Technology

Keeping your cell phone from spying on you

In the age of Onstar, smartphones and GPS tracking devices, we are more effective than ever at tracking people. But the line between a convenient tool and an unreasonable search has become increasingly nebulous.
 
No one wants their every move surreptitiously monitored without permission – whether it be law enforcement, a spurned partner, or a nefarious stranger keeping tabs on us. Given the legal ambiguities associated with modern technology, we must update and clarify the law.

Although the Supreme Court ruled attaching a GPS device to a person’s car without their knowledge constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, there are no rules governing the use of geolocation information obtained from other types of devices.

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Halfway home to reform: Time for Senate to move on DATA Act

In February 2009 President Obama appointed me to chair the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Our job was to prevent fraud and waste in the multi-billion dollar economic stimulus program and to establish a public website that would bring an unprecedented level of transparency to stimulus spending. Now, more than three years later, it’s clear that the Recovery Board and its oversight partners have kept fraud and waste at record lows. At the same time, Americans can easily track how their stimulus tax dollars are being spent on the Board’s website, Recovery.gov.
 
Congress now needs to consider how the lessons of the Recovery program can be applied to all of government spending. In June of 2011, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced bipartisan legislation entitled the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, to accomplish this goal. On April 25th the House passed the DATA Act unanimously. It is time for the Senate to move quickly to do the same.

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Facebook must contend with Saudi radicalism

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg turned 28 this week. When he sat in his dorm room at Harvard eight years ago, cooking up what later became the world’s largest social network, Zuckerberg envisioned a product that would connect friends to one another across the world. He probably never imagined Facebook would become a forum for Saudi clerics to encourage their followers to crush demonstrators’ skulls or beat their wives.

Sadly, that’s what clerics are doing, and only a small taste of what we found during a six-month study of Saudi social media between January 1 and June 30, 2011. With the help of ConStrat, a Washington-based technology and analytics company, we collected and analyzed more than 40,000 social media entries in both English and Arabic.

Despite the clerics’ historical opposition to modern technology, they’re increasingly gravitating towards it. Here are five of the Saudi clerics’ most politically incorrect messages that you (probably) wouldn’t want your religious leaders repeating.

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Patent wars abuse the system

Despite earnest efforts by Congress to address it, our nation’s patent system has become a disincentive to innovation, at least in the tech industries. The evidence: the patent wars plaguing the tech world.

Day after day one company sues another, then that company turns around and sues the first, or a third. Meanwhile, every major technology company is in a race to build its defensives by stockpiling patents, spending in the millions and billions in order to stay on a level playing field with its competitors. Moreover, patent trolls are emerging on the flanks – continually acquiring patents with the sole aim of strong-arming companies into forking over licensing fees.

There is no question the state of patent policy in the United States has gotten seriously off the rails, in ways that endanger the long-term well being of our economic and technological development. To understand what has happened, it is important to look to the past.

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SNOPA addresses online privacy concerns

We are very proud of our legislation designed to protect the online privacy of the millions of internet users in our country. The Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) was created to prevent employers, schools and universities from demanding usernames and passwords from current employees and students, or prospective ones. This applies to websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and also protects email and any other personal user generated content. Unfortunately, there have been several instances of such demands, and the implications on personal privacy are worrisome.
 
With few protections, and virtually no distinction between what is private versus what is public, many people are being required to divulge their personal passwords and logon information to obtain employment or enroll in a university and its sports programs. That lack of clarity puts those individuals in a position where they either have to give up their private information, or they risk their job, potential job, enrollment or involvement in sports programs.  That is unacceptable in a free society.

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Google's never-ending legal problems

In recent years, the Internet search giant Google has been suffering from a bunch of legal headaches. First, Oracle or American Society of Media Photographers sued the giant for patent and copyright infringements. Then later it was confronted with number of antitrust probes into its acquisition of companies. Now the search powerhouse faces investigations into violation of the EU and U.S. competition rules for abusing its dominant position on two continents in parallel. The dominant market position is illegal neither according to the EU rules on competition and nor according to the US antitrust law.

What is unlawful is the abuse of such position aiming to stifle the competition. But does Google really carry on a predatory business?

Google has a strong position in the U.S. and an even stronger one in Europe. Its share of online searches accounts for two-thirds in the U.S. and more than 80% in Europe. It comes therefore as no surprise that the giant’s success caused anxiety among its competitors and attracted enormous attention of regulators. A testament to these concerns has been the most recent complaint surrounding the damage other companies say they have suffered by being relegated in Google’s search rankings compared to Google’s own services.

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Rules of the road for Space

Satellites are crucial for national, economic and personal security. They permit quick and secure long-distance financial transactions. First responders, disaster relief workers and lost motorists can find their way using GPS devices. Satellites provide warnings of devastating storms in enough time to take precautionary measures. We depend on satellites for intelligence collection. They help U.S. soldiers in harm’s way and minimize civilian casualties.  Satellites monitor the health of the planet. No country benefits more from satellites than the United States.
 
These satellites are now at risk – mostly from space debris, but also from a growing competition with China and the absence of rules of the road for what constitutes responsible behavior in space. A Code of Conduct can backstop satellite operations, preserve the space environment, and prevent dangerous clashes of interest in outer space.
 
Satellites are as vulnerable as they are valuable. They are far easier to damage than to defend. Because satellites orbit the earth in predictable paths, potential adversaries can find and target them. Missiles designed to launch satellites, attack distant targets, or intercept incoming missiles can also be used to destroy satellites.

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E-Fairness needs federal online fix

The announcement recently that the nation’s largest electronics retailer will close 50 stores highlights the need to close a gaping tax loophole and restore fairness to the retail industry. The issue cuts to the very heart of foundational principles of free markets, level playing fields and fairness.
 
Most brick-and-mortar retailers – from the well-known giants all the way down to the smallest mom-and-pops – find themselves at a government-induced competitive disadvantage because of sales taxes. Most states require physical stores to collect sales taxes on the items they sell. Online retailers, however, don’t have to collect those taxes, giving them an automatic pricing advantage.
 
Last December, online retailer Amazon inadvertently drew attention to the issue when it offered customers an extra $5 off if they went to a local retailer, scanned product info for Amazon’s database, and bought the product directly from Amazon. The stunt drew attention to Amazon, but it also helped many in government to see how unfair the situation has become for brick-and-mortar retailers.

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In the world of innovation, the future is now

Today is 12th annual World Intellectual Property Day, when we celebrate the creators, innovators, and dreamers who dazzle us with their products and ideas and make our lives richer. Smart phones, lifesaving medicines, and drought resistant crops all started as the germ of an idea in someone's imagination. These ideas and the products they spawn are what's called intellectual property.

Fundamentally, intellectual property rights—embodied in patents, trademarks, and copyrights—are designed to promote innovation by incentivizing businesses and creators with the guarantee of legal protection for their creations. When a strong IP rights system is in place, innovators and creators can secure the resources needed for the research, production, and distribution processes. When the enforcement of IPR is considered unreliable, however, their ability to bring new products and creations to the market is threatened.

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Secure infrastructure networks now

Two years after the 9/11 attacks, the Northeast and parts of the Midwest experienced one of the largest, most widespread blackouts in U.S. history.

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