Tag: congress

Encryption battle brews

130731163619-lead-intv-senator-ron-wyden-nsa-leaks-00000330-horizontal-galleryA battle is brewing over the rights of US companies to sell products with encryption.

Legislation is expected shortly in Congress that would limit encryption protection in American technology products.  The idea is that it will make it easier for US spooks to spy on those using encryption.

While the US Congress tends to rubber stamp “security measures”, it looks like this deal will not go through without a fight.

US Senator Ron Wyden pledged on Wednesday to fight a bipartisan move from the Senate Intelligence Committee which would give federal judges authority to order technology companies to help law enforcement officials access encrypted data.

Wyden told the RightsCon digital rights conference in San Francisco that weakening strong encryption puts at risk millions of Americans, families and communities from one end of the country to another.

Wyden is on the Intelligence committee but is also a leading privacy advocate.  He said he would do anything within my power as a United States senator to block any plan that weakens strong encryption.

Government officials have insisted that criminal investigations could be crippled without access to phone data, and both sides are gearing up for a fight in Congress.

Wyden said he would revive a 2014 bill he introduced to block court attempts by U.S. law enforcement to undercut encryption. Of course there is nothing to stop them cracking the encryption themselves.

VW blames emissions scandal on software engineers

b299405f6eafe0ac98ce9d9405a17663 (1)The carmaker created by the Nazis to create show cars for white aryan families  is scapegoating the software engineers for its current emissions woes.

VW’s Michael Horn told the US Congress that the decision to install the emission cheating software was all the work of a couple of software engineers.

Apparently the board was not aware that the testing cheating software which allowed it to cheat emissions were installed. The software engineers snuck into the production chain and convinced everyone one to install it using their impressive mind control techniques.

Normally you would not expect a company executive to pull off a stunt like this, but apparently someone pointed out that most US politicians don’t believe in climate change or evolution so they are probably stupid enough to believe in anything.

That did not really work last time. The issue of defeat devices at VW has been a historic problem.

In 1974, VW had a run-in with US authorities regarding the use of defeat devices in 1974, and in December 2014 it recalled cars to address nox emissions.”

More than 530,000 cars in the US will need to be recalled for significant engine modifications, not a software fix. Only 80,000 Passats are eligible for the software fix.

There is no word on the effects these modifications will have on the cars’ performance, fuel consumption, etc.

Law makers start asking Google Glass awkward questions

Eight members of the US Congress sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page, raising concerns about Google Glass and its eavesdropping potential.

The letter features eight questions and asks Page for a response by 14 June, reports the New York Times.

“We are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the letter said. 

The lawmakers, members of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, point out that the actual product has not been released yet, hence there are a number of unanswered questions Google needs to address. On the other hand, perhaps this is their way of getting a free sample to play around with.

Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, wants to know how Google plans to collect and store data from Google Glass, and how it will make sure that the data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands, much like some AP phone records and IRS tax returns. 

Of course, Google is trying to downplay the concerns. It insists that there is nothing really scary about Google Glass, apart from its appearance. Google maintains that it followed all its privacy and data collection policies and built in more tech to prevent privacy violations. It makes perfect sense, since few people will be willing to buy Google Glass unless they are absolutely certain that an embarrassing episode from their personal life won’t go viral. It is in Google own best interest to make it very, very secure.

In related news, Congress is currently facing its lowest approval ratings in history. Congress is now less popular than root canals, head lice, colonoscopies, carnies, traffic jams, France, Donald Trump, cockroaches and used-car salesmen. However, it did manage to beat out the Ebola virus, North Korea, meth labs, and gonorrhoea.

Obama promises more cash for cyber war

US president Barack Obama has promised to increase spending to protect US computer networks from internet based attacks.

This is despite making a lot of cutbacks in other areas of the budget and indicates that a nuclear arms race has been replaced by one which uses software instead of nukes.

Obama’s budget proposal for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins 1 October, calls for more military “hackers” to head off escalating cyber threats from China, Iran, Russia and other countries.

