Child laborers are mining cobalt for the devices of major tech companies like Apple, Samsung and Sony, alleges a report issued Tuesday. Amnesty International and African Resources Watch issued a report suspecting that the supply chains of these major electronics companies are using child labor, partly because they have failed to make basic checks to halt these actions.

The report traces the harvesting and sale of cobalt in the poverty-stricken Democratic Republic of Congo — where children as young as seven work the mines. The cobalt is used in lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones and electric cars. The DRC is listed in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Worst Forms of Child Labor report, and goods made under those conditions are listed in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

Amnesty International contacted 16 companies listed as customers of the battery manufacturers that reportedly sourced processed ore from the DRC. Half the worlds cobalt comes from this country, specifically.  None of the firms contacted could provide documentation to prove where their cobalt originated. Apple stated in a letter that “…underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards.” Samsung SDI does not have any transactions with Huayou Cobalt, the company said in a statement.

“Amnesty would like to see the home state countries — U.S., China, Japan, etc. — conduct human rights due diligence on their cobalt supplies,” reported author Mark Dummett. “An effective lasting solution to a complex problem such as this is going to require a collaborative approach with government, civil society, subject matter experts and multiple industries,” said Deborah Albers, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, said.


Article via TechNewsWorld, 20 January 2016

Photo: Conflict minerals 4 – Lezhnev by ENOUGH Project [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Facebook is promising to fight hate speech amid the European refugee crisis.

“In the past year, we’ve seen millions of people come together online to support refugees and stand in solidarity with the victims of terror attacks,” wrote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a post on Monday. “But we’ve also heard voices of hate growing louder. With extremism damaging lives and societies across the world, challenging those voices has never been more important.”

The company did not disclose a particular plan, but they did announce the Online Civil Courage Initiative, meant to empower users to fight against hate speech. It also appears that Facebook will be backing more powerful non-governmental organizations which are already involved in fighting radicalism and hate speech online.

The Online Civil Courage initiative is yet another effort to prevent hate speech on social media. In December, Facebook and other companies like Google and Twitter agreed to remove instances of hate speech within 24 hours, in accordance with an agreement with Germany authorities. German politicians and celebrities also voiced concern about rising hatred on social media, as nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees entered the country in 2015 alone. Last August, Germany’s minister of justice asked Facebook to remove racist posts targeting asylum seekers.  Three months after that prosecutors opened a criminal investigation because they suspected that Facebook failed to take down a wave of anti-immigrant posts on the social network, inciting racial hatred.

Following the terror attacks in Paris, France also called on Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google and Microsoft to combat extremist propaganda and expand safety tools in the event of a future attack.

“Hate speech has no place online — or in society,” Sandberg said. “Together, we can make sure the voices of peace, truth and tolerance are heard. Love is louder than hate.”


Article via Mashable, 19 January 2016

Photo:Facebook icon by Jurgen Appelo[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

President Obama is ordering the federal government to study smart gun technology.

On Monday, Obama told the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to look into smart gun technology, such as fingerprint and radio-frequency identification. The goals are to track lost or stolen guns and to prevent accidental gunfire. The president cited a 2013 Department of Justice report as inspiration for the studying smart gun technology. Obama was quoted saying that “…the (DOJ) made clear that technological advancement in this area could help reduce accidental deaths and the use of stolen guns in criminal activities…”

These actions and others were addressed in a speech from the White House on Tuesday by the President. Obama outlined this memo and other executive actions meant to tackle gun violence. This speech comes one month after 14 people in San Bernardino, California were fatally shot by a couple influenced by radical islamic beliefs. In response, gun sales rose sharply amid fear of extremists.

In addition to encouraging gun safety, these executive actions will expand background checks in order to  close the “gun show loophole”. This loophole allows gun dealers conducting business at gun shows or online to do so without conducting background checks. Current laws exempts gun collectors and hobbyists from conducting background checks before selling a firearm.

Although The President’s recommendations are consistent with the Second Amendment and supported by the “overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners”, it is unlikely to find support among gun rights groups. These groups have stated that smart technology is a way for the federal government to track gun owners.

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement Tuesday that the NRA would not allow “law-abiding gun owners to become scapegoats for President Obama’s failed policies…The NRA will continue to fight to protect the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed under our Constitution.”

Obama plans to address gun violence during a nationally televised town hall meeting at George Mason University in Virginia on Thursday night. In his speech Tuesday, he recalled the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 children and six teachers dead. Obama stated, “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad”.

