Apple & FBI Heading Back to Congress to Debate Encryption

When Apple and the FBI first appeared in front of congress the debate was if Apple could be ordered to unlock an iPhone, and if so should they then create a method where they could easily access future devices for law enforcement? While the case revolving around the San Bernardino phone is over, with the FBI gaining access with help from an external group, the debate is still far from over with both the FBI and Apple looking to appear before a congressional committee to debate encryption yet again.

The debate over encryption will see several people join the committee as witnesses, including Bruce Sewell (General Counsel, Apple Inc), Amy Hess (Executive Assistance Directory for Science and Technology, FBI) and Amit Yoran (President, RSA Security). Other witnesses include Ron Hickman representing the National Sheriffs Association and two police officers, Captain Charles Cohen and Chief Thomas Galati (Indiana state police and New York City Police respectively). With two university representatives Daniel Weitzner (MIT) and Matthew Blaze (University of Pennsylvania) appearing as well, it would appear that congress want to hear the debate from research, implementation and law enforcements points of views in an attempt to fully understand the debate that is raging on in countries all over the world about privacy vs protection.

With countries all over looking to this court case as an example of how technology has advanced while the law remains unclear, the congressional hearing could have a big impact on companies throughout America. The hearing will take place on April 19th and will be streamed on their site for ease of access.

US Congress Bill Plans to Make Effective Encryption Illegal

In the wake of the FBI’s feud with Apple over bypassing the encryption of San Bernardino shooting suspect Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the US Congress is proposing a new bill that aims to outlaw effective encryption, what is termed “technical assistance”, requiring any company or entity to build in backdoors to its security systems for law enforcement to exploit.

In a draft of the proposed bill, written by a committee led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and leaked by politics news outlet The Hill, businesses are required to release “information or data” if served with a court order – meaning that they are legally obligated to have access to that data in the first place – or provide law enforcement agencies with “technical assistance as is necessary to obtain such information in an intelligible format or to achieve the purpose of the court order.”

While talk suggests that the leaked draft of the bill is close to its final iteration, its final draft could still change, especially since it does not have the support of President Obama. It is not yet known if this version of the bill has been submitted to Congress.

“While the bill claims that it in no way is designed to force companies to redesign their products, this is a subtle hypocrisy,” Jonathan Zdziarski , a computer forensics and encryption expert, wrote in a blog post. “The reality is that there is no possible way to comply with it without intentionally backdooring the encryption in every product that may be used in the United States.”

“This bill would not only be surrendering America’s cybersecurity but also its tech economy, as foreign competitors would continue to offer—and bad guys would still be able to easily use!–more secure products and services,” Kevin Bankston, Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, told Vice Motherboard. “The fact that this lose-lose proposal is coming from the leaders of our Senate’s intelligence committee, when former heads of the NSA, DHS, the CIA and more are all saying that we are more secure with strong encryption than without it, would be embarrassing if it weren’t so frightening.”

Snowden Speaks Out Regarding FBI’s Claim It Needs Apple To Unlock iPhone

Apple is currently under a lot of pressure from the US government, with the FBI looking to “request” their help in unlocking an iPhone. The problem people find is that the FBI are requesting Apple do something that Apple are not comfortable with, and as a result, have been ordered to do so under a very old and rather vague act. One of the most famous faces regarding the US Governments digital behaviour,  Edward Snowden, has now spoken out regarding the FBI’s claim it needs Apple to unlock the iPhone in question.

Speaking at a Conference via Video chat, Snowden stated the while the FBI say they need Apple’s ‘exclusive technical means’ to unlock the iPhone in question, he believes that claim is nothing more than lies.

The reason he says the FBI’s claim is rubbish is simply because several people have come forward with alternative methods for the FBI to gain access to the phone. It should be noted that Apple has already said they would have handed over the data if the FBI hadn’t tried to reset the iCloud password for the iPhone.

With the alternative methods not being mentioned at the congressional hearing regarding the FBI’s case for bypassing Apple’s security features, it would appear to many that the FBI are looking for a precedent to force companies to unlock their devices, something which they originally stated would not happen (but now appears to be the case).

