Ebola isn’t the only public health emergency, British Medical Journal tells WHO

Ebola isn’t the only public health emergency, British Medical Journal tells WHO
Deaths from Ebola ‘will pale into insignificance’ compared to those from climate change, editorial says
By Arielle Duhaime-Ross
Oct 1 2014

The British Medical Journal called on the World Health Organization today to declare a public health emergency. Not because of any specific disease, but because climate change will cause an additional 250 000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, by the WHO’s own estimate.

“WHO has shown important leadership on climate change but has stopped short of declaring a global public health emergency,” writes BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee, in an editorial. But the evidence that climate change poses a “threat to human health and survival” is strong, she writes, and it’s time to act.

Dwindling fresh water supplies, increased soil erosion, heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and extreme weather will have catastrophic effects on human health, if humanity doesn’t act fast. The BMJ therefore hopes to change attitudes within the healthcare system, which is itself “a major emitter of greenhouse gases,” Godlee writes, due to the amount of waste it produces and the energy it consumes.

To get the point across, the journal published a climate change guide in early September that addressed itself to doctors, but did not contain information about medicine or healthcare. Instead, the guide answered questions such as “Is global warming unequivocally the result of human activity?” (answer: for the most part, yes), and “What will future climate change be like?” (answer: further and more drastic changes are expected). The guide also called on health professionals to explain climate change to their patients in terms of its health consequences.

It’s “pure climate science,” Godlee says, “because if we doctors are to become effective advocates against climate change, a better understanding of the science will help us.”


UK Drops Charges Against the War Critic it Jailed For Seven Months

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Oct 1 2014

Former Guantanamo detainee and War on Terror critic Moazzam Begg, who was arrested on dubious terror charges in February, is once again free. Earlier today, British authorities announced that charges against Begg had been dropped in full, and that he would shortly be released from Belmarsh Prison in London.

In a press statement regarding his release, West Midlands police said that:

New material has recently been disclosed to police and CPS, which has a significant impact on key pieces of evidence that underpinned the prosecution’s case….I understand this is going to raise many questions. However, explaining what this newly revealed information is would mean discussing other aspects of the case which would be unfair and inappropriate as they are no longer going to be tested in court. 

Begg had been jailed for the last seven months on allegations that he had attended a terrorist training camp during a 2012 visit to Syria. He has maintained that his visits were part of an investigation into Britain government involvement in the torture and rendition of War on Terror detainees, an investigation which was being conducted under the aegis of his detainee advocacy organization CAGE UK. As reported previously by The Intercept, far from being clandestine, Begg’s trip to Syria had in fact been conducted with the full knowledge and permission of MI5. Despite this, over a year after he came home from Syria, he found himself suddenly detained on allegations that he had engaged in terrorist activities while in the country.

From the start, it was clear that Begg’s arrest by British authorities was motivated by the government’s dislike for his advocacy rather than any actual criminality. As we wrote back in February when reporting on Begg’s arrest:

Begg has long been a vituperative critic of the British government’s conduct during the War on Terror but throughout this time he has always been a public figure under constant media and government scrutiny. The notion that he’d be able to engage in terrorism surreptitiously on a trip sanctioned by MI5 — then hide this for over a year — seems dubious in the extreme.


White House Says Its Rules Limiting Drone Attacks To Avoid Civilians Don’t Apply In Syria

Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

White House Says Its Rules Limiting Drone Attacks To Avoid Civilians Don’t Apply In Syria
from the rules?-fuck-the-rules dept
By Mike Masnick
Oct 1 2014

When the US finally set up some “rules” for its extrajudicial killing-via-drones (after years of no rules at all, which allowed the CIA to “acquire a taste for killing people with drones”), one of the “rules” was that drone bombs wouldn’t be used unless there was a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” As President Obama noted, this was “the highest standard we can set” to avoid civilian casualties via drones. This high standard upset some bloodthirsty hawks like Rep. Mike Rogers, who saw things like actually trying to prevent civilian casualties as unnecessary “red tape.” And, in fact, soon after the rules were in place, the Obama administration itself started realizing that it didn’t really like the restrictions it put on itself. 

