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Wendy M. Grossman

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So how will the new US prez handle IT issues?

Dear Potus 2008... Top ten things you haven't seen a US presidential candidate discuss: infosecurity; privacy from corporations; software patents; the infrastructure fund; network neutrality; user-centric ID systems; ownership of personal information; science/technology education; open APIs for government data. Actually, in a …
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Voter-befuddling tricks moving online

The conundrum in anything to do with voting: the people who write the election laws are the ones who won the election. What motive do they have for changing the status quo? Nearly eight years after the voting fiasco of the 2000 Presidential election, two disturbing US trends were highlighted at last week's Computers, Freedom, …
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Internet censorship and mission creep

"The internet perceives censorship as damage," John Gilmore famously observed, "and routes around it." That might have been right in the early 1990s. In 2008, the state of internet freedom is looking a little rockier. Karen Karlekar, presenting Freedom House's survey of the state of internet freedom at the Computers, Freedom, …
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The Transparent Society revisited

A little over ten years ago, science fiction author David Brin stood up at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference and delivered the first draft of some of his 1998 book The Transparent Society. The crowd, he said Thursday, was "both helpful and actively hostile". The resulting book was, as Michael Froomkin noted, widely …
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Hacking for public health

Forget the grand project to electronify the NHS. The real technology-induced medical changes will come from elsewhere. For example, something you've probably never thought about when you went in for a flu shot: how does the World Health Organisation decide which of the many strains to vaccinate against? The answer turns out to …
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DNA sequencing for the masses

New fathers always think their newborn baby daughters are beautiful, and Hugh Reinhoff was no exception. Sure, she had giant feet, a cleft uvula, and contractures in some of her fingers. But those thoughts, along with a suspicion that her eyes were oddly widely spaced and her chin was a bit recessive, were easily forgotten in …
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Stamen punts new approach to data aggregation

"Give me everything," says Tom Carden, a programmer and designer at Stamen Design. Stamen takes huge amounts of data and turns them into images you can interact with. Let the data choose the questions, he said, rather than the other way around. Carden's work is part of a trend at this year's Etech emerging technology conference …
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A private view of Phoenix and Mars

Peter Smith is counting down to the white-knuckle day of his life. On May 25 next year, the Phoenix Mars lander is due to touch down on the Mars surface. If all goes well, over the following 24 to 48 hours the lander's solar panels will extend and the lander will start the science experiments it's there to conduct. As the …
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US demands air passengers ask its permission to fly

Under new rules proposed by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) (pdf), all airline passengers would need advance permission before flying into, through, or over the United States regardless of citizenship or the airline's national origin. Currently, the Advanced Passenger Information System, operated by the Customs and …
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Dismantling gas giants with nanotech

The future is a different country; they do things more grandly there. Last week, a small but impassioned band of forward thinkers gathered in Tucson, Arizona for the first conference of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. The Internet pioneers spent 20 years rejecting the idea of government regulation. But CRN's two …
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The great Passenger Name Record sell out

As you pack your bags and plot your escape from the miserable British "summer" we're having this year: the security - long or short term - of your personal travel data is probably the last thing on your mind. And thanks to a much trumpeted deal between the EU and the US, even if it was a consideration in your travel plans, it is …
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The romance and mystery of a good hack

The 2007 Defcon badge (currently selling on eBay for $202.50) came with its own SDK, which explains why, by Sunday, a couple of attendees had hacked theirs to play music from their iPods. They were two of some 50 contest winners, of whom the most tired – and wired – were the 20 person team who spent 22.5 hours solving the " …
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Hacking for hijinks

This is my second Defcon and there are plenty of high jinks but you'd be hard pressed to find any lawlessness. There was the year the ATMs were reprogrammed to display the Defcon logo. And there's always a lot of drinking and stupid network tricks. But nothing that's actually lawless. I mean, there's nothing actually illegal …
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Fun with passports and paperclips

The best tax is the tax the other guy pays; the best hacks are the ones that only affect the other guy; the funniest technical glitches are the outages of the other guy's microphone. No such luck: David Thiel is exploring the ways that downloaded media files can be hacked. You have nothing to fear but your bittorrent habit. …
Warning Speed Camera

Watching the watchers: high tech snooping

There are two rules in Las Vegas. One: everything is twice as big as you think it is and therefore twice as far away. Two: wherever you need to get to is across a casino. Into this distorted sense of space Black Hat fits nicely: its 3,000 attendees are more IT security people than you might have imagined exist in the world. …
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The hunt for water on Mars goes nanoscale

If space, as Douglas Adams said, is mind-bogglingly big and the nanoscale is mind-bogglingly small, it seems incongruous to hear that Swiss scientists are going to use the latter, in the form of atomic force microscopy, to explore the former. Yet that's exactly what the team, led by Urs Staufer, an associate professor at the …
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Navigating the mysterious world of nano-medicine

Most discussions of the future of medicine tend to revolve around genetic manipulation, personalised pharmaceuticals, and putting off death as long as possible. Yet the work that's going on in research labs in Basel, Switzerland, home of two of the world's biggest drug companies isn't about any of that. Instead, they are …
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Who do you think you are?

