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Government

Unresolved Login Issue Prevented Florida 'Concealed Weapon' Background Checks For Over a Year (tampabay.com) 193

An anonymous reader quotes the Tampa Bay Times For more than a year, the state of Florida failed to conduct national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits, potentially allowing drug addicts or people with a mental illness to carry firearms in public... The employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system, the investigator learned. The problem went unresolved until discovered by another worker in March 2017 -- meaning that for more than a year applications got approved without the required background check.

During that time, which coincided with the June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub that left 50 dead, the state saw an unprecedented spike in applications for concealed weapons permits. There were 134,000 requests for permits in the fiscal year ending in June 2015. The next 12 months broke a record, 245,000 applications, which was topped again in 2017 when the department received 275,000 applications... There are now 1.8 million concealed weapon permit holders in Florida.

The employee with the login issue, who has since been fired, "told the Times she had been working in the mailroom when she was given oversight of the database in 2013. 'I didn't understand why I was put in charge of it.'"
Government

Two Quantum Computing Bills Are Coming To Congress (gizmodo.com) 76

Quantum computing has made it to the United States Congress. "Quantum computing is the next technological frontier that will change the world, and we cannot afford to fall behind," said Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) in a statement passed to Gizmodo. "We must act now to address the challenges we face in the development of this technology -- our future depends on it." From the report: The bill introduced by Harris in the Senate focuses on defense, calling for the creation of a consortium of researchers selected by the Chief of Naval Research and the Director of the Army Research Laboratory. The consortium would award grants, assist with research, and facilitate partnerships between the members. Another, yet-to-be-introduced bill, seen in draft form by Gizmodo, calls for a 10-year National Quantum Initiative Program to set goals and priorities for quantum computing in the US; invest in the technology; and partner with academia and industry. An office within the Department of Energy would coordinate the program. Another group would include members from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, the office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate research and education activity between agencies. Furthermore, the draft bill calls for the establishment of up to five Quantum Information Science research centers, as well as two multidisciplinary National Centers for Quantum Research and Education.
Privacy

Facebook Gave Some Developers Access To Users' Friends After Policy Changed (usatoday.com) 31

Facebook granted a select group of companies special access to its users' records even after the point in 2015 that the company has claimed it stopped sharing such data with app developers. USA Today reports: According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited court documents, unnamed Facebook officials and other unnamed sources, Facebook made special agreements with certain companies called "whitelists," which gave them access to extra information about a user's friends. This includes data such as phone numbers and "friend links," which measure the degree of closeness between users and their friends. These deals were made separately from the company's data-sharing agreements with device manufacturers such as Huawei, which Facebook disclosed earlier this week after a New York Times report on the arrangement. Facebook said following the WSJ report it inked deals with a small number of developers that gave them access to users' friends after the more restrictive policy went into effect.
Government

Can Washington State Finally Put a Price On Carbon? (wired.com) 146

jwhyche writes: Beth Brunton walks around Seattle with a magenta umbrella. At 75 degrees and there not being a cloud in the sky, it gets peoples attention. What she is attempting to do is get people to sign a petition supporting Initiative 1631, known as the "Protect Washington Act." If this was to pass, Washington state would become the first state to adopt anything like a carbon tax. "The initiative proposes a 'fee on pollution' that would put a $15 charge on each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted in Washington starting in 2020," reports Wired. "That charge would rise by $2 plus inflation every year until the state meets its climate goals, which include cutting its carbon footprint 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2035. The revenue raised would go toward investing in clean energy; protecting the air, water, and forests; and helping vulnerable communities prepare for wildfires and sea-level rise."

The report mentions Washington's previous attempt at a "carbon tax" initiative, which was ultimately rejected. It would have initially charged businesses $25 per metric ton of emissions before ramping up over time.
The Internet

Senator Makes Amtrak Hire Ticket Agents Because 30 Percent of His State Lacks Internet (senate.gov) 239

McGruber writes: Joe Manchin, the senior Senator from West Virginia, has inserted language in the FY19 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that will force Amtrak to employ at least one ticketing agent in every state that it serves.

