Monday, March 3, 2014

Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ; Guardian, 2/27/14

Spencer Ackerman and James Ball, Guardian; Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ:
"Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy"."

Big Data Means Big Questions on How That Information Is Used; New York Times, 3/3/14

Natasha Singer, New York Times; Big Data Means Big Questions on How That Information Is Used:
"With the success of its free open online course system, called MITx, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds itself sitting on a wealth of student data that researchers might use to compare the efficacy of virtual teaching methods, and perhaps advance the field of Web-based instruction.
Since its inception several years ago, for instance, MITx has attracted more than 760,000 unique registered users from about 190 countries, university officials said. Those users have generated 700 million interactions with the school’s learning system and have contributed around 423,000 forum entries, many of them quite personal.
As researchers contemplate mining the students’ details, however, the university is grappling with ethical issues raised by the collection and analysis of these huge data sets, known familiarly as Big Data, said L. Rafael Reif, the president of M.I.T.
For instance, he said, serious privacy breaches could hypothetically occur if someone were to correlate the personal forum postings of online students with institutional records that the university had de-identified for research purposes."

Pitt faces animal rights scrutiny; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/2/14

Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Pitt faces animal rights scrutiny:
"An animal rights group has filed a letter of complaint against the University of Pittsburgh, asking that the school be fined for violations against the federal Animal Welfare Act in its research labs.
The group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, charges two rabbits died while being used in Pitt experiments and that there were several instances of primate escapes and other infractions, based on information Pitt voluntarily reported to the National Institutes of Health.
The group is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act, to fine Pitt $80,000 -- the maximum for what it counts as eight infractions.
Pitt acknowledges that "minor violations" occurred but said the violations already had been investigated by the NIH and that the agency did not find cause for further action."

F.D.A. Weighs Fertility Method That Raises Ethical Questions; New York Times, 2/25/14

Sabrina Tavernese, New York Times; F.D.A. Weighs Fertility Method That Raises Ethical Questions:
"The Food and Drug Administration is weighing a fertility procedure that involves combining the genetic material of three people to make a baby free of certain defects, a therapy that critics say is an ethical minefield and could lead to the creation of designer babies.
The agency has asked a panel of experts to summarize current science to determine whether the approach — which has been performed successfully in monkeys by researchers in Oregon and in people more than a decade ago — is safe enough to be used again in people.
The F.D.A. meeting, on Tuesday and Wednesday, is meant to address the scientific issues around the procedure, not the ethics. Regulators are asking scientists to discuss the risks to the mother and the potential child and how future studies should be structured, among other issues."