Cell Phone Privacy, Air Safety Survey,
Revealing News Articles
October 26, 2007
Below are key excerpts of important news articles you may have missed. These articles include revealing information on the threat to privacy from GPS chips in cell phones, the cover-up by NASA of its own survey on air safety, the dangerous legal precedent that would result from granting telecoms immunity for their illegal cooperation with NSA surveillance, and more. Each excerpt is taken verbatim from the major media website listed at the link provided. If any link fails to function, click
here. Key sentences are highlighted for those with limited time. By choosing to educate ourselves and to spread
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Tod Fletcher and Fred Burks for PEERS and WantToKnow.info
Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You
October 23, 2007, New York Times
Two new questions arise, courtesy of the latest advancement in cellphone technology: Do you want your friends, family, or colleagues to know where you are at any given time? And do you want to know where they are? Obvious benefits come to mind. Parents can take advantage of the Global Positioning System chips embedded in many cellphones to track the whereabouts of their phone-toting children. And for teenagers and 20-somethings, who are fond of sharing their comings and goings on the Internet, youth-oriented services like Loopt and Buddy Beacon are a natural next step. But ... if G.P.S. [makes] it harder to get lost, new cellphone services are now making it harder to hide. "There are massive changes going on in society, particularly among young people who feel comfortable sharing information in a digital society," said Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each other," he said. "There are privacy risks we haven't begun to grapple with." What if a boss asks an employee to use the service? Almost 55 percent of all mobile phones sold today in the United States have the technology that makes such friend- and family-tracking services possible. Consumers can turn off their service, making them invisible to people in their social-mapping network. Still, the G.P.S. service embedded in the phone means that your whereabouts are not a complete mystery. "There is a Big Brother component," said Charles S. Golvin, a wireless analyst. "The thinking goes that if my friends can find me, the telephone company knows my location all the time, too."
Note: For revealing major media reports of privacy risks and invasions, click here.
NASA Sits on Air Safety Survey
October 22, 2007, Washington Post
An unprecedented national survey of pilots by [NASA] has found that safety problems like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized. But the government is withholding the information, fearful it would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits. NASA gathered the information ... through telephone interviews with roughly 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four years. Since shutting down the project more than one year ago, the space agency has refused to divulge its survey data publicly. Last week, NASA ordered the contractor that conducted the survey to purge all related data from its computers. Congress on Monday announced a formal investigation of the pilot survey and instructed NASA to halt any destruction of records. A senior NASA official, associate administrator Thomas S. Luedtke, said earlier that revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits. Luedtke acknowledged that the survey results "present a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of the U.S. commercial aviation industry. Release of the requested data, which are sensitive and safety-related, could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey," Luedtke wrote. NASA also cited pilot confidentiality as a reason, although no airlines were identified in the survey, nor were the identities of pilots, all of whom were promised anonymity. Among other results, the pilots reported at least twice as many bird strikes, near mid-air collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show. The survey also revealed higher-than-expected numbers of pilots who experienced "in-close approach changes" -- potentially dangerous, last-minute instructions to alter landing plans.
Immunity for Telecoms May Set Bad Precedent, Legal Scholars Say
October 22, 2007, Washington Post
When previous Republican administrations were accused of illegality in the FBI and CIA spying abuses of the 1970s or the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, Democrats in Congress launched investigations or pushed for legislative reforms. But last week, faced with admissions by several telecommunication companies that they assisted the Bush administration in warrantless spying on Americans, leaders of the Senate intelligence committee took a much different tack -- proposing legislation that would grant those companies retroactive immunity from prosecution or lawsuits. The proposal marks the second time in recent years that Congress has moved toward providing legal immunity for past actions that may have been illegal. The Military Commissions Act, passed by a GOP-led Congress in September 2006, provided retroactive immunity for CIA interrogators who could have been accused of war crimes for mistreating detainees. Legal experts say the granting of such retroactive immunity by Congress is unusual, particularly in a case involving private companies. "It's particularly unusual in the case of the telecoms because you don't really know what you're immunizing," said Louis Fisher, a specialist in constitutional law with the Law Library of the Library of Congress. Civil liberties groups and many academics argue that Congress is allowing the government to cover up possible wrongdoing and is inappropriately interfering in disputes that the courts should decide. The American Civil Liberties Union [said] in a news release Friday that "the administration is trying to cover its tracks."
