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Privacy

Top NSA Official Raised Alarm About Metadata Program In 2009 106

Posted by Soulskill
from the should-have-listened dept.
An anonymous reader sends this report from the Associated Press: "Dissenters within the National Security Agency, led by a senior agency executive, warned in 2009 that the program to secretly collect American phone records wasn't providing enough intelligence to justify the backlash it would cause if revealed, current and former intelligence officials say.

The NSA took the concerns seriously, and many senior officials shared them. But after an internal debate that has not been previously reported, NSA leaders, White House officials and key lawmakers opted to continue the collection and storage of American calling records, a domestic surveillance program without parallel in the agency's recent history.
United States

Greenwald Advises Market-Based Solution To Mass Surveillance 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-get-what-you-demand dept.
Nicola Hahn writes In his latest Intercept piece Glenn Greenwald considers the recent defeat of the Senate's USA Freedom Act. He remarks that governments "don't walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power." Instead of appealing to an allegedly irrelevant Congress Greenwald advocates utilizing the power of consumer demand to address the failings of cyber security. Specifically he argues that companies care about their bottom line and that the trend of customers refusing to tolerate insecure products will force companies to protect user privacy, implement encryption, etc. All told Greenwald's argument is very telling: that society can rely on corporate interests for protection. Is it true that representative government is a lost cause and that lawmakers would never knowingly yield authority? There are people who think that advising citizens to devolve into consumers is a dubious proposition.
Education

Interviews: Ask Adora Svitak About Education and Women In STEM and Politics 145

Posted by samzenpus
from the go-ahead-and-ask dept.
samzenpus writes Adora Svitak is a child prodigy, author and activist. She taught her first class on writing at a local elementary school when she was 7, the same year her book, Flying Fingers was published. In 2010, Adora spoke at a TED Conference. Her speech, "What Adults Can Learn from Kids", has been viewed over 3.7 million times and has been translated into over 40 different languages. She is an advocate for literacy, youth empowerment, and for the inclusion of more women and girls in STEM and politics. 17 this year, she served as a Youth Advisor to the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. and is a freshman at UC Berkeley. Adora has agreed to take some time from her books and answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
The Courts

US Gov't Seeks To Keep Megaupload Assets Because Kim Dotcom Is a Fugitive 164

Posted by timothy
from the them-as-has-gits-by-law dept.
mrspoonsi writes with this excerpt from Billboard: 'On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice told a Virginia federal judge that Kim Dotcom and cohorts have no business challenging the seizure of an estimated $67 million in assets because the Megaupload founder is evading prosecution. The government brought criminal charges against Dotcom in early 2012, but he's been holed up in New Zealand awaiting word on whether he'll be extradited. The government got antsy and this past July, brought a civil complaint for forfeiture in rem, a maneuver to firmly establish a hold over money from bank accounts around the world, luxury cars, big televisions, watches, artwork and other property allegedly gained by Megaupload in the course of crimes. Dotcom is fighting the seizures by questioning the government's basis for asserting a crime, saying "there is no such crime as secondary criminal copyright infringement," as well as challenging how the seized assets are tied to the charges against Dotcom. But according to the U.S. government, Dotcom doesn't get the pleasure of even making the arguments. In a motion to strike, the government cites the doctrine of fugitive disentitlement, which bars a person from using the resources of the court if that person is aware of prosecution and is evading it.
United States

Congress Suggests Moat, Electronic Fence To Protect White House 211

Posted by samzenpus
from the greased-monkeys-with-straight-razors dept.
PolygamousRanchKid writes Acting Secret Service director Joseph Clancy on Wednesday faced a number of tough questions from the House Judiciary Committee about the fence jumper who made it deep into the White House. But along with the tough questions, Clancy fielded a couple eyebrow raising suggestions on how to better protect the president's home. "Would a moat, water six feet around, be kind of attractive and effective?" Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked with trepidation. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, asked: “Would you be in favor of removing the fence around the White House and having, maybe, a virtual or electronic fence around it?” Clancy liked the moat idea better than the electric fence. “My knee-jerk reaction to that would be no, sir,” he told Gohmert. “Partly because of the number of tourists that come up Pennsylvania Avenue and come up to that area.”
United States

