New Bill Being Proposed in California to Combat Burner Phones

Technology and the law are constantly racing, with each one taking steps to catch up with the other. From the arguments Apple and the FBI are having regarding privacy and encryption to something as simple as Segways being illegal in public, technology is creating new gadgets and systems and the law is creating laws to either change or catch up with the issue. An issue that has long plagued law and the courts is burner phones, but a new bill in California could change that.

Burner phones follow a simple concept, you pay for them and the credit you need to use them. Once they are finished with, you can either dispose or top up the phone. Due to the throwaway nature, they are used by people with stuff to hide, with it recently being revealed that the terrorists who attacked Paris used burner phones not encryption to avoid detection.

The new bill, dubbed the “Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act Of 2016″ would require anyone who sells prepaid devices to register and record the identity of those who purchased the phone. The specifics are the customer would be required to provide a credit card, social security number or driving license number, the same requirements people are required to provide for mobile contracts.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California is the one proposing the bill and states that the ” bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery”.

California Moves to Ban Encrypted Phones

The state of California is looking to introduce new legislation that would see encrypted smartphones banned from sale and ownership. The bill, ZDNet reports, was introduced by Democratic California assembly member Jim Cooper and would require any smartphone manufactured “on or after January 1, 2017, and sold in California after that date” to be “capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.” A phone that could not be decrypted on demand would be deemed illegal and the owner subject to a $2,500 fine.

Under this new legislation, Apple, based in California, would not be able to sell its iPhones on its own turf. Apple CEO has been very vocal in his support of end-to-end encryption in the past, saying that “Nobody should have to decide privacy and security. We should be smart enough to do both,” and that his company has “never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services […] and we never will.”

The bill still has to pass the California state assembly, and then be signed into law by California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

A similar bill, with nearly identical wording, was introduced in to the New York Senate last week.

 

 

‘Snooper Charter’ Causes Issues With Google, Microsoft, Twitter And Others

The Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill for short) goes by another name, the Snooper Charter. The bill is aimed to help extend and update the government’s legislation surrounding their surveillance powers, this extension though is gaining more than a little public notice with more than a few people expressing how worried they are about these new powers. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter can now be added to this list of people that have issues with the current bill.

Listing their concerns, they state they understand the responsibilities of Governments to protect people and privacy, they continue by saying that they believe a legal framework can protect people, companies and the Government. They cite their membership to the “Reform Government Surveillance” (RGS) coalition before continuing in saying that any surveillance must be lawful, necessary, transparent and proportionate.

Current proposals look to force ISP’s to retain at least a years worth of data about sites you visit, an action that has raised concerns by ex-NSA director Bill Binney. The primary areas that they wished to bring into notice are the conflicting laws between the proposal and international law. Continuing on to state that an international framework, as suggested by Sir Nigel Sheinwald, should be established to help with issues and prevent the use of warrants on people based within the UK to attempt to extract information from a branch of the company in a different country.

One of the main issues is encryption with digital data and the bill states that companies will have “obligations relating to the removal of electronic protection applied by a relevant operator to any communication or data”, basically saying that any protection you have on your devices companies will need to be able to remove. This didn’t go down well in America when the government ordered Apple to unencrypt a phone while China’s new law forces companies to provide them with encryption keys.

I recommend reading through their concerns if you are interested and keep listening out for more information as it develops on the “Snooper Charter”, as no matter how you use technology, this law will impact everyone.

Prisons Get Capped Phone Rate as Prices Hit $14 Per Minute

People often complain about how much they pay for their phone, be it a monthly bill or a subscription we tend to buy what we think is a good deal, often unaware of the hidden fees or the limits we easily pass. This isn’t the case for all, and if you thought your bill was bad try being in prison where the prices were said to have reached even $14 a minute.

The Federal complaints commission is facing a lawsuit regard the prices some prisons have charged $14 a minute, roughly £9 per minute. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated that “None of us would consider ever paying $500 a month. where calls are dropped for seemingly no reason”. With a vote deciding that all rates within prisons should be capped at a mere 11 cents per minute (7p per minute), not everyone, however, is happy with this decision.

Securus, a company involved with the running of several prisons has warned that this move could end up harming more than it helps with the medium and smaller sized prisons ending up more damaged by the decision.

With the vote winning at a 3-2 ratio it is clear that this is something the FCC want to put in place, although more lawsuits may come with many arguing with how the final cap was calculated.

Image courtesy of Telegraph.

LightSail Says Final Goodbye With Selfie

After it was theorized by Carl Sagan, the LightSail was finally brought to life earlier this year with Bill Nye heading up the Solar Sail Project. After a successful launch and a communications blackout, the solar sail has finished its mission.

