July 30, 2013

Illinois To Offer Online Voter Registration

By next summer, Illinois voters will be able to register to vote online.

To help boost voter participation, Gov. Pat Quinn has followed more than a dozen other states by signing an online voter registration law.

“Online voter registration will encourage more people to fulfill their civic duty by making that first step of registering to vote easier and more accessible," Quinn said in a statement. "This new law will boost registration rates, cut costs and move Illinois’ democratic process into the 21st century."

The registration system will be available on the Illinois State Board of Elections’ website, but Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said he hopes that changes.

“For most folks in Champaign County, if they Google ‘Champaign County elections’ or ‘Where do I vote,’ the Champaign County Clerk website is going to be the thing that they go to,” Hulten said. “I think our website is incredibly more user friendly than the State Board of Elections website. So, I have some concerns about the limited environment in which this is being rolled out and the implementation of it.”

Hulten said in Champaign County, he is not sure if online voter registration will lead to a huge increase in voter participation since his office is already aggressive with helping people sign up.

Meanwhile, Piatt County Clerk Colleen Kidd has concerns about the new system.

“I don’t think that it’s going to make any difference on whether more people are going to vote or not,” Kidd said. “I think that there could be the potential for fraud.”

Those who support the plan say it is secure and they are confident it will not lead to a greater risk of voter fraud.

Earlier this month, Gov. Quinn signed a bill allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the time of the next general election.


July 28, 2013

Chinese Firm Huawei Controls UK's Net Filter

The pornography filtering system praised by David Cameron is controlled by the controversial Chinese company Huawei, the BBC has learned.

UK-based employees at the firm are able to decide which sites TalkTalk's net filtering service blocks.

Politicians in both the UK and US have raised concerns about alleged close ties between Huawei and the Chinese government.

The company says the worries are without foundation and prejudiced.

On Monday the Prime Minister said TalkTalk had shown "great leadership" in setting up its system, Homesafe, which it has offered to customers since 2011.

TalkTalk told the BBC it was comfortable with its relationship with Huawei, and that the service was very popular.

Homesafe is a voluntary scheme which allows subscribers to select categories - including social media, gambling and pornography - that they want blocked.

Customers who do not want filtering still have their traffic routed through the system, but matches to Huawei's database are dismissed rather than acted upon.

Accountability question

Mr Cameron has demanded similar measures be adopted by all internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK, to "protect our children and their innocence".

He said ISPs would be monitored to ensure filtering was done correctly, but that they should choose their own preferred solution.

However, one expert insisted that private companies should not hold power over blacklists, and that the responsibility should lie with an independent group.

"It needs to be run by an organisation accountable to a minister so it can be challenged in Parliament," Dr Martyn Thomas, chair of the IT policy panel at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, told the BBC.

"There's certainly a concern about the process of how a web address gets added to a blacklist - who knows about it, and who has an opportunity to appeal against it," he added.

"You could easily imagine a commercial organisation finding itself on that blacklist wrongly, and where they actually lost a lot of web traffic completely silently and suffered commercial damage. The issue is who gets to choose who's on that blocking list, and what accountability do they have?"

'Policing themselves'

For almost a decade, Huawei has been a core part of telecoms infrastructure in the UK - its biggest client, BT, has routinely said it has no concerns about using the firm.

Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in China's People's Liberation Army, visited Downing Street last year after his company made a £1.3bn investment into its UK operations.

But Huawei's position was recently the subject of an Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report. It criticized the lack of ministerial oversight over the firm's rapid expansion in the UK.

The committee said "the alleged links between Huawei and the Chinese State are concerning, as they generate suspicion as to whether Huawei's intentions are strictly commercial or are more political" - but added that it had not found any evidence of wrongdoing.

It said it had worries that a UK-based testing centre set up to examine Huawei products was staffed by experts employed by the Chinese firm.

The ISC said Huawei was "effectively policing themselves".

In the US, intelligence committees have gone further, branding Huawei a threat to national security.

For its part, Huawei strongly denies having close ties with the Chinese government, pointing out it is 98.6% owned by its employees - with the remaining amount held by Mr Ren. It welcomed the ISC's call for a review of the testing centre.

