February 10, 2012
By Steve Watson
A privacy advocacy group has swayed Congress to hold a hearing next week into the Department of Homeland Security’s practice of monitoring social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as media reports and organizations, including The Drudge Report.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) recently obtained close to 300 pages of documents, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, detailing the federal agency’s “intelligence gathering” practices on the web.
Among the documents were guidelines from DHS instructing outside contractors to monitor the web for media reports and comments that “reflect adversely” on the agency or the federal government.
As Reuters reported last month, in early 2010 contractors were asked to spend 24 hours monitoring news media coverage on popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks, as well as news sites including the Huffington Post and The Drudge Report.
The contractors were required to provide the DHS with feedback on any potential “threats and hazards”, as well as “any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) ability to prevent, protect and respond, to recovery efforts or activities related to any crisis or events which impact National Planning Scenarios.”
The documents also state that the program should highlight “both positive and negative reports on FEMA, C.I.A., C.B.P., ICE, etc., as well as organizations outside of D.H.S.”
The documents obtained by EPIC indicate that following the exercise, a procurement official awarded an $11.3 million contract to General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in order to carry out the monitoring on a “24/7/365 basis”.
May 5, 2010
People who take aspirin regularly for a year or more may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease, according to a new study by the University of East Anglia.
Led by Dr Andrew Hart of UEA’s School of Medicine, the research will be presented for the first time at the Digestive Disease Week conference in New Orleans today.
Crohn’s disease is a serious condition affecting 60,000 people in the UK and 500,000 people in the US. It is characterized by inflammation and swelling of any part of the digestive system. This can lead to debilitating symptoms and requires patients to take life-long medication. Some patients need surgery and some sufferers have an increased risk of bowel cancer.
Though there are likely to be many causes of the disease, previous work on tissue samples has shown that aspirin can have a harmful effect on the bowel. To investigate this potential link further, the UEA team followed 200,000 volunteers aged 30-74 in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Italy. The volunteers had been recruited for the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) between 1993 and 1997.
The volunteers were all initially well, but by 2004 a small number had developed Crohn’s disease. When looking for differences in aspirin use between those who did and did not develop the disease, the researchers discovered that those taking aspirin regularly for a year or more were around five times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease.
The study also showed that aspirin use had no effect on the risk of developing ulcerative colitis – a condition similar to Crohn’s disease.
“This is early work but our findings do suggest that the regular use of aspirin could be one of many factors which influences the development of this distressing disease in some patients,” said Dr Hart.
“Aspirin does have many beneficial effects, however, including helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. I would urge aspirin users to continue taking this medication since the risk of aspirin users possibly developing Crohn’s disease remains very low – only one in every 2000 users, and the link is not yet finally proved.”
Further work must now be done in other populations to establish whether there is a definite link and to check that aspirin use is not just a marker of another risk factor which is the real cause of Crohn’s disease. The UEA team will also continue its wider research into other potential factors in the development of Crohn’s disease, including diet.
January 11, 2010
By Mike Adams
The TSA has been lying to the American people about full-body scanners. The agency has insisted that these “digital strip search” machines are incapable of saving, storing or transmitting the images they take. This, we are told, makes it okay for people to be digitally strip-searched.
But secret documents uncovered by the Electronic Privacy Information Center have revealed that these machines do indeed posses precisely such capabilities. According to TSA specification requirement documents that have been uncovered by the EPIC, all full-body scanners purchased by the TSA must have the ability to both save and transmit the scanned images of air passengers.
The documents were obtained by EPIC through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. They have also been shared with CNN, which has viewed the documents and published a story about what they reveal.
These documents contradict the claims of the TSA, which include the statement that “the system has no way to save, transmit or print the image.”
TSA misleads the public
The TSA’s own “imaging technology” page claims, “This state-of-the-art technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image. In fact, all machines are delivered to airports with these functions disabled.”
That in itself is an interesting statement because by stating those functions are “disabled,” it also admits that the machines inherently have these functions. And just because the machines are delivered with the functions disabled doesn’t mean those functions can’t be re-enabled at the flick of a switch.
In other words, these machines are designed and constructed with the ability to save, store and transmit the images.
“I don’t think the TSA has been forthcoming with the American public about the true capability of these devices,” said the Executive Director of EPIC, Marc Rotenberg in a CNN interview. “They’ve done a bunch of very slick promotions where they show people — including journalists — going through the devices. And then they reassure people, based on the images that have been produced, that there’s not any privacy concerns. But if you look at the actual technical specifications and you read the vendor contracts, you come to understand that these machines are capable of doing far more than the TSA has let on.”
In other words, the TSA is telling the public and the press one thing, but the machines they’re buying are capable of something far more insidious, these documents reveal. Is the TSA intentionally lying to the public in order to mislead people over the real capabilities of these machines?
If these full-body scanners can save, store and transmit images, then it’s only a matter of time before some rogue TSA employee finds a way to copy off the images or display them on the screen so that they can take snapshots with their own portable cameras.
The TSA says it’s protecting your privacy. But its own scanner specification documents tell a different story: The TSA won’t even buy these machines unless they can save, store and transmit revealing images of air passengers.