China

Ecuador is Fighting Crime Using Chinese Surveillance Technology (scmp.com) 18

Ecuador has introduced a security system using monitoring technology from China, including facial recognition, as it tries to bring down its crime rate and improve emergency management, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. From a report: A network of cameras has been installed across the South American nation's 24 provinces -- keeping watch on its population of 16.4 million people -- using a system known as the ECU911 Integrated Security Service, Xinhua reported. Used by the country's police, armed forces and fire brigade, it went into operation in November 2016 and has an emergency response and monitoring system.
Twitter

Hawaii Governor Didn't Correct False Missile Alert Sooner Because He Didn't Know His Twitter Password (washingtonpost.com) 166

An anonymous reader shares a WashingtonPost report: Minutes after the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency mistakenly sent a missile alert at 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 13 -- terrifying residents and visitors across the state -- some officials, such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, rushed to Twitter to reassure everyone it was a mistake. But one Twitter account was deafeningly silent for 17 minutes: that of Hawaii Gov. David Ige. Though Ige was informed by the state's adjutant general that the alert was false two minutes after it was sent, he waited until 8:24 a.m. to tweet, "There is NO missile threat." On Monday, after he gave the State of the State address in which he avoided the subject of the missile alert fiasco, reporters demanded an explanation for that long silence. Ige's answer: He couldn't log in to Twitter. "I have to confess that I don't know my Twitter account log-ons and the passwords, so certainly that's one of the changes that I've made," Ige said.
Power

Trump Administration Approves Tariffs of 30 Percent On Imported Solar Panels (axios.com) 374

The Trump administration just approved tariffs of 30% on imported solar panels. Axios explains why it matters: "Most of the American solar industry has opposed tariffs on panels, saying they would raise prices and hurt the sector. A small group of solar panel manufacturers argued -- successfully -- that an influx of cheap imports, largely from China or Chinese-owned companies, was hurting domestic manufacturing. It's also part of President Trump's broader trade agenda against China." From the report: The tariffs would last for four years and decline in increments of 5% from 30%: 25%, 20% and finally 15% in the fourth year. The tariffs are lower than the 35% the U.S. International Trade Commission had initially recommended last year, per Bloomberg. This is actually the third, and broadest, set of tariffs the U.S. government has issued on solar imports in recent years. The Obama administration issued two earlier rounds of tariffs on a narrower set of imports. Monday's action also imposed import tariffs on washing machines, a much lower profile issue than solar energy.
Cloud

UK Hospitals Can Now Store Confidential Patient Records In the Public Cloud (zdnet.com) 73

The National Health Service (NHS) has given hospitals the go-ahead to store sensitive patient records in the cloud. "NHS Digital said the advantages of using cloud services include cost savings associated with not having to buy and maintain hardware and software, and availability of backup and fast system recovery," reports ZDNet. "'Together these features cut the risk of health information not being available due to local hardware failure,' said the report." From ZDNet: Rob Shaw, deputy chief executive at NHS Digital, said: "It is for individual organizations to decide if they wish to use cloud and data offshoring but there are a huge range of benefits in doing so, such as greater data security protection and reduced running costs when implemented effectively." The UK government introduced a 'cloud first' policy for public sector IT in 2013, and NHS Choices and NHS England's Code4Health initiative are already successfully using the cloud. NHS Digital's guidance said that the NHS and social care providers may use cloud computing services for NHS data, although data must only be hosted within the European Economic Area, a country deemed adequate by the European Commission, or in the U.S. where covered by Privacy Shield.
Government

Montana Becomes First State To Implement Net Neutrality After FCC Repeal (thehill.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) signed an executive order on Monday requiring internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality principles. The order makes his state the first to push back on the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal the open internet rules last month. The order says that in order to receive a contract with the state government, internet service providers must not engage in blocking or throttling web content or create internet fast lanes. Those practices were all banned under the Obama-era 2015 net neutrality order. Bullock's office said the executive order goes into effect immediately, but there will be a six-month grace period for companies to ensure that they're in compliance. The governor said on Monday that he is encouraging his counterparts and legislators in other states to follow suit, promising to personally email a copy of his order to any who ask for it. Further reading: The New York Times
China

