A trade group that includes Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and other big names in tech is asking federal regulators to clean up allegedly misleading language in copyright warnings. The Computer & Communications Industry Association announced today it has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of consumers. The trade group claims that several corporations have misled the public for years by misrepresenting their rights through warnings that include "deceptive and threatening statements." The complaint was filed against Major League Baseball, the National Football League, NBC/Univeral, DreamWorks, Harcourt Inc. and Penguin Group. “Every one of us has seen or heard that copyright warning at the beginning of a sports game, DVD or book,” said CCIA CEO Ed Black, during a press conference at the National Press Club. “These corporations use these warnings not to educate their consumers, but to intimidate them.” The complaint asks the FTC to flatten the current language in copyright warnings, and launch a campaign to educate consumers of their rights under fair use laws. According to the CCIA, some copyright holders threaten criminal and civil penalties against consumers exercising constitutionally guaranteed rights. Therefore the warnings violate the FTC's mandate against unfair or deceptive practices in commerce. "There is nothing unlawful, untruthful, or inaccurate about the warning labels on our movies, which adhere to long accepted legal standards and are nearly identical to the warnings used by some of CCIA's own members," NBC/Universal said in a statement. The CCIA maintains the overreaching warnings reduce demand for new and innovative products and services in digital media. Consumers are confused about their rights to legally acquire the media, and avoid products out of confusion or fear, the group claims. ® Some allege the warnings are worded a bit strongly.
Google's head of patents believes the U.S. patent system is "in crisis". Discussing patent reform at the annual Stanford Summit in Northern California, associate general counsel Michelle Lee told conference attendees that the American system is "out-of-balance [and] needs to be remedied". "The Patent Office is overburdened," she said. "The volume of patents going in is huge. And the quality of patents coming out - it could be better." There are too many businesses, she added, who do little more than use patents as a means of making money. Such businesses, often referred to as trolls in patent law, have proved to be a serious minefield for tech companies over the last few years. Lee highlighted the tribulations of Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry handheld, which settled a patent lawsuit for $612m last May. Speaking alongside Lee, Apple's chief patent counsel, Chip Lutton, wouldn't go quite so far as his Google counterpart. He said the US patent system was "not broken" and that it was "not in crisis," calling it "the best in the world". But he acknowledged that there was a "huge bubble" of patent assertions that needs to be scaled back. "The question with this bubble market, as with any bubble market, is 'Can we solve it without a crisis arising?'" he said. Lutton believes that the key to fixing the country's patent problems lies with the courts, not the patent office. "Most patents issued are never litigated and never licensed," he said. "We need to focus on fixing the litigation system. That's most relevant." Lutton's attitude was mirrored by that of fellow speaker David Kappos, vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property law at IBM, the company that has led the country in patent filling for the last 14 years. Perhaps Google is still learning how to play the patent game as well as seasoned veterans like Apple and IBM. When asked if the company's own struggles with the patent system where mostly the result of an increase in the number software patents issued or the rise in Google's popularity, Lee picked popularity. "When you become successful," she said, "all of a sudden everyone wants a piece of it." ®
Black HatBlack Hat It's been an eventful month for Window Snyder. As chief security something or other at Mozilla, Snyder has shepherded two updates that fixed critical vulnerabilities in the way the browser handles uniform resource identifiers. The most recent patch punctuated several weeks of debate over exactly who owned the vulnerability. Initially, researchers discovered that Internet Explorer, when it visited a malicious website, could cause Firefox to execute the code without first vetting it for security. Microsoft security wonks said the problem resided with Firefox.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has joined the DVB-H party by funding development of technologies for broadcasting TV to mobiles via satellite. This follows the EU's recent endorsement of DVB-H as the broadcast standard for mobile phones. ESA has called its standard DVB-SH (Digital Video Broadcast - Satellite, Handheld) and envisages using satellites to send out video at 2GHz to 4GHz (S-Band). Terrestrial repeaters would be used to give indoor coverage. Eutelsat has commissioned a new satellite to be launched in 2009, with the intention of broadcasting DVB-SHb - though it's hedging its bets by claiming it's for multimedia distribution rather than any specific technology or application. Much of the technology needed by DVB-SH doesn't yet exist, so the ESA will be issuing invitations to tender (ITT) for companies that want to have a go at developing them. First up will be a mobile chipset capable of receiving and decoding DVB-SH version b signals. The ITT is due to be published in the next few months. When questioned about the business model for satellite-to-mobile broadcast, the ESA spokesman referred to US-based Sirius satellite radio. When it was pointed out that Sirius lost over $134m last year, he hastily changed his example to Korea, where S-DMB (Satellite - Digital Multimedia Broadcast) has achieved some success using the DMB standard (which has been rejected by the EU). But the ESA isn't responsible for finding successful business models - it's just funding companies that want to develop technology for broadcasting TV to mobile phones from satellites. Let's just hope the technology has other uses too. ®
The Home Office has estimated its electronics borders programme will cost £1.2bn. The assessment follows trials of the system, which has already screened 29 million passengers before they travel to the UK. The e-Borders programme is a joint project led by the Border and Immigration Agency, in partnership with the police, HM Revenue and Customs, and UKVisas. It requires commercial carriers and owners or operators of all vessels to submit detailed passenger, service, and crew data prior to their departure to and from the UK. This data is then checked in real time against watch lists, assessed for risk, and shared between the agencies. The first stage of the project has assessed 29 million travellers, resulting in more than 13,000 alerts to agencies and more than 1,050 arrests for crimes. The system will cover the majority of passenger movements in and out of the UK by 2009, and from next year foreign nationals residing in the UK will be issued with a biometric ID card. Biometric visas are now issued in over 80 countries. Details of the trial follow the announcement at the end of July that Britain will have a unified border control at the point of entry. "We're creating an overseas border control with tougher checks before travellers board a train, plane or boat for Britain," said immigration minister Liam Byrne. All our tests show it works and there's more than 1,000 arrests to prove it. Now we need to go further with full scale screening of travellers. "The e-Borders programme will provide a critical aid to security and counter terrorist work. By locking passengers to their identity we will create a new offshore line of defence, helping genuine travellers but stopping those who pose a risk before they travel." This article was originally published at Kablenet. Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.
