Federal court rules that medical marijuana card holders can be denied gun ownership

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

Federal court rules that medical marijuana card holders can be denied gun ownership
By Reuters
Aug 31 2016

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld federal regulations that prevented a woman with a medical marijuana card from buying a firearm in Nevada, in a ruling that cited the government’s interest in preventing gun violence.

In upholding a lower-court ruling, a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a legal precedent that lower courts in the western U.S. states under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit must follow in similar cases.

The lawsuit was brought by S. Rowan Wilson, who in 2011 obtained a medical marijuana card in Nevada and a few months later sought to buy a firearm in the small town of Mound House.

The firearms dealer, who knew Wilson had a medical marijuana card, refused to sell her the gun, according to court papers.

Like other firearms dealers, he had received a directive from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) advising dealers against selling guns to medical marijuana users, according to court papers.

Medical marijuana is allowed in Nevada and more than 20 other U.S. states, but the drug remains banned under federal law.

Wilson, who claimed she had a medical marijuana card but did not use the drug, filed a lawsuit in Nevada against the federal government, claiming her rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated by the ATF letter to gun dealers.

In 2014, a district court judge granted a motion from federal attorneys to dismiss the case, prompting Wilson to appeal the decision. The Ninth Circuit panel upheld the lower-court’s decision to throw out the case.

The appeals court, in a 30-page opinion from Judge Jed Rakoff, acknowledged Wilson’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution had been infringed to some extent.

But it said the government had a “substantial interest” in preventing gun violence by seeking to prevent drug users from possessing firearms and that it was reasonable to assume someone with a medical pot card would use the drug.


Cleaning the world’s water: ‘We are now more polluted than we have ever been’

Cleaning the world’s water: ‘We are now more polluted than we have ever been’
Joan Rose, a microbiologist who has won the world’s most prestigious water prize, is both depressed and optimistic at progress to make water fit to drink
By John Vidal
Aug 31 2016

In May 2000, around half of Walkerton’s 5,000 residents fell severely ill and seven people died when cow manure washed into a well. The extent of the water pollution in the small Canadian town was concealed from the public, people drank from their taps and the result was ruined lives.

For academic microbiologist Joan Rose, who has observed water pollution outbreaks around the world, it was the worst that she had ever experienced.

“It affected me the most. Walkerton is a small small farming community. The people there were very gracious. Two pathogens came in to their water supply. They did not know children would die, or would suffer kidney failure and be on on dialysis for the rest of their lives. I saw what it did to people. I saw the pain.” 

Walkerton was one of Canada’s worst-ever pollution incidents but there are hundreds of similar incidents every year around the world, albeit mostly less serious, says Prof Rose, who is laboratory director in water research at Michigan State University. 

Most come from people drinking water contaminated with sewage, she says. “In the US there are 12-18m cases of human water-borne diseases a year. In developing countries it is possible that one in three hospital cases may be due to contamination of water. We do not know exactly how bad it is but 1.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sewage treatment.”

Rose, who this week was presented with the world’s most prestigious prize for water at a conference in Stockholm, is alternately depressed and optimistic at progress to clean the world’s water supplies and make water fit to drink.

“We have started to decrease mortality for waterborne diseases but the big problem now is morbidity [disease-related]. People are getting more sick. We are now more polluted than we have ever been”. 

The statistics are dismal. This week the UN Environment Programme reported that “hundreds of millions” of people face health risks like cholera and typhoid from pathogens in water. Water pollution in Asia, Africa and Latin America is worsening, said the report, with pathogen pollution now in more than half of all rivers stretches on the three continents. 

“There are 7 billion people and most of their waste is going into water. The water quality of lakes, rivers and coastal shorelines around the world is degrading at an alarming rate. There has been a great acceleration since the 1950s of human and animal populations, water withdrawals, pesticide and fertiliser use. But at the same time there has been a deceleration, or shrinkage, in wetlands,” says Rose.

“We are changing our lands. Land is the source of contamination, but climate is the driver [of contamination]. We know that the intensity of rainfall, storms and droughts is changing. More than 50% of community waterborne illness events in the US each year are associated with extreme rain.”


