The EARN IT Act is an Attack on Encryption

A bipartisan pair of US senators on Thursday introduced long-rumored legislation known as the EARN IT Act. The bill is meant to combat child sexual exploitation online, but if passed, it could hurt encryption as we know it. Matthew Green, a cryptographer and professor at Johns Hopkins University, writes: Because the Department of Justice has largely failed in its mission to convince the public that tech firms should stop using end-to-end encryption, it’s decided to try a different tack. Instead of demanding that tech firms provide access to messages only in serious criminal circumstances and with a warrant, the DoJ and backers in Congress have decided to leverage concern around the distribution of child pornography, also known as child sexual abuse material, or CSAM. […] End-to-end encryption systems make CSAM scanning more challenging: this is because photo scanning systems are essentially a form of mass surveillance — one that’s deployed for a good cause — and end-to-end encryption is explicitly designed to prevent mass surveillance. So photo scanning while also allowing encryption is a fundamentally hard problem, one that providers don’t yet know how to solve.

All of this brings us to EARN IT. The new bill, out of Lindsey Graham’s Judiciary committee, is designed to force providers to either solve the encryption-while-scanning problem, or stop using encryption entirely. And given that we don’t yet know how to solve the problem — and the techniques to do it are basically at the research stage of R&D — it’s likely that “stop using encryption” is really the preferred goal. EARN IT works by revoking a type of liability called Section 230 that makes it possible for providers to operate on the Internet, by preventing the provider for being held responsible for what their customers do on a platform like Facebook. The new bill would make it financially impossible for providers like WhatsApp and Apple to operate services unless they conduct “best practices” for scanning their systems for CSAM. Since there are no “best practices” in existence, and the techniques for doing this while preserving privacy are completely unknown, the bill creates a government-appointed committee that will tell technology providers what technology they have to use. The specific nature of the committee is byzantine and described within the bill itself. Needless to say, the makeup of the committee, which can include as few as zero data security experts, ensures that end-to-end encryption will almost certainly not be considered a best practice.

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When Voyager 2 Calls Home, Earth Soon Won’t Be Able to Answer

NASA will spend 11 months upgrading the only piece of its Deep Space Network that can send commands to the prob, which has crossed into interstellar space. From a report: Voyager 2 has been traveling through space for 43 years, and is now 13 billion miles from Earth. But every so often, something goes wrong. At the end of January, for instance, the robotic probe executed a routine somersault to beam scientific data back to Earth when an error triggered a shutdown of some of its functions. “Everybody was extremely worried about recovering the spacecraft,” said Suzanne Dodd, who is the Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The mission’s managers on our planet know what to do when such a fault occurs. Although it takes about a day and a half to talk to Voyager 2 at its current distance, they sent commands to restore its normal operations.

But starting on Monday for the next 11 months, they won’t be able to get word to the spry spacecraft in case something again goes wrong (although the probe can still stream data back to Earth). Upgrades and repairs are prompting NASA to take offline a key piece of space age equipment used to beam messages all around the solar system. The downtime is necessary because of a flood of new missions to Mars scheduled to leave Earth this summer. But the temporary shutdown also highlights that the Deep Space Network, essential infrastructure relied upon by NASA and other space agencies, is aging and in need of expensive upgrades. On any given day, NASA communicates with an armada of spacecraft in deep space. These long distance calls require the most powerful radio antennas in the world. Luckily NASA has its own switchboard, the Deep Space Network or DSN.

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Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich

Investors and clients of the facial recognition start-up freely used the app on dates and at parties — and to spy on the public. From a report: One Tuesday night in October 2018, John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes grocery store chain, was having dinner at Cipriani, an upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, when his daughter, Andrea, walked in. She was on a date with a man Mr. Catsimatidis didn’t recognize. After the couple sat down at another table, Mr. Catsimatidis asked a waiter to go over and take a photo. Mr. Catsimatidis then uploaded the picture to a facial recognition app, Clearview AI, on his phone. The start-up behind the app has a database of billions of photos, scraped from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Within seconds, Mr. Catsimatidis was viewing a collection of photos of the mystery man, along with the web addresses where they appeared: His daughter’s date was a venture capitalist from San Francisco.. Ms. Catsimatidis said she and her date had no idea how her father had identified him so quickly.