You can view the conversation on surveillance, democracy and civil society in which Snowden spoke below.

Apple and FBI Go Before Congress In Privacy Talks

Apple vs the FBI has been and looks to be, one of the biggest legal debates of 2016 with large groups like Microsoft even speaking out in defence of the iPhone developer in their bid to stop what they call a “dangerous precedent” from being set. The discussion has gone to a higher power with both parties now presenting their discussions to Congress.

Apple’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell, started with an opening point that has been used in every discussion since. Forcing Apple to unlock, or create software that lets the government bypass security, would do nothing but set a troubling precedent for the entire tech industry. In his opening remarks, Sewell said, “building that software tool would not affect just one iPhone. It would weaken the security for all of them”.

The big surprise came when FBI director James Comey agreed in part with this statement. “Sure, potentially. Any decision of a course about a matter is potentially useful to other courts”, these comments come just days after it was revealed that a New York judge had ruled that same act could not force Apple to unlock an iPhone.

The big surprise is that this response from Corney is different to those given previously by the FBI, who have claimed it was never about a precedent and they just wanted this one phone unlocked.

The conversations are just starting and soon governments and companies alike could be looking at new ways of handling encryption, either together or in hopes of protecting people from the other party.

Congressman on One-Man Mission to Repeal CISA

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, the controversial bill that allows intelligence agencies the power to obtain user data from companies beyond the rule of law, was signed off by President Obama a fortnight ago after being forcibly bundled with a vital Federal funding bill – together known as the “Omnibus” bill – that was guaranteed to pass. One man, however, intends to challenge this chicanery, even if he has to do it alone.

Republican Congressman Justin Amash plans to introduce legislation to remove the controversial CISA from the Omnibus bill, branding it “unconstitutional”:

Amash later released a statement regarding the above tweet to The Daily Dot. “Many of my colleagues remain unaware that a massive surveillance bill was snuck into the omnibus,” Amash said. “And if they are aware, they may have been misled into believing this bill is about cybersecurity.”

Amash has been a vocal opponent of CISA ever since the bill was muted, even before it formed a part of the Omnibus bill, branding it “anti-privacy legislation.” While Congress ultimately passed the bill, the Congressman – who also opposed the Patriot Act and failed in an attempt to strip powers from the NSA following the Snowden leaks in 2013 – feels he has a right to at least challenge its inclusion in Omnibus when reconvenes in January.

Obama Signs Into Law Controverisal CISA Bill

The controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act Bill hit the desk of US President Obama yesterday, and he promptly signed off on it. The move is hardly a surprise since CISA was bundled with vital Federal funding legislation as part of an ‘omnibus’ bill that, if denied, would rob the Federal government of its $1.1 trillion budget.

“There’s some things in there that I don’t like, but that’s the nature of legislation and compromise, and I think the system worked,” President Obama said at his year-end news conference, as reported by The Associated Press (via WHDH). “It was a good win.”

The “compromise” that Obama is referring to seems to be the protection of immigration laws, Planned Parenthood, and ObamaCare – all challenged by Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers across 2015 – in exchange for his support of CISA. Following Obama’s enactment, the bill will sent back to Congress, which will reconvene in January 2016.

While CISA is being championed primarily by Republicans, two of the GOP’s Presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted against CISA.

Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, a vocal opponent of CISA, lamented the bill’s approval, saying in a press release:

“These unacceptable surveillance provisions are a black mark on a worthy package that contacts the biggest tax cut for working families in decades, an accomplishment I fought for in weeks of negotiations.”

“Unfortunately, this misguided cyber legislation does little to protect Americans’ security, and a great deal more to threaten our privacy than the flawed Senate version. Americans demand real solutions that will protect them from foreign hackers, not knee-jerk responses that allow companies to fork over huge amounts of their customers’ private data with only cursory review.”

Congress Hides CISA Within a Budget Bill That is Expected to Pass!

The US Congress is going to great efforts to ensure that its Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) bill is passed into law by including it in an ‘omnibus’ bill – combining it with a number of other legislations that deal with Federal funding – that few Senators would dare object to, according to Wired. Any ‘nay’ vote or Presidential veto of the bill would risk undermining the entire federal government’s budget.