According to Reuters, there will be extra cash to bolster defences for government and private-sector computer networks.

The announcement follows calls from intelligence officials who claimed that cyber attacks and espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States.

Air Force general Robert Kehler told space and cyber industry executives at a conference in Colorado that it was time the US locked its doors because someone from halfway around the world is trying to get into its networks.

The Pentagon said the spending would beef up US defences against increasing cyber attacks, as well as boosting its offensive capabilities.

Obama’s budget proposes to boost Defense Department spending on cyber efforts to $4.7 billion which is $800 million more than current levels. The rest of the Pentagon’s overall spending budget has been cut by $3.9 billion.

The Pentagon wants to expand its Cyber Command which is a team of military hackers conducting what it calls “reconnaissance, surveillance, development, maintenance and analysis”. The Pentagon also said it would expand efforts to protect its own computer networks.

The Department of Homeland Security would spend $44 million more on a government-wide information-sharing effort even though its overall budget will shrink by $615 million, or 1.5 percent.

Some of this cash will fund more cybersecurity research and help private businesses and local governments to bolster their online defences. 

Computer models mess up Congress

The US Congress has decided to blame the fact it is as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to predicting the economic impact of its policies, because it relies on out of date computer models.

For decades the official forecasters at the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation have assumed that changes in tax rates have little impact on how businesses and households behave or on the competitiveness of the US economy.

We are not sure how it reached this conclusion, as this is the sort of things they teach in sixth form economics in most civilised countries.

However, in the US computers were told that people work nearly as much at a 60 percent income tax rate as they do with a 30 percent rate. If capital gains taxes are raised to 30 percent from 15 percent, investors would not care at all.

According to the Wall Street Journal, all this led to crazy results. In 2003 the computers spat out a prediction that capital gains revenues would be $68 billion in 2006 and $73 billion in 2007.

In May that year Congress cut the capital gains tax rate to 15 percent from 20 percent yet the computers insisted that the rate cut would reduce revenues to $65 billion in 2006 and $69 billion in 2007.

Actual capital gains revenue rose despite the lower tax rate to $109 billion in 2006 and $126 billion in 2007. The fact that capital gains tax was reduced boosted economic growth and meant that there was a greater incentive for investors to cash in their gains at the lower rate.

Now it has been decided to change the former to something a little more dynamic.

The knowledge that it was all wrong has been around for ages. It was just a matter of understanding if a “dynamic response” to the economy was worth factoring in.

In 2005, Harvard economists Greg Mankiw and Matthew Weinzierl looked at the revenue feedback of tax cuts and found that “the dynamic response of the economy to tax changes is too large to be ignored”. They pointed out that tax cuts were partly self-financing and this needed to be part of the formulas in Senate computers.

If they can play around with these sorts of figures on the computer they might be less likely to make such howling mistakes. For example Republicans like Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader have been claiming that tax credits for having children that cost the most in lost revenue do the least for economic growth.

In fact the computers would now tell him otherwise.

Still, both the Democrats and the Republics have voted to change the computer model formulas so in the future he will have no excuse. 

US Congress bans buying Chinese IT

The US Congress has installed a new cyber-espionage review process for government technology purchases which effectively pushes Chinese companies out into the cold.

The funding law signed this week by President Barack Obama is part of growing US paranoia over Chinese cyber attacks.

It stops NASA, and the Justice and Commerce Departments from buying information technology systems unless the FBI give the thumbs up. Currently FBI policy is that if the gear comes from a Chinese company there must be something wrong with it. This is different from having a “made in China” label on the back because that applies to most US electronics. The belief is that the Chinese will alter designs to allow back doors, they will sneak into factories operating in their back yard and stick sniffer chips into devices made by US companies.

A provision in the 240-page spending law requires the agencies to make a formal assessment of “cyber espionage or sabotage” risk when considering buying information technology systems.

It must include “any risk associated with such system being produced, manufactured or assembled by one or more entities that are owned, directed or subsidised” by China.

Currently the US imports a total of about $129 billion worth of “advanced technology products” from China, although a lot of this is from US companies who outsourced over there.