Clearview was unknown to the general public until this January, when The New York Times reported that the secretive start-up had developed a breakthrough facial recognition system that was in use by hundreds of law enforcement agencies. The company quickly faced a backlash on multiple fronts. Facebook, Google and other tech giants sent cease-and-desist letters. Lawsuits were filed in Illinois and Virginia, and the attorney general of New Jersey issued a moratorium against the app in that state. […] The Times, however, has identified multiple individuals with active access to Clearview’s technology who are not law enforcement officials. And for more than a year before the company became the subject of public scrutiny, the app had been freely used in the wild by the company’s investors, clients and friends.

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India’s Yes Bank Breakdown Disrupts Walmart’s PhonePe Among Dozen Other Services

Tens of millions of merchants and users in India are struggling to make online transactions and use several popular services after the nation’s central bank seized control of Yes Bank, the fourth largest lender in the country. From a report: The emergency takeover of the private sector bank has taken off several financial startups that rely on it for facilitating services such as processing QR codes, point-of-sale terminals as well as transactions of UPI-based payments. Leading payments app PhonePe, owned by e-commerce giant Walmart, has been inaccessible to tens of millions of its users since Thursday evening (local time). The startup said in a statement that it was working to restore its services, and has solved some of the issues for its merchant partners. […]

New Delhi took over Yes Bank midnight on Thursday, after the Reserve Bank of India said it had no alternative but to implement measures to replace the private sector firm’s board and temporarily restrict withdrawals and suspend all other transactions for 30 days. Yes Bank has struggled for months to raise capital to improve its financials. According to NPCI, Yes Bank is the technology banking partner for ticketing platforms Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, and RedBus, telecom operator Airtel, food-delivery startup Swiggy, movie ticketing business BookMyShow and PVR, Microsoft’s chat service Kaizala, as well as several other Flipkart properties including the marquee service, fashion platforms Jabong, and Myntra.

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Coronavirus Confirmed Cases Worldwide Climb To Over 100,000

The number of coronavirus cases has reached 100,276, with 55,694 recovered and 3,404 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. From a report: The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, said it looked like the UK would face substantial disruption due to the coronavirus. He said: “It looks like there will a substantial period of disruption where we have to deal with this outbreak.” When asked what help would be given to businesses struggling due to the outbreak, Johnson said next week’s budget presented “a big opportunity” for the country. He added: “You will be seeing in the budget next week all sorts of ways in which we want to be using this moment, the UK coming out of the European Union. All the opportunities that we have — but also dealing with this particular challenge, coronavirus, and set in the general low growth the world is seeing — to make some fantastic investments in the long term.”

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Barnes & Noble’s New Plan Is To Act Like an Indie Bookseller

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Last fall, during a visit to Barnes & Noble’s flagship store in New York City’s Union Square, the British bibliophile James Daunt strode about the ground floor in oxblood loafers deploring the bookshop’s hideous appearance. The carpets were dusty, and the escalators had broken down. A cheap pine table was littered with trinkets and scented candles. A vase was wedged between new titles, its bouquet of sunflowers sagging in brown water. “I like the idea of the flowers, but you have to change the water,” Daunt said. “And you have to put in decent flowers — you can’t just go down to the petrol station and grab a bunch. I mean, look at it.” Daunt has opened about 60 bookshops in his three-decade career, every one of them profitable, making him one of the Amazon era’s most successful booksellers. After founding Daunt Books, a popular, independent brand of stores in the U.K., he was credited with saving the country’s largest chain, Waterstones, from ruin by giving managers more agency over their inventory. Those credentials impressed Elliott Management Corp., a notorious $40 billion hedge fund better known for seizing an Argentine warship as collateral and berating corporate governance at Twitter Inc. and AT&T Inc. It acquired Barnes & Noble Inc. last year for $683 million including debt and appointed 56-year-old Daunt chief executive officer, the man in charge of its rescue.
[…] If Daunt succeeds in rescuing Barnes & Noble, it would earn Elliott a stellar return. In typical hedge fund fashion, it’s already insulated itself against not earning anything at all from its bookstore empire. Corporate filings show that a $41,598,957 dividend was paid last year from Waterstones to Book Retail Holdco, an entity controlled by the firm and domiciled in a Channel Islands tax haven that indirectly owns the U.K. chain. Daunt says he’s answering a higher calling. “There aren’t remotely enough independents to maintain our industry. Publishers won’t keep that infrastructure going, it will become a world completely dominated by Amazon, and the traditional bookshop will disappear,” he says. His life’s work now depends on saving the giants that were once the enemy. “If we can achieve that goal, the owner will also make a lot of money, so they’ll be happy as well.”

