Daily Archives: March 2, 2012

U.S. court approves warrantless searches of cell phones

Reuters | Mar 1, 2012

By Terry Baynes

(Reuters) – U.S. police can search a cell phone for its number without having a warrant, according to a federal appeals court ruling.

Officers in Indiana found a number of cell phones at the scene of a drug bust, and searched each phone for its telephone number. Having the numbers allowed the government to subpoena the owners’ call histories, linking them to the drug-selling scheme.

One of the suspects, Abel Flores-Lopez, who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, argued on appeal that the police had no right to search the phone’s contents without a warrant.

The U.S. Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit rejected that argument on Wednesday, finding that the invasion of privacy was so slight that the police’s actions did not violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches.

The case gave the court an occasion to examine just how far police can go when it comes to searching electronic gadgets.

“Lurking behind this issue is the question whether and when a laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or other type of computer (whether called a ‘computer’ or not) can be searched without a warrant,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the three-judge panel.

He raised the example of the iCam, which allows someone to use a phone to connect to a home-computer web camera, enabling someone to search a house interior remotely.

“At the touch of a button, a cell phone search becomes a house search,” he wrote.

Posner compared the cell phone to a diary. Just as police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy an owner’s address, they should be able to turn on a cell phone to learn its number, he wrote. But just as they’re forbidden from examining love letters tucked between the pages of an address book, so are they forbidden from exploring letters in the files of a phone.

Prosecutors argued that in an age when people can wipe their cell phones clean remotely, officers are under pressure to obtain data before it is destroyed.

The court acknowledged that the actual risk that one of the suspects would have been able to destroy the phone’s contents was minimal in this case. But so was the invasion of privacy, limited to telephone numbers.

The court left the question of just how far police can go in searching a phone’s contents for another day.

A lawyer for Flores-Lopez was not immediately available for comment.

The dark side of Facebook

The invisible army policing Facebook has access to our most intimate secrets Photo: Reuters

Our social networking pages are being policed by outsourced, unvetted moderators.

Telegraph | Mar 2, 2012

By Iain Hollingshead, and Emma Barnett

For most of us, our experience on Facebook is a benign – even banal – one. A status update about a colleague’s commute. A “friend” request from someone we haven’t seen for years (and hoped to avoid for several more). A picture of another friend’s baby, barely distinguishable from the dozen posted the day before.

Some four billion pieces of content are shared every day by 845 million users. And while most are harmless, it has recently come to light that the site is brimming with paedophilia, pornography, racism and violence – all moderated by outsourced, poorly vetted workers in third world countries paid just $1 an hour.

In addition to the questionable morality of a company that is about to create 1,000 millionaires when it floats paying such paltry sums, there are significant privacy concerns for the rest of us. Although this invisible army of moderators receive basic training, they work from home, do not appear to undergo criminal checks, and have worrying access to users’ personal details. In a week in which there has been an outcry over Google’s privacy policies, can we expect a wider backlash over the extent to which we trust companies with our intimate information?

Last month, 21-year-old Amine Derkaoui gave an interview to Gawker, an American media outlet. Derkaoui had spent three weeks working in Morocco for oDesk, one of the outsourcing companies used by Facebook. His job, for which he claimed he was paid around $1 an hour, involved moderating photos and posts flagged as unsuitable by other users.

“It must be the worst salary paid by Facebook,” he told The Daily Telegraph this week. “And the job itself was very upsetting – no one likes to see a human cut into pieces every day.”

Derkaoui is not exaggerating. An articulate man, he described images of animal abuse, butchered bodies and videos of fights. Other moderators, mainly young, well-educated people working in Asia, Africa and Central America, have similar stories. “Paedophilia, necrophilia, beheadings, suicides, etc,” said one. “I left [because] I value my sanity.” Another compared it to working in a sewer. “All the —- of the world flows towards you and you have to clean it up,” he said.

Who, one wonders, apart from the desperate, the unstable and the unsavoury, would be attracted to doing such an awful job in the first place?

