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Dec 1

Supreme Court considers federal anti-hacking law

By |2020-12-01T15:35:56-08:00December 1st, 2020|government, judicial, Technology Innovations|0 Comments

The internet became a thing on August 6, 1991.

Every day since users have feared their private information, credit cards and social security number would be stolen.  Since the World Wide Web became publicly available that day in August, many groups and individuals have been hell-bent on getting your information and just like computers have evolved over the years, so has hacking.

Laws, however, have not kept pace with the criminal innovations for computer hacking.

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing one of the final steps in the biggest hacking case to come before the nation’s highest court involving the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), written in the 1980s. The case centers on when an individual “exceeds authorized access” to a computer, as defined by that law.

The CFAA is a piece of legislation instituted in 1986 that internet freedom advocates have described as “the worst law in technology.” The CFAA makes it illegal for computer users to access another computer or exceed authorized access without permission.

The issue with the CFAA is that it’s ambiguous and open to interpretation.  And many argue that because it was written before the internet became what it is today, it is a hollow law.

Today’s case before the court involves Nathan Van Buren, a former Georgia police officer, who was convicted of violating the CFAA by searching police records on behalf of an acquaintance. A Georgia court convicted Van Buren in 2017 after a man paid him $6,000 to search through a law enforcement database on his behalf.

The other man, Andrew Albo, was working undercover for the FBI and told Van Buren he was trying to learn if a local stripper was working as an undercover cop.

Van Buren has argued that, as a police officer, he had permission to search the license plate database.

WarGames

The original intent of the law was in response to concerns that computer-related crimes might go unpunished. The plot twist is that it was a movie that prompted the law in the first place. In the original computer crime bill, it cited the 1983 techno-thriller movie WarGames as “a realistic representation of the automatic dialing and access capabilities of the personal computer.” The movie is about a teenager (played by Matthew Broderick) from Seattle who breaks into a U.S. military supercomputer which was programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war and unwittingly he almost starts World War III.”

At odds with trying to keep our personal information safe is the desire to keep the internet free and open.

A fierce proponent of the open access movement, which promotes free and easy access to the world’s knowledge online, was Aaron Swartz.  He was considered a technological genius who took the “free and open” mantra to the maximum. In mid-July 2011, Swartz tried to ‘liberate’ data from an academic website and he was charged with violating federal hacking laws for downloading millions of academic articles from a subscription database service that MIT had given him access to via a guest account. If convicted, Swartz would have faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Before the case went to trial, Swartz hung himself on January 11, 2013.

Free and Open

His death sparked the need to add clarifying language to the CFAA. This resulted in Aaron’s Law, named for the lasting influence of Aaron Swartz. Aaron’s Law was introduced in the United States Congress in 2013 but it did not pass Congress.

Congress has, however, amended the CFAA somewhat regularly, with changes occurring in 1989, 1994, 1996, and 2002. The controversial U.S. Patriot Act greatly impacted the CFAA in 2001, and the 2008 Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act also affected the scope of the CFAA.

In 2015 President Obama proposed expanding the CFAA but met opposition because it could potentially make many regular Internet activities illegal.

Despite the many changes, proponents of the failed Aaron’s Law argued that the CFAA is too vague. Because of the wording of the CFAA, users who violate terms of service can face prison time. Another major error in the CFAA is that because of redundancies, individuals can be tried for the same crime more than once under different provisions. These redundancies enable charges to compound and allow for disproportionately severe penalties for those convicted.

At the Supreme Court hearing on Monday, the court’s nine justices seemed to have a range of views on the CFAA. Some seemed ready to accept the government’s broad reading of the statute, while others worried that doing so could criminalize a lot of innocuous online activity.

Nov 11

Holiday Travel Concerns This Year

By |2020-11-11T10:31:58-08:00November 11th, 2020|government, Industry News, Local Government, State Government, Uncategorized|0 Comments

As we face the holidays and the last few months of 2020, a year most of us are happy to see go, travel is on everyone’s mind.

