Privacy

Repo Men Scan Billions of License Plates -- For the Government (washingtonpost.com) 162

The Washington Post notes the billions of license plate scans coming from modern repo men "able to use big data to find targets" -- including one who drives "a beat-up Ford Crown Victoria sedan." It had four small cameras mounted on the trunk and a laptop bolted to the dash. The high-speed cameras captured every passing license plate. The computer contained a growing list of hundreds of thousands of vehicles with seriously late loans. The system could spot a repossession in an instant. Even better, it could keep tabs on a car long before the loan went bad... Repo agents are the unpopular foot soldiers in the nation's $1.2 trillion auto loan market... they are the closest most people come to a faceless, sophisticated financial system that can upend their lives...

Derek Lewis works for Relentless Recovery, the largest repo company in Ohio and its busiest collector of license plate scans. Last year, the company repossessed more than 25,500 vehicles -- including tractor trailers and riding lawn mowers. Business has more than doubled since 2014, the company said. Even with the rising deployment of remote engine cutoffs and GPS locators in cars, repo agencies remain dominant. Relentless scanned 28 million license plates last year, a demonstration of its recent, heavy push into technology. It now has more than 40 camera-equipped vehicles, mostly spotter cars. Agents are finding repos they never would have a few years ago. The company's goal is to capture every plate in Ohio and use that information to reveal patterns... "It's kind of scary, but it's amazing," said Alana Ferrante, chief executive of Relentless.

Repo agents are responsible for the majority of the billions of license plate scans produced nationwide. But they don't control the information. Most of that data is owned by Digital Recognition Network (DRN), a Fort Worth company that is the largest provider of license-plate-recognition systems. And DRN sells the information to insurance companies, private investigators -- even other repo agents. DRN is a sister company to Vigilant Solutions, which provides the plate scans to law enforcement, including police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both companies declined to respond to questions about their operations... For repo companies, one worry is whether they are producing information that others are monetizing.

The Almighty Buck

First Government Office in the US To Accept Bitcoin As Payment (orlandosentinel.com) 38

Long-time Slashdot reader SonicSpike quotes the Orlando Sentinel: If cash, check or credit card seems too old-fashioned, Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg said this week his office will begin accepting bitcoin as payment for new IDs, license plates and property taxes starting next month. Greenberg said accepting bitcoin and bitcoin cash as a payment method will promote transparency and accuracy in payment.

"There's no risk to the taxpayer," said Greenberg, who has often raised eyebrows since his 2016 election by moves including encouraging certain employees with concealed-weapons permits to carry a firearm openly as a security measure. "Blockchain technology is the future of the whole financial industry."

A spokesperson for a neighboring county's tax collector said they had no plans to follow the move. "Frankly, I think the currency is so volatile that I donâ(TM)t think it makes sense."

And an official at a nearby county said bitcoin payments were "not on our to-do list", adding that no one in the county had requested the ability to pay their taxes in bitcoin.
United States

40 Cellphone-Tracking Devices Discovered Throughout Washington (nbcwashington.com) 51

The investigative news "I-Team" of a local TV station in Washington D.C. drove around with "a leading mobile security expert" -- and discovered dozens of StingRay devices mimicking cellphone towers to track phone and intercept calls in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The I-Team found them in high-profile areas like outside the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and while driving across the 14th Street bridge into Crystal City... The I-Team's test phones detected 40 potential locations where the spy devices could be operating, while driving around for just a few hours. "I suppose if you spent more time you'd find even more," said D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh. "I have bad news for the public: Our privacy isn't what it once was..."

The good news is about half the devices the I-Team found were likely law enforcement investigating crimes or our government using the devices defensively to identify certain cellphone numbers as they approach important locations, said Aaron Turner, a leading mobile security expert... The I-Team got picked up [by StingRay devices] twice off of International Drive, right near the Chinese and Israeli embassies, then got another two hits along Massachusetts Avenue near Romania and Turkey... The phones appeared to remain connected to a fake tower the longest, right near the Russian Embassy.

