Tuesday, 28 February 2017

There Will Always Be Internet Outages, So Buckle Up

For the marketing types at cloud computing providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, the holy grail is known as "five nines"—99.999 percent availability. It's a term that means when you pay them big bucks to host your website, internet service, or to store data in their cloud, it is guaranteed, contractually, to be available 99.999 percent of the time.

This is known in the industry as "high availability." An uptime of 99.999 percent equates to downtime of just 5.26 minutes a year. Customers, such as those affected by today's Amazon S3 storage outage, sign contracts called Service Level Agreements (SLAs) which guarantee they'll be receiving the highest availability possible.

The glaring issue here is that the guaranteed level is not 100 percent, and it never will be. Even Amazon's S3 only offers four nines (99.99 percent) availability, and has to dish out free cloud computing credits to customers that don't receive this level of service.

Time and time again it is proven that cloud computing outages can and will happen, forcing businesses offline and potentially causing their customers sizable chunks of lost revenue, and perhaps even starving their pets. Even today's relatively minor outage meant that Motherboard was unable to upload images into our CMS, which allows us to publish our stories online.

Amazon's S3 storage service effectively hosts images for thousands upon thousands of websites, including chat app Slack and yes, Vice. Today the issue is with its US-EAST-1 region, which is situated in Virginia. But Amazon's cloud services have gone down before.

Indeed, even through three years of reporting industry news on cloud computing, not a single company executive would admit this to me, however. They'd harp on about redundancy regions (back up data centers, essentially), or evangelize about their bombproof servers. But it's just not true: technical problems will always be a part of a technology, and as the world shifts more of its computing power online, rather than on a disk under a desk, the more even the most trivial of outages will cause major problems.

I guess the lesson here, like so many other industries, is not to put all of your eggs in one basket. Huge cloud players, led by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, are scrabbling over each other to host as many customers as possible—perhaps it's best there will always be competition. And as we put more of our "things" in the Internet of (Hackable) Things, the costs of these outages continues to rise. It's going from "the internet is down" to "oh shit, the internet is in all of my stuff, and now they're down."

from There Will Always Be Internet Outages, So Buckle Up

Footage of ‘Die Hard 64’ Has Surfaced, and It Doesn't Look Great

Like the cavernous warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, video game history is littered with forgotten relics. Akira for the Super Nintendo; Resident Evil 1.5 for the PlayStation; the recently departed Silent Hills. Intrepid, tech-savvy fans have resurrected a number of these abandoned projects, although the potential conjured by the words "SNES Akira game" tends to fall well short of the reality.

This is the case with Die Hard 64, an unreleased Nintendo 64 game that appears to be a preliminary version of the GameCube's Die Hard Vendetta (2002). Developer Bits Studios was split into two teams, according to a Retro Collect interview with former Bits employee and current Assembler Games forumer 10ahu. One of those teams was developing Die Hard 64.

The footage above comes from 10ahu's ROMs, which, before you ask, aren't public. It's a little unfair to judge an incomplete game like this (though the eventual Die Hard Vendetta is no classic either), but hell: it sure looks rough! Skip to 2:20 for an amazingly fiddly gunfight that makes Goldeneye 007 look like Counter-Strike.

Playing Die Hard 64 would likely be a nightmare. It's best like this, as an idealized dream; we can look at these messy prototypes and wonder at what might have been, given a little more time, a little more money. As Stephen King cautions in Pet Sematary, "Sometimes dead is better."

from Footage of ‘Die Hard 64’ Has Surfaced, and It Doesn't Look Great

Trump Ordered the EPA to Overturn Clean Water Rule

President Trump locked in his crusade against the punch-drunk Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today, signing an executive order aimed at unraveling the expansive 2015 rule known as the Waters of the United States rule, put in place by former President Barack Obama.

The executive order has no immediate legal effect, but instructs the new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to begin repealing and rewriting the sweeping rule that is designed to protect American waterways from pollution. It comes on the heels of a proposal to cut funding to the EPA by billions of dollars and to waive thousands of its staff.

This is reportedly the first of two executive orders expected to come out of the White House this week targeting EPA rules. The other is set to take aim at President Obama's landmark climate change rule, the Clean Power Plan.

The 2015 Waters of the United States rule was the result of an extensive effort by the Obama administration to expand the federal government's authority to protect the nation's rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands from pollution. For decades, authorities struggled to protect larger bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River and Puget Sound, because they had muddled authority over many of the small water bodies flowing into them. As a result, these tributaries carried fertilizer discharges and other kinds of pollution from agriculture and fossil fuel extraction into the larger bodies.

By stretching out the umbrella of the 1972 Clean Water Act, Obama and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy were able to secure protection of almost 60 percent of the nation's bodies of water. But it happened  without the approval of a Republican-controlled Congress. The rule would require farmers or companies to obtain federal permission before they used certain fertilizers, for example, if their land was near a stream or wetland.     

The rule provoked the ire of the fossil fuel industry, pesticide and fertilizer makers, and farmers who contended that it would stifle economic growth. The American Farm Bureau Federation led a lawsuit against the rule in 2015 arguing that it puts an extra burden on farmers to have to get a permit to use certain fertilizers if they're near water. It has been log jammed in the legal process since. A federal court has delayed the rule while judges review the legal challenges against it.

President Trump's executive order today instructs EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, and the Army Corps of Engineers to review the rule and to "rescind or revise" it, as "appropriate and consistent with the law." It also directs newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask the Supreme Court to put the case on hold.

The president's order, however, has no legal authority over the rule itself, and is simply a nod to Pruitt to begin the circuitous legal process of dismantling it, which could take more than one term to see through. To get rid of it, the administrator would have to go through the same rulemaking process that put it together, meaning notice and comment periods and probable legal battles.

Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University told the New York Times that the order is akin to "a phone call or a tweet. It just signals that the president wants it to happen."

For his part, however, Pruitt may enjoy the legal labyrinth he must navigate to successfully undo the rule. The ex-attorney general of Oklahoma has been a longtime adversary of the EPA and has taken part in over 14 lawsuits against the agency on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

from Trump Ordered the EPA to Overturn Clean Water Rule

How This Internet of Things Stuffed Animal Can Be Remotely Turned Into a Spy Device

This Picture Has No Red Pixels—So Why Do The Strawberries Still Look Red?

This weekend marked the two-year anniversary of The Dress: the unfathomably viral photo of a dress that divided the internet for more than a week in 2015 over whether it was blue and black, or white and gold. So it's appropriate that, on this auspicious date, an equally maddening photo recently started making the rounds online:

The photo was created by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a Professor of Psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, who specializes in creating optical illusions (his twitter feed will blow your mind). As you can see in the tweet above, this photo has no red pixels in it, even though the strawberries pictured clearly appear red. Though plenty of twitter users tried to argue this fact, another person demonstrated that the pixels we're seeing as red are really grey (and a little green):

While this time everybody is seeing the same thing, the optical illusion is created through a similar phenomenon that caused so much turmoil with The Dress. It's called color constancy. It's your brain's way of color correcting the world when it's filtered through different light. 

When you look around the world, the light that enters your eye is made of different wavelengths that come from both the pigments of the objects around you and the light that illuminates them.

"If you imagine walking around outside under a blue sky, that blueness is, in some sense, color-contaminating everything you see," explained Bevil Conway, an expert on visual perception from the National Eye Institute. "If you take a red apple outside under a blue sky, there are more blue wavelengths entering your eye. If you take the apple inside under a fluorescent or incandescent light without that same bias, the pigments in the apple are exactly the same but because the spectral content of the light source is different, the spectrum entering your eye that's reflected off the object is different."