From Casinos to Counterterrorism
October 22, 2007, Washington Post
[Las Vegas], famous for being America's playground, has also become its security lab. Like nowhere else in the United States, Las Vegas has embraced the twin trends of data mining and high-tech surveillance, with arguably more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. Even the city's cabs and monorail have cameras. Some privacy advocates view the city as a harbinger of things to come. In secret rooms in casinos across Las Vegas, surveillance specialists are busy analyzing information about players and employees. Relying on thousands of cameras in nearly every cranny of the casinos, they evaluate ... behavior. They ping names against databases that share information with other casinos, sometimes using facial-recognition software to validate a match. And in the marketing suites, casino staffers track players' every wager, every win or loss, the better to target high-rollers for special treatment and low- and middle-rollers for promotions. "You could almost look at Vegas as the incubator of a whole host of surveillance technologies," said James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology. Those technologies, he said, have spread to other commercial venues: malls, stadiums, amusement parks. After Sept. 11, 2001, several airports tested facial-recognition software, with little success. But the government is continuing to invest in biometric technologies. "We often hear of the surveillance technology du jour, but what we're seeing now in America is a collection of surveillance technologies that work together," said Barry Steinhardt, the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty project director. "It isn't just video surveillance or face recognition or license plate readers or RFID chips. It's that all these technologies are converging to create a surveillance society."
Note: For revealing major media reports of privacy risks and invasions, click here.
Energy Traders Avoid Scrutiny
October 21, 2007, Washington Post
One year ago, a 32-year-old trader at a giant hedge fund named Amaranth held huge sway over the price the country paid for natural gas. Trading on unregulated commodity exchanges, he made risky bets that led to the fund's collapse -- and, according to a congressional investigation, higher gas bills for homeowners. But as another winter approaches, lawmakers and federal regulators have yet to set up a system to prevent another big fund from cornering a vital commodity market. Called by some insiders the Wild West of Wall Street, commodity trading is a world where many goods that are key to national security or public consumption, such as oil, pork bellies or uranium, are traded with almost no oversight. Part of the problem is that the regulator, the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has had a hard time keeping up with the sector it oversees. Commodity trading has exploded in complexity and popularity, growing six-fold in trading volume since 2000 -- the year that a handful of giant energy companies, including Enron, successfully lobbied to get Congress to exempt energy markets from government regulation. Meanwhile CFTC's staffing has dropped to its lowest level in the agency's 33-year history. Its computer systems that monitor trades are outdated. Its leadership has seen frequent turnover. "We are facing flat budgets and exponential growth in the industry," said CFTC Acting Chairman Walter Lukken. "Over the long term this type of budgetary situation is not sustainable." Commodities markets also have become complex with many trading futures contracts as well as financial tools called derivatives and swaps, whose value is based on the risk of futures contracts. Gathering data on these products has been a challenge for the CFTC. The evolution of the markets has led to some tension between the CFTC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Note: For more revealing major media reports of unregulated financial corruption and its impact, click here.
Sunlight cuts risk of many cancers
October 21, 2007, Independent (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
Sunbathing, considered risky by skin cancer experts, may actually reduce the risk of breast and other cancers, new research has found. Some women who had higher sun exposure had their risk of advanced breast cancer reduced by almost half, according to the scientific study. The researchers from Stanford University, who report their findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology this week, said: "This study supports the idea that sunlight exposure reduces risk of advanced breast cancer among women with light skin pigmentation." The Stanford cancer specialists measured 4,000 women aged 35 to 79, half of them diagnosed with breast cancer, for the effects of long-term sun exposure. Sun exposure may also protect against a number of other cancers, according to a second research team who studied more than four million people in 11 countries, including 416,000 who had been diagnosed with skin cancer. These results, reported in the European Journal of Cancer, show that the risk of internal cancers ... was lower among people living in sunny countries. The researchers said: "Vitamin D production in the skin seems to decrease the risk of several solid cancers, especially stomach, colo-rectal, liver and gall- bladder, pancreas, lung, female breast, prostate, bladder and kidney cancers." Sunlight plays a vital role in the production of beneficial vitamin D in the body. Although food provides some vitamin D, up to 90 per cent comes from exposure to sunlight.
Note: For many reliable, verifiable reports on promising cancer cures, click here.