His reasoning? "Amtrak has told me that most of their sales are now online, but West Virginians buy far more tickets at the Charleston station than most places around the country. That's not surprising, as nearly 30% of West Virginia is without internet access, and mobile broadband access is also difficult in my state's rugged, mountainous terrain, making online ticket sales difficult."
Manchin continued: "Our population includes many working class families and elderly residents who are less likely to have a credit card or another means to purchase tickets remotely, but rely heavily on the train as an alternative to driving or flying. Although Matt Crouch's job was terminated today, once the bill is passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President, Amtrak will have to reinstate a position in the state and I will do everything over the next few months to make sure that happens."
United States

China Hacked a Navy Contractor and Secured a Trove of Highly Sensitive Data on Submarine Warfare (washingtonpost.com) 112

Ellen Nakashima and Paul Sonne, reporting for The Washington Post: Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare -- including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The hackers targeted a contractor who works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a military organization headquartered in Newport, R.I., that conducts research and development for submarines and underwater weaponry. The officials did not identify the contractor. Taken were 614 gigabytes of material relating to a closely held project known as Sea Dragon, as well as signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit's electronic warfare library. The Washington Post agreed to withhold certain details about the compromised missile project at the request of the Navy, which argued that their release could harm national security.
United States

Suicide Rates Are Up 30 Percent Since 1999, CDC Says (nbcnews.com) 477

New submitter Austerity Empowers writes: Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. NBC News: "Suicide rates are up by 30 percent across the nation since 1999, federal health officials reported Thursday. And only about half the people who died by suicide had a known mental health condition, even though depression had been thought to be the major cause of suicide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. While many cases of mental illness may have been diagnosed, the CDC also noted that relationship stress, financial troubles and substance abuse were contributing to the trends."
Government

Justice Department Seizes Reporter's Phone, Email Records In Leak Probe (thehill.com) 165

According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice seized a New York Times reporter's phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist's data under President Trump. The Hill reports: The Times reported Thursday that the DOJ seized years' worth of records from journalist Ali Watkins's time as a reporter at BuzzFeed News and Politico before she joined The Times in 2017 as a federal law enforcement reporter, according to the report Thursday. Watkins was alerted by a prosecutor in February that the DOJ had years of records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies such as Google and Verizon for two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her. Investigators did not receive the content of the records, according to The Times. The newspaper reported that it learned of the letter on Thursday.
United States

There Are More Jobs Than People Out of Work, Something the American Economy Has Never Experienced Before (cnbc.com) 689

The jobs market has reached what should be some kind of inflection point: there are now more openings than there are workers. From a report: April marked the second month in a row this historic event has occurred, and the gap is growing. According to the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released this week, there were just shy of 6.7 million open positions in April, the most recent month for which data are available. That represented an increase of 65,000 from March and is a record. The number of vacancies is pulling well ahead of the number the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as unemployed. This year is the first time the level of the unemployed exceeded the jobs available since the BLS started tracking JOLTS numbers in 2000. As of April, the total workers looking and eligible for jobs fell to 6.35 million, a decrease from 6.58 million the previous month. The number fell further in May to 6.06 million, though there is no comparable JOLTS data for that month. Under normal circumstances, the mismatch would be creating a demand for higher wages. However, average hourly earnings rose just 2.7 percent annualized in May, up one-tenth of a point from April. Further reading: Why Nebraska has an amazing jobs market but nobody is moving there.
Businesses

The Gig Economy is Actually Smaller Than It Used To Be, Labor Department Says (marketwatch.com) 64

The so-called gig economy is actually slightly smaller than it used to be, according to a new Labor Department report released Thursday that chronicles the jobs market in the age of Uber. From a report: In May 2017, the Labor Department counted 5.9 million people, or 3.8% of workers, in what it calls contingent jobs, which are those that the workers don't expect to last or that workers call temporary. In 2005, the last time the government looked into the issue, there were 4.1% of workers who classified themselves this way. "Taken at face value, the results indicate that the role of non-traditional work arrangements in the U.S. economy has remained largely unchanged during the past 20 years, even as excitement and media coverage of the growth of the 'gig economy' has increased," said Brian Schaitkin, senior economist for The Conference Board.
AI

Google Promises Its AI Will Not Be Used For Weapons (nytimes.com) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Google, reeling from an employee protest over the use of artificial intelligence for military purposes, said Thursday that it would not use A.I. for weapons or for surveillance that violates human rights (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). But it will continue to work with governments and the military. The new rules were part of a set of principles Google unveiled relating to the use of artificial intelligence. In a company blog post, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, laid out seven objectives for its A.I. technology, including "avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias" and "be socially beneficial."