After 25 days in low-orbit, the Solar Sail has completed its initial set of tests and is preparing for re-entry into the atmosphere. After its primary objective was complete, the deployment of its solar sails, the craft took a selfie and transmitted it down to the control center. The image is shown above, clearly displays the solar sails fully deployed.

The team hoped to get a second picture from the camera located on the other side of the craft, however before this could happen though the craft began transmitting a continuous  stream with no reason behind the actual content of the transmission. At this point, the craft also stopped responding to commands issued to it from the ground.

With the successful deployment of its sails, and the first tests showing a complete success, the SolarSail project is yet another step towards its goal of being a sustainable and realistic mode of transport within the solar system. A mode of transport that’s not only renewable but requires no fuel, making the craft lighter from the very start of its journey.

Bill Nye’s Solar Sail Back In Touch After Reboot

We’ve all had the problem, something’s gone wrong and all of a sudden you panic! In my case, it’s normally something goes wrong with the wireless and you rush around checking your computer and your router making sure they are both working fine and you can connect to the internet again. In this case, though the two pieces of machinery were a little further apart when Bill Nye’s Solar Sail spacecraft started communicating again with the engineers back on earth.

The LightSail craft, our initial article on the launch here, had stopped sending information back to Earth after what is believed to be a software glitch. After attempting to remotely reboot the spacecraft failed they had only one chance left, a natural reboot, where the LightSail would reboot itself.

The LightSail successfully managed to reboot itself and call home, the company behind the project, Planetary Group, are confident that once their software has been patched and they are ready they will begin deploying the LightSails sails and continue testing the crafts space travelling capabilities.

Being able to travel without the use of fuel would make space travel not only more sustainable but could lighten up the spaceships we use considerably. This, however, goes as a reminder that no matter how safe you think are you, it always helps to have a backup, be it an automatic reboot for your multi-million dollar spaceship or your latest essay for school it helps to be prepared.

Thank you The Verge for the information.

Image courtesy of ISSS.

PayPal Fined $25 Million For Credit Program

Who remembers the “bill me later” option for Paypal? Not many I’m willing to bet, it didn’t last too long, and now we know why. It’s going to cost PayPal $25 million in fines after it was found to have signed people up to the scheme under false advertisements and sometimes without their permission or knowledge.

The bill me later option was created as a credit system, that means that when you bought something under it, a credit service would pay for your purchase and then the user would pay them back. However, PayPal is said to have signed up people to the service without their permission or knowledge (some people were using the feature without even knowing they had accounts) and even sometimes forced users to select PayPal credit instead of using the normal credit or debit card billing methods.

PayPal is even accused of incurring late fees and interest charges by mishandling people’s bills and accounts. Under the complaint filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) some users weren’t aware of the accounts until they received statements stating late fees and interest charges, or in more severe cases calls from debt collection companies.

PayPal is now required to pay out $15m in reimbursements to consumers who were placed into the scheme or made purchases through it. A further $10m fine is to be paid to the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund, a fund set up to help pay out to victims when a company is unable to.

I was unfortunate to find this situation myself, after buying an item on eBay and being forced to select PayPal Credit (a scheme which at the time I didn’t even know existed) and then setting a date of a week later for the date of repayment. I did manage to find the pay early option through on the PayPal account page, after several minutes of searching through settings and records and was able to settle the payment within a matter of minutes. Looks like I was a lucky one.

Did you encounter the “bill me later” option? What is your experience with the option? Were you aware you were using a credit program that could bill you extra for payments missed?

Thank you The Verge and Consumer Finance for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of WikiMedia.

 

Space Travel By Sailing? Ahoy!

Space travel has long since been a thing of dreams, science fiction fans have long enjoyed the notion that one day our race would spread out into the stars and claim other planets as homes. First though we will need to reach the planets in question, but that may be one step closer today.

In recent weeks, NASA has been posting their findings on an EM drive, a concept that has long been considered impossible. By bouncing microwaves around a chamber, an EM drive would be able to create thrust from just electrical energy, removing the need for any fuel. This, however, is considered impossible by many because it violates the conservation of momentum, what is considered a fundamental law of the universe. With positive results seen so far we could be one step closer to a future among the stars.

Bill Nye is known for his famous insight into the world of physics, today he is taking a step towards another form of interstellar travel. Almost 40 years ago Carl sagan began to explain a new form of space travel, the concept using radiation from a star to help propel a vessel in a fashion comparable to using a sailboat on the sea.

The Solar sail project, founded by Carl Sagan, is currently headed by Bill Nye, and aims to explore the potential of using this method of transport instead of modern day rockets with fuel and chemicals powering their engines. The result of this is two small craft, built by Stellar Exploration Inc, the first of which is set to launch on the 20th of May. A full timeline of which can be seen here, on the planetary.org website. The first test flight aims to test the craft’s ability to deploy the four sails from a central cube, that will hold the arms and initially contain the sheets used for the sails. With the craft only capable of space travel, it requires an initial boost to leave the atmosphere, traditionally attached to a rocket before being detached and released into space when it has left Earth’s gravitational pull.

