Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

An example of two police officers exonerated by their body-cam videos

leave a comment »

Radley Balko has a good column on a fatal shooting in Texas:

The two disturbing videos below depict the fatal police shooting of James Bushey, 47, of Elkhart, Tex. The videos are taken from the body cameras of two officers with the Palestine, Tex., police department.

Bushey was suspected of stealing some alcohol from a local Wal-Mart. The videos depict Sgt. Gabriel Green calmly and non-aggressively confronting Bushey in the bathroom of an Applebee’s restaurant. He and Officer Kaylynn Griffin then escort him outside the restaurant. Bushey then pulls a BB gun pistol from his pocket and points it at the officers. They then open fire and kill him. By all appearances, this shooting looks both justified and unavoidable. Judging by the local newspaper account of the shooting, Bushey was likely attempting suicide-by-cop. It’s really the only explanation for why he’d knowingly pull a non-lethal gun on two police officers armed with guns that shoot actual bullets.

But these two videos also show why police groups and their supporters ought to embrace the use of body cameras. The most obvious reason is that these particular videos completely vindicate Green and Griffin. Not only do the videos show the shooting to be justified, but they also show that the two officers handled the entire situation professionally and without unnecessary escalation. (Note the moment where Sgt. Green spots a knife on a table and subtly slides it out of Bushey’s reach.) Even if you’re a cynic and believe the officers were only acting that way because they were on camera, that’s all the more reason to embrace the use of body cameras. They can encourage best practices.

Many critics (including me) believe courts and prosecutors are too deferential to police narratives, especially when they’re contradicted by other witnesses. But outside the criminal justice system, any time a cop shoots someone there will always be some suspicion about whether the shooting was justified and necessary. For example, given how inexplicable Bushey’s actions were, it isn’t hard to imagine a critic questioning whether the BB gun was planted. (It wouldn’t be unprecedented.) This is a good example in which an independent video narrative can remove all doubt.

On a broader level, videos like these can also show doubters that there are police shootings that are not only legally justified, but also couldn’t have been prevented. These two videos put you right in the officers’ shoes. It’s hard not to feel the life-and-death rush of adrenaline that undoubtedly washed over Green and Griffin the moment they saw Bushey’s gun.

That perspective is also important. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2015 at 9:54 am

Things the criminal justice system has difficulty addressing

leave a comment »

Darryl Greer published a vivid description of a young criminal (psychopath? cyber-terrorist?) recently in Motherboard:

It begins with a phone call to a police force that could be thousands of miles away, claiming wild threats of violence and mayhem or desperate pleas for help—and then, the sound of a doorbell or a hard knock at the door.

Under the watchful eye of a webcam, victims can be seen lifting a headphone from one ear and momentarily pausing to listen. Some stand up from their computer screens to go investigate, while others go right back to gaming. Whatever the case, the outcome is always the same: well-armed police officers storm in and shout orders to get-the-fuck-on-the-floor.

The phenomenon, known as “swatting,” is not new. But some, hiding behind a shroud of internet anonymity, have taken the practice to new extremes. Such is the case of a 17-year-old teen with a knack for hacking and a penchant for terrorizing fellow gamers—mostly young women—whose fate will be decided in a courtroom in the Vancouver, British Columbia suburb of Port Coquitlam later this month.

In May, he plead guilty to 23 charges of extortion, public mischief and criminal harassment related to several swatting incidents in Canada and the US—out of 40 total charges—but as a young offender he cannot be named.

His guilty plea made international headlines, in part due to his association with a hacking group called Lizard Squad, known for its attacks on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live online gaming services, amongst other video gaming sites. In one eight-hour video, which has since been taken offline, Ars Technica reported that the teen identified himself as a member of the group, and has used the handles “obnoxious” and “internetjesusob” online (Lizard Squad denies the teen was a core member).

But, as local media has reported, the young hacker’s victims were not only the large networks and institutions that Lizard Squad targeted, but unsuspecting fans of the popular video game League of Legends, as well as other gamers who had the misfortune of crossing his path online.

