Judge gives chimpanzees human rights for the first time

Judge gives chimpanzees human rights for the first time
New York justice decrees two apes are covered by habeas corpus
By Rich McCormick
Apr 21 2015

For the first time in US history, a judge has decreed that a pair of chimpanzees held at a university research facility are covered by the same laws that govern the detention of humans, effectively rendering the animals as legal “people” in the eyes of the law. New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe said that the apes, held at Stony Brook University for research purposes, are covered by a writ of habeas corpus — a basic legal principle that lets people challenge the validity of their detention.

The decision comes two years after the Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal rights group, brought legal cases in a bid to free four chimpanzees. The group said the animals — Hercules and Leo at Stony Brook university, and two others on private property — were being unlawfully imprisoned, and should be relocated to a sanctuary. Three lower court judges dismissed the cases as they were raised in 2013, but the Nonhuman Rights Project appealed, eventually convincing Jaffe that the animals were sufficiently intelligent to grant them what amounts to basic human rights.

The animal rights group wants the apes moved to a sanctuary

Jaffe has ordered a Stony Brook representative to appear in court on May 6th to reply to the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition that the animals are being held unlawfully. It could be that the judge organized the hearing to listen to both sides of the case before making a decision, and will ultimately decide that Stony Brook can keep the apes — Richard Cupp, a law professor at California’s Pepperdine University told Science it would be “quite surprising” if the judge made “a momentous substantive finding” that chimps were legally people without both parties being able to have their say.

But Natalie Prosin, the Nonhuman Rights Project’s executive director, said that regardless of whether Hercules and Leo are afforded legal personhood after the hearing, the group intends to use the judge’s ruling in future cases. “We have scientific evidence to prove in a court of law that elephants, great apes, and whales and dolphins are autonomous beings and deserve the right to bodily liberty,” she said. “[This ruling] strengthens our argument that these nonhuman animals are not property.”

FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades

FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades
By Spencer S. Hsu
Apr 18 2015

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.

Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”

While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespread problems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.


Clockmaker John Harrison vindicated 250 years after ‘absurd’ claims

Clockmaker John Harrison vindicated 250 years after ‘absurd’ claims
The pendulum clock of Longitude hero John Harrison is tested and declared a masterpiece
By Robin McKie, science editor
Apr 18 2015

One of Guinness World Records’ more unusual awards was presented at the National Maritime Museum yesterday. After a 100-day trial, the timepiece known as Clock B – which had been sealed in a clear plastic box to prevent tampering – was officially declared, by Guinness, to be the world’s “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air”.

It was an intriguing enough award. But what is really astonishing is that the clock was designed more than 250 years ago by a man who was derided at the time for “an incoherence and absurdity that was little short of the symptoms of insanity”, and whose plans for the clock lay ignored for two centuries.

The derision was poured on John Harrison, the British clockmaker whose marine chronometers had revolutionised seafaring in the 18th century (and who was the subject of Longitude by Dava Sobel). His subsequent claim – that he would go on to make a pendulum timepiece that was accurate to within a second over a 100-day period – triggered widespread ridicule. The task was simply impossible, it was declared.

But now the last laugh lies with Harrison. At a conference, Harrison Decoded: Towards a Perfect Pendulum Clock, held at Greenwich yesterday, observatory scientists revealed that a clock that had been built to the clockmaker’s exact specifications had run for 100 days during official tests and had lost only five-eighths of a second in that period.

“It is a quite extraordinary achievement and a complete vindication of Harrison, who suffered ridicule over his claim to be able to achieve such accuracy,” said Rory McEvoy, curator of horology at the Royal Museums Greenwich. “This is a wonderful device.”

Harrison was a self-educated carpenter and clockmaker who achieved considerable fame in the mid-18th century for the marine chronometers that he designed to solve the problem that sailors then faced in determining their longitude while at sea. Pinpointing where they lay on the notional lines that run vertically on a map proved extremely difficult for navigators. However, Harrison – in response to a government challenge – developed watches that contained a pair of counter-oscillating weighted beams connected by springs that turned out to be remarkably precise and allowed navigators to determine their position accurately. This was done by measuring local time and then comparing it with the time at Greenwich (which was provided by the chronometer).

Harrison was eventually awarded a considerable sum of money for his efforts and he died a rich man. Not long before his death, however, he produced a book in which he lambasted some of his rivals and proclaimed that he could build a timepiece for use on land that was more accurate than any built by his rivals. This machine – which would have a large pendulum arc, relatively light bob, and a recoil grasshopper escapement – would be able to keep time to within a second over 100 days (though it would need to be wound regularly).

Unfortunately for Harrison, the book was savagely criticised, with The London Review of English and Foreign Literature describing it as “one of the most unaccountable productions we have ever met with”. Harrison’s claim that he could build such a clock were also ridiculed.


