Supreme Court rule that police need warrants for cellphone searches

In a surprise move for privacy advocates, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that in most circumstances police cannot search the cellular phone of somebody they’ve arrested.

Modern cellphones “hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a court united behind the opinion’s expansive language. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

The Washington Post.

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Close encounters of the drone kind

Craig Whitlock at The Washington Post explores the multitude of safety issues created by flying drones in civilian airspace. In the past two years, there were 15 cases of drones flying dangerously close to passenger aircraft in the U.S. According to NASA records, there have been over 50 complaints lodged by pilots regarding improper and dangerous use of drones. Moreover, since November 2009, registered drone users–including law enforcement and university agencies–have reported 23 accidents and 236 unsafe incidents.

The report also discusses other issues, including privacy, drone “hacking” and drone “spoofing”.

The Washington Post.

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U.S. court releases redact lego memo for targeting Americans

Lifting a veil of official secrecy from President Obama’s decision to authorize the killing of an American citizen without a trial, a federal appeals court on Monday publicly released large portions of a Justice Department memo that deemed it lawful to target Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric accused of becoming a terrorist.

The Obama administration completed the memo in July 2010, more than a year before the September 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed Mr. Awlaki along with another American near him, Samir Khan, who officials have said was not specifically targeted. The memo was released in response to lawsuits filed by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

New York Times

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U.S. military drones have crashed 418 times since 2001

Drone crashesInteractive graphic here.

The Washington Post has compiled a report on the number of U.S. military drone crashes, between September 2001 and the close of 2013. There have been a total of at least 418 crashes. The reasons are varied–and a humorous example includes the following: “A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down.”

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Got fiber? The NSA’s Fiber Optic “dragnet”

NSA dragnet

The Intercept reports on a top-secret NSA program to intercept and monitor undersea fiber optic cables across the planet. These vast network, the “nervous system” of globalized communication, has been compromised in partnership with a number of willing countries.

The NSA documents state that under RAMPART-A, foreign partners “provide access to cables and host U.S. equipment.” This allows the agency to covertly tap into “congestion points around the world” where it says it can intercept the content of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, internet chats, data from virtual private networks, and calls made using Voice over IP software like Skype.

The program, which the secret files show cost U.S. taxpayers about $170 million between 2011 and 2013, sweeps up a vast amount of communications at lightning speed. According to the intelligence community’s classified “Black Budget” for 2013, RAMPART-A enables the NSA to tap into three terabits of data every second as the data flows across the compromised cables – the equivalent of being able to download about 5,400 uncompressed high-definition movies every minute.


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Fear of Robotic Advancements

The New York Times carries a story on the likely dangers that “next generation” autonomous robots pose to humans in the workplace and beyond. “Robots have caused at least 33 workplace deaths and injuries in the United States in the last 30 years, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That may not sound like many, but the number may well understate the perils ahead.”

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U.S. has been flying drones in Iraq for over a year

According to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, U.S. drones have collected intelligence in Iraqi airspace since 2013. The surveillance program is “limited” in size, although that may change given the recent bloody advance of ISIS in the country.

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