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The Courts

US Top Court Considers Changing Where Patent Cases May Be Filed (reuters.com) 54

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grappled over whether to upend a quarter-century of practice and limit where patent-infringement lawsuits can be filed. From a report on Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple and Alphabet Google. The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland's home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana. Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States. Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called "patent trolls." The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.
Government

Laptop Ban on Planes Came After Plot To Put Explosives in iPad (theguardian.com) 269

Last week, United States and United Kingdom officials announced new restrictions for airline passengers from eight Middle Eastern countries, forbidding passengers to carry electronics larger than a smartphone into an airplane cabin. Now The Guardian reports, citing a security source, the ban was prompted in part by a plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad. From the report: The security source said both bans were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors. One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. Discovery of the plot confirmed the fears of the intelligence agencies that Islamist groups had found a novel way to smuggle explosives into the cabin area in carry-on luggage after failed attempts with shoe bombs and explosives hidden in underwear. An explosion in a cabin (where a terrorist can position the explosive against a door or window) can have much more impact than one in the hold (where the terrorist has no control over the position of the explosive, which could be in the middle of luggage, away from the skin of the aircraft), given passengers and crew could be sucked out of any subsequent hole.
Robotics

US Workers Face A Higher Risk Of Being Replaced By Robots (cnn.com) 268

There's a surprising prediction for the next 15 years from the world's second largest professional services firm. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Millions of workers around the world are at risk of losing their jobs to robots -- but Americans should be particularly worried. Thirty-eight percent of jobs in the U.S. are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, according to a new report by PwC. Meanwhile, only 30% of jobs in the U.K. are similarly endangered. The same level of risk applies to only 21% of positions in Japan.
61% of America's financial service jobs "are at a high risk of being replaced by robots," according to the article, vs. just 32% of the finance jobs in the U.K. (Those U.S. finance jobs tend to be "domestic retail operations" like small-town bank tellers, whereas U.K. finance jobs concentrate more in international finance and investment banking.) The firm's chief economist sees a world where new jobs are more likely to go to higher-skilled workers, and he ultimately predicts "a restructuring of the jobs market... The gap between rich and poor could get even wider."
Businesses

Comcast Launches New 24/7 Workplace Surveillance Service (philly.com) 150

America's largest ISP just rolled out a new service that allows small and medium-sized business owners "to oversee their organization" with continuous video surveillance footage that's stored in the cloud -- allowing them to "improve efficiency." An anonymous reader quotes the Philadelphia Inquirer: Inventory is disappearing. Workplace productivity is off. He said/she said office politics are driving people crazy. Who you gonna call...? Comcast Business hopes it will be the one, with the "SmartOffice" surveillance offering formally launched this week in Philadelphia and across "70 percent of our national [internet] service footprint," said Christian Nascimento, executive director of premise services for the Comcast division. Putting a "Smart Cities" (rather than "Big Brother is watching you") spin on "the growing trend for...connected devices across the private and public sectors," the SmartOffice solution "can provide video surveillance to organizations that want to monitor their locations more closely," Nascimento said...
The surveillance cameras are equipped with zoom lenses, night-vision, motion detection, and wide-angle lenses, while an app allows remote access to the footage from smartphones and tablets (though the footage can also be downloaded, or stored online for up to a month). Last year Comcast was heavily involved in an effort to provide Detroit's police department with real-time video feeds from over 120 local businesses, which the mayor said wouldn't have been successful "Without the complete video technology system Comcast provides."
Privacy

'Why The US Senate's Vote To Throw Out ISP Privacy Laws Isn't All Bad' (technologyreview.com) 104

"Nobody wants their data spread far and wide," write two associate editors at MIT Technology Review, "but the FCC's rules were an inconsistent solution to a much larger problem." An anonymous reader writes: They point out the rules passed in October "weren't even yet in effect," but more importantly -- they only would've applied to ISPs. "[T]he reality is that the U.S. doesn't have a baseline law that governs online privacy," and the truth is, it never did. "The FCC's new privacy rules would have been dramatic, to be sure -- but they would only have addressed one piece of the problem, leaving companies like Facebook and Google free to continue doing much the same thing.
While the repeal still needs approval in the U.S. House of Representatives and the president's signature, their article argues that what's really needed is "a more consistent approach to privacy."
Transportation

Uber Halts Self-Driving Car Tests in Arizona After Friday Night Collision (businessinsider.com) 226