Predictive policing practices labeled as ‘flawed’ by civil rights coalition

Predictive policing practices labeled as ‘flawed’ by civil rights coalition
Computer-based forecasting tools that use data to predict where future crimes are likely to happen have been on the rise over the past decade
By Jamiles Lartey
Aug 31 2016

A broad coalition of civil rights and civil liberty organizations came out in opposition to “predictive policing” technologies on Wednesday, calling the strategy “profoundly flawed”.

“The data driving predictive enforcement activities – such as the location and timing of previously reported crimes, or patterns of community- and officer-initiated 911 calls – is profoundly limited and biased,” the report summarized. The report also included input from the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Predictive policing has been increasingly used by departments throughout the US with roughly 20 of the largest 50 departments already using it to some degree, and another 11 considering its implementation. Predictive policing describes a set of computer-based forecasting tools that use crime data to inform where future incidents are likely to happen, and where officers should attempt to proactively patrol.

The forerunner to predictive policing, “CompStat”-style crime mapping, has been commonplace in law enforcement for more than 20 years, and has long been subject to similar criticisms. Pioneered in New York City, CompStat tried to identify spikes in crime in real time and used “targeted enforcement” via an increased police presence to mitigate it. Modern predictive policing, which attaches complex computer algorithms to this concept, emerged in the early 2010s. 

The major concern raised by the coalition is the low reliability of crime data. “It is well known that crime data is notoriously suspect, incomplete, easily manipulated and plagued by racial bias,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU. “Data on where crime occurs is dependent in part on when and where crime is reported and in part on where the police deploy to find crime.”

Malkia Cyril, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said: “Biases are built into the enforcement strategies that generated the data in the first place.”

Other predictive policing strategies attempt to calculate the relative risks certain people in the community present and deploy officers to intervene directly with them. A version of this technology employed by the Chicago police department recently came under fire after a Rand report concluded that individuals on the city’s “heat list” were “not more or less likely to become a victim of a homicide or shooting than the [control] group”.

Virtually all predictive policing tools are proprietary software sold to departments by private law enforcement vendors and marketed as a way to make the job of policing easier and communities safer. For example, Predpol, one of the leading retailers of this kind of software claims its products “dramatically reduce crime in jurisdictions of all types and sizes”, citing outcomes from police departments such as the Los Angeles and Atlanta.


Encryption: FBI building fresh case for access to electronic devices

Encryption: FBI building fresh case for access to electronic devices
James Comey, the agency’s director, says it is gathering information in preparation for ‘adult conversation’ on balancing privacy with need to fight crime
By Staff and agencies
Aug 31 2016

The FBI director, James Comey, has warned again about the bureau’s inability to access digital devices because of encryption and suggested investigators wanted an “adult conversation” with manufacturers.

Widespread encryption built into smartphones was “making more and more of the room that we are charged to investigate dark”, Comey said at a cybersecurity symposium.

The FBI sought a court order to force Apple to help it hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters, a demand Apple said would dramatically weaken security of its products.

The FBI ultimately got into the phone with the help of a third party, concluding the court case but leaving unresolved the underpinning legal questions.

Comey made clear on Tuesday that he expected dialogue to continue.

“The conversation we’ve been trying to have about this has dipped below public consciousness now, and that’s fine,” Comey said at a symposium organised by Symantec, a technology company. “Because what we want to do is collect information this year so that next year we can have an adult conversation in this country.”

The American people, Comey said, had a reasonable expectation of privacy in private spaces — including houses, cars and electronic devices. But that right was not absolute when law enforcement had probable cause to believe a device such as a laptop or smartphone contained evidence of a crime.

“With good reason, the people of the United States — through judges and law enforcement — can invade our private spaces,” Comey said, arguing this “bargain” had been at the centre of the country since its inception.

But he said it was not the role of the FBI or tech companies to tell the American people how to live and govern themselves.

“We need to understand in the FBI, how is this exactly affecting our work, and then share that with folks,” Comey said, conceding the American people might ultimately decide that privacy was more important than “that portion of the room being dark” to the FBI.