Of course, not all of the unsuitable material on the site is so graphic. Facebook operates a fascinatingly strict set of guidelines determining what should be deleted. Pictures of naked private parts, drugs (apart from marijuana) and sexual activity (apart from foreplay) are all banned. Male nipples are OK, but naked breastfeeding is not. Photographs of bodily fluids (except semen) are allowed, but not if a human being is also shown. Photoshopped images are fine, but not if they show someone in a negative light.

Once something is reported by a user, the moderator sitting at his computer in Morocco or Mexico has three options: delete it; ignore it; or escalate it, which refers it back to a Facebook employee in California (who will, if necessary, report it to the authorities). Moderators are told always to escalate specific threats – “I’m going to stab Lisa H at the frat party” is given as the charming example – but not generic, unlikely ones, such as “I’m going to blow up the planet on New Year’s Eve.”

It is, of course, to Facebook’s credit that they are attempting to balance their mission “to make the world more open and connected” with a willingness to remove traces of the darker side of human nature. The company founded by Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard bedroom is richer and more populated than many countries. These moderators are their police.

Neither is Facebook alone in outsourcing unpleasant work. Adam Levin, the US-based chief executive of Criterion Capital Partners and the owner of British social network Bebo, says that the process is “rampant” across Silicon Valley.

“We do it at Bebo,” he says. “Facebook has so much content flowing into its system every day that it needs hundreds of people moderating all the images and posts which are flagged. That type of workforce is best outsourced for speed, scale and cost.”

A spokesman for Twitter said that they have an internal moderation team, but refused to answer a question about outsourcing. Similarly, a Google spokesperson would not say how Google+, the search giant’s new social network, will be moderated. Neither Facebook nor oDesk were willing to comment on anything to do with outsourcing or moderation.

Levin, however, estimates that Facebook indirectly employs between 800 to 1,000 moderators via oDesk and others – nearly a third of its more handsomely remunerated full-time staff. Graham Cluley, of the internet security firm Sophos, calls Silicon Valley’s outsourcing culture its “poorly kept dirty secret”.

The biggest worry for the rest of us, however, is that the moderation process isn’t nearly secretive enough. According to Derkaoui, there are no security measures on a moderator’s computer to stop them uploading obscene material themselves. Despite coming into daily contact with such material, he was never subjected to a criminal record check. Where, then, is the oversight body for these underpaid global police? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Facebook itself is guarding them, according to a previous statement to which the Telegraph was referred. “These contractors are subject to rigorous quality controls and we have implemented several layers of safeguards to protect the data of those using our service,” it read. “No user information beyond the content in question and the source of the report is shared. All decisions made by contractors are subject to extensive audits.”

And yet in the images due for moderation seen by the Telegraph, the name of anyone “tagged” in an offending post – as well as the user who uploaded it – could be clearly discerned. A Facebook spokesman said that these names are shared with the moderators to put the content in context – a context sufficient for Derkaoui to claim that he had as much information as “looking at a friend’s Facebook page”. He admits to having subsequently looked up more information online about the people he had been moderating. Cluley is worried that Facebook users could be blackmailed by disgruntled moderators – or even see pictures originally intended for a small circle of friends pasted all over the web.

Shamoon Siddiqui, chief executive of Develop.io, an American app-building firm that employs people in the developing world for a more generous $7 to $10 an hour, agrees that better security measures are needed. “It isn’t wrong for Facebook to have an Indian office,” he says. “But it is wrong for it to use an arbitrary marketplace with random people it doesn’t know in that country. This will have to change.”

In Britain, for example, all web moderators have to undergo an enhanced CRB check. eModeration, whose clients range from HSBC to The X-Factor, pays £10 an hour and never lets its staff spend too long on the gritty stuff. They wouldn’t go near the Facebook account. The job, says Tamara Littleton, its chief executive, is too big, the moderating too reactive, and they couldn’t compete on cost with the likes of oDesk.

So, if no one can undercut the likes of oDesk, could they not be undermined instead? If Mr Zuckerberg will not dig deeper into his $17.5 billion pockets to pay the street-sweepers of Facebook properly, maybe he could be persuaded by a little moral outrage?