"Given that the Uber vehicle has flipped onto its side it looks to be a high speed crash," writes TechCrunch, though Business Insider reports that no one was seriously injured. An anonymous reader quotes their report: A self-driving Uber car was involved in an accident on Friday night in Tempe, Arizona, in one of the most serious incidents to date involving the growing fleet of autonomous vehicles being tested on U.S. roads... Uber has halted its self-driving-car pilot in Arizona and is investigating what caused the incident... A Tempe police spokesperson told Bloomberg that the Uber was not at fault in the accident and was hit by another car which failed to yield. Still, the collision will likely to turn up the temperature on the heated debate about the safety of self-driving cars.
Government

After Healthcare Defeat, Can The Trump Administration Fix America's H-1B Visa Program? (bloomberg.com) 526

Friday the Trump administration suffered a political setback when divisions in the president's party halted a move to repeal healthcare policies passed in 2010. But if Trump hopes to turn his attention to how America's H-1B visa program is affecting technology workers, "time is running out," writes Slashdot reader pteddy. Bloomberg reports: [T]he application deadline for the most controversial visa program is the first week of April, which means new rules have to be in place for that batch of applicants or another year's worth of visas will be handed out under the existing guidelines... There probably isn't enough time to pass legislation on such a contentious issue. But Trump could sign an executive order with some changes. The article points out that under the current system, one outsourcing firm was granted 6.5 times as many U.S. visas as Amazon. There's also an interesting map showing which countries' workers received the most H-1B visas in 2015 -- 69.4% went to workers in India, with another 10.5% going to China -- and a chart showing which positions are most in demand, indicating that two-thirds of the visa applications are for tech workers.
United States

Americans' Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year (fivethirtyeight.com) 207

Jed Kolko, writing for FiveThirtyEight: The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016, according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them. The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely. The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas. In the South and West, growth in large-metro lower-density suburbs topped 2 percent in 2016, led by counties such as Kendall and Comal north of San Antonio; Hays near Austin; and Forsyth, north of Atlanta.
Government

US Ordered 'Mandatory Social Media Check' For Visa Applicants Who Visited ISIS Territory (theverge.com) 197

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has ordered a "mandatory social media check" on all visa applicants who have ever visited ISIS-controlled territory, according to diplomatic cables obtained by Reuters. The four memos were sent to American diplomatic missions over the past two weeks, with the most recent issued on March 17th. According to Reuters, they provide details into a revised screening process that President Donald Trump has described as "extreme vetting." A memo sent on March 16th rescinds some of the instructions that Tillerson outlined in the previous cables, including an order that would have required visa applicants to hand over all phone numbers, email addresses, and social media accounts that they have used in the past. The secretary of state issued the memo after a Hawaii judge blocked the Trump administration's revised travel ban on citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries. In addition to the social media check, the most recent memo calls for consular officials to identify "populations warranting increased scrutiny." Two former government officials tell Reuters that the social media order could lead to delays in processing visa applications, with one saying that such checks were previously carried out on rare occasions.
Cellphones

Feds: We're Pulling Data From 100 Phones Seized During Trump Inauguration (arstechnica.com) 233

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In new filings, prosecutors told a court in Washington, DC that within the coming weeks, they expect to extract all data from the seized cellphones of more than 100 allegedly violent protesters arrested during the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Prosecutors also said that this search is validated by recently issued warrants. The court filing, which was first reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News, states that approximately half of the protestors prosecuted with rioting or inciting a riot had their phones taken by authorities. Prosecutors hope to uncover any evidence relevant to the case. Under normal judicial procedures, the feds have vowed to share such data with defense attorneys and to delete all irrelevant data. "All of the Rioter Cell Phones were locked, which requires more time-sensitive efforts to try to obtain the data," Jennifer Kerkhoff, an assistant United States attorney, wrote. Such phone extraction is common by law enforcement nationwide using hardware and software created by Cellebrite and other similar firms. Pulling data off phones is likely more difficult under fully updated iPhones and Android devices.
United States

71 Percent of Android Phones On Major US Carriers Have Out of Date Security Patches (betanews.com) 103

Ian Barker, writing for BetaNews: Slow patching of security flaws is leaving many US mobile users at risk of falling victim to data breaches according to the findings of a new report. The study from mobile defense specialist Skycure analyzed patch updates among the five leading wireless carriers in the US and finds that 71 percent of mobile devices still run on security patches more than two months old. This is despite Google releasing Android patches every month, indeed six percent of devices are running patches that are six or more months old. Without the most updated patches, these devices are susceptible to attacks, including rapidly rising network attacks and new malware, also detailed in the report.
Communications

