Daily Archives: July 11, 2008

Actor blasts school for Big Brother control over students

School fingered over ‘Big Brother’ control

Cotswold Journal | Jul 10, 2008

By Simon Crump

THE actor famous for playing Eric Catchpole in the Lovejoy television series has accused Chipping Campden School’s headteacher of planning to control her pupils Big Brother-style.

Headteacher, Annette France, responded to Chris Jury’s accusation by saying he was being alarmist and denying that new technology being installed at the school would threaten pupils’ freedom.

Mr Jury, a Blockley resident whose children attend the Cidermill Lane school, made his accusation in an open letter to Ms France.

He was responding to a letter she circulated to her pupils’ parents announcing biometric machines would be installed at the school.

Each of the 1,200 11-to-18-year-old pupils will be asked to insert a fingertip into one of the machines when arriving at school every day.

The machine will record the child’s unique digital signature to identify him or her for electronic registration – intended to improve security – and cash-less catering which will remove the need for children to carry money to purchase school meals, thus reducing the likelihood of loss, bullying and theft and eliminating stigma associated with free school meals.

This technology will also shorten the time it takes pupils to be served school meals.

Parents can opt their children out of this system, which would see the youngsters use a card-swipe alternative.

However, in his letter to Ms France, Mr Jury said he was disturbed by the introduction of the technology which he believes is the latest example of an authority seeking to infringe the public’s freedom on the grounds that people need protection from various threats.

He said pupils will be exposed to the threat of being tracked and manipulated for sinister purposes, as in the novels Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eight-Four by George Orwell.

Mr Jury, who has also directed episodes of the Eastenders TV soap opera, said: “I read Brave New World and 1984 while at school in the seventies, now my own children don’t have to read about it – they can experience it everyday at their delightful Cotswold school.

“The use of this technology is simply not justified by your stated aims of reducing truancy and lunchtime queues.

“I urge you to reconsider this proposal.”

Ms France said she wished Mr Jury had raised his concerns with her before going public.

She said third parties would not access the biometric data and the school already securely held the pupils’ names, addresses and dates of birth.

Saying the technology was only being introduced because it was more efficient, Ms France added: “Mr Jury’s being a bit alarmist.

“I’m not infringing human rights and I’m not managing their behaviour, I’m checking they are in lessons; it’s my job.”

Inventor pushes shock bracelets for airline passengers

The “punishment” factor has been overblown, he said. “What is the big deal, why are people objecting, unless of course they are terrorists.”

WorldNetDaily | Jul 10, 2008

Inventor: Use shock bracelet or pay $14 billion a year

Device suggested for all airline passengers ‘is not a big deal’

By Bob Unruh

A man who worked on the invention of a shock bracelet that the U.S. government has considered for using on all airline passengers says to gain a secure air travel experience, it’s either his device or a tab of $14 billion a year.

In an interview with WND today, Per Hahne, whose device is being marketed now by Lamperd Less Lethal, a weapons corporation located near Toronto, said his product really isn’t draconian.

“I would venture to say most people who are on board with a hijacker would welcome any kind of relief,” he said. “Today the only thing there is is the bullet.”

With his device, he said, “no one gets wounded or killed accidentally, the flight is saved, you’re saved, the air carriers are saved, insurers are saved, all because of a bracelet that can deliver a shock similar to a Taser.”

WND reported earlier that an official with the Department of Homeland Security had expressed interest in having airline passengers wear the bracelets that could track their movements, hold personal information and be triggered like a Taser to stun them into immobility.

Electronic ‘bracelets’ for passengers lauded as the ‘last line of defense’ for air carrier safety

Paul S. Ruwaldt of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate wrote the inventor of “the immobilizing security bracelet,” saying he looked forward to receiving a written proposal, according to Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Denning.

“It is conceivable to envision a use to improve air security, on passenger planes,” said Ruwaldt’s letter, posted on website of the company, Lamperd Less Lethal.

“Just when you thought you’ve heard it all,” wrote Denning.

According to a company video, the bracelets would assist pilots and crew members on commercial air carriers as the “last line of defense” against terror attacks.

The video says passengers could be fitted with “electronic ID bracelets” they would wear until they disembark their flights. The device would replace a ticket, carry passenger information, track passengers through terminals and track carryon luggage.

But the key feature is that the bracelets could be discharged, as a gun, and leave the wearer “immobile for several minutes” although without causing “permanent injury.”

Hahne, who described himself as an inventor with 30 years’ experience as a pilot, declined to reveal to WND the cost of the bracelets. But he said they would be a revenue-generator, because of the losses they would prevent from terrorism.