Panel: Kids Shouldn't Use Cold Medicines
October 20, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle/Associated Press
The medicines long used by parents to treat their children's coughs and colds don't work and shouldn't be used in those younger than 6, federal health advisers recommended. "The data that we have now is they don't seem to work," said Sean Hennessy, a University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist. The recommendation applies to medicines containing one or more of the following ingredients: decongestants, antihistamines and antitussives. In two separate votes ... the panelists said the medicines shouldn't be used in children younger than 2 or in those younger than 6. A third vote, to recommend against use in children 6 to 11, failed. The panel's advice dovetails with a petition filed by pediatricians that argued the over-the-counter medicines shouldn't be given to children younger than 6, an age group they called the most vulnerable to potential ill effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups back the petition. But FDA officials and panelists agreed there's no evidence they work in older children, either. Still, panelists held off from recommending against use in those 6 and older. And some said they feared such a prohibition wouldn't eliminate use of the medicines by parents. "They will administer adult products to their children because they work for them or feel they work for them," said the panel's patient and family representative, Amy Celento of Nutley, N.J. Some of the drugs — which include Wyeth's Dimetapp and Robitussin, Johnson & Johnson's Pediacare and Novartis AG's Triaminic products — have never been tested in children, something flagged as long ago as 1972 by a previous FDA panel. An FDA review found just 11 studies of children published over the last half-century. Those studies did not establish that the medicines worked in those cases, according to the agency.
Note: For a powerful exposé of corporate and government corruption in the health industry, click here.
4 colonels relieved of command over nuclear-armed flight
October 20, 2007, Boston Globe/Washington Post
Four Air Force colonels have been relieved of their commands and more than 65 lower-ranking officers and airmen have been disciplined over a series of errors that led to a B-52 flight from North Dakota to Louisiana with six nuclear-armed cruise missiles that no one realized were under the wing. The Fifth Bomb Wing commander at Minot, Colonel Bruce Emig, was removed from command, along with his chief munitions officer and the operations officer of the B-52 unit at Barksdale. The munitions squadron commander at Minot was relieved of command shortly after the incident. The problems began with a breakdown in the formal scheduling process used to prepare the AGM-129 cruise missiles in question for decommissioning. In March, the Pentagon decided to retire it in favor of an older AGM-86. Part of the preparation involved removing the W-80 nuclear warhead and replacing it with a steel dummy on missiles to be flown aboard B-52s to Barksdale for destruction. On the morning of Aug. 29, the loading crew at Minot used a paper schedule that was out of date when members picked up 12 missiles from a guarded weapons-storage hangar, six with dummy warheads and six they did not realize had nuclear warheads. The trailer that would carry the pylons to the B-52 arrived early, and its crew did not inspect the missiles as it should have before loading them on the trailer. The driver called the munitions control center to verify the numbers, but the staff there failed to check them. At the aircraft, the crew that loaded the pylons, one under each wing, failed again to check the missiles, which have a small glass porthole to view whether a dummy or nuclear warhead is installed. The next morning, Aug. 30, the plane's navigator failed to do a complete check of the missiles, as required, looking under only one wing and not the one where the nuclear-armed missiles were.
Note: How is it possible that 65 military people were involved in this? Could it be that they were part of a rogue operation that was uncovered? There's more here than meets the eye.
Strict Visa Regulations Discourage Visiting Artists
October 20, 2007, Washington Post
The Halle Orchestra, one of Great Britain's oldest symphony orchestras, has not toured the United States in more than a decade, so spirits were high when the group secured dates at Lincoln Center and in Upstate New York for performances last winter. But when the orchestra learned that to get their entry visas, all 85 musicians -- every last cellist, oboist and piccolo player -- would have to travel from their Manchester headquarters to the U.S. Embassy in London for personal interviews, electronic fingerprinting and facial-recognition scans, it scrapped the trip. Budgeting for airfare and travel costs to New York was one thing, but simply getting everyone to the embassy at the same time, along with hotel bills and fees for the visas themselves, would have cost an additional $80,000, said marketing director Andy Ryans. "It was very simply money that we didn't have," Ryans explained. "We were desperate to go to the States, but our hands were absolutely tied." Theirs aren't the only ones. To perform in this country, foreign artists of all stripes -- punk rockers, ballet dancers, folk musicians, acrobats -- are funneled through a one-size-fits-all "nonimmigrant" visa process whose costs and complications have become prohibitive, according to booking agents, managers and presenters, such as the Kennedy Center, who program and market the performers. Visiting businesspeople face similar security hurdles put in place since Sept. 11, 2001. But artists' visa petitions also require substantial documentation to satisfy the "sustained international recognition" requirement for the type of visa (called a "P-1") issued to many performing artists. Arts organizations say they have become reluctant to book foreign performers because of the risk of bureaucratic snags. Soon after Sept. 11, the State Department rolled out its Biometric Visa Program, requiring all applicants to undergo fingerprinting and have photographs taken at the nearest U.S. consulate each time they apply.
