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The US Government and Open Standards: a Tale of Personal Woe ( 256

An anonymous reader writes: This article details a Linux user's struggles to submit a grant application when the process requires finicky, proprietary software. It also covers familiar ground made timely by the upcoming elections: the U.S. should prefer open source software and open standards over proprietary alternatives. The grant application required a PDF created by Adobe Acrobat — software Adobe no longer supports for Linux. Once the document was created, attempting to submit it while using Ubuntu fails silently. (On Windows 7, it worked immediately.) The reader argues, "By requiring Acrobat the government gives preference to a particular software vendor, assuring that thousands of people who otherwise would not choose to use Adobe software are forced to install it. Worse, endorsing a proprietary, narrowly supported technology for government data poses the risk that public information could become inaccessible if the vendor decides to stop supporting the software. Last but not least, there are privacy and fairness issues at stake. Acrobat is a totally closed-source program, which means we have to take Adobe's word for it that nothing sketchy is going on in its code. ... It would seem to be in the interest of the public for the government to prefer an open source solution, since it is much harder to hide nefarious features inside code that can be publicly inspected."

Pakistan Orders ISPs To Block Over 400k Porn Websites ( 105

Bruce66423 writes: The agency that regulates telecommunications in Pakistan has ordered ISPs to block a huge list of adult websites. "The action follows a recent order passed down by the Supreme Court in Pakistan requiring the telecom sector to 'take remedial steps to quantify the nefarious phenomenon of obscenity and pornography that has an imminent role to corrupt and vitiate the youth of Pakistan.' According to the Express Tribune, just days after the ruling by the Supreme Court, the telecom sector regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, added it had provided internet service providers with a list of 429,343 domains to be blocked as it attempts to control the distribution of pornographic material.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

NSA Wants To Dump the Phone Records It Gathered Over 14 Years ( 56

According to The Next Web, the NSA would like to get rid of something that a lot of people wish they'd never had in the first place: phone records that the agency has collected over a decade and a half (more, really) of mass surveillance. However, the EFF wants to make sure that the evidence of snooping doesn't get buried along with the actual recorded data. From the article: [T]he government says that it can't be sued by bodies like the EFF. The organization is currently involved in two pending cases seeking a remedy for the past 14 years of illegal phone record collection. EFF wrote a letter (PDF) to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court last December which it has now made public, explaining that it is ready to discuss options that will allow destruction of the records in ways that still preserve its ability to prosecute the cases. It'll be interesting to see how this pans out: if the government doesn't agree to a discussion about how to handle these phone records, it's possible that they will remain on file for years to come. Plus, it could allow the NSA to avoid being held accountable for its illegal mass surveillance.

2016's First Batch of Anti-Science Education Bills Arrive In Oklahoma ( 510

An anonymous reader writes: It's only January and we're already seeing the first anti-science education bills of 2016 going through the Oklahoma legislature. The state's lawmakers fight over this every year, and it looks like this year won't be any different. "The Senate version of the bill (PDF) is by State Senator Josh Brecheen, a Republican. It is the fifth year in a row he's introduced a science education bill after announcing he wanted 'every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution.' This year's version omits any mention of specific areas of science that could be controversial. Instead, it simply prohibits any educational official from blocking a teacher who wanted to discuss the 'strengths and weaknesses' of scientific theories.

The one introduced in the Oklahoma House (PDF) is more traditional. Billed as a 'Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act' (because freedom!), it spells out a whole host of areas of science its author doesn't like: 'The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics, and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.'"


CIA: 10 Tips When Investigating a Flying Saucer ( 54

coondoggie writes: You may not associate the Central Intelligence Agency with historical UFO investigations, but the agency did have a big role in such investigations many years ago. This week the agency posted an article called 'How to investigate a flying saucer." The release is part of a series of old documents dredged up as a nod to the return of The X-Files to TV this weekend.

NSA Chief: Arguing Against Encryption Is a Waste of Time ( 184

An anonymous reader writes: On Thursday, NSA director Mike Rogers said, "encryption is foundational to the future." He added that it was a waste of time to argue that encryption is bad or that we ought to do away with it. Rogers is taking a stance in opposition to many other government officials, like FBI director James Comey. Rogers further said that neither security nor privacy should be the imperative that drives everything else. He said, "We've got to meet these two imperatives. We've got some challenging times ahead of us, folks."

