Nerval's Lobster writes "According to an appellate court in California, checking your smartphone while driving your Volkswagen (or any other vehicle) is officially verboten. In January 2012, one Steven R. Spriggs was pulled over and cited for checking a map on his smartphone while driving. In a trial held four months later, Spriggs disputed that his action violated California's Section 23123 subdivision (a), which states that a person can't use a phone while driving unless 'that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free driving and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.' In short, he argued that the statute was limited to those functions of listening and talking—things he insisted could have been followed to the letter of the law. But the judge ruled that operating a phone for GPS, calling, texting, or whatever else was still a distraction and allowed the conviction to stand. That leads to a big question: with everything from Google Glass to cars' own dashboard screens offering visual 'distractions' like dynamic maps, can (and should) courts take a more active role in defining what people are allowed to do with technology behind the wheel? Or are statutes like California's hopelessly outdated?"
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waderoush writes "At a time of sequesters and shrinking R&D spending, critics are attacking President Obama's proposed Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, which would have a $100 million budget starting in 2014. But in fact, the project 'runs the risk of becoming a casualty of small-bore thinking in science business, and politics,' argues Xconomy national life sciences editor Luke Timmerman. The goal of the BRAIN initiative is to develop technologies for exploring the trillions of synapses between neurons in the human brain. If the $3 billion Human Genome Project and its even more productive sequel, the $300-million-per-year Advanced Sequencing Technologies program, are any guide, the initiative could lead to huge advances in our understanding of Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and consciousness itself. Only government can afford to think this big, argues Timmerman. 'Even though $100 million a year is small change by federal government standards,' Timmerman writes, 'it is enough to create a small market that gives for-profit companies assurance that if they build such tools, someone will buy them. We ought to be talking about how we can free up more money to achieve our neuroscience goals faster, rather than talking about whether we can afford this puny appropriation at all.'"
An anonymous reader points out a story at Ars about how the "significant reduction" in the backlog of pending patent applications may not be all that it seems. "...a new study suggests another explanation for the declining backlog: the patent office may have lowered its standards, approving many patents that would have been (and in some cases, had been) rejected under the administration of George W. Bush. The authors—Chris Cotropia and Cecil Quillen of the University of Richmond and independent researcher Ogden Webster—used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain detailed data about the fate of patent applications considered by the USPTO since 1996. They found that the "allowance rate," the fraction of applications approved by the patent office, declined steadily from 2001 and 2009. But in the last four years there's been a sharp reversal, with a 2012 allowance rate about 20 percent higher than it was in 2009."
An anonymous reader writes to note the latest large-scale document release from WikiLeaks: "The cables are all from the time period of 1973 to 1976. Without droning about too many numbers that can be found in the press release, about 200,000 of the cables relate directly to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. These cables include significant revelations about U.S. involvements with fascist dictatorships, particularly in Latin America, under Franco's Spain (including about the Spanish royal family) and in Greece under the regime of the Colonels. The documents also contain hourly diplomatic reporting on the 1973 war between Israel, Egypt and Syria (the 'Yom Kippur war'). While several of these documents have been used by U.S. academic researchers in the past, the Kissinger Cables provides unparalleled access to journalists and the general public. 'The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.' — Henry A. Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, March 10, 1975."
In the end, the Streisand Effect prevailed, as you might expect, when a French domestic intelligence agency apparently browbeat a French citizen into removing content from Wikipedia. The attention caused the Wikipedia entry on a formerly obscure military radio site (English version) to leap in popularity not only in French, but in languages where it was formerly far less likely to have been noticed at all. Lauren Weinstein makes the case, though, that this sort of move isn't just something to shrug at or assume will always end so nicely. "Even though attempts at Internet censorship will almost all fail in the end, governments and authorities have the capability to make groups' and individuals' lives extremely uncomfortable, painful, or even terminated — in the process of attempts at censorship, and equally important, by instilling fear to encourage self-censorship in the first place."