Huawei executive Chen Li Fang said the company should not be treated unfairly just because it was Chinese.

The UK government said it too agreed with the ISC's call to review the testing centre, adding that it works with all major communications providers to ensure security.

"Our work with Huawei and their UK customers gives us confidence that the networks in the UK that use Huawei equipment are operated to a high standard of security and integrity," a spokesman said.

Policy enforcement

Web filtering, which is not considered critical national infrastructure, was not covered in the ISC's report.

But the logistics of how Mr Cameron's plans will be implemented have been the subject of much debate.

Initially, TalkTalk told the BBC that it was US security firm Symantec that was responsible for maintaining its blacklist, and that Huawei only provided the hardware, as previously reported.

However, Symantec said that while it had been in a joint venture with Huawei to run Homesafe in its early stages, it had not been involved for over a year.

TalkTalk later confirmed it is Huawei that monitors activity, checking requests against its blacklist of over 65 million web addresses, and denying access if there is a match.

The contents of this list are largely determined by an automated process, but both Huawei and TalkTalk employees are able to add or remove sites independently.

Illegal websites - including ones showing images of child abuse - are blocked for all customers with the help of a list maintained by the non-profit Internet Watch Foundation.

Mr Cameron said that the actions of ISPs would be monitored to ensure filtering is done correctly.

Communications regulator Ofcom is expected to play some role in this, possibly by auditing the firms and reporting back to ministers regularly.


Stephen Balaban has re-engineered his Google Glass to allow for facial recognition.
(Stephen Balaban)
July 17, 2013

Clever Hacks Give Google Glass Many Unintended Powers

At Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, Calif., a kid who looks like he should still be in high school is sitting across from me. He's wearing Google Glass. As I stare into the device's cyborg eye, I'm waiting for its tiny screen to light up.

Then, I wait for a signal that Google Glass has recognized my face.

It isn't supposed to do that, but Stephen Balaban has hacked it.

"Essentially what I am building is an alternative operating system that runs on Glass but is not controlled by Google," he said.

Balaban wants to make it possible to do all sorts of things with Glass that Google's designers didn't have in mind.

One of the biggest fears about Google Glass is that the proliferation of these head-mounted computers equipped with intelligent cameras will fundamentally erode our privacy.

Google has tried to respond to these fears by designing Glass so it is obvious to the people around these devices when and how they are being used. For example, to take a picture with Google Glass, you need to issue a voice command or tap your temple before the screen lights up.

But hackers are proving it's possible to re-engineer Google Glass in any number of creative ways. And in the process, they've put Google in an awkward position. The company needs to embrace their creative talents if it hopes to build a software ecosystem around its new device that might one day attract millions of consumers. But at the same time, Google wants to try to rein in uses for Glass that could creep out the public or spook politicians who are already asking pointed questions about privacy.

So when Balaban first announced he had built an app that let folks use Glass for facial recognition, Google reacted harshly.

"I'd be lying if I said I was surprised," he said.

The company said it wouldn't support programs on Glass that made facial recognition possible — and changed its terms of service to ban them. But that hasn't stopped techies like Balaban from building these services anyway.

And now, there are all sorts of things developers are doing with Glass that were not built into the original design.

Michael DiGiovanni created Winky — a program that lets someone wearing Google Glass take a photo with a wink of an eye.

Marc Rogers, a principal security researcher at Lookout, realized he could hijack Glass if you could trick someone into taking a picture of a malicious QR code — a kind of square-shaped bar code that can send a computer directly to a website.

But today, Rogers has nothing but praise for how Google responded to his hack. He says less than two weeks after he disclosed the problem to Google, the company had fixed it.

"The other thing that is really good is the way they pushed Google Glass out to a community of people who are particularly good at finding vulnerabilities and improving software and fixing software — way before it is a consumer product," Rogers said. "This means that all of these vulnerabilities — or at least most of them — are going to be found long before Google Glass ever hits the market."

Google's decision to give the first few thousand pairs of Google Glass to tinkerers and hackers and geeks was intentional.

