Washington Post

Urban libraries say they’re getting shortchanged in a battle for Wi-Fi funding

As far too many of us have learned as a result of the recession, the public library is often the only place where out-of-work Americans can go to apply for jobs and unemployment benefits online. In many cases, the only way libraries can afford to offer those services is with help from the federal government. Through a public program known as E-Rate, Washington gives institutions a bit of money each year to defray the costs of buying Internet service and equipment.

That initiative got a big boost recently, with the Federal Communications Commission announcing plans to spend $1 billion a year for the next two years on better Wi-Fi, amid a broader push to modernize the E-Rate program. Now the FCC has to decide how to divide up that $2 billion -- and libraries are smack in the center of a brewing fight about it. Library directors from five cities, including Seattle, Memphis and Hartford (CT), have sent letters to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying that they stand to be shortchanged if the commission moves forward with a plan to tie the money to the square footage of their facilities.

Under the proposal, the FCC would give libraries a budget for WiFi funding at a rate of $1 per square foot -- which some say isn't nearly enough. "Wi-Fi costs are not merely a function of the square footage of a room with wireless connectivity," wrote Matthew Poland, chief executive of the public library system in Hartford (CT). "Wi-Fi performance is a function of users."

Poland argued that other libraries -- such as those serving wealthy suburbanites -- tend to be bigger. Not only would the proposed formula give more funding to suburban facilities, but those libraries would be taking in money that might be put to better use elsewhere. Inner-city libraries, Poland wrote, serve more users in a tighter space; their patrons tend to be less wealthy and disproportionately unemployed or under-employed. The upshot: It isn't fair for large, rich libraries to get even more money when small, needy libraries might get less.

T-Mobile’s all-caps, exclamation-filled response to the FTC’s billing accusations

You would think a company that had just been accused of breaking the law would keep a low profile. But if we've learned anything about John Legere, the fiery chief executive of T-Mobile, it's that he doesn't do low-profile.

Days after the Federal Trade Commission charged T-Mobile with illegally charging consumers in a practice known as "cramming," Legere is turning his guns away from his usual targets -- the giants of the wireless industry -- and training his sights on Washington instead.

"On Tuesday of this week, we all got to see Washington politics and the big carrier lobbyists at their best," Legere wrote in a lengthy, rough-around-the-edges blog post. "While I love our democracy, I hate the way DC works sometimes [sic], and I just could not sit still and let them get away with it."

Legere's company has pushed back hard against the FTC's allegations, saying it no longer allows companies that peddle spammy horoscope information or sports scores to bill customers that never signed up for their services. "T-Mobile has in the past and will continue to keep our pledge to bill customers only for what they want and what they have purchased for as long as I am CEO of this company! NO EXCUSES!" Legere wrote.

Why a government watchdog says your phone calls are private, but your e-mails are not

[Commentary] In a 191-page report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said that although the controversial PRISM program (among others) could be unconstitutional, it was mostly fine.

Privacy advocates have been quick to criticize the report. Here's why they're so upset, and it's not just because the PCLOB sided with the government: The oversight board apparently thinks collecting call records is out-of-bounds, but somehow sifting through the actual content of your e-mails and Skype calls is A-OK.

If that discrepancy strikes you as a little backwards, you're probably not alone. Internet-based communications let you do far more than a simple phone call. Yet the PCLOB believes the former actually deserve weaker protections than the latter.

Administration officials have made it a point to say that nobody is listening in on your phone calls. But that may be small comfort when electronic communications have become such a dominant part of US work and personal life.

A win for transparency in campaign finance

Money in politics just got a little less opaque. A little-known rule by the Federal Communications Commission takes effect for every TV station in the country.

In a nutshell, it requires broadcasters that run political ads to disclose who paid for them. It may sound like a simple idea. But it could have tremendous effects on the way campaigns compete and spend money -- not to mention for third-party groups and members of the general public who are interested in campaign finance, too.

The rule about online record-keeping now applies to all broadcasters everywhere that run political ads. That's likely to increase the number of covered stations from 200 to perhaps around 1,000, estimates Dennis Wharton, a spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters.

There are around 1,800 TV stations in America, but those that don't run political ads, such as public broadcasting stations, won't be affected by the rule.

Court gave NSA broad leeway in surveillance, documents show

Virtually no foreign government is off-limits for the National Security Agency, which has been authorized to intercept information “concerning” all but four countries, according to top-secret documents.

The United States has long had broad no-spying arrangements with those four countries -- Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- in a group known collectively with the United States as the Five Eyes. B

ut a classified 2010 legal certification and other documents indicate the NSA has been given a far more elastic authority than previously known, one that allows it to intercept through US companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well. The certification -- approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and included among a set of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- lists 193 countries that would be of valid interest for US intelligence.

The certification also permitted the agency to gather intelligence about entities including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In defense of Facebook’s newsfeed study

[Commentary] Did Facebook overstep its bounds when it ran a secret psychological experiment on a fraction of its users in 2012? That's the question at the heart of the most recent Internet firestorm.

