Congress has discovered privacy as another issue for hearings

Try Preparation H

Mobile privacy safeguards should also extend to third-party application developers, two lawmakers said after reviewing the practices of four major U.S. wireless carriers.

Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton, co-chairs of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, released on Thursday letters they received from Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile in response to their inquiries last month about the collection, use and storage of location data.

The letters showed the wireless carriers generally asked customers before accessing their location data.

But developers of popular mobile phone applications were less than forthcoming about their tracking.

“Third-party developers can access the location of customers any time they want,” Barton said. “They shouldn’t have free reign over your location data and personally identifiable information.”

Markey echoed this sentiment, saying consumer privacy protections must apply “across the entire wireless ecosystem — from wireless carriers, to mobile handset makers, to application developers.”

Markey and Barton grew concerned about location tracking after media reports found that Deutsche Telekom AG tracked the exact coordinates of a German politician using its service over a six-month period…

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller will hold a hearing in May on consumer protection and privacy in the mobile marketplace. Senator Al Franken said on Thursday both Google and Apple would attend his May 10 hearing, the first by the new Senate judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law.

It is unclear if this legislative scrutiny will lead to strict new privacy laws that will include app developers.

It is also unclear if this legislative scrutiny will lead to anything useful at all. Congress becoming interested in privacy for American citizens is the ultimate in hypocrisy after rolling over and sticking all four feet in the air, passing and re-passing the so-called Patriot Act. More likely they’ll try to add a provision requiring a backdoor for the NSA.

Criminal liars.

Got leprosy? Any armadillos in your life?

Every year, about 150 Americans are diagnosed with leprosy, a disease that disfigures the skin and affects the nervous system. Two-thirds of these people pick it up while traveling overseas, but the source of the remaining third has long been a mystery. Where did these patients, most of them from Texas and Louisiana, catch leprosy?

Research published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine points strongly to an unlikely source — the armadillo.

In the NEJM study, Richard Truman and his colleagues…used several genetic markers to analyze strains of Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria that causes leprosy, in humans and armadillos in the U.S. and South America.

Some of the American leprosy patients had familiar strains that have shown up in other countries, but others had a never-before-seen strain that was also found in American armadillos. The researchers concluded that wild armadillos and many patients with leprosy in the southern United States are infected with the same strain of M. leprae.

This discovery has led some to compare leprosy to other infectious diseases that leaped from animals to humans. Many speculate that flu came from water fowl, and it’s pretty well-established that HIV came from chimpanzees. But with leprosy, the opposite is true. We infected them.

Truman says there was no leprosy in the New World until European settlers arrived. Somehow armadillos contracted the disease, and now about 15 percent of armadillos carry it…

The more likely path to infection is by noshing on armadillo. “People become infected because of direct contact with raw armadillo flesh that has been butchered in some way or another,” he says.

In Texas and other southern states, barbecued armadillo and armadillo chili are folk favorites. Avoiding handling and consuming armadillo meat will drastically reduce the already small risk posed by armadillos, Truman says.

I hope those of you inclined to eat armadillo – road kill or otherwise – will be careful.

Chip satellites get test run on Endeavour’s final launch

A group of Cornell-developed, fingernail-sized satellites may travel to Saturn within the next decade, and as they flutter down through its atmosphere, they will collect data about chemistry, radiation and particle impacts.

Three prototypes of these chip satellites, named “Sprite,” will be mounted on the International Space Station after the space shuttle Endeavour delivers them on its final flight, which is scheduled to launch Friday, April 29…

The thin, 1-inch-square chips, in development for three years in the lab of Mason Peck, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will be mounted to the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8) pallet, which will be attached to the space station, exposing them to the harsh conditions of space to see how they hold up and transmit data…

“Their small size allows them to travel like space dust,” said Peck. “Blown by solar winds, they can ‘sail’ to distant locations without fuel. … We’re actually trying to create a new capability and build it from the ground up. … We want to learn what’s the bare minimum we can design for communication from space,” Peck said…

The prototypes are physically identical, but each transmits differently. “They all emit at the same frequency … [but] they are different and distinct from each other in ways that we can recognize on the ground,” said Peck. “That’s very important because it’s a pathfinder for something we hope to do in the future. We want to launch a huge number of these things simultaneously but still sort out which is which.”

“We’re seeing such an explosion in personal electronics … all these components are super high performance, and they have far outstripped what the aerospace industry has at its disposal,” said Peck.

Bravo. Another first step in space exploration.

Join the Uterati – fight back against Republican censorship!

In Florida, “uterus” is a dirty word. A member of the state house of representatives drew a reprimand when he complained that while Republicans want to repeal rules and regulations on corporations, they are all hot to impose rules and regulations on individuals. Women, for example. The rightwingers who control both the house and the senate in Florida have introduced 18 bills to restrict abortion.