Since all this color contamination from light sources isn't really useful (it would be super confusing if a ripe banana looked yellow in the morning but green at midday, for example), our brains have evolved to color correct. It allows the colors we see to look the same no matter the lighting.

"In this picture, someone has very cleverly manipulated the image so that the objects you're looking at are reflecting what would otherwise be achromatic or grayscale, but the light source that your brain interprets to be on the scene has got this blueish component," Conway told me. "You brain says, 'the light source that I'm viewing these strawberries under has some blue component to it, so I'm going to subtract that automatically from every pixel.' And when you take grey pixels and subtract out this blue bias, you end up with red."

Conway said this illusion is also helped out by the fact that we recognize the objects as strawberries, which we very strongly associate with the color red, so our brain is already wired to be looking for those pigments.

Color constancy was the big reason why people saw 'The Dress' differently: since the light source was really unclear, people's brains corrected for different kinds of light, causing them to see the dress differently. You'd think we'd have learned our lesson by now, but there's something about the mysteries of color and perception that continue to fascinate our collective conscious. Especially when we can argue about it.

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from This Picture Has No Red Pixels—So Why Do The Strawberries Still Look Red?

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Here’s Why Net Neutrality is Essential in Trump's America

It's been called "the free speech issue of our time."

But many Americans may not realize just how important net neutrality—the internet's open access principle—is for economic growth, civic empowerment, and political activism.

Net neutrality is the concept that every website and online service should be equally accessible to all people. That means everyone—from consumers to innovators to activists—has open access to the internet.

From a consumer perspective, net neutrality means that users can access a giant over-the-top online video product like HBO GO just as easily as they can reach a smaller service like Vimeo. It also means that internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon can't favor their own video or communications tools at the expense of rivals.

One month into the Trump presidency, net neutrality is under attack by the Republicans who run Trump's FCC and the GOP lawmakers who control Congress. To do this, these officials intend to hand the broadband industry a gift on a silver platter, by dismantling the legal basis for the policy, which relies on Title II of the Communications Act and classifies ISPs as "common carriers," thereby requiring them to maintain open access to the internet.

The president himself famously denigrated net neutrality in 2014 during a bizarre Twitter attack in which he compared net neutrality to the now-defunct FCC Fairness Doctrine, a Cold War-era throwback that required the news media to air opposing views. By making that comparison, Trump not only demonstrated his complete ignorance of internet policy issues, he also inadvertently—and with an utter lack of self-awareness or irony—highlighted the importance of the open internet, which enables him to spew his spur-of-the-moment, early-morning rage-tweets to millions of people.

Trump may not understand the importance of net neutrality to the US economy and political system, but many political activists do, which is why they're speaking out now about the internet's importance to American society—and the need to keep our collective online platform free and open.

"Net neutrality is not simply about technology," said Steven Renderos, Organizing Director at the Center for Media Justice, at a Capitol Hill panel discussion on Monday featuring prominent political organizers. "It's about the everyday people who use it and whether they will have the right to be heard online. Two years ago, the FCC affirmed that everyone, regardless of class or race, deserves access to a media platform that does not discriminate."

The concept of net neutrality, which was codified two years ago in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet order, is important because the major US ISPs have ample economic incentive to favor their own services at the expense of rivals. For example, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, which exert near-monopoly power over internet access in many cities around the country, all have video and communications offerings that directly compete with services like Netflix and Skype.

Without net neutrality, these corporate giants could slow down or even block rival services, not to mention the next generation of startups that depend on internet freedom. If these broadband titans are allowed the right to stifle online creativity and entrepreneurship, it could snuff out the very engine of innovation that has generated billions of dollars of US economic activity and created millions of jobs.

That would be bad news for America.

"Net neutrality will be the cornerstone that activists use to strengthen social movements and build organized resistance."

Trump's recently-installed FCC chairman, former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, has made it clear that he intends to dismantle the agency's net neutrality policy. Earlier this month, Pai stopped the FCC's inquiry into zero-rating, a controversial practice in which ISPs exempt certain services from data caps, effectively favoring those offerings at the expense of rivals. And last week, Pai moved to throw out key net neutrality transparency rules for millions of consumers.

As Trump's authoritarian tendencies come into sharper relief with each passing day, it's becoming very clear that net neutrality is not just about creating a level playing field so the next generation of online startups can flourish. It's also about free speech—a principle that's under increasing attack by President Trump, who has declared America's free press an "enemy of the people," using ominous language reminiscent of totalitarian dictators like Stalin.

"Net neutrality is unequivocally fundamental to free speech," said Winnie Wong, a veteran political activist involved in Occupy Wall Street, People For Bernie, and the Women's March on Washington. "An unfettered open internet is our marketplace of ideas. It allows for billions of people around the world to access information, share opinions and engage in transparent public discourse."

"With the rise of Trump and other neo-fascist regimes around the world, net neutrality will be the cornerstone that activists use to strengthen social movements and build organized resistance," Wong told Motherboard in a phone interview. "Knowledge is power."

Wong isn't the only political organizer who understands the importance of net neutrality. The idea of the internet as an open platform for free speech, civic engagement and political organizing—not just a vehicle for minting the next Silicon Valley "unicorn"—is gaining new currency in activist circles.

"An open internet protected by Title II net neutrality is vital for a new generation of Black and Brown activists to expose a very old story of inequality and discrimination, and stand up against the infringement of the government on our people," Dante Barry, Executive Director at Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, a civil rights group, said in a statement.

"Without an open platform for free speech and free expression, we will be in trouble."

Net neutrality is especially important for marginalized groups that feel threatened by Trump.

"Without an open platform for free speech and free expression, we will be in trouble," said Mignon Clyburn, the lone Democratic FCC commissioner remaining at the five-member agency. "Now it is time for us to once again roll up our sleeves and fight for the protections embodied in the Open Internet order, that are designed to ensure that the internet remains an open platform, that enables free speech, freedom of expression and the ability for innovation to flourish."

Net neutrality is easy to take for granted, in part because it was baked into the decentralized architecture of the internet by the engineers who developed the internet and the World Wide Web decades ago. That's why so many of the internet's pioneers, people like Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, are staunch supporters of net neutrality. They know, as do so many technologists, how crucial net neutrality is to maintaining the internet as an open platform for innovation, economic growth, and free speech.

Like the cherished American democratic principle of one-person one-vote, net neutrality is a great equalizer. It means that everyone, from the wealthiest capitalist baron to the poorest newly-arrived immigrant, has equal access to the tremendous online commons that we call the internet. But unlike the American electoral process, which in many ways has become corrupted by the influence of money, the internet still remains an open platform for democracy, in all its messy glory.

"We will not allow Donald Trump to take away internet freedom," said Wong. "We will take this fight to the halls of Congress and to the streets of our cities to ensure that all people have open access to the internet."

from Here’s Why Net Neutrality is Essential in Trump's America

This Guy Is Building a Sustainable Martian Habitat in His Backyard

Early last year, Jeff Raymond was hit with an epiphany. Despite enjoying the benefits of agricultural developments, he and his wife came to realize they weren't doing anything to contribute to sustainable agriculture themselves. And so, after a year of digging and building in the backyard of his Washington home, the Real Martian Homestead was born.

"We're here to help bring sustainable food and energy to our community," Raymond said in an introductory video to the project. "This facility is a result of us trying to accomplish that mission."

Over the course of the last year, Raymond and his partner used their free time to build their first Mars Habitat, which is essentially a giant solar-powered greenhouse. Their goal is to eventually incorporate automation into the greenhouse to make it a self-sustaining system. But if the goal is to bring sustainable agriculture to their local community, however, what does Mars have to do with it?

"This system will replicate exactly what people need on Mars," Raymond said. "So while Musk is working on getting us there, we're working on staying alive once we get there."