Xerox employees who were due to move to IBM after the firm outsourced their jobs have been dealt a blow, with news that IBM plans to make them redundant.
The use of web archive The Wayback Machine did not constitute hacking in the case of a law firm which used the web archive to see pages which owners did not want it to see, a US court has ruled. The deliberate bypassing or evasion of the archive's protection measures could still be deemed hacking, though, said Judge Robert Kelly, the judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In this case, protection mechanisms put in place by the page owners had failed. In a dispute over intellectual property, patient advocacy group Healthcare Advocates sued Health Advocate Inc. The company being sued was represented by law firm Harding Earley Follmer & Frailey. Law firm Harding viewed a number of Health Advocates' web pages on The Wayback Machine on 9 July. On 7 or 8 July that company's president, Kevin Flynn, had put a robots.txt file on its pages which should have barred the Wayback Machine from accessing its pages. But lawyers at Harding were able to view the pages because of a malfunction at The Wayback Machine. "Plaintiffs' expert, Gideon Lenkey, has testified that the Harding firm was able to view archived screenshots of Healthcare Advocates' website because the servers at Internet Archive were not respecting robots.txt files," said Kelly's ruling. "Mr Lenkey also testified that the Harding firm did not engage in 'hacking'." Circumventing an electronic protective measure breaks federal law in the US, and Healthcare Advocates brought a law suit against Harding. Kelly ruled, though, that because Healthcare Advocate's protections malfunctioned, there was no protection to break or bypass. "When the Harding firm accessed Internet Archive’s database on 9 July, 2003, and 14 July, 2003, it was as though the protective measure was not present," he wrote. "Charles Riddle and Kimber Titus simply made requests through the Wayback Machine that were filled. They received the images they requested only because the servers processing the requests disregarded the robots.txt file present on Healthcare Advocates' website. "As far as the Harding firm knew, no protective measures were in place in regard to the archived screenshots they were able to view. They could not avoid or bypass any protective measure, because nothing stood in the way of them viewing these screenshots. The Harding firm did not use alter code language to render the robots.txt file void like the defendant in Corley did with the encryption," said Kelly. "They did not 'pick the lock' and avoid or bypass the protective measure, because there was no lock to pick. The facts show that the Harding firm received the archived images solely because of a malfunction in the servers processing the requests." Healthcare Advocates also claimed that Harding had breached copyright law in their viewing and use of the web pages, but Kelly ruled that the law firm's activity constituted fair use of the material. The company also claimed that the activity broke the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a claim Kelly also rejected. Kelly granted summary judgment in Harding's favour. He said in his ruling: "It would be an absurd result if an attorney defending a client against charges of trademark and copyright infringement was not allowed to view and copy publicly available material, especially material that his client was alleged to have infringed." The ruling said that in this case the placing of a robots.txt file, which is most often used to give instructions to search engine "robots" on what pages of a website should not be indexed, constitutes a "technological measure" within the DMCA. That ruling will have limited relevance in other cases, though. No court in the US has yet said that such a file constitutes a technological measure in every case, and Kelly warned against interpreting his specific ruling in that way. "The only way to gain access would be for Healthcare Advocates to remove the robots.txt file from its website, and only the website owner can remove the robots.txt file. Thus, in this situation, the robots.txt file qualifies as a technological measure effectively controlling access to the archived copyrighted images of Healthcare Advocates," he said. "This finding should not be interpreted as a finding that a robots.txt file universally qualifies as a technological measure that controls access to copyrighted works under the DMCA." Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
It could be an episode of South Park, or a Bunuel conceit were he alive: a non-existent nation has pledged to open an online casino open to Americans on a formerly abandoned military platform in the North Sea. The Cheney administration can now confront that rarity, a government more surreal than its own: namely, that of the fictitious micronation, Sealand. The North Sea micronation, Sealand. Sealandcasino.com aims to open for business on 2 September, the 40th anniversary of the establishment of this legal void. The pronouncement is sure to raise the hackles of the United States Justice Department, which has been on a veritable crusade against the online gambling industry for the last couple of years. Just how Sealand plans to outflank American domination of the international banking system is unclear, but Sealand is, if nothing else, a sovereign nothingness with an outlaw history. Major Paddy Roy Bates, pirate radio maverick, occupied the once abandoned sea fort, then in international waters, back in 1967. Emboldened by a British court case and a couple of minor international confrontations, the unrecognised pseudo-state has repeatedly tested the boundaries of international sovereignty, even printing stamps and coining currency. He subsequently crowned himself prince of the desolate, vintage Mad Max platform. Sealand made headlines a few months ago as a potential home for MP3 fugitive Pirate Bay, after Sweden decided it had had enough of that outfit. That fell through, but Sealand returned to the news in May when rumors, which later proved unfounded, circulated that British hacker Gary McKinnon, wanted by American authorities for hacking into DOD and NASA servers, had been granted asylum there. Maybe he turned them down - Alcatraz looks more inviting based on these videos. The Bates family, under Roy of Sealand as Major Bates is now known, is currently trying to sell the proto-principality off to the highest bidder. Eight figure offers only, please. The casino is offering to match 100 per cent of all first deposits as an introductory promotion. You can pick up a royal title while you're at it. ® Burke Hansen, atorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office
When an online identity (group of identities) known as InfoSec Sellout made grand claims of a proof of concept worm, dubbed Rape.osx, that targets OS X, it led to a lot of heated argument and drama - including anonymous death threats and an accidental deletion of their blog.
