton said: "If a promoter guarantees returns, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, or if you are pressured to act quickly, please exercise extreme caution and be aware of the risk that your investment may be lost." The warning comes at a time when many people have begun to take out mortgages to buy bitcoin. From a report: Clayton's statement was also issued the same day the SEC took regulatory action to halt an initial coin offering (ICO). "Recognize that these markets span national borders and that significant trading may occur on systems and platforms outside the United States. Your invested funds may quickly travel overseas without your knowledge," he wrote, in a sentence that was in bold. Clayton's statement referenced some of the crucial debates that have swirled around the rise and regulation of crypto-assets like bitcoins. Are these currencies? Commodities? Or securities? The statement notes in a footnote that bitcoin in the US has been designated a commodity. But the broader answer seems to be that while it depends from case to case, initial coin offerings, at least, are more likely to be scrutinized and held to the same bar as securities offerings.
Censorship

Apple, Google CEOs Bring Star Power as China Promotes Censorship (bloomberg.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China's World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. Apple's chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China's most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China's top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders. It was Cook's second appearance in China in two months, following a meeting with President Xi Jinping in October. The iPhone maker has most of its products manufactured in the country and is trying to regain market share in smartphones against local competitors such as Huawei. "The theme of this conference -- developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits -- is a vision we at Apple share," Cook said. "We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."
Social Networks

Thirty Countries Use 'Armies of Opinion Shapers' To Manipulate Democracy (theguardian.com) 181

The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows. From a report on The Guardian: Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House. "Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate," the US government-funded charity said. "Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russia's disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power."
China

China Spreads Propaganda to U.S. on Facebook, a Platform it Bans at Home (nytimes.com) 103

Paul Mozur, reporting for the New York Times: China does not allow its people to gain access to Facebook, a powerful tool for disseminating information and influencing opinion. As if to demonstrate the platform's effectiveness, outside its borders China uses it to spread state-produced propaganda around the world, including the United States (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). So much do China's government and companies value Facebook that the country is Facebook's biggest advertising market in Asia, even as it is the only major country in the region that blocks the social network. A look at the Facebook pages of China Central Television, the leading state-owned broadcast network better known as CCTV, and Xinhua, China's official news agency, reveals hundreds of English-language posts intended for an English-speaking audience. Each quarter China's government, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads, according to a person with knowledge of those deals, who was unauthorized to talk publicly about the company's revenue streams. China's propaganda efforts are in the spotlight with President Trump visiting the country and American lawmakers investigating foreign powers's use of technology to sway voters in the United States.
The Almighty Buck

North Korea Could Be Secretly Mining Cryptocurrency On Your Computer (qz.com) 102

An anonymous reader shares a report: North Korea has a cryptocurrency infatuation. Its government has been accused of unleashing a global ransomware attack to raise bitcoin, mining the cryptocurrency within its borders, and hacking South Korean bitcoin exchanges. Now, research firm Recorded Future says there's a strong chance Kim Jong-un's regime is experimenting with malware that secretly mines currency using other people's computers. Malware crypto-mining is a new global trend among hackers, says a new report from Recorded Future, which monitors discussions among "the criminal underground" on the so-called dark web. Starting this year, hackers seem to be shifting away from high-intensity, widespread ransomware attacks, towards "long-term, low velocity" crypto-mining in the background. Recorded Future has not detected specific instances of North Korean malware mining, but believes that the regime has the knowhow, motive, and interest in cryptocurrencies to execute similar attacks. "North Korean threat actors have prior experience in assembling and managing botnets, bitcoin mining, and cryptocurrency theft, as well as in custom altering publicly available malware; three elements that would be key to effectively creating and managing a network of covert cryptocurrency miners," Recorded Future's report reads.
Biotech

Should Zambia Allow The Testing of Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes? (nhregister.com) 133

More than 400,000 lives are lost every year to malaria, reports the New York Post. But Thursday Science published two new studies on promisings ways to fight malaria -- with genetic engineering. The first study focused on whether mosquitoes that have been genetically modified to be more resistant to the malaria-causing parasite would become weaker and less able to mate and breed... The study, led by mosquito vector biologist George Dimopoulos, found that one type of genetically modified mosquito not only bred well, but became more attractive to normal mosquitoes... Within one generation, the mosquito population was becoming 90 percent genetically modified... The results suggest the genetically modified mosquitoes would not just thrive but could possibly drive their genetic immunity to the malaria parasite into mosquito populations to which they are introduced.