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the new ‘omnibus’ bill in a late-night Congress session on Tuesday, in a move that will not only come close to guaranteeing that a revised CISA will pass but will also stifle any potential debate on the worrying additions that have been made to it in the interim since it was passed by the Senate by 74 votes to 21.

CISA gives Federal agencies the power to force companies to share user and customer data “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” or, in other words, without a warrant. The new revisions have removed the few legal safeguards that were in place, now allowing the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence to view materials through “portals,” independent of the Department of Homeland Security.

“They’re kind of pulling a Patriot Act,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel for the Open Technology Institute, said. “They’ve got this bill that’s kicked around for years and had been too controversial to pass, so they’ve seen an opportunity to push it through without debate. And they’re taking that opportunity.”

NASA to Get Budget Boost For 2016

The continuously underfunded space agency, NASA, finally got some good news on the financial front today. As part of their budget proposal for 2016, Congress included a considerable budget increase for NASA, in excess of what they had requested.

The total sum that would be budgeted for NASA is the sizable sum of $19.3 billion. A number in excess of the Obama administration’s promise of $18.5 billion, which is an increase of $1.27 billion from the sum provided to them in 2015. The financial windfall couldn’t come at a better time for NASA either. For starters, it provides $1.24 billion for the Commercial Crew Program alone. With NASA having recently ordered launches from both of the companies involved in the program for as soon as 2017, with a report delivered with the spending bill making it clear to NASA that the new funds should be put towards keeping the program on track, with the natural assumption being that Congress wish to reduce their dependency on Russia to access the ISS.

The Commercial Crew Program is not the only thing that NASA needs budgeting, either. NASA are planning for $2 billion to go towards the giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is intended to make manned trips into deep space or to Mars. And with many different configurations of the SLS planned, its budget requirements make sense. The SLS’ crew capsule, Orion, is also receiving a large sum of money, after flagging due to financial troubles and having its first test flight pushed back by two years.

As well as the big projects, other NASA agencies that will benefit from the budget increase are the Science division, receiving $300 million more than 2015, including $175 million to be put towards a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons. It would require specialist modules (as well as to be launched from the SLS), and the timeline is tight, with a mission to take place no later than 2022.

It seems like Congress has finally taken note of NASA’s recent budget complaints, and this seems to be the first step towards making the next decade a very interesting time for space researchers and enthusiasts alike.

US Internet Tax Ban Could Expire This Year

The US House of Representatives has passed a law permanently banning the collection of local and state taxes on internet services. The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act still has to pass the Senate before it can be received by President Obama and signed into law. While pre-empting states and local government from creating an Internet Tax, the current situation of regular goods and services taxes being applied to internet access remains. PITFA works by indefinitely extending the lifetime of the Internet Tax Freedom Act which expires in October.

As the result of the FCC enforcing net neutrality via the reclassification of the internet as a communications service, cash-strapped local and state governments may be tempted to levy communications taxes on internet service. According to the bill’s sponsors, communications taxes are among the highest with an average of 13.5%, nearly double normal goods and services taxes. As internet service becomes more and more necessary in daily life, charging an extra tax on it seems more and more unnecessary.

Congress had taken at stab at extending an act like PITFA last term, but opposition in the Senate killed the bill. The bill now faces an uncertain future in the Senate which may force another compromise short-term extension. Few countries currently have a special internet tax with Hungary failing to implement an internet tax after heavy protests last year.

Image Courtesy of

Federal Court Rules NSA Mass Surveillance Illegal

In a huge victory for freedom, privacy, and human rights, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that bulk collection of telephone metadata undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA) is illegal under federal law.

The scope of the NSA’s draconian mass surveillance was first revealed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden back in June 2013. Ever since leaking confidential information, Snowden has been in exile in Russia for fear of legal action should he return to the US.

Though many were keen to charge the NSA for actions that were unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals approached the bulk data collection from a much simpler angle: the actions of the NSA were found, remarkably, to be beyond the scope of section 215 of the Patriot Act – the legislation designed to legitimise and legalise such privacy violations – as passed by the US Congress after 11th September, 2001.