In his memo, he continues with that sentiment stating that “…developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority…”

Article via CNET, 6 January 2016

Photo: 44 by SAL [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, French law enforcement is considering banning public wi-fi. According to leaked documents by the French Ministry of the Interior, law enforcement wants to secure the Tor network when a state of emergency is declared by banning the use of the public wi-fi all together. The French newspaper La Monde  is said to have leaked the documents.

The city of Paris currently has over 300 locations that are serviced by public wi-fi and the Tor network. French law enforcement believes that public networks makes it harder to catch suspected terrorists who might be using the network to communicate to each other. The Tor network allows anonymity online and has also been used as a secure network for a drug marketplace. It is currently unclear if the Tor network was used during the Paris attacks and French law enforcement authorities are cautious about its possible use for ISIS communication in the future.

Blocking the Tor network completely would present a challenge for the French government. China is the only country that blocks Tor outright. To achieve this, the Chinese government has to block public entry nodes to the Tor network. In addition, China has to lookout for secret entry nodes. Unlike China, France promotes online freedom for its citizens. Therefore blocking the Tor network would infringe on the rights of French citizens. Since French law enforcement does not know if blocking Tor will have an effect on the ability for terrorist groups to communicate, it is a big risk. Encrypted social media chat apps like WhatsApp, in theory, are easier ways for terrorist groups to communicate without worrying about interference from the government.

The debate over privacy and national security seems to have just gotten started. New legislation that includes these stipulations may be presented to the French Parliament as early as January 2016. 

Article via Mashable, 8 December 2015

Photo: Paris November 2015 via Roberto Maldeno [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Five years ago, companies like and 23andMe provided the option of genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic tests for customers who submitted DNA samples. At the time, privacy advocates warned of the potential risks of letting businesses collect genetic databases.

Privacy advocate Jeremy Gruber summed it up in 2010 when he said that genetic material “has serious information about you and your family.” This information, if used beyond the purposes of genealogy tracing, has big implications in law enforcement and government tracking. Wired magazine cautioned, “Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect.”

Currently, the FBI keeps a national genetic database of the DNA of convicts and arrestees. Both companies’ privacy policies state that upon court order, DNA information will be given to law enforcement. Yet, as Wired implicated, people have been wrongly accused of crimes for DNA near-matches in the past.

23andMe recently launched a transparency report, similar to other major tech companies that receive government requests for consumer information, within the next month.

“In the event we are required by law to make a disclosure, we will notify the affected customer through the contact information provided to us, unless doing so would violate the law or a court order,” said the company’s first privacy officer Kate Black. will not state explicitly how many government data requests the company has recieved.

“On occasion when required by law to do so… we have cooperated with law enforcement and the courts to provide only the specific information requested,” said a spokesperson.

Article via Fusion, October 16, 2015

Photo: DNA isolation 5 via Patrick Alexander [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

A number of forensic devices use proprietary software to convict defendants. Breathalyzers, DNA testing, facial recognition, and other tools are not fail-proof mechanisms, but rather coded programs designed to test variables accurately. Unfortunately, these devices don’t always achieve that goal, and rulings in California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida have determined that defendants are not legally granted access to the code that indicts them.

In California, for instance, Defendant Martell Chubbs is sentenced for a cold case murder committed in 1977. The only evidence is a DNA match configured by a proprietary software program. Chubbs requested access to the software’s source code so that he could compare the code to the currently established scientific procedure for DNA matching. He was denied on the grounds that the defense attorney might duplicate the code, resulting in financial losses for the manufacturer.

It’s not unreasonable that a forensic tool would be miscoded, either intentionally or not. The major car company Volkswagon had a recent scandal that highlighted intentional software glitches employed by well-known, regulated manufacturers. The company manipulated its code to cheat emission tests for 11 million diesel cars, each producing smog at 40 times the legal limit. Volkswagon’s actions carry the weight of an important message: any software program used for public purposes may contain mistakes, and those mistakes will never be discovered if the code is proprietary.

The Innocence Project found that debauched forensic science resulted in the wrongful convictions of 47 percent of exonerees. President Obama has stated that if cross-examination isn’t fair and thorough, forensic testimony is “nothing more than trial by ambush.”

Article via Future Tense, 6 October 2015

Photo: 2009 Gabrielli Family Law Moot Court Competition via Wake Forest University school of Law [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]