Geek Stuff

Google Pixel phones can be rooted… but it’s still a work in progress

Liliputing -

Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones are the first to ship with a new set of disk partitions designed to make it possible to download and install system updates in the background (and safely roll back an update if there are problems installing it).

But the new partition layout, along with some other changes in Android 7.1, mean that existing methods for rooting an Android device don’t work with the Pixel phones.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get root access though.

Continue reading Google Pixel phones can be rooted… but it’s still a work in progress at Liliputing.

Uber's 'Elevate' Project Aims To Bring Flying Electric Cars To Cities By 2026

Slashdot -

Uber has revealed a new project through which it aims to bring flying cars to commuters by 2026. The company published a white paper today outlining its plans for Uber Elevate, a network of on-demand electric aircraft. Business Insider adds: Known as VTOL aircraft -- short for Vertical Take-Off and Landing -- the aircraft would be used to shorten commute times in busy cities, turning a two-hour drive into a 15-minute trip. According to a piece out from Wired on the new plans, Uber doesn't plan to build the aircraft themselves. The ride-hailing company will bring together private companies and the government to deal with the larger issues of making this project a reality, Wired reports. The vehicles would be able to travel at about 150 mph for up to 100 miles and carry multiple people, including a pilot, according to Wired.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

6 inch ZTE Axon 7 Max smartphone launches in China for $440

Liliputing -

The ZTE Axon 7 made headlines this year thanks to its combination of a $400 price tag and flagship-level smartphone specs including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and a 5.5 inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel display.

ZTE also recently launched an Axon 7 Mini which is smaller, cheaper, and generally less impressive.

Now the company is expanding the lineup with an Axon 7 Max featuring a 6 inch display. It’s up for pre-order in China for 2,999 yuan (about $440), and should ship November 2nd.

Continue reading 6 inch ZTE Axon 7 Max smartphone launches in China for $440 at Liliputing.

Halloween Pumpkin Light Effect Tutorial

Raspberry Pi -

While browsing the Halloween section of my local supermarket, I stumbled across this adorable pumpkin light for £2. Given the fact I had a £2 coin in my pocket and an itching for a Halloween hack project, it came home with me at once.

Mediocre spooky

You’ll see, if you look hard enough, the small orange LED within the plastic shell. Controlled by a switch beneath, the light was less than impressive once illuminated. 

And so the hack seed was planted.

Now, I’ll admit to not having much coding knowledge. But what I lack in skills, I make up for in charm, and it didn’t take long for me to find help from a couple of Raspberry Pi staffers.

Pimoroni had been nice enough to send us some Blinkt! units a while back and while one is being used for our People in Space Indicator, I’d been wanting to use one myself for some sort of lighting effect. So, with their Getting Started guide in hand (or rather, on screen), I set up the Raspberry Pi 3 that lives on my desk, attached the Blinkt! HAT and got to work on creating this…

Halloween Pumpkin Light Effect

Use a Raspberry Pi and Pimoroni Blinkt! to create an realistic lighting effect for your Halloween Pumpkin. Learn how at www.

If you’d like to create your own pumpkin light effect, you’ll need:

  • A Raspberry Pi (Make sure you use one that fits in your pumpkin!)
  • A Pimoroni Blinkt!
  • A power supply (plus monitor, mouse, and keyboard for setup)
  • A pumpkin

Take your Blinkt! and attach it to your Pi. If you’re using a 1-3 model, this will be easy enough, but make sure the Pi fits in your pumpkin! If, like me, you need to go smaller, you’ll have to solder your header pins to a Zero before attaching the HAT.

You might want to make sure Raspbian is running on the newest version. Why? Well, why not? You don’t have to upgrade to PIXEL, but you totally should as it’s very pretty. Its creator, Simon Long, was my soldering master for this project. His skills are second to none. To upgrade to Pixel, follow the steps here.