"In a case where you have [a product] that is so different from what is on the market currently, you really have to do these living laboratories where you figure out what the social and technical issues are before you release it more widely," said Thad Starner, a professor of computer science at Georgia Tech and a manager at Google Glass.

When Google released Glass to the public, it didn't sell it to just anyone. The first few thousand people who got a pair were developers, a technically sophisticated group whose first impulse was to take it apart, peer inside its code and understand how it works. These people are hackers at heart, and when they got their hands on Google Glass, they broke it on purpose, cracking it open and exploring all the ways it could be used or possibly abused.

"That's the great service our [Google Glass] explorers are doing for us," Starner said. "They are actually teaching us what these issues are and how we can address them."

But some of the issues raised by Google Glass might not be possible to address with a simple technical fix.

Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who specializes in new technologies and privacy, has suggested that gadgets like Google Glass or civilian drones could act as "privacy catalysts" and spur conversations and legal debates about privacy in the digital age. Calo believes the conversations are long overdue.

Listen

July 16, 2013

University of Illinois Researchers Build 'Vanishing' Tech Gear

Imagine this: There's no need to throw out your old cellphone, because it will self-destruct.

That's the idea behind a project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where researchers are investigating how to build electronics that vanish in water.

John Rogers is a professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the university. Rogers says the goal of the "born to die" program is to design transient technology that can dissolve at the end of its useful life, thus saving space in landfills and reducing waste.

The research team isn't there yet. But it has designed a chip built on a thin film of silk that dissolves when hit with water.

 


July 11, 2013

Illinois AG Seeks Damages From Apple

Attorney General Lisa Madigan says Illinois will seek to recover damages from Apple Inc. after a federal judge found the company violated antitrust laws.

A U.S. District Court judge in New York on Wednesday ruled Apple conspired with book publishers to raise electronic book prices significantly in spring 2010.

Madigan says Apple and the publishers forced book buyers to pay millions more for electronic books than they would have otherwise.

She says Illinois will be one of 33 states and territories that will try in a second trial to recover damages. The second trial will determine how much Apple should pay for its role in overcharging customers.

Apple has said it did nothing wrong and will appeal the ruling.


iPad made by Apple
(Manu Fernandez/AP)
July 10, 2013

Apple Conspired To Set E-book Prices, Judge Rules

Apple Inc. "conspired to raise the retail price of e-books," a federal judge ruled Wednesday as a civil lawsuit brought by the Justice Department reached its conclusion.

As Bloomberg News reminds its readers, "the U.S. sued Apple and five publishers in April 2012, claiming the maker of the iPad pushed publishers to sign agreements letting it sell digital copies of their books under what's known as the agency model. Under that model, publishers, and not retailers, set prices for each book, with Apple getting 30 percent."

In December 2011, news editor Sarah Weinman from Publishers Marketplace explained the Justice Department's concerns to NPR's Lynn Neary. From an "investigative body's standpoint," she noted, "just the very idea that there could be this uniform price might send up some red flags."

According to The Associated Press:

"In her ruling U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said Apple knew that no publisher could risk acting alone to try to eliminate Amazon.com's $9.99 price for the most popular e-books so it 'created a mechanism and environment that enabled them to act together in a matter of weeks to eliminate all retail price competition for their e-books.' "

Cote also wrote that "the evidence is overwhelming that Apple knew of the unlawful aims of the conspiracy and joined the conspiracy with the specific intent to help it succeed."

During the trial, Apple attorney Orin Snyder said the judge would set a "dangerous precedent" if she concluded that Apple manipulated e-book prices.

The Wall Street Journal calls Wednesday's ruling "a stern rebuke" for Apple. It notes that the five publishers Apple was accused of colluding with "have all since entered into settlements with the Justice Department, as well as in a separate lawsuit by a group of state attorneys general. But Apple refused to settle and decided to go to trial."

Apple, the Journal adds, "argued at trial that it engaged in hard-fought negotiations with the publishers and denied that it engaged in any collusion."

Judge Cote has not yet assessed damages.