Unlike Musk, however, Raymond and his wife are taking whoever wants to come along with them on their adventure. The entire project was self-funded and is partially sustained through Patreon donations, but even if you don't have the cash to contribute to the project, you can follow along as they live blog their (mis)-adventures in creating a Martian habitat, which they're framing as a recreation of The Martian.

This includes in-depth looks at everything from farming sustainable trout in aquaponics systems to whether a leaf blower can be used to clear snow from solar panels, some of which is knowledge that Raymond gleaned during his time as an Air Force engineer and some that he has taught himself along the way. In this sense, the project is truly community oriented, insofar as viewers often provide advice or tips for Raymond's Martian habitat.

"Our story at the Real Martian will not only teach us what we need to accomplish our goal on Earth, but it will also help teach all of those of you out there who are trying to go to Mars some valuable lessons," Raymond said.

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from This Guy Is Building a Sustainable Martian Habitat in His Backyard

AOL will cut off third-party app access to AIM

Amazon cloud sputters for hours, and a boatload of websites go offline

YouTube TV is the company’s new live TV subscription service

Researchers find “severe” flaw in WordPress plugin with 1 million installs

More than 1 million websites running the WordPress content management system may be vulnerable to hacks that allow visitors to snatch password data and secret keys out of databases, at least under certain conditions.

The vulnerability stems from a "severe" SQL injection bug in NextGEN Gallery, a WordPress plugin with more than 1 million installations. Until the flaw was recently fixed, NextGEN Gallery allowed input from untrusted visitors to be included in WordPress-prepared SQL queries. Under certain conditions, attackers can exploit the weakness to pipe powerful commands to a Web server's backend database.

"This is quite a critical issue," Slavco Mihajloski, a researcher with Web security firm Sucuri, wrote in a blog post published Monday. "If you're using a vulnerable version of this plugin, update as soon as possible."

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More states introduce bills to interfere with science education

At the start of this month, we covered a bill making its way through the South Dakota legislature. It's the latest variation on a large collection of state bills that seek to protect educators from what has been termed "teaching the controversy." Should the bills pass, teachers would be immune to punishment for using outside material in instruction, as long as the teacher believes the material is scientific—even if it has overtly religious origins.

But in the intervening time, similar bills have appeared in three other states, and a fourth state is considering eliminating references to climate change in its teaching plan. Science education appears to be facing a busy year in the statehouses.

We can start with Indiana, where Senate Resolution 17 has now cleared the Education Committee. The resolution approvingly quotes a proposed amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act to challenge evolution: "Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), that the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics can generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." What it neglects to note is that the amendment was rejected or that evolution is the only scientific view that currently exists.

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First trailer for Okja proves that giant monsters can always get weirder

The first teaser trailer for Bong Joon-ho's new kaiju flick, Okja.

Okja is a twist on the classic monster movie. It's also a twist on mad science movies, coming-of-age movies, and satires of corporate life. Things are so twisty because it's the latest offering from cult director Bong Joon-ho, who previously gave us wacky, dark science fiction movies like The Host and Snowpiercer.

Okja is the result of Netflix giving Bong $50 million and complete artistic freedom, and the results look just as bizarre as you might hope. The movie stars Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, and Giancarlo Esposito, among others.

The central struggle is between image-obsessed corporate scientist Nancy Mirando (Swinton) and a girl named Mija (Ahn). In this teaser trailer, we hear Nancy proclaim that she's put science and nature together to create something extraordinary. But that "something" is Mija's best friend, who also happens to be a giant monster. We only see a glimpse of the monster, but if Bong's previous monster movie The Host is any indication, this megabeast is going to look great.

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Americans have fewer TVs on average than they did in 2009

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Finally, VR has a legitimate RTS contender in Brass Tactics

SAN FRANCISCO—That real-time strategy battling is a solid fit for virtual reality seems like a foregone conclusion. RTS games like Total Annihilation and Starcraft already force players to gaze at their little fighters, armies, and fortifications from high above. So why not let us use VR systems to control all of those battles with our hands, like wartime puppeteers, with greater speed and accuracy than a mouse-and-keyboard could ever give?

The developers of Brass Tactics, the first major RTS for the Oculus Touch platform, say that there's a reason gamers haven't seen a major game in the genre in VR's early days. "Real-time strategy is already hard to make," Hidden Path Entertainment co-founder Mark Terrano says. "Virtual reality only adds more challenge."

But, by golly, Hidden Path may very well have nailed the formula with its still-in-development game Brass Tactics—and well before any other game developer has launched anything remotely as slick.

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from Finally, VR has a legitimate RTS contender in Brass Tactics

Tesla’s P100D: I got 99 problems, but not being able to go really fast ain’t one

Jonathan Gitlin

To coincide with the opening of its newest store in Washington, DC, Tesla asked us if we'd like to spend a few days with one of its latest Model S P100Ds. However, there was just one catch; we'd have to do all the driving ourselves. As one of the newest cars off the production line, this Model S was equipped with Tesla's own self-driving sensors (known in Tesla-world as HW2), but the company is still in the process of pushing out the software necessary to enable Autopilot in these cars. Scratch that plan of road-tripping up to New York—a proper test of the new Autopilot will have to wait.

Autopilot may have been absent, but this P100D did have a rather special trick up its sleeve: an Easter egg that makes Ludicrous Mode even more, well, ludicrous. So, rather than try out the P100D's humongous (for an electric vehicle) range—315 miles according to the EPA—we spent our days finding out just how fast it really is. The answer? Ludicrously fast.

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Amazon’s Alexa could soon recognize users by their voices

(credit: Adam Bowie)

Amazon's Alexa may be about to get smarter. According to a report from Time, the online retailer is working on voice identification software for Alexa that would allow the service to identify who in a household is speaking to it. "People familiar with Amazon's Alexa strategy" claim this feature has been under development since 2015, and the challenge now is in strategically integrating it into Alexa devices like Amazon Echo.

The report claims that the feature is internally called Voice ID, and it would match a person's voice to a prerecorded "voice print" to identify who is talking. The primary account holder could limit specific actions to only those matching a specific voice print. For example, any voice-made purchases could be limited to parents in a household so children don't go on voice-enabled shopping sprees.

Alexa and other voice assistants including Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana all essentially do the same thing: they respond to voice commands and can answer questions like "How's the weather?" or "What's on my calendar today?" However, none can decipher who is doing the talking—and in homes where a device is linked to multiple accounts, that could become problematic. Amazon Alexa can already swatch between different user accounts, but the speaker must say "Switch accounts" or use the Alexa app to do so.

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Sony’s Xperia Touch projector turns any surface into an Android device

BARCELONA—Not every device at Mobile World Congress is a phone or tablet—Sony is launching the "Xperia Touch," a portable short-throw laser projector that turns any surface into a touchable Android device. Sony has shown off the device at various tech conferences as a "concept," but in Barcelona, Sony is announcing the device as a real product, albeit for the eye-popping price of €1,499 ($1,588, probably ~£1,400).

The device is a 134mm × 143mm × 69 mm (5.3 × 5.6 × 2.7 inches) metal box with all the usual smartphone parts, but instead of a screen, it has an LCoS laser projector with auto focus. As the name implies, the Xperia Touch also supports touch controls through a combination of an IR array and a 60fps camera.

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Why Electronic Surveillance Reform is Necessary

Editor's Note: A full version of this paper, complete with citations, can be found here.


Over the next year, Congress will have to address one of the most controversial electronic surveillance statutes, the FISA Amendments Act (commonly referred to by one of its key provisions, Section 702), before it expires at the end of 2017. Legislators will have to wrestle with the public’s deep unease with electronic surveillance, given that the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) consistently argues that Section 702 provides a key tool for national security and will urge its reauthorization. Members of Congress are then faced with the question, “Is reform necessary?”

