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Category: Government (page 1 of 2)

Senate wants emergency alerts to go out through Netflix, Spotify, etc.


An emergency alert goes out, trying to let you know about incoming bad news — a missile, a tsunami or something else terrifying. Your phone starts shouting… but it’s downstairs. A warning ticker pops on TVs, if you’re watching cable… but you’ve got your eyes glued to Netflix, or Hulu, or some other online streaming service.

Should these services, with their ever-increasing ownership of our screen time, be prepped to broadcast these warnings?

Senators in Hawaii and South Dakota think so, having just introduced a bill (the “Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement,” or READI, act) that would “explore” broadcasting alerts to “online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify,” amongst other changes to the Emergency Alert System.

“Hawaii? Wasn’t that the state that had a very public false alarm with its emergency alert system?”

Yep! But it seems that in investigating what went wrong, the state found plenty of long-lived shortcomings in the existing, aging alert system.

Some of the other things the bill touches on:

  • Users on many phones can currently disable federal alerts; they want to get rid of that option
  • Building a better system for reporting false alarms and figuring out what happened
  • Updating the system to better prevent false alarms, and to better retract them when they do happen

The idea of sending emergency alerts to Netflix etc. seems a bit obvious at this point — hell, I was mulling over it right here on TechCrunch back in 2011, and it seemed a bit obvious even back then.

With that said, I still have the same hesitations I had at the time. After the recent false alarms and ensuing panic, it’s clear that any such system needs to be rock solid from a security standpoint — one missed bug or exploit and half the country is freaking out about non-existent incoming missiles when all they wanted to do was watch Orange Is the New Black. If it can be done right, though, it seems like a reasonable idea.

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Microsoft Calls For Federal Regulation of Facial Recognition


“Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act,” says Brad Smith, the company’s president.


Trump’s Supreme Court nominee opposes net neutrality, supports NSA bulk collection


President Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee will face more scrutiny for his ideological leanings around issues like abortion than his thoughts on tech, but we do know a bit about the latter.

On Monday, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat that opened when Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in late June. A list of Trump’s potential picks circulated previously and Kavanaugh was believed to be a frontrunner. Kavanaugh, who previously clerked for Kennedy, was appointed to the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 by former president George W. Bush and eventually confirmed in 2006.

As future digital privacy cases wend their way toward the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh’s stated views on the NSA’s spying program could prove relevant. In 2015, Kavanaugh sided in favor of the NSA’s warrantless bulk collection of phone metadata, issuing strong support for the controversial practice and categorizing its collection as a “special need” that eclipses personal privacy concerns.

In his own words:

“The Government’s collection of telephony metadata from a third party such as a telecommunications service provider is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment, at least under the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979).

… Even if the bulk collection of telephony metadata constitutes a search, cf. United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945, 954-57 (2012) (Sotomayor, J., concurring), the Fourth Amendment does not bar all searches and seizures. It bars only unreasonable searches and seizures. And the Government’s metadata collection program readily qualifies as reasonable under the Supreme Court’s case law. The Fourth Amendment allows governmental searches and seizures without individualized suspicion when the Government demonstrates a sufficient “special need” – that is, a need beyond the normal need for law enforcement – that outweighs the intrusion on individual liberty. In short, the Government’s program fits comfortably within the Supreme Court precedents applying the special needs doctrine.”

Kavanaugh is also an opponent of net neutrality. In a 2017 dissent, he argued that rules supporting net neutrality impinges on an internet service provider’s “editorial discretion” and therefore violates its First Amendment rights.

“In short, although the briefs and commentary about the net neutrality issue are voluminous, the legal analysis is straightforward: If the Supreme Court’s major rules doctrine means what it says, then the net neutrality rule is unlawful because Congress has not clearly authorized the FCC to issue this major rule. And if the Supreme Court’s Turner Broadcasting decisions mean what they say, then the net neutrality rule is unlawful because the rule impermissibly infringes on the Internet service providers’ editorial discretion. To state the obvious, the Supreme Court could always refine or reconsider the major rules doctrine or its decisions in the Turner Broadcasting cases. But as a lower court, we do not possess that power. Our job is to apply Supreme Court precedent as it stands. For those two alternative and independent reasons, the FCC’s net neutrality regulation is unlawful and must be vacated.”