The Bush administration's attempt to change laws governing wiretapping by US spies was prompted by a defeat in the FISA secret star-chamber court, it has emerged. Newsweek reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, quoting an unnamed legal source "who has been briefed on the order", revealed yesterday that a FISA(Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) judge has refused to renew a warrant for at least part of the National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance programme. Originally, in the aftermath of 9/11, the President's men claimed that the executive branch needed no judicial or legislative approval for its actions. Even the compliant dial-a-judges of the star-chamber weren't consulted, and no provision for mass domestic surveillance was requested in the already draconian post-9/11 Patriot Act. Since the matter became public knowledge, however, parts of the NSA campaign have been placed under FISA review: and this has led to some activities being blocked. Hints of the spooks' clash with the star-chamber beaks emerged this week in a Fox News interview with Congressional Republican leader John Boehner. "There's been a ruling, over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintelligence people from listening in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communication could come through the United States," Boehner told the Fox anchor. Now there's confirmation that it was, in fact, an FISA judge who issued that ruling, and that it was this judicial decision which had led the Bush administration to push for changes in the law. Bush and the NSA contend they only want to spy on people outside the US; but in order to do so they want to tap communications in America. It is true that a lot of foreign phone calls, emails, IMs, and whatever are routed via the States. Not many Americans would have a problem with their spies listening in on foreigners - that's what spies are supposed to do. But there is at least one obvious grey area, that of communications between people in America and those overseas - which are widely thought to have been subject to NSA mass surveillance in recent years. In many cases, then, ordinary Americans are being spied on by their government - even if only to the extent of having their details shunted into big databases for mining. That's not what people pay their taxes for. But the spectre of another 9/11 is a powerful political force, and the spook community has effectively said to Capitol Hill that if they aren't given free rein to eavesdrop they aren't taking the blame for the next atrocity. Even many Democrats in Washington, despite their dislike of the Bush administration - and of the increasingly hardline American internal-security climate - have yielded to this, and there is apparently a good chance of yet-greater federal spookery powers being approved soon, before the summer recess. Reportedly, the main question to be settled is that of oversight, with the White House proposing that the Attorney General exercise control over the spies. However, the Democrats don't trust the current AG, Alberto Gonzales, and this is said to be a sticking point in negotiations. Almost regardless of all this, a further continental-US bombing, hijacking, or other outrage is probably inevitable at some point. Even if the tiny jihadi minority among Muslims can somehow be suppressed, or anyway flagged up by supercomputer whenever they try anything, another homegrown-in-the-US-of-A Timothy McVeigh is bound to come along sooner or later. Based on the measures which have come in since 9/11, and those now in the works, it seems safe to say that a sufficently murderous McVeigh imitator - whose attack would of itself be an insignificant pinprick on the mighty USA - could turn America into a total police state. ®
HP and Pelikan have reached an out of court settlement over HP's accusations that the printing supplier was selling new printer cartridges while claiming they were recycled. The hearing was scheduled to take place today.
Lenovo Group Ltd, the world's third largest PC maker, today announced healthy first quarter revenue of $3.9bn, up 13 per cent.
Disney has become the latest global media conglomerate to stomp into the social networking fray, with the purchase of children's site Club Penguin in a deal which could run to $700m. Club Penguin sits at the virtual world end of the social networking spectrum, with 700,000 paying subscribers, mostly in North America, pretending to be penguins in a 3D cartoon environment. It was launched in 2005 by founders Lane Merrifield, Dave Krysko, and Lance Priebe, who are each set to bag at least $115m according to the Financial Times. The initial $350m payment will be followed up by a further $350m by the end of 2009 if targets are met. Disney chief executive Bob Iger hailed his own visionary strategy in moving into social networking: "We've believed for a while that the internet is a primary medium for kids, so this is just perfect. It's creative, innovative, and uses technology well." Chocolate biscuit fanciers will note that for many years Jacobs' Club and United Biscuits' Penguin have battled for lunchbox supremacy among Britain's youth. The deal is unconnected to this eternal struggle. ®
A London resident who fell victim to a brazen burglar has enlisted social networking site Facebook in a bid to hunt for the cheeky crook.
Let's imagine someone's talking, making a pitch. This is what they're saying: "Here's the deal. We set up a distribution company, call it Ingram Micro, and turn it into the biggest IT distributor in the world. Good plan, right? And once we're the biggest in the world, the sky's the limit. Massive sales - $8.19bn in the second quarter – and an, er, 0.6 per cent profit margin with net income of $52.4m." How could anyone resist?
In press coverage of how virtual wargames will revolutionize actual war, the lion's share of publicity has generally gone to private sector boffins bankrolled by the US Army. Most often, they appear as wizards from the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies. Journalists love the place and can't resist its toys, which in ICT's case, have been peddled as amalgams of Hollywood's most creative and the cutting edge of the military. The Institute produced the well-known Full Spectrum Warrior, a training tool shilled in game stores. At the time, one Army commander not blinded by the glitz of the technology, said the simulation had been watered down to appeal to gamers and while not utterly useless, was "incredibly shallow." A couple of years earlier, the US Army had pimped America's Army as an enlistment aid, and it was a wild success as a free download. But the Army now focuses on more mundane tools, like simple TV ads appealing to bravery and adjusting entrance standards downwards, with moral waivers to permit the induction of undesirables with criminal backgrounds. It is worth recalling one hallucinatory claim referencing America's Army, taken from Salon magazine in 2002. America's Army and computer wargames, it claimed, would contribute to molding a force of "dedicated young men and women, their weapons merged into an information network that enables them to cut out with surgical precision the cancer that threatens us all - heat-packing humanitarians who leave the innocent unscathed, and full of renewed hope. In their wake, democracy... and an Arab world restored to full flower... defended on all fronts by the best of the digital generation." Another war simulation underwritten by the US military, and one which hasn't received much notice is Point of Attack 2. It is a brutally painful statistical