The remarks reiterated points that Comey has made repeatedly in the last two years, before Congress and in other settings, about the growing collision between electronic privacy and national security.


Companies are making money from our personal data – but at what cost?

Companies are making money from our personal data – but at what cost?
Data appropriation is a form of exploitation because companies use data to create value without providing people with comparable compensation
By Jathan Sadowski
Aug 31 2016

It is the strangely conspiratorial truth of the surveillance society we inhabit that there are unknown entities gathering our data for unknown purposes.

Companies and governments dip into the data streams of our lives in increasingly innovative ways, tracking what we do, who we know and where we go. The methods and purposes of data collection keep expanding, with seemingly no end or limit in sight.

These range from irritating infringements, including WhatsApp sharing your name and phone number with Facebook so businesses can advertise to you, or a startup that uses your phone’s battery status as a “fingerprint” to track you online, to major intrusions such as Baltimore police secretly using aerial surveillance systems to continuously watch and record the city. Or like the data brokers that create massive personalized profiles about each of us, which are then sold and used to circumvent consumer protections meant to limit predatory and discriminatory practices.

These instances of data harvesting are connected by a shared compulsion – a data imperative – that drives many corporations and governments. This imperative demands the extraction of all data, from all sources, in whatever ways possible. It has created an arms race for data, fueling the impulse to create surveillance technologies that infiltrate all aspects of life and society. And the reason for creating these massive reserves of data is the value it can or might generate.

This imperative signals a shift in how powerful institutions view data. A recent report by leading software maker Oracle and MIT Technology Review called The Rise of Data Capital argues that a major reason for the success of companies such as Google, Uber, and Amazon is that they have embraced the mindset of “data as an asset”. The report crystallizes an influential tech trend. Treating data as a form of capital means that firms hoard, commodify, and monetize as much data as they can. And these databanks, they say, can never be too big.

German tech firm Siemens echoes this capitalist sentiment: “We need to understand that data is everywhere, and it is generated every second of the day. We need to understand data as an asset – and turn it into a value.”

Contrary to the oft-repeated rhetoric, data does not exist independently in the world, nor is it generated spontaneously. Data is constructed by people, from people. As digital studies scholar Karen Gregory puts it: “Big data, like Soylent Green, is made of people”. Wringing the value from data requires more than just collecting it. Gathering it requires expertise in creating, extracting, refining and using it. This often goes hand-in-hand with increasingly invasive systems for probing, monitoring and tracking people. 

Now here’s the rub: if corporations and governments are going to up the ante by treating data as an asset, then we – the targets of this data imperative – should respond in kind. Many common practices of data collection should actually be treated as a form of theft that I call data appropriation – which means capturing data from people without consent and compensation.


How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets

[Note:  This item comes from friend Janos Gereben.  DLH]

How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets
American officials say Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But the agendas of WikiLeaks and the Kremlin have often dovetailed.
Aug 31 2016

Julian Assange was in classic didactic form, holding forth on the topic that consumes him — the perfidy of big government and especially of the United States.

Mr. Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, rose to global fame in 2010 for releasing huge caches of highly classified American government communications that exposed the underbelly of its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its sometimes cynical diplomatic maneuvering around the world. But in a televised interview last September, it was clear that he still had plenty to say about “The World According to US Empire,” the subtitle of his latest book, “The WikiLeaks Files.”

From the cramped confines of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum four years ago amid a legal imbroglio, Mr. Assange proffered a vision of America as superbully: a nation that has achieved imperial power by proclaiming allegiance to principles of human rights while deploying its military-intelligence apparatus in “pincer” formation to “push” countries into doing its bidding, and punishing people like him who dare to speak the truth.

Notably absent from Mr. Assange’s analysis, however, was criticism of another world power, Russia, or its president, Vladimir V. Putin, who has hardly lived up to WikiLeaks’ ideal of transparency. Mr. Putin’s government has cracked down hard on dissent — spying on, jailing, and, critics charge, sometimes assassinating opponents while consolidating control over the news media and internet. If Mr. Assange appreciated the irony of the moment — denouncing censorship in an interview on Russia Today, the Kremlin-controlled English-language propaganda channel — it was not readily apparent.

