government

It’s official: Brexit campaign broke the law — with social media’s help

The UK’s Electoral Commission has published the results of a near nine-month-long investigation into Brexit referendum spending and has found that the official Vote Leave campaign broke the law by breaching election campaign spending limits. Vote Leave broke the law including by channeling money to a Canadian data firm, AggregateIQ, to use for targeting political advertising on Facebook’s platform, via undeclared joint working with another Brexit campaign, BeLeave, it found. Aggregate IQ remains the subject of a separate joint investigation by privacy watchdogs in Canada and British Columbia. The Electoral Commission’s investigation found evidence that BeLeave spent more than £675,000 with AggregateIQ under a common arrangement with Vote Leave. Yet the two campaigns had failed to disclose ...

Russian hackers used bitcoin to fund election interference, so prepare for FUD

The indictment filed today against 12 Russians accused of, among other things, hacking the DNC and undermining Hillary Clinton’s campaign also notes that the alleged hackers paid for their nefarious deeds with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This unsavory application of one of tech’s current darlings will almost certainly be wielded against it by opportunists of all stripes. It is perhaps the most popular and realistic argument against cryptocurrency that it enables anonymous transactions globally and at scale, no exception made for Russian intelligence or ISIS. So the news that a prominent and controversial technology was used to fund state-sponsored cyber attacks will not be passed over by its critics. You can expect bluster on cable news and some sharp words from lawmakers, who will...

As facial recognition technology becomes pervasive, Microsoft (yes, Microsoft) issues a call for regulation

Technology companies have a privacy problem. They’re terribly good at invading ours and terribly negligent at protecting their own. And with the push by technologists to map, identify and index our physical as well as virtual presence with biometrics like face and fingerprint scanning, the increasing digital surveillance of our physical world is causing some of the companies that stand to benefit the most to call out to government to provide some guidelines on how they can use the incredibly powerful tools they’ve created. That’s what’s behind today’s call from Microsoft President Brad Smith for government to start thinking about how to oversee the facial recognition technology that’s now at the disposal of companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple and government security and surveillance se...

Brexit means blockchains, lots and lots of blockchains

Does Brexit mean blockchain? The UK government has published a whitepaper — some two years in the baking — where it sets out its fuzzy thinking in an attempt to move beyond two years of Brexit fudge by squashing its warring factions behind a compromise customs arrangement to try to live up to its promise of a “future relationship with the European Union”, i.e. without lashings of fudge. Unfortunately though, for citizen sanity, business reality, and, well, anyone not happy gambling everything on fantastically functional systems that don’t exist yet, it’s still leaning heavily on undefined technological solutions to try to make its alternative customs arrangement fly. (Or, more realistically, limp towards another accusation of magical thinking by the EU.) Instead of the current Customs Unio...

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s brutal education in net neutrality

DC Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated for the position of Supreme Court Justice, and on this occasion I think it warranted that we revisit in detail the sound intellectual thrashing this man suffered at the hands of his colleagues just last year on the topic of the internet and net neutrality. Because Kavanaugh was very, very wrong then and gives every indication that he will take his ignorance unapologetically to the highest court in the land. To set the scene: In 2015 the United States Telecom Association sued the FCC, alleging the Open Internet Order that passed earlier that year, establishing net neutrality as we know it — or rather, knew it — was illegal. This highly watched case was heard late in 2015 and the decision was issued six months later, in June of 2016. ...

Indianapolis vice cop says SESTA/FOSTA closure of Backpage has ‘blinded’ investigators

Online sex market Backpage was seized in April following new regulation intended to stem human trafficking, but the results haven’t been entirely positive. This story of Indianapolis cops reverting to pre-web tactics for catching pimps and others in the sex trade shows how the closure has taken away a valuable tool for keeping tabs on the unsavory but ineradicable industry. Backpage, where prostitutes would list themselves and attract customers, let the whole business take place rather in gig economy fashion rather than out on the street. As controversial as the sex industry is, it’s not going anywhere, and at the very least most of us can agree that it should at least be conducted as safely as possible. And Backpage did at least provide some level of safety and regularity to it, even if i...