In the terminal, you’ll need to install the Pimoroni Blinkt! library. Use the following to achieve this:

curl -sS | bash

You’ll need to reboot the Raspberry Pi to allow the changes to take effect. You can do this by typing:

sudo reboot

At this point, you’re more than welcome to go your own way with the Blinkt! and design your own light show (this may help). However, and with major thanks to Jonic Linley, we’ve created a pumpkin fire effect for you.

Within the terminal, type:

git clone

This will bring the code to your Raspberry Pi from GitHub. Next, we need to tell the Raspberry Pi to automatically start the code when you power up. To do this, type:

nano ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

At end of the file, add this line:

@python /home/pi/fire_effect/

Save and then reboot:

sudo reboot

Now you’re good to go. 

To add more of a spread to the light effect, I created a diffuser to cover the Blinkt! LEDs. In the video above, you’ll see I used a tissue. I wouldn’t suggest this for prolonged use, due to the unit getting a little warm; I won’t be responsible for any  subsequent tissue fires. I would suggest using a semi-opaque bowl (the ones you get a Christmas pudding in) or a piece of plastic from a drinks bottle, and go to town on it with some fine sandpaper.

We also drilled a small hole in the back for the micro-USB lead to reach the Zero. I used a battery pack for power, but you could use a lead directly into the mains. With a larger pumpkin, you could put a battery pack inside with the Pi.

If you use this code, please share a photo with us below, or across social media. We’d love to see what you get up to.

And if you want to buy the Blinkt!, the team at Pimoroni have kindly agreed to extend the cut-off for postage on Friday from midday to 3pm, allowing you the chance to get the unit through your door on Monday (so long as you live in the UK). You can also purchase the Blinkt! from Adafruit if you live across the pond.

The post Halloween Pumpkin Light Effect Tutorial appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Twitter Is Cutting 9% of Its Global Workforce

Slashdot -

Twitter is planning to lay off 9 percent of its global workforce, as the ailing San Francisco tech giant struggles to please Wall Street despite beating earnings expectations. The company officially announced the cuts today in its third-quarter earnings, days after reports began to surface of the impending cuts. AdWeek reports: According to Twitter, the majority of the reductions will take place in its sales, partnerships and marketing divisions in order to "continue to fully fund our highest priorities," according to a letter to shareholders. However, the earnings also came with some good news. Total monthly active users grew for the second consecutive quarter to 317 million users, gaining 4 million over the past three months since its second-quarter results. Daily active users also increased, rising 7 percent year over year. Twitter's revenue totaled $616 million -- an 8 percent increase year over year. Earnings per share totaled 13 cents, beating expectations of 9 cents per share and $606 million in total revenue. However, the company reported profit fell by $103 million.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

T-Mobile offers $325 credit to Pixel owners (with a lot of caveats)

Liliputing -

Verizon may be the only carrier selling Google’s new Pixel phones directly to consumers, but if you buy a Pixel or Pixel XL from the Google Store, you can use it with any US wireless carrier.

Now T-Mobile is trying to attract Pixel owners with a promotion: bring a Pixel to T-Mobile and get up to $325 in credit. That’s kind of like getting a phone for half off, since the 5 inch Pixel with 32GB of storage costs $650.

Continue reading T-Mobile offers $325 credit to Pixel owners (with a lot of caveats) at Liliputing.

World Wildlife Falls By 58% in 40 years

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Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970, BBC reports citing The Living Planet assessment by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WWF. The report adds that if the trend continues, the decline would reach two-thirds among vertebrates by 2020. The figures suggest that animals living in lakes, rivers and wetlands are suffering the biggest losses. Human activity, including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution and climate change contributed to the declines. From the report: Dr Mike Barrett. head of science and policy at WWF, said: "It's pretty clear under 'business as usual' we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we've reached a point where there isn't really any excuse to let this carry on. This analysis looked at 3,700 different species of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles - about 6% of the total number of vertebrate species in the world. The team collected data from peer-reviewed studies, government statistics and surveys collated by conservation groups and NGOs. Any species with population data going back to 1970, with two or more time points (to show trends) was included in the study.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Obama’s Silence on Crypto Could Set the Stage For Bad Policies to Come

EFF's Deeplinks -

One year ago today, the 100,000th person added their name to a public petition calling on President Obama to categorically reject any attempt to add backdoors to our devices or otherwise undermine encryption.