Update at 10:20 a.m. ET. "Victory For Millions Of Consumers," Justice Says; Apple Plans To Appeal:

"This result is a victory for millions of consumers who choose to read books electronically," says Assistant Attorney Gen. Bill Baer in a statement e-mailed to reporters. "After carefully weighing the evidence, the court agreed with the Justice Department and 33 state attorneys general that executives at the highest levels of Apple orchestrated a conspiracy with five major publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster – to raise e-book prices. Through today's court decision and previous settlements with five major publishers, consumers are again benefiting from retail price competition and paying less for their e-books."

Meanwhile, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr says:

"We did not conspire to fix e-book pricing and we will continue to fight against these false accusations. ... We've done nothing wrong and we will appeal the judge's decision."


Justin Carter
(Jack Carter)
July 03, 2013

Father: Teen Jailed For Facebook Comment Beat Up Behind Bars

The family of Justin Carter, the 19-year old Texas gamer who made offensive Facebook comments that landed him in jail, is working with new urgency to get his $500,000 bail reduced because they say he's getting beat up while behind bars.

"Without getting into the really nasty details, he's had concussions, black eyes, moved four times from base for his own protection," says Carter's father, Jack. "He's been put in solitary confinement, nude, for days on end because he's depressed. All of this is extremely traumatic to this kid. This is a horrible experience."

Carter has been in jail since a February arrest. After Justin finished playing the online game League of Legends, where the community trash-talking can get quite toxic, court documents show he posted the following messages on a Facebook page:

"I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten / And watch the blood of the innocent rain down/ And eat the beating heart of one of them."

Carter's father says his son was responding to an insult by being sarcastic, and followed the message with "JK" for just kidding, but that's disputed by police.

In April, a grand jury in Comal County, Texas, indicted Carter on a charge of making a terroristic threat, and a judge set bail at $500,000. The high bail has kept Carter imprisoned while his case moves through the court process.

"I have been practicing law for 10 years, I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I have never seen a bond at $500,000," says Carter's attorney, Don Flanary.

The charge is a third-degree felony, which in Texas, carries up to 10 years in prison. The Comal County District Attorney's office hasn't responded to our calls, but police in New Braunfels, Texas, who have investigated the case, say in a time of heightened sensitivity to school shootings, their interest is in preventing violence when they can.

"The whole situation is kind of unfortunate," said New Braunfels Police Lt. John Wells. "We definitely understand the situation that Mr. Carter is in, however he made the comments, and it is an offense. We have to ... protect the general public and specifically, in this case, with it involving schoolchildren, we have to act. We take those very seriously."

Carter's father says his son's past five months of "suffering quite a bit of abuse" behind bars don't fit the crime. "He says he's really sorry. He just got caught up in the moment of the game and didn't think about the implications," Jack Carter says.

An online petition for Justin Carter's release has gotten nearly 40,000 signatures, and attorney Flanary got a new hearing set for July 16 to bring up issues of his abuse and to try to get bond lowered so Carter can go home to await trial.

If convicted, Carter could face up to 10 years in prison.

Listen

The Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch can load books from other book stores, like Google.
(Mary Altaffer/AP)
July 01, 2013

Court: No Class-Action Status In Google Book Case

A federal appeals court says it is too early for authors to be considered as a group in litigation challenging Google Inc.'s plan to create the world's largest digital library.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling Monday that a judge must consider fair use issues before deciding whether to consider authors as a class. The court says neither side will be harmed by a delay in deciding whether the Authors Guild can represent all writers.

So far, Google has copied more than 20 million books. The three-judge appeals panel that heard arguments earlier this year seemed reluctant to get in the way of the plans. One judge said it would be a "huge advantage'' for many authors while another said it would have ``enormous societal benefit.''


Edward Snowden
(The Guardian)
June 17, 2013

Snowden: NSA Collects 'Everything,' Including Content Of Emails

Self-described NSA leaker Edward Snowden has made some stunning allegations during a live chat with The Guardian today.

Snowden, who leaked classified documents revealing the existence of the NSA PRISM program, which U.S. officials say mines Internet data from foreigners, contradicted both what the big tech companies have said and what American officials have said in front of Congress.