So it’s just going to ignore them. Last week, we wrote about how the administration has been redefining pretty much everything to justify the attacks on Syria, including what is meant by “civilian.” However, even with that new definition, they’ve run into some very obvious problems: namely that there’s increasing evidence that (despite repeated denials) the bombings did, in fact, kill civilians. 

No problem, apparently, for the Obama administration, which has now decided that the very rules it set up in the past to avoid killing civilians with drones… no longer matter. Basically, it looks like the Obama administration just added a big fat asterisk to the “near-certainty” standard for civilian deaths, whereby those rules can be ignored… because the Obama administration says “this is different.”

At the same time, however, Hayden said that a much-publicized White House policy that President Obama announced last year barring U.S. drone strikes unless there is a “near certainty” there will be no civilian casualties — “the highest standard we can meet,” he said at the time — does not cover the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. 

The “near certainty” standard was intended to apply “only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as we noted at the time,” Hayden said in an email. “That description — outside areas of active hostilities — simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.”

It’s not much of a rule when you can exempt it based on… deciding to exempt it.

US top cop decries encryption, demands backdoors

US top cop decries encryption, demands backdoors
Attorney general: “technological advances” allow criminals to “avoid detection.”
By David Kravets
Oct 1 2014

Attorney General Eric Holder, the US top law enforcement official, said it is “worrisome” that tech companies are providing default encryption on consumer electronics. Locking the authorities out of being able to physically access the contents of devices puts children at risk, he said.

“It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy,” Holder said during a Tuesday speech before the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online conference. “When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children. It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”
Holder’s remarks, while he did not mention any particular company by name, come two weeks after Apple announced its new iPhone 6 models would be equipped with data encryption that prevents authorities from accessing the contents of the phone. At the same time, Google said its upcoming Android operating system will also have default encryption.

The encryption decision by two of the world’s biggest names in tech is a bid to gain the trust of customers in the wake of the Edward Snowden surveillance revelations.

Holder said he wants a backdoor to defeat encryption. He urged the tech sector “to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators.”

Recent technological advances have the potential to greatly embolden online criminals, providing new methods for abusers to avoid detection. In some cases, perpetrators are using cloud storage to cheaply and easily store tens of thousands of images and videos outside of any home or business—and to access those files from anywhere in the world. Many take advantage of encryption and anonymizing technology to conceal contraband materials and disguise their locations.

The attorney general—who plans to step down from the position he has held for six years as soon as a successor takes office—is the highest-ranking member of the President Barack Obama administration to assail encryption in the wake of the Apple and Google announcements. 


“The TV model is broken,” says ISP that stopped offering pay-TV

“The TV model is broken,” says ISP that stopped offering pay-TV
Programming costs cause some telecoms to drop channels or TV altogether.
By Jon Brodkin
Oct 1 2014

Programming costs are so high today that even Comcast complains about the expense. What of small Internet service providers who lack the negotiating power of the nation’s largest TV and broadband company?

Some of them are dropping channels or exiting the pay-TV business altogether, says a new article in The Wall Street Journal.

“I think the TV model is broken,” BTC Broadband President Scott Floyd told the newspaper. BTC stopped offering TV late last year while continuing to sell Internet and phone service.

“The Oklahoma company, which had been serving about 420 TV subscribers, decided it simply couldn’t afford to keep paying rising fees to carry a basic lineup of channels including ESPN, TNT, and MTV,” the Journal wrote. Floyd “estimated that if the company continued to pass on rising programming costs to consumers and maintained its thin profit margins, by 2016 cable-TV bills would rise to $130 from about $60.”

Small cable companies can increase their bargaining power by negotiating for programming rights in groups such as the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), which negotiates on behalf of 950 companies. But small companies “representing about 53,000 customers have shut off cable-TV services or gone out of business” since 2008, with the trend accelerating in the past three years, the NCTC told the Journal.

Programming disputes are causing mid-size companies to drop channels as well. Suddenlink, a cable company with more than one million subscribers in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia,  dropped Viacom channels this week after claiming that Viacom demanded a nearly 50 percent increase in payments.

Viacom blamed Suddenlink for breaking off negotiations. Viacom told Ars in a statement that its channels, including Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central, “account for nearly 20 percent of all cable viewing” and “nearly a third of all video on demand viewing by Suddenlink customers.” Suddenlink said viewership of Viacom channels was rapidly declining.