StringRay devices are also being used in at least 25 states by police departments, according to the ACLU. The devices were authorized by the FCC back in 2011 for "federal, state, local public safety and law enforcement officials only" (and requiring coordination with the FBI).

But back in April the Associated Press reported that "For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminals could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages... More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware."
Privacy

FCC Investigating LocationSmart Over Phone-Tracking Flaw (cnet.com) 19

The FCC has opened an investigation into LocationSmart, a company that is buying your real-time location data from four of the largest U.S. carriers in the United States. The investigation comes a day after a security researcher from Carnegie Mellon University exposed a vulnerability on LocationSmart's website. CNET reports: The bug has prompted an investigation from the FCC, the agency said on Friday. An FCC spokesman said LocationSmart's case was being handled by its Enforcement Bureau. Since The New York Times revealed that Securus, an inmate call tracking service, had offered the same tracking service last week, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, called for the FCC and major wireless carriers to investigate these companies. On Friday, Wyden praised the investigation, but requested the FCC to expand its look beyond LocationSmart.

"The negligent attitude toward Americans' security and privacy by wireless carriers and intermediaries puts every American at risk," Wyden said. "I urge the FCC expand the scope of this investigation, and to more broadly probe the practice of third parties buying real-time location data on Americans." He is also calling for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to recuse himself from the investigation, because Pai was a former attorney for Securus.

Government

Congress Is Looking To Extend Copyright Protection Term To 144 Years (wired.com) 268

"Because it apparently isn't bad enough already, Congress is looking to extend the copyright term to 144 years," writes Slashdot reader llamalad. "Please write to your representatives and consider donating to the EFF." American attorney Lawrence Lessig writes via Wired: Almost exactly 20 years ago, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of existing copyrights by 20 years. The Act was the 11th extension in the prior 40 years, timed perfectly to assure that certain famous works, including Mickey Mouse, would not pass into the public domain. Immediately after the law came into force, a digital publisher of public domain works, Eric Eldred, filed a lawsuit challenging the act [which the Supreme Court later rejected].

Twenty years later, the fight for term extension has begun anew. Buried in an otherwise harmless act, passed by the House and now being considered in the Senate, this new bill purports to create a new digital performance right -- basically the right to control copies of recordings on any digital platform (ever hear of the internet?) -- for musical recordings made before 1972. These recordings would now have a new right, protected until 2067, which, for some, means a total term of protection of 144 years. The beneficiaries of this monopoly need do nothing to get the benefit of this gift. They don't have to make the work available. Nor do they have to register their claims in advance.

Transportation

Utilities, Tesla Appeal Federal Rollback of Auto Emissions Standards (arstechnica.com) 109

A coalition of utilities and electric vehicle makers, including Tesla, are petitioning the EPA to reconsider its recent plan to roll back auto emissions standards. In April, the EPA said that it would relax greenhouse gas emissions standards that had been put in place for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. Ars Technica reports: The National Coalition for Advanced Transportation (NCAT) represents 12 utilities as well as Tesla, electric truck maker Workhorse, and EV charging network EVgo. NCAT earlier this month asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC to review the EPA's latest efforts to relax the Obama-era fuel economy standards.

The coalition challenge to the EPA follows a similar challenge made by 17 states, including California. The utilities' efforts show that they're interested in protecting one of the major projected avenues for growth in electricity demand. Electricity consumption has stagnated in the U.S. as efficiency measures take effect and, in some states, solar panels make it easier for residents to buy less electricity from the local utility.

Businesses

Trump Personally Pushed Postmaster General To Double Rates on Amazon, Other Firms: Report (washingtonpost.com) 324

President Trump personally urged the leader of the U.S. Postal Service to double the rates the agency charges Amazon and other firms for delivery packages in several private conversations in 2017 and 2018, The Washington Post reported Friday (alternative source). From the report: Postmaster General Megan Brennan has so far resisted Trump's demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery. Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump's ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post.

Government

US Government Wants To Start Charging For Landsat, the Best Free Satellite Data On Earth (qz.com) 234

The U.S. government may begin charging users for access to five decades of satellite images of Earth. Quartz reports: Nature reports that the Department of Interior has asked an advisory board to consider the consequences of charging for the data generated by the Landsat program, which is the largest continuously collected set of Earth images taken in space and has been freely available to the public since 2008. Since 1972, Landsat has used eight different satellites to gather images of the Earth, with a ninth currently slated for a December 2020 launch. The data are widely used by government agencies, and since it became free, by an increasing number of academics, private companies and journalists. "As of March 31, 2018, more than 75 million Landsat scenes have been downloaded from the USGS-managed archive!" the agency noted on the 10th anniversary of the program.

Now, the government says the cost of sharing the data has grown as more people access it. Advocates for open data say the public benefit produced through research and business activity far outweigh those costs. A 2013 survey cited by Nature found that the dataset generated $2 billion in economic activity, compared to an $80 million budget for the program.

United States

US Births Dip To 30-Year Low (npr.org) 546

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The birthrate fell for nearly every group of women of reproductive age in the U.S. in 2017, reflecting a sharp drop that saw the fewest newborns since 1978, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 3,853,472 births in the U.S. in 2017 -- "down 2 percent from 2016 and the lowest number in 30 years," the CDC said. The general fertility rate sank to a record low of 60.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 -- a 3 percent drop from 2016, the CDC said in its tally of provisional data for the year. The results put the U.S. further away from a viable replacement rate -- the standard for a generation being able to replicate its numbers. "The rate has generally been below replacement since 1971," according to the report from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "The decline in the rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest single-year decline since 2010," the CDC said. The 2017 numbers also represent a 10-year fall from 2007, when the U.S. finally broke its post-World War baby boom record, with more than 4.3 million births.
Earth

Kilauea Volcano Erupts On Hawaii's Big Island (nytimes.com) 56

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Kilauea volcano erupted from its summit on Thursday morning (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), spewing an ash plume that reached 30,000 feet above the island of Hawaii, the authorities said. The eruption was the most forceful new explosion so far at Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes. Kilauea has already been triggering small earthquakes, creating gas-emitting fissures and releasing flows of lava that have destroyed dozens of homes this month. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a "code red" warning that additional activity could be expected. "At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent," the observatory said. But Dr. Michelle Coombs of the United States Geological Survey said that ash fall from the eruption, which occurred shortly after 4 a.m., was "pretty limited" to the area around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. She emphasized that the new eruption wasn't the "big one" that some are fearing, drawing a contrast with the eruption in 1980 of Mount St. Helens in Washington State that killed 57 people.
AI

NYC Announces Plans To Test Algorithms For Bias (betanews.com) 77

The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, has announced the formation of a new task force to examine the fairness of the algorithms used in the city's automated systems. From a report: The Automated Decision Systems Task Force will review algorithms that are in use to determine that they are free from bias. Representatives from the Department of Social Services, the NYC Police Department, the Department of Transportation, the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, the Administration for Children's Services, and the Department of Education will be involved, and the aim is to produce a report by December 2019. However, it may be some time before the task force has any sort of effect. While a report is planned for the end of next year, it will merely recommend "procedures for reviewing and assessing City algorithmic tools to ensure equity and opportunity" -- it will be a while before any recommendation might be assessed and implemented.
Music

YouTube Unveils New Streaming Service 'YouTube Music,' Rebrands YouTube Red (gizmodo.com) 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: YouTube Music, a streaming music platform designed to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, officially has a launch date: May 22nd. Its existence will also shift around YouTube and Google's overall media strategy, which has thus far been quite the mess. YouTube Music will borrow the Spotify model and offer a free, ad-supported tier as well as a premium version. The paid tier, which will be called YouTube Music Premium, will be available for $9.99 per month. It will debut in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea before expanding to 14 other countries.