The U.S. government has expressed interested in such ‘bracelets’ for air travelers

And he said the nation’s existing air marshal program to provide security on flights cannot compete on two levels – safety [Who wants an marshal to discharge a weapon on board?] as well as expense. He said only about 4 percent of the nation’s 30,000 daily flights are covered by air marshals now, and if an agent would be assigned to each flight, “it would take a contingent the size of the U.S. Marine Corps and $14 billion a year.”

He said approximately $25 of the average ticket already is used for security.

The need also is tied to the economy, he said.

“If the aviation system experiences another 9/11 scenario, to get back online will cost more than $400 billion. Witness our last experience, it took five years to recover to the levels of pre-9/11,” he said.

The “punishment” factor has been overblown, he said. “What is the big deal, why are people objecting, unless of course they are terrorists engaged in hijacking,” he said.

Existing “safety” procedures have nothing to do with safety, he said. “They have to do with the perception of safety.”

Biometrics, for example, can identify a hijacker only after that hijacker has had some sort of contact with authorities already, he suggested.

“People have to realize this bracelet is not even armed until you are in an aircraft and a hijacking situation is under way,” he said. “The bracelets are just bracelets.”

“I’ve met with a huge amount of opposition to the idea. But I don’t see anybody else stepping up and producing something which is meaningful once the wheels have left the ground,” he said. “The F-16 is not there to help you.”

Whether his bracelets should be adapted for use in other situations where a single person could cause damage: on trains, in stadium events and like, he said, “That’s not a question I can answer. I’m an aviator. I’m only concerned about aviation.”

Denning had objections. “Would every paying airline passenger flying on a commercial airplane be mandated to wear one of these devices? I cringe at the thought. Not only could it be used as a physical restraining device, but also as a method of interrogation, according to the same aforementioned letter from Mr. Ruwaldt.

“Would you let them put one of those on your wrist? Would you allow the airline employees, which would be mandated by the government, to place such a bracelet on any member of your family?”

Will a Computer “Symbiote” be Implanted in Future Human Brains?

Just imagine the autoworker in court convincingly replacing the outdated “devil made me do it” argument with “my neural implant made me do it.”

Daily Galaxy | Jun 25, 2008

Will future humans have computers implanted in their brains? Researchers are developing a neural implant that can think independently—just like the human brain does. Creepy? Yeah. Cool? Definitely. Scientists at the University of Florida aren’t just creating a neural implant that can translate human brain signals, but one that can act independently to increase its efficiency and synergy with the brain as it learns new things.

“In the grand scheme of brain-machine interfaces, this is a complete paradigm change,” said Justin C. Sanchez, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of pediatric neurology and the study’s lead author. “This idea opens up all kinds of possibilities for how we interact with devices. It’s not just about giving instructions but about those devices assisting us in a common goal. You know the goal, the computer knows the goal and you work together to solve the task.”

These “brain computers” are programmed with complex algorithms that can interpret thoughts. But the algorithms used in current brain-machine interfaces are incapable of adapting to change, Sanchez explains. They are order-takers, but not adaptive problem-solvers.

“The status quo of brain-machine interfaces that are out there have static and fixed decoding algorithms, which assume a person thinks one way for all time,” he said. “We learn throughout our lives and come into different scenarios, so you need to develop a paradigm that allows interaction and growth.”

Sanchez and his colleagues tested out evolving brain-machine interface using rats.

The rats’ brains were fitted with tiny electrodes that capture thought signals. Three rats were taught how to move a robotic arm toward a target using just their thoughts. Each time they succeeded, the rats were rewarded.

The computer, on the other hand, was programmed to earn as many points as possible by figuring out how to help the rat. The closer a rat moved the arm to the target, the more points the computer received, which helped the computer determine which brain signals lead to the most rewards. The computer then knew how to streamline the process to make it more efficient and ultimately easier for the rats.

The researchers made things progressively more difficult for the rats by requiring them to hit targets that were placed farther and farther away. However, the symbiotic relationship between the computer and the rats allowed the rats to complete tasks more efficiently each time despite the increasing difficulty.

So how does this all apply to humans? Well, there’s not a lot of legitimate funds available out there to turn humans into superhuman cyborgs “just for fun” (well, other than DARPA funding, of course), so initially the technology will be developed for therapeutic applications, such as allowing paraplegics victims to control their own limbs again and so forth.

However, there is a whole slew of other fantastic sci-fi inspired applications that are theoretically possible with this type of computer “symbiote” implants. For example, how would you like to be able to calculate enormous equations in your own head? You’d just think about what you wanted calculated and your neural implant would do the work for you instantaneously. Or how would you like the entire library of congress stored neatly in your brain where you can access any kind of information you’d ever want instantly just by thinking about. You wonder to yourself, “When was Abraham Lincoln born?” Your symbiote could then theoretically feed the correct answer back to you in what felt as natural as your own thoughts.