Sophisticated iPhone and Android malware is spying on Hong Kong protesters

Sophisticated iPhone and Android malware is spying on Hong Kong protesters
Researchers say all signs point to the Chinese government
By Amar Toor
Oct 1 2014

A fake smartphone app is being used to remotely monitor pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, according to a report from the New York Times. Researchers from Lacoon Mobile Security say the phishing scam is spreading across the messaging application WhatsApp, through texts that read: “Check out this Android app designed by Code4HK for the coordination of OCCUPY CENTRAL!”, along with a link to download software. Lacoon says the software, once downloaded, can access a user’s personal data, including phone calls, text messages, and the physical location of their smartphone. Code4HK — a developer community that has helped to spread information about the protests — tells the Times it had nothing to do with the texts.

The origin of the scam remains unknown, but Lacoon CEO Michael Shaulov says the Chinese government is likely behind it, given the location of the servers and the sophistication of the operation. The company traced it to a computer that they say is similar to those that the Chinese government allegedly used to launch cyberattacks against US targets last year. The spread of the app remains equally unclear, though Shaulov says it was downloaded by one out of every ten phones that received the fake message, and, notably, that it has affected both Android and iOS users alike.

Phishing scam targets Android and iOS users alike

“This is the first time that we have seen such operationally sophisticated iOS malware operational, which is actually developed by a Chinese-speaking entity,” Shaulov told the Times.

Today’s report comes as thousands of protesters flocked to the streets on China’s National Day, calling for Beijing to allow for free democratic elections in 2017. China had previously said it would allow Hong Kong to choose its own leader by that date, but backtracked on that promise in August, when it announced that all candidates would have to be approved by Beijing.

Protesters in the “Occupy Central” movement have clashed with police since protests escalated over the weekend, and there are fears of further confrontation tonight, during National Day celebrations. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to censor news of the demonstrations. Most state-run media have not mentioned it, and Chinese web censors have stepped up efforts to block images and videos on social media. On Sunday, the government blocked access to Instagram within mainland China, and posts on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo have been aggressively deleted, according to the Times. In the past few days, censors have blocked any Weibo posts including the words “Hong Kong,” “barricades,” and “umbrella” — the unofficial symbol of Hong Kong’s movement.

China’s strange support for Apple’s latest security features

Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

China’s strange support for Apple’s latest security features
Sep 30 2014

Apple will be allowed to sell its new iPhones in China on October 17, according to a statement released by the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which is said to have delayed the smartphones’ launch in China due to concerns about their security features.

China’s government has grown increasingly wary of Apple’s products in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, some of which are said to have direct access to user data managed by Apple and other technology companies. (That concern goes both ways: the United States government has accused Huawei, a telecom-networking equipment provider with close ties to China’s government, of spying on customers.)

Apple claims that it has never provided a backdoor into any of its products to any government. It also says that the latest version of its mobile operating system was designed in such a way that the company wouldn’t be able to provide customer data even if it’s served with a warrant — a feature that’s already led law enforcement to say the new iPhones will become the phones of choice for pedophiles and kidnappers — because of the new encryption standards Apple used.

It makes sense for the Chinese government to be worried about Western tech products being used to gather information for foreign intelligence agencies, but it’s strange that the country is allowing Apple to launch its new iPhones there even though it supposedly means that Chinese citizens will be able to keep their data out of the government’s clutches. Something is just…off.

Many companies avoid storing data in China for just that reason. The government expects to receive any data it requests from companies with servers on its soils, and Apple revealed in August that it stores customer data in China through a partnership with China Telecom, a state-owned wireless service provider. Apple claims that China Telecom can’t access the information on the servers because all of the relevant encryption keys are kept on servers in other countries.

So, to recap: a government known for wanting to control foreign companies as much as possible while also gathering information on its citizens is allowing a company thought to have been compromised by the NSA to sell its products in the country. All this, after being assured that there is no way for any government to get at that data, even though at least some of it will be stored on servers operated by a state-owned telecom company, without even so much as a hint of protest.

Seems a bit suspicious — but let’s all just go ahead and wonder if the iPhone 6 Plus is really as bendy as the media is making it out to be and congratulate Apple for making it into the world’s largest smartphone market. That’s a whole lot easier.