Section 702 was written to be an important intelligence tool, but drafters did not give sufficient consideration to (1) how the statute is applied in the law enforcement context and (2) how the statute impacts U.S. companies operating in foreign jurisdictions. These two deficiencies have given rise to substantial concerns about the statute at home and abroad, and, in effect, mean that the statutory scheme is “out of balance”; the legitimate security concerns that motivated Section 702 currently outweigh valid concerns related to civil liberties and commerce. During consideration of the statute’s reauthorization, Congress has the opportunity to rebalance these concerns to safeguard Americans’ constitutional rights and ensure the continued global competitiveness of U.S. technology companies.



After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration established a secret electronic surveillance program to collect data and search for terrorist communications. Under that program, known internally as Stellar Wind, Administration officials negotiated with telecommunications companies to obtain on U.S. soil their foreign-to-domestic traffic, doing so without obtaining court warrants. President Bush acknowledged the existence of the program at the end of 2005, after it was revealed in the media, but Congress did not investigate the program or begin to put statutory controls on it until after the President’s party lost control of Congress in the 2006 elections.

Congress passed the Protect America Act (PAA) in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act, containing Section 702 in 2008. These statutes, which were controversial when they were enacted, aimed to allow the IC to collect needed foreign intelligence and counterterrorism information from U.S. telecommunications and internet companies while also providing additional checks on the IC. In drafting these laws, Congress focused mainly on the legal framework that applies to the IC for its collection abroad.

The IC’s legal authority derives from the President’s Commander in Chief powers under Article II of the Constitution and is further set out in Executive Order 12333.  The focus of the IC’s efforts is foreigners abroad, who are not entitled to Constitutional protections. The theory is that if such foreigners are in contact with Americans, the Americans on the other end of the communication cannot assert a privacy interest for those foreigners. Indeed, the warrant requirement usually does not apply to the IC because the intelligence services generally operate against foreigners abroad.  

Collection under Section 702 allows elements of the IC to collect data on U.S. soil without a warrant from non-U.S. persons located abroad. Intelligence collection under Section 702 is conducted through two different programs. The first program, known as PRISM, collects communications from what are known as “edge providers,” that is, companies that provide Internet content as opposed to Internet connections. The IC obtains access to edge provider communications after the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence issue directives, pursuant to guidelines approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, mandating that companies turn over certain information. After these directives are issued, a somewhat obscure branch of the FBI known as the Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) coordinates with edge providers, on behalf of the NSA, to collect content such as emails, video chats, and social media posts. This content is then transmitted by the DITU to the NSA, which then disseminates it to other intelligence agencies.

In addition to PRISM, the IC also obtains information through a program called Upstream. Upstream collects “all e-mail and voice data flowing through the Internet ‘backbone’—large fiber optic networks owned and operated by private companies like AT&T.” The NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division partners with the corporate owners of these networks to gather data at certain key points, like at network routers or switches. The companies filter the data passing through these points according to directions they receive from the SSO, and this filtered data is then stored in NSA databases, from which it can be disseminated to other members of the IC.

Although PRISM and Upstream surveillance are similar in many ways, they also exhibit certain key differences. One of the most prominent differences is the type of communications they collect. PRISM only gathers information that is to or from a “selector”—an identifier like an email address, IP address, or social media handle that is associated with a target of foreign intelligence collection. However, Upstream collects information that is to, from, or about a selector. For example, if the NSA were targeting baddude@qaedamail.com, PRISM collection would only collect communications that were to or from that email address. However, Upstream, in addition to collecting such to or from communications, would also collect any communications that contained the email address baddude@qaedamail.com, even if they weren’t to or from that address.  Upstream also collects multi-communication transactions (MCTs), which are bundles of communications of which one or more communications may be to, from, or about a targeted selector.  

The scope of PRISM and Upstream cannot be overstated. These programs sift through massive quantities of data in an effort to find terrorist communications. in doing so, they are able to look at far more information than before in order to find the national security threat information they need.  


The Government Argues that Section 702 is an Important Intelligence Tool

The NSA maintains that 702 surveillance “is the most significant tool in [the] NSA collection arsenal for the detection, identification, and disruption of terrorist threats to the U.S. and around the world.” The IC cites 53 counterterrorism investigations in which information obtained under 702 “contributed in some degree to the success of the investigation” over the first five years of the program. An independent panel established by President Obama, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, reached similar conclusions, stating in a 2014 report that “the information the [702] program collects has been valuable and effective in protecting the nation’s security and producing useful foreign intelligence.”

The effectiveness of 702 surveillance is perhaps most visible in the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born American citizen who received bomb-making training in Pakistan and planned to attack the New York City subway in September 2009. In a statement submitted to the House Judiciary Committee in February 2016, officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI, and the Signals Intelligence Directorate of the NSA claimed that, by using Section 702 authorities, the NSA was able to intercept discussions between Zazi and a foreign contact concerning the attack. These intercepted communications were then passed on to the FBI, which performed its own investigation which culminated in thwarting the attack and the arrest and conviction of Zazi.

The case of Khalid Ouazzani and his co-conspirators, Sabirhan Hasanoff and Wesam El-Hanafi, is, according to former FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, another example of the effectiveness of 702 surveillance. Ouazzani, a U.S. citizen from Morocco, ran a used car parts store in Kansas City, Missouri, and provided material support to al-Qaeda by collaborating with Hasanoff and El-Hanafi. Joyce indicated in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that 702 surveillance tied Ouzzani to a Yemeni extremist, with this leading the FBI to investigate and eventually convict Ouazzani and his accomplices.

Aside from these cases, the perception by terrorists that the U.S. is monitoring their communications could deter them from using communication technology to launch coordinated attacks. This deterrence could force terrorist groups to resort to the least deadly acts, like lone wolf attacks, to implement their agenda. It can also force them to rely upon in-person communications, with such communications likely being more susceptible to penetration by human intelligence sources.  

While the government trumpets law enforcement successes under Section 702, it downplays the fact that such criminal investigations and prosecutions are carried out by the Justice Department and not the NSA. While the NSA gathers 702 information for the purpose of understanding national security concerns about foreigners abroad, the cases that the government cites deal with U.S. persons, operating in the U.S., and prosecuted by the Justice Department, a domestic law enforcement body, subject to the Constitution and Fourth Amendment. And while the NSA is not constrained by the Constitution in its surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside the US, the Justice Department’s job is to ensure that the Constitution is followed in the U.S.


Section 702’s Drafters Overlooked How Law Enforcement Uses Intelligence Information

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Courts have interpreted this text as requiring government authorities seeking to perform searches to, absent certain exigent circumstances, (1) swear an affidavit (2) before a neutral, detached magistrate (3) setting out with particularity (i.e. specificity) (4) the place, person, or things to be searched or seized. Upon fulfilling these requirements, the judge before whom a law enforcement officer appears may choose to grant or deny that officer a search warrant, depending on whether the judge believes that there is probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found.

The Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements apply not only to physical searches, but also to searches of electronic information. Congress has explicitly acknowledged this in 18 U.S.C. § 2703 (the Stored Communications Act), which states that a “governmental entity may require the disclosure . . . of the contents of a wire or electronic communication . . . only pursuant to a warrant.” Therefore, in a normal law enforcement context, a federal agent operating inside the U.S. must adhere to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement when seeking to acquire and search an American’s electronic communications.

