Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Leading voting-machine vendor vows to ditch paperless voting

June 10th, 2019
A woman gestures during a presentation.

Enlarge / Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) co-sponsored the Secure Elections Act with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). (credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Election Systems & Software, which describes itself as the nation’s leading elections-equipment provider, has vowed to stop selling paperless electronic voting systems—at least as the "primary voting device in a jurisdiction." And the company is calling on Congress to pass legislation mandating paper ballots and raising security standards for voting machines.

"Congress must pass legislation establishing a more robust testing program—one that mandates that all voting-machine suppliers submit their systems to stronger, programmatic security testing conducted by vetted and approved researchers," writes ES&S CEO Tom Burt in an op-ed for Roll Call.

Over the last 18 months, election-security advocates have been pushing for new legislation shoring up the nation's election infrastructure. Election-security reform proposals enjoy significant support among Democrats—who control the House of Representatives—and have picked up some Republican co-sponsors, too.

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Posted in electronic voting machines, Policy, Secure Elections Act | Comments (0)

Comcast’s fight against racial-bias lawsuit is taken up by Supreme Court

June 10th, 2019
A Comcast sign at the Comcast offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Enlarge / A Comcast sign at the Comcast offices in Philadelphia. (credit: Getty Images | Cindy Ord )

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Comcast appeal in a case centering on whether the telecommunications giant discriminated against an African American-owned TV network operator by refusing to carry the company's channels on its cable service.

The case involves Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which claimed that Comcast's refusal to carry ESN channels was racially motivated. Comcast tried to get the case thrown out of court before the central claim of racial bias could be ruled upon. But in November 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the case can move forward to a trial, saying that a US District Court improperly granted Comcast's motion to dismiss ESN's complaint.

Comcast subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case. It told the court that ESN's claim is based on the purported existence of "an outlandish racist plot against '100% African American-owned media companies'—a contrived racial category gerrymandered to include Plaintiffs and virtually no one else."

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Posted in Comcast, Policy | Comments (0)

Facebook bans health and conspiracy site Natural News

June 10th, 2019
Facebook bans health and conspiracy site Natural News

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Facebook on Sunday removed the prominent health and conspiracy site Natural News from its platform and banned its incendiary founder from posting content.

Though Facebook did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment on the suspension, Facebook’s move comes just a day after The Daily Beast published a report into the wild, far-right conspiracy theories that have become staples on Natural News.

The Beast’s article noted that Natural News began as an alternative health site that railed against evidence-based medicine and touted organic foods, unproven “natural” remedies, and pseudoscience such as homeopathy—all while hawking supplements. Over the years, it has morphed into a conspiracy-laden smorgasbord of far-right theories. Now, between pop-up advertisements for probioitics, guides on diets that supposedly prevent parasitic infections, and an article claiming that sprouts are a “superfood,” Natural News readers find articles with headlines, such as “This is what the Left has become: Targeting retarded children for transgender indoctrination,” “LGBT progressivism horrors: Parents to start physically maiming their own babies to slice off all ‘gender’ organs in the name of progressivism and ‘equality,’” and “All white people are being removed from history as revisionists rewrite science, medicine and technology to eliminate pioneers based on the color of their skin.”

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Posted in alternative medicine, Europe Vs Facebook, Facebook, health misinformation, natural news, Policy, Pseudoscience, science, supplements | Comments (0)

Congress drops proposal to ban the IRS from competing with Turbotax

June 7th, 2019
Congress drops proposal to ban the IRS from competing with Turbotax

Enlarge (credit: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TurboTax)

Lawmakers are planning to drop a proposal to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from offering a free online tax-filing option, Politico and Pro Publica report. The provision was included in the Taxpayer First Act, which passed the House in April but has not passed the Senate. It was backed by the makers of private tax preparation software, including Intuit (makers of TurboTax) and H&R Block.

The IRS doesn't currently offer a free online tax filing option. Instead, since 2003 the agency has had a standing deal with companies like Intuit and H&R Block to offer free versions of their products to customers with modest incomes and simple tax situations. In exchange, the IRS promised not to offer an online filing program of its own. Around 70 percent of all tax filers are eligible for the companies' free versions.

This legislative proposal would have made this arrangement permanent. Companies would have continued to offer free versions of their software to most taxpayers, while the IRS would officially be prohibited from creating an online tax filing site of its own.

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Posted in IRS, Policy, TurboTax | Comments (0)

Comcast broke law 445,000 times in scheme to inflate bills, judge finds

June 7th, 2019
The back of a Comcast van driving along a street in Sunnyvale, California.

Enlarge / A Comcast van in Sunnyvale, California, in November 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Andrei Stanescu)

Comcast yesterday was ordered to refund nearly 50,000 customers and pay a $9.1 million fine when a judge ruled that it violated the Washington state consumer protection law hundreds of thousands of times.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Comcast in August 2016, accusing the nation's largest cable company of tricking customers into buying a "near-worthless 'protection plan' without disclosing its significant limitations."

Buying the $5-per-month plan ostensibly prevented customers from having to pay each time a Comcast technician visited their home to fix problems covered by the plan. But in reality the plan did not cover the vast majority of wiring problems, the AG's lawsuit said. Moreover, Washington state attorneys said that Comcast led customers to believe that they needed to buy a Service Protection Plan (SPP) to get services that were actually covered for free by the company's "Customer Guarantee."