treatment of weaponry in which the mechanics of death are derived through an almost infinite number of calculations - it seems tailor made for Pentagon wonks. A 2003 report blandly entitled "Analysis of Advanced Technology Weapons in Homeland Defense," written by Dr. Scott Hamilton, recently obtained from the National Technical Information Service, discusses an unusual aspect of it. Hamilton, the author of the game, writes: "As part of a previous [United States Air Force funded] research project... HPS simulations developed a combat simulation software package capable of modeling the effects of conventional and advanced weapons on the modern battlefield, including those based on High-Powered Microwaves (HPM), Laser and other forms of radiation." Hamilton posited that developments in the war on terror showed a need for being able to model terror attacks beyond the basic application of bombs and bullets. "The objective of the project was to research how the existing Point of Attack 2 software can be used to model small level attacks on critical installations, and how advanced energy weapons and other non-conventional systems can be used in these situations to best advantage," he writes. As focus, Hamilton chose Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a target for terrorists bent on acquiring weapons and spreading mayhem. The need had arisen, he reasoned, to have a simulation to model non-lethal weapons so that the enemy would be left over after being defeated. "...[Finding] weapons and methods that leave a significant number of attackers for questioning after the attack would also be the greatest advantage." Two test scenarios were devised for the Air Force to game using POA2. One posited a terrorist strike team stealing a US Army M-THEL laser, another a mixed Air Force security detachment armed with a truck-mounted non-lethal weapon called a "Maser" which apparently leaves targets insensate. Yes, if you've grokked this to be astonishing, the formal gaming analysis of terrorists and the US military fighting each other with rayguns in a mid-sized city, that's right. The report does not discuss what was learned but does show results from one game, an "al Qaeda marginal victory." Although not particularly well known, POA2 is sold to civilians and includes the designed terror attacks on Albuquerque as part of its library of scenarios, the rest of which are perfectly conventional applications. Replay of the two based in Albuquerque found lethal and non-lethal directed energy weapons indecisive, almost a distraction. This is somewhat reassuring since it indicates there is no miraculous revolution in military affairs to be had, the type of notion that contributed to the current American predicament. The design of the game enforces a realistic fog of war in which the tactical situation, as it unfolds in real time, is mostly unknowable. In game life, crap happens, forcing the player to allow POA2 to run istelf according to doctrines and direction by artificial intelligence. In these cases, there is little advantage in the use of theoretical weaponry over standard brute force. It is simply easier to allow the police forces and military to kill 'em all and take stock later. However, it is here where the value of the simulation revealed itself. Since it is designed to cover urban combat, it is ideally suited to set ups in which the US military fights hand-to-hand against a low-tech enemy in a failed state - like Iraq. A key feature is the active presence of civilians everywhere. Within the constraints of the game, they cannot be distinguished from a guerilla force, with predictable and dire results. Once an American force begins firing upon locals mistaken for an enemy with which it is closely engaged, the outcome becomes impossible to control, the results dismaying. Command breaks down and disasters, draws or marginal victories are what ensues. There are no graphics and minimal sound. POA2 makes the PC crunch away on ballistics algorithms, flashing outcomes, bullet by bullet, shell by shell. When no one can shoot at each other anymore, it displays the tally of the dead and destroyed treasure of each side, sifted by what weapons systems killed and crushed what. It's furnished in spreadsheet form. And this must be one of the practical reasons the Air Force wanted it - to run simulations of various mixes of weapons systems fighting each other. Point of Attack 2, quietly released in the the entertainment sector for a couple of years, seems to be a good use of taxpayer money. It is an absorbing wargame for a niche audience but not fun in the conventional sense. It certainly has no use as a recruitment tool and cannot mold a player into a heat-packing humanitarian ready to bring hope and democracy to the Arab world. ® George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.
The PS3's capabilities could be expanded to include a digital tuner, enabling it to double as a programmable TV recorder, a Sony spokesman said. The changes are due to come into effect next year, but it's uncertain how many countries will benefit.
British teachers have launched an all out war against technology, with calls this week to ban YouTube and Wi-Fi. Pupils under the age of seven or over 16 have also come in for a whacking from fed-up Sirs and Misses. Technology has proliferated in schools in recent years, with teachers getting their coffee and roll-up stained fingers on oodles of PCs and digital whiteboards, all lashed together with Wi-Fi and fast internet connections But Phillip Parkin, general secretary of the Professional Teachers Association, told the organization’s annual conference yesterday that the nation’s children were being used as “guinea pigs” in a massive Wi-Fi safety experiement. Parkin demanded an inquiry into the technology, pointing to a range of maladies which could be down to radio waves cooking the brains of pupils and teachers alike. These include loss of concentration, fatigue, reduced memory and headaches. As everyone knows, no student or teacher in the UK ever suffered from any of the above before the Labour government started spending billions of tax payer money dragging the education system out of the 1960s/1860s [delete as appropriate]. Parkin’s demand that schools replace their digital networks with pieces of slate linked by string coincided with the union’s calling for the banning of YouTube and other sites for hosting videos of teenagers attacking one another, and even worse, teachers. When El Reg asked if the union had been in touch with Google to complain about any videos in particular, a spokesman told us we were impertinent for speaking without putting our hand up, then said they’d get back to us. They haven’t. So much for speaking up on bullying. Still, the motion was carried. The PAT’s other targets this week included government plans to raise the school leaving age in the UK to 18, in the hopes that some of the nation’s youth might actually pick up some useful skills. The conference voted against the plans. The conference also declared that the UK’s children should not start school till the age of seven, instead of four or five, as they do now. So there you have it, the UK’s education system is in a state, but all will be OK if teachers don’t have to use computers, networks, or have to deal with any kids. Alternatively, summer holidays could just be extended to 52 weeks per year.® Bootnote Funnily enough, every motion the Professional Association of Teachers debated was carried. Perhaps they should open a branch in China.
Computer maker Dell has entered into a £340m agreement to acquire software solutions and licensing services provider ASAP.