Levin disagrees. “Perhaps a minute percentage of users will stop using Facebook when they hear about this,” he says. “But the more digital our society becomes, the less people value their privacy.”

Perhaps. But maybe disgruntled commuters, old schoolfriends and new mothers will think twice before sharing intimate information with their “friends” – only to find that two minutes later it’s being viewed by an under-vetted, unfulfilled person on a dollar an hour in an internet café in Marrakech.

Flying robots play James Bond theme tune

Engineers show off tiny flying ‘quadrobots’, or mini helicopters, that have been programmed to play the James Bond theme tune by buzzing up and down in unison over a selection of musical intruments.

Telegraph | Mar 1, 2012

The agile robots have been developed by engineering students at Pensylvannia University in the United States, who are helping to create a new breed of smarter, faster, and more flexible robots that mimic the swarming behaviours of birds, fish and insects.

In the demonstration video, which has become an internet sensation, the nanobots are fitted with wireless cameras and infrared lights that help their pilots plot their exact position in a precise way.

One of the university’s robotics laboratory members, Vijay Kumar, presented the groundbreaking work at the TED2012 conference, an international gathering of people and ideas from technology, entertainment, and design.

The team said that building robots that can move in unison without crashing into obstacles or one another, is a critical skill for robot teams to develop, especially as they may one day be used to survey landscapes, build structures, or even play music.

February was third coldest in Malta since 1923

Daily Maximum temperature for February 2012

Third coldest February since 1923

maltatoday.com.mt | Mar 1, 2012

Malta Airport MetOffice says February 2012 was the third coldest February since 1923 with more than twice the average rainfall.

The Malta Airport MetOffice said this was the third coldest February since 1923 with an average maximum temperature of 13°C and an average minimum temperature of 7.5°C. Both were below the climate norm of 15.5°C and 9.3°C respectively. The highest recorded temperature for February was 15.9°C on the 3rd and lowest was 3.5°C on the 14th.

Last month was also colder than the climate norm with a mean temperature of 10.2°C which is 2.2°C lower than the norm of 12.4°C.

The MIA recorded a total of 132.6mm of rain for February which is more than double the climate norm of 61.3mm for the month. The rainiest day was 21 February with a total of 24.2mm of rain. The highest rainfall ever recorded for February since 1947 was in 1965 with 187.9mm.

The average wind speed for February was 9.4 knots which was less than the climate norm of 10.3 knots. On the 6th a gust of 50 knots from the Northwest by West direction and the most frequent direction for February was from the west-northwest direction.


With an average of 6 hours 36 minutes of bright sunshine, February was 30 minutes brighter than the norm of 6 hours 6 minutes. The dullest day was on the 21st when there were no hours of bright sunshine while the brightest were recorded on 28th and 29th with 10 hours 48minutes.

The relative humidity of 74%, this month was 5% less humid than the climate norm of 79%.

The average sea temperature was 15.4°C which is 0.7°C higher than the climate norm of 14.7°C for February.

Could Vladimir Putin be in power until 2024?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov, tycoon and independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, Nationalist Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and A Just Russia party leader Sergey Mironov will battle for the country’s presidency on Sunday. Reuters

Having extended the presidential term of office from four to six years, Putin would remain in charge until 2018 – or 2024, if he won a second term. By then, Putin would have chalked up 24 years in power out of the 33 years since the collapse of Communism thanks to his previous terms as president and prime minister.

Could Vladimir Putin be in power until 2024? 10 key questions about Russia’s elections

MSNBC | Mar 1, 2012

More than 100 million Russians will go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president who will be in office for the next six years. Msnbc.com’s Alastair Jamieson examines the potential outcomes — and what’s at stake.

What do the polls suggest will happen?

Most polls indicate it will be an outright victory for Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister and former president who has made a deal with his ally Dmitry Medvedev, the former prime minister and current president. Despite initial public outrage over their job swap, Putin is consistently polling at around 50 per cent – well ahead of the fragmented opposition.