Since then, crickets.

Obama has promised to reply to petitions on his We the People platform that receive over 100,000 signatures. But the only response our hugely popular petition received was a nonresponse asking for more input

Since then, the issue has become even more pressing. While the urgency of the Apple encryption battle may have abated, the conversation around forcing tech companies to assist the government in obtaining access to unencrypted data has continued.

Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote last month that the misguided Feinstein-Burr proposal—which sought to force tech companies to render unencrypted communications at law enforcement’s request—has been revised by the authors with an intent to find a version they could push through Congress with less opposition. Sanchez wrote: “Their offices have been circulating a series of proposed changes to the law, presumably in hopes of making it more palatable to stakeholders,” and then he detailed the adjustments to the fundamentally flawed proposal.

This should worry anybody who believes in strong digital security and fears attempts to undermine it. 

The backdoor issue is part of a larger conversation our country is having about digital security right now. We saw renewed public interest in cybersecurity last week when major websites like Twitter, Amazon, and Paypal suffered outages as their DNS provider Dyn came under a series of DDoS attacks. This highlights how the choices independent corporations make around security can have huge ramifications for the general public. We now know that the attacks last week were at least partially reliant on the security choices made by companies like Hangzhou Xiongmai, whose default settings made it trivial for their products to be taken over and turned into a zombie hoard that helped take down some of the Web’s favorite sites. In light of this demonstration of how poor security can cripple core Internet services, it’s even more important that the U.S. government champion best practices. We need the Administration to be leading our country along the path of strong security practices, uncompromised crypto, and engineering design that’s resistant to attack.

EFF, Access Now, and others sent a letter to the president today, urging him again to respond to the 100,000 individuals who spoke out in defense of encryption. As we explain in our letter, the world is watching the United States to see how we’ll address this issue:

Around the world, governments have capitalized on the lack of leadership in support for encryption and implemented harmful laws and policies. China specifically cited to the rhetoric in the U.S. last December when it passed a new law that likely bans end to end encryption, with no upper limit on fines for non-compliant companies. The UK is on the fringe of passing a law that would, practically, have the same impact. And from Brazil to Russia to India we are seeing other actions that will undermine the security of the global Internet.

Obama has tried to paint himself as a tech-savvy president who champions civil liberties. As he prepares to leave office in a few months, he has a golden opportunity to stand up for digital security. That means doing more than quietly indicating he wouldn’t support a backdoor bill; it means affirmatively describing a policy of the federal government that doesn’t seek to undermine encryption.

Over 100,000 people have been waiting for Obama’s leadership on this vital issue for a year now. His continued silence on the matter could leave open questions about how and when the Justice Department will seek future methods of undermining our security. But a strong statement from the White House today could ensure his Justice Department stops its nonsensical and short-sighted war on secure communications. It will also set the right standard for the next president to take office.

We’re all counting on you, Mr. President.

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Qualcomm to acquire NXP for $47 billion

Liliputing -

When chip maker NXP Semiconductors acquired Freescale last year, the goal was to create a combined company worth $40 billion and produce chips for cars, mobile devices, and a wide range of smart, connected devices.

Now rival Qualcomm has announced plans to acquire NXP for $47 billion.

To put things another way, the second largest chip maker is buying the fourth largest.

While NXP is the dominant player in automotive chips, Qualcomm’s bread and butter in recent years has revolved around smartphone processors.

Continue reading Qualcomm to acquire NXP for $47 billion at Liliputing.