The case against the NSA was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, and was taken to the Court of Appeals after initially being dismissed by a lower court in 2013. That dismissal has now been overturned, opening the NSA up to a full legal challenge for the methods it used to collect private data from citizens, both in the US and abroad.

Thank you Wired for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

What to Expect from Tomorrow’s Samsung Galaxy S6 Event

Samsung is having its Galaxy S6 reveal tomorrow, marking the first day of Mobile World Congress. The event will take place 18.30 CET, 17.30 UTC.

There’s been a lot of anticipation surrounding the announcement, with Samsung and T-Mobile positing a number of teasers, alongside a few supposed leaks of the new device. It’s expected to feature all the usual upgrades, including a new display resolution, processor and camera. The camera is a big subject of discussion, as it’s expected to be a significant improvement over its predecessor.

The display resolution is one thing, but the actual shape of the display is another. The official teasers and those leaks we’ve seen have pointed towards a curved display on both sides of the device – somewhat similar to the Note Edge. However, while it’s pretty certain that Samsung will release a device with a curved screen, we’ve also seen leaks suggesting that there is a second model, one without the curved edges. It’s suggested that this could be a cheaper variant, and perhaps Samsung’s way of playing it safe just in case the possibly gimmicky screen doesn’t go down so well.

Watch live here or stay tuned to eTeknix to find out what happens.

Source: Samsung

Watch: Drone Flies Through US Congress

Hearings in the US Congress are usually quite mundane. Important, but mundane. Well, one such hearing was made little more exciting thanks to a Parrot Bebop Drone.

The drone was flown above attendees to a hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee concerning… drones. The meeting was all about talking to those involved in the drone industry about the future of UAVs and how best to integrate them into the airspace safely.

To deliver a presentation on behalf of the drone industry, Colin Guinn, senior vice president of sales at 3D Robotics, utilised the new Parrot Bebop drone. He had to obtain special permission to be allowed to fly the drone, but as you’ll see in the video, despite remaining obedient to a strict flight path, certain members of the committee wanted more.

Source: C-SPAN Via: The Verge

Bill Gates Supports Immigration Increase to Improve Economy

Bill Gates has teamed up with two unlikely allies in business magnates Sheldon Adelson and Warren Buffet to beseech US Congress to pass immigration reform.

The trio, in a New York Times op-ed piece, say that despite their differing politics, that they are united in their stance that immigration can only benefit their country. If three politically disparate men can unify on this issue, they say, then so can Congress.

“The three of us vary in our politics and would differ also in our preferences about the details of an immigration reform bill,” the New York Times piece reads. “But we could without doubt come together to draft a bill acceptable to each of us. We hope that fact holds a lesson: You don’t have to agree on everything to cooperate on matters about which you are reasonably close to agreement. It’s time that this brand of thinking finds its way to Washington.”

Adelson is a staunch Conservative who has supported the campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Buffet is a famous liberal, with a history of donating money to Democratic campaigns. Gates has endorsed both Republican and Democratic candidates over the years. They all support lifting restrictions on immigration Visas for qualified people.

“Whatever the precise provisions of a law, it’s time for the House to draft and pass a bill that reflects both our country’s humanity and its self-interest. Differences with the Senate should be hammered out by members of a conference committee, committed to a deal,” they argue.

Source: Washington Post


Intel, IBM, and Qualcomm Oppose Title II Net Neutrality

An alliance of 60 tech companies, including the likes of Intel, IBM, and Qualcomm, have signed a letter addressed to US Congress and the FCC opposing Title II reclassification of broadband services.

It was President Barack Obama who proposed classifying internet as a utility service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act in order to ensure net neutrality, but there has been backlash from ISPs, tech companies, and telecoms providers ever since the idea was pitched.

“For almost twenty years, national leadership, on a bipartisan basis, has nurtured the broadband internet with a wise, effective, and restrained policy approach that supported the free flow of data, services, and ideas online while creating a climate that supported private investment in broadband networks,” the letter claims. Then, attacking Obama’s net neutrality plan, it continues, “Title II is going to lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don’t know that you can recover on your investment, you won’t make it.”