Google also detailed applications of the technology that the company will not pursue, including A.I. for "weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people" and "technologies that gather or use information for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms of human rights." But Google said it would continue to work with governments and military using A.I. in areas including cybersecurity, training and military recruitment. "We recognize that such powerful technology raises equally powerful questions about its use. How A.I. is developed and used will have a significant impact on society for many years to come," Mr. Pichai wrote.

Businesses

Shady ICO Issuers Are Taking 'Bags of Cash' To Border, US Says (bloomberg.com) 46

A top financial regulator gave a strong warning this week that U.S. scrutiny of initial coin offerings is just getting started. From a report: Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, speaking at a conference in New York, said companies raising money through digital-token sales shouldn't have any illusions that the government will treat them differently than firms participating in traditional stock offerings. He added that the market deserves close attention because the SEC has already seen examples of fraudsters fleeing the country after persuading U.S. investors to back their ICOs. "I am not going to change the way we approach the offering and trading of securities as a result of the fact that you put it in the form of a token," Clayton said at the Sandler O'Neill Global Exchange and Brokerage Conference. "I'm protecting the integrity of the market. The behavior we see in this is pretty bad. We've got guys with bags of cash headed to the border. That's not our securities market."
Businesses

Net Neutrality Will Be Repealed Monday Unless Congress Takes Action (arstechnica.com) 166

With net neutrality rules scheduled to be repealed on Monday, Senate Democrats are calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule a vote that could preserve the broadband regulations. From a report: The US Senate voted on May 16 to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, but a House vote -- and President Trump's signature -- is still needed. Today, the entire Senate Democratic Caucus wrote a letter to Ryan urging him to allow a vote on the House floor. "The rules that this resolution would restore were enacted by the FCC in 2015 to prevent broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, prioritizing, or otherwise unfairly discriminating against Internet traffic that flows across their networks," the letter said. "Without these protections, broadband providers can decide what content gets through to consumers at what speeds and could use this power to discriminate against their competitors or other content." The letter was spearheaded by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
Communications

US Says Internet Use Rises as More Low Income People Go Online; Tablets Surpass Desktops In Popularity (reuters.com) 80

Internet use by Americans increased in 2017, fueled by a rise among people with lower incomes, a government report viewed on Wednesday by Reuters found. From a report: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) also reported that for the first time tablets were more popular than desktop computers, and that more households had a mobile data plan than wired broadband service. The results were to be publicly released later on Wednesday. The survey results demonstrate the growing importance of the internet in everyday communication as the way consumers access content changes. Among Americans living in households with family incomes below $25,000 per year, the survey found internet use increased to 62 percent in 2017 from 57 percent in 2015, while households earning $100,000 or more showed no change at 86 percent. The gain of 13.5 million users was "driven by increased adoption among low-income families, seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, and other groups that have been less likely to go online," the agency said.
Government

US Piles New Charges on Marcus Hutchins (aka MalwareTech) (bleepingcomputer.com) 104

British cyber-security researcher Marcus Hutchins, who has been credited with stopping the spread of WannaCry, is now facing four more charges related to separate malware he is alleged to have created. BleepingComputer reports: According to court documents, the new charges are for allegedly creating another piece of malware and for lying to the FBI. Hutchins had previously been accused of creating and selling the Kronos banking trojan last year. But in a superseding indictment filed this week, U.S. prosecutors claim Hutchins also coded and sold another piece of malware called the UPAS Kit. According to US prosecutors, UPAS Kit "used a form grabber and web injects to intercept and collect personal information from a protected computer," and "allowed for the unauthorized exfiltration of information from protected computers." The U.S. government claims Hutchins sold this second malware strain in July 2012 to a person going by the online pseudonym of Aurora123, who later infected US users. Hutchins expressed disappointment on the development, tweeting, "Spend months and $100k+ fighting this case, then they go and reset the clock by adding even more bullshit charges like 'lying to the FBI.' We require more minerals." In a subsequent tweet, he requested people to help him with the cost of legal proceedings.
China