Mental work like creating company reports and term papers would become ridiculously easy. It’d be better than having a photographic memory, but of course with a neural implant you could theoretically have one of those too!  Your implant could easily store an image of everything you’ve ever looked at, especially the way micro data storing technology is developing.

Neural implants would also allow people to control heavy machinery (or gigantic evil robots) with nothing but their thoughts remotely—perhaps even halfway around the world. However, giving a “thinking” computer a portion of the steering wheel, could conceivably raise a whole new class of questions about who’s really in charge. Up until now, brain-machine interfaces have always been designed as a one-way conversation between the brain and a computer. The brain gives the instructions and the computer merely follows commands. But now, according to findings published this month online in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the system UF engineers created gives the computer a say in that conversation, as well.

Just imagine the autoworker in court convincingly replacing the outdated “devil made me do it” argument with “my neural implant made me do it…I mean, sure I thought about crushing my boss with that 2 ton metallic robot arm, but I had no idea my neural implant would take me so seriously.”

Marvel Comics first coined the term symbiote to denote a sentient organism that bonds with other organisms in a co-captain style of control where both organisms think synergistically—although the symbiote always seems to have the upper hand. In sci-fi, symbiotes have incredible adaptive attributes and quickly adapt to and enhance the abilities of the human they bond to while granting them a range of other incredible powers to boot. Traditional comic book symbiotes have been biological extraterrestrial aliens, but the real life expression of symbiotes could end up being advanced computer systems—hopefully programmed without the volatile and murderous urges that defined their fictional counterparts. In theory, a computer-brain interface could allow people to download a program that makes them think more creatively. You could download a movie you’ve been wanting to watch and just relax anywhere while it plays out in your head.

The sci-fi inspired implications are staggering. Will it give humans ESP using blue tooth technology to “beam” thoughts directly from one implant to another? What if you could somehow remotely override someone else’s neural computer? In theory you could control their physical actions and even their words. Or what if neural implants become commonplace enhancements for those who can afford it, effectively separating the human race into two major classes—superhuman vs the non-enhanced?

The questions and implications are endless, and while they are all likely far away possibilities, we now know its not just fiction. In reality, technological advancements often lead to real changes that are much stranger that fiction. The eventual melding of the human mind with advanced computer technology would revolutionize the world ways that we cannot even possibly imagine.

Obama, Senate grant immunity to telecoms accused of spying on Americans

Senate bows to Bush, approves surveillance bill

Obama ended up voting for the final bill

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California civil rights organization, intends to challenge the constitutionality of the immunity provision.

Associated Press | Jul 9, 2008

By PAMELA HESS

WASHINGTON – Bowing to President Bush’s demands, the Senate sent the White House a bill Wednesday overhauling bitterly disputed rules on secret government eavesdropping and shielding telecommunications companies from lawsuits complaining they helped the U.S. spy on Americans.

The relatively one-sided vote, 69-28, came only after a lengthy and heated debate that pitted privacy and civil liberties concerns against the desire to prevent terrorist attacks. It ended almost a year of wrangling over surveillance rules and the president’s warrantless wiretapping program that was initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The House passed the same bill last month, and Bush said he would sign it soon.

Opponents assailed the eavesdropping program, asserting that it imperiled citizens’ rights of privacy from government intrusion. But Bush said the legislation protects those rights as well as Americans’ security.

“This bill will help our intelligence professionals learn who the terrorists are talking to, what they’re saying and what they’re planing,” he said in a brief White House appearance after the Senate vote.

The long fight on Capitol Hill centered on one main question: whether to protect from civil lawsuits any telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on American phone and computer lines without the permission or knowledge of a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The White House had threatened to veto the bill unless it immunized companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. from wiretapping lawsuits. About 40 such lawsuits have been filed, and all are pending before a single U.S. District court.

Numerous lawmakers had spoken out strongly against the no-warrants eavesdropping on Americans, but the Senate voted its approval after rejecting amendments that would have watered down, delayed or stripped away the immunity provision.

The lawsuits center on allegations that the White House circumvented U.S. law by going around the FISA court, which was created 30 years ago to prevent the government from abusing its surveillance powers for political purposes, as was done in the Vietnam War and Watergate eras. The court is meant to approve all wiretaps placed inside the U.S. for intelligence-gathering purposes. The law has been interpreted to include international e-mail records stored on servers inside the U.S.