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Posted in Comcast, Policy | Comments (0)

Phone companies can block robocalls by default starting today, FCC says

June 6th, 2019
Illustration of a robot wearing a phone headset.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to let phone companies block robocalls by default even when consumers have not opted in to robocall-blocking services.

The FCC said it "approved a Declaratory Ruling to affirm that voice service providers may, as the default, block unwanted calls based on reasonable call analytics, as long as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking."

Phone providers already block robocalls on an opt-in basis, sometimes charging consumers for the blocking services. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the commission's rules were vague as to whether robocall blocking is legal on an opt-out basis but that today's ruling will fix that problem.

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Posted in FCC, Policy, robocalls | Comments (0)

New SEC lawsuit could decide the fate of dozens of blockchain projects

June 6th, 2019
Kik CEO Ted Livingston.

Enlarge / Kik CEO Ted Livingston. (credit: Alex Flynn/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a lawsuit against social media company Kik over its creation and sale of a cryptocurrency called Kin back in 2017. Kik is vowing to fight the lawsuit, setting the stage for a landmark ruling on how securities laws apply to the sale of digital tokens online.

The case is important because the Kin sale was one of thousands of so-called initial coin offerings held in the last three years. The Kin sale generated almost $100 million in revenue, and coin offerings have collectively raised billions of dollars. Most organizers did not file the kind of disclosure forms that the law requires for conventional stock sales.

The big question is whether the law required them to do so. We don't yet have a clear answer, largely because the SEC has been slow to address the issue.

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Posted in howey test, kik, kin, Policy, SEC, securities laws | Comments (0)

YouTube bans neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denial videos in push against hate speech

June 5th, 2019
An illustration of YouTube's logo behind barbed wire.

Enlarge (credit: YouTube / Getty / Aurich Lawson)

YouTube today expanded its hate-speech policy to ban more supremacist videos, such as those that promote Nazi ideology. The site is also banning hoax videos that deny the existence of the Holocaust and other well-documented, violent events.

The move will likely result in bans for many white supremacist YouTubers and other people spreading hateful ideologies.

"Today, we're taking another step in our hate-speech policy by specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation, or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status," YouTube's announcement said. "This would include, for example, videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology, which is inherently discriminatory. Finally, we will remove content denying that well-documented violent events, like the Holocaust or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, took place."

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Posted in Biz & IT, hate speech, Policy, YouTube | Comments (0)

Baltimore’s bill for ransomware: Over $18 million, so far

June 5th, 2019
Baltimore City Hall, where the ransomware battle continues.

Enlarge / Baltimore City Hall, where the ransomware battle continues. (credit: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE—It has been a month since the City of Baltimore's networks were brought to a standstill by ransomware. On Tuesday, Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young and his cabinet briefed press on the status of the cleanup, which the city's director of finance has estimated will cost Baltimore $10 million—not including $8 million lost because of deferred or lost revenue while the city was unable to process payments. The recovery remains in its early stages, with less than a third of city employees issued new log-in credentials thus far and many city business functions restricted to paper-based workarounds.

"All city services remain open, and Baltimore is open for business," Mayor Young said at the briefing, listing off critical services that had continued to function during the network outage. City Finance Director Henry Raymond called the current state of systems "not ideal, but manageable"—some emails and phone services have been restored, and many systems have remained online, but payment processing systems and other tools used to handle transactions with the city remain in manual workaround mode. Department of Public Works director Rudy Chow warned residents to expect a larger-than-normal water bill in the future, as the city's smart meters and water billing system are still offline and bills cannot be generated.

Parking tickets and tickets generated by the city's speed and red light cameras can be paid in person if the ticket is in hand. The city has regained the data for all parking and camera-generated violations up to May 4, but it still lacks the ability to look up violations without the physical paper ticket or process payments electronically, city officials said. And the same is true for many other interactions with the city, which currently require mailing or hand-delivering paper documents and manual workarounds.

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Posted in Baltimore ransomware attack, Biz & IT, EternalBlue, FBI, IoT, Maryland, NSA, Policy | Comments (0)

Verizon avoided a decade’s worth of taxes—a new law could make it pay up

June 4th, 2019
A Verizon logo on top of a black background.

Enlarge / A Verizon logo at GSMA Mobile World Congress 2019 on February 26, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (credit: Getty Images | David Ramos)

Verizon has avoided paying local taxes on telecom equipment in many New Jersey municipalities over the past decade, but a proposed state law would force the company to pay back taxes for all the payments it didn't make.

The bill, filed on May 23 by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D–Paulsboro), "would force Verizon to pay local taxes on telephone poles, lines, land, and other equipment that the telecom giant has refused to fork over in an increasing number of New Jersey municipalities, starving them of tens of millions of dollars a year in tax revenue," The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. As of 2015, Verizon had reportedly stopped paying the tax in more than 150 of the 565 municipalities in New Jersey.

The tax Verizon has avoided ranges from $15,000 to more than $1 million a year for each municipality, taking revenue away from local budgets or forcing residents and other businesses to cover the shortfalls. Despite not paying tax in many cities and towns, local officials point out that Verizon "continues to benefit from the use of municipalities' poles, utility lines, and switching facilities even when it no longer pays taxes," a 2015 Inquirer article said.

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Posted in Biz & IT, New Jersey, Policy, taxes, telecom, verizon | Comments (0)