And even if voters do not endorse Putin, his victory is likely to be assured with the help of regional officials loyal to his United Russia party. Having extended the presidential term of office from four to six years, Putin would remain in charge until 2018 – or 2024, if he won a second term. By then, Putin would have chalked up 24 years in power out of the 33 years since the collapse of Communism thanks to his previous terms as president and prime minister.

If the outcome is such a certainty, why should the U.S. and other Western countries care?

Experts agree the U.S. will find Russia harder to deal with on Putin’s return. On Wednesday, British think tank Chatham House warned that “Russia’s stability is at increased risk” due to Putin’s determination to stay in power. “The overriding objective of Vladimir Putin and his team is to preserve the narrow and personalized ruling system that they have built over the past 12 years,” it said in a report. “Real change, necessarily involving accountability and devolution of power, would disrupt the system. But without real change, Russia cannot develop as effectively as it could, and the Putin system is vulnerable to shock.”

Opposition leaders believe Russia at a crossroads in this election, according to NBC News correspondent Jim Maceda.

“The choice is stark: six, perhaps 12, more years of an authoritative regime that is belligerent to critics … and which sees the U.S. and its allies as Cold War rivals — or a new, more democratic Russia that respects its neighbors and no longer snubs the West,” he said.

“The feeling is that a President Putin will instinctively shrink from, rather than encourage, co-operation with the West on a range of issues including Iran and Syria, so there’s a lot at stake for the U.S. in this election,” added Maceda, who has reported on the country since the days of the Soviet Union.

Although Putin enjoys strong domestic popularity, especially in rural Russia, dissatisfaction with his seemingly invincible regime has resulted in unprecedented public protests, with thousands joining recent marches in central Moscow that would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.

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Ties to Putin Generate Fabulous Wealth for a Select Few

Vladimir Litvinenko, the rector of one of St. Petersburg’s prestigious universities, helped Vladimir V. Putin prepare his graduate dissertation on natural resources. Mr. Litvinenko later profited from a phosphate mine in the Arctic. Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

nytimes.com | Mar 1, 2012


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Arkady R. Rotenberg, a former judo coach, is now a billionaire industrialist, having made a fortune selling pipe to the state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom.

Yuri V. Kovalchuk owned a minority stake in a small bank in St. Petersburg that in recent years won control of a number of Gazprom subsidiaries. He is now worth $1.5 billion.

Gennady N. Timchenko, once the little-known sales manager of a local oil refinery, is now one of the world’s richest men, co-owner of a commodity trading company that moves about $70 billion of crude oil a year, much of it through major contracts with Rosneft, the Russian national oil company.

What these men share, besides staggering wealth and roots in St. Petersburg, is a connection to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who is poised to win a new six-year term as president in elections on Sunday. The three billionaires are members of a close circle of friends, relatives, associates, colleagues from the security services and longtime advisers who have grown fabulously wealthy during Mr. Putin’s 12 years as Russia’s paramount leader.

Critics say these relationships are evidence of deeply entrenched corruption, which they view as essentially government-sanctioned theft invariably connected to Russia’s abundant natural resources: gas, oil, minerals. This has become a persistent grievance of demonstrators who have staged four large street protests since December and are promising more after the election.

“The basic point is that these guys have benefited and made their fortunes through deals which involved state-controlled companies, which were operating under the direct control of government and the president,” said Vladimir S. Milov, a former deputy energy minister and now political opposition leader who has written several reports alleging corruption. “Certain personal close friends of Putin who were people of relatively moderate means before Putin came to power all of a sudden turned out to be billionaires.”

Mr. Putin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the enrichment of these and other acquaintances, and he has forcefully dismissed assertions made by his political opponents that he himself is a secret beneficiary of these enterprises and has amassed tens of billions of dollars in bank accounts outside Russia.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman has also denied any connection to a sprawling resort complex that some of Mr. Putin’s St. Petersburg acquaintances were said to be building for him as a “palace” on the Black Sea at a cost of as much as $1 billion.

One of Mr. Putin’s former associates from St. Petersburg, Sergei Kolesnikov, recently fled Russia with a trove of documents that appear to support the connection to the resort. In meetings with Russian and Western journalists, Mr. Kolesnikov has described other business dealings in which money was funneled, often as loans, to businesses controlled by Mr. Putin’s friends or relatives.