Trump Strikes Deal With China's ZTE on Sanctions (usatoday.com) 145

The Trump administration struck a deal Thursday with a Chinese telecom that will allow it to do business with U.S. companies even though it violated sanctions. From a report: China's ZTE will pay a $1 billion penalty and will embed a U.S. appointed compliance team, terms that are similar to those President Trump discussed last month when he revealed that Chinese leaders had asked him to look into the matter. "At about 6 a.m. this morning, we executed a definitive agreement with ZTE," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC in an interview Thursday. "And that brings to a conclusion this phase of the development with them." Trump asked the Commerce Department to investigate the restrictions on ZTE in April following a request from Chinese President Xi Jinping. Commerce imposed a seven-year ban after the company sold American-made products to Iran, a violation of U.S. sanctions.
Businesses

Honolulu Lawmakers Pass 'Surge Pricing' Cap For Ride-Hailing Companies (reuters.com) 105

Honolulu could become the first U.S. city to limit fares ride-hailing companies can charge when demand spikes, following a city council vote on Wednesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper reported. From a report: Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft use a model known as "surge pricing" in which the fare for a ride rises when factors such as rush hour and bad weather increase demand for the service. The practice could be limited in the future in Hawaii's largest city after the Honolulu City Council approved by a 6-3 vote a bill requiring city officials to cap surge pricing by ride-hailing companies, the newspaper reported. For the bill to become law, however, it still needs to be signed by the Mayor Kirk Caldwell, whose administration appears to oppose the measure, Hawaiinewsnow.com reported.
Space

Majority of Americans Believe It Is Essential That the US Remain a Global Leader in Space (pewinternet.org) 286

Pew Research: Sixty years after the founding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), most Americans believe the United States should be at the forefront of global leadership in space exploration. Majorities say the International Space Station has been a good investment for the country and that, on balance, NASA is still vital to the future of U.S. space exploration even as private space companies emerge as increasingly important players. Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (72%) say it is essential for the U.S. to continue to be a world leader in space exploration, and eight-in-ten (80%) say the space station has been a good investment for the country, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted March 27-April 9, 2018. These survey results come at a time when NASA finds itself in a much different world from the one that existed when the Apollo astronauts first set foot on the moon nearly half a century ago. The Cold War space race has receded into history, but other countries (including China, Japan and India) have emerged as significant international players in space exploration. Another finding in the report: Most Americans would like NASA to focus on Earth, instead of Mars.
Transportation

US Government Probes Airplane Vulnerabilities, Says Airline Hack Is 'Only a Matter of Time' (vice.com) 125

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard: U.S. government researchers believe it is only a matter of time before a cybersecurity breach on an airline occurs, according to government documents obtained by Motherboard. The comment was included in a recent presentation talking about efforts to uncover vulnerabilities in widely used commercial aircraft, building on research in which a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) team successfully remotely hacked a Boeing 737.

The documents, which include internal presentations and risk assessments, indicate researchers working on behalf of the DHS may have already conducted another test against an aircraft. They also show what the US government anticipates would happen after an aircraft hack, and how planes still in use have little or no cybersecurity protections in place.

"Potential of catastrophic disaster is inherently greater in an airborne vehicle," a section of a presentation dated this year from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy government research laboratory, reads. Those particular slides are focused on PNNL's findings around aviation cybersecurity. "A matter of time before a cyber security breach on an airline occurs," the document adds.

United States

President's Most Senior Technology Advisor Says the White House is Quietly Pursuing an Aggressive AI Plan (technologyreview.com) 106

Speaking at a conference held at MIT, Donald Trump's chief technology advisor, Michael Kratsios, said this week that the U.S. government would release any data that might help fuel AI research in the United States, although he didn't specify immediately what kind of data would be released or who would be eligible to receive the information. From a report: Kratsios, who is deputy assistant to the president and deputy US chief technology officer, said the government is looking for ways to open up federal data to AI researchers. "Anything that we can do to unlock government data, we're committed to," Kratsios told MIT Technology Review. "We'd love to hear from any academic that has any insights." Data has been a key factor behind recent advances in artificial intelligence. For example, better voice recognition and image processing have been contingent on the availability of huge quantities of training data. The government has access to large amounts of data, and it's possible that it could be used to train innovative algorithms to do new things. "Anything we can do to figure that out, we will work very hard on," Kratsios added.

The Trump administration has faced criticism for a more laissez-faire approach to artificial intelligence than many other countries have taken. Kratsios argued that the White House is quietly pushing an aggressive policy, pointing to examples of research projects that have received federal funding. When asked about the president's interest in artificial intelligence, Kratsios said, "The White House has prioritized AI, and he obviously runs the White House."

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