House of Representatives Okays Extension of Surveillance Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 278 to 136 for the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, to extend provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This legislation established rules for surveillance and information collection “between foreign powers or agents of foreign powers suspected of espionage or terrorism.” Although the House is led by Democrats, the vote was bipartisan, with 152 Democrats and 226 Republicans approving the act. The measure will now go to the Senate, on recess next week. Continue reading House of Representatives Okays Extension of Surveillance Act

WhatsApp Chief Pledges to Safeguard Messaging Encryption

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart revealed that the app now has more than two billion active users; numbers were last released two years ago. Cathcart also emphasized that he will continue to defend the messaging app’s encryption, noting that, “for all of human history, people have been able to communicate privately with each other … and we don’t think that should go away in a modern society.” Facebook, which acquired WhatsApp for $21.8 billion, finds encryption a barrier to recuperating its investment. Continue reading WhatsApp Chief Pledges to Safeguard Messaging Encryption

Facebook Agrees to Hand Over User Data to French Judges

Marking a world first, social giant Facebook has agreed to turn over data of French users who are suspected of hate speech on the popular platform. Cédric O, state secretary for the digital economy of France, who has been influential in shaping French President Emmanuel Macron’s perspective on Big Tech, made the announcement yesterday. The Facebook decision follows a number of successive meetings between President Macron and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It has been reported that Macron is actively interested in regulating hate speech worldwide and taking control of false information online. Continue reading Facebook Agrees to Hand Over User Data to French Judges

WhatsApp Calls Used to Inject Spyware on Mobile Phones

Hackers have reportedly been injecting Israeli spyware onto smartphones via the popular Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp. The surveillance software, named Pegasus, was developed by Israeli firm NSO Group and can access an iPhone with a single missed voice call on WhatsApp. NSO claims that it carefully vets its customers; the company’s software is intended for government agencies to combat crime and terrorism. While it is currently unknown how many users may have been affected at this point (the problem was first discovered in early May), WhatsApp says it has created a patch to address the vulnerability. Continue reading WhatsApp Calls Used to Inject Spyware on Mobile Phones

New Australian Legislation Challenges Unbreakable Encryption

Australia passed a law that challenges the right of tech companies to sell devices with unbreakable encryption. The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018, which took effect last month, covers all devices sold in Australia. But if Apple, for example, creates a back door for its iPhones sold there, authorities in other countries previously stymied by Apple’s tough encryption could demand the same access. Australia’s law said it can’t ask a company to build universal decryption. Continue reading New Australian Legislation Challenges Unbreakable Encryption

YouTube, Facebook Use AI Tools to Curb Unwanted Content

Google reports that AI-powered machines, not humans, detected about 80 percent of the 8.28 million videos taken off of YouTube in Q4 2017. This revelation underscores the importance of AI-enabled computers in removing unwanted content — and just how aggressively YouTube is pursuing their removal. At Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator, executive director Eileen Donahoe noted that balancing free speech with the removal of undesirable videos will be YouTube’s major challenge going forward. Continue reading YouTube, Facebook Use AI Tools to Curb Unwanted Content

Facebook, Google and Twitter Execs Testify Before Congress

Facing the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives responded to questions on why they didn’t recognize Russian-linked accounts earlier. In response, the rueful executives said their companies were working on ways to curb the activity of foreign governments, terrorists and criminals and prevent them from exploiting social media. On the other hand, however, those same Silicon Valley companies face a public that is far from united over whether they should curb free speech. Continue reading Facebook, Google and Twitter Execs Testify Before Congress

Facebook’s New Mission Statement Emphasizes Global Issues

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg just released a 6,000 word document outlining the company’s new role in “social infrastructure,” to address terrorism, disease, climate change and other global woes. He suggested ways that the 13-year old company can work with governments, nonprofit organizations and other companies. Zuckerberg revealed that the company is building products and developing tools to fight the spread of fake news, and use AI to detect terrorism propaganda as well as promote global political engagement. Continue reading Facebook’s New Mission Statement Emphasizes Global Issues

Proposed Encryption Bill Faces Opposition from Silicon Valley

Washington and Silicon Valley are poised to clash again in the ongoing debate over encryption technology in relation to data privacy, law enforcement and national security. Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (Republican, NC) and Dianne Feinstein (Democrat, CA), the panel’s vice chair, have introduced proposed legislation that would require companies to unlock encrypted devices when served a court order. Congress has been working on a balance between security and privacy regarding encryption, especially in the wake of the recent iPhone case. Continue reading Proposed Encryption Bill Faces Opposition from Silicon Valley

Government Says iPhone Unlocked, Apple No Longer Needed

The Justice Department revealed it has learned a way to unlock Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone without help from Apple. Farook was a gunman in the San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people. The announcement stalls the legal standoff between the federal government and Apple; the Justice Department will withdraw its efforts to enlist the tech company’s help in the investigation. While the news suspends the privacy vs. security debate, at least temporarily, law enforcement’s ability to open the device without Apple’s assistance raises new concerns. Continue reading Government Says iPhone Unlocked, Apple No Longer Needed

Europe Divides in Battle Between Privacy, Digital Decryption

As the issue of digital encryption versus privacy roiled in the U.S. over the FBI’s demand that Apple unlock the iPhone of a mass murderer in California, recent violence in Brussels and Paris has brought those same issues to the fore in Europe. Although privacy is enshrined as a basic right in much of Europe, lawmakers in some countries are considering proposals that would give greater powers to law enforcement to access personal digital data. But privacy advocates in those same countries are fighting back. Continue reading Europe Divides in Battle Between Privacy, Digital Decryption

Apple and U.S. Government Battle Over Privacy vs. Terrorism

The battle between terrorism and privacy has been brewing for quite some time, and the tipping point was the iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, who, with his wife, opened fire at an office party in December 2015, killing 14 people and injuring 22. The FBI has been trying to decrypt Farook’s phone, unsuccessfully, and asked Apple to create a “backdoor” code into the phone. Apple refused, and now a court order gives the Silicon Valley company five days to comply. Chief executive Tim Cook is holding firm. Continue reading Apple and U.S. Government Battle Over Privacy vs. Terrorism

Silicon Valley and Security Experts Face Off Over Encryption

A group of 14 preeminent international cryptographers and computer scientists reported that offering government access to encrypted communications puts the world’s confidential data and infrastructure at risk. The report is in response to demands by the U.S. and British governments that technology companies provide a digital key for encrypted data. Conflict has been heating up between privacy advocates and government agencies over encryption, and the report is the latest move by technologists to counter government demands. Continue reading Silicon Valley and Security Experts Face Off Over Encryption

Tech Companies Urge White House to Leave Encryption Alone

Tech companies in the U.S. are urging the Obama administration not to impose policies that could potentially weaken encryption systems created to protect the privacy of consumers. “We are opposed to any policy actions or measures that would undermine encryption as an available and effective tool,” stated a letter to President Obama this week from the Information Technology Industry Council and the Software and Information Industry Association, representing companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft. Continue reading Tech Companies Urge White House to Leave Encryption Alone

NSA Preps Shutdown of Controversial Phone Tracking Program

After the Senate declined to reauthorize the bulk collection of phone records, the National Security Agency began shuttering its controversial counter-terrorism program over the weekend. The Senate failed to reach an agreement to extend the program beyond May 31, when the law used to authorize it will expire. Some intelligence and law enforcement officials have argued that the program is crucial to tracking terrorists. While the Senate rejected two bills that would have continued the program, some believe an agreement could still be reached before the deadline. Continue reading NSA Preps Shutdown of Controversial Phone Tracking Program