Police in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales are seeking to extend their already world-beating powers to collect and store DNA samples from the general population. Current powers allow the coppers to collect samples, which are digitised and stored permanently, from anyone arrested on suspicion of, but not neccesarily charged with, a recordable offence. This is normally an offence that would qualify for a custodial sentence. But now they want to be able to snoop the genetic make-up of those arrested for non-recordable offences, such as dropping litter or speeding. Speaking in support of the request for expanded powers, Inspector Thomas Huntley from the Ministry of Defence Police said the change would allow the plods to collect samples from people before they had committed a serious offence, a situation he considered preferable to "allowing a serious offender to walk from custody, following arrest for a non-recordable offence, and if they go on to commit a further offence". Reading this carefully, we think he is saying that we need everyone on the database in case they commit a crime at some point in the future. But despite some support for the police's request to massively expand the database, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) warned that granting such powers could contribute to the increasing "criminalisation of generally law-abiding public". The call from the boys in blue comes as the government launches a new consultation on the existing powers, to be held by the government's advisory body, the Human Genetics Commission (HGC). The so-called Citizen's Inquiry "will be involving a small, group of ordinary people who will consider social and ethical issues involved in the current and future use of DNA for forensic purposes", according to the HGC announcement. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the HGC's chair, said the inquiry would cover things like whether or not it is justified to retain data from people who are either not charged or subsequently acquitted. She added: "It is likely that the use of DNA information by police authorities for criminal intelligence purposes will grow. It is therefore vital that the public are able to voice their views having had the opportunity to consider all the relevant issues." The inquiry was welcomed by campaign group GeneWatch. Spokeswoman Dr Helen Wallace said the consultation with the public on powers "unprecedented" in British history was long overdue. "Your DNA can reveal where you have been, who you are related to, and sensitive information about your health. There is a real danger of abuse by Governments, or by anyone who might infiltrate the system and obtain access to people's DNA or computer records." The national DNA database already holds four million records, among them almost 900,000 relating to children between the age of 10 and 17. There are also 100 records relating to children under 10, according to reports. ®
The US Navy has finally chosen a builder for its new robot carrier plane demonstrator, awarding a $635m contract to Northrop Grumman.
ColumnColumn Alan Sugar reminds me of Hugh Laurie. In the same way that you look at the star of Jeeves and Wooster and House and think: "What a remarkable actor - but he'd have made a brilliant musician!" I look at Sir Alan and think: there goes the man who could have been one of the best journalists in the country.
A US government agency has launched a big investigation into gaming console piracy. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has executed 32 federal warrants across the country, searching businesses and homes for clues surrounding the potential sale and distribution of illegal modification chips and disc copyright circumvention devices for games consoles.
Bluetooth version 2.1+EDR has been approved, tweaking the pairing system and reducing power consumption, as well as bringing in support for NFC pairing. Pairing, the process of linking together two Bluetooth devices, still confuses many consumers so has been the focus of several improvements to Bluetooth over the years. This time the user interface is getting some standardisation, so Bluetooth phones will have an "Add Headset" menu item, rather than "New Paired Device" or similar. Near Field Communications (NFC) has the potential to make pairing as easy as tapping the two devices together, and version 2.1 supports this pairing process. Using one wireless technology just to simplify another might seem overkill, and this is unlikely to be the killer application for NFC, but it does make for a very user-friendly experience. Power consumption is also reduced with the new version through changes to the sniffing process, which could increase battery life several times for devices which spend a lot of their time on standby - such as mice and keyboards. The latest version remains backwards compatible, and should find its way into devices early next year. ®
The Electoral Commission has called for the end of "piecemeal" telephone and internet voting pilots in the UK until improvements in security and testing are put in place. The independent voting watchdog said on Thursday that further trials have little merit until the government has set out a strategy for modernising the electoral system and making it more secure. The recommendation follows a detailed evaluation of electoral pilots held at this May's local elections. The elections watchdog said that, while a good deal has been learned from pilots in the last seven years, there is little benefit in continuing the process until a clear plan for changing the way elections are run is formulated. Thirteen local authorities in England ran pilot schemes commissioned by the Ministry of Justice. The trials involved pilots of electronic voting, voting in advance of polling day, electronic counting, and signing for ballot papers at the polling station. The trials were far from smooth. Difficulties with electronic counting technology in Breckland, Stratford-on Avon, and Warwick resulted in the electronic count being abandoned in favour of a traditional manual count in these areas. Electronic counting in the other pilot areas was completed although it was slower than expected. The commission blames these problems on "limited testing and insufficient planning prior to the election". Advance voting, which allowed electors in Gateshead, Sunderland, Bedford, Sheffield, and Broxbourne to vote on various days before polling day, was well implemented, but actual take-up among the electorate was low. Signing for ballot papers took place in Gateshead, Sunderland, Bedford, and Broxbourne and operated without problems. However, the commission questioned the value of the process because without individual registration there's nothing to check signatures against. Voter registration drive The commission has set out a list of recommendations based on its evaluation of the trials. Key findings include a call for individual voter registration in future electronic voting schemes, improvements in testing and procurement, and improved security. Above all, the commission wants to see a clear strategy for telephone and internet voting from the government. Peter Wardle, chief executive of the Electoral Commission, said: "We have learnt a good deal from pilots over the past few years. But we do not see any merit in continuing with small-scale, piecemeal piloting where similar innovations are explored each year without sufficient planning and implementation time, and in the absence of any clear direction, or likelihood of new insights. "We welcome the recent government green paper on constitutional reform; and we believe this needs to be supported by a clear plan for modernising elections. We continue to believe that the security of our electoral process needs to be strengthened through a system of individual registration," he added. The commission's report raised concerns about low public confidence in the security of internet and telephone voting and electronic voting along with ease of use issues. Always look on the bright side Election minister Michael Wills said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would study the Electoral Commission's report. The MoJ defended the security and integrity of the trials despite the commission's criticism. "We are pleased that the evaluations point to a high level of system security and user confidence in e-voting systems tested and that the security and integrity of the polls was not compromised," he told the BBC. "These evaluations point to instances where e-counting and e-voting have worked well, and where electors choose to vote remotely by internet or telephone they often had favourable responses to these innovations. The purpose of pilots is to learn lessons for the future and we will do so," he added. The Open Rights Group - a pressure group whose volunteers monitored the May elections - welcomed the commission's proposed moratorium on testing, but said this was insufficient. Electronic voting schemes are inherently flawed and ought to be sidelined, it argues. "We're pleased that the commission has recognised the desperate need for public debate about the role technology might play in our electoral system. We're also satisfied that the detail of the commission's reports... but we're disappointed that the fundamental challenges in using computers for elections have not been fully recognised by the report." ®
Nokia shipped 100.8 million handsets in Q2, and at the same time increased the margin on its sales, according to the firm's results. The figures for the three months to 30 June show Nokia turning over €12.6bn, and making €2.36bn in profit. During the period they shipped 1.5 million of its top end multimedia phone, the N95, with margins on multimedia handsets rising to 20.9 per cent (from 16.1 per cent this time last year). Margins have increased across the board, including Nokia's enterprise solutions division, which is now making money - having increased sales by 94 per cent since last year. The only bit posting a loss is Nokia Siemens Networks, which spent a lot of money on acquisitions but still require "decisive action... [to] ensure that the company is positioned for success and leadership in the fast changing infrastructure market", according to CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. Sales of handsets were up everywhere except North America, where the number of devices shipped slipped by 21.2 per cent to 4.1 million. Nokia has never been much good in the US market, and the iPhone can't have helped. Overall handset sales brought in €5.93bn, and Nokia reckons it's got 38 per cent of the world handset market, a position it intends to defend while expanding into other markets. ®
AnalysisAnalysis Some products bewitch because of their style or inventiveness - such as the iPhone. But others earn their keep through sheer usefulness, and for a decade Nokia's Communicator has proved itself to be one of the latter. Until now, that is.