With space flight becoming a larger part of research and development, and with more of these showing promise such as the EM drive, only time is what separates us from space travel and the stars.

Thank you to CNet, Planetary.org and The Verge for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of ISSS.

Comcast Changed a Customer’s Name to “Asshole Brown”

Comcast, America’s most hated company, has done yet another thing to draw hate towards itself. It appears that the company has a new policy of changing customer’s names on their bills. These names aren’t nice though, they really are quite derogatory.

Like many Comcast customers, Ricardo Brown was having some trouble paying his bill – the services he was paying out for became too expensive for him to keep up with, so he wanted to remove some of those services and reduce his bill. Now we all know how hard that can be. Even if you’re not a Comcast customer, you’ve most likely encountered the stories from those who have found themselves on the phone for hours in an attempt to cut down their bills or leave the service altogether.

Ricardo’s wife, Lisa, was the one who made the call to Comcast, and when they said that to remove their cable subscription would cost $60, she decided not to take the offer. She was then passed to one of Comcast’s ‘Retention Specialists’ instead. This is what Lisa believes caused the name change.

“I was never rude,” she says. “It could have been that person was upset because I didn’t take the offer.” Lisa Brown talking to Chris Elliot.

So it seems that a disgruntled employee who had a hard time trying to keep Mr and Mrs Brown from cutting down their services could very well have decided ‘Asshole Brown’ was a more fitting name. Comcast have since apologised and in the process given Ricardo Brown quite a nice goodwill gesture – a refund for the last two years of service and the next two years free. Wow.

Thing is, while you’d think this story would end there, it doesn’t. This wasn’t the only time this has happened to a Comcast customer, because it has happened again. Mary Bauer called the company a number of times trying to solve issues with her cable reception. After 39 total engineers came out to her over a period of several months, her problems were eventually resolved. But then she was faced with another problem – she stopped receiving her bills. So she called again and eventually she did receive a bill through the post, except this time her name had been changed to ‘Super Bitch’.

Oh dear.

Source: Gizmodo, The Verge

New Law Requires Smartphones to Come with Killswitch

A new law passed in California on Monday will require smartphones to come with a remote kill switch to render them useless in case of theft or lost. The reason for the new law is the ever rising amount of crimes originating in the small smart-devices. The bill was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in the latest effort to stop the epidemic in his state.

Under the new law all smartphones sold in the state after July 2015 will not only have to come equipped with the kill switch function but also requires the manufacturer to notify the users that the function exists.

“Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fuelling street crime and violence within our communities,” said the author of the bill, state Senator Mark Leno.

The bill received wide support from California prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that hoped it could help reduce smartphone thefts, that now account for more than half of the crimes committed in San Francisco, Oakland and other large cities.

Other U.S. states are experiencing the same problems with theft and crimes related to smartphones and are considering similar new laws. Minnesota passed a theft prevention law in May, but this new one is the first to also force the notification to the user about the feature.

The mobile industry originally opposed to the bill, but changed their mind once the activation date for it was postponed until July 2015.

Thank you Reuters for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Tomsguide.

Australia Wants To Cut Internet Connection for People Downloading from Torrent Websites

There have been some talks about the high number of pirates in Australia, having the government worried about what to do in response to the piracy activity. Earlier this year, Australia is said to have had the highest number of illegal downloads of Game of Thrones: Season Four.

A leaked document entitled “Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper” appears to show some of the government’s future consideration towards piracy. The document is said to point out the main reasons why Australians choose to download content illegally, which are cost and availability. The government however appears to be more keen on enforcing the law instead of addressing the real reason which leads to piracy in the first place.

The document is also said to be discussing the role of the ISPs to place restrictions, such as lowering downloads speeds or blocking internet availability in some cases, on customers who are accessing and downloading content illegally. The ISPs however cannot do anything about it, according to the paper, since if they were to allow their customers access to pirated content without punishing them, it is said that rights holders can then take legal action against the ISPs themselves.

“The Copyright Act would be amended to enable rights holders to apply to a court for an order against ISPs to block access to an internet site operating outside Australia, the dominant purpose of which is to infringe copyright.” the paper states.

Experts say that the options outlined in the paper are too harsh compared to international standards and are not addressing the problem of Australians being unable to access content legally when it is currently available in other markets. They say that the law enforcement underlined in the paper would only give power to copyright owners over consumers, while also having large-ranging impacts on the free and open internet.