Florida’s Polk County Sheriff’s Office first identified the teen after he placed several threatening calls to locations in the area in late 2014, including threats to shoot and blow up a high school where one of his targets attended. According to a report in The Province, “when [targets] would not acknowledge friend and follow requests or send him things that he wanted, such as photos, he would harass them and their families.”

There was a woman in Arizona, swatted repeatedly and terrorized to the point of dropping out of university for a semester, and the Minnesota parents whose credit was in shambles after the teen swatted their child and posted the parents’ personal information online. In other instances, the teen would call in hostage situations, murders, bomb threats, and threatened to kill police, The Province reported, and would then hack and harass targets and their families for months with “phone calls, texts and by spamming social media accounts.”

In the case of the Arizona woman, the teen even “cancelled utilities, phone and Internet accounts, called her parents in the middle of the night and released their financial information online.” . . .

Continue reading.

He’s now gone to trial, and from this report I don’t think the system really has an effective approach. He will be sentenced on 9 July.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2015 at 10:35 am

How states fight against the interest of their own citizens, broadband division

leave a comment »

Leticia Miranda reports in ProPublica:

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease the way for cities to become Internet service providers. So-called municipal broadband is already a reality in a few towns, often providing Internet access and faster service to rural communities that cable companies don’t serve.

The cable and telecommunications industry have long lobbied against city-run broadband, arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies.

The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states. Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband.

And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service.

North Carolina’s attorney general argued in a suit filed last month that the “FCC unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State’s political subdivisions.” Tennessee’s attorney general filed a similar suit in March.

Tennessee has hired one of the country’s largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit. The firm, founded by a former FCC chairman, has represented AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, among others.

James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, said it is not unusual for attorneys general to seek outside counsel for specialized cases that they view as a priority.

Asked about the suit, the Tennessee attorney general’s office told ProPublica, “This is a question of the state’s sovereign ability to define the role of its local governmental units.” North Carolina Attorney General’s office said in a statement that the “legal defense of state laws by the Attorney General’s office is a statutory requirement.”

As the New York Times detailed last year, state attorneys general have become a major target of corporate lobbyists and contributors including AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile.

North Carolina is no exception. The state’s Attorney General Roy Cooper receivedroughly $35,000 from the telecommunications industry in his 2012 run for office. Only the state’s retail industry gave more.

The donations are just a small part of contributions the industry has made in the states. In North Carolina’s 2014 elections, the telecommunications industry gave a combined $870,000 to candidates in both parties, which made it one of the top industries to contribute that year. Candidates in Tennessee received nearly $921,000 from AT&T and other industry players in 2014.

The FCC’s decision came after two towns – City of Wilson in North Carolina and Chattanooga in Tennessee – appealed to the agency to be able to expand their networks.

The vote has rattled some companies. In a government filing earlier this year, Comcast cited the FCC’s decision as a risk to the company’s business: “Any changes to the regulatory framework applicable to any of our services or businesses could have a negative impact on our businesses and results of operations.” . . .

Continue reading.

Regarding that last sentence: While allowing municipalities to offer broadband services may have negative impact on Comcast, not allowing the offer has very definite negative impact on citizens. So there will be a negative impact. The government rightly protects the citizens and considers the general welfare. Comcast could, of course, have invested in providing good broadband services at a reasonable price, but Comcast chose another way to go, and now they don’t like the result. Tough.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2015 at 10:28 am

Google accused of “abusive conduct” in privacy app case

leave a comment »

Full disclosure: I use Disconnect on all my browsers on my laptop. And I’ve blogged about it.

Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept:

An award-winning company founded by former Google engineers is taking legal action against the search engine giant over claims it has engaged in a “pattern of abusive behavior” and is violating privacy rights on a “massive scale.”