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Facebook Sues Namecheap For Letting Scammers Register Lookalike Domains

Facebook filed a lawsuit this week against Namecheap, claiming the domain name registrar has refused to cooperate in an investigation into a series of malicious domains that have been registered through its service and which impersonated the Facebook brand. ZDNet reports: Christen Dubois, Director and Associate General Counsel at Facebook, said today that Facebook engineers tracked down 45 suspicious Facebook lookalike domains registered through Namecheap, which had the owners’ details hidden through the company’s WhoisGuard side-service. Some of the sample domains included the likes of instagrambusinesshelp.com, facebo0k-login.com, and whatsappdownload.site. Dubois said lookalike domains like these — which abuse the Facebook brand — are often used for phishing, fraud, and scams.

“We sent notices to Whoisguard between October 2018 and February 2020, and despite their obligation to provide information about these infringing domain names, they declined to cooperate,” Dubois said. “We don’t want people to be deceived by these web addresses, so we’ve taken legal action,” the Facebook exec said.

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Organic Molecules Discovered By Curiosity Rover Consistent With Early Life On Mars, Study Finds

Organic compounds called thiophenes were recently discovered on Mars, and a new study published in the journal Astrobiology thinks their presence would be consistent with the presence of early life on Mars. Phys.Org reports: “We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof,” Washington State University astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch said. “If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher.” Thiophene molecules have four carbon atoms and a sulfur atom arranged in a ring, and both carbon and sulfur, are bio-essential elements. Yet Schulze-Makuch and Heinz could not exclude non-biological processes leading to the existence of these compounds on Mars.

Meteor impacts provide one possible abiotic explanation. Thiophenes can also be created through thermochemical sulfate reduction, a process that involves a set of compounds being heated to 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius) or more. In the biological scenario, bacteria, which may have existed more than three billion years ago when Mars was warmer and wetter, could have facilitated a sulfate reduction process that results in thiophenes. There are also other pathways where the thiophenes themselves are broken down by bacteria.

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Andrew Yang Launches Nonprofit Aimed At Promoting Universal Basic Income

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Nearly a month after ending his long shot Democratic presidential campaign, Andrew Yang launched on Thursday a nonprofit group focused on making the central ideas of his campaign a reality. The group, called Humanity Forward, will “endorse and provide resources to political candidates who embrace Universal Basic Income, human-centered capitalism and other aligned policies at every level,” according to its website. The new group also plans to increase voter turnout in the 2020 election, with a particular focus on young Americans, Asian-Americans, independents and “individuals who have not been engaged in the political process,” according to a release. Additionally, Yang, who is now a CNN political commentator, will launch a podcast in which he will “discuss new ideas to solve the greatest challenges of our time with” notable guests and “regular Americans” alike. Yang has also “committed to personally give $1,000 a month for an entire year to one donor to the new organization.”

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Engineer At the Center of Waymo/Uber Legal Battle Declares Bankruptcy

Anthony Levandowski, the controversial engineer at the center of the recent legal battle between Google’s Waymo and Uber, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move comes shortly after a California federal judge confirmed that Levandowski owed Waymo $179 million for theft of trade secrets. Ars Technica reports: Levandowski was an early member of Google’s self-driving car team, earning tens of millions of dollars for his efforts. Then in early 2016, he left Google to co-found a self-driving startup called Otto. A few months later, Uber acquired Otto in a deal reportedly worth around $680 million. But a forensic investigation by Google revealed that Levandowski had taken thousands of confidential technical documents with him on his way out the door — including schematics for Google’s cutting-edge lidar technology. Google sued Levandowski and Uber for theft of trade secrets. Google and Uber settled their lawsuit in 2018, but Google’s battle with Levandowski continued.

In December 2019, an arbitrator ruled that Levandowski and one of his colleagues — ex-Googler and Otto co-founder Lior Ron — had breached their legal obligations to the search giant. Ron has settled with Google for $9.7 million, TechCrunch reports. The arbitrator ruled that Levandowski owed Google $179 million. Reuters reports that a federal judge confirmed that ruling on Wednesday, triggering Levandowski’s bankruptcy filing. In his bankruptcy filing, Levandowski says that he has fewer than $100 million in assets, while he owes between $100 million and $500 million to creditors — presumably including the $179 million he owes to Waymo. However, Levandowski may still be able to get Uber to pay the damages on his behalf. Uber indemnified Levandowski when it hired him in 2016. However, Reuters notes that, in a regulatory filing, Uber said it expected to challenge paying Levandowski’s nine-figure judgment.

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