Number of Coders In Congress To Triple (From One To Three) 158

Posted by samzenpus
from the small-steps dept.
jfruh writes Last weekend, Tim Berners-Lee said that the UK needs more members of parliament who can code. Well, the most recent U.S. congressional election has obliged him on this side of the Atlantic: the number of coders in Congress has tripled, with the downside being that their numbers have gone from one to three.
The Internet

Head of FCC Proposes Increasing Internet School Fund 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the dollars-for-bits dept.
Rambo Tribble writes: The commissioners at the FCC are expected to vote, on December 11, on a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler to increase the funding for the nation's largest educational technology subsidy program, E-Rate, by 62 percent. The proposal is intended to be paid for by higher fees on phone service. The increased cost is pegged at $1.92 a year, per telephone line. Support for the proposal, or lack thereof, appears to be falling along partisan lines. To quote Wheeler, however, "Almost two-thirds of American schools cannot appropriately connect their students to the 21st century."
Republicans

Republicans Block Latest Attempt At Curbing NSA Power 428

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-everybody-will-have-forgotten-about-it-in-two-years dept.
Robotron23 writes: The latest attempt at NSA reform has been prevented from passage in the Senate by a margin of 58 to 42. Introduced as a means to stop the NSA collecting bulk phone and e-mail records on a daily basis, the USA Freedom Act has been considered a practical route to curtailment of perceived overreach by security services, 18 months since Edward Snowden went public. Opponents to the bill said it was needless, as Wall Street Journal raised the possibility of terrorists such as ISIS running amok on U.S. soil. Supporting the bill meanwhile were the technology giants Google and Microsoft. Prior to this vote, the bill had already been stripped of privacy protections in aid of gaining White House support. A provision to extend the controversial USA Patriot Act to 2017 was also appended by the House of Representatives.
Power

Rooftop Solar Could Reach Price Parity In the US By 2016 495

Posted by Soulskill
from the hopefully-the-sun-is-still-shining-then dept.
Lucas123 writes: The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices of coal-powered energy and other conventional sources in all 50 U.S. states in just two years, a leap from today where PV energy has price parity in only 10 states, according to Deutsche Bank's leading solar industry analyst. The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs, Deutsche Bank's Vishal Shah stated in a recent report. The cost of solar-generated electricity in the top 10 states for capacity ranges from 11-15 cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh), compared to the retail electricity price of 11-37 c/kWh. Amit Ronen, a former Congressional staffer behind legislation that created an investment tax credit for solar installations, said one of the only impediments to decreasing solar electricity prices are fees proposed by utilities on customers who install solar and take advantage of net metering, or the ability to sell excess power back to utilities.
Google

Court Rules Google's Search Results Qualify As Free Speech 137

Posted by timothy
from the hey-man-it's-what-we-feel-about-those-results dept.
wabrandsma writes with this news from Ars Technica: The regulation of Google's search results has come up from time to time over the past decade, and although the idea has gained some traction in Europe (most recently with "right to be forgotten" laws), courts and regulatory bodies in the U.S. have generally agreed that Google's search results are considered free speech. That consensus was upheld last Thursday, when a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Google's right to order its search results as it sees fit.
Canada

What the US Can Learn From Canada's Internet Policy 142

Posted by samzenpus
from the great-white-north-policy dept.
blottsie writes As the U.S. continues to debate how best to establish net neutrality regulations over Internet service providers, author and journalist Peter Nowak explains how how Canada has already dealt with these issues, and what the U.S. can learn from its neighbor to the north."[Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper has made the connection between telecom policy and actual votes, and that has had enormous impact on public policy," says Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. "This is a ballot-box or pocket-book issue that hasn't really been seen yet in the United States."
United States