“This president broke the law,” declared Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

The Bush administration brought the wiretapping back under the FISA court’s authority only after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret program. A handful of members of Congress knew about the program from top secret briefings. Most members are still forbidden to know the details of the classified effort, and some objected that they were being asked to grant immunity to the telecoms without first knowing what they did.

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter compared the Senate vote to buying a “pig in a poke.”

But Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., one of the bill’s most vocal champions, said, “This is the balance we need to protect our civil liberties without handcuffing our terror-fighters.”

Just under a third of the Senate, including Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, supported an amendment that would have stripped immunity from the bill. They were defeated on a 66-32 vote. Republican rival John McCain did not attend the vote.

Obama ended up voting for the final bill, as did Specter. Feingold voted no.

The bill tries to address concerns about the legality of warrantless wiretapping by requiring inspectors general inside the government to conduct a yearlong investigation into the program.

The measure effectively dismisses about 40 lawsuits that have been bundled together. But at least three other lawsuits against government officials will go forward.

In one of those cases last week, a judge decided that surveillance laws trumped the government’s claim that state secrets were imperiled by the lawsuit. However, the judge said the plaintiff could not use classified government documents it had accidentally received to prove it was subjected to illegal eavesdropping. It must instead use unclassified information to show it was wiretapped without court approval. FISA makes provisions for the use of secret evidence once a case is accepted.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California civil rights organization, intends to challenge the constitutionality of the immunity provision.

Beyond immunity, the new surveillance bill also sets new rules for government eavesdropping. Some of them would tighten the reins on current government surveillance activities, but others would loosen them compared with a law passed 30 years ago.

For example, it would require the government to get FISA court approval before it eavesdrops on an American overseas. Currently, the attorney general approves that electronic surveillance on his own.

The bill also would allow the government to obtain broad, yearlong intercept orders from the FISA court that target foreign groups and people, raising the prospect that communications with innocent Americans would be swept in. The court would approve how the government chooses the targets and how the intercepted American communications would be protected.

The original FISA law required the government to get wiretapping warrants for each individual targeted from inside the United States, on the rationale that most communications inside the U.S. would involve Americans whose civil liberties must be protected. But technology has changed. Purely foreign communications increasingly pass through U.S. wires and sit on American computer servers, and the law has required court orders to be obtained to access those as well.

The bill would give the government a week to conduct a wiretap in an emergency before it must apply for a court order. The original law said three days.

The bill restates that the FISA law is the only means by which wiretapping for intelligence purposes can be conducted inside the United States. This is meant to prevent a repeat of warrantless wiretapping by future administrations.

The bill is very much a political compromise, brought about by a deadline: Wiretapping orders authorized last year will begin to expire in August. Without a new bill, the government would go back to old FISA rules, requiring multiple new orders and potential delays to continue those intercepts. That is something most of Congress did not want to see happen, particularly in an election year.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is party to some of the lawsuits that will now be dismissed, said the bill was “a blatant assault upon civil liberties and the right to privacy.”

Manufacturers knew FEMA trailers were toxic

Manufacturers knew of high levels of formaldehyde

AP | Jul 9, 2008

By Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON – Manufacturers say they are not responsible for FEMA trailers that had toxic levels of formaldehyde, despite Democrats’ findings that companies knew about the dangers yet sold them to the government anyway after Hurricane Katrina.

The report by Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is at odds with an analysis done by Republican staffers on the same committee. The Republican report backs the companies and found that trailer manufacturers should not be held accountable for the high levels of formaldehyde — a preservative commonly used in building materials — in trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up to house people displaced by Katrina in 2005.

Republicans say it is the government’s fault for not having standards for safe levels of formaldehyde in trailers.

But Democrats say their staff interviewed employees from one of the manufacturers — Gulf Stream Coach — who said they, too, were suffering effects from formaldehyde exposure, including nose bleeds, shortness of breath, dizziness and bleeding ears. One employee told investigators that there was a foul odor throughout the plant.

Gulf Stream Coach, Inc., received the bulk of the FEMA trailer contracts after Katrina, collecting more than $500 million.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Democrats’ investigation found that Gulf Stream did test trailers, but treated the test results as a public relations liability instead of as a health hazard.

“It found pervasive formaldehyde contamination in its trailers, and it didn’t tell anyone,” Waxman said Wednesday.

Chairman of Gulf Stream Jim Shea said there was no actual “testing” of trailers. Instead, there was informal screening with a Formaldemeter, which is not a scientific test.

However, Shea said his company in 2006 asked FEMA if it should test the trailers. But FEMA said no, he said.