The denials from Mr. Putin’s acquaintances are just as steadfast. Mr. Timchenko partly won a lawsuit against Mr. Milov in which he insisted that he was not a “friend” of Mr. Putin’s. In a statement this week, a spokesman for Mr. Timchenko, Anton Kurevin, acknowledged that Mr. Putin and Mr. Timchenko met in the early 1990s in St. Petersburg, but said that Mr. Putin had no connection to Mr. Timchenko’s business. Instead, they still have ties to a judo club where Mr. Putin sparred as a young man with Mr. Rotenberg.

“As has been stated on numerous previous occasions, it is true that Mr. Timchenko does know Mr. Putin,” Mr. Kurevin said. “However, the relationship is one of casual acquaintanceship and not close friendship.”

Mr. Rotenberg declined to respond to written questions. Mr. Kovalchuk, reached through a publicity agent representing his bank, by Thursday evening also had not replied to a written request for comment.

Legalities aside, these relationships are fixed in the public mind and widely reported by the Russian news media, so how Mr. Putin handles them could prove critical both to his near-term political survival and his legacy.

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China’s top Tibet official orders tighter control of Internet

Reuters | Mar 1, 2012

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top official in Tibet has urged authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet and mobile phones, state media reported on Thursday, reflecting the government’s fears about unrest ahead of its annual parliamentary session.

The move is the latest in a series of measures the government says are intended to maintain stability, and comes after a spate of self-immolations and protests against Chinese control in the country’s Tibetan-populated areas.

It is likely to mean phone and online communications will be even more closely monitored and censored than is normal.

Chen Quanguo, who was appointed the Chinese Communist Party chief of Tibet last August, urged authorities at all levels to “further increase their alertness to stability maintenance” ahead of the National People’s Congress, the official Tibet Daily newspaper quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament session meets next Monday.

“Mobile phones, Internet and other measures for the management of new media need to be fully implemented to maintain the public’s interests and national security,” Chen said.

China has tightened security in what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan parts of the country following several incidents in which people have set fire to themselves, and protests against Chinese rule, mostly in Sichuan and Gansu provinces.

March is a particularly sensitive time for Tibet, as it marks five years since deadly riots erupted across the region.

Twenty-two Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest since March 2011, and at least 15 are believed to have died from their injuries, according to rights groups. Most of them were Buddhist monks.

Chen also vowed to “completely crush hostile forces” that he said were led by the Dalai Lama, suggesting that he will not ease the government’s hard-line stance towards the region, enforced by his predecessor Zhang Qingli.

The Chinese government has repeatedly blamed exiled Tibetans for stoking the protests, including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising. China has ruled Tibet since 1950.

“The Dalai clique is unceasingly trying to create disturbances in Tibet and Tibetan parts of Sichuan,” Jia Qinglin, the Communist Party’s fourth-ranked leader, told a meeting in Beijing, state television reported.

Officials must “resolutely smash the Dalai Lama’s plots to sow chaos in Tibet and maintain social harmony and stability,” added Jia, who heads a largely ceremonial body that advises parliament.


Nationally, defending one-party control is a leadership priority. Official anxieties about unrest have multiplied ahead of a change of leadership later this year, when President Hu Jintao will hand power to his successor, widely expected to be Xi Jinping.

Beijing often uses the meeting of parliament as an excuse to clamp down on dissent in an effort to project the appearance of political unity.

A prominent Beijing-based Tibetan writer who goes by the single name of Woeser said on Thursday that state security agents have barred her from collecting an award given by the Netherlands.

Woeser was awarded the Prince Claus award last September for her work on Tibet, according to the website for the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. She was due to accept the award on Thursday at the Dutch ambassador’s house in Beijing, she said.

“They told my husband that I couldn’t go to the ceremony but didn’t give specific reasons,” Woeser told Reuters by telephone. “They said even if I wanted to go, I wouldn’t be able to go. They have people below our apartment watching us.”

Dutch officials were not immediately available for comment.