Hotel CEO Openly Celebrates Higher Prices After Anti-Airbnb Law Passes

Slashdot -

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: A hotel executive said a recently-passed New York law cracking down on Airbnb hosts will enable the company to raise prices for New York City hotel rooms, according to the transcript of the executive's words on a call with shareholders last week. The law, signed by New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday, slaps anyone who lists their apartment on a short-term rental site with a fine up to $7,500. It "should be a big boost in the arm for the business," Mike Barnello, chief executive of the hotel chain LaSalle Hotel Properties, said of the law last Thursday, "certainly in terms of the pricing." Barnello's comment adds fuel the argument, made repeatedly by Airbnb and its proponents, that a law that was passed in the name of affordable housing also allows established hotels to raises prices for consumers. It was included in a memo written by Airbnb's head of global policy, Chris Lehane, to the Internet Association, a tech trade group, reviewed by the Washington Post. LaSalle, a Bethesda, MD-based chain, owns hotels around the country, including New York City. The memo is the latest volley in a bitter fight that has pit the hotel industry, unions, and affordable housing advocates against Airbnb and its supporters. At the heart of the fight is a debate over the societal value of the Airbnb platform and its role in the economy of cities throughout the world. The question is whether Airbnb has been a net benefit, by enabling middle class city-dwellers to make extra money by renting out their homes, or whether it has had the unintended consequence of exacerbating affordable housing crises in expensive cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Build a remote control robot with The MagPi 51

Raspberry Pi -

Hi, Rob from The MagPi here! Issue 51 is out and just in case you weren’t sold on it already, here’s a little something to tempt you.

Brian Corteil, writer of the feature, has christened this robot ‘Tiny’

Over the past few years, Raspberry Pi robotics has really come into its own, taking strides to make building robots just that little bit more fun and accessible. This month in The MagPi, we’ve decided to take all these advances and use them to create an incredible little robot.

We’ll guide you through the process of making your robot while also giving you top advice on other methods for robot construction, in case you feel the spark of inspiration once the build is over. It’s not just robots we’re building this issue though. We have some amazing tutorials on the following:

  • Building an underwater camera
  • Finishing up our RaspCade arcade cabinet build
  • A guide to NOOBS for beginners
  • Using WiFi signals as a people detector

There’s lots more to enjoy, including reviews, columns, and a series of spooky and simple Halloween projects.

You can get hold of the latest issue in stores now from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda. Alternatively you can grab an issue online or get it digitally via our app on Android and iOS. There’s even a free PDF of it as well! You’re spoilt for choice…

Get a free Pi Zero
Want to make sure you never miss an issue? Subscribe today and get a Pi Zero bundle featuring the new, camera-enabled Pi Zero, together with a cable bundle that includes the camera adapter.

Free Pi Zeros and posters: what’s not to love about a MagPi subscription?

Free Creative Commons download
As always, you can download your copy of The MagPi completely free. Grab it straight from the issue page for The MagPi 51.

Don’t forget, though, that like sales of the Raspberry Pi itself, all proceeds from the print and digital editions of the magazine go to help the Foundation achieve its charitable goals. Help us democratise computing!

We hope you enjoy the issue!

The post Build a remote control robot with The MagPi 51 appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

WhatsApp Is Rolling Out Video Calls On Its Android App

Slashdot -

WhatsApp appears to be rolling out its video calling feature for beta users of the Android app. The arrival of the feature was first spotted by Android Police, which found that an updated app interface caused some users of the beta builds of the application to be able to access video calling. TechCrunch reports: For those on a version of WhatsApp which includes video calling support, you're able to tap the call button or tap on a contact card to kick off a video call. In this case, a new dialog box will appear, offering the choice between a standard voice call and a video call. In addition, the call log will show which calls were made via video by annotating them with the camera icon, instead of the telephone icon. However, there isn't yet a way to call other WhatsApp users who don't also have video calling support. If you try to, WhatsApp defaults to a voice call. Android isn't the only platform where video calling has been switched on. Last week, some users on the WhatsApp beta for Windows Phone were also surprised to find that the feature was now functional. And in this case, it didn't require an app update -- indicating a server-side change could enable it. Some users have also reported seeing the feature on iOS.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Rich People Pay Less Attention To Other People, Says Study