Thank you Mashable for providing us with this information

New CISPA Regulations Could Classify Netflix as a “Cybersecurity Threat”

It appears that a new cybersecurity bill currently going through the Senate is considered too ‘broad’ and would grant ISPs the liberty to limit streaming services’ delivery to customers, having Netflix given as an example.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Protection Act of 2014, which has been rallied against twice already, is said to deliver a backdoor for ISPs to destroy net neutrality, something that they have sought for a long time. Until now, the Federal Communications Commission has been the judge when it comes to net neutrality, having set ground rules in order to keep ISPs from limiting content on the Internet.

However, the bill in question appears to describe that “countermeasures” can be employed against “cybersecurity threats”, giving no specific definition to what type of information is included and can be considered a “cybersecurity threat”. This would give ISPs an ace up their sleeves, which would help them jumping over a lot of FCC rules.

“A ‘threat,’ according to the bill, is anything that makes information unavailable or less available. So, high-bandwidth uses of some types of information make other types of information that go along the same pipe less available,” Greg Nojeim, a lawyer with the Center for Democracy and Technology, stated. “A company could, as a cybersecurity countermeasure, slow down Netflix in order to make other data going across its pipes more available to users.”

A letter has been sent to Dianne Feinstein, the bill’s sponsor, having the CDT, EFF, American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups stating that the bill “arbitrarily harms average internet users”. The letter also points out that previous cybersecurity legislation considered by the Senate had some net neutrality protections defined, something that the current bill lacks.

The unsettlement caused by the bill has been said to postpone it for now, having it sent back to the Intelligence Committee for further discussions. There has been no word on any decisions regarding the bill so far.

Thank you Motherboard for providing us with this information

Google Glass To Be Banned When Driving, Says ‘looking at little computers’ Endangers You

It seems that it was not enough having a woman fined while driving with her Google Glass on, or a man arrested while wearing Glass in a cinema. We now hear that a ‘lawmaker’ from Wyoming wants to ban Google’s gadget.

Recent news reads that a Wyoming state senator has become the latest legislator to introduce a bill that would effectively ban Google Glass while driving. A bill has been issued and is currently voted upon when the state’s legislature reconvenes next month. The bill can be viewed here.

“No person shall operate a motor vehicle on a public street or highway while using a wearable computer with head mounted display, or while using a handheld electronic wireless communication device to write, send or read a text-based communication.” a paragraph from the bill states.

It also appears that the “while using a wearable computer with head mounted display, or” fragment has been underlined and written in red. Is Google Glass such a threat? Or maybe law enforcement officers don’t want to be filmed when pulling over their ‘victims’. Either way, what’s next? The ban of bluetooth earpiece or other hands free gadgets?

“Common sense would tell you that you really don’t need to look at a little computer while driving, that it endangers you, your passengers and other drivers,” Sen. Floyd Esquibel (D) told Reuters on Wednesday.

Mr. Esquibel’s statement does make sense, up to the point where a ‘little computer’ and ‘looking at a screen’ becomes confusing. Does this mean we are committing a felony by using GPS navigational systems, either mounted or integrated in the car’s dash-board? That can also be considered a ‘little computer’ which we require in order to navigate to our destination. Even more, Google Glass could have helped drivers look straight ahead while having the GPS in their sight at all times. Wouldn’t that make more sense? Apparently not.

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information

Texas Protects Email Privacy With New Bill

The United States government keeps trying to do more and more with cyber-security. When I hear that a new bill is coming out, I immediately think that they are trying to take away more of our privacy. Every once in awhile we get to see the government protecting the people.

Of course I am one of those meticulous people, who like to make sure I have my facts straight, and a lot of the time it is difficult to verify, but with laws, it is really easy. There is a wall of text for this bill some of which has been edited out.

Texas bill (HB 2268)

Relating to search warrants issued in this state and other states for certain customer data, communications, and other related information held in electronic storage in this state and other states by providers of electronic communications services and remote computing services.

  1. INTRODUCED Mar 4, 2013
  2. PASSED HOUSE May 7, 2013
  3. PASSED SENATE May 22, 2013

The fourth step is for the governor of the State of Texas to sign or veto the bill. If they sign the bill, it will become law, if they veto the bill it will then go back to the drawing board.

Essentially it appears to be saying that email is going to be considered property, if we throw our email in the trash, does it then become fair game? Will email service providers give us the ability to “burn” our mail? Will the “LAW” have a loophole to get at our email without the proper paperwork?

This bill has moved fairly quickly, and I do not feel that it is right how bills are passed. The United States is a democracy, where the people get to decide and vote on what they want. Passing bills without a vote by the people places more of a dictatorship, in my humble opinion. Though this seems to be an update and more for protecting the people from the old law stating that emails over 180 days are able to be obtained by the “LAW” without proper procedure.

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