While searches under the Stored Communications Act must be conducted pursuant to a warrant, with this offering assurances against unreasonable invasions of privacy, searches under Section 702 are noticeably lacking in such safeguards. This wouldn’t be a problem if Section 702 databases only contained the information of non-U.S. persons. But Section 702, while targeted at non-U.S. persons, inevitably collects the information of U.S. persons as well. Indeed, the courts have said that the SCA applies inside the US, and that law enforcement officials cannot use that statute to compel companies to produce the information in the US. However,  if such information transits the US, the government can collect it under Section 702, regardless of the location of the target.

When law enforcement officials examine Section 702 databases, they may search for “U.S. person identifiers” (terms or indicators that are linked to a U.S. person). No search warrant is required to query such information. Rather, a law enforcement official may search for this information if the search is “reasonably designed to ‘find and extract’ either ‘foreign intelligence information’ or ‘evidence of a crime.’” Further, although Section 702 imposes a low level of judicial scrutiny for the creation of the large pools of information in 702 databases, when law enforcement searches a database for a particular individual’s communication, there is not higher judicial scrutiny for that query, despite the heightened privacy interest. In addition, for individual searches of 702 databases there is no neutral, detached magistrate; sworn affidavit; or particularized statement. In fact, even if a court were engaged in overseeing individual searches of U.S. person identifiers, there would be no way for it to assess the reasonableness of an FBI officer’s search, as the FBI does not require its analysts to document their rationales for querying U.S. person data.

While the standards for querying Section 702 data are well-suited for foreign intelligence purposes, they are woefully inadequate for law enforcement purposes. Under the Constitution, criminal defendants are entitled to protections from unreasonable searches and seizures, with the Fourth Amendment’s Warrant Clause being the primary bulwark against such invasions of privacy. However, the broad discretion to collect information under Section 702 can be construed so as to allow law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, to access Section 702 data not just for foreign intelligence purposes, but for purposes that are wholly focused on domestic criminal prosecutions. Such access, which avoids the more exacting requirements of the Stored Communications Act, is often referred to as a “backdoor search” or “U.S. persons search,” and there is significant evidence that such searches are a regular occurrence.  

For example, in the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s 2014 Report, the drafters noted that

“[w]hen an FBI agent or analyst initiates a criminal assessment or begins a new criminal investigation related to any type of crime, it is routine practice    . . . to conduct a query of FBI databases in order to determine whether they contain information on the subject of the assessment or investigation . . . The databases queried may include information collected . . . under Section 702.”

The Board further noted that “many” FBI analysts and agents “who solely work on non–foreign intelligence crimes” query Section 702 databases.

The troubling nature of backdoor searches of Section 702 databases should not be downplayed. The warrant requirement is one of the foundations of the U.S.’s justice system. Without it, law enforcement is given a blank check to subject Americans to intrusive, unjustified invasions of private life. Backdoor searches are a refutation of the necessity of a warrant, a refutation that, gone unchallenged, could seriously undermine the Fourth Amendment protections guaranteed by the Constitution.

A practice that is just as troubling as the FBI’s backdoor searches is the Justice Department’s failure to notify criminal defendants when evidence is introduced against them that is derived from Section 702 surveillance. Section 702 requires the government to notify defendants whenever information obtained through 702 authorities will be used against them in criminal proceedings, but there are indications that the government has often failed to fulfill such notice requirements. Most tellingly, for the first five years of collection under Section 702, not a single criminal defendant received notice of the use of evidence derived from its authorities, despite repeated testimony by government officials about the success of the program. After this initial drought, DOJ issued five notices in the latter months of 2013 and the early months of 2014. However, since April 2014, no further notices of the use of Section 702 data have been issued to criminal defendants. This suggests either a failure on the part of prosecutors to disclose the use of this information or that government officials are overstating the importance of this program in counterterrorism efforts.

Further, the failure to give notice to defendants about the use of Section 702-derived information prevents courts from reviewing the Constitutional adequacy of the surveillance statute, as applied in a law enforcement context.


Section 702’s Drafters Overlooked Its Impact on U.S. Companies Operating Abroad

While the IC maintains that Section 702 has sufficient protections for U.S. persons operating abroad, there is a significant category of U.S. actors that have been adversely affected by U.S. overseas surveillance: U.S. technology companies trying to compete internationally.

When made aware of the extent of Section 702 surveillance by the Snowden revelations, foreign governments, concerned that dealing with U.S. telecom and tech companies could expose their data to U.S. surveillance, refused to renew their contracts with U.S. companies and awarded contracts to foreign companies at the expense of their U.S. rivals. Examples of this may be found in Germany’s 2014 refusal to renew a contract with Verizon for Internet services and Microsoft’s 2013 loss of a contract to provide email services to the Brazilian government. In addition to this loss of government contracts, U.S. companies lost consumers to foreign companies. For example, after the Snowden revelations a Norwegian email company, Runbox, which touts itself as a foreign alternative to U.S.-based email services like Gmail, benefited from a 34 percent annual increase in customers. Some analysts estimate that NSA surveillance concerns could cost the U.S. cloud computing industry as much as $180 billion by 2016.

Perhaps the most worrisome outgrowth of the Snowden revelations came in the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) decision to strike down the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor Agreement. The ECJ ruled that this pact, which allowed for U.S. companies to have their collection and use of EU persons’ data classified as compliant with EU data protection laws, failed to comport with privacy standards set forth by Article 25(6) of EU Directive 95/46 and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The ECJ alluded to Section 702 programs when justifying its ruling, citing “legislation permitting the public authorities to have access on a generalised [sic] basis to the content of electronic communication” as one of the reasons for the Safe Harbor Agreement’s invalidity.

The invalidation of the Safe Harbor Agreement was no small matter. U.S. companies regularly transfer data about EU customers and employees across the Atlantic to their U.S.-based servers. With the Safe Harbor gone, U.S. companies, absent standard contractual clauses or binding corporate rules, could now be forced to store consumer data in European facilities or be subject to penalties imposed by regulators. The cost of localizing data or complying with each EU member’s data protection regulations could be especially prohibitive for U.S. small and medium-sized enterprises.

Although EU and U.S. officials have recently implemented a replacement for the Safe Harbor Agreement, a framework known as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, it is by no means certain that this successor agreement will withstand judicial scrutiny. In fact, less than three months after the Privacy Shield framework began to operate, the non-profit Digital Rights Ireland filed a challenge to it in the ECJ’s lower General Court. In its challenge, Digital Rights Ireland alleged that the European Commission’s decision to approve the Privacy Shield did not comply with European law and cited Section 702 as a reason for such noncompliance. The ECJ has yet to rule on this challenge.

One of the main objections that parties like Digital Rights Ireland have raised is that the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield still allows for generalized surveillance of EU communications. Although, as part of the agreement, U.S. authorities assured European policymakers that “any access of public authorities to personal data will be subject to clear limitations, safeguards, and oversight mechanisms” and “affirm[ed] [the] absence of indiscriminate or mass surveillance,” the Europeans may be wise to be skeptical. In the past, even though U.S. authorities have assured Americans that their data is subject to certain protections, declassified FISC opinions and leaked documents reveal that such protections have often been flouted. If such disregard for the privacy interests of Americans has occurred, it is not outlandish to suspect that similar disregard will be expressed for Europeans’ privacy interests.

Even if Privacy Shield withstands the scrutiny of the ECJ, there is no guarantee that the European Commission won’t reassess its support for the program. Although U.S. officials have, with the impending advent of a Trump presidency, assured European authorities of the nation’s continued commitment to surveillance limitations imposed through Privacy Shield, such assurances are only as good as the consistency with which they are applied by the incoming Administration.