NASA has announced plans to send the Cassini spacecraft back for a closer look at Enceladus, the Saturnian moon with famously leaky tiger stripes. As part of its freshly declared budget clampdown, the agency says it wants to improve the value of space exploration by getting more science out of existing missions. Sending Cassini back for a closer look at the tiny but mysterious moon will help it do just that. Enceladus: A baffling moon. So far, scientists have seen that Enceladus has active plumes coming from its southern hemisphere, most likely from the tiger stripes, gouges that run across the polar region. The plumes are mostly water (about 90 per cent, according to Jim Green, head of NASA's planetary division), but traces of methane and ammonia have also been detected. Green told reporters he was still baffled by the moon: "How can this body, only 500km across, have enough internal energy to sustain [the plumes]? The particles are being ejected with a velocity that is about half the muzzle velocity of a gun," he said. "We are compelled to know more about this." The plan is for the spacecraft to swing by in March 2008, on what will be its third pass of the moon. The craft will fly very close to the moon, between 30km and 100km from its surface, and an approach angle of around 20° southern latitude. This, Green says, puts it directly in the plumes, which will allow much more detailed analysis of their origin, composition, and character. "We'll skim through the plume on the outbound leg, and will move above the flow of the plumes. We'll get better resolution images, and better spectral information." He says the team will also be able to do some more detailed thermal profiling that should help determine which of the tiger stripes is the most active, and where most of the material is coming from. Another money saving enterprise will see the space agency teaching old space probes new tricks, as it plans to dig Stardust out of hibernation and send it to Comet Tempel-1. This is the same piece of solar system detritus on to which it crashed the Deep Impact probe. Assistant administrator Alan Stern says: "We wanted to see how the comet has evolved since another [solar] closest approach. Nothing like this has ever been done." The European Space Agency has already launched the Rosetta mission, scheduled to land on its target comet some time in 2014. This will actually attempt to land on the comet and observe it over a period of time. NASA says its plans for Stardust will give it snapshots, as compared to Rosetta's feature film. ®
Laptop computer makers are bracing themselves for a components shortage due to significant dents in the supply chain brought on by massive recalls and heavy demand.
Online retailer Expansys may have beaten Vodafone to the chase by launching the Samsung i620 device before what was supposed to be the mobile operator's exclusive UK release. Vodafone was expected to launch the handset onto the UK market "soon", but Expansys has said it can deliver the device to Joe Consumer from 22 August.
Wannabe criminals would do well to listen to their dear old ma's and wash their hands regularly, or PC Plod will be knocking on the door in double quick time*. According to boffins at London's Imperial College, minute traces of chemicals are left behind in our fingerprints that could be very useful to police trying to track down a suspect. The technique could help investigators find out about the crims' diet and race, the scientists claim, as well as identifying traces of dodgy items like explosives, narcotics, and so on. In addition, the researchers say relatively large quantities of urea in the residue indicate that the fingerprints are from a man. Smaller traces indicate a woman. [Or someone who shakes hands with lots of men perhaps. Like the Queen? Ed] Conventional fingerprint collection tends to destroy the tiny traces of chemicals we leave behind every time we touch something. But the researchers at Imperial found that using an ordinary gelatine based tape allowed them to lift and preserve this chemical fingerprint. The prints are then analysed in a spectroscopic microscope to reveal the particular chemical profile associated with the print. Research leader Professor Sergei Kazarian says the work could help investigators working on difficult cases like arson, where fingerprints are particularly hard to lift. "By focusing on what is left in a fingerprint after periods of time, scientists could potentially gauge how old a crime scene is. Studying what happens to prints when they are exposed to high temperatures could also be particularly significant," he said. Kazarian says he sees a role for the technique in the courtrooms of the future. At the time of press he could not be reached for further comment on the precision of identification that the chemicals could provide, and how researchers would distinguish between substances a person had excreted, vs external contamination. *It probably wouldn't help, We're talking tiny traces here. Sorry. ®
A pair of Russian hackers looted more than $500,000 from Turkish bank accounts during the course of a Trojan-powered two year hacking spree.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is planning protests at key BBC sites because it believes the national broadcaster's management has been corrupted by Microsoft.
Intel apologized this week for a print advertisement circulating around blog-land that some claim is racist. The ad depicts a white man in casual office attire, arms folded and grinning triumphantly between two row of cubicles. The fella is flanked on each side by three spandex-clad black men crouched in a sprinter's starting position. The advertisement is captioned, "multiply computing performance and maximize the power of your employees."