Snowden said the NSA "likes to use 'domestic' as a weasel word." That is, while the government insists the program is all about foreigners, a lot of domestic communication gets dragged in while acquiring that data, he said. Snowden used a specific example:

"If I target for example an email address, for example under FAA 702 [a law that allows the gathering of electronic information on someone believed to be outside the U.S.], and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it. All of it. IPs, raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time — and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrants."

Snowden was also asked if he stood by his original assertion that he could "wiretap anyone" as an intelligence employee. He said:

"Yes, I stand by it. US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections (and again, it's important to understand that policy protection is no protection — policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens) and one very weak technical protection — a near-the-front-end filter at our ingestion points. The filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the "widest allowable aperture," and can be stripped out at any time. Even with the filter, US comms get ingested, and even more so as soon as they leave the border. Your protected communications shouldn't stop being protected communications just because of the IP they're tagged with."

The NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, said during a hearing last week on Capitol Hill that he knew of no way to do that.

As far as the denials from Google, Microsoft and others, Snowden said they were "misleading and included identical, specific language across companies."

We'll update this post with highlights of the Internet chat, so make sure to refresh this page.

Update at 12:35 p.m. ET. On Why He Leaked:

When asked why he waited to leak the documents he did, Snowden responded:

"Obama's campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge."

Update at 1:07 p.m. ET. Not A Chinese Spy:

On a couple of occasions, Snowden was asked if he was a Chinese spy. "If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing?" he said. "I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."

He was asked if he ever had contact with Chinese officials. He said:

"No. I have had no contact with the Chinese government. Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists."

Update at 1:10 p.m. ET. More On His Reasoning:

Snowden was asked if a single moment made him decide to go public with the surveillance programs. He said:

"It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress - and therefore the American people - and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act. Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper - the Director of National Intelligence - baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed."

Snowden seems to be referring to testimony Clapper gave the Senate Intelligence Committee in March. He was asked if the government collected data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.

Clapper said no — "not wittingly."


Facebook servers
(AP Photo/Facebook, Alan Brandt)
June 16, 2013

NSA Snooping: Facebook Reveals Details Of Data Requests

Facebook received 9,000-10,000 requests for user data from US government entities in the second half of 2012.

The social-networking site said the requests, relating to between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts, covered issues from local crime to national security.

Microsoft meanwhile said it received 6,000 and 7,000 requests for data from between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts.

Leaks by a former computer technician suggest the US electronic surveillance programme is far larger than was known.

Internet companies - including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft - were reported last week to have granted the National Security Agency (NSA) "direct access" to their servers under a data collection programme called Prism.

The firms denied the accusations, saying they gave no such access but did comply with lawful requests.

Several also called on the government to grant them permission to release data about the number of classified orders they received.

'Tiny fraction'

In an effort to reassure its users, Facebook lawyer Ted Ullyot wrote on the company's blog that following discussions with the relevant authorities it could for the first time report all US national security-related requests for data.

As of today, the government will only authorise us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range," he said.

For the six months ending 31 December 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received was between 9,000 and 10,000, relating to between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.

"These requests run the gamut - from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat," Mr Ullyot said.

"With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of 1% of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of US state, local, or federal US government request."

Mr Ullyot did not indicate to what extent the company had fulfilled the requests, but said Facebook had "aggressively" protected its users' data.

"We frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested," he said.

Later, Microsoft also published information about the volume of national security orders during the second half of 2012, stressing that they had an impact on only "a tiny fraction of Microsoft's global customer base".

While praising the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation for permitting the disclosures, Microsoft Vice-President John Frank called on them to "take further steps".

"With more time, we hope they will take further steps. Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it's a great place to start," he wrote in a statement.

Earlier this month, Edward Snowden, a former employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and former CIA technical assistant, leaked details of the Prism programme.

he 29-year-old fled the US to Hong Kong shortly before the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers published his revelations.

His whereabouts are unknown, and he has vowed to fight extradition to the US should the authorities attempt to prosecute him.


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