Representative Scott Randolph, a Democrat from Orlando, said that his wife had decided the only way to protect her rights was to, as he put it, “incorporate her uterus”. Maybe then the business sycophants of the Republican party would stop trying to micromanage it with laws circumscribing reproductive freedom. Speaker Dean Cannon said he was shocked – shocked! – at such language on the house floor, deeming it a breach of “decorum”. Stephanie Kunkel, Planned Parenthood’s Florida director, rolled her eyes: “If the speaker can’t bear to hear or say the word ‘uterus’, he shouldn’t be legislating it.” Newspaper columnists amused themselves concocting acceptable euphemisms: Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post suggests “baby garage”.

And that’s pretty much how Republicans see women – as a place to park a kid till he’s ready to pop out and go to Sunday School and learn that sex is filthy. Republican-controlled legislatures across the US are hell-bent on stopping women from exercising control over their own bodies. Florida is one of 13 states that would require women to have an ultrasound – which they would have to pay for – before terminating a pregnancy. In Indiana, Texas, Kentucky and four other states, a woman would be forced to look at the foetus. Doctors would have to describe to her, in great detail, the foetus and its physical functions. After all this, she would still have to cool her heels for several days before being permitted to actually have the abortion…

In Texas, where they’re trying to restrict RU-486, the “morning after pill”, the legislature also threatened to cut funding for low-income contraception programmes on the logic that birth control among the poor leads to increased abortion rates. That’s bad and stupid, but not as bad and stupid as what’s going on in Louisiana where Representative John LaBruzzo has introduced a bill to outlaw all abortions – no exceptions, even where the life of the mother is at risk – and charge doctors who perform abortions with “foeticide”. On 26 April, Mother Jones reported that LaBruzzo would also like to make criminals of women who have abortions, but that he may remove that provision in his bill, making it easier to pass.

As Gloria Steinem said, so many years ago: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

I’ve been following the serious attack on freedom of choice by Republikans – about right for self-titled Libertarians. Plus the absurd assault on language by Florida Republicans. You should RTFA in the Guardian for the best precis of what’s going on. Both the criminal and laughable elements of the tale.

As is customary, most of the news-as-media-and-entertainment crowd who own American journalism have paid little attention to the political struggle and fear possible retaliation by Republicans and their Kool Aid Party brown shirts. So, there has been little coverage of the uterati event. Though it would fit nicely in with their dedication to column inches about stupidity like birthers and other racist camouflage.

Blood of Pope John Paul II goes on display this weekend – WTF?

Blood taken from Pope John Paul II before he died is to go on display at his beatification on Sunday.

One of four small vials of blood removed from John Paul during his final days will be used, the Vatican said in a statement…

More than 50 heads of state and several hundred thousand pilgrims are expected to travel to Rome for the beatification, a step before full sainthood.

After the death of John Paul, two of the vials of blood were given to the late pope’s private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, now archbishop of Krakow, Poland. The other two – one of which will be used for Sunday’s beatification – were left in the care of nuns at the Vatican’s Bambin Gesu hospital.

The vial will be placed in a “precious reliquary” prepared specially for the occasion by the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations.

After being extracted, the blood was mixed with an anti-coagulant in the container to ensure it remained liquid.

“The blood and hair, these are from of the pope’s body, so these are relics of the first degree,” Cardinal Dziwisz told AFP.

Remind me some time how organized religion is supposed to be more sophisticated and advanced than primitive shaman in some remote society without a written language or history.

Seems to me – laying out pomp and circumstances with leftover bits and pieces of a corpse is reasonably backwards. What body parts do we get to worship next?

Round 1 Goes to the FBI vs. Coreflood Botnet

The FBI’s unprecedented effort to behead the Coreflood botnet — comprising millions of hacked Windows machines — appears to be working, at least for now. The bureau has tracked a dramatic decline in the number of pings from the botnet since the takedown operation began earlier this month…

The government’s efforts have “temporarily stopped Coreflood from running on infected computers in the United States,” writes the government in its filing, “and have stopped Coreflood from updating itself, thereby enabling anti-virus software vendors to release new virus signatures that can recognize the latest versions of Coreflood.”

The Justice Department asked the court to extend authorization for “Operation Adeona” for an additional 30 days, through May 25, so the feds can continue to temporarily disable the malware as it reports in from infected hosts. The court approved the request on Monday.

Interestingly, the new filing also hints that the government may soon formally seek court permission to take the next step, and actually instruct infected computers to permanently uninstall the malware. It would be the first time a government agency automatically removed code from Americans’ computers.

“The process has been successfully tested by the FBI on computers infected with Coreflood for testing purposes,” writes FBI Special Agent Briana Neumiller in a declaration to the court…

At the beginning of 2010, Coreflood encompassed more than 2 million infected machines worldwide, the majority of them in the U.S. Coreflood is malicious software used by its controllers to steal online banking credentials from a victim’s computer to loot their financial accounts. In one case, the criminals managed to initiate more than $900,000 in fraudulent wire transfers from the bank account of a defense contractor in Tennessee before they were discovered. An investment company in North Carolina lost more than $150,000 in fraudulent wire transfers.

The culture of embarrassment continues to overlay most successful uses of malicious software. The firms and individuals who have infected computers are loath to admit their carelessness and loss. Many banks don’t want these tales publicized for fear of losing accounts – even though banks are rarely penetrated.

And software companies selling defenses against such attacks usually end up sounding like a commercial for their own products – when discussing such attacks.