The consensus is that Facebook probably did something wrong. But what, exactly? To say this is one more example of Facebook prioritizing power over privacy is to vastly oversimplify what's going on here.

The reality is that people are objecting for a lot of reasons. Whatever your gut feelings about Facebook, don't give into them. Yet.

There has been a vigorous yet healthy debate going on about the convergence of business and academic research, and whether Facebook acted irresponsibly or unethically with its users' data. To understand why, let's unpack some of the charges being lobbed at the social network. Call it a taxonomy of Facebook critiques.

It used people's data for an academic study.

It manipulated people's newsfeeds to make them happy or sad.

The study made it past an institutional review board. How? The IRB looked at the results of Facebook's data analysis and gave it the green light, but evidently didn't consider how Facebook acquired the data in the first place. Was that an ethical lapse? If Facebook were an arm of the government or a federally funded academic institution, then yes. Research conducted in those environments on human subjects require an IRB's approval. But as a private entity, Facebook isn't legally bound by those requirements, nor was the study itself, apparently.
People should've been given the opportunity to opt in or out.

It's creepy.

An argument that the shortage of cyber workers is a problem that will solve itself

Talk to any talent professional in the Washington region and they’ll tell you cybersecurity jobs are among the most difficult for them to fill. Workers with the right skills are relatively hard to come by, and in a labor market dominated by the federal government and its contractors, they’re in especially high demand.

Now, the Rand Corp argues in a study that this problem will solve itself. Study authors Martin Libicki, David Senty and Julia Pollak examined existing studies on the cybersecurity workforce; interviewed government agencies, defense contractors and security firms; and looked at labor economics research to try to get a handle on the nature and scope of the cybersecurity worker shortage.

Based on that compendium of information, they predict that the high levels of compensation in this industry will be enough to lure more workers to its ranks. They predict that as the supply of these skilled workers increases over the long term, we won’t see the kind of eye-popping pay packages that we see for them now. The report forecasts that we won’t see cybersecurity pay dip below where it was in 2007, when a rash of high-profile Internet attacks made this field seem more essential. But they do predict that pay will cool off from where it is now.

The SCOTUS privacy ruling is accelerating lawmakers’ push for e-mail protections

Privacy-minded lawmakers are already capitalizing on an opening created by the Supreme Court when it unanimously ruled that police must have a warrant to search your cell phone.

Members of Congress who back stronger protections for e-mail and other electronic communications have begun citing the Court's landmark privacy endorsement, in an attempt to add momentum to their own privacy legislation.

The push to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a decades-old law that allows cops to read your e-mails if they've lain dormant for more than 180 days, has the support of the Justice Department and 220 cosponsors of a House bill known as the Email Privacy Act. The proposal would force police to get a warrant if they want to look at a suspect's e-mail. Today, that type of inspection requires little more than a subpoena.

"Even the Supreme Court of the United States, with an average age of 67, has moved ahead of Congress on technology issues," Rep Jared Polis (D-CO), one of the cosponsors, told the Washington Post. "The Court has put new wind in the sails of EPCA reform. This same standard [Fourth Amendment protections for cell phone contents] should apply to electronic communications."

Google wants to follow you everywhere, from your car to your living room

Google, already the world's leading search engine, wants a place in the rest of your life, too. At Google's annual developers conference, company executives demonstrated how Google's Android operating system can work in cars, on televisions and on wearable devices -- ensuring that consumers are never more than few moments away from Google.

Wearable technology was a main focus of the event, and Google gave a few more details about its software for smartwatches, called Android Wear. The firm also said that it is working on a project called "Google Fit" that will aggregate data from fitness apps and wearable devices to help users keep track of health data. Samsung and LG announced at the conference that they are both releasing new wearable devices -- the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch -- that consumers can pre-order from Google's Play store.

Using these devices, you'll be able to do things such as call a Lyft car straight from your wrist simply by saying, "Okay, Google. Call me a car." Google has a plan for your own car, too. Its new AndroidAuto system connects your smartphone to your car dashboard, includes a button in the steering wheel that connects you to Google Maps and allows you to dictate text messages.

With cellphone search ruling, Supreme Court draws a stark line between digital and physical searches

Privacy advocates scored a huge win as the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that searching the cellphone of an arrested individual requires a warrant in most circumstances.

“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought," the court said. "Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple -- get a warrant.”

While this may have been obvious to the average person, the Supreme Court ruling is an "incredibly important new development in the law," Kevin Bankston, policy director at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, argues -- one that suggests "the Fourth Amendment of the 21st century may be much more protective than that of the last century."

Searching the vast amount of data on your cellphone is different from searching your backpack, just as tracking your car with a GPS device is different from having the police follow you, and the government seizing all of the e-mail you store in the cloud is different from seizing your file cabinet." The court drew a clear distinction between digital and physical searches in the opinion, at one point saying it was the difference between horseback riding and space travel.