First time accepted submitter snobody writes "Recently, an article was posted on Slashdot about the claim that law enforcement made about being frustrated by their inability to decrypt messages using Apple's iMessage. However, this article on Techdirt suggests that the DEA may be spewing out disinformation. As the Techdirt article says, if you switch to a new iDevice, you still are able to access your old iMessages, suggesting that Apple has the key somewhere in the cloud. Thus, if law enforcement goes directly to Apple, they should be able to get the key."
MarkWhittington writes "A clash over the future course of American space exploration flared up at a recent joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. In one corner was Al Carnesale of UCLA, who headed the recent study issued by the National Research Council that found fault with the Obama administration's plan to send American astronauts to an asteroid. In the other corner was NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who has been charged with carrying out the policy condemned by the NRC report."
girlmad writes "Rackspace has come out fighting against one of the U.S.'s most notorious patent trolls, Parallel Iron. The cloud services firm said it's totally fed up with trolls of all kinds, which have caused a 500 percent rise in its legal bills. Rackspace was last week named among 12 firms accused of infringing Parallel Iron's Hadoop Distributed File System patents. Rackspace is now counter-suing the troll, as the firm said it has a deal in place with Parallel Iron after signing a previous patent settlement with them."
Lasrick writes "Derrin Culp of the National Center for Disease Preparedness explores the different levels of scrutiny that scientists in microbiology undergo, when compared to those who work in the nuclear weapons field. His complaint is that, even though America's most notorious biosecurity breach — the 2001 anthrax mailings — was the work of an insider, expert panels have concluded that there is no need for intrusive monitoring of microbiologists engaged in unclassified research."
New submitter anderzole writes "Germany's Federal Patent Court on Thursday invalidated all of Apple's claims for its slide-to-unlock patent. They death blow for Apple's slide to unlock patent was likely a Swedish phone called the Neonode N1m that launched well before the iPhone and featured its own slide to unlock implementation. The N1m was released in 2005 while Apple's own patent for slide to unlock wasn't filed until December of 2005."
We've mentioned a few times the "gentleman's agreements" which some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley used to reduce the risk of employee poaching. walterbyrd writes "This comes from the same judge who awarded Apple $1 billion from Samsung. 'A federal judge on Friday struck down an effort to form a class action lawsuit to go after Apple, Google and five other technology companies for allegedly forming an illegal cartel to tamp down workers' wages and prevent the loss of their best engineers during a multiyear conspiracy broken up by government regulators.'" The lawsuit itself is ongoing (thanks to a ruling last year by the same judge); it's just that the plaintiff's claims cannot be combined.
After being saddled with a half-billion dollars in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy, electric car manufacturer Fisker just can't catch a break. It's not just the cars; it's the company itself. From a Reuters report: "In a statement, Fisker confirmed that it let go about 75 percent of its workforce. The automaker said it was 'a necessary strategic step in our efforts to maximize the value of Fisker's core assets.' A Fisker representative could not immediately answer questions on the company's financial position. In the past, the automaker has declined to comment on the possibility of bankruptcy. ... About 160 employees were terminated at a Friday morning meeting at Fisker's Anaheim, California, headquarters, according to a second source who attended the meeting. They were told that the company could not afford to give them severance payments."
saibot834 writes "The French domestic intelligence agency DCRI has forced a Wikipedia administrator to delete an article about a local military base. The administrator, who is also the president of Wikimédia France, has been threatened by the agency with immediate reprisals after his initial refusal to comply. Following a discussion on the administrator's noticeboard, the article (which is said to violate a law on the secrecy of the national defense) has been reinstated by a foreign user. Prior to pressuring the admin, DCRI contacted the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), which refused to remove the article. WMF claimed the article only contained publicly available information, in accordance with Wikipedia's verifiability policy. While the consequences for Wikimedia's community remain unclear, one thing is certain: The military base article – now available in English – will get more public awareness than ever before."
i_want_you_to_throw_ writes "You have a Friend Request from: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms... 'Confirm'? 'Not Now'? Seriously, the ATF won't try to friend you on Facebook. The ATF doesn't just want a huge database to reveal everything about you with a few keywords. It wants one that can find out who you know. According to a recent solicitation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the bureau is looking to buy a 'massive online data repository system' for its Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information (OSII)."
