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Vector barrels ahead with its small-satellite launcher

“Honestly, this is like shooting turkeys in a drum."

Cop filmed shooting fleeing man pleads guilty to civil rights charge

Officer Michael Slager faces up to life in prison and avoids a murder trial.

No, Russia isn’t sending a Terminator robot to the space station

Financially, conditions could get worse for the Russian space agency in a few years.

Facebook video of elderly man being murdered gets over 1.6 million...

Suspect shot and killed himself Tuesday after a police chase in Pennsylvania.

“Pizzagate” DC shooter pleads guilty, faces years in prison

At sentencing hearing, judge asks defendant if he was the culprit: "Yes ma'am."

Oklahoma state bill would let property owners shoot down drones

Federal law says it's illegal to shoot at aircraft, including drones.

Decrypted: The Expanse: Planet-busters and Epstein drives

This week, John Timmer and I discuss suspension of disbelief, tropes, and lots more.

Shootings at school follow trends in the unemployment rate

A comprehensive database of events lets researchers explore potential causes.

Cloud Bottlenecks: How Pokémon Go (and other game dev teams) caught...

Lesson: “Something that works with two million users doesn’t always work with 10 million."

Mississippi AG Jim Hood sues Google—again

Enlarge / Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (R) at a news conference in 2015.Alex Wong/Getty Images reader comments 34 Share this story Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is sparring with Google once more. Last year, Hood and Google wound down a court dispute over Hood's investigation into how Google handles certain kinds of online content, from illegal drug ads to pirated movies.

E-mails from the 2014 Sony hack showed that Hood's investigation was spurred on, in part, by lobbyists from the Motion Picture Association of America. Now Hood has a new bone to pick with the search giant. Yesterday, Hood filed a lawsuit (PDF) against Google in Lowndes County Chancery Court, saying that the company is gathering personal data on students who use Google's G Suite for Education, (previously called Google Apps for Education). In a statement, Hood said that "due to the multitude of unclear statements provided by Google," his investigators don't know exactly what information is being collected. "Through this lawsuit, we want to know the extent of Google's data mining and marketing of student information to third parties," Hood said. "I don't think there could be any motivation other than greed for a company to deliberately keep secret how it collects and uses student information." The complaint claims that through a child's educational account, "Google tracks, records, uses and saves the online activity of Mississippi's children, all for the purpose of processing student data to build a profile, which in turn aids its advertising business." That gives Google an unfair edge over its competitors and violates Mississippi consumer protection law, say state lawyers. More than half of Mississippi schools use Google products, according to Hood's office. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the matter. Google said that it stopped collecting any student data for advertising purposes in 2014. In an interview with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Hood explained one investigative technique his office used.

The investigators logged on to a laptop with a student's educational e-mail address and password and made some queries on YouTube.

Then they logged out, went to a different browser, and logged in again. "It started shooting ads at us dealing with the same query that that child had put in.
So we knew that they were tracking that child," Hood told the Clarion-Ledger. Hood's concerns mirror those from an Electronic Frontier Foundation complaint over Google Apps for Education, filed with the Federal Trade Commission in late 2015.

That complaint pointed out that Google Chrome's "Sync" feature was enabled by default on educational laptops, meaning that Google could track, store, and data-mine student Internet use, although not for advertising purposes. As of last month, the FTC had yet to take action on the EFF complaint.

“We aren’t born woke, something wakes us up“—maybe it’s Twitter, says...

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The Texas Tribune kicked off its weekend symposium by interviewing activist DeRay Mckesson. Texas Tribune AUSTIN, Texas—“We aren't born woke, something wakes us up." By now, everyone's experienced a newsfeed full of #NoDAPL or long Twitter threads explaining some proposed legislation that threatens a certain cause. With years of social media experience behind us, it's easy for this stuff to feel like white noise.

But the next time someone shrugs off any of these posts in the name of social justice as useless, tell them DeRay Mckesson begs to differ.

All of it has the ability to help others get "woke," to newly realize there's a problem and a need to combat it.
So during his keynote Q&A at the Texas Tribune's weekend symposium on race and policy, the Black Lives Matter activist encouraged everyone to fight toward “equity, justice, and fairness” in the way that works best for them... even if starts as small as a tweet. For Mckesson, in fact, social media initially proved to be the way of getting involved.