FCC chair Tom Wheeler had hoped to bring in legislation to protect the internet by the end of the year, but plans have been delayed until 2015.

Source: The Verge

Congressman Trolls Senator Who Wants To Ban BitCoin

A senator from West Virginia spoke out last month when he called upon American financial regulators in a bid to ban the digital currency known as Bitcoin. His argument focused on the unregulated nature of the digital currency and how it can be used to make anonymous purchases, making it a popular choice for some criminals. Unfortunate for him then that you can’t really shut down a unregulated currency.

Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado decided to play his hand in this debate with a fantastic mockery of the current US financial system, turning all the “issues” many regulators have with Bitcoin around and showing that its really no different from the Dollar. Check out the letter he send to the same authorities as the Senator below.

The exchange of dollar bills, including high denomination bills, is currently unregulated and has allowed users to participate in illicit activity, while also being highly subject to forgery, theft, and loss. For the reasons outlined below, I urge regulators to take immediate and appropriate action to limit the use of dollar bills.

By way of background, a physical dollar bill is a printed version of a dollar note issued by the Federal Reserve and backed by the ephemeral “full faith and credit” of the United States. Dollar bills have gained notoriety in relation to illegal transactions; suitcases full of dollars used for illegal transactions were recently featured in popular movies such as American Hustle andDallas Buyers Club, as well as the gangster classic, Scarface, among others. Dollar bills are present in nearly all major drug busts in the United States and many abroad. According to the US Department of Justice study, “Crime in the United States,” more than $1 billion in cash was stolen in 2012, of which less than 3% was recovered. The United States’ Dollar was present by the truck load in Saddam Hussein’s compound, by the carload when Noriega was arrested for drug trafficking, and by the suitcase full in the Watergate case.

Unlike digital currencies, which are carbon neutral allowing us to breathe cleaner air, each dollar bill is manufactured from virgin materials like cotton and linen, which go through extensive treatment and processing. Last year, the Federal Reserve had to destroy $3 billion worth of $100 bills after a “printing error.” Certainly this cannot be the greenest currency.

The clear use of dollar bills for transacting in illegal goods, anonymous transactions, tax fraud, and services or speculative gambling make me wary of their use. Before the United States gets too far behind the curve on this important topic, I urge the regulators to work together, act quickly, and prohibit this dangerous currency from harming hard-working Americans.

Obviously they’re not about to ban the Dollar, but Congressman Polis does raise some interesting points in how people should be looking at Bitcoin, as for all its criminal sidelines, it’s used every day by a lot of people as a legitimate form of currency. What are your thoughts on this one? Obviously Bitcoin a very controversial subject and have been for some time, but we would still like to know what the eTeknix community think about them.

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information.

Alienware Announces Steam Machine Release Date And “Some” Specs

Alienware has announced that their Steam Machines will be available only from September 2014 at Valve’s Steam Dev Days conference in Seattle. In addition to the release date, we get more insight on what specs we are looking to find under the hood.

Alienware’s Steam Machine is Intel and NVIDIA based, with a Haswell-generation processor. Although Alienware did not get into more details about the Intel and NVIDIA chips, other companies were more opened about their specs. For example Origin and their dual-Titan Steam Machine had revealed that it will operate on up to two GeForce GTX Titan GPUs, while having 14 Terra-bytes of hard drive space available. Therefore, Alienware’s Steam Machine should be in the same performance spec as well.

Also, September is known as the start of the newer tech release every year, from consoles, to games and other components and gadgets. It also gives Alienware and others a nine month deadline to get all the bugs out and prepare it for consumers, and then try to perfect it for the upcoming Christmas sales and game releases. In addition to that, Valve needs to get things right from the very start with the Steam Machine releases or else users will just ignore them and stick to the normal Xbox and Playstation consoles, having the Steam Machines trend burn out in an instant.

Having spec details scarce, the price cannot be known as well. That depends on the actual Steam Machine configuration and brand (of course). What we do know is that given the current information, they will not come cheap at all.

Thank you PC World for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of PC World