Now, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks are back in the spotlight, roiling the geopolitical landscape with new disclosures and a promise of more to come.

In July, the organization released nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails suggesting that the party had conspired with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to undermine her primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders. Mr. Assange — who has been openly critical of Mrs. Clinton — has promised further disclosures that could upend her campaign against the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. Separately, WikiLeaks announced that it would soon release some of the crown jewels of American intelligence: a “pristine” set of cyberspying codes.

United States officials say they believe with a high degree of confidence that the Democratic Party material was hacked by the Russian government, and suspect that the codes may have been stolen by the Russians as well. That raises a question: Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies? And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin’s Kremlin?

Those questions are made all the more pointed by Russia’s prominent place in the American presidential election campaign. Mr. Putin, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, has publicly praised Mr. Trump, who has returned the compliment, calling for closer ties to Russia and speaking favorably of Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

From the outset of WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange said he was motivated by a desire to use “cryptography to protect human rights,” and would focus on authoritarian governments like Russia’s.

But a New York Times examination of WikiLeaks’ activities during Mr. Assange’s years in exile found a different pattern: Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks’ document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange’s statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West.

Among United States officials, the emerging consensus is that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But they say that, at least in the case of the Democrats’ emails, Moscow knew it had a sympathetic outlet in WikiLeaks, where intermediaries could drop pilfered documents in the group’s anonymized digital inbox.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Times, Mr. Assange said Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats were “whipping up a neo-McCarthyist hysteria about Russia.” There is “no concrete evidence” that what WikiLeaks publishes comes from intelligence agencies, he said, even as he indicated that he would happily accept such material.


How Driverless Cars May Interact With People

How Driverless Cars May Interact With People
By John Markoff
Aug 30 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — There are plenty of unanswered questions about how self-driving cars would function in the real world, like understanding local driving customs and handing controls back to a human in an emergency.

Now a start-up called Drive.ai, based in Mountain View, Calif., is trying to address how an autonomous car would communicate with other drivers and pedestrians. The company is emphasizing what is known in the artificial intelligence field as “human-machine interaction” as a key to confusing road situations.

How does a robot, for example, tell everyone what it plans to do in intersections when human drivers and people in crosswalks go through an informal ballet to decide who will go first and who will yield?

“Most people’s first interaction with self-driving cars will not be as a rider, but more likely as a pedestrian crossing the street,” said Carol Reiley, the co-founder and president of Drive.ai. “I think it is so important for everyone to trust this type of technology.”

The start-up gained some attention earlier this year when it received a license from the State of California to test driverless cars on the road. But Tuesday was the first time its executives outlined, at least in broad terms, what they planned to do. They would not discuss the company’s investors.

The Drive.ai cars won’t speak with pedestrians and bicyclists. But they will try to communicate with visual displays that go beyond today’s turn signals, perhaps with bannerlike text and easily identifiable sounds, company officials said.

The company, populated by graduate students and researchers from the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is entering a crowded field in the race to self-driving vehicles. There are about 20 self-driving car projects in Silicon Valley and more than four dozen around the country.

Unlike many of the efforts, however, Drive.ai will not attempt to build cars. Instead, it plans to retrofit commercial fleets for tasks like parcel delivery and taxi services.

The company is leaning on a technology called deep learning, a machine-learning technique that has gained wide popularity among Silicon Valley firms. It is used for a variety of tasks, like understanding human speech and improving the ability to recognize objects in computer vision systems.

An Israeli firm, Mobileye, is the dominant supplier of vision technology to the automotive industry, but Silicon Valley companies like Nvidia are also starting to compete for that business.

The self-driving cars of the future will need to be transparent about what their intentions are, how they make decisions and what they see, said Ms. Reiley, who is a roboticist with a background in designing underwater robotics and medical systems. They will need to communicate clearly both with the world around them as well as with their passengers.


