• Lawmakers want to know scope of federal agencies’ use of cellphone tracking technology

    Members of the House Oversight Committee on Monday sent letters to the heads of twenty-four federal agencies asking them whether or not their agencies employ the StingRay cell phone tracking technology. The technology simulates a cell phone tower so it can collect information on mobile phones and their users. The letters are indicative of a growing unease with the unregulated use of the technology by federal agencies.

  • German spy agency spied on FBI, UN bodies, and German citizens: Report

    BND, Germany’s intelligence service, spied on the FBI, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, UNICEF — the UN Children’s Fund, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the World Health Organization, among many other targets. What may upset many Germans is the fact that the list of BND surveillance targets also included German citizens. Germany has strict privacy laws and German citizens are not allowed to be spied on without a thorough review by the courts.

  • Microwave absorber may advance radar cloaking for stealth missions

    Microwave absorbers are a kind of material that can effectively absorb incident microwave energy to make objects invisible to radar; therefore they are commonly used in aircraft cloaking and warship stealth. Recently, as radar detection devices have been improved to detect the near-meter microwave length regime, scientists are working on high-performance absorbers that can cloak objects in the equivalent ultra-high frequency regime (from 300 megahertz to two gigahertz). Conventional absorbers for the ultra-high regime, however, are usually thick, heavy, or have narrow absorption bandwidth, making them unsuitable for stealth missions. To solve this problem, researchers have developed an ultra-thin, tunable broadband microwave absorber for ultra-high frequency applications.

  • NSA phone metadata collection program “likely violates constitution”: Judge

    Washington, D.C. district court judge Richard Leon, ruling on Monday against the National Security Agency (NSA), said that the agency’s bulk phone metadata collection “likely violates the constitution.” Judge Leon, ruling in a case brought by conservative activist attorney Larry Klayman, said that the NSA must immediately end collecting the defendants’ information. Leon said he believed it was “substantially likely” that “the program is unlawful,” and that in that event, “the plaintiffs have suffered concrete harm traceable to the challenged program.”

  • Actions can change outcomes of wildfires in wildland urban interface (WUI)

    The ten years since 2002 saw an annual average of nearly 71,000 wildland urban interface (WUI) fires recorded and 1.9 million hectares (4.7 million acres) burned. Today, more than 32 percent of U.S. housing units and one-tenth of all land with housing are situated in the nation’s 89 million hectares (220 million acres) of WUI, putting approximately 72,000 communities and more than 120 million people at risk. A new study demonstrates that prompt and effective action can significantly change the outcome of fires that occur in WUI — areas where residential communities and undeveloped wildlands meet.

  • Fighting fire with research results

    Every year, devastating forest fires take place in Europe and around the world, destroying thousands of hectares of forests and severely impacting citizens and the environment. EU-funded research teams, mindful of the current and future risks, have been focusing their efforts on developing systems and tools that can help avert disaster.

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  • Berkeley modifies Suspicious Activity Reports guidelines

    The Berkeley City Council members said in a meeting last week that Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), an initiative of the DHS which, through regional and national agencies, disseminates to local law enforcement information on possible terrorist threats, has the potential of criminalizing innocent people. Members of the council agreed that in order to prevent hurting innocent people, the council should adopt a Police Review Commission recommendation to modify Berkeley Police Department orders on Suspicious Activity Reporting. The modification aims to make sure that SARs can be filed “only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct.”

  • U.K., U.S. responds differently to Snowden’s revelations about domestic surveillance

    Legal analysts note that the United States and the United Kingdom have responded differently to the Snowden revelations. While in the United States steps have been taken to limit the NSA’s domestic surveillance powers, the United Kingdom is going in the other direction. The British government on Wednesday published draft legislation on surveillance and investigative powers – a legislation which is the government’s response to the documents leaked by Snowden. The U.K.’s draft bill not only embeds bulk data collection in law, but it enhances the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

  • DNA identification may not be as reliable as previously thought

    Increasingly important to criminal investigations, DNA analysis once required substantial samples of blood or other bodily fluids, but advances in the field now make it possible to produce a complete genetic profile of a suspect from just a few cells left behind — so-called “touch DNA.” A new study shows that secondary transfer of human DNA through intermediary contact is far more common than previously thought, a finding that could have serious repercussions for medical science and the criminal justice system.

  • West Coast lawmakers ask Obama for $16.1 million to complete earthquake early warning system

    Last Wednesday thirty-six Members of Congress from western states urged President Barack Obama and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to increase the funding level for earthquake hazards programs in their 2017 budget request — more specifically, to provide $16.1 million dollars in funding for an on-shore Earthquake Early Warning System (EEW) being developed by scientists in Southern California and along the West Coast. The lawmakers say that such an early warning system would be helpful in providing residents and first responders with advance notice that could help save lives, avoid injuries, and avert major infrastructure damage by slowing trains to prevent derailment, stopping elevators, pausing surgeries, and taking other actions in the event of a major earthquake.

  • Climate change heightening the risk of conflict and war

    Thirty of Australia’s leading minds from defense, academia, policy think tanks, and other government agencies have joined together for discussions over two days last week for Australia’s first climate security summit. The summit participants agreed that increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns, and more frequent and severe extreme weather events are heightening the risk of conflict and increasing the displacement of people. The summit organizers quote Brigadier-General Wendell Christopher King (Ret.), the Chief Academic Officer at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, who said: “[Climate change] is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years — there is no exit-strategy.”

  • U.K. surveillance bill debate: Judicial warrants vs. ministerial authorization for intercepts

    Former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis has said that the plans to grant police and intelligence agencies new powers to monitor suspects online will not get through parliament without a requirement for judges to sign off on spying warrants. A legal report written at the request of Home Secretary Theresa May recommended that judicial warrant rather than a ministerial authorization be required for intercepting individuals’ communications. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, however, recommended in March that ministerial authorization would be preferable. A draft of a new investigatory powers bill will be published Wednesday, and May said she would “be explaining the government’s position to parliament this week.”

  • Legislation would give U.K. police powers to access U.K. computer users’ browsing history

    The U.K. police and intelligence service, ahead of the publication this coming Wednesday of legislation on regulating surveillance powers, have urged the government to give them the power to view the Internet browsing history of British computer users. Senior officers were pressuring the government to revive measures which would require telecommunications companies to retain for twelve months data which would reveal Web sites visited by customers. The police and intelligence agencies argue that such measures are necessary because the scale of online activity has made traditional methods of surveillance and investigation less useful.

  • IRS commissioner confirms agency employs cellphone tracking devices

    IRS commissioner John Koskinen on Tuesday confirmed to lawmakers that his agency employed StingRay cellphone tracking devices. Koskinen said that the agency’s use of StingRay devices is limited to its criminal investigations division, which is responsible of investigating money laundering, terrorism, and organized crime cases. “It can only be used with a court order. It can only be used based on probable cause of criminal activity,” Koskinen said, the Hill reports. “It is not used in civil matters at all,” he continued. “It’s not used by other employees of the IRS.”

  • Online residential fire simulation tool for training firefighters

    Firefighting is not what it used to be. Whether it is a complex blaze raging in an urban high-rise or a seemingly straightforward single-level home fire, modern building construction and furnishings have made fighting fires more difficult: Flames burn hotter, produce more smoke, and spread more quickly. But fire research has advanced, too, and researchers are working with five major urban fire departments to build new knowledge on modern residential firefighting into game-based online simulations with an engaging, dynamic format.