Back in August 2014 after the tragic police shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown, he wanted to go to Ferguson, Missouri, and merely participate in the peaceful response for a weekend. He had no grand plans of country-wide organizing at the time; then the protests spanned 300 days: “I drove nine hours for a weekend, but I guess it's been a long weekend,” Mckesson said of his work since. Mckesson loved (and continues to love) Twitter, and he recalled having only 800 or so followers at the time.

But he thought of the platform as the friend who's always awake, someone you could reach out to no matter what was on your mind or when you thought it. "I didn't know anyone in St. Louis, but I tweeted all the time because I was experiencing the wildest stuff I've ever seen in my life," he said. "I didn't have anyone to tell, but Twitter was always awake." As Mckesson and others shared what was happening on the ground with the world, more and more people started paying attention.

The idea of Black Lives Matter may have existed beforehand, but the response to the deaths of Brown and Eric Garner that summer sparked a larger movement. "I never participate in the slander of slacktivisim, or social media activism.
I know some people got woke because of a tweet, a Facebook post, a one-on-one conversation at dinner, or something they heard in passing.

All of that stuff contributes to how people understand what the world can be and what the world is," Mckesson says. "We didn't invent resistance; we didn't discover injustice. We exist in a legacy of people who've done this work, but what's new is we have a different set of tools.

Today, I can talk to 600,000 people at the drop of the tweet in a way that King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Coretta couldn't." A need for more than Ustream For Mckesson, one of the strongest tools for spreading awareness today is live video streaming, and he said this evolved rapidly in part because of those Ferguson Black Lives Matter social media efforts. Mckesson said that during the fall of 2014, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey had approached him and other activists about trialling the services’s potential live video options.

At the time, Vine was the most widespread option, but its time limits weren’t ideal for extended protest broadcasts. "We tested Periscope before Twitter bought Periscope, and one of the reasons they bought it was the protests," he said. "They acknowledged they needed to be in this space and allow the platform to grow in the way the world is growing. We tested Periscope when like 30 people in the world had it, then Twitter bought Periscope and integrated it." (Before Periscope? Mckesson said Black Lives Matter relied on Ustream, which is coincidentally what the Texas Tribune also relied on for things like the 2013 Wendy Davis Texas legislature filibuster.) Twitter acquired Periscope the following spring in February 2015, and the rest remains history-in-progress.

The service has since captured everything from a House Democrats' sit-in over gun violence to evidence in possible criminal cases. Mckesson is quick to acknowledge this democratization of information—social media changing who gets to decide what news is and who is a content creator—is a big part of why Black Lives Matter has found success so far. "Two years ago people thought only St. Louis was screwed up,” he said.

Today, the call for body cameras and police accountability has spread nationwide.

Both the public and federal government have taken notice, as evidenced by the recent, massive DOJ report on major metropolitan police departments. But Mckesson is just as quick to recognize social media's current pitfalls. With Twitter in particular, some activists like journalist Lindy West have left the platform all together due to the service's lack of tools to effectively combat harassment.
Such abuse has even come over the mundane (see a Mortal Kombat producer leaving the service after threats against his family), and the sheer volume of it has inspired activists like Zoe Quinn to start their own support networks against online harassment. Mckesson and Black Lives Matter are no stranger to this type of online harassment (whether it's language or advanced DDoS campaigns). Additionally, insularism and waves of misinformation plague many platforms today, meaning the next social activism breakthrough will likely not come from another influx of citizen reporters. "We're going to hit a critical mass, if we haven't already hit it, of too much content," he said. "People literally don't know what to take in anymore.
So the next power houses will be the Digital Oprahs, people who can tell us what to be looking at and how to start thinking about it." Mckesson then teased this is as an issue Black Lives Matter has been actively thinking about. As we move forward in America with new leadership, Mckesson seems like an optimist but acknowledges lots of energy may get wrapped up in withstanding actions of the Donald Trump administration.

But whether future activism stems from resistance or progress, he believes social media will continue to be a tool possessing the potential to make change. Mckesson himself stands as living proof.