New hacking technique stealthily changes memory of virtual servers

[Note:  This item comes from friend Gary Rimar.  DLH]

New hacking technique stealthily changes memory of virtual servers
Aug 12 2016

For the first time ever a team of Dutch hacking experts managed to alter the memory of virtual machines in the cloud without a software bug, using a new attack technique.

With this technique an attacker can crack the keys of secured virtual machines or install malware without it being noticed. It is a new deduplication-based attack in which data can not only be viewed and leaked, but also modified using a hardware glitch. By doing so the attacker can order the server to install malicious and unwanted software or allow logins by unauthorized persons.

Deduplication and Rowhammer bug
VUA notes that with the new attack technique Flip Feng Shui (FSS), an attacker rents a virtual machine on the same host as the victim. This can be done by renting many virtual machines until one of them lands next to the victim. A virtual machine in the cloud is often used to run applications, test new software, or run a Web site. There are public (for everyone), community (for a select group), and private (for one organization accessible) clouds. The attacker writes a memory page that he knows exists in the victim on the vulnerable memory location and lets it deduplicate. As a result, the identical pages will be merged into one in order to save space (the information is, after all, the same). That page is stored in the same part of the memory of the physical computer. The attacker can now modify the information in the general memory of the computer. This can be done by triggering a hardware bug dubbed Rowhammer, which causes flip bits from 0 to 1 or vice versa, to seek out the vulnerable memory cells and change them.

Cracking OpenSSH
The researchers of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who worked together with a researcher from the Catholic University of Leuven, describe in their research two attacks on the operating systems Debian and Ubuntu. The first FFS attack gained access to the virtual machines through weakening OpenSSH public keys. The attacker did this by changing the victim’s public key with one bit. In the second attack, the settings of the software management application apt were adjusted by making minor changes to the URL from where apt downloads software. The server could then install malware that presents itself as a software update. The integrity check could be circumvented by making a small change to the public key that verifies the integrity of the apt-get software packages.


Ninth Circuit Knee-Caps Federal Trade Commission. Or: “You Know Nothing, Josh Wright.”

Ninth Circuit Knee-Caps Federal Trade Commission. Or: “You Know Nothing, Josh Wright.”
Aug 31 2016

Back in October 2014, before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified as Title II, both the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought complaints against AT&T Mobility for failure to disclose the extent they throttled “unlimited” customers once they passed a fairly low monthly limit. You can see the FCC Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) here. You can see the FTC complaint, filed in the district court for Northern California, here (press release here). As some of you may remember, the FCC was still debating whether or not to reclassify broadband as a Title II telecom service.  Opponents of FCC reclassification (or, indeed, of any FCC jurisdiction over broadband) pointed to the FTC enforcement action as proof that the FTC could handle consumer protection for broadband and the FCC should avoid exercising jurisdiction over broadband altogether.

In particular, as noted in this Washington Post piece, FTC Commissioner Maureen Olhausen (R) and then-FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright (R), both vocal opponents of FCC oversight of broadband generally and reclassification specifically, tweeted that the FTC complaint showed the FTC could require broadband providers to keep their promises to consumers without FCC net neutrality rules. Wright would subsequently reiterate this position in Congressional testimony, pointing to the FTC’s enforcement complaint under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) (15 U.S.C. 45) as an “unfair and deceptive” practice to prove that the FTC could adequately protect consumers from potential harms from broadband providers.

Turns out, according to the Ninth Circuit, not so much. As with so much the anti-FCC crowd asserted during the net neutrality debate, this turns out (pending appeal) to be dead wrong. Why? Contrary to what some people seem to think, most notably the usual suspects at Cable’s Team Rocket (who are quoted here as saying “reclassifying broadband means the FTC can’t police any practices of common carriers, at least in the Ninth Circuit” which is either an utterly wrong reading of the case or an incredibly disingenuous remark for implying that reclassification had something to do with this decision. You can see their full press release, which borders on the Trump-esque for its incoherence, here.)