China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials (wsj.com) 153

U.S. scientists helped devise the Crispr biotechnology tool. First to test it in humans are Chinese doctors (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative link). WSJ reports: In a hospital west of Shanghai, Wu Shixiu since March has been trying to treat cancer patients using a promising new gene-editing tool. U.S. scientists helped devise the tool, known as Crispr-Cas9, which has captured global attention since a 2012 report said it can be used to edit DNA. Doctors haven't been allowed to use it in human trials in America. That isn't the case for Dr. Wu and others in China. In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. [...] There is little doubt China was first out of the block testing Crispr on humans. Nine trials in China are listed in a U.S. National Library of Medicine database. The Wall Street Journal found at least two other hospital trials, including one beginning in 2015 -- a year earlier than previously reported. Journal reporting found at least 86 Chinese patients have had their genes edited.
United Kingdom

Facebook Reopens Probe Into Russian Involvement in Brexit (techcrunch.com) 310

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Facebook has said it will conduct a wider investigation into whether there was Russian meddling on its platform relating to the 2016 Brexit referendum vote in the UK. Wednesday its UK policy director Simon Milner wrote to a parliamentary committee that's been conducting a wide-ranging enquiry into fake news -- and whose chair has been witheringly critical of Facebook and Twitter for failing to co-operate with requests for information and assistance on the topic of Brexit and Russia -- saying it will widen its investigation, per the committee's request. Though he gave no firm deadline for delivering a fresh report -- beyond estimating "a number of weeks".

It's not clear whether Twitter will also bow to pressure to conduct a more thorough investigation of Brexit-related disinformation. At the time of writing the company had not responded to our questions either. At the end of last year committee chair Damian Collins warned both companies they could face sanctions for failing to co-operate with the committee's enquiry -- slamming Twitter's investigations to date as "completely inadequate", and expressing disbelief that both companies had essentially ignored the committee's requests... Independent academic studies have suggested there was in fact significant tweet-based activity generated around Brexit by Russian bots."

Theresa May has said Russia's attempts to "sow discord" in the West could not go unchallenged, and warned Vladimir Putin, "We know what you are up to."

Facebook's response complained that a new investigation "requires detailed analysis of historic data by our security experts, who are also engaged in preventing live threats to our service."
Microsoft

Microsoft Fights Search Warrants for Overseas Emails in the Supreme Court (microsoft.com) 67

Microsoft's Chief Legal Officer writes about "the landmark Microsoft case that will decide whether the U.S. government can use a search warrant to force a company to seize a customer's private emails stored in Ireland and import them to the United States." On Thursday, 289 different groups and individuals from 37 countries signed 23 different legal briefs supporting Microsoft's position that Congress never gave law enforcement the power to ignore treaties and breach Ireland's sovereignty in this way. How could it? The government relies on a law that was enacted in 1986, before anyone conceived of cloud computing... When the U.S. government requires a tech company to execute a warrant for emails stored overseas, the provider must search a foreign datacenter and make a copy abroad, and then import that copy to the United States. This creates a complex issue with huge international consequences. It shouldn't be resolved by taking the law to a place it was never intended to go...

The U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to seize foreign customers' emails from other countries ignores borders, treaties and international law, as well as the laws those countries have in place to protect the privacy of their own citizens... It's also a path that will lead to the doorsteps of American homes by putting the privacy of U.S. citizens' emails at risk. If the U.S. government obtains the power to search and seize foreign citizens' private communications physically stored in other countries, it will invite other governments to do the same thing. If we ignore other countries' laws, how can we demand that they respect our laws?