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An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a small recent study, researchers from New York University found that those who considered themselves in higher classes looked at people who walked past them less than those who said they were in a lower class did. The results were published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science. According to Pia Dietze, a social psychology doctoral student at NYU and a lead author of the study, previous research has shown that people from different social classes vary in how they tend to behave towards other people. So, she wanted to shed some light on where such behaviors could have originated. The research was divided into three separate studies. For the first, Dietze and NYU psychology lab director Professor Eric Knowles asked 61 volunteers to walk along the street for one block while wearing Google Glass to record everything they looked at. These people were also asked to identify themselves as from a particular social class: either poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, or upper class. An independent group watched the recordings and made note of the various people and things each Glass wearer looked at and for how long. The results showed that class identification, or what class each person said they belonged to, had an impact on how long they looked at the people who walked past them. During Study 2, participants viewed street scenes while the team tracked their eye movements. Again, higher class was associated with reduced attention to people in the images. For the third and final study, the results suggested that this difference could stem from the way the brain works, rather than being a deliberate decision. Close to 400 participants took part in an online test where they had to look at alternating pairs of images, each containing a different face and five objects. Whereas higher class participants took longer to notice when the face was different in the alternate image compared to lower classes, the amount of time it took to detect the change of objects did not differ between them. The team reached the conclusion that faces seem to be more effective in grabbing the attention of individuals who come from relatively lower class backgrounds.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

New Study Shows HIV Epidemic Started Spreading In New York In 1970, Clears the Name of 'Patient Zero'

Slashdot -

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: A new genetic study confirms theories that the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS started in New York around 1970, and it also clears the name of a gay flight attendant long vilified as being "Patient Zero." Researchers got hold of frozen samples of blood taken from patients years before the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS was ever recognized, and teased out genetic material from the virus from that blood. They use it to show that HIV was circulating widely during the 1970s, and certainly before people began noticing a "gay plague" in New York in the early 1980s. "We can date the jump into the U.S. in about 1970 and 1971," Michael Worobey, an expert on the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, told reporters in a telephone briefing. Their findings also suggest HIV moved from New York to San Francisco in about 1976, they report in the journal Nature. Their findings confirm widespread theories that HIV first leapt from apes to humans in Africa around the beginning of the 20th century and circulated in central Africa before hitting the Caribbean in the 1960s. The genetic evidence supports the theory that the virus came from the Caribbean, perhaps Haiti, to New York in 1970. From there it spread explosively before being exported to Europe, Australia and Asia. The Worobey team also sequenced samples of virus taken from Gaetan Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant named as "Patient Zero." Dugas died in 1984 and stunned researchers when he told them he'd had about 250 sexual partners a year between 1979 and 1981, although it later became clear that was not uncommon. The sequences make it clear he was a victim of an epidemic that had already been raging, and not its originator, Worobey said. "It's shocking how this man's name has been sullied and destroyed by this incorrect history," said Peter Staley, a former Wall Street bond trader who became an AIDS activist in New York in the 1980s. "He was not Patient Zero and this study confirms it through genetic analysis," Staley told NBC News. "No one should be blamed for the spread of viruses," Worobey said.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Delta Now Lets You Track Your Baggage In Real-Time