The Slow Death of the University

The Slow Death of the University
By Terry Eagleton
Apr 6 2015

A few years ago, I was being shown around a large, very technologically advanced university in Asia by its proud president. As befitted so eminent a personage, he was flanked by two burly young minders in black suits and shades, who for all I knew were carrying Kalashnikovs under their jackets. Having waxed lyrical about his gleaming new business school and state-of-the-art institute for management studies, the president paused to permit me a few words of fulsome praise. I remarked instead that there seemed to be no critical studies of any kind on his campus. He looked at me bemusedly, as though I had asked him how many Ph.D.’s in pole dancing they awarded each year, and replied rather stiffly “Your comment will be noted.” He then took a small piece of cutting-edge technology out of his pocket, flicked it open and spoke a few curt words of Korean into it, probably “Kill him.” A limousine the length of a cricket pitch then arrived, into which the president was bundled by his minders and swept away. I watched his car disappear from view, wondering when his order for my execution was to be implemented.

This happened in South Korea, but it might have taken place almost anywhere on the planet. From Cape Town to Reykjavik, Sydney to São Paulo, an event as momentous in its own way as the Cuban revolution or the invasion of Iraq is steadily under way: the slow death of the university as a center of humane critique. Universities, which in Britain have an 800-year history, have traditionally been derided as ivory towers, and there was always some truth in the accusation. Yet the distance they established between themselves and society at large could prove enabling as well as disabling, allowing them to reflect on the values, goals, and interests of a social order too frenetically bound up in its own short-term practical pursuits to be capable of much self-criticism. Across the globe, that critical distance is now being diminished almost to nothing, as the institutions that produced Erasmus and John Milton, Einstein and Monty Python, capitulate to the hard-faced priorities of global capitalism.

Much of this will be familiar to an American readership. Stanford and MIT, after all, provided the very models of the entrepreneurial university. What has emerged in Britain, however, is what one might call Americanization without the affluence — the affluence, at least, of the American private educational sector.

This is even becoming true at those traditional finishing schools for the English gentry, Oxford and Cambridge, whose colleges have always been insulated to some extent against broader economic forces by centuries of lavish endowments. Some years ago, I resigned from a chair at the University of Oxford (an event almost as rare as an earthquake in Edinburgh) when I became aware that I was expected in some respects to behave less as a scholar than a CEO.

When I first came to Oxford 30 years earlier, any such professionalism would have been greeted with patrician disdain. Those of my colleagues who had actually bothered to finish their Ph.D.’s would sometimes use the title of “Mr.” rather than “Dr.,” since “Dr.” suggested a degree of ungentlemanly labor. Publishing books was regarded as a rather vulgar project. A brief article every 10 years or so on the syntax of Portuguese or the dietary habits of ancient Carthage was considered just about permissible. There had been a time earlier when college tutors might not even have bothered to arrange set tutorial times for their undergraduates. Instead, the undergraduate would simply drop round to their rooms when the spirit moved him for a glass of sherry and a civilized chat about Jane Austen or the function of the pancreas.

Today, Oxbridge retains much of its collegial ethos. It is the dons who decide how to invest the college’s money, what flowers to plant in their gardens, whose portraits to hang in the senior common room, and how best to explain to their students why they spend more on the wine cellar than on the college library. All important decisions are made by the fellows of the college in full session, and everything from financial and academic affairs to routine administration is conducted by elected committees of academics responsible to the body of fellows as a whole. In recent years, this admirable system of self-government has had to confront a number of centralizing challenges from the university, of the kind that led to my own exit from the place; but by and large it has stood firm. Precisely because Oxbridge colleges are for the most part premodern institutions, they have a smallness of scale about them that can serve as a model of decentralized democracy, and this despite the odious privileges they continue to enjoy.


Cybersecurity pros slam threat information-sharing bills

Cybersecurity pros slam threat information-sharing bills
Sixty-five cybersecurity professionals and academics have asked Congress to reject three versions of information-sharing bills over privacy concerns.
By Joe Uchill
Apr 16 2015
More than 65 cybersecurity professionals and academics have come out against a trio of bills moving through Congress that are meant to enable information sharing about digital threats between businesses and the government.

In a letter sent today to ranking members from both parties of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, they are urging Congress reject the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act and two similar bills.

“We do not need new legal authorities to share information that helps us protect our systems from future attacks,” they wrote. “Generally speaking, security practitioners can and do share this information with each other and with the federal government while still complying with our obligations under federal privacy laws.”

The signatories of the letter take issue with the potential privacy implications of the bills. “The bills weaken privacy law without promoting security,” they said in the letter.

This is not the first time the information sharing bills have been criticized by privacy advocates. Previously, critics have argued that an information sharing law could expose even more personal data held by tech companies to agencies such as the National Security Agency or to the FBI.

In order to support an information sharing bill, they have asked that it contain the following elements:

“Narrowly define the categories of information to be shared as only those needed for securing systems against future attacks;Require firms to effectively scrub all personally identifying information and other private data not necessary to identify or respond to a threat;Not allow the shared information to be used for anything other than securing systems.”
Signatories include representatives from technology and security companies such as Amazon, Cisco, Twitter, Rapid7, and Veracode, as well as academics from the University of California at Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale University.