Writing in the Volokh Conspiracy, Stewart Baker wrote that the measure “could turn out to be a harsh blow” for Chinese computer maker Lenovo and also “bring some surprises for American companies selling commercial IT gear to the government”.

It is also possible that some US allies could raise objections because of the potential for the provision to prevent purchases of Lenovo computers manufactured in Germany or Huawei handsets designed in Britain. 

White House hits out at mobile unlocking laws

The telecoms industry has woken up with a bad case of democracy after the White House decided laws which make it illegal to unlock mobile phone were wrong.

More than 100,000 people signed the petition protesting the ban on switching imposed by the Library of Congress, which took effect in January.

Much to the horror of the telcos, the White House has agreed with the petitioners, saying that mobile phone users should be allowed to switch their devices to any mobile carrier.

According to Reutersthe telecoms industry argues that mobile phones should be locked to prevent them moving freely across networks. They say that they subsidise the phones so people should be forced to stick to them.

But the petition argued that preventing unlocking reduces consumer choice and resale value of phones.

David Edelman, a senior advisor for Internet, Innovation, & Privacy to the Obama administration, wrote in the White House’s response that the White House agreed with the 114,000+ signees who believe consumers should be able to unlock their mobiles without becoming criminals.

He said that it is important for second hand or other mobile devices that you might buy or receive as a gift, and want to activate on the wireless network that meets their needs.

Edelman said that all consumers deserve that flexibility.

The Library of Congress said the question would benefit from further debate and that its intention was not to supplant public policy discussion.

So it looks like there are going to be a few more debates before anyone is actually carted off to prison. 

Republicans fire advisor who spoke sense on copyright

US Republicans have fired an advisor who suggested a radical shift on its copyright policy.

Derek Khanna penned a paper which suggested that copyright law needed to be reformed because it was not in line with GOP policy on the free market. He pointed out that copyright controls were unbalanced in favour of the rights holder and needed to be changed.

It advocates several key reforms, including reducing copyright terms and limiting the draconian “statutory damages” that can reach as high as $150,000 per infringing work.

The paper was released and was swiftly retracted by the GOP, many of whom depended on Big Content money.

According to Ars Technica, the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of Republicans in the House of Representatives, told staffer Derek Khanna that he will be out of a job when Congress re-convenes in January.

The incoming chairman of the RSC, Steve Scalise, was approached by several Republican members of Congress who were upset that Khanna dared to stand up to Big Content when it was GOP policy to roll over and do what they were told.

But the memo was actually seen as a viable stance on copyright tech policy by scholars and public interests advocates. In fact it was actually seen as the GOP working to make itself electable among young voters and those who know anything about technology.

It looks like the Republicans still think that surrendering to Big Content and its cheque book is more likely to get them elected than sensible policies. 

Congressman Darrell Issa ignores big questions on Reddit

Although he was not the first politician to do so, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, seemed to have set a trend when he made a 30 minute Reddit appearance to answer questions – that he could pick from. Third parties like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein also took to the website, and now Congressman Darrell Issa is the latest to try his hand at Reddit, posting a link to proposed web legislation on Tuesday.

Issa first tried to promote the Internet American Moratorium Act of 2012 on a crowdsourcing platform called Project Madison, CNN reports. The legislation seeks to keep the web safe from attempts to impose laws, rules, or regulations – for two years.

Issa had previously criticised the Stop Online Piracy Act, the much-maligned legislation which would held websites responsible for a broad definition of ‘pirated content’, handing the policing of the web over to the content industry and its powerful lobbying assets. However, as one of the thread’s most upvoted comments pointed out, Issa also voted in favour of CISPA, another largely criticised piece of legislation that made it easier to molest the open nature of the internet.

Online critiques to Issa’s post have been a mixed bag, but most people are pointing out some obvious flaws in his idea. A blanket ban, critics say, is a bad idea. The internet is a very large place, Gizmodo pointed out, and it is intrinsically linked with the day to day lives of the Western world. While Issa may have good intentions the move also stinks of a failed public relations project.