Senate Votes To Kill FCC's Broadband Privacy Rules (pcworld.com) 401

The Senate voted 50-48 along party lines Thursday to repeal an Obama-era law that requires internet service providers to obtain permission before tracking what customers look at online and selling that information to other companies. PCWorld adds: The Senate's 50-48 vote Thursday on a resolution of disapproval would roll back Federal Communications Commission rules requiring broadband providers to receive opt-in customer permission to share sensitive personal information, including web-browsing history, geolocation, and financial details with third parties. The FCC approved the regulations just five months ago. Thursday's vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans voting to kill the FCC's privacy rules and Democrats voting to keep them. The Senate's resolution, which now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration, would allow broadband providers to collect and sell a "gold mine of data" about customers, said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat. Kate Tummarello, writing for EFF: [This] would be a crushing loss for online privacy. ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online. They shouldn't be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent. We can still kill this in the House: call your lawmakers today and tell them to protect your privacy from your ISP.
The Internet

'Dig Once' Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet To Much of the US (arstechnica.com) 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: If the U.S. adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished. The idea is an old one. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband -- her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband. Blackburn, chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, put Eshoo's dig once legislation on the agenda for a hearing she held yesterday on broadband deployment and infrastructure. Blackburn's opening statement (PDF) said that dig once is among the policies she's considering to "facilitate the deployment of communications infrastructure." But her statement did not specifically endorse Eshoo's dig once proposal, which was presented only as a discussion draft with no vote scheduled. The subcommittee also considered a discussion draft that would "creat[e] an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure." Dig once legislation received specific support from Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who said that he is "glad to see Ms. Eshoo's 'Dig Once' bill has made a return this Congress. I think that this is smart policy and will help spur broadband deployment across the country."
AT&T

17,000 AT&T Workers Go On Strike In California and Nevada (fortune.com) 171

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune: Approximately 17,000 workers in AT&T's traditional wired telephone business in California and Nevada walked out on strike on Wednesday, marking the most serious labor action against the carrier in years. The walkout -- formally known as a grievance strike -- occurred after AT&T changed the work assignments of some of the technicians and call center employees in the group, the Communications Workers of America union said. The union would not say how long the strike might last. A contract covering the group expired last year and there has been little progress in negotiations over sticking points like the outsourcing of call center jobs overseas, stagnant pay, and rising health care costs. The union said it planned to file an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the work assignment changes. "A walkout is not in anybody's best interest and it's unfortunate that the union chose to do that," an AT&T spokesman told Fortune. "We're engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible."
Businesses

Patents Are A Big Part Of Why We Can't Own Nice Things (eff.org) 242

An anonymous reader shares an EFF article: Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could allow companies to keep a dead hand of control over their products, even after you buy them. The case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, is on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who last year affirmed its own precedent allowing patent holders to restrict how consumers can use the products they buy. That decision, and the precedent it relied on, departs from long established legal rules that safeguard consumers and enable innovation. When you buy something physical -- a toaster, a book, or a printer, for example -- you expect to be free to use it as you see fit: to adapt it to suit your needs, fix it when it breaks, re-use it, lend it, sell it, or give it away when you're done with it. Your freedom to do those things is a necessary aspect of your ownership of those objects. If you can't do them, because the seller or manufacturer has imposed restrictions or limitations on your use of the product, then you don't really own them. Traditionally, the law safeguards these freedoms by discouraging sellers from imposing certain conditions or restrictions on the sale of goods and property, and limiting the circumstances in which those restrictions may be imposed by contract. But some companies are relentless in their quest to circumvent and undermine these protections. They want to control what end users of their products can do with the stuff they ostensibly own, by attaching restrictions and conditions on purchasers, locking down their products, and locking you (along with competitors and researchers) out. If they can do that through patent law, rather than ordinary contract, it would mean they could evade legal limits on contracts, and that any one using a product in violation of those restrictions (whether a consumer or competitor) could face harsh penalties for patent infringement.
Space

A New Definition Would Add 102 Planets To Our Solar System -- Including Pluto (washingtonpost.com) 150

The Grim Reefer quotes a report from The Washington Post: Is Pluto a planet? It's not a question scientists ask in polite company. "It's like religion and politics," said Kirby Runyon, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University. "People get worked up over it. I've gotten worked up over it." For years, astronomers, planetary scientists and other space researchers have fought about what to call the small, icy world at the edge of our solar system. Is it a planet, as scientists believed for nearly seven decades? Or must a planet be something bigger, something more dominant, as was decided by vote at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006? The issue can bring conversations to a screeching halt, or turn them into shouting matches. "Sometimes," Runyon said, "it's just easier not to bring it up." But Runyon will ignore his own advice this week when he attends the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. In a giant exhibit hall crowded with his colleagues, he's attempting to reignite the debate about Pluto's status with an audacious new definition for planet -- one that includes not just Pluto, but several of its neighbors, objects in the asteroid belt, and a number of moons. By his count, 102 new planets could be added to our solar system under the new criteria. USA Today reports: "In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies," the proposal states. "In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration."
Medicine