As I explain below, the Ninth Circuit’s decision did not rest on reclassification of broadband. To the contrary, the court made it explicitly clear that it refused to consider the impact of reclassification because, even assuming mobile broadband was not a Title II service, AT&T Mobility is a “common carrier” by virtue of offering plain, ordinary mobile voice service (aka “commercial mobile radio service,” aka CMRS). The Ninth Circuit agreed with AT&T that because AT&T offers some services as common carrier services, AT&T Mobility is a “common carrier” for purposes of Section 5(a)(2) of the FTCA and thus exempt from FTC enforcement even for its non-common carrier services.

Given that Tech Freedom and the rest of the anti-FCC gang wanted this case to show how the Federal Trade Commission could handle all things broadband, I can forgive — and even pity — Tech Freedom’s desperate effort in their press release to somehow make this the fault of the FCC for reclassifying and conjuring an imaginary “gap” in broadband privacy protection rather than admit Congress gave that job to the FCC. After all, denial is one of the stages of grief, and it must come as quite a shock to Cable’s Team Rocket to once again see that Team PK-chu was right after all (even if it doesn’t make me particularly happy that we were, for reasons I will explain below). But this is policy, not therapy.  As of today, instead of two cops on the beat for broadband consumer protection access, we have one — the Federal Communications Commission. Fortunately for consumers, the FCC has been taking this job quite seriously with both enforcement actions and rulemakings. So while I consider it unfortunate that Ninth Circuit has cut out the FTC on non-common carrier related actions by companies offering a mix of common carrier and non-common carrier services, the only people who need to panic are Tech Freedom and the rest of the anti-FCC crowd.


3.7-billion-year-old fossils may be the oldest signs of life on Earth

3.7-billion-year-old fossils may be the oldest signs of life on Earth
By Joel Achenbach
Aug 31 2016

Scientists probing a newly exposed, formerly snow-covered outcropping in Greenland claim they have discovered the oldest fossils ever seen, the remnants of microbial mats that lived 3.7 billion years ago.

It’s a stunning announcement in a scientific field that is always contentious. But if confirmed, this would push the established fossil record more than 200 million years deeper into the Earth’s early history, and provide support for the view that life appeared very soon after the Earth formed and may be commonplace throughout the universe.

A team of Australian geologists announced their discovery in a paper titled “Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures,” published Wednesday in Nature.

They made their find in July 2012 while doing field research in Isua, a region of Greenland so remote that they had to travel there by helicopter. The site is known for having some of the oldest rocks on Earth, in what is known as the Isua supracrustal belt. Allen Nutman, a University of Wollongong geologist who has studied the rocks there since 1980, said one day he and his colleagues were working at the site when they spied some outcroppings they’d never seen before. The formations had been exposed where the snow pack had melted — the result, Nutman said, of the global warming that is so pronounced in Greenland or of low levels of snowfall the previous winter.

They examined the outcropping and immediately saw something intriguing: conical structures, just one to four centimeters (less than two inches) high. They look like fossilized microbial mats — basically, pillows of slime — known as stromatolites, which are formed today by bacterial communities living in shallow water.

“We all said, ‘This is amazing. These look like stromatolites,’ ” Nutman told The Washington Post.

Subsequent laboratory analysis established that the formation is 3.7 billion years old, and turned up additional chemical signatures consistent with a biological origin for the conical structures, Nutman said. The scientists determined the age of the rocks through radiometric dating, measuring the abundance of elements created by the steady decay of uranium.

Fossilized stromatolites nearly 3.5 billion years old have previously been found in Western Australia. Those fossils have until now been the oldest widely accepted evidence for life on Earth. Some researchers have cited signatures of life from an even earlier time, including in the Isua formation in Greenland, but typically these assertions have involved biologically friendly molecules rather than actual fossils. Moreover, very old rocks — older than 3 billion years — are exceedingly rare, because the Earth’s surface has been eroded over time and recycled through plate tectonics.

Claims about evidence for ancient life have invariably been controversial. The multiple lines of evidence for the Greenland stromatolites “are not as clear cut as you’d ideally want for such an extraordinary claim,” cautioned Abigail Allwood, a geologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who has studied fossil stromatolites.