Kavanaugh, a reliable conservative, also opposes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and argued in 2018 that the bureau’s existence is an unconstitutional threat to executive power. In theory, the CFPB advocates for consumer interests in incidents like the Equifax hack, but CFPB supporters argue that the agency has been gutted during the Trump administration at the hands of its acting director, Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney.

Broadly, Kavanaugh looks like a friend to big business and an enemy to digital privacy advocates, though we’ll likely learn more of his record as he moves forward in the sure to be controversial confirmation process.

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Blockchain Could Upend Welfare Programs

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTt-0zIfddl_3BZwIP53xx Blockchain Could Upend Welfare Programs  National ReviewFull coverage


Online shopping is about to get more expensive


Gird your (digital) wallets!

The Supreme Court has ruled that states can charge online retailers sales tax, even if they don’t have a physical presence in the state. That means that some of the biggest online retailers — including Wayfair,, and Newegg, who were named in the suit against the state of South Dakota — may soon have to pass on that additional cost to consumers.

“Each year, the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” Justice Kennedy wrote in his Court Opinion.

How does this affect the gargantuan elephant in the room, Amazon? Amazon actually already charges sales taxes on the goods that it sells directly. But the third party sellers on Amazon do not. So you might have to start paying sales tax alongside those non-Prime shipping charges. Ouch. Read more…

More about Retail, Supreme Court, Online Shopping, Sales Tax, and Tech


AT&T’s least favorite net neutrality bill takes another step forward


Enlarge / Net neutrality supporter protests the FCC’s repeal outside a federal building in Los Angeles, California on November 28, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Ronen Tivony | NurPhoto)

A California bill that would impose the nation’s strictest net neutrality law has been approved by another state Senate committee, bringing it closer to passage.

The California Senate Judiciary committee approved the bill Tuesday in a 5-2 vote, with Democrats supporting the net neutrality rules and Republicans opposing them.

“California can—and must—step up to re-establish the Obama-era net neutrality rules to protect consumers and our democracy,” bill sponsor Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) said in an announcement.

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IRS payment site crashes on tax day


Twitter’s brief morning outage was stressful enough — but those who’ve waited until the last possible moment to pay their tax bills have a much more distressing site crash to worry about. The Internal Revenue Service’s Direct pay site is down the day taxes are due.

It’s been experiencing issues for a number of hours already, and is still unreachable as of this writing. Those who visit the page will be met with a friendly red banner bearing a large exclamation mark and the words “Alert: This service is currently unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

I mean, you didn’t really want to pay your taxes anyway, right?

The site specifically handles pay transfers from checking or savings account. There does appear to be a work around, if you pay with a credit or debit card — though you’ll also be charged a transaction fee. Still, it might be worth the $2 to $4 for the peace of mind.

The IRS says it believes this is all the result of a glitch, rather than something more nefarious like hacking. Perhaps it was even the last minute strain on the system, though failing on tax days is like giving up a grand slam during game seven of the World Series, when you’re an electronic transfer site.

“We are working to resolve the issue and taxpayers should continue to file as they normally would,” Acting IRS commissioner David Kauttner said in an address today, relayed by The Washington Post. He added that, due to the crash, late payments will “not be penalized because of a technical problem the IRS is having.”

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US Bans ZTE From Buying Parts From American Companies for 7 Years


After pleading guilty to charges of violating sanctions and illegally shipping US goods to Iran, ZTE agreed to pay almost $900 million in fines in 2017, with up to $300 million in possible additional damages. However, it seems those penalties weren’t enough for Uncle Sam, because today the US Department of Commerce…

Read more…


Zuckerberg makes Capitol Hill debut as Facebook frustration mounts


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his debut at a Capitol Hill witness table Tuesday, bending to pressure to answer directly to Washington for the multiple controversies engulfing his company.

The 33-year-old tech tycoon will face a bench of lawmakers whose frustration with Facebook has festered for more than a year and whose gripes with the company now range from consumer data privacy to Russian election interference.

The congressional testimony represents a key test for Zuckerberg as he tries to staunch weeks of negative headlines that have dented the company’s stock price and raised doubts about his leadership. An online campaign calling on people to “#DeleteFacebook” has become a persistent threat to the social network.

“The reality is that our promised digital utopia is not all the land of milk and honey,” Louisana Republican Sen. John Kennedy said Monday. “It’s clear there’s some impurities in the Facebook punch bowl.”