Slashdot -

Let's face it, tracking down a lost bag at the airport is a pain-in-the-ass. While airlines will often compensate you with money and new clothes for your troubles, the experience is certainly not pleasant. Delta is now attempting to further reduce the number of lost bags through its real-time luggage tracker in the latest version of its mobile app. The Next Web reports: The feature apparently cost $50 million to build. It allows you to see where your stuff is -- provided that it's at one of the 84 airports that support Delta's new tracking tech. Here's how it works. All bags will get a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. This allows Delta to track them in real-time using radio waves. Scanners positioned throughout the baggage system will allow Delta to monitor where the bag is, and relay that information to the passenger. Delta has traditionally been one of the best airlines when it comes to handling baggage. During 2012, it lost only 200,000 bags. That sounds like a lot, but bear in mind it carried 98 million passengers during the same period. You can try the feature on your next Delta flight by grabbing the app from Google Play and the App Store.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Apple Delays AirPods Beyond Original 'Late October' Window

Slashdot -

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple's new wireless, $180 AirPods have less than a week to meet their original shipping target of "late October," and now the company has confirmed that such a launch is officially off the table. A Wednesday statement, given to Ars Technica just one day ahead of the company's latest Mac-related press event, confirmed Apple's decision to delay the wireless headphones' launch. In the statement, Apple tells Ars that the company "needs a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers." "The early response to AirPods has been incredible," the Apple statement reads. "We don't believe in shipping a product before it's ready." Apple declined to offer any estimate or release window information about when to expect the AirPods' official launch.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Tesla Posts Second Profitable Quarter Ever

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anderzole writes from a report via BGR: Tesla on Wednesday posted its earnings report for the quarter gone by and investors will have a lot to cheer about. While analysts on Wall St. were expecting Tesla to post a loss, Tesla during its September quarter actually posted a profit, and an impressive profit at that. When the dust settled, Tesla posted a quarterly profit of $22 million and EPS of $0.71. Revenue for the quarter checked in at $2.3 billion. Illustrating how impressive Tesla's performance was this past quarter, Wall St. was anticipating Tesla to post a loss amid $1.9 billion in revenue for the quarter. As far as deliveries are concerned, Tesla during the quarter boasted that it achieved record vehicle production, deliveries and revenue. More importantly, Tesla reaffirmed via a shareholder letter that the Model 3 is still on track for a late 2017 release. You can read Tesla's shareholder letter here.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

What Do Trade Agreements Do for Open Access—And What Don't They Do?

EFF's Deeplinks -

“If you can't beat 'em, join 'em” seems to have become the tech industry's attitude towards the current crop of trade agreements, such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Their reasoning is just as these agreements can be used by big content to export the most restrictive elements of U.S. copyright law around the world, so too they can be used to export provisions that favor U.S. Internet platforms, such as rules on the free flow of data across borders.

But what about provisions favoring open access? Could trade agreements ensure that U.S. policies on open access, such as the 2013 White House open access memo, are also part of our nation's trade policy?

They certainly could. But they don't. As we explained last year, the provisions that America's closed trade agreements lock into law would, if anything, place barriers in the way of open access initiatives, by enshrining tough protections for digital locks on content, criminally penalizing those who offer access to scholarly works without authority, and prohibiting TPP countries from requiring access to the source code of digital products.

The absence of support for open access in trade agreements comes as no surprise when considering that there are no representatives from the education sector, nor any library or archive representatives, in the relevant closed-door trade advisory committees that advise the U.S. Trade Representative on trade policy, such as the Intellectual Property Rights committee.

This contrasts with more open fora such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), at which the library and archive communities are far better represented, and where the possibility of a future instrument that might preserve and promote open access policies is at least being openly discussed.

Open access has the potential to promote trade in high tech products and services, by assisting in the free flow of ideas and knowledge across borders and thereby stimulating innovation and business development around the world. In many ways, if we accept that intellectual property policy has a place in trade agreements at all, then open access rules should be a natural fit for inclusion amongst these rules.

The fact that open access policy hasn't rated so much of a mention in current trade discussions doesn't come as a surprise, but it does represent another indication of the irrelevance of these captured negotiations to large segments of the community, and of the pressing need for reform of the processes by which they are negotiated.