Senior Homeland Security Official Says Internet Anonymity Should Be Outlawed ( 532

Patrick O'Neill writes: A senior Homeland Security official recently argued that Internet anonymity should outlawed in the same way that driving a car without a license plate is against the law. "When a person drives a car on a highway, he or she agrees to display a license plate," Erik Barnett, an assistant deputy director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and attache to the European Union at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote. "The license plate's identifiers are ignored most of the time by law enforcement. Law enforcement will use the identifiers, though, to determine the driver's identity if the car is involved in a legal infraction or otherwise becomes a matter of public interest. Similarly, should not every individual be required to display a 'license plate' on the digital super-highway?"

UK Voice Crypto Standard Built For Key Escrow, Mass Surveillance ( 66

Trailrunner7 writes: The U.K. government's standard for encrypted voice communications, which already is in use in intelligence and other sectors and could be mandated for use in critical infrastructure applications, is set up to enable easy key escrow, according to new research. The standard is known as Secure Chorus, which implements an encryption protocol called MIKEY-SAKKE. The protocol was designed by GCHQ, the U.K.'s signals intelligence agency, the equivalent in many ways to the National Security Agency in the United States. MIKEY-SAKKE is designed for voice and video encryption specifically, and is an extension of the MIKEY (Multimedia Internet Keying) protocol, which supports the use of EDH (Ephemeral Diffie Hellman) for key exchange.

"MIKEY supports EDH but MIKEY-SAKKE works in a way much closer to email encryption. The initiator of a call generates key material, uses SAKKE to encrypt it to the other communication partner (responder), and sends this message to the responder during the set-up of the call. However, SAKKE does not require that the initiator discover the responder's public key because it uses identity-based encryption (IBE)," Dr. Steven Murdoch of University College London's Department of Computer Science, wrote in a new analysis of the security of the Secure Chorus standard. "By design there is always a third party who generates and distributes the private keys for all users. This third party therefore always has the ability to decrypt conversations which are encrypted using these private keys," Murdoch said by email. He added that the design of Secure Chorus "is not an accident."


Clinton Hints At Tech Industry Compromise Over Encryption ( 345

An anonymous reader writes: At the Democratic presidential debate last night, Marques Brownlee asked the candidates a pointed question about whether the government should require tech companies to implement backdoors in their encryption, and how we should balance privacy with security. The responses were not ideal for those who recognize the problems with backdoors. Martin O'Malley said the government should have to get a warrant, but skirted the rest of the issue. Bernie Sanders said government must "have Silicon Valley help us" to discover information transmitted across the internet by ISIS and other terrorist organizations. He thinks we can do that without violating privacy, but didn't say how. But the most interesting comment came from Hillary Clinton. After mentioning that Obama Administration officials had "started the conversation" with tech companies on the encryption issue, one of the moderators noted that the government "got nowhere" with its requests. Clinton replied, "That is not what I've heard. Let me leave it at that." The implications of that small comment are troubling.

Iran Complies With Nuclear Deal; Sanctions Lifted ( 229

An anonymous reader writes: Iran has shipped most of its nuclear fuel out of the country, destroyed the innards of a plutonium-producing reactor and mothballed more than 12,000 centrifuges. This compliance with the nuclear accord struck in July has caused the U.S. and Europe to lift financial sanctions on Iran, releasing ~$100 billion in assets. "Under the new rules put in place, the United States will no longer sanction foreign individuals or firms for buying oil and gas from Iran. The American trade embargo remains in place, but the government will permit certain limited business activities with Iran, such as selling or purchasing Iranian food and carpets and American commercial aircraft and parts. It is an opening to Iran that represents a huge roll of the dice, one that will be debated long after Mr. Obama he has built his presidential library. It is unclear what will happen after the passing of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has protected and often fueled the hardliners — but permitted these talks to go ahead."

Anti-Terrorism Hypothetical: Bulk Scanning of Hosted Files? ( 284

An anonymous reader writes: The tech community has spoken: we don't want the NSA or any other government agency running bulk surveillance on us, and we don't want tech companies to help them. But Bruce Schneier points out an interesting hypothetical raised by Harvard Law School professor Jonathan Zittrain: "Suppose a laptop were found at the apartment of one of the perpetrators of last year's Paris attacks. It's searched by the authorities pursuant to a warrant, and they find a file on the laptop that's a set of instructions for carrying out the attacks. ... The private document was likely shared among other conspirators, some of whom are still on the run or unknown entirely. Surely Google has the ability to run a search of all Gmail inboxes, outboxes, and message drafts folders, plus Google Drive cloud storage, to see if any of its 900 million users are currently in possession of that exact document.