Congress cannot be taken seriously on cybersecurity

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

Congress cannot be taken seriously on cybersecurity
None of the members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee have encrypted websites nor use secure emails. So how can we trust them with our privacy?
By Trevor Timm
Apr 18 2015

Members of Congress – most of whom can’t secure their own websites, and some of whom don’t even use email – are trying to force a dangerous “cybersecurity” bill down the public’s throat. Everyone’s privacy is in the hands of people who, by all indications, have no idea what they’re talking about.

Leaders are expected to bring its much-maligned series of “cybersecurity” bills to the floor sometime in the next couple weeks – bills that we know will do little to help cybersecurity but a lot to help intelligence agencies like the NSA vacuum up even more of Americans’ personal information. The bills’ authors deny that privacy is even an issue, but why we’re trusting Congress at all on this legislation, given their lack of basic knowledge on the subject, is the question everyone should be asking.

Just look at Congress’ own cybersecurity practices. None of the members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee – the most influential cybersecurity oversight body in Congress – have websites that use HTTPS encryption, which is increasingly becoming the standard for websites who want to provide basic security protections for the people who visit them (Google and others have had it for years).

It’s such a vital tool that the executive branch recently promised to move all its websites over to HTTPS within two years – many of its agencies, though not all, have already made the switch. But there’s not even a hint that Congress is attempting to do the same. (The website of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is in charge of cybersecurity oversight on the Senate side, also looks like it was designed in 1996.)

An overlooked but important Politico article published in January examined Congress’ own cybersecurity practices when it comes to defending their networks. Reporter Tal Kopan quoted several Congressional staffers saying Congress barely does anything to protect itself from cyberattacks, despite being a juicy target for foreign intelligence agencies. “Few could remember any kind of IT security training, and if they did, it wasn’t taken seriously”, Kopan reported

And how many Congressional staffers and their bosses protect their emails or phone calls with encryption? ACLU’s Chief technologist Chris Soghoian told me yesterday that using any sort of encryption tools “is the exception rather than the norm.” He said: “Most members of Congress and most congressional staff use unencrypted email and unencrypted telephones. Their communications are undoubtedly targeted by foreign intelligence services, just as the NSA targets the communications of foreign political leaders and their staff.” Not exactly encouraging.

Consider the qualifications of the members who are in charge of cybersecurity oversight and who are leading the push for these invasive new laws. The man in charge of the subcommittee on cybersecurity and the NSA in the House, Representative Lynn Westmoreland, has a background in construction and is best known for trying to pass a Ten Commandments law (while only being able to name three of them). His actual expertise in cybersecurity is anyone’s guess, besides having an NSA facility in his district.

It gets worse. The Congressman who oversees the appropriation of billions of dollars in cybersecurity funding for the Department of Homeland Security, Representative John Carter, said this about cybersecurity and encryption recently: “I don’t know anything about this stuff”. Yes, that is an exact quote.


Researcher who joked about hacking a jet plane barred from United flight

Researcher who joked about hacking a jet plane barred from United flight
United’s move comes three days after FBI detained white hat hacker for 4 hours.
By Dan Goodin
Apr 19 2015

A researcher who specializes in the security of commercial airplanes was barred from a United Airlines flight Saturday, three days after he tweeted a poorly advised joke about hacking a key communications system of the plane he was in while it was in mid flight.

Chris Roberts was detained by FBI agents on Wednesday as he was deplaning his United flight, which had just flown from Denver to Syracuse, New York. While on board the flight, he tweeted a joke about taking control of the plane’s engine-indicating and crew-alerting system, which provides flight crews with information in real-time about an aircraft’s functioning, including temperatures of various equipment, fuel flow and quantity, and oil pressure. In the tweet, Roberts jested: “Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? ‘PASS OXYGEN ON’ Anyone ? :)” FBI agents questioned Roberts for four hours and confiscated his iPad, MacBook Pro, and storage devices.

On Saturday night, Roberts faced more fallout, this time from the airline itself. Shortly after passing TSA screening and arriving at the gate to board a San Francisco-bound flight, members of United Corporate Security were there to stop him from getting on the plane. They told him United officials would inform him by mail of the reason within the next two weeks. Roberts was able to book last-minute travel on a Southwest flight and arrived in San Francisco late Saturday night, three days ahead of a presentation he’s scheduled to present at next week’s RSA security conference.

“Nevertheless, United’s refusal to allow Roberts to fly is both disappointing and confusing,” wrote attorneys from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who are providing Roberts with legal representation. “As a member of the security research community, his job is to identify vulnerabilities in networks so that they can be fixed. Indeed, he was headed to RSA speak about security vulnerabilities in a talk called ‘Security Hopscotch’ when attempting to board the United flight.”

The EFF attorneys went on to decry “kneejerk responses to legitimate researchers pointing out security flaws,” and compared Roberts’s recent travails with responses authorities have had to other legitimate research, including a 2008 federal lawsuit a New England transportation agency filed to stop MIT undergraduates from speaking at the Defcon hacker conference about security holes in two of the agency’s electronic payment systems.