Disconnect, a U.S. firm that designs privacy-enhancing technology, has filed a complaint with European antitrust regulators after its Android app was banned from the Google Play Store. The app was designed to protect smartphone users from invisible tracking and malware distributed through online advertisements.

The complaint was submitted earlier this month, but the full allegations were not made public at the time. The Intercept has obtained a copy of the 104-page complaint, which attacks Google over its claimed commitment to privacy and accuses the tech titan of trying to stop people from using the Disconnect app because it poses an “existential threat” to its revenue sources.

Google’s business, the complaint claims, “consists almost entirely of gathering data about the preferences, locations, and behavior of ordinary people and monetizing that data through the sale of targeted advertisements on the Internet.” Because of this, it alleges, Google is “using the full weight of its market power to deny users control over tracking, particularly mobile tracking.”

When you visit a website, usually unbeknown to you, other websites and services try to connect to your device in the background to collect data about your browsing habits. The Disconnect app allows users to view and block these invisible network connections, which the company says “permit intrusions into the personal privacy of users by facilitating tracking and the collection of personal information” and “expose users to risks associated with malware and other forms of cybercrime.” However, some of these same invisible connections are used to generate advertising revenue, an issue that appears to be at the root of Google’s decision to crack down on Disconnect.

Disconnect argues in its complaint:

[I]nvisible, unsolicited tracking is Google’s lifeblood. The company makes virtually all of its revenue from advertising. Tracking permits Google to target its ads and, hence, to charge advertisers far more for ad placement. Indeed, Google is under enormous pressure from the financial community to increase the “effectiveness” of its tracking, so that it can increase  revenues and profits. Giving a user the ability to control his own privacy information (and to protect himself from malware) by blocking invisible connections to problematic sites constitutes an existential threat to Google.

Google is dismissing Disconnect’s allegations as “baseless.” A company spokesman told The Intercept that Google Play policies “have long prohibited apps that interfere with other apps (such as by altering their functionality, or removing their way of making money). We apply this policy uniformly — and Android developers strongly support it. All apps must comply with these policies and there’s over 200 privacy apps available in Google Play that do.”

However, Disconnect claims that some apps that interfere with others have in fact been allowed in the Play Store — such as Ghostery’s Ad Control app — and it says Google turns a blind eye to them because they are “less effective” at blocking invisible tracking.

“We don’t think our app should be treated differently, the remedy we’re seeking is equal treatment,” Disconnect’s CEO Casey Oppenheim told The Intercept. “Google allows many Android apps in the Play Store that interfere with other apps.”

Google is putting its interest in ad revenues above protection of its users, Oppenheim alleged, undermining the public’s right to privacy and ability to protect itself from malware and identity theft.

“Google has built great technologies,” he said, “but it’s violating consumer privacy rights and creating dangerous security vulnerabilities on a massive scale.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2015 at 3:45 pm

Why the Saudis Are Going Solar

leave a comment »

Jeffrey Ball writes in the Atlantic:

Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammad Al Saud belongs to the family that rules Saudi Arabia. He wears a white thawb and ghutra, the traditional robe and headdress of Arab men, and he has a cavernous office hung with portraits of three Saudi royals. When I visited him in Riyadh this spring, a waiter poured tea and subordinates took notes as Turki spoke. Everything about the man seemed to suggest Western notions of a complacent functionary in a complacent, oil-rich kingdom.

But Turki doesn’t fit the stereotype, and neither does his country. Quietly, the prince is helping Saudi Arabia—the quintessential petrostate—prepare to make what could be one of the world’s biggest investments in solar power.

Near Riyadh, the government is preparing to build a commercial-scale solar-panel factory. On the Persian Gulf coast, another factory is about to begin producing large quantities of polysilicon, a material used to make solar cells. And next year, the two state-owned companies that control the energy sector—Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, and the Saudi Electricity Company, the kingdom’s main power producer—plan to jointly break ground on about 10 solar projects around the country.

