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Town Gets Patent On Being the Center of Europe Screenshot-sm 169

An anonymous reader writes "And you thought software patents were going to far? How about geography patents? Apparently, as a part of the weird fight over what place in Europe represents the 'geophysical center of Europe,' the Austrian town of Frauenkirchen has received a patent (Austrian patent AM 7738/2003) declaring it the center of Europe. Not clear how one 'infringes' on such a patent, but then again, it's not clear why anyone's patenting this either."
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Beaver Dam Visible From Space Screenshot-sm 286

ygslash writes "The Hoover Dam no longer holds the title of the world's widest dam. Satellite photos of northern Alberta, Canada, show that several families of beavers have apparently joined forces to build a dam 850 meters wide, more than twice as wide as the Hoover Dam."
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FBI Taps Cell Phone Microphones in Mafia Case 274

cnet-declan writes "We already knew the FBI can secretly listen in to car conversations by activating microphones of systems like OnStar. A new Mafia court case suggests that the FBI can do the same thing to cell phones. The judge's opinion and some background information [pdf] are available for reading online. The most disturbing thing? According to the judge, the bug worked even if the phone appeared to be 'powered off.' Anyone up for an open-source handset already?" From the article: "This week, Judge Kaplan in the southern district of New York concluded that the 'roving bugs' were legally permitted to capture hundreds of hours of conversations because the FBI had obtained a court order and alternatives probably wouldn't work. The FBI's 'applications made a sufficient case for electronic surveillance,' Kaplan wrote. 'They indicated that alternative methods of investigation either had failed or were unlikely to produce results, in part because the subjects deliberately avoided government surveillance.'"

U.S. Secretly Tapping Bank Databases 537

The Washington Post and New York Times are reporting on a Bush administration initiative that has tapped into a vast global database of confidential financial transactions for nearly five years. Relying on a presidential emergency declaration made under the International Emergency Economic Powers, the administration has been surveilling the data from the SWIFT database, which links about 7,800 banks and brokerages and handles billions of transactions a year. From the article:
Together with a hundredfold expansion of the FBI's use of "national security letters" to obtain communications and banking records, the secret NSA and Treasury programs have built unprecedented government databases of private transactions, most of them involving people who prove irrelevant to terrorism investigators.

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