Amicus briefs supporting Microsoft have been filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Ireland, France, and the European Commission and European privacy regulators. Microsoft even notes that on this issue, "Fox News agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union."
Iphone

iPhone X Purchase Leads To Police, Battering Ram, and Handcuffs (cbslocal.com) 403

An anonymous reader quotes CBS SFBayArea: On one recent morning, Rick Garcia and his wife Shannon Knuth woke up to a posse of San Francisco police officers at their front door. "I peered through the peephole and I saw a police officer and a battering ram," Garcia said. "We heard 'SFPD' and 'warrant,' and I was like 'what's going on?'" Knuth remembers. It felt like a nightmare yet it was real. Garcia says that within seconds he was dragged into the hallway of his apartment complex, handcuffed, then whisked away to the Taraval Station.... Meanwhile Knuth, who had just got out of the shower, was ordered to sit on the couch... After rifling through the apartment Knuth says the officers finally told her what they were looking for: Her husband's iPhone X.

According to the warrant, it was stolen but Knuth showed them the receipt which proved her husband bought it. Once the officers realized their mistake they called the police station and a squad car brought Garcia home. "They gathered their pry bar and their battering ram and they left," he said. So how could a mistake like that happen? It's still unclear but it turns out Garcia and Knuth bought the iPhone at an Apple store at Stonestown Galleria just a few weeks after 300 iPhone Xs were stolen from a UPS truck in the mall parking lot.

One former police chief says the way it was handled "kind of boggles the mind...

"This was clearly an incident that should have just been a knock and talk, a couple detectives come to the door, knock on the door and they would have gathered the same info that they gathered after they put him in handcuffs and hauled him off to jail."
The Military

Pentagon Document Confirms Existence of Russian Doomsday Torpedo (popularmechanics.com) 370

Popular Mechanics reports that "a key U.S. nuclear weapons document confirms that the Russian government is developing the most powerful nuclear weapon in more than a half century...a 'new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo'" with a range of 6,200 miles. But what really makes "Kanyon" nightmare fuel is the drone torpedo's payload: a 100-megaton thermonuclear weapon. By way of comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons, or the equivalent of 16,000 tons of TNT. Kanyon's nuke would be the equivalent of 100,000,000 tons of TNT. That's twice as powerful as Tsar Bomba, the most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever tested. Dropped on New York City, a 100-megaton bomb would kill 8 million people outright and injure 6 million more.

Kanyon is designed to attack coastal areas, destroying cities, naval bases, and ports. The mega-bomb would also generate an artificial tsunami that would surge inland, spreading radioactive contamination with the advancing water. To make matters worse there are reports the warhead is "salted" with the radioactive isotope Cobalt-60. Contaminated areas would be off-limits to humanity for up to 100 years.

Slashdot reader schwit1 adds that "being sea-based makes it immune to ballistic missile defense."
Space

Flat Earther Plans New Rocket Launch, Predicts Super Bowl-Sized Ratings (phillyvoice.com) 215

Self-taught rocket scientist/daredevil "Mad" Mike Hughes will finally launch his homemade rocket in two weeks -- despite "anonymous online haters questioning his every move." An anonymous reader quotes PhillyVoice: He's found some private land in the "ghost town" of Amboy, California -- complete with a brand-spanking-new road that'll enable him to get his motor home and rocket gear to the site... "It'll be a vertical launch, me strapped into the rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust, going up about three-eighths of a mile," he said, noting it's a prologue to a major launch this Fourth of July weekend. "It's the ultimate Wile E. Coyote move."

As with the scrubbed mission, this is in part an event which he hopes will get people to investigate the ideology which holds the earth is flat -- despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. He said it would've happened back in November if international publicity hadn't prompted government bureaucrats to "cover their asses" by pointing out that his launch site crept 150 feet into federal land. "I could've been arrested so at that point, I just went home and got back to work," he said... "But guess what? It's about to happen again... I should get more viewers than the Super Bowl," said Hughes, adding the launch will be aired on Noize TV [a video-on-demand service].

