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Recently enacted U.S. counterterrorism legislation makes it easier for the federal government to track suspected terrorists by extending its reach into citizens' private lives. The measure, called the Uniting and Strengthening America Act, allows investigators easy permission to look at parts of an email application that show recipient and sender fields. It also allows the FBI to use state-of-the-art tracking technology to monitor all traffic passing through an ISP used by the target of the investigation. However, critics say the legislation effectively permits investigators to examine the contents of some communications without first obtaining a wiretap order. Although many of the provisions were scaled back significantly from what the Bush administration originally proposed, critics say some of them go too far in intruding on civil liberties and privacy and would have done little to prevent the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.


"You're going to have more potential intrusions on your privacy, unquestionably. Americans appear to be willing to tolerate much greater intrusions ... now. We'll see."
¬óMark Rasch, cybercrime specialist


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Information Removal

In the weeks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. government officials have been removing information from their agencies' Web sites, including the location and operating status of nuclear power plants, maps of the nation's transportation infrastructure, and an array of other data deemed too sensitive for general consumption, reports the New York Times. Critics say the government is overreacting, restricting information needlessly, even removing information that would improve, not jeopardize, the public's safety, like detailing environmental hazards useful to local citizens. Government officials say they are reacting to a different and more dangerous world. Some restricted sites: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Bureau of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Table. Lots More Cyber Attacks

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Military-Issue Handhelds

Persian Gulf-stationed U.S. Navy destroyer USS McFaul has been designated a "test platform" for handheld computers, reports the Wall Street Journal. About half of the destroyer's 300 or so crew members carry the Palm V, a military-issue handheld computer sailors use to download email and access the ship's plan of the day by plugging the gadgets into one of the 32 infrared ports in the ship's mess halls, passageways, and berthing areas. Although many soldiers and sailors brought their own devices from home, models supplied by the military are waterproof, fortified to resist extreme temperatures, sealed against dust, and designed to withstand 4-ft. drops to concrete. An arsenal of software for the devices is being developed, including programs that promise to map enemy locations, track personnel, and conduct heat-stress surveys. The military began buying consumer-oriented handhelds primarily to expedite supply-inventory tasks, but the effort spread, especially as battery life and the overall capability of the devices improved. Palm has sold 30,000 to 50,000 Palms to the Navy and 25,000 to 30,000 to the Army in the last year and a half.

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Haptic Tug-of-War

Separated by 13 miles and the East River, two groups of New York City school children locked horns in a game of virtual tug-of-war, demonstrating haptics, the science of transmitting touch through phone lines and computers. The equipment at each site consisted of a long thick rope tied to a piston connected to a computer and video screen. As each team pulled, the computers sent the precise force levels through phone wires, causing each piston to adjust the rope's tension. The children watched their opponents on video screens. Haptics is a new technology and of particular interest to doctors, who foresee long-distance procedures.

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Turning Back 10 Billion (Web) Pages of Time

An Internet archive containing more text (100 terabytes worth) than any library in history opened, giving researchers and the public access to just about everything posted on the Web over the last five years. Created by a San Francisco entrepreneur, the Wayback Machine holds more than 10 billion Web pages dating from 1996. The archive doesn't contain every Web page ever published. Rather, it's a collection of "snapshots" taken over time. Enter a URL and your results are a table of links to specific dates when the snapshots were taken and stored. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine is at web.archive.org.

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Brainy Baboons

It has taken two baboons sitting in front of a computer to convince a team of researchers in France and the U.S. that the intelligence of animals has been underestimated, reports the BBC. The creatures were encouraged to match up different patterns of icons on a screen to earn a reward. Their scores were well above what would be expected of animals behaving randomly, though, as expected, a pair of humans given the same task achieved a better score.

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Grunt Work

Grunts and sighs could become the way to control computers, navigate call center systems, skip through tracks on a CD player, or browse the Internet. A professor at Brown University believes a system based on simple sounds instead of words would be more efficient than conventional voice recognition software. The system would measure the pitch and duration of grunt-like sounds like "ah" and "umm." For example, saying "move, down, ahhhh" would scroll a document for as long as the sound continues; a quick "uh oh" could produce an undo command much faster than using a mouse. The catch: it's doubtful whether people sharing office space would want to grunt away in front of colleagues.

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Author

Send items of interest to fox_r@acm.org

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Tables

UT1Table. Lots More Cyber Attacks

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