If Google could be persuaded or ordered to run the search, it could generate a list of only those Google accounts possessing the precise file — and all other Google users would remain undisturbed, except for the briefest of computerized 'touches' on their accounts to see if the file reposed there." Zittrain asks: would you run the search? He then walks us through some of the possible complications to the situation, and the pros and cons of granting permission. His personal conclusion is this: "At least in theory, and with some real trepidation, I'd run the search in that instance, and along with it publicly establish a policy for exactly how clear cut the circumstances have to be (answer: very) for future cases to justify pressing the enter key on a similar search." What would you do?


California Legislation Would Require License Plates, Insurance For Drones ( 151

An anonymous reader writes: A pair of legislators in California have introduced separate pieces of legislation aimed at further regulating the nascent drone industry in the name of safety. Assemblyman Mike Gatto wants inexpensive insurance policies sold with drones, and also wants those drones to be outfitted with tiny license plates. He said, "If cars have license plates and insurance, drones should have the equivalent, so they can be properly identified, and owners can be held financially responsible, whenever injuries, interference, or property damage occurs." Another bill, put forth by Assemblyman Ed Chau, wants to require drone owners to leave contact information in the event of a crash. Chau also made parallels with cars: "If you lose control of your drone and someone gets hurt – or someone else's property gets damaged — then you should have the same duty to go to the scene of the accident, give your name and address, and cooperate with the police." The bills follow a number of incidents during 2015 in which drones damaged people and property, or simply got in the way of other operations.

Obama Proposes $4 Billion Investment In Self-Driving Cars ( 276

An anonymous reader writes: The Obama Administration has unveiled a proposal for a 10-year, $4 billion investment in the adoption of autonomous car technology. The money would fund pilot projects to, among other things, "test connected vehicle systems in designated corridors throughout the country, and work with industry leaders to ensure a common multistate framework for connected and autonomous vehicles." The administration says it has an interest in cutting the death toll — over 30,000 people each year in the U.S. — associated with traffic accidents. The proposal also calls for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work with industry to resolve regulatory issues before they inhibit development of self-driving cars. "This is the right way to drive innovation," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

EFF: Cisco Shouldn't Get Off the Hook For Aiding Torture In China ( 143

itwbennett writes: In a lawsuit in Northern California that was dismissed in 2014, Falun Gong practitioners alleged that Cisco Systems built a security system, dubbed "Golden Shield," for the Chinese government knowing it would be used to track and persecute members of the religious minority. That case is being appealed, and on Monday the EFF, Privacy International and free-speech group Article 19 filed a brief that supports the appeal. Many U.S. and European companies sell technology to regimes that violate human rights, and if this case goes to trial and Cisco loses, they may think twice, said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope. "In a lot of instances, these companies are selling directly to the government, and they know exactly what is going to be happening," Cope said.
The Military

US Modernizes Nuclear Arsenal With Smaller, Precision-Guided Atomic Weapons ( 230 writes: The NY Times reports that the Pentagon has been developing the B61 Model 12, the nation's first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, the Model 12 was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites and its yield can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage. The B61 Model 12 flight-tested last year in Nevada and is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise.

And some say that's the problem. The Federation of American Scientists argues that the high accuracy and low destructive settings means military commanders might press to use the bomb in an attack, knowing the radioactive fallout and collateral damage would be limited. Increasing the accuracy also broadens the type of targets that the B61 can be used to attack. Some say that a new nuclear tipped cruise missile under development might sway a future president to contemplate "limited nuclear war." Worse yet, because the missile comes in nuclear and non-nuclear varieties, a foe under attack might assume the worst and overreact, initiating nuclear war. In a recent interview, General James Cartwright, a retired four-star general who last served as the eighth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the overall modernization plan might change how military commanders looked at the risks of using nuclear weapons. "What if I bring real precision to these weapons?" says Cartwright. "Does it make them more usable? It could be."

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