First time accepted submitter Dawn Kawamoto writes "Employers stampeding into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to get their H-1B petitions filed before the cap is reached are getting the door slammed in their face today. The cap was hit in near record time of 5 days, compared to the 10 weeks it took last year to have more than enough petitions to fulfill the combined cap of 85,000 statutory and advanced degree H-1B petitions. While U.S. tech workers scream that they're losing out on jobs as H-1B workers are hired, employers are countering that the talent pool is lacking and they need to increase the cap. Of course, Congress is wrangling in on this one as to whether it's time to raise the bar."
mk1004 writes "From Bloomberg and the Washington Post come reports that Google is petitioning a federal court to resist compliance with a national security letter from the FBI. This comes two weeks after the U.S. District Judge in San Francisco ruled that NSLs are unconstitutional because they 'violate the First Amendment and separation of powers principles.' Google filed a petition to 'set aside the legal process,' citing a provision that allows judges to modify or deny NSLs that are 'unreasonable, oppressive, or otherwise unlawful.' EFF attorney Matt Zimmerman was quoted as saying, 'the people who are in the best position to challenge the practice are people like Google. So far no one has really stood up for their users.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "For quite some time, there's been a theory drifting around that government can be made more open and efficient via the same crowdsourcing and social-networking tools that created such successes out of Facebook, Twitter and Kickstarter. In that spirit, numerous pundits and analysts have advocated the development of 'e-government' or 'government 2.0.' But what if the idea isn't as great as it seems? That's the angle embraced by Evgeny Morozov in a recent essay for The Baffler. Structured as a lengthy takedown of open-source advocate and O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly, the piece veers off to fire a few torpedoes at the idea of making government more responsive and transparent through technology (the latter being something O'Reilly readily advocates). 'One of the main reasons why governments choose not to offload certain services to the private sector is not because they think they can do a better job at innovation or efficiency,' Morozov writes, 'but because other considerations — like fairness and equity of access — come into play.' If O'Reilly himself argues that a government should be 'stripped down to its core' into a form more transparent and collaboration-friendly, Morozov counters with the idea that the 'participation' envisioned by most government 2.0 scenarios is limited, little better in practice than the comments section at the bottom of a corporate blog posting."
ducomputergeek writes "Since the assault weapons ban seems to have died in Congress, it looks like Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) now turning her attention to video games...again. '"If Sandy Hook doesn't [make game publishers change] then maybe we have to proceed, but that is in the future," said Feinstein. She went on to claim that video games play "a very negative role for young people, and the industry ought to take note of that."' Yet, as the article points out, since the introduction of games like DOOM, the crime rate in the U.S. has gone down. Dramatically. Correlation != causation, and all that jazz, but there are a lot of violent video games these days and yet crime has continued to go down."
kierny writes "Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) should know better. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee claimed to told NBC News that the Operation Ababil U.S. bank disruption DDoS campaign could be stopped, if only private businesses had unfettered access to top-flight U.S. government threat intelligence. Not coincidentally, Rogers is the author of CISPA (now v2.0), a bill that would provide legal immunity for businesses that share threat data with the government, while allowing intelligence agencies to use it for 'national security' purposes, thus raising the ire of privacy rights groups. Just one problem: Numerous security experts have rubbished Rogers' assertion that threat intelligence would have any effect on banks' ability to defend themselves. The bank disruptions aren't cutting-edge or stealthy. They're just about packets overwhelming targeted sites, despite what Congressionally delivered intelligence might suggest."
another random user sends this excerpt from the BBC: "Two film studios have asked Google to take down links to messages sent by them requesting the removal of links connected to film piracy. Google receives 20 million 'takedown' requests, officially known as DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notices, every month. They are all published online. Recent submissions by Fox and Universal Studios include requests for the removal of previous takedown notices. ... By making the notices available, Google is unintentionally highlighting the location of allegedly pirated material, say some experts. 'It would only take one skilled coder to index the URLs from the DMCA notices in order to create one of the largest pirate search engines available,' wrote Torrent Freak editor Ernesto Van Der Sar on the site."