The second study published Thursday uses genetic modification of bacteria found inside mosquitoes to fight malaria. Researchers genetically modified a type of bacteria, which caused it to secrete a substance inside the mosquitoes' gut that kills off the malaria-causing parasite before it can develop properly... the genetically modified versions of the bacteria automatically spread to offspring in generation after generation, the researchers found. The next step for both approaches -- the genetically modified mosquitoes and bacteria -- is to test if they work outside the lab in conditions simulating nature. Johns Hopkins has built a "mosquito house" research facility in Zambia designed specifically for such experiments... But the researchers must first convince the Zambian government to allow their genetically modified subjects into its borders.

Privacy

Trump Administration Sued Over Phone Searches at US Borders (reuters.com) 138

The Trump administration has engaged in an unconstitutional practice of searching without a warrant the phones and laptops of Americans who are stopped at the border, a lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleged. From a report: Ten U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident sued the Department of Homeland Security in federal court, saying the searches and prolonged confiscation of their electronic devices violate privacy and free speech protections of the U.S. Constitution. DHS could not be immediately reached for comment. The lawsuit comes as the number of searches of electronic devices has surged in recent years, alarming civil rights advocates.
EU

EU Court to Rule On 'Right to Be Forgotten' Outside Europe (wsj.com) 182

The European Union's top court is set to decide whether the bloc's "right to be forgotten" policy stretches beyond Europe's borders, a test of how far national laws can -- or should -- stretch when regulating cyberspace. From a report: The case stems from France, where the highest administrative court on Wednesday asked the EU's Court of Justice to weigh in on a dispute between Alphabet's Google and France's privacy regulator over how broadly to apply the right (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), which allows EU residents to ask search engines to remove some links from searches for their own names. At issue: Can France force Google to apply it not just to searches in Europe, but anywhere in the world? The case will set a precedent for how far EU regulators can go in enforcing the bloc's strict new privacy law. It will also help define Europe's position on clashes between governments over how to regulate everything that happens on the internet -- from political debate to online commerce. France's regulator says enforcement of some fundamental rights -- like personal privacy -- is too easily circumvented on the borderless internet, and so must be implemented everywhere. Google argues that allowing any one country to apply its rules globally risks upsetting international law and, when it comes to content, creates a global censorship race among autocrats.
The Internet

NSA 'Traffic Shaping' Can Divert US Internet Traffic For Easier Monitoring (zdnet.com) 78

schwit1 shares an article from ZDNet: A new analysis of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden details a highly classified technique that allows the National Security Agency to "deliberately divert" U.S. internet traffic, normally safeguarded by constitutional protections, overseas in order to conduct unrestrained data collection on Americans. According to the new analysis, the NSA has clandestine means of "diverting portions of the river of internet traffic that travels on global communications cables," which allows it to bypass protections put into place by Congress to prevent domestic surveillance on Americans.

The new findings follow a 2014 paper by researchers Axel Arnbak and Sharon Goldberg, published on sister-site CBS News, which theorized that the NSA, whose job it is to produce intelligence from overseas targets, was using a "traffic shaping" technique to route US internet data overseas so that it could be incidentally collected under the authority of a largely unknown executive order... The research cites several ways the NSA is actively exploiting methods to shape and reroute internet traffic -- many of which are well-known in security and networking circles -- such as hacking into routers or using the simpler, less legally demanding option of forcing major network providers or telecoms firms into cooperating and diverting traffic to a convenient location.

China

China's Unprecedented Cyber Law Signals Its Intent To Protect a Precious Commodity: Data (technologyreview.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: An aggressive new cybersecurity and data protection law in China that goes into effect today will have global ripple effects, and could serve as a model for other governments. But the Chinese government has also left many parts of the law vague -- likely an intentional move meant to allow the country to stake out its own sense of "cyber sovereignty" while waiting to see how the U.S., Europe, and others decide to regulate the flow of data across international borders. The new law is a resounding announcement from China that it intends to be a global player in controlling perhaps the most precious commodity of the digital economy: data. It's hard to know how the law will actually change things because the most controversial aspects of it are so vague. Among them is a requirement that certain companies submit their products to the government for cybersecurity checks, which may even involve reviewing source code. How often it would be required, and how the government will determine which products must be reviewed is unknown. This could come into play as part of China's broader regulatory push to expand law enforcement's power to access data during criminal investigations. Another vague directive calls for companies to store certain data within the country's borders, in the interest of safeguarding sensitive information from espionage or other foreign meddling. The government has delayed the implementation of this change until the end of 2018, however.
EU