Noize TV has already posted video of a new interview with Hughes, touting his upcoming launch at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 3, the day before the Super Bowl (which Hughes calls "nothing but bullshit.")

Hughes says he's also filing to run for Governor of California.
Government

'New California' Movement Wants To Create a 51st State (wqad.com) 545

PolygamousRanchKid, Ayano, and an anonymous reader all shared the same story. Tribune Media reports: A group has launched a campaign to divide California into two states. It isn't the first attempt to split California, but unlike a failed campaign in 2016 to divide California into six states, the campaign to create New California would split the state into one made up of rural counties and another made up of coastal counties.
USA Today provides some context: Breaking up California remains no easy task: A formal secession means getting approval from both Congress and California's legislature itself. But that hasn't stopped folks from trying. Hundreds of times... Monday's declaration of "the State of New California" marked the latest in more than 200 long-shot efforts to split the Golden State. All so far have failed.
Twitter

Twitter Says It Exposed Nearly 700,000 People To Russian Propaganda During Election (theverge.com) 299

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter this evening released a new set of statistics related to its investigation on Russia propaganda efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including that 677,775 people were exposed to social media posts from more than 50,000 automated accounts with links to the Russian government. Many of the new accounts uncovered have been traced back to an organization called the the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, with known ties to the Kremlin. The data was first presented in an incomplete form to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee last November, which held hearings to question Facebook, Google, and Twitter on the role the respective platforms and products played in the Russian effort to help elect President Donald Trump. Twitter says it's now uncovered more accounts and new information on the wide-reaching Russian cyberintelligence campaign.

"Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period," writes Twitter's public policy division in a blog post published today. "Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available."

Government

What a Government Shutdown Will Mean For NASA and SpaceX (theverge.com) 196

Ars Technica reports of how the government shutdown affects federal agencies like NASA, as well as commercial companies like SpaceX: So far, NASA has been keeping quiet about this particular shutdown and has been directing all questions to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to a request for comment. But NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, told employees in an email obtained by The Verge to be on alert for directions over the next couple of days. "If there is a lapse in funding for the federal government Friday night, report to work the same way you normally would until further notice, and you will receive guidance on how best to closeout your activities on Monday," he wrote in the email. The most recent guidance from NASA, released in 2017, indicates that all nonessential employees should stay home during a shutdown, while a small contingent of staff continue to work on "excepted" projects. The heads of each NASA center decide which employees need to stay, but they're typically the people who operate important or hazardous programs, including employees working on upcoming launches or those who operate satellites and the International Space Station.

NASA's next big mission is the launch of its exoplanet-hunting satellite, TESS, which is going up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March. So it shouldn't be affected by a shutdown (unless it takes a while to find a resolution). However, it's possible that preparations on another big spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, may come to a halt, according to Nature. The space telescope is currently at NASA's Johnson Space Center for testing, but NASA's guidelines say that only spacecraft preparations that are "necessary to prevent harm to life or property" should continue during a shutdown. More immediately, an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance is launching a missile-detecting satellite tonight out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, while SpaceX is slated to launch a communications satellite on January 30th. The timing of both launches may mean they avoid the shutdown. But if they did occur during the shutdown, it's unclear if they would suffer delays.

Privacy

Trump Signs Surveillance Extension Into Law (thehill.com) 94

President Trump took to Twitter this afternoon to announce that he has signed a six-year renewal of a powerful government surveillance tool. "Just signed 702 Bill to authorize foreign intelligence collection," Trump tweeted. "This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election. I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!" The Hill reports: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the Senate voted to renew with a few small tweaks this week, allows the U.S. to spy on foreigners overseas. The intelligence community says the program is a critical tool in identifying and disrupting terror plots. But the broader surveillance law, which governs U.S. spying on foreigners, has become politically entangled with the controversy over the federal investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia. Some Republicans have claimed that the FBI inappropriately obtained a politically motivated FISA warrant to spy on Trump during the transition and on Friday, Capitol Hill was consumed with speculation about a four-page memo produced by House Intelligence Committee Republicans that some GOP lawmakers hinted contained evidence of such wrongdoing.
Communications