A man suspected of hacking into the emails of controversial Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen in a bid to look for dirt has been arrested in Denmark. The 30-year suspect, who can't be named for legal reasons, allegedly broke into Rasmussen's account in a hunt for evidence of his whereabouts at the time of missed drug tests. The alleged perp tried to sell these emails to Danish regional paper BT, the AP reports. BT said it was approached by a man offering to sell Rasmussen's e-mail inbox on Monday. The miscreant told the paper he broke into the account after guessing the rider's password. After contacting Rasmussen and confirming that he owned the the account the paper contacted police. Officers subsequently raided the suspect's home in Herning, western Denmark. They seized computers and charged the suspect with computer hacking offences, punishable on conviction by up to 18 months imprisonment. Rasmussen was fired by his Rabobank team and subsequently removed from the Tour de France - while leading the grueling race - over allegations that he lied about his whereabouts in order to evade drug testing. The climbing specialist missed random drug tests in May and June. A retired professional rider said he saw Rasmusen in Italy during June at a time when the Dane claimed he was half way across the world in Mexico. The accusations came to a head on 25 July, shortly after Rasmussen won a mountain stage to virtually ensure his overall win of the 2007 Tour de France four days before its conclusion in Paris, when he was fired by his Rabobank team. Spain's Alberto Contador subsequently won the Tour. ®
CommentComment All the year round, but especially during the summer, British newspapers love to serve up stories of American idiocy. These involve US citizens exhibiting strange overreactions, or cult-like behaviour, or generally imposing themselves in an irrational or hysterical way. In a nation as big as the USA - or even a state so rich in fruits and nuts as California - such stories aren't hard to find. So as a gift to our many American readers, here's one in return. Ten weeks of relentless UK rain abated this week, but not before the deputy Mayor of London had promised to pile on a bit more misery. "Patio heaters are an indulgence too far," declared Nicky Gavron, London's Deputy Mayor. Gavron quotes the globally-recognized thermodynamics expert Ken Livingstone to support her claim that the heaters " are really inefficient" - in an article entitled, quite amazingly, "Not in my back yard". She thus became the most prominent British politician to lend her weight to the miserabilist movement. Now, you're probably already thinking that Gavron is bonkers. Outdoor heaters are designed to be anything but inefficient. They're very efficient indeed at warming your mitts when you're trying to roll a cigarette outside a pub on a frosty English autumn evening. They're far less damaging than chopping down the nearest tree - or setting fire to a passing local politician. (And public houses turn them off for the winter, because they find them too expensive to justify). But Gavron is on a roll: "Future generations will look at patio heaters as a symbol of our collective urge to self-destruction," she rants. The justification for this claim is that outdoor heaters emit unreasonable amounts of carbon. Now, if you subscribe to the view that increases in carbon are a primary cause, rather than a consequence of our ever-changing climate (and judging by your Comments, many of you don't), then surely you need to tackle the emissions where they matter. Alas the battlefield of the patio really isn't the front line. China, I learned today, sees 1,000 new cars on its roads every day, or around 350,000 new vehicles a year. So there's surely a reason why London's Deputy Mayor isn't constructing a roadside protest in Shanghai and urging us to join her - and we soon find out what it is. "It's not as if patio heaters are a pleasant way to keep warm," asserts Gavron, who's obviously never so much as unfurled a Rizla. "Why not wear a jumper and enjoy fresh air" she asks. Unnecessary discomfort, for the Gavrons, is an integral part of human existence! If you read the comments, you'll find this view is widely shared. One wonders why she doesn't keep a really sharp stone in her sandals. Maybe she does. At Heathrow airport, a camp of miserabilists plans to gather to remind holiday makers of the evils of flying . Which left me wondering if airlines couldn't freeze and pre-pack their "blue ice" for a low-level, strategic ejection. Could any readers explain why such well-meaning people have turned to hysteria and misanthropy so rapidly? I'll merely add one or two observations. Firstly, it could be that no one is listening anyway. This particular hysteria mystifies the rest of Europe, and even in the UK the view that "we're to blame" is only shared by a minority. Hence the English tendency, when faced with incomprehension, to repeat THE SAME THING BUT LOUDER. Or it could be that the issue is only of concern to the media elite, who usually only ever meet members of the media elite just like themselves, and egg each other on to be ever more hysterical, like children playing a game of ghost. Or it could be a bit of both. Secondly, the miserabilists seem to be very coy about the implications of their new miserabilism for the developing world. Over here, where material excess isn't hard to find, the Puritans' message of attrition and self-denial taps into a general sense of unease. On my recent trip to Africa, however, I can confirm that feeling guilty about being comfortable and having nice stuff, isn't quite so widespread - because most people don't have much stuff, and they could use a bit more comfort. The miserabilists, however, will ensure they never get that chance. ®
The speeds and feeds for Intel's upcoming "Montvale" version of Itanium have made their way to the web, revealing a chip far less spectacular than once hoped. According to DailyTech, Intel will ship 1.66GHz, 1.60GHz and 1.42Hz versions of Montvale under the Itanium 2 9100-series brand. The dual-core processor, due out near year end, replaces today's Montectio flavors of Itanic. With Montvale, customers will see front side bus speeds increase to 667MHz from 533MHz and some new power management tools that keep chips in lower power mode when they're idle - go figure.