One of the selling points for YouTube Music will be the ability to harness the endless amount of information Google knows about you, which it will use to try to create customized listening experiences. Pitchfork reported that the app, with the help of Google Assistant, will make listening recommendations based on the time of day, location, and listening patterns. It will also apparently offer "an audio experience and a video experience," suggesting perhaps an emphasis on music videos and other visual content. From here, Google seems to be focused on making its streaming strategy a little less wacky. Google Play Music, the company's previous music streaming service that is still inexplicably up and running despite teetering on the brink of extinction for years, will slowly be phased out according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, the paid streaming subscription service, known as YouTube Red, is being rebranded to YouTube Premium and will cost $11.99 per month instead of $9.99. (Pitchfork notes that existing YouTube Red subscribers will be able to keep their $9.99 rate.) YouTube Premium will include access to YouTube Music Premium. Here's a handy-dandy chart that helps show what is/isn't included in the two plans.
Businesses

Senate Votes To Save Net Neutrality (gizmodo.com) 288

In a monumental decision that will resonate through election season, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to reinstate the net neutrality protections the Federal Communications Commission decided to repeal late last year. From a report: For months, procedural red tape has delayed the full implementation of the FCC's decision to drop Title II protections that prevent internet service providers from blocking or throttling online content. Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order would go into effect on June 11. But Democrats put forth a resolution to use its power under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new regulations by federal agencies through an expedited legislative process. All 49 Democrats in the Senate supported the effort to undo the FCC's vote. Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska crossed party lines to support the measure. Further reading: ArsTechnica.
United States

Hacker Breaches Securus, the Company That Helps Cops Track Phones Across the US (vice.com) 68

Securus, the company which tracks nearly any phone across the US for cops with minimal oversight, has been hacked, Motherboard reported Wednesday. From the report: The hacker has provided some of the stolen data to Motherboard, including usernames and poorly secured passwords for thousands of Securus' law enforcement customers. Although it's not clear how many of these customers are using Securus's phone geolocation service, the news still signals the incredibly lax security of a company that is granting law enforcement exceptional power to surveill individuals. "Location aggregators are -- from the point of view of adversarial intelligence agencies -- one of the juiciest hacking targets imaginable," Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Motherboard in an online chat.
The Courts

Uber Drops Arbitration Requirement For Sexual Assault Victims (npr.org) 89

Previously, Uber required complaints to be resolved in mandatory arbitration -- out of court and behind closed doors. Today, the company announced it is "changing its policies to allow customers, employees and drivers who are sexually harassed or assaulted to take their complaints to court and to speak publicly about their experiences," reports NPR. From the report: Last month, Katherine and Lauren were among 14 female victims who sent an open letter to Uber's board, pointing to the company's own sexual harassment problems and the #MeToo movement. "Silencing our stories deprives customers and potential investors from the knowledge that our horrific experiences are part of a widespread problem at Uber," they wrote. The women's demand -- and Uber's response -- highlight the significance of mandatory arbitration agreements, which are increasingly common. The provisions are usually in the fine print -- and most people who sign the agreements don't know they have signed away their right to sue.
United States

A Quarter of Americans Spend All Day Inside, Survey Finds (washingtontimes.com) 116

Zorro shares a report from The Washington Times: A quarter of Americans spend almost an entire 24 hours without going outside and downplay the negative health effects of only breathing indoor air, according to a new survey claiming a new "indoor generation." It's unclear how dangerous indoor air is in the modern era -- reports by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evaluating indoor air quality are from 1987 and 1989, which found that it is two to five times more polluted than outside.

The "Indoor Generation Report" surveyed 16,000 people from 14 countries in Europe and North America about their knowledge and perceptions of indoor vs outdoor air quality and the amount of time spent inside. Of the results for Americans, a quarter said they spend between 21 and 24 hours inside; 20 percent said they spend 19 to 20 hours a day inside and 21 percent say they spend between 15 and 18 hours inside. Thirty-four percent said they spend between zero and 14 hours inside. Great Britain and Canada had similar results to the U.S., with 23 and 26 percent of its respondents saying they spend between 21 and 24 hours inside. The countries with the highest percentage of people who spend the lowest amount of time inside were Italy (57 percent), the Czech Republic (57 percent) and the Netherlands (51 percent). This group said they only spend between zero and 14 hours indoors.