State Department Joins NOAA, USPS In Club of Hacked Federal Agencies 54

Posted by timothy
from the more-funding-next-year dept.
Hot on the heels of recent cyber attacks on NOAA, the USPS, and the White House, the New York Times reports that the U.S. State Department has also suffered an online security breach, though it's not clear who to blame. “This has impacted some of our unclassified email traffic and our access to public websites from our main unclassified system,” said one senior State Department official, adding that the department expected its systems to be up soon. ....The breach at the White House was believed to be the work of hackers in Russia, while the breaches at NOAA and the Postal Service were believed to the work of hackers inside China. Attributing attacks to a group or nation is difficult because hackers typically tend to route their attack through compromised web servers all over the world. A senior State Department official said the breach was discovered after “activity of concern” was detected on portions of its unclassified computer system. Officials did not say how long hackers may have been lurking in those systems, but security improvements were being added to them on Sunday.
The Almighty Buck

Billionaire Donors Lavish Millions On Code.org Crowdfunding Project 84

Posted by timothy
from the hey-fellas-I've-got-this-foundation-repair-project dept.
theodp (442580) writes "Whether it's winning yacht races, assembling the best computer science faculty, or even dominating high school basketball, billionaires like to win. Which may help explain why three tech billionaires — Code.org backers (and FWD.us founders) Mark Zuckerberg, VC John Doerr, and Sean Parker — stepped up to the plate and helped out Code.org's once-anemic Hour of Code Indiegogo crowdfunding project with $500k donations. When matched by Code.org's largest donors (Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman and others), the three donations alone raised $3,000,000, enough to reach the organization's goal of becoming the most funded crowdfunding campaign ever on Indiegogo. On its campaign page, Code.org remarked that "to sustain our organization for the long haul, we need to engage parents and community members," which raises questions about how reliant the K-12 learn-to-code movement might be on the kindness of its wealthy corporate and individual donors. Code.org started shedding some light on its top donors a few months back, but contributor names are blank in the 2013 IRS 990 filing posted by the organization on its website, although GuideStar suggests the biggest contributors in 2013 were Microsoft ($3,149,411) and Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi ($1,873,909 in Facebook stock). Coincidentally, in a Reddit AMA at Code.org's launch, CEO and Founder Hadi Partovi noted that his next-door-neighbor is Microsoft General Counsel and Code.org Board member Brad Smith, whose FWD.us bio notes is responsible for Microsoft's philanthropic work. Just months before Code.org and FWD.us emerged on the lobbying scene, Smith announced Microsoft's National Talent Strategy, which called for "an increase in developing the American STEM pipeline in exchange for these new [H-1B] visas and green cards," a wish that President Obama is expected to grant shortly via executive action."
Networking

Can the US Actually Cultivate Local Competition in Broadband? 135

Posted by timothy
from the but-what-we-really-want-is-more-rules dept.
New submitter riskkeyesq writes with a link to a blog post from Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic.net, about what Jasper sees as the deepest problem in the U.S. broadband market and the Internet in general: "There are a number of threats to the Internet as a system for innovation, commerce and education today. They include net neutrality, the price of Internet access in America, performance, rural availability and privacy. But none of these are the root issue, they're just symptoms. The root cause of all of these symptoms is a disease: a lack of competition for consumer Internet access." Soft landings for former legislators, lobbyists disguised as regulators, hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber sitting unused, the sham that is the internet provider free market is keeping the US in a telecommunications third-world. What, exactly, can American citizens do about it? One upshot, in Jasper's opinion (hardly disinterested, is his role at CEO at an ISP that draws praise from the EFF for its privacy policies) is this: "Today’s FCC should return to the roots of the Telecom Act, and reinforce the unbundling requirements, assuring that they are again technology neutral. This will create an investment ladder to facilities for competitive carriers, opening access to build out and serve areas that are beyond our reach today."
Medicine