At the beginning of the last day of the ACM conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy I thought I knew who I was. Now, after a couple of panels on identity management, I'm less sure. Web 2.0 (rounded corners and all) brings a new twist to an old problem: more IDs, more passwords, more economic transactions, and many more …
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Wiretaps, no-fly lists, and suing AT&T

"What are you doing these days?" "Suing AT&T." Ah, eavesdropping. Day three of the ACM Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference. The above speaker is Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His lawsuit ("Hepting") is more complex than the others brought over the Terrorist Screening Program in that it …
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Living on the wrong side of the technology tracks

Simon Davies, executive director of Privacy International, waved his hands in a general blessing before announcing global Big Brother awards for Choicepoint (most invasive company), Stewart Baker (worst public official), the UK (most heinous government), the International Civil Aeronautics Organisation (most appalling project), …
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The surveillance arms race

Surveillance breeds more surveillance. That seems to be the primary message from the first day of this year's Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, held this week in Montreal. The theme of the conference is "autonomy", one of those vanishing luxuries. Lawyer Eugene Oscapella uses the war on drugs as an example. This …
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Boffins working on RFID super-shield

A group of Dutch researchers at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, led by PhD student Melanie Rieback, is building RFID Guardian, a personal RFID firewall to allow individuals to monitor and control access to RFID tags. Rieback presented the latest results of the project to build the prototype at last week's Emerging Technology …
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Spam: it sucks like a tarpit

Spam sucks. That is the conclusion reached by a roomful of scientists at MIT on Friday after hearing a bunch of new research papers pitched at dealing with the problem. Before adjourning to the pub, the group voted on the best paper. The award went to Ken Simpson, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Mail Channels. Simpson's …
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Why can't a computer be more like a brain?

Why can't a computer be more like a brain? Jeff Hawkins asked at Emerging Technology this week. Hawkins is most familiar as founder of Palm and Handspring and creator of the handwriting recognition system Graffiti. His other long-term interest is neuroscience, and he believes he has the answer to that My Fair Lady question. …
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EFF Pioneer Awards: And the winners are ...

Computer rights activist and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow, security expert Bruce Schneier, and Yale law professor Yochai Benkler are the latest to be given Pioneer Awards by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The 16th annual awards were handed out last night at the Emerging Technology conference in San Diego. These are …
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Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World

The World Trade Centre was still smoking when US lawmakers hastily passed the PATRIOT Act; in the UK, it wasn't much longer before Parliament enacted the comparable Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act) Objections to the PATRIOT Act are legion, and they have been well documented. Less well documented – until now – is how the …
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Blindside to mull potholes in road to e-government

What can go wrong with e-enabled government? A consultancy team has set up Blindside to find out. The twist: anyone can post comments to the blog, and anyone can edit the wiki. Blindside was created by Kable, a consultancy specialising in the public sector, in conjunction with Vega, a specialist in information assurance. Kable …
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YouTube rules tennis highlights 'out'

As YouTube cleanses itself of unofficial Oscars footage, tennis fans report that home edited videos of match highlights are also being removed from the site. These homemade highlights, often the only way fans can see video from distant, smaller tournaments, are being taken down at the request of organisations such as Tennis …
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IWF reforms could pave way for UK net censorship

By the end of 2007, the Home Office intends that all ISPs "offering broadband internet connectivity to the UK public" will have implemented systems for content blocking, primarily intended to block access to pornographic images of children, which are illegal to view or possess in the UK. Vernon Coaker, the Parliamentary Under- …

Europe's banks Target payments upgrade

When the Euro was created, the European banks had to create a real-time payments settlement system to handle it. Not unnaturally, this was built on top of the existing systems. Now, however, they're upgrading it to a new system that turns those decentralised systems into a single centralised one. Leading the way is Target2, an …
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Guardian blushes red in tech quiz challenge

The story began on 9 March, when Richard Sarson flung down the dataglove by writing Techno world has MPs beat, in which he put the number of technically unchallenged MPs at no more than 20 or 30 and expressed the hope that implementing the ID card bill would be the thing that made the rest of them care. Apparently, MPs do use …
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Museum unscrambles secret agency's past

A few of us got through the metal detectors before the National Security Agency (NSA) realised we were in the wrong place. We had arrived, expunged of all electronic devices from mobile phones to cameras, at the Visitors' Centre, a security outpost for visiting security personnel, instead of the National Cryptologic Museum 370 …