Crime

Suspect Identified In CIA 'Vault 7' Leak (nytimes.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: In weekly online posts last year, WikiLeaks released a stolen archive of secret documents about the Central Intelligence Agency's hacking operations, including software exploits designed to take over iPhones and turn smart television sets into surveillance devices. It was the largest loss of classified documents in the agency's history and a huge embarrassment for C.I.A. officials. Now, The New York Times has learned the identity of the prime suspect in the breach (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): a 29-year-old former C.I.A. software engineer who had designed malware used to break into the computers of terrorism suspects and other targets.

F.B.I. agents searched the Manhattan apartment of the suspect, Joshua A. Schulte, one week after WikiLeaks released the first of the C.I.A. documents in March last year, and then stopped him from flying to Mexico on vacation, taking his passport, according to court records and family members. The search warrant application said Mr. Schulte was suspected of "distribution of national defense information," and agents told the court they had retrieved "N.S.A. and C.I.A. paperwork" in addition to a computer, tablet, phone and other electronics. But instead of charging Mr. Schulte in the breach, referred to as the Vault 7 leak, prosecutors charged him last August with possessing child pornography, saying agents had found the material on a server he created as a business in 2009 while he was a student at the University of Texas.

United States

Homeland Security Unveils New Cyber Security Strategy Amid Threats (reuters.com) 75

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday unveiled a new national strategy for addressing the growing number of cyber security risks as it works to assess them and reduce vulnerabilities. From a report: "The cyber threat landscape is shifting in real-time, and we have reached a historic turning point," DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. "It is clear that our cyber adversaries can now threaten the very fabric of our republic itself." The announcement comes amid concerns about the security of the 2018 U.S. midterm congressional elections and numerous high-profile hacking of U.S. companies.
Communications

US Cell Carriers Are Selling Access To Your Real-Time Phone Location Data (zdnet.com) 146

Four of the largest cell giants in the US are selling your real-time location data to a company that you've probably never heard about before. ZDNet: In case you missed it, a senator last week sent a letter demanding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigate why Securus, a prison technology company, can track any phone "within seconds" by using data obtained from the country's largest cell giants, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, through an intermediary, LocationSmart. The story blew up because a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant, according The New York Times. The sheriff has pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful surveillance.

Yet little is known about how LocationSmart obtained the real-time location data on millions of Americans, how the required consent from cell user owners was obtained, and who else has access to the data. Kevin Bankston, director of New America's Open Technology Institute, explained in a phone call that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act only restricts telecom companies from disclosing data to the government. It doesn't restrict disclosure to other companies, who then may disclose that same data to the government. He called that loophole "one of the biggest gaps in US privacy law. The issue doesn't appear to have been directly litigated before, but because of the way that the law only restricts disclosures by these types of companies to government, my fear is that they would argue that they can do a pass-through arrangement like this," he said.
Further reading: The Tech Used To Monitor Inmate Calls Is Able To Track Civilians Too.
The Internet

The Rise of Free Urban Internet (axios.com) 78

Intersection, the Alphabet-backed smart cities startup known for creating free internet kiosks for cities, is pushing to make free internet accessible in as many major cities as possible across the globe. From a report: As more aspects of our daily lives -- from healthcare to communication to travel -- become dependent on internet-connected devices, the concept of providing internet as a public good is becoming more widespread. Intersection is best known for its successful transformation of NYC's 7,500 pay-phones into free internet kiosks that act as hot-spots and advertising space. It's also spreading its programs to cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and even London. The program is entirely funded by advertising that the company sells on LinkNYC internet kiosks, so less densely-populated cities may be a tougher sell.

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