We are facing a strange combination of Pandemic fatigue, fear of travel, and cities with travel quarantines and gathering restrictions in place. There are still many unknowns right now as many cities are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases.

For the week starting November 9, 2020, the number of scheduled flights worldwide was down by 46.5% compared to the week of November 11, 2019. However, some airlines are seeing an increase of flights being book and the middle seat being released to book, limiting social distancing options.

But a majority of Americans are not planning to travel this holiday season. According to Destination Analysts, a market research firm, their recent Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, a weekly survey of 1,200 Americans, found that only 28 percent expected to travel for the holidays, including both Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the same survey, 53 percent said they had traveled for the holidays last year.

Adding to the uncertainty, many of the largest cities, including most of the Northeast, still have travel quarantines in place or are planning one with the recent spike in cases. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has even urged residents not to travel out of state for the holidays for fear of inviting a wave of coronavirus when they return home.  In San Francisco and the surrounding area, city and health officials recommend gathering outside which will help to significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. They’re advising no more than three households participate with a time limit of up to two hours per gathering.

Pandemic fatigue

Airlines have been one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. Flight capacity has been steadily growing over the past month. Southwest Airlines, which has held middle seats open during the pandemic, recently announced it would make all seats available for flights beginning Dec. 1.

Still, scoring a seat without a neighbor sharing your armrest is getting harder, and travelers should prepare for more crowded planes.

In April, $25 billion in payroll grants plus a similar sum in low-interest loans went to the airline industry. Many Americans don’t think the airlines should receive any more taxpayer money. In the years before the pandemic, partly thanks to weak antitrust enforcement, airlines made massive profits. Since 2015, the four major carriers (American, Delta, United, and Southwest) had the best years the industry has ever seen.

Despite that, and the carriers desire to preserve capital for a rainy day, the big carriers paid $42 billion into stock repurchases in the hope of improving their share prices. That was more than the total of their free cash flow — the cash they generated after paying interest, taxes, and maintenance.

This hasn’t generated much sympathy for their hardships now and taxpayers aren’t keen on another bailout that would reward the carriers for egregious overcompensation and share buybacks.

American Airlines, the biggest carrier, poured nearly $13 billion into stock repurchases despite having negative free cash flow. The companies also resorted to massive borrowing, increasing their debt on average by 56% from 2014 to 2019. American’s debt soared from $18 billion to $33 billion.

Airfares for domestic flights in the second quarter dropped an average of 26% from the previous year, according to data from the Department of Transportation, released on a three-month delay and processed by airline analytics firm Cirium. That reduction came as travel demand fell as much as 97% over 2019 levels, before gradually improving to be down about 75%.

Average domestic fares at American Airlines were down 26%, while Delta cut fares 14%. United had one of the smallest reductions, down just 10% over 2019, while Southwest slashed fares by 25%.

Is the Air Better Up in the Air

Air quality inside the plane cabin has always been a concern. And now even more so. According to Airlines for America, the industry’s primary lobbying group that represents major carriers like Delta, American, United, and Southwest, “Onboard, all A4A carriers have aircraft equipped with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration systems and all members comply with or exceed CDC guidance.”

This is reinforced by the International Air Transport Association, the industry’s global trade organization. “The risk of catching an infection on an aircraft is typically lower than in a shopping center or office environment,” says the spokesperson for IATA.

However, not all airplanes in U.S. fleets are HEPA-equipped, some of American Airlines’ regional aircraft, for instance, do not have the filters, so check each airline before booking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people to consider modifying holiday plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep friends, families, and communities healthy and safe. For more information about holiday travel from the CDC, click here

Whatever your holiday plans are, being mindful of your surroundings, wear your mask, wash your hands often, pack a lot of hand sanitizers and maintain social distancing as much as possible.

Happy Holidays from all of us at AV Capture All