Clinton rakes in cash from the US weapons industry
October 19, 2007, Independent (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
The US arms industry is backing Hillary Clinton for President and has all but abandoned its traditional allies in the Republican party. Mrs Clinton has also emerged as Wall Street's favourite. Investment bankers have opened their wallets in unprecedented numbers for the New York senator over the past three months and, in the process, dumped their earlier favourite, Barack Obama. An analysis of campaign contributions shows senior defence industry employees are pouring money into her war chest in the belief that their generosity will be repaid many times over with future defence contracts. Employees of the top five US arms manufacturers – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon – gave Democratic presidential candidates $103,900, with only $86,800 going to the Republicans. "The contributions clearly suggest the arms industry has reached the conclusion that Democratic prospects for 2008 are very good indeed," said Thomas Edsall, an academic at Columbia University in New York. Republican administrations are by tradition much stronger supporters of US armaments programmes and Pentagon spending plans than Democratic governments. Relations between the arms industry and Bill Clinton soured when he slimmed down the military after the end of the Cold War. His wife, however, has been careful not to make the same mistake. After her election to the Senate, she became the first New York senator on the armed services committee, where she revealed her hawkish tendencies by supporting the invasion of Iraq. Her position on Iran is among the most warlike of all the candidates – Democrat or Republican. While on the armed services committee, Mrs Clinton has befriended key generals and has won the endorsement of General Wesley Clarke, who ran Nato's war in Kosovo. The arms industry has duly taken note.
Note: For a revealing personal account of the "War Racket" by a U.S. general, click here.
Spies Prep Reporters on Protecting Secrets
September 27, 2007, New York Sun
Frustrated by press leaks about its most sensitive electronic surveillance work, the secretive National Security Agency convened an unprecedented series of off-the-record "seminars" in recent years to teach reporters about the damage caused by such leaks and to discourage reporting that could interfere with the agency's mission to spy on America's enemies. The half-day classes featured high-ranking NSA officials highlighting objectionable passages in published stories and offering "an innocuous rewrite" that officials said maintained the "overall thrust" of the articles but omitted details that could disclose the agency's techniques, according to course outlines obtained by The New York Sun. Dubbed "SIGINT 101," using the NSA's shorthand for signals intelligence, the seminar was presented "a handful of times" between approximately 2002 and 2004. The syllabi make clear that the sessions, which took place at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., were conceived of ... as part of a campaign to limit the damage caused by leaks of sensitive intelligence. During one sensitive discussion, journalists were to be told they could not take any notes. The exact substitutions of language that the NSA proposed were deleted from the syllabi released to the Sun under the Freedom of Information Act. In 2005, following the publication of a New York Times story on a secret program for warrantless wiretapping ... Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss crusaded against leaks at the CIA and later told a Senate committee that he hoped reporters would be called before grand juries to identify their sources. Attorney General Gonzales also discussed the "possibility" of prosecuting journalists who wrote stories based on leaked intelligence. The syllabi, which are marked as drafts, list presenters including the director of the NSA at the time, General Michael Hayden, [now director of the CIA].
Strongest Dad in the World
2005-09-17, Canadian Runner/Sports Illustrated
Eighty-five times [Dick Hoyt has] pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars -- all in the same day. Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. And what has Rick done for his father? Not much -- except save his life. This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. "He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life," Dick says doctors told him. But the Hoyts weren't buying it. [Eventually,] rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was...able to communicate. First words? "Go Bruins!" And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that." Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker" who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped," Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks." That day changed Rick's life. "Dad," he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"
Note: Don't miss the entire incredibly moving story with links to the Hoyt's beautiful website, inspiring photos, a deeply touching video clip, and lots more at this link.
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Cell Phone Privacy, Air Safety Survey, Telecom Immunity