An appropriately named user, BallsOfAnger, asked: “Mr. Issa, you have yet to give a clear answer as to why you voted YES TO PASS CISPA.

“You have also not given an answer as to why you censored requests on your facebook page attempting to get you to answer to this betrayal of our trust.”To clarify, he “adressed” his CISPA vote here a few months ago. I am requesting he gives a clear answer.

“He wrote an in depth comment as to why CISPA didn’t have the same creation/effect as SOPA/PIPA. Nobody is saying it is the same as SOPA/PIPA, except that it violates our freedoms just as much (if not more).”

Although Reddit is owned by Conde Nast, which is itself owned by multibillion dollar media corporation Advance Publications, there is a sense of community on the website which invites a sense of commonality when a celebrity who otherwise would be unaccessible to the average person takes to the website.

Reddit is one of the most visited websites in the Western world, and surpassed the enormous 1 billion page view barrier in 2011. Its front page default ‘sub-Reddit’ r/IAMA has 2,305,817 subscribers at the time of writing and 1,041 registered users browsing it as well, let alone lurkers who may not have an account, outside of American peak time. If done correctly, that is a lot of good publicity.

But it is also risky – especially if you assume your audience is forgetful or stupid.

Considering Issa is trying to ride the bandwagon of internet freedom into popular politics, he doesn’t seem to ‘get it’. For those in the public eye, posting on Reddit is an alternative to corny, staged Kodak moments – like kissing a baby. However, there are not just individual pairs of eyes to worry about, perhaps reading an interview in a glossy magazine, but often millions. And those millions are prepared to voluntarily offer their active scrutiny, not content with being a passive observer or consumer, not for profit or personal gain, but for clarity. It is precisely bills like CISPA that threaten to quash this collective power.

For politicians who want to avoid answering difficult questions, opening yourself up to crowdsourced intelligence can and does leave people exposed. Obscuring an answer or glossing over the tricky stuff does not work, and, although in this format, the poster can choose which question to respond to, steering or controlling the conversation is ill advised. A phenomenon called the Streisand Effect asserts that, the more someone tries to suppress or ignore a single issue online, the more it is focused on. Generally, it is true.

Just ask Woody Harrellson, who inadvertently became a meme when he refused to talk about anything other than his upcoming film

Issa, in this case, has thoroughly Ramparted himself.

Copyright man tries to get Congress to censor all new technology

The latest daft idea to protect copyrights coming out of the Land of the Fee involves freezing all technology in the US until a Senate committee can prove that that any new invention cannot be used for piracy.

Yep, all new technology should be illegal until Congress says otherwise.

According to Tech Dirt, the former Register of Copyrights, Ralph Oman, claims that under copyright law, any new technology should have to apply to Congress for approval and a review to make sure they don’t upset the apple cart of copyright, before they’re allowed to exist.

Oman, who was the Register of Copyright from 1985 to 1993 and was heavily involved in a variety of copyright issues, has filed an amicus brief in the Aereo case.

Aereo is the online TV service that sets you up with your very own physical TV antenna connected to a device that will then stream to you online what that antenna picks up. This gets around some of the more silly aspects of US copyright law. TV networks sued Aereo, but were unable to get an injunction blocking the service. Oman wants that ruling overturned, and argues that an injunction is proper.

He claims that as part of the 1976 Copyright Act, Congress specifically intended new technologies to first apply to Congress for permission, before releasing new products on the market that might upset existing business models.

He said that anything even remotely disruptive and innovative must first go through the ridiculous process of convincing Congress that it should be allowed, rather than relying on the law.

If that was applied there would be no radio, cable TV, VCRs, DVRs, mp3 players, YouTube or anything really. Well, not in the US. This is because new technology always upsets some obsolete business models.

Of course this would throw the US into an “innovation dark age” where existing copyrights are protected at the expense of new ideas. Now all that is required is for the religious right to get a president into office and the US will become an Amish style paradise where everything is locked in the late 20th century. Or earlier.