The accusations against these manufacturers will make it difficult for the government to do business with them in the future, said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. And no company would agree to cooperate with the government if this is the outcome, he said. The four trailer manufacturers testifying Wednesday all come from Souder’s district in Elkhart County, Indiana. These are among the manufacturers being sued by people who lived and currently live in these trailers. Souder sits on both Government Oversight and the Homeland Security committees. FEMA is part of Homeland Security.

The Republican report also faults the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FEMA and the Environmental Protection Agency for controversial testing that it says led to misleading results about the formaldehyde exposure. Last year, scientists tested hundreds of FEMA trailers and found potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

Tony Buzbee, a lawyer representing hundreds of current and former trailer occupants who are suing dozens of trailer manufacturers, said it’s laughable to assert that the manufacturers bear no responsibility for the levels of formaldehyde in the trailers they made.

But there is no government standard for the amount of formaldehyde in travel trailers. The government sets standards for indoor air quality for materials used to build mobile homes, but not travel trailers. If the government were to set a standard for materials in travel trailers, the order would have to come from Congress.

Until experts determine a safer level of the preservative, FEMA has set its own standard at 16 parts formaldehyde per billion parts of air.

To make a point, Republican staffers used a Formaldemeter to test the formaldehyde levels in the room next to the hearing room and found the levels at 80 parts formaldehyde per billion parts of air.

Tests last year found an average of 77 parts formaldehyde per billion parts of air in FEMA trailers. Gulf Stream’s Shea said 16 parts per billion is not a realistic standard, and his company will not agree to it.

Gulf Stream’s lobbying costs have more than doubled over the course of the controversy. In 2003 and 2004, there was no lobbying activity on behalf of Gulf Stream for trailer-related issues. In 2005, Gulf Stream paid less than $10,000 to lobby the House and administration on trailer contracts. But it paid $50,000 in 2006, $120,000 in 2007, and $60,000 in the first quarter of 2008 to lobby the House and administration on trailer issues, according to Senate records.

Katrina victims now occupy 15,000 travel trailers in the Gulf Coast. This is down from the more than 143,000 trailers that once housed Katrina victims.

World War III to be fought with Directed Energy Weapons

The weapons of World War III

It will ‘be fought in the electromagnetic spectrum’

WorldNetDaily | July 8, 2008

by JOSEPH FARAH

Did the Chinese military cause the largest blackout in the history of North America?

That is the assertion of Tim Bennett, the former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, who says U.S. intelligence officials confirmed to him the People’s Liberation Army gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern U.S. in 2003, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Some 50 million people were affected by the 9,300-square-mile blackout that hit parts of New York, Canada, Michigan and Ohio.

The official explanation for the power outage was that overgrown trees came into contact with strained high-voltage lines in Ohio. But the story of this possible skirmish in the “electromagnetic spectrum” is widely whispered about in defense and intelligence circles. It is referred to by some as the first battle of World War III – a conflict to be fought asymmetrically in cyberspace and with weapons that might seem like science fiction.

The Moscow newspaper Zavtra reported only a week ago that Russia has developed “special powerful electromagnetic impulse generators that may be used in design of new type radars and as a basis of electromagnetic weapons that will render enemy electronics inoperable.”

“The U.S. Army is convinced meanwhile that the Russians have already designed ‘kinetic weapons’ and ‘directed energy weapons’ (apparently lasers) for ASAT warfare,” the article continued. “In any event, the Americans suspect that the recent episode with the Chinese laser that damaged an American spysat became possible precisely because Moscow had made this technology available to China.”

The superweapons being developed for the next global conflict began coming into sharper focus last winter when China destroyed one of its own aging, low-Earth-orbit weather satellites while it was circling at an altitude of 500 miles, using a ground-based, direct ascent anti-satellite weapon.

This year, the U.S., using its sea-based Aegis missile defense system, shot down a disabled American intelligence satellite at 100 or so miles altitude as it tumbled uncontrollably toward the planet.

The Defense Department says China is developing non-kinetic means of attacking satellites, such as jamming and blinding, and using lasers, microwave, particle beam and electromagnetic pulse weapons.

Cyber-warfare, one of the proven strengths of the Chinese military, can also be used as an anti-satellite capability. In congressional testimony this year, the director of national intelligence stated, “Counter-command, control and sensor systems, to include communications satellite jammers and ASAT weapons, are among Beijing’s highest military priorities.”

Bennett, meanwhile, told the National Journal he believes Chinese cyber-hackers were also responsible for another U.S. blackout last February in Florida – one that affected 3 million customers.

Bennett told the National Journal he decided to speak publicly about the incidents to point out that security for the nation’s critical electronic infrastructures is weak and to emphasize that government and company officials haven’t sufficiently acknowledged these vulnerabilities.