EFF is proud to participate in Open Access Week. Check back all week for opportunities to get involved with the fight for open access.

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Empty Promises on Privacy for Foreigners Abroad in PPD-28

EFF's Deeplinks -

The Obama administration promised privacy protections for foreigners abroad, but PPD-28 fails to deliver those protections

In early 2014, still reeling from global outrage over recently uncovered surveillance programs, President Barack Obama pledged to rein in the U.S. government’s spying and boost privacy protections for people in the U.S. and abroad. His words were heartening:

“People around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people … and that we take their privacy concerns into account,” he said, standing in front of American flags at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Obama specifically pointed to Presidential Policy Directive 28, an executive branch document that set out new rules for how the government treats foreigners’ information. In Obama’s telling, PPD-28 took “the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas.”

That sounds noble, but it vastly overstates how the protections work in practice.

In truth, the U.S. does not provide significant safeguards to protect the privacy rights of foreigners abroad from its surveillance programs. To the contrary, even after PPD-28 in 2014, the U.S. government has continued to seize and scan the communications of hundreds of millions of foreigners abroad with no ties to crime or national security threats. A huge number of those communications are then collected and made available for a wide range of further uses. In fact, while the U.S. has pointed to PPD-28 as a major protection for people around the world, that document marked no significant change to the actual surveillance the U.S. has been conducting.

The U.S. has an Americans-Only Approach to Privacy

For Americans, of course, the bedrock protection against their country spying on them is U.S. Constitution. But the U.S. maintains that because non-citizens located outside the U.S. largely lack constitutional rights, it can act in ways regarding foreigners that would be completely unconstitutional if those affected were Americans. It similarly excludes people outside the U.S. from the protections of most U.S. privacy laws, even when the actions of the U.S. government impact their privacy.

The U.S. is Ten Years Behind Europe

The U.S. is ten years behind Europe in requiring their government agencies to protect the privacy of noncitizens when government actions affect them. In 2006 and again in 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that people and groups have privacy rights when it comes to surveillance conducted by other countries. In the 2008 case of Liberty and Others v. United Kingdom, the court ruled that the UK violated the privacy rights of two Ireland-based NGOs with its extraterritorial surveillance. In the 2006 case of Weber and Savaria v. Germany, the court was similarly prepared to consider the complaints of two residents of Uruguay against monitoring of their telecommunications by the German government.

The U.S. is Not Compliant with International Law

Even after PPD-28 was issued, the United Nations’ independent experts on human rights explicitly criticized the U.S. for its Americans-only approach to privacy protections. In its report on U.S. surveillance practices, the Human Rights Committee welcomed PPD-28 but expressed concerns that it provided “only limited protection against excessive surveillance” and “that the persons affected have no access to effective remedies in the case of abuse.” It urged:

[M]easures should be taken to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy complies with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity, regardless of the nationality or location of the individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance.

Similarly, in 2013 the United Nations rejected attempts by the U.S. to limit its responsibilities to just protections Americans in a recitation [.pdf], stating that it was:

Deeply concerned at the negative impact that surveillance and/or interception of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of communications, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale, may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights.

The UN expressly recognized that international law includes a duty on a state to respect the human rights of persons physically outside the state but whose rights are interfered with by the state’s actions within its borders. The U.S. has not met this duty.

PPD-28 Loopholes and Limits

People around the world were hopeful that President Obama’s statement meant that the U.S. would finally recognize that it must provide foreigners with meaningful protection against U.S. surveillance. And PPD-28 sounds good, providing that  “all persons are entitled to respect, regardless of their nationality” and directing the U.S. government to apply data protections policies and procedures equally to all persons regardless of nationality.

But, as the U.N. noted, PPD-28 has not resulted in meaningful protections for foreigners. While PPD-28 speaks of harmonizing protections for all people, it has a number of loopholes. And because foreigners, unlike U.S. citizens, receive essentially no other protections in U.S. law, these loopholes are especially significant.