Turki heads two Saudi entities that are pushing solar hard: the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, a national research-and-development agency based in Riyadh, and Taqnia, a state-owned company that has made several investments in renewable energy and is looking to make more. “We have a clear interest in solar energy,” Turki told me. “And it will soon be expanding exponentially in the kingdom.”

Such talk sounds revolutionary in Saudi Arabia, for decades a poster child for fossil-fuel waste. The government sells gasoline to consumers for about 50 cents a gallon and electricity for as little as 1 cent a kilowatt-hour, a fraction of the lowest prices in the United States. As a result, the highways buzz with Cadillacs, Lincolns, and monster SUVs; few buildings have insulation; and people keep their home air conditioners running—often at temperatures that require sweaters—even when they go on vacation.

Saudi Arabia produces much of its electricity by burning oil, a practice that most countries abandoned long ago, reasoning that they could use coal and natural gas instead and save oil for transportation, an application for which there is no mainstream alternative. Most of Saudi Arabia’s power plants are colossally inefficient, as are its air conditioners, which consumed 70 percent of the kingdom’s electricity in 2013. Although the kingdom has just 30 million people, it is the world’s sixth-largest consumer of oil.

Now, Saudi rulers say, things must change. Their motivation isn’t concern about global warming; the last thing they want is an end to the fossil-fuel era. Quite the contrary: they see investing in solar energy as a way to remain a global oil power.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2015 at 4:22 pm

Artificial intelligence may be quite alien to human intelligence

with one comment

And, when you think about it, it’s not a surprise. But some examples may startle you into just how alien it can be. Take a look at these images created by an AI.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2015 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Technology

Gross Federal agency incompetence

with 3 comments

An example of complete incompetence in action, described at Motherboard by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

The US government’s human resources agency has suffered two large data breaches on its systems in large part because it failed to heed warnings from its own overseers, who had identified serious security issues for years. Now seems the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), whose breach hit at least 4.2 million government workers, can’t even deal with the aftermath of the hack the right way.

“Every aspect of the OPM breach is a case-study in how not to prepare for and respond to an intrusion,” Robert Lee, a security researcher who believes he may have been a victim of the breach, told Motherboard.

On Monday, June 8, the agency started sending emails to the victims to notify them of the breach and to offer free identity theft and credit monitoring services. But instead of sending the emails from an OPM.gov address, OPM outsourced this service toCSID, a fraud detection company.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 1.44.26 PM

As a result, many victims got suspicious.

“There was just concern, of course, with phishing attempts and things like that,” OPM spokesperson Samuel Schumach told Motherboard. “People were uncomfortable clicking on an enroll now button on an email.”

The Department of Defense even asked OPM to instruct CSID to stop sending notifications, because DoD members are trained not to click on links coming from emails they don’t recognize, the Washington Post reported.

Other government agencies were wary of the notifications too. Last week, an IT officer from the Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory sent an email to the lab’s staffers to warn them that OPM had hired a contractor to send the notification emails, and that they’d be coming from a @csid.com address rather than an @opm.gov one, according to a copy of an email obtained by Motherboard.

“As always we should be wary of unexpected messages from unknown entities,” the email from the IT officer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory read.

This was a screw up, according to security experts.

“These emails absolutely look like phishing emails,” said Lee, who, as an Air Force Cyber Warfare Officer and a PhD candidate researching cyber security at Kings College in London, could have been a victim of the hack.

Worse, OPM waited a month to start telling victims that they had been hacked and used a contractor to do it—something that, according to Lee, is “beyond negligent.”

When asked why OPM didn’t send the emails itself, Schumach, the spokesperson, said that he “honestly didn’t know” the answer.

OPM could’ve done better in notifying victims, but it was also put in a tough, “catch-22” situation after it was hacked, according to Adrian Sanabria, a security analyst at at 451 Research. . .

Continue reading.

Will the incompetents be replaced? Well, the oversight is provided by Congress (speaking of incompetents), so I would guess not.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2015 at 7:11 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,998 other followers

%d bloggers like this: