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  • US Patent Office Seeking Consultant That Can Stamp Out Fraud By Patent Examiners

    McGruber writes: A month after Slashdot discussed "Every Day Is Goof-Off-At-Work Day At the US Patent and Trademark Office," the USPTO issued a statement that it is "committed to taking any measures necessary" to stop employees who review patents from lying about their hours and getting overtime pay and bonuses for work they didn't do.

    USPTO officials also told congressional investigators that they are seeking an outside consulting firm to advise them on how managers can improve their monitoring of more than 8,000 patent examiners. The Patent Examiners union responded to the original Washington Post report with a statement that includes this line: "If 'thousands' of USPTO employees were not doing their work, it would be impossible for this agency to be producing the best performance in recent memory and, perhaps, in its entire 224 year history."

    In related news, USPTO Commissioner Deborah Cohn has announced plans to resign just months after a watchdog agency revealed that she had pressured staffers to hire the live-in boyfriend of an immediate family member over other, better-qualified applicants. When he finished 75th out of 76 applicants in the final round of screening, Cohn "intervened and created an additional position specifically for the applicant," wrote Inspector General Todd Zinser in a statement on the matter.

    124 comments | 3 days ago

  • Justice Sotomayor Warns Against Tech-Enabled "Orwellian" World

    An anonymous reader writes: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke on Thursday to faculty and students at the University of Oklahoma City about the privacy perils brought on by modern technology. She warned that the march of technological progress comes with a need to enact privacy protections if we want to avoid living in an "Orwellian world" of constant surveillance. She said, "There are drones flying over the air randomly that are recording everything that's happening on what we consider our private property. That type of technology has to stimulate us to think about what is it that we cherish in privacy and how far we want to protect it and from whom. Because people think that it should be protected just against government intrusion, but I don't like the fact that someone I don't know can pick up, if they're a private citizen, one of these drones and fly it over my property."

    163 comments | 3 days ago

  • The Challenges and Threats of Automated Lip Reading

    An anonymous reader writes: Speech recognition has gotten pretty good over the past several years. it's reliable enough to be ubiquitous in our mobile devices. But now we have an interesting, related dilemma: should we develop algorithms that can lip read? It's a more challenging problem, to be sure. Sounds can be translated directly into words, but deriving meaning out of the movement of a person's face is much more complex. "During speech, the mouth forms between 10 and 14 different shapes, known as visemes. By contrast, speech contains around 50 individual sounds known as phonemes. So a single viseme can represent several different phonemes. And therein lies the problem. A sequence of visemes cannot usually be associated with a unique word or sequence of words. Instead, a sequence of visemes can have several different solutions." Beyond the computational aspect, we also need to decide, as a society, if this is a technology that should exist. The privacy implications extend beyond that of simple voice recognition.

    119 comments | 3 days ago

  • Drone-Based Businesses: Growing In Canada, Grounded In the US

    An anonymous reader writes: As small drones become affordable, and as clever people come up with ideas on how to use them, we've been hearing about more and more plans for drone-based business. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration was quick to shut down such ideas in order to give themselves time to regulate the nascent industry. Not so, in Canada. Thanks to a simple permit system, anyone wanting to use a drone for commercial purposes can do so in Canada by simply applying and waiting a few weeks. Around 1,500 of these permits have been granted already, and Canada's private drone industry is flourishing as a result. Drones have been used for agriculture analysis, TV production, real estate photography, law enforcement, and many other tasks.

    94 comments | 4 days ago

  • California Declares Carpooling Via Ride-Share Services Illegal

    An anonymous reader writes: Ride-share companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar got letters from the California Public Utilities Commission this week telling them that carpool features for their services are illegal. "Basically, the CPUC says that under California law it's illegal for these ride-sharing services to charge passengers an individual fare when carrying multiple people in one vehicle. If the companies would like to add a carpool feature, they first have to request an adjustment to their existing permits with the CPUC or petition the state legislature to modify the law. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar all unveiled carpool features last month. The three companies say the feature lets strangers in multiple locations, but heading the same direction, share rides and split fares — saving passengers up to 50 percent per ride." This news arrives just as Uber gave in to the demands of striking drivers who claim the company is undermining their ability to earn a livable wage.

    286 comments | 4 days ago

  • City of Turin To Switch From Windows To Linux and Save 6M Euros

    jrepin writes: The municipality of Turin in Italy hopes to save 6 million Euro over five years by switching from Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux in all of its offices. The move will mean installing the open source operating system on 8,300 PCs, which will generate an immediate saving of roughly €300 per machine (almost €2.5m altogether, made up from the cost of Windows and Office licences) — a sum that will grow over the years as the need for the renewal of proprietary software licences vanishes, and the employees get used to the new machines.

    245 comments | 4 days ago

  • Congress Can't Make Asteroid Mining Legal (But It's Trying, Anyway)

    Jason Koebler writes: Earlier this week, the House Science Committee examined the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act, a bill that would ensure that "any resources obtained in outer space from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained such resources."

    The problem is, that idea doesn't really mesh at all with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, a document that suggests space is a shared resource: "Unlike some other global commons, no agreement has been reached at to whether title to extracted space resources passes to the extracting entity," Joanne Gabrynowicz, a space law expert at the University of Mississippi said (PDF). "There is no legal clarity regarding the ownership status of the extracted resources. It is foreseeable that the entity's actions will be challenged at law and in politics."

    211 comments | 4 days ago

  • Software Patents Are Crumbling, Thanks To the Supreme Court

    walterbyrd writes: In June, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a software patent, many in the tech industry hoped it would be the beginning of sweeping changes to how the patent system handles software. Just a few months later, lower courts are making it happen. Quoting Vox: "By my count there have been 10 court rulings on the patentability of software since the Supreme Court's decision — including six that were decided this month. Every single one of them has led to the patent being invalidated. This doesn't necessarily mean that all software patents are in danger — these are mostly patents that are particularly vulnerable to challenge under the new Alice precedent. But it does mean that the pendulum of patent law is now clearly swinging in an anti-patent direction. Every time a patent gets invalidated, it strengthens the bargaining position of every defendant facing a lawsuit from a patent troll." Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports on alleged corruption in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

    110 comments | 4 days ago

  • Windows Tax Shot Down In Italy

    An anonymous reader writes Italy's High Court has struck a blow to the practice of forcing non-free software on buyers of PCs and laptops. According to La Repubblica, the court ruled on Thursday that a laptop buyer was entitled to receive a refund for the price of the Microsoft Windows license on his computer. The judges sharply criticised the practice of selling PCs only together with a non-free operating system as "a commercial policy of forced distribution". The court slammed this practice as "monopolistic in tendency." It also highlighted that the practice of bundling means that end users are forced into using additional non-free applications due to compatibility and interoperability issues, whether they wanted these programs or not. "This decision is both welcome and long overdue", said Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe. "No vendor should be allowed to cram non-free software down the throats of users."

    418 comments | 5 days ago

  • Turning the Tables On "Phone Tech Support" Scammers

    mask.of.sanity writes A security pro has released a Metasploit module that can take over computers running the Ammyy Admin remote control software popular among "Hi this is Microsoft, there's a problem with your computer" tech support scammers. The hack detailed in Matthew Weeks' technical post works from the end-user, meaning victims can send scammers the hijacking exploit when they request access to their machines. Victims should provide scammers with their external IP addresses rather than their Ammyy identity numbers as the exploit was not yet built to run over the Ammyy cloud, according to the exploit readme. This is much more efficient than just playing along but "accidentally" being unable to follow their instructions.

    208 comments | 5 days ago

  • Hewlett-Packard Pleads Guilty To Bribing Officials in Russia, Poland, and Mexico

    Charliemopps writes Hewlett-Packard and three subsidiaries pleaded guilty Thursday to paying bribes to foreign officials in Russia, Mexico and Poland and agreed to pay $108 million in criminal and regulatory penalties. For over 10 years Hewlett-Packard kept 2 sets of books to track slush-funds they used to bribe government officials for favorable contracts. From the article: According to the Justice Department, HP Poland paid more than $600,000 in cash bribes and gifts, travel and entertainment to the the police agency's director of information and communications technology. HP Poland gave the government official bags filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash, provided the official with HP desktop and laptop computers, mobile devices and other products and took the official on a leisure trip to Las Vegas, which included a private tour flight over the Grand Canyon, the Justice Department said. The foreign officials probably weren't reporting the income on their taxes, either.

    110 comments | 5 days ago

  • German Court: Google Must Stop Ignoring Customer E-mails

    jfruh writes If you send an email to support-de@google.com, Google's German support address, you'll receive an automatic reply informing you that Google will not respond to or even read your message, due to the large number of emails received at that address. Now a German court has ruled (PDF) that this is an unacceptable response, based on a German law saying that companies must provide a means for customers to communicate with them. Update: 09/12 15:47 GMT by S : Updated to fix the links.

    287 comments | 5 days ago

  • UK Ham Radio Reg Plans To Drop 15 min Callsign Interval and Allow Encryption

    First time accepted submitter product_bucket writes A consultation published by the UK Radio Regulator Ofcom seeks views on its plan to remove the mandatory 15 minute callsign identifier interval for amateur radio licensees. The regulator also intends to permit the use of encryption by a single volunteer emergency communications organization. The consultation is open until 20th October, and views are sought by interested parties.

    104 comments | 5 days ago

  • U.S. Threatened Massive Fine To Force Yahoo To Release Data

    Advocatus Diaboli writes The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user data that the company believed was unconstitutional, according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the NSA's controversial PRISM program. The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government's demands. The company's loss required Yahoo to become one of the first to begin providing information to PRISM, a program that gave the National Security Agency extensive access to records of online communications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms.

    223 comments | 5 days ago

  • Net Neutrality Comments Surge Past 1.7M, an All-Time Record For the FCC

    An anonymous reader writes Following Wednesday's Internet Slowdown campaign, the Federal Communications Commission says it has now received a total of 1,750,435 comments on net neutrality, surpassing the approximately 1.4 million complaints it saw after the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. Wednesday saw citizens submit more than 700,000 new comments to the FCC, and place more than 300,000 calls to the agency.

    81 comments | 5 days ago

  • CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

    jfbilodeau writes The CBC is warning Canadians about a U.S. program where America law enforcement officers — from federal agents to state troopers right down to sheriffs in one-street backwaters — are operating a vast, co-ordinated scheme to grab as much of the public's cash as they can through seizure laws. "So, for any law-abiding Canadian thinking about an American road trip, here’s some non-official advice: Avoid long chats if you’re pulled over. Answer questions politely and concisely, then persistently ask if you are free to go. Don’t leave litter on the vehicle floor, especially energy drink cans. Don’t use air or breath fresheners; they could be interpreted as an attempt to mask the smell of drugs. Don’t be too talkative. Don’t be too quiet. Try not to wear expensive designer clothes. Don’t have tinted windows. And for heaven’s sake, don’t consent to a search if you are carrying a big roll of legitimate cash.

    461 comments | 5 days ago

  • Accused Ottawa Cyberbully Facing 181 Charges Apologizes

    Freshly Exhumed writes The day Robert James Campbell quit his job, he went home and started plotting revenge against everyone he felt had wronged him in life. He says he didn't leave his Ottawa apartment for seven months. The online campaign of harassment and hatred he's accused of launching spanned more than a decade. He is accused of creating fake online profiles to destroy reputations in short order, presenting his targets to the world as child predators, members of a Nazi party, exotic dancers and prostitutes. Police roused Campbell on the morning of July 31 and arrested him on 181 charges of criminal harassment, identity theft and defamatory libel. Campbell publicly apologized to his alleged victims and says he has instructed his lawyer to file a guilty plea.

    140 comments | 5 days ago

  • Top EU Court: Libraries Can Digitize Books Without Publishers' Permission

    jfruh writes The top European court has ruled that libraries have the right to digitize the contents of the books in their collections, even if the copyright holders on those books don't want them to. There's a catch, though: those digitized versions can only be accessed on dedicated terminals in the library itself. If library patrons want to print the book out or download it to a thumb drive, they will need to pay the publisher.

    102 comments | 5 days ago

  • Cuba Calculates Cost of 54yr US Embargo At $1.1 Trillion

    First time accepted submitter ltorvalds11 writes Cuba says its economy is suffering a "systematic worsening" due to a US embargo, the consequences of which Havana places at $1.1 trillion since Washington imposed the sanctions in 1960, taking into account the depreciation of the dollar against gold. "There is not, and there has not been in the world, such a terrorizing and vile violation of human rights of an entire people than the blockade that the US government has been leading against Cuba for 55 years," Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno told reporters. He also blamed the embargo for the difficulties in accessing internet on the island, saying that the United States creates an obstacle for companies providing broadband services in Cuba. Additionally, he said that the area is one of the "most sensitive" to the embargo, with economic losses estimated at $34.2 million. It is also the sector that has fallen "victim of all kinds of attacks" by the US, as violations of the Cuban radio or electronic space "promote destabilization" of Cuban society, the report notes. The damage to Cuban foreign trade between April 2013 and June 2014 amounted to $3.9 billion, the report said. Without the embargo, Cuba could have earned $205.8 million selling products such as rum and cigars to US consumers. Barack Obama last week signed the one-year extension of the embargo on Cuba, based on the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, created to restrict trade with countries hostile to the U.S..

    530 comments | about a week ago

  • Researcher Fired At NSF After Government Questions Her Role As 1980s Activist

    sciencehabit writes Valerie Barr was a tenured professor of computer science at Union College in Schenectady, New York, with a national reputation for her work improving computing education and attracting more women and minorities into the field. But federal investigators say that Barr lied during a routine background check about her affiliations with a domestic terrorist group that had ties to the two organizations to which she had belonged in the early 1980s. On 27 August, NSF said that her 'dishonest conduct' compelled them to cancel her temporary assignment immediately, at the end of the first of what was expected to be a 2-year stint. Colleagues who decry Barr's fate worry that the incident could make other scientists think twice about coming to work for NSF. In addition, Barr's case offers a rare glimpse into the practices of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an obscure agency within the White House that wields vast power over the entire federal bureaucracy through its authority to vet recently hired workers.

    499 comments | about a week ago

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