The fragile nature of U.S. promises on Privacy Shield is highlighted by the stances of President-elect Trump’s nominees for key national security positions. Trump’s pick for CIA Director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, has been a prominent critic of efforts to reform U.S. surveillance practices and has accused the Obama Administration of “blunting its surveillance powers.” Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been such an uncompromising cheerleader for surveillance that some worry that his tenure at the Justice Department could make “the Hoover era [look] like child’s play.” If these surveillance reform skeptics walk back the protections offered to the Europeans, or worse, broaden the scope of U.S. surveillance, the European Commission may be reluctant to reauthorize Privacy Shield when it reviews the program in 2017. Such reluctance could portend future economic storms for the tech and telecom sectors, including the worrisome costs of data localization, punitive payouts in privacy-related litigation, and, in a worst-case scenario, the severance or severe curtailment of transatlantic data flows.


Section 702 Reforms Must Protect the Rights of Americans and Redefine Government’s Relationship with U.S. Corporations

Section 702, while a helpful framework for conducting foreign intelligence, poses troubling quandaries when it comes to civil liberties and U.S. corporate interests. However, these worrisome conundrums can be addressed if lawmakers enact reforms that enhance the rights of Americans and redefine the government’s relationship with U.S. corporations.

First, efforts should be made to address the backdoor searches and notice deficiencies evident in FBI use of Section 702 data. Although the FISC has deemed backdoor searches to be constitutional, many scholars believe that the FISC was wrong to classify them as such. For example, Amy Jeffress, the former Counselor to the Attorney General for National Security and International Matters, argues that backdoor searches “are inconsistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.” Georgetown law professor Laura Donahue claims that backdoor searches, among other practices facilitated by Section 702, have come at the cost of “inroads into rights that we have long—and for good reason—protected.” Making changes to Section 702 to address FBI queries using U.S. person identifiers and failures to give notice to criminal defendants would help ensure that Americans’ constitutional rights are protected.

Second, efforts need to be made to redefine the government’s relationship with the tech and telecom industries. Technology executives have repeatedly signaled their disapproval of what they describe as government overreach in the realm of surveillance. For example, in 2013 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “[r]eports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for . . . new limits on how governments collect information.” Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith went so far as to argue that government surveillance posed an existential risk to the American tech industry, arguing that “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk.” Statements such as these highlight the dissatisfaction that much of the tech industry currently feels with the state of surveillance and drive home the need for the government to empower the industry to push back against surveillance practices that could harm companies’ bottom lines. If such a rebalancing of government-industry relations is not prioritized, the government risks further antagonizing the industry and making it harder to work with tech companies to ensure the nation’s security. Furthermore, the tech industry’s unease with the current state of surveillance illustrates the need for lawmakers to seek out industry expertise when faced with making changes to Section 702, as any modifications can have a drastic impact on industry profitability and government relations with the tech industry.



Section 702 is a valuable intelligence tool that exhibits some significant deficiencies in its protections for U.S. persons in a law enforcement context and for U.S. competitive interests abroad. Policymakers should craft reforms that guard against the misuse of Section 702 by law enforcement and redefine the relationship between the IC and tech companies. As they do so, policymakers can ensure that Section 702 continues to fulfill its vital national security functions while also respecting the civil liberties and corporate interests of U.S. persons and companies.  

from Why Electronic Surveillance Reform is Necessary

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New $10 Raspberry Pi Zero comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Raspberry Pi Foundation

The newest member of the Raspberry Pi product line costs just $10 plus tax and includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability.

The "Raspberry Pi Zero W" is an updated version of the Raspberry Pi Zero. While it lacks some niceties, like Ethernet and a full-sized USB-A ports, it's smaller than the flagship Pi and a fraction of the cost. The original Raspberry Pi Zero was released in November 2015 at a price of just $5/£4. The new Pi Zero W is almost identical to the original, but doubles the price to $10 and adds a wireless chip that supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi (2.4GHz-only) and Bluetooth 4.0.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from New $10 Raspberry Pi Zero comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

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Monday, 27 February 2017

SpaceX Says It Will Send Two Extremely Wealthy People Around the Moon Next Year

Two space tourists are headed around the Moon and back in 2018, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who spoke to reporters in a highly anticipated press call on Monday. Amid Musk's characteristically flamboyant announcement came skepticism about whether this will actually happen, at least on such a tight timeline. His company has yet to launch any humans into space.

Two private individuals, who are staying anonymous for now, "have already paid a significant deposit to do a Moon mission," said a release on the rocket manufacturer's website. The pair will be flying in the Dragon 2 capsule on top of the beefed-up Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the next step in SpaceX's Falcon series. It's launching its first test flight this summer, and it if works, it will be the most powerful vehicle to get into orbit after NASA's Saturn V, which brought humans to the Moon, according to SpaceX.

The two people know each other, reporters were told. (No indication was given of whether they're male or female.) They will receive physical training, and will need to pass health and fitness tests to fly. It's unknown for now whether either has had any piloting or aircraft experience.

Read More : See How SpaceX Wants To Travel The Solar System

Similar to the Falcon rockets, the Dragon 2 capsule is meant to be reusable in future missions.

As for cost, Musk told reporters on the call that the flight around the Moon will put them back similar to if they were planning to visit the International Space Station. Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberté reportedly paid $35 million for his trip in 2009.

This voyage around the Moon, expected to last one week, is contingent on the Dragon 2 flights which come before it. If the two other Dragon 2 flights to the ISS that are planned for 2018—an initial unmanned, and then subsequent manned, mission—go off without a hitch, then the private mission will get the greenlight.

Although reactions have been generally positive, SpaceX's stated timeline has raised some eyebrows. Spaceflight is extraordinarily tricky, and other ambitious timelines have had to be pushed back.

Science consultant Mika McKinnon tweeted that she doesn't expect the 2018 launch date to be met. She says there is still a lot to do before this launch happens and "things take time."

The flight was made possible by the funding from NASA's Commercial Crew Program. According to the press release, NASA has encouraged private flights to offset the government's spaceflight costs and "more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions."

Whether it's going to happen in 2018 or not, space tourism is starting to really take off. If extremely rich people want to subsidize the start of the Space Age to say they've been around the Moon and back, I think I'm okay with that.

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from SpaceX Says It Will Send Two Extremely Wealthy People Around the Moon Next Year

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These Are the Most Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs in the World

The names of who topped the Oscar winners' list may be making headlines, but there's another list of names you might want to pay attention to: the world's worst superbugs.

On Monday, the World Health Organization released a list of 12 families of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health. These are bacteria that can't be killed by the antibiotics that used to get rid of them, including some of our most harsh and "last resort" drugs. That means we're more vulnerable to bacterial infections like E. coli, at a time when drug companies have no real interest in developing new antibiotics.

The list includes twelve bacteria families, divided into three categories—critical, high priority, and medium priority. The three most urgent superbugs for which we need new antibiotics are Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacteriaceae, which includes E. coli, a bacterium that can be spread through food and make people very ill.

Though there are a number of bacteria that are showing signs of resistance, the WHO worked with experts in the field to narrow down the list to the most immediate threats: bacteria that cause deadly infections, are resistant to multiple antibiotics, and can confer that resistance to other bacteria, for example.

The WHO put the list together in hopes of focusing the research and development of new antibiotics where they're most needed. Unfortunately, many big pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to invest in finding new antibiotics. It's a costly process that ultimately does not provide a huge return on investment.

Unlike medications for chronic illnesses, like diabetes, that need to be taken for life, antibiotics typically only need to be used once to effectively knock out an infection. That means less pay back for pharma companies, and less incentive to search for these critical drugs. Experts say we may need to lean more on public research groups to find new options.

"Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options," Dr.Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, said in a press release. "If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."

Part of the problem, and solution, is also behavioral. Bacteria naturally evolve resistance to antibiotics, and we've known this for a long time. But for the past few decades there's been a global tendency to overuse antibiotics. This includes in a medical setting, such as prescribing an antibiotic for someone who doesn't need it, like a patient with a viral infection. It also include agricultural use: antibiotics are used regularly on farms to ward off disease and fatten up livestock. This overuse of antibiotics has hastened the development of resistance in a number of diseases.