Machine Learning Used To Predict Military Suicides 74

Posted by timothy
from the sobering-statistics dept.
HughPickens.com (3830033) writes David Wagner writes that a predictive computer model using machine learning methods is helping to identify soldiers in the United States Army most likely to commit suicide. Computers combed through data on more than 40,000 soldiers who'd been hospitalized for mental health problems looking at 421 variables on each soldier drawn from 38 military data systems. Using a method known as "machine learning," the researchers identified roughly two dozen factors that are most important in predicting soldiers most likely to commit suicide. The soldiers most likely to take their own lives were men with past suicidal behavior and a history of psychiatric disorders and criminal offenses, including weapons possession and verbal assaults. Soldiers with hearing loss also faced heightened risk — a strong indicator that they had suffered a head injury. So did enlisting in the Army after age 27, most likely because those soldiers had already experienced trouble finding their way in life. "There's this group that comes to the Army later in life — they're smart, they have skills, they tend not to be married and they have no career or have left a career to join," Dr. Kessler said. "We don't know why they should be at higher risk, but they appear to be."

Murray Stein, co-author of the new study, found that among soldiers recently discharged from psychiatric hospitals, more than half of suicides were committed by just five percent of patients. "The most impressive thing is that they identified this high-risk group in the hospital, and by just focusing on one in 20 of them, you're really dramatically improving your ability to predict," says Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who was not involved in the study. "Clinicians don't do a very good job predicting suicide risk, even though we think we do."
Supercomputing

US DOE Sets Sights On 300 Petaflop Supercomputer 127

Posted by timothy
from the who-is-this-we-paleface? dept.
dcblogs writes U.S. officials Friday announced plans to spend $325 million on two new supercomputers, one of which may eventually be built to support speeds of up to 300 petaflops. The U.S. Department of Energy, the major funder of supercomputers used for scientific research, wants to have the two systems – each with a base speed of 150 petaflops – possibly running by 2017. Going beyond the base speed to reach 300 petaflops will take additional government approvals. If the world stands still, the U.S. may conceivably regain the lead in supercomputing speed from China with these new systems. How adequate this planned investment will look three years from now is a question. Lawmakers weren't reading from the same script as U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz when it came to assessing the U.S.'s place in the supercomputing world. Moniz said the awards "will ensure the United States retains global leadership in supercomputing." But Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) put U.S. leadership in the past tense. "Supercomputing is one of those things that we can step up and lead the world again," he said.
Government

Comcast Kisses-Up To Obama, Publicly Agrees On Net Neutrality 258

Posted by timothy
from the wormtongues-all-around dept.
MojoKid writes Comcast is one of two companies to have earned Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" title on more than one occasion and it looks like they're lobbying for a third title. That is, unless there's another explanation as to how the cable giant can claim (with straight face) that it's in agreement with President Barack Obama for a free and open Internet. Comcast issued a statement of its own saying they back the exact same things, it just doesn't want to go the utility route. Comcast went on to list specific bullet points that they're supposedly in wholehearted agreement with, such as: Free and open Internet. We agree — and that is our practice. No blocking. We agree — and that is our practice. No throttling. We agree — and that is our practice. Increased transparency. We agree — and that is our practice. No paid prioritization. We agree — and that is our practice. Really? Comcast conveniently fails to address the giant elephant in the room whose name is Netflix. Earlier this year, Netflix begrudgingly inked a multi-year deal with Comcast in which the streaming service agreed to pay a toll to ensure faster delivery into the homes of Comcast subscribers, who prior to the deal had been complaining of frequent buffering and video degradation when watching content on Netflix. Comcast would undoubtedly argue that it's not a paid fast lane, but it's hard to see the deal as anything other than that.
The Almighty Buck

The Downside to Low Gas Prices 554

Posted by timothy
from the speak-for-yourself-hummer-buyers dept.
HughPickens.com writes Pat Garofalo writes in an op-ed in US News & World Report that with the recent drop in oil prices, there's something policymakers can do that will offset at least some of the negative effects of the currently low prices, while also removing a constant thorn in the side of American transportation and infrastructure policy: Raise the gas tax. The current 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax has not been raised since 1993, making it about 11 cents per gallon today, in constant dollars. Plus, as fuel efficiency has gotten better and Americans have started driving less, the tax has naturally raised less revenue anyway. And that's a problem because the tax fills the Highway Trust Fund, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, broke so that in recent years Congress has had to patch it time and time again to fill the gap. According to the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman, if Congress doesn't make a move, "it will fumble one of those rare opportunities when the economic and policy stars align almost perfectly." The increase can be phased in slowly, a few cents per month, perhaps, so that the price of gas doesn't jump overnight. When prices eventually do creep back up thanks to economic factors, hopefully the tax will hardly be noticed.