Jina Choi, SF Regional Director of the SEC, is coming to Disrupt to talk ICOs and more

The Securities & Exchange Commission, the federal agency responsible for protecting investors and maintaining fair and orderly functioning of our securities markets, has 11 regional offices, including in Miami, New York, Boston, and Chicago, None has quite the workload as the SEC’s San Francisco regional office, where a major area of focus in recent years has been investor fraud in pre-IPO companies, particularly the many startups that in an earlier era would have either have gone public or else out of business, but which today linger as privately held outfits because there’s so much money sloshing around. Among the companies to find themselves in the SEC’s sights in recent years is HR software outfit Zenefits and its founder, Parker Conrad; they were fined $1 million last October as p...

European MEPs vote to reopen copyright debate over ‘censorship’ controversy

A 318-278 majority of MEPs in the European Parliament has just voted to reopen debate around a controversial digital copyright reform proposal — meaning it will now face further debate and scrutiny, rather than be fast-tracked towards becoming law via the standard EU trilogue negotiation process. Crucially it means MEPs will have the chance to amend the controversial proposals. Last month the EU parliament’s legal affairs committee approved the final text of the copyright proposal — including approving its two most controversial articles — kicking off a last ditch effort by groups opposed to what they dub the ‘link tax’ and ‘censorship machines’ to marshal MEPs to reopen debate and be able to amend the proposal. The copyright reform is controversial largely on account of two articles: Arti...

California man arrested for sending death threats to FCC’s Ajit Pai over net neutrality

While many people in this country are angry with current chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai, arguably with good reason, it’s unfortunate that at least one has descended to the level of sending credible death threats and, unsurprisingly, has subsequently been arrested. Shortly after the FCC voted in December to nullify the agency’s 2015 net neutrality rules, Norwalk resident named Markara Man contacted Pai several times threatening him and his family. According to a Justice Department press release, Man first told Pai that he was responsible for the death of a kid who had killed herself because of the loss of net neutrality. Next he sent a list of locations around Arlington, where the chairman lives, and threatening to kill members of his family. The third apparently was just an image of a framed...

What we know about Maryland’s controversial facial recognition database

When police had difficulty identifying the man whom they believed opened fire on a newsroom in Maryland, killing five people, they turned to one of the most controversial yet potent tools in the state’s law enforcement arsenal. As The New York Times reports, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare’s department failed to ID its suspect through fingerprinting. The department then sent a picture of the suspect to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, which combed through one of the nation’s largest databases of mug shots and driver’s license photos in search of a match. That database is the source of some debate. Maryland has some of the most aggressive facial recognition policies in the nation, according to a national report from Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy &...

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launch set back to 2021

NASA announced yesterday that its highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope is delaying its launch — again. It was announced in March that the mission would be delayed until 2020, which is already two years past its original launch date of October 2018. But after accepting the recommendations of an independent review board, NASA has announced that the launch has been rescheduled for early 2021. According to the report, technical issues and human error have “greatly impacted the development schedule” and added $800 million to the already $8 billion budget approved by Congress. For a mission that’s been deemed NASA’s “next big telescope,” it’s not surprising there’d be a few bumps in the road. The telescope’s honeycombed structure of (literally) gold-plated mirrors will help scientists s...

Digital campaigning vs democracy: UK election regulator calls for urgent law changes

A report by the UK’s Electoral Commission has called for urgent changes in the law to increase transparency about how digital tools are being used for political campaigning, warning that an atmosphere of mistrust is threatening the democratic process. The oversight body, which also regulates campaign spending, has spent the past year examining how digital campaigning was used in the UK’s 2016 EU referendum and 2017 general election — as well as researching public opinion to get voters’ views on digital campaigning issues. Among the changes the Commission wants to see is greater clarity around election spending to try to prevent foreign entities pouring money into domestic campaigns, and beefed up financial regulations including bigger penalties for breaking election spending rules. It also...