Why People Dislike Really Smart Leaders (scientificamerican.com) 669

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Intelligence makes for better leaders -- from undergraduates to executives to presidents -- according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. The researchers looked at 379 male and female business leaders in 30 countries, across fields that included banking, retail and technology. The managers took IQ tests (an imperfect but robust predictor of performance in many areas), and each was rated on leadership style and effectiveness by an average of eight co-workers. IQ positively correlated with ratings of leader effectiveness, strategy formation, vision and several other characteristics -- up to a point. The ratings peaked at an IQ of around 120, which is higher than roughly 80 percent of office workers. Beyond that, the ratings declined. The researchers suggest the "ideal" IQ could be higher or lower in various fields, depending on whether technical versus social skills are more valued in a given work culture. The study's lead author, John Antonakis, a psychologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, suggests leaders should use their intelligence to generate creative metaphors that will persuade and inspire others -- the way former U.S. President Barack Obama did. "I think the only way a smart person can signal their intelligence appropriately and still connect with the people," Antonakis says, "is to speak in charismatic ways."
Security

Senate Passes Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (reuters.com) 96

From a report: The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program for six years and with minimal changes, overcoming objections from civil liberties advocates that it did too little to safeguard the privacy of Americans. From a report on CNET: The programs, known as Prism and Upstream, allow the NSA to collect online communications of foreigners outside the US. Prism collects these communications from internet services, and Upstream taps into the internet's infrastructure to capture information in transit. Some communications from Americans and others in the US are collected in the process. The vote Thursday renews the programs for six years. The House approved a bill renewing the programs last week. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the programs by leaking information about them to journalists in 2013. After the news coverage, the administration of President Barack Obama declassified much information about the programs.
Privacy

Amazon Won't Say If It Hands Your Echo Data To the Government (zdnet.com) 105

Zack Whittaker reports via ZDNet of how Amazon still won't say whether or not it hands your Echo data to the government -- three years after the Echo was first released. From the report: Amazon has a transparency problem. Three years ago, the retail giant became the last major tech company to reveal how many subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders it received for customer data in a half-year period. While every other tech giant had regularly published its government request figures for years, spurred on by accusations of participation in government surveillance, Amazon had been largely forgotten. Eventually, people noticed and Amazon acquiesced. Since then, Amazon's business has expanded. By its quarterly revenue, it's no longer a retail company -- it's a cloud giant and a device maker. The company's flagship Echo, an "always listening" speaker, collects vast amounts of customer data that's openly up for grabs by the government. But Amazon's bi-annual transparency figures don't want you to know that. In fact, Amazon has been downright deceptive in how it presents the data, obfuscating the figures in its short, but contextless, twice-yearly reports. Not only does Amazon offer the barest minimum of information possible, the company has -- and continues -- to deliberately mislead its customers by actively refusing to clarify how many customers, and which customers, are affected by the data demands it receives.
Transportation

LAPD Is Not Using the Electric BMWs It Announced In 2016 (cbslocal.com) 135

mi shares a report from CBS Los Angeles: "In a 2016 well-choreographed press conference, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck got out of an electric BMW driven by Mayor Garcetti to tout the city's ambitious project [to provide electric cars for the department]," reports CBS Los Angeles. "The cost: $10.2 million, which includes charging stations." However, the cars have seen very little use. With the monthly lease payment of a little more than $418, one vehicle ends up costing taxpayers over $15 a mile to use. Some of the use they do get is improper too, alleges CBS Los Angeles, citing footage captured from several hidden cameras. "We followed someone after leaving the downtown police garage; they went to the drive-through at Yoshinoya," reports CBS. "On another day, someone drove from downtown LA to Loyola Marymount University in West LA, picked up someone who appeared to be a student, and went to lunch." The deputy chief is looking into what CBS found and says the cars are to be used for business only.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 263

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.

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