What will the internet look like in 20 years? No one knows. But this morning at the Stanford Summit, an annual tech industry conference in Palo Alto, a panel of Silicon Valley experts laid down a few guesses. The trio of big-name panelists - Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, HP personal systems group CTO Phil McKinney, and Stanford University electrical engineering and computer science professor Nick McKeown - refused to make any bold predictions, as big-name panelists so often refuse to do. But they did highlight what they see as the obvious internet trouble spots sure to spark major change over the next several years. For one, they all agreed that internet wireless access must improve to a point where it's ubiquitous. "Things are going to be a lot more wireless," Bechtolsheim said. "What has been missing is mobile wireless that works across the country - for the internet, not just for cell phone service." He then held up his iPhone as an example of where things are going - yes, he had it on stage, and yes, he held it up - calling it the first mobile device that lets him "use a real browser to get real search results on the real internet." But we couldn’t help but see his personal Apple status symbol as proof that the wireless internet is still in the dark ages. Naturally, we all know that "things are going to be a lot more wireless" in the years to come. The question is how this will play out, but Bechtolsheim wouldn’t predict which particular technologies will lead the charge – though he did tip his hat to WiMAX. Along similar lines, the distinguished trio insisted that security, privacy, and spam rates need improving in a big way. "If there's an area where the internet will look very differently in 15 years, it's the area of user identity and privacy," McKeown said. "From a technology point of view, a plumbing point of view, something has to change." And there was some chatter about software-as-a-service taking over the world, with Bechtolsheim making the obligatory Google apps and Salesforce.com references. But the most interesting discussion was sparked by McKeown, who said that we will soon see a change in the way the internet’s infrastructure is paid for. With telcos like AT&T and Verizon refusing to foot the bill for the public internet without ample compensation, things will soon come to a head. "Today, although people providing applications and service across the internet are making lots of money and the people providing the equipment – the Cisco’s of the world – are making lots of money, the people providing the infrastructure are not making money off the infrastructure itself," he said. "My understanding that there is not a single public internet service provider in the United States who is making money from providing public internet service. The public internet is subsidized by private networks and telephony, and we all know what’s happening to telephony." One possibility, he guessed, is the internet collapsing into "a government-regulated monopoly" where one company controls the whole thing. Likewise, McKinney said there were serious economic barriers to scaling up the current internet infrastructure so that it can accommodate the public's growing taste for things like video. Just turning on the country's "dark fiber" – the unused fiber pipes sitting under our streets - would require $3tn, McKinney argued. "What's going to be the economic catalyst?" he asked. "What's the business model that's going give the infrastructure providers the incentive to go light that dark fiber?" Bechtolsheim wasn't quite so pessimistic. He thinks that $3tn figure is ridiculous. As the demand for that dark fiber increases, he argued, that price will come down to "a few billion dollars." Plus, he has faith in his iPhone. Holding it up once again, Bechtolsheim said that large-screen mobile devices like the Apple handheld have the power to challenge the wired internet. Of course, AT&Ts and Verizon have a say in the wireless internet too. ®
IBM has reorganized its System i product and management team into two new organizations, the Business Systems unit, and the Power Systems unit. The company stated that its System i business has split into two distinct client segments—large enterprise and small and medium business—each with its own set of requirements, and that it is undertaking this reorganization to better address the needs of the two communities.
If you're at all interested in VMware's Fusion software that lets you run multiple operating systems on a Mac, you may want to pony up for the code now. On Monday, VMware will officially start selling Fusion, ending a very drawn out beta period. The software should retail at $79, but you can still order it ahead of time for $39.
AMD has fired another venomous barrage at its rival Intel today. Following the European Union's intent to investigate alleged antitrust charges against Intel, AMD has released a study claiming 43 per cent of Intel's profits are a result of monopolistic practices.
Black HatBlack Hat Users of Yahoo! Mail, MySpace and just about every Web 2.0 service take note: If you access those services using public Wi-Fi, Rob Graham can probably gain unlimited access to your account - even if you logged in using the secure sockets layer protocol.
Looks like Google is again trying pull US telcos round to its way of thinking, this time with plans underway for a handset optimized for its online services. The precocious Silicon Valley company has reportedly spent hundreds of millions of dollars prototyping cell phones tailored to its search, email and a planned new browser. According to reports, the Googlephone features a camera, built-in WiFi, 3G and GPS capabilities. Google has also talked to cellcos over handset specs and made overtures to companies such as T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless. Google doesn't plan to charge a licensing fee to OEMs or operators and has suggested phones carry the Google brand next to that of the operators or could be distributed without the Google name. The search giant has already held talks with Orange in Europe, over similar plans. News of the Google phone lends further credence to those who believe Google’s next step is to become a phone and internet service provider. The company has been widely reported to be buying up dark fiber across the US. Those apparent aspirations became clearer with the proposal to offer the US government $4.7bn in return for the soon-to-be vacant 700MHz wireless spectrum. Owning a chunk of telecoms infrastructure could save Google from paying US telcos to run its search traffic on their networks, in the post net-neutrality era. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has dismissed Google's own attempts to influence carrier policy at a regulatory level. Google tried to get the regulator to alter the service terms for the winner of the 700MHz spectrum auction by attaching conditions to its own bid. Google wanted the regulator to specify the winning bidder must give users freedom to connect any devices to the network, download any software, and the carrier must be prepared to sell of chunks of the spectrum to third parties wholesale. Apparently, the FCC didn’t like being told what to do and Google’s terms were rejected in a move that could make a Google bid even more likely. With a phone, though, Google could divide and conquer the carriers that would certainly have encouraged the FCC to reject its open network proposal. Chief executive Eric Schmidt said earlier this year that mobile ads are twice as profitable as those through a PC, because the ads are more personal. The offer of additional cash would certainly appeal to some carriers, but would leave others conflicted as Google would be viewed as a potential competitor. All this comes barely a month after Apple took its first step towards building a third business on the back of the telco sector, with the launch its iPhone on AT&T's rather poor Edge network.®
It’s official: There’s big money to be made selling virtual window dressing on the internet. Yesterday, at the Stanford Summit, an annual tech industry love fest, the dreadlocked virtual worlds guru Jaron Lanier told Silicon Valley that "in 25 years, we will all get rich buying and selling virtual goods", and today, the idea was seconded by Wallop CEO Karl Jacob, one of six "social-networking" types who addressed conference attendees this afternoon.
Notorious spammer Christopher "Rizler" Smith was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a federal judge on Wednesday. US District Judge Michael Davis called Smith a "drug kingpin" before throwing the book at him. Smith was convicted on charges of conspiracy, illegal distribution of drugs, money laundering and operating a continuing criminal enterprise.
Adobe Systems has scrapped the "send to FedEx Kinkos" print button in iAdobe Reader and Acrobat Professional, in the face of overwhelming opposition from America's printing companies.
HP's Itanium server customers face a daunting endurance test over the next two years. We've just learned that Intel's next version of Itanium - Montvale - looks set to disappoint. It will arrive this year at 1.66GHz - just a hair faster than today's 1.60GHz chip. Intel once hoped to kick Montvale up near 3.0GHz, but those dreams - like so many grand visions Itanic - died long ago.