As he put it, President Obama’s mantra for the power of citizens—“get a clipboard and make it happen”—should have a digital component, too. Listing image by Nathan Mattise

Lawyer sues Chicago police, claims they used stingray on him

Enlarge / A Chicago Police car, as seen in 2003.Tim Boyle / Getty Images reader comments 18 Share this story A local attorney has sued the City of Chicago and numerous police officials in a proposed federal class-action lawsuit, claiming that he and countless others were unconstitutionally searched when the police used a cell-site simulator without a warrant. In the suit, Jerry Boyle, who describes himself as an “attorney and longtime volunteer legal observer with the National Lawyers’ Guild,” alleged that while attending the “Reclaim MLK Day” event in Chicago nearly two years ago, his phone was targeted by the Chicago Police Department’s device, better known as a stingray.

Boyle argued that his Fourth Amendment and First Amendment rights were violated as a result. Stingrays are used by law enforcement to determine a mobile phone's location by spoofing a cell tower.
In some cases, stingrays can intercept calls and text messages. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from a target phone along with information from other phones within the vicinity.

At times, police have falsely claimed the use of a confidential informant when they have actually deployed these particularly sweeping and intrusive surveillance tools. Often, they are used to locate criminal suspects. The 32-page lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Chicago on Thursday, specifically notes where and when the stingray was used, on January 15, 2015, “at approximately 8:00pm at the protest, near the 2200 block of West Ogden Avenue.” However, the civil complaint does not explain exactly how the plaintiff knows this information. “The evidence regarding CPD's use at that event is something that will be disclosed during the litigation,” Matt Topic, one of Boyle’s lawyers, e-mailed Ars. The Chicago Police Department did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. A new hope While there have been other legal challenges regarding stingrays, they often fall into two types of cases: one where a criminal defendant alleges a stingray was unlawfully used and civil cases where a plaintiff seeks stingray-related public records. This case, however, marks a rare—perhaps the only—civil case where a person has alleged an unconstitutional search via the use of a stingray. “I’m not aware of any stingray case in a civil context,” Brian Owsley, a former federal magistrate judge who is now a law professor at the University of North Texas, told Ars. When Owsley was on the federal bench, he famously pushed back against government requests to authorize the use of such devices. “Typically the posture is that some criminal defendant learns about the use of a stingray related to their criminal proceedings and there’s a challenge based on that,” he continued. “Boyle hasn’t been charged with anything and doesn’t appear likely that he’s going to be charged and still is coming in and asserting that his constitutional rights were violated.

That’s really the unique part.

That’s the atypical thing at a minimum.” When is a “search” not a search? The CPD is likely to eventually counter with the legal argument that using a stingray, at least in a public place, is not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. Police lawyers also could argue that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy while in public, under the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, United States v. Katz. Still, Matt Topic has had some previous success in lawsuits against the CPD.

Topic successfully represented a local journalist who filed a public records request to get the dashcam video depicting the fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald. He has also represented a privacy activist, Freddy Martinez, in his quest to get more public records released on the CPD’s stingray capabilities. “We contend that it is a search,” Topic told Ars. “The stingray physically trespasses upon the phone to obtain information from it. Whether the phone is in public at the time does not change that, just as it would be an improper search to open up a briefcase being carried around in public.

That said, though, stingrays do not distinguish between public spaces and private ones.
In many instances, a stingray deployed on a public street will necessarily take information from phones within the private spaces (like homes) in range of the device.” Just two months ago, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals—the controlling appellate court that covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin—ruled in favor of the government in a related case (United States v. Patrick) that a wanted man who was located via stingray in public indeed had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his location. In that case, federal prosecutors conceded that use of a stingray was, in fact, a search.

But the Chicago Police Department has made no such concession for now. But in that same case, Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood lambasted secrecy surrounding the device in a lengthy dissent. “We know very little about the device, thanks mostly to the government’s refusal to divulge any information about it,” she wrote. “Until recently, the government has gone so far as to dismiss cases and withdraw evidence rather than reveal that the technology was used.” Brett Max Kaufman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ars that Boyle’s case could be viewed, in some ways, as a continuation of Patrick. “This new suit tees up the clear Fourth Amendment question about stingrays that Patrick didn’t end up addressing,” he e-mailed.