The NSA’s policies and procedures under PPD-28 contain a glaring loophole that exempts data that is “temporarily acquired to facilitate targeted collection.” One example of data that is seemingly exempted under the loophole is anything collected through the U.S. government’s Upstream surveillance, which involves the collection of billions of foreign communications. The government then searches that data in order to perform “targeted” surveillance. As a result, all foreign communications that are acquired as part of the government’s access to the Internet backbone through Upstream are seemingly unprotected by PPD-28. Of course, this is a privacy violation that the government applies equally to Americans, so U.S. citizens also largely suffer from this same disproportionate collection and, to a lesser extent, mass searching.

Perhaps even more important, PPD-28 contains an explicit authorization to collect and use foreigners’ communications in bulk under a broad set of circumstances. By contrast, U.S. citizens are not supposed to be subject to bulk collection under any circumstances (although we know that’s not true in practice). As a result, PPD-28’s authorization to engage in bulk collection about foreigners represents a significant disparity. Also under PPD-28, the U.S. government has sweeping authority to forward, use, and retain foreigners’ communications collected in bulk in order to deal with six exceedingly broad categories of threats, including espionage “against the United States and its interests,” “cybersecurity threats,” and “transnational criminal threats.”

The Rest of U.S. Law is Little Help

The rest of U.S. law is also of little help when it comes to protecting the privacy of foreigners abroad, in that it allows the U.S. to specifically target them for spying for broadly defined foreign intelligence purposes.

Under FISA Amendments Act Section 702, for example, surveillance of non-U.S. citizens outside the U.S. is subject only to the limitation that a “significant purpose” of the surveillance be to gather “foreign intelligence information.” The term “foreign intelligence information” is expansively defined and constitutes any information that “relates to” a foreign power or territory and the United States’ foreign affairs, national defense, or security. And for surveillance conducted outside the U.S. under Executive Order 12333, the definition of “foreign intelligence” is even broader, including information that is merely related to the “capabilities, intentions and activities of foreign powers, organizations or persons.” Reported examples of surveillance undertaken for a “foreign intelligence” purpose under one or both definitions include economic targets such as Venezuelan and Brazilian oil companies. Once either of these indefinite standards – which are never reviewed by a neutral third party – are satisfied, the U.S. Government’s surveillance powers against foreigners is nearly absolute.  

Further underscoring the U.N.’s concerns, the availability of judicial review or any redress for this surveillance is severely limited. The massive secrecy surrounding these activities means that – similar to U.S. persons in our Jewel v. NSA case and others – the U.S. government would argue that foreigners abroad do not have sufficient proof of any use or misuse of their information to maintain standing in U.S. courts. We are fighting that position, of course, but the pathway is likely even more difficult for foreigners abroad affected by U.S. mass surveillance.

While the U.S. does have some requirements to notify surveillance subjects under FISA, those requirements are very narrow.  FISA requires such notice only when the government intends to use evidence against those “aggrieved persons” in a court proceeding. But by its nature, foreign intelligence surveillance rarely leads to criminal or other court proceedings. And even within that requirement, the government reads its obligation exceedingly narrowly. In practice, the government has notified fewer than a dozen “aggrieved persons” subject to surveillance under Section 702 out of the millions of individuals likely implicated in the hundreds of millions of communications collected annually. None of those notified have been foreigners abroad.

The Result: the U.S. Promise to Protect Foreigners Is Largely Illusory

Taken together, the U.S. government’s refusal to consider basic privacy rights for foreigners abroad, the glaring loopholes in PPD-28, and the inability for foreigners to learn about or challenge online surveillance means the protections Obama promised with PPD-28 back In 2014 are largely illusory. Remember that the next time you hear a U.S. official defend the government’s surveillance programs and their so-called privacy protections for foreigners abroad.

Related Cases: Jewel v. NSA
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