We need to get serious about curbing our use of antibiotics if we have any hope of slowing resistance. Otherwise, we're bound for a future where none of our antibiotics are effective any longer, making surgery impossible and even a paper cut a potentially mortal wound. It would also help if pharmaceutical companies worried a little less about the bottom line and little more about, I don't know, the survival of our species.

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from These Are the Most Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs in the World

A Brief History of Butt-Kicking Machines

When Your Women’s Movement Hashtag Gets Co-Opted By The Enemy

Argentina's Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) feminist collective—recently lauded as a source of inspiration to the women leading the US's feminism for the 99 percent—is gearing up for an international women's strike on March 8 with a familiar call to Twitter action. Like all modern day mass movements, it relies on the widespread circulation of a carefully chosen hashtag and the media buzz surrounding it to mobilize the public. That is, even if the process is against the collective's better judgement.

"Ah, social media. It's a necessary evil," Florencia Minici, a founding member of Ni Una Menos, told me.

In conversation with Motherboard, the journalists and academics who form the collective voiced their concerns over how easily a feminist hashtag can be co-opted by the "enemy"—basically, anyone with some degree of popularity or clout who doesn't stand for Ni Una Menos' gender-equal vision.

Ni Una Menos, the face of Argentina's women's movement today, emerged in 2015 on the heels of a string of gruesome gender-based murders in Argentina. Activists posted pictures of themselves on social media holding signs bearing the phrase "Ni Una Menos," referring to "Not One Less [Woman Alive]" in a country where one woman is killed every 30 hours on average. Soon thereafter, Argentines in droves got on board... including a few unlikely characters, such as longstanding TV personality Marcelo Tinelli.

"He's a huge chauvinist, but the most popular person in Argentina," Agustina Frontera, another member of the collective, said. "And we feminists asked ourselves, 'What is he doing? He's serving us the devil on a platter. If the devil is holding up your sign, something's gone wrong.'"

Tweet translation: "No more femicides!!!!"

To put this into context, it'd be somewhat akin to Donald Trump tweeting his support for the Women's March with the following: "Women are great. Tremendous people. #GrabConsentualPussy!"

Other celebs known for their outspoken misogyny or questionable behavior soon jumped on the bandwagon as well. So the women at Ni Una Menos got together to come up with a strategy. They decided on the following response:

Tweet translation: "Is Tinelli a misogynist? Yes. Is his show the most watched program on TV? Yes. Is it a good thing that he posted a picture with the #NiUnaMenos sign? Of course."

"Social media is important because it's our stepping stone to reach mainstream media. TV programs feed off of Twitter," Frontera explained.

Argentines love Twitter. The country displayed one of the highest consumer growth rates in the world in 2015 and today boasts 11.8 million users. Every news story and development spawns a social media life of its own, complete with memes, commentary, stories on those memes and commentary, etc. After President Mauricio Macri assumed office in December 2015, he introduced his new cabinet to the world via emoji. And amid a wave of #PrayFor[Country] solidarity campaigns responding to terror attacks, Argentines launched their own #PrayForArgentina hashtag in what ended up being an incredibly confusing worldwide trending topic. It was a joke.

Basically, you can't sideline the social media giant if you're trying to get the word out on your movement. But it's a fine line between reaching the masses and staying true to your movement's core message.

"The fear is that if our message is co-opted by the media and entertainment industry, it neutralizes the power of change by emptying our words of meaning. We can't sugar-coat feminism. It's a radical movement," Frontera said.

While the women were thrilled to see the US join the movement's international scope by embracing feminism for the 99 percent, they were also concerned that using pop stars such as Madonna or Scarlett Johansson as spokespeople for the cause would indeed "sugar coat" their mission. At the end of the day, they're sticking to the Tinelli prescription: whatever helps, helps.

Argentina is one of 30 countries participating in an international women's strike on March 8—International Women's Day—to protest against economic inequality.

from When Your Women’s Movement Hashtag Gets Co-Opted By The Enemy

Paranoid Spouses Can Spy on Partners' iOS 10 Devices with iCloud Backups

Last week, Motherboard demonstrated a piece of Android malware that can remotely turn on a smartphone's microphone, track the user's location, and intercept phone calls. When buying similar spyware for iPhones, attackers typically need to jailbreak the device first so they can then install unauthorized apps—a technical barrier that may take some time.

But companies do offer monitoring solutions for iPhones that apparently work on iOS 10 devices and don't require a jailbreak. Instead, they take advantage of another aspect of Apple products that some users may overlook—iCloud backups. Although the method isn't sophisticated, and the attacker requires a target's Apple ID and password, it still highlights the options available to someone trying to monitor their spouse using off-the-shelf tools.

"Keeping tabs on the online activities of kids and employees on all iOS devices has gotten even simpler as jailbreak is no longer a prerequisite for Mobistealth to work," the website for Mobistealth, the company that sells the monitoring tool, reads.

According to the website, Mobistealth's non-jailbroken iOS solution can monitor call logs and the phone's contact list, steal photos stored on the device, read all WhatsApp conversations, and remotely track the location of the phone using GPS. It can also log other communication apps, such as WeChat, Kik and LINE. (The company also sells spyware for jailbroken iPhones, normal Android devices, and computers.)

Mobistealth markets its products towards business owners that want to monitor employees, or to help parents keep tabs on their children. However, several other websites, which include Mobistealth branding, advertise spyware as suitable for monitoring a partner. A YouTube video, which includes a Mobistealth referral link, markets the product for spying on a "cheating spouse." In other words, even if a company doesn't explicitly state its tool can be used to snoop on partners, third-party affiliates, who can make money from promoting products, still do so.

Motherboard contacted Mobistealth and asked whether one could use the company's products to spy on their wife or lover.

"Yes," the representative said.

When pressed about whether a user would need to obtain the target's consent first for legal reasons, or whether one can just use it to target a device without permission, the representative said, "Yes, you can do that."

As mentioned, Mobistealth uses a non-jailbroken iPhone's iCloud backup to obtain its data. According to Apple's website, "iCloud backups include nearly all data and settings stored on your device."

An attacker needs the Apple ID and password of the phone they want to monitor. After registering that account with Mobistealth, the company will start pulling data straight away, Mobistealth's website reads. Ostensibly, the monitoring solution would no longer work if the password for the Apple ID was changed.

"Please note that iCloud backup is normally enabled on the device by default," it continues. An attacker does not need physical access to the device.

Apple did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Some may think that requiring an Apple ID and password would make this attack fairly low risk, but that overlooks the complex threat many targets, especially victims of domestic violence, may face. An abuser can force a victim to give up their password; an attacker could provide the target with a pre-registered phone; or perhaps a married couple already shares passwords.

"You'll discover the thuth [truth] in a matter of matters," the caption of the affiliate YouTube video advertising Mobistealth's products reads.

If you are concerned that consumer spyware may have been installed on your phone, here is some basic advice on what to do next .

Update: This piece has been updated to add that the monitoring solution likely would no longer work if the Apple ID password was changed.

from Paranoid Spouses Can Spy on Partners' iOS 10 Devices with iCloud Backups

This GOP Bill to Dismantle the EPA Is More Destructive Than You Think

A GOP freshman congressman recently introduced a bill to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with more cosponsors than sentences in its text.

The entirety of Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-FL) proposal is one sentence. Following the boilerplate "Be it enacted," legislative language, it reads, simply, "The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

This is remarkably unserious lawmaking. That isn't just because eliminating the agency responsible for enforcing all the nation's environmental laws is an extremist proposal that would kill people if enacted. It's because the bill would conflict with thousands of pages of other federal laws.