Facebook has faced scrutiny for months over fake news articles and Russia-linked accounts that stoked political tensions and sought to sway voters during the 2016 election. Lawmakers have openly questioned whether Facebook has full control over its platform and criticized executives’ responses to the meddling as half-hearted.

But the company’s problems exploded last month, when news reports revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm connected to President Donald Trump’s campaign, improperly accessed the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users. The social network has since said as many as 87 million people may be affected.

Zuckerberg will adopt a tone of contrition in his appearances before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees Tuesday and House Energy & Commerce Committee on Wednesday. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” he’ll say, according to prepared testimony.

The CEO, though, will be walking into a political buzzsaw. Democrats intend to hammer him for lax oversight of privacy and Kremlin meddling. Republicans, meanwhile, are likely to draw comparisons between Cambridge Analytica and President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign in their use of Facebook data — implying that Republicans aren’t the only ones engaging in questionable social media tactics.

Investors fear that the rising criticism of Facebook could eventually shift from rhetoric to regulation, especially as Washington’s once-rosy view of Silicon Valley has soured. The company’s stock has fallen 15 percent since the Cambridge Analytica story broke.

Zuckerberg last week endorsed the Honest Ads Act,, a bill that would require disclosures for online political ads, but some lawmakers want more rules. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for example, plans to introduce legislation that would give people greater say in how their data are used. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also said they’re working on legislation.

Blumenthal said he wants to know “how many Cambridge Analyticas there are, how many users’ information has been scraped, what kind of compensation he will make to them, but more broadly how the business model will be changed to better protect privacy because right now the business model is to monetize personal, confidential information.”

“My sense is he takes this seriously because he knows there is going to be a hard look at regulation,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, told reporters after meeting with Zuckerberg on Monday. “I think he understands regulation can be right around the corner.”

Naysayers have even emerged from within Silicon Valley. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently took a veiled shot at Facebook’s troubles, saying businesses that sell consumer products, rather than consumer data, are more likely to care about people’s privacy. Zuckerberg hit back, calling the remark “extremely glib” and “not at all aligned with the truth.”

After Zuckerberg initially gave himself some wiggle room to get out of a congressional appearance — saying he was happy to testify unless another Facebook executive were more qualified to answer the questions — it became clear that nothing less than the CEO himself would satisfy lawmakers.

In recent weeks, Facebook has sought to get ahead of Congress with a series of announcements about how it will self-police its platform. The company said it will simplify how it displays privacy settings and make users aware of third-party applications collecting their data. It also pledged to eliminate an advertising program that relied on data from outside brokers.

The social network further closed 270 accounts and pages operated by the Kremlin-aligned Internet Research Agency, a leading agent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And Facebook said it would require greater transparency about who pays for advertisements about divisive issues, such as gun control or immigration, like the kind that Russian operatives exploited during the campaign.

Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have touted these commitments on a media apology tour, taking responsibility for holes in privacy enforcement that allowed Cambridge Analytica to gain access to the information and reportedly keep it for years after Facebook asked the firm to delete it.

The Facebook CEO walks a well-trodden path. Tech leaders like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Cook have been hauled before Congress to defend their businesses practices, as have other CEOs whose tone and words are put under a microscope as their reputations hang in the balance.

It’s a high-stakes performance for Zuckerberg, who in the past has preferred to send Sandberg to smooth relations with lawmakers or dispatch his general counsel, Colin Stretch, who testified at multiple hearings on Russian election interference last fall.

The company’s employees and tech industry peers — not to mention all of Washington — will be watching intently to see how he performs.

“I’m hoping … that Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t spend a lot of time saying sorry and apologizing,” Kennedy said. “We all know he’s responsible. He’s the president of the company. I hope he’ll use his time to say, ‘Hey, I’m on this.'”

Ashley Gold and Li Zhou contributed to this report.


Tanzania imposes strict social media regulations to stop ‘moral decadence’

Tanzania has finally signed into law their eyebrow-raising new regulation that will govern social media and blogging. The regulation known as the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017, was initially published by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and came into effect during March 2018. Among some interesting laws as stated in the regulation is a license fee to be charged to Tanzanians operating online radio stations and video (TV) websites. Registration fees don’t only apply to online radio and TV websites operated by anyone in Tanzania. Bloggers are also required to apply for a license (to blog) from the TCRA. Just…

This story continues at The Next Web

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