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Government

EPA Website Removes Climate Science Site From Public View After Two Decades (washingtonpost.com) 143

Last week there were reports that the EPA climate change website was set to be taken down, though later the EPA denied that. On Friday evening, however, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its website would be "undergoing changes" to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information (paywalled; alternative source). From a report on The Washington Post: One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA's new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration's Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions. The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration's rollbacks of former president Barack Obama's climate policies.
Earth

Trump Order Helps Offshore Drilling, Stops Marine Sanctuary Expansion (arstechnica.com) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In an executive order signed on Friday, President Trump directed his secretary of the interior to review current rules on offshore drilling and exploration. This review is likely to result in a relaxation of the strict protections the previous administration put on offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic and in the Arctic. According to the Washington Post, a review of the rules is likely to "make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing." At the same time, Trump's executive order directed the secretary of commerce to cease designating new marine sanctuaries or expanding any that already exist. According to USA Today, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is also "directed to review all designations and expansions of marine monuments or sanctuaries designated under the Antiquities Act within the last 10 years." The Post says this "includes Hawaii's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Obama quadrupled in size last year, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off Massachusetts." Although these reviews could take some time to complete, they put in motion a bid to favor extraction industries like oil and gas mining. "Today, we're unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying energy jobs," Trump reportedly told the Associated Press.
Government

NSA Halts Collection of Americans' Emails About Foreign Targets (nytimes.com) 48

The NSA is stopping one of the most disputed forms of its warrantless surveillance program (alternative source), one in which it collects Americans' emails and texts to and from people overseas and that mention a foreigner under surveillance, NYTimes reports on Friday citing officials familiar with the matter. From the report: National security officials have argued that such surveillance is lawful and helpful in identifying people who might have links to terrorism, espionage or otherwise are targeted for intelligence-gathering. The fact that the sender of such a message would know an email address or phone number associated with a surveillance target is grounds for suspicion, these officials argued. [...] The N.S.A. made the change to resolve problems it was having complying with special rules imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 to protect Americans' privacy. For technical reasons, the agency ended up collecting messages sent and received domestically as a byproduct of such surveillance, the officials said.
Facebook

Facebook Pledges To Crack Down on Government-led Misinformation Campaigns (theverge.com) 107

Facebook is pressing its enforcement against what it calls "information operations" -- bad actors who use the platform to spread fake news and false propaganda. From a report: The company, which published a report on the subject today, defines these operations as government-led campaigns -- or those from organized "non-state actors" -- to promote lies, sow confusion and chaos among opposing political groups, and destabilize movements in other countries. The goal of these operations, the report says, is to manipulate public opinion and serve geopolitical ends. The actions go beyond the posting of fake news stories. The 13-page report specifies that fake news can be motivated by a number of incentives, but that it becomes part of a larger information operation when its coupled with other tactics and end goals. Facebook says these include friend requests sent under false names to glean more information about the personal networks of spying targets and hacking targets, the boosting of false or misleading stories through mass "liking" campaigns, and the creation propaganda groups. The company defines these actions as "targeted data collection," "false amplification," and "content creation." Facebook plans to target these accounts by monitoring for suspicious activity, like bursts of automated actions on the site, to enact mass banning of accounts.
Government

FCC Announces Plan To Reverse Title II Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 201

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Federal Communications Commission is cracking open the net neutrality debate again with a proposal to undo the 2015 rules that implemented net neutrality with Title II classification. FCC chairman Ajit Pai called the rules "heavy handed" and said their implementation was "all about politics." He argued that they hurt investment and said that small internet providers don't have "the means or the margins" to withstand the regulatory onslaught. "Earlier today I shared with my fellow commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light touch framework that served us so well during the Clinton administration, Bush administration, and first six years of the Obama administration," Pai said today. His proposal will do three things: first, it'll reclassify internet providers as Title I information services; second, it'll prevent the FCC from adapting any net neutrality rules to practices that internet providers haven't thought up yet; and third, it'll open questions about what to do with several key net neutrality rules -- like no blocking or throttling of apps and websites -- that were implemented in 2015. Pai will publish the full text of his proposal tomorrow, and it will be voted on by the FCC on May 18th.
Government

Energy Star Program For Homes And Appliances Is On Trump's Chopping Block (npr.org) 272

Appliance manufacturers and home builders are in Washington, D.C., today to celebrate a popular energy efficiency program, even as it's slated for elimination in President Trump's proposed budget. NPR adds: You probably know the program's little blue label with the star -- the Environmental Protection Agency says 90 percent of U.S. households do. [...] The 25-year-old Energy Star program appears to be targeted simply because it's run by the federal government. It's one of 50 EPA programs that would be axed under Trump's budget plan, which would shrink the agency's funding by more than 30 percent. Critics of Energy Star say the government should get involved in the marketplace only when absolutely necessary. But that argument doesn't hold sway for the program's legions of supporters, which span nonprofits, companies and trade groups.
Government

The EPA Won't Be Shutting Down Its Open Data Website After All (mashable.com) 43

An anonymous reader shares an article: Scientists and data experts are closely tracking the websites of federal agencies, noting changes to pages dealing with climate change and energy since President Donald Trump took office. On Monday, they noticed an alarming message posted to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) open data website, indicating it would shut down on Friday, April 28. [...] By Monday afternoon, visitors to Open Data received a different pop-up notification, which clarifies that data on the site will still be available come Friday.
Google

In The First Months of Trump Era, Facebook And Apple Spent More On Lobbying Than They Ever Have (buzzfeed.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: According to federal lobbying disclosures filed Thursday, Facebook and Apple set their all-time record high for spending in a single quarter. Facebook spent $3.2 million lobbying the federal government in the first months of the Trump era. During the same period last year, Facebook spent $2.8 million (about 15% less). The company lobbied both chambers of Congress, the White House, and six federal agencies on issues including high-tech worker visas, network neutrality, internet privacy, encryption, and international taxation. Facebook was the 12th-highest spender out of any company and second-highest in tech. [...] Apple spent $1.4 million, which is just $50,000 more than during the final months of the Obama presidency, when it set its previous record, but the most it has ever spent in a single quarter. Apple lobbied on issues including government requests for data, the regulation of mobile health apps, and self-driving cars. Google, once again, outspent every other technology company. It was 10th overall, tallying $3.5 million.
Television

FCC Takes First Step Toward Allowing More Broadcast TV Mergers (theverge.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a divided vote today, the Federal Communications Commission took steps that could lead to more consolidation among TV broadcasters, reducing the number of sources of local news. Today's changes revolve around the media ownership cap -- a limit on how many households a TV or radio broadcaster is allowed to reach. The rules are meant to promote diversity of media ownership, giving consumers access to different content and viewpoints. The cap currently prevents a company from reaching no more than 39 percent of U.S. households with broadcast TV. Large broadcasters hate the cap because it prevents them from getting even bigger. And since Trump took office and Ajit Pai was named chairman of the FCC, they've been lobbying to have it revised. The FCC's vote today starts to do that. First, it reinstates a rule known as the "UHF discount," which lets broadcasters have a bigger reach in areas where they use a certain type of technology. And second, it starts plans to revisit and raise the media ownership cap.
Government

President Trump Misses 90-Day Deadline To Appoint a Cybersecurity Team After Alleged Russian Hacking (politico.com) 342

From a report: President-elect Donald Trump was very clear: "I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office," he said in January, after getting a U.S. intelligence assessment of Russian interference in last year's elections and promising to address cybersecurity. Thursday, Trump hits his 90-day mark. There is no team, there is no plan, and there is no clear answer from the White House on who would even be working on what. It's the latest deadline Trump's set and missed -- from the press conference he said his wife would hold last fall to answer questions about her original immigration process to the plan to defeat ISIS that he'd said would come within his first 30 days in office. Since his inauguration, Trump's issued a few tweets and promises to get to the bottom of Russian hacking -- and accusations of surveillance of Americans, himself included, by the Obama administration.
Education

TED Wants To Remind Us That Ideas -- Not Politicians -- Shape the Future (qz.com) 263

An anonymous reader shares a Quartz report: Amid global political upheavals, TED curator Chris Anderson argues that ideas have never mattered more. "Ideas changes how people act and [shape] their long term perspective," he said in during a April 17 press briefing. "Politicians come and go and ideas are forever." He said TED -- two segments of which will be broadcast live in movie theaters this year -- wants to re-introduce civility into political discourse. "We want to avoid the zero sum game we see on cable television every day," said Anderson, noting that TED is a non-partisan organization and has historically featured controversial and intriguing thinkers from both sides of the political divide. In place of the shrill, headline-bait tenor of political spectacles, TED wants to take viewers to a place of "reasoned discourse" where big ideas can act as a bridge between opposing views. By creating an eclectic program -- including an entire session delivered in Spanish and another on artificial intelligence -- Anderson said he wants to steer the conversation away from government and politics. "With so much focus in politics, the world is in danger of forgetting that so much of what really changes the future happens outside completely of politics. It happens inside the mind of dreamers, designers, inventors, technologists, entrepreneurs," he said.
United States

Steve Ballmer's New Project: Find Out How the Government Spends Your Money (theverge.com) 249

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer isn't satisfied with owning the Los Angeles Clippers and teaching at Stanford and USC. On Tuesday, the billionaire announced USAFacts, his new startup that aims to improve political discourse by making government financial data easier to access. A small "army" of economists, professors and other professionals will be looking into and publishing data structured similarly to the 10-K filings companies issue each year -- expenses, revenues and key metrics pulled from dozens of government data sources and compiled into a single massive collection of tables. From a report on The Verge: The nonpartisan site traces $5.4 trillion in government spending under four categories derived from language in the US Constitution. Defense spending, for example, is categorized under the header "provide for the common defense," while education spending is under "secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity." Spending allocation and revenue sources are each mapped out in blue and pink graphics, with detailed breakdowns along federal, state and local lines. Users can also search for specific datasets, such as airport revenue or crime rates, and the site includes a report of "risk factors" that could inhibit economic growth. The New York Times has the story on how this startup came to be.
Businesses

Trump To Overhaul H-1B Visa Program To Encourage Hiring Americans (theguardian.com) 619

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In a bid to court working class voters, Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday to revamp a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to fill jobs in the U.S. The president will use a visit to a manufacturing company in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a crucial state he snatched from Hillary Clinton in the election, to promote his latest "Buy America Hire America" offensive. Trump's executive order will call on government departments to introduce reforms to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the "most skilled or highest paid applicants," a senior administration official said. The executive order will also call for the "strict enforcement" of laws governing entry to the U.S. of labor from overseas, with a view to creating higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers. The order will also call on government departments to "take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse" in the immigration system, a senior administration official said. The administration official sad: "Right now H-1B visas are awarded by random lottery and many of you will be surprised to know that about 80% of H-1B workers are paid less than the median wage in their fields. Only 5% to 6%, depending on the year, of H-1B workers command the highest wage tier recognized by the Department of Labor. [...] If you change that current system that awards visas randomly, without regard for skill or wage, to a skills-based awarding, it makes it extremely difficult to use the visa to replace or undercut American workers [...] It's a very elegant way of solving very systemic problems in the H-1B guest worker visa."
Government

Trump Administration Kills Open.Gov, Will Not Release White House Visitor Logs (techdirt.com) 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Techdirt: It will never be said that the Trump presidency began with a presumption of openness. His pre-election refusal to release his tax returns set a bit of precedent in that regard. The immediate post-election muffling of government agency social media accounts made the administration's opacity goals um clearer. So, in an unsurprising move, the Trump administration will be doing the opposite of the Obama administration. The American public will no longer have the privilege of keeping tabs on White House visitors. TIME reports: "The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday. White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to 'the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.' Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are 'presidential records' and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act." So, to further distance himself from the people he serves (and the people who elected him), Trump and his administration have shut down the transparency portal put in place by the previous Commander-in-Chief: "White House officials said the Administration is ending the contract for Open.gov, the Obama-era site that hosted the visitor records along with staff financial disclosures, salaries, and appointments. An official said it would save $70,000 through 2020 and that the removed disclosures, salaries and appointments would be integrated into WhiteHouse.gov in the coming months."
Government

GOP Congressman Defending Privacy Vote: 'Nobody's Got To Use The Internet' (washingtonpost.com) 307

Wisconsin congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. defended his decision to help repeal broadband privacy rules by telling a constituent, "Nobody's got to use the Internet." An anonymous reader quotes the 73-year-old congressman: "And the thing is that if you start regulating the Internet like a utility, if we did that right at the beginning, we would have no Internet... Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal service now. The fact is is that, you know, I don't think it's my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it, and then you take it upon yourself to make that choice... That's what the law has been, and I think we ought to have more choices rather than fewer choices with the government controlling our everyday lives."
"The congressman then moved on to the next question," reports The Washington Post, but criticism of his remarks appeared on social media. One activist complained that the congressman's position was don't use the internet if you don't want your information sold to advertisers -- drawing a clarification from the congressman's office.

"Actually he said that nobody has to use the Internet. They have a choice. Big difference."
Government

No More IP Addresses For Countries That Shut Down Internet Access (theregister.co.uk) 141

Governments that cut off internet access to their citizens could find themselves refused new IP addresses under a proposal put forward by one of the five global IP allocation organizations. From a report: The suggested clampdown will be considered at the next meeting of internet registry Afrinic in Botswana in June: Afrinic is in charge of managing and allocating IP address blocks across Africa. Under the proposal, a new section would be added to Afrinic's official rules that would allow the organization to refuse to hand over any new IP address to a country for 12 months if it is found to have ordered an internet shutdown. The ban would cover all government-owned entities and others that have a "direct provable relationship with said government." It would also cover any transfer of address space to those entities from others. That withdrawal of services would escalate if the country continued to pull the plug on internet access. Under the proposal: "In the event of a government performing three or more such shutdowns in a period of 10 years -- all resources to the aforementioned entities shall be revoked and no allocations to said entities shall occur for a period of 5 years."
Government

US Dismantles Forensic Science Commission (washingtonpost.com) 281

hondo77 writes a report via Washington Post: Thought the Trump Administration's war on science was just about climate change? Think again. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers," reports Washington Post. The National Commission on Forensic Science, "jointly led by Justice and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has prompted several changes," including "new accrediting and ethical codes for forensic labs and practitioners" and the FBI abandoning "its four-decade-long practice of tracing bullets to a specific manufacturer's batch through chemical analyses after its method were scientifically debunked." "The availability of prompt and accurate forensic science analysis to our law enforcement officers and prosecutors is critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime, and increasing public safety," Sessions said in the statement. "We applaud the professionalism of the National Commission on Forensic Science and look forward to building on the contributions it has made in this crucial field."
Businesses

Sorry America, Your Taxes Aren't High (bloomberg.com) 903

Americans generally feel they're being over-taxed, especially around this time of the year. But is that really true? An article on Bloomberg investigates: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development analyzed how 35 countries tax wage-earners, making it possible to compare tax burdens across the world's biggest economies. Each year, the OECD measures what it calls the "tax wedge," the gap between what a worker gets paid and what they actually spend or save. Included are income taxes, payroll taxes, and any tax credits or rebates that supplement worker income. Excluded are the countless other ways that governments levy taxes, such as sales and value-added taxes, property taxes, and taxes on investment income and gains. Guess who came out at the top of the list? No. Not the U.S. At the top are Belgium and France, while workers in Chile and New Zealand are taxed the least. America is in the bottom third.
Government

Russian Arrested in Spain 'Over US Election Hacking' (bbc.com) 312

Spanish police have arrested a Russian programmer for alleged involvement in "hacking" the US election, BBC reported Monday, citing local press reports. From the report: Pyotr Levashov, arrested on 7 April in Barcelona, has now been remanded in custody. A "legal source" also told the AFP news agency that Mr Levashov was the subject of an extradition request by the US. The request is due to be examined by Spain's national criminal court, the agency added. El Confidencial, a Spanish news website, has said that Mr Levashov's arrest warrant was issued by US authorities over suspected "hacking" that helped Donald Trump's campaign.
Social Networks

The Trump Administration No Longer Wants Twitter To Reveal the Owner of an Anti-Trump Account (recode.net) 92

From a report on Recode: The Trump administration informed Twitter on Friday that it would withdraw its demand that the social media company unmask an account critical of the president -- a move that prompted Twitter to drop its lawsuit. On Thursday, Twitter revealed that U.S. customs agents filed a legal order in a bid to get the company to reveal who is behind @ALT_USCIS -- a so-called "alt-agency" account that has been taking aim at Trump, his immigration policy and the inner workings of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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