EU Passes 'Content Portability' Rules Banning Geofencing (torrentfreak.com) 119

Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo writes: The European Parliament has passed draft rules mandating 'content portability', i.e. the ability to take your purchased content and services across borders within the EU. Freedom of movement rules, which allow EU citizens to live and work anywhere in the EU, require that the individual is able to take their life with them -- family, property, and services. Under the new rules, someone who pays for Netflix or BBC iPlayer and then moves to another EU country will retain access to those services and the same content they had previously. Separately, rules to prevent geofencing of content within the EU entirely are also moving forward.
Databases

Facial Recognition Database Used By FBI Is Out of Control, House Committee Hears (theguardian.com) 90

The House oversight committee claims the FBI's facial recognition database is out of control, noting that "no federal law controls this technology" and "no court decision limits it." At last week's House oversight committee hearing, politicians and privacy campaigners presented several "damning facts" about the databases. "About 80% of photos in the FBI's network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver's licenses and passports," reports The Guardian. "The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are most likely to misidentify black people than white people." From the report: "Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation," said the committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, adding that in the private sector it can be used to protect financial transactions and prevent fraud or identity theft. "But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public." Furthermore, the rise of real-time face recognition technology that allows surveillance and body cameras to scan the faces of people walking down the street was, according to Chaffetz, "most concerning." "For those reasons and others, we must conduct proper oversight of this emerging technology," he said.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Three Privacy Groups Challenge The FBI's Malware-Obtained Evidence (eff.org) 118

In 2015 the FBI took over a Tor-accessible child pornography site to infect its users with malware so they could be identified and prosecuted. But now one suspect is challenging that evidence in court, with three different privacy groups filing briefs in his support. An anonymous reader writes. One EFF attorney argues it's a classic case of an unreasonable search, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. "If the FBI tried to get a single warrant to search 8,000 houses, such a request would unquestionably be denied." But there's another problem, since the FBI infected users in 120 different countries. "According to Privacy International, the case also raises important questions: What if a foreign country had carried out a similar hacking operation that affected U.S. citizens?" writes Computerworld. "Would the U.S. welcome this...? The U.S. was overstepping its bounds by conducting an investigation outside its borders without the consent of affected countries, the group said."
The FBI's evidence is also being challenged by the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the EFF plans to file two more challenges in March, warning that otherwise "the precedent is likely to impact the digital privacy rights of all Internet users for years to come... Courts need to send a very clear message that vague search warrants that lack the required specifics about who and what is to be searched won't be upheld."
United States

Donald Trump To Tech Leaders: 'No Formal Chain Of Command' Here (cnbc.com) 488

A confab of tech titans had a "productive" meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told CNBC, as Trump moved to mend fences with Silicon Valley before taking office in January. Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Oracle, IBM, Cisco and Tesla were among the C-suite executives in attendance, with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expected to get private briefings, according to transition staff. From the report: "We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation," Trump said. "There's no one like you in the world. ... anything we can do to help this go along, we're going to be there for you. You can call my people, call me -- it makes no difference -- we have no formal chain of command around here." At the meeting, Trump introduced billionaire Wilbur Ross, his Commerce secretary pick, and Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn, his choice for director of the National Economic Council. "They're going to do fair trade deals," Trump said. "They're going to make it easier for you to trade across borders, because there are a lot of restrictions, a lot of problems. If you have any ideas on that, that would be great."
Firefox

Mozilla Releases Firefox 50 (softpedia.com) 127

Mozilla has begun seeding the binary and source packages of the final release of Firefox 50 web browser on all supported platforms, including GNU/Linux and macOS. From a report on Softpedia: We have to admit that we expected to see some major features and improvements, but that hasn't happened. The biggest new feature of the Firefox 50.0 release appears to be emoji for everyone. That's right, the web browser now ships with built-in emoji for GNU/Linux distributions, as well as other operating systems that don't include native emoji fonts by default, such as Windows 8.0 and previous versions. Also new, Firefox 50.0 now shows lock icon strikethrough for web pages that offer insecure password fields. Another interesting change that landed in the Mozilla Firefox 50.0 web browser is the ability to cycle through tabs in recently used order using the Ctrl+Tab keyboard shortcut. Moreover, it's now possible to search for whole words only using the "Find in page" feature. Last but not the least, printing was improved as well by using the Reader Mode, which now uses the accel-(opt/alt)-r keyboard shortcut, the Guarana (gn) locale is now supported, the rendering of dotted and dashed borders with rounded corners (border-radius) has been fixed as well.

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