Most Teens Who Abuse Opioids First Got Them From a Doctor (livescience.com) 181

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Live Science: Most American teenagers who abuse opioid drugs first received the drugs from a doctor, a new study finds. Researchers looked at trends in the use of prescription opioids among U.S. adolescents from 1976 to 2015. They found a strong correlation between teens' taking the drugs for medical reasons and then later taking them for "non-medical" reasons, or in other words, abusing them, according to the study published today (March 20) in the journal Pediatrics. In 2015, the the most recent year of the study, 8 percent of adolescents reported abusing prescription opioids, and the majority of them had been prescribed opioids previously, the researchers found. The U.S. consumes about 80 percent of the world's prescription opioid supply. There has been consistent growth in the number of prescriptions written for opioids in the U.S., rising from 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to 207 million in 2013, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, the new study revealed that among teens, both medical and non-medical use of opioid medications has declined in recent years, starting in 2013. The decline may be due to careful prescribing practices, Sean McCabe, a research professor at the University of Michigan, said. There are several medical procedures that teens may undergo for which opioids are recommended for pain management. But doctors can be careful about the amount of these drugs they prescribe, and limit refills. Parents can make sure that any leftover pills are discarded. Another report was published today in the journal Pediatrics that analyzed data from the National Poison Data System. It found that of all 188,468 prescription opioid exposures reported for youth under 20 years old between 2000 and 2015, nearly all the exposures occurred at a home and were most common among children under 5, accounting for six of every 10 cases. According to NPR, those children were able to get their hands on the medication because it was improperly stored or was in a purse.
Bitcoin

Ask Slashdot: How Does One Freely Use Bitcoin In the Land of the Free? 270

New submitter devrtm writes: It appears that Bitcoin, a currency designed with anonymity in mind, can be effectively used almost anywhere in the world, except in a few countries where it is regulated, and in one country where you can only use it if you give up your privacy. That country is the United States. I have accumulated quite a few BTC from the currency's early days where block rewards were still at $50. There was a period of time where one could get a nearly anonymous debit card, or use BTC online with merchants. Nowadays, non-U.S. payment providers no longer issue debit cards to the U.S. residents and the U.S.-based merchants accepting BTC are nearly extinct. The only way to use BTC in the U.S. is to convert it to USD. Unfortunately, that conversion requires giving up your personal information to a U.S.-based BTC payment processor, and there are rumors that signing up for those services raises red flags with certain three letter acronym organizations. I have nothing to hide, but I do value my privacy. Can one freely and anonymously live off of their Bitcoin wallet in the U.S.? I am afraid the answer is no. Does anyone have an experience that proves me wrong? Please share.
United States

'Sorry, I've Forgotten My Decryption Password' is Contempt Of Court, Pal - US Appeal Judges (theregister.co.uk) 519

Thomas Claburn, reporting for The Register: The US Third Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court ruling of contempt against a chap who claimed he couldn't remember the password to decrypt his computer's hard drives. In so doing, the appeals court opted not to address a lower court's rejection of the defendant's argument that being forced to reveal his password violated his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. In the case under review, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held the defendant (referred to in court documents as "John Doe" because his case is partially under seal) in contempt of court for willfully disobeying and resisting an order to decrypt external hard drives that had been attached to his Mac Pro computer. The defendant's computer, two external hard drives, an iPhone 5S, and an iPhone 6 Plus had been seized as part of a child pornography investigation.
Security

Royal Jordanian Airlines Bans Use of Electronics After US Voices Security 'Concerns' (theverge.com) 109

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Royal Jordanian airlines banned the use of electronics on flights servicing the U.S. after government officials here expressed concerns. Details are scant, but CNN is reporting that other carriers based on the Middle East and Africa may be affected as well. The news broke when Royal Jordanian, a state-owned airline that operates around 500 flights a week, posted this cryptic notice on its Twitter feed. The ban, which includes laptops, tablets, and video games, but does not include smartphones or medical devices, is effective for Royal Jordanian flights servicing New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Montreal. A spokesperson for Royal Jordanian was not immediately available for clarification. Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that Royal Jordanian may not be the only carrier affected by these new security provisions. Jon Ostrower, the network's aviation editor, just tweeted that as many as 12 airlines based in the Middle East and Africa could be impacted. A Saudi executive also tweeted that "directives by U.S. authorities" could affect passengers traveling from 13 countries, with the new measure set to go into effect over the next 96 hours.

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