Consumers are already starting to buy the sort of gas-guzzling vehicles, including Hummers, that had been going out of style as gas prices rose; that's bad for both the environment and consumers, because gas prices are inevitably going to increase again. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, taxes last year, even before the current drop in prices, made up 12 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, down from 28 percent in 2000. And compared to other developed countries, US gas taxes are pretty much a joke. While we're at it, an even better idea, as a recent report from the Urban Institute makes clear, would be indexing the gas tax to inflation, so this problem doesn't consistently arise. "The status quo simply isn't sustainable, from an infrastructure or environmental perspective," concludes Garofalo. "So raise the gas tax now; someday down the line, it will look like a brilliant move."
The Courts

FCC Says Net Neutrality Decision Delay Is About Courts, Not Politics 60

Posted by timothy
from the distinction-without-a-difference dept.
blottsie writes with this news from The Daily Dot: "The Federal Communications Commission's seemingly suspicious timing in delaying its net neutrality decision has absolutely nothing to do with recent politics, according to an FCC official. Instead, it's a matter of some people in the agency insisting they be more prepared before going to court to defend their eventual plan. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of Verizon, which challenged the FCC's 2010 Open Internet rules, striking down the agency's net neutrality protections. The court found that the FCC did not use the proper legal structure to establish its regulatory authority over broadband service—something that many legal experts say would not be the case if the FCC invokes Title II. The FCC's move to delay the net neutrality decision, which followed President Obama's support of Title II reclassification, was just a coincidence, according to the FCC official:" Before the president weighed in, several of our staff felt like the record was a little thin in areas, and the last thing you want when you go to court for the third time is for a court to say the record was too thin, or you didn't give adequate notice. We are going to be so careful this time that we have crossed every T and dotted every I. Some of the staff felt we're not quite there yet."
Education

Education Chief Should Know About PLATO and the History of Online CS Education 134

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-in-the-day dept.
theodp writes Writing in Vanity Fair, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan marvels that his kids can learn to code online at their own pace thanks to "free" lessons from Khan Academy, which Duncan credits for "changing the way my kids learn" (Duncan calls out his kids' grade school for not offering coding). The 50-year-old Duncan, who complained last December that he "didn't have the opportunity to learn computer skills" while growing up attending the Univ. of Chicago Lab Schools and Yale, may be surprised to learn that the University of Illinois was teaching kids how to program online in the '70s with its PLATO system, and it didn't look all that different from what Khan Academy came up with for his kids 40 years later (Roger Ebert remarked in his 2011 TED Talk that seeing Khan Academy gave him a flashback to the PLATO system he reported on in the '60s). So, does it matter if the nation's education chief — who presides over a budget that includes $69 billion in discretionary spending — is clueless about The Hidden History of Ed-Tech? Some think so. "We can't move forward," Hack Education's Audrey Watters writes, "til we reconcile where we've been before." So, if Duncan doesn't want to shell out $200 to read a 40-year-old academic paper on the subject (that's a different problem!) to bring himself up to speed, he presumably can check out the free offerings at Ed.gov. A 1975 paper on Interactive Systems for Education, for instance, notes that 650 students were learning programming on PLATO during the Spring '75 semester, not bad considering that Khan Academy is boasting that it "helped over 2000 girls learn to code" in 2014 (after luring their teachers with funding from a $1,000,000 Google Award). Even young techies might be impressed by the extent of PLATO's circa-1975 online CS offerings, from lessons on data structures and numerical analysis to compilers, including BASIC, PL/I, SNOBOL, APL, and even good-old COBOL.

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