What would happen if you abolished the EPA but didn't repeal environmental laws?

The EPA doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are detailed laws that have been revised many times over the decades, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act, that charge EPA with studying and determining what is a pollutant harmful to human health and then writing and enforcing regulations to protect the public from it.

What would happen if you abolished the EPA but didn't repeal those laws? Who knows? Apparently not Gaetz or his cosponsors Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), none of whom responded to a request for comment. (Another cosponsor, Rep. Barry Loudermilk [R-GA], had no answer and a full voice mail inbox at all of his offices.)

Neither do leading environmental policy experts.

"I frankly haven't seen something like this in 30 years," says Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former EPA official. "It just doesn't make sense. You have the Clean Water Act saying regulations need to be updated by EPA every five years. Obviously they haven't thought about it."

One possible explanation for Gaetz's internal incoherence is that while the EPA is a favorite punching bag for conservative activists and fossil fuel industry donors, the work it does is overwhelmingly popular among the general public.

Perhaps he wants credit from right-wing activists or donors for saying he will abolish the EPA but he doesn't want moderate Republican and independent voters to realize that would mean getting rid of environmental protections they support. (A serious bill to abolish agency would detail these implications by either repealing laws it implements or weakening them to eliminate the EPA's enforcement responsibilities.)

A January Reuters/Ipsos poll found 61 percent of Americans would like to see the EPA preserved at the same size or expanded, versus 19 percent who said it should be weakened or eliminated. Inn a December Pew poll 59 percent of the people polled said stricter environmental regulations "are worth the cost."

If Gaetz and his co-sponsors hoped to please their base without drawing attention to what abolishing the EPA actually would mean, the plan backfired. Gaetz's office has been deluged with angry calls. "He's taken a lot of flak for this," says Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental research and advocacy group. "We've seen a lot of interest in this from the grassroots."

Fearing protests from the local Democratic Women's Club and environmental activists, Gaetz encouraged the Bikers for Trump to show up at his February 23 town hall meeting with constituents. The Bikers for Trump chapter leader, a friend of Gaetz's, had asked in a Facebook post that "all patriots in attendance to protect Congressman Gaetz from any potential disruption of his speech," adding, "don't forget your ammo." The event ended up being violence-free, featuring little more disruption than the heckling that has recently become the norm at Republican lawmakers' town halls.

Suppose Gaetz got his way, though, and the bill became law. Then what? Since Congress has never yet been so reckless as to abolish an agency with a one sentence law that says nothing about who will take over its enforcement responsibilities, there is really no precedent upon which to base any speculation.

In theory, if Congress did pass Gaetz's bill, it could follow up by repealing all the environmental laws on the books or reassign its responsibility to other cabinet departments—although the latter possibility raises the question of what Gaetz's bill would accomplish to free chemical factories and coal-fired power plants from the oppressive regulatory yoke.

But if the federal government simply stopped enforcing, say, the Clean Air Act because it no longer had an agency to do it, it would be in violation of the law and subject to lawsuits by environmental and public health organizations.

And that sort of environmental degradation actually is likely to happen because of Gaetz and his ilk, regardless of his bill. While there aren't enough votes in Congress to repeal laws like the Clean Air Act, there are plenty for passing budgets that would scale back the scope of EPA's work.

If the federal government simply stopped enforcing the Clean Air Act it would be in violation of the law.

"Congress doesn't have the votes, we think, to make major damage to environment laws, but there is a serious likelihood that Republicans will gut the EPA budget, which will have same impact," says Slesinger.

The budget, unlike other bills, cannot be filibustered, so Republicans can pass it without any Democratic votes. And the GOP already has gradually cut EPA's spending by 20 percent since taking over Congress in 2011. As a result, the agency launched one-third fewer criminal investigations last year than it did in 2012. Meanwhile, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have proposed further cuts to domestic spending and Trump is already at work on repealing many Obama-era EPA regulations.

Republicans will do plenty to pollute the environment, but Gaetz's bill won't sully anything but the political debate.

from This GOP Bill to Dismantle the EPA Is More Destructive Than You Think

The Stars Are Legion is bizarrely original space opera

One of the joys of good space opera, aside from the action, is the discovery of worlds that are meaningfully alien. In award-winning science fiction author Kameron Hurley’s latest novel, The Stars Are Legion, we get to slither into the fascinating, saliva-covered scenery of the biotech world-ships that make up the mysterious Legion. As civil war rips the Legion apart, Hurley draws us into an intense, Bourne Identity-style mystery about who our heroes are and why they’re fighting.

Zan awakens in a medical bay. She can speak, but she doesn’t know who or where she is. A doctor explains that Zan’s been recycled and reconstructed, hinting that she’s been in this situation many times before. But that’s all Zan knows—well, that and the fact that she has the kind of warrior instincts that let her fight like she’s about to enter the Octagon. Plus, she knows an awful lot about how to ride sentient space-motorcycles. The Legion flies these beasts from one ship to the other, trailing plumes of yellow exhaust like something out of a 1960s comic book.

Biotech worlds

A mystery woman named Jayd eventually visits Zan and tells her that she’s currently on a planet ship called Katazyrna. Jayd tells Zan that the time has come to get back to her mission to penetrate the defenses of another world called Mokshi. And it would be nice if she could do it without getting all her troops killed this time around. Apparently, whenever Zan goes to Mokshi, she’s completely destroyed and loses her memory. But Jayd and her mother, Lord Katazyrna, keep sending Zan back because she’s the only person able to breach Mokshi’s outer perimeter.

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from The Stars Are Legion is bizarrely original space opera

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Dealmaster: Snag Dell, Asus, and Lenovo laptops for less than $550 each

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we're back with a new batch of deals. Today, we have a number of laptops on sale for less than $550 each. Among them is an Asus notebook with a Kaby Lake Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. We also have a Dell Inspiron 15 5000 with a Core i7 processor, a 4GB AMD Radeon R5 GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB HDD. Those sales won't last, so grab them while you can!

Be sure to check out the rest of the deals below, too.


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from Dealmaster: Snag Dell, Asus, and Lenovo laptops for less than $550 each

Windows 10 Creators Update can block Win32 apps if they’re not from the Store

Mobile World Congress, day one: Many smartphones, some PCs, a couple curveballs

New Lenovo Yoga laptops get 4K displays, Nvidia GTX 1050 GPUs, and more


The foldable hinge of Lenovo's Yoga laptops has become a mainstay in the convertible laptop market since the original was launched in late 2012. Along with the MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 4, the Yoga has become one of the industry's most commonly copied designs. This week at Mobile World Congress, Lenovo has updated the originals with new features that check a lot of the boxes we're looking for 2017's PCs to check.

The most interesting options of the new Yogas are the new midrange 720-series models, available in both 13.3-inch and 15-inch screen sizes. Both offer many of the same features: they have Windows Hello fingerprint sensors embedded in their palmrests, they come with both 1080p and 4K touchscreens, they both support pen input via an optional Windows Ink-compatible pen accessory, and they both offer a Thunderbolt 3 port that charges the laptop and offers DisplayPort support. The 13-inch model also offers one USB 3.0 port, and the 15-inch model offers two USB 3.0 ports; both have headphone jacks but no SD card readers. Both use Intel Kaby Lake CPUs, both offer up to 16GB of DDR4 RAM, both offer PCIe SSDs up to 1TB in size, both have 867Mbps 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, and both offer backlit keyboards and Windows 10 Home (Pro doesn't appear to be an option). Like Dell's XPS 13, each of these devices also uses slim bezels around the top and sides of the screens that are offset by a larger bottom bezel; unlike the XPS 13, though, both squeeze their 720p webcams in above the screen rather than below it.

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