The cost of resisting China’s Big Brother

CHINA: Clampdown on activists who expose surveillance through new technology

“WE HAVEN’T seen you before. Which media are you from?” a middle-aged woman asked a tall man operating a video camera outside a Beijing court.

“I’m from an independent newspaper,” the videographer replied with a slight smile on his face. The woman and her friend, who were queueing to take documents into the court, chuckled after hearing a statement that they all knew was false. “He’s police,” one of the women said a few minutes later.

The exchange outside the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court was a rare moment of levity in the normally serious, sometimes violent business of monitoring and controlling rights activists, dissidents, independent religious leaders, separatists and others deemed a threat to China’s state security.

Related article: China: Police State 2.0 is Ready for Export

The plain-clothes police officer was taking footage of petitioners, journalists, lawyers and supporters of dissident Hu Jia, who was sentenced that day in April to three and a half years in prison for subversion. “Surveillance is both overt and insidious,” said Phelim Kine, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. Overt surveillance in China is used “both to intimidate, and as a lesson to the neighbours”, Kine said.

Hu won the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought last month. He and fellow activist Gao Zhisheng were also nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Hu, 35, is the most prominent of a growing number of activists who have tried to reflect the intense glare of state surveillance back at those trying to monitor and control them.

The activists’ photographs, video, transcripts and diaries, usually distributed via the internet, have given outsiders rare glimpses into surveillance and abuses of power by China’s vast public security network. China tolerates some local activism but it confronts those who begin to operate at a national or international level. The relatively few national-level activists who have mastered the use of the internet and digital technology like Hu and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, are “desperately outnumbered” by the people watching them, Kine said.

“It tells you that those people like Hu Jia, who do master the technology and get the message out, are prey to retribution,” Kine. “What you see in China is that anyone who reaches a certain level of prominence, those people face serious consequences,” he said.

Read moreThe cost of resisting China’s Big Brother

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes

£13m shed-size reactors will be delivered by lorry

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. ‘Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,’ said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. ‘They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.’

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Tesla CEO: GM couldn’t afford us now

The Roadster goes 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Image: Yi-Wyn Yen

SAN FRANCISCO – How much is Tesla Motors worth?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk won’t say, but it’s at least too expensive for General Motors to buy. “I’m not sure they can afford Tesla right now,” he said during a 30-minute talk Friday at the Web 2.0 Summit.

The South African-born entrepreneur talked candidly with host John Battelle about the failures of the auto industry and Tesla’s own troubles. Battelle had asked why GM (GM) doesn’t buy the electric car startup.

GM reported a $2.5 billion loss in the third quarter Friday and also warned that it could run out of cash soon. Said Musk, “There’s an issue with organized labor and trade and management still acts like it’s 1955. There are too many country club memberships, and [GM] management has focused on the wrong thing. ”

Tesla has been plagued with its own problems. In mid-October Musk, who has helped bankroll Tesla, became its third CEO in less than a year, announced layoffs and delayed the debut of its forthcoming electric sedan, the Model S.

Musk explained why Tesla had to let go 10% of his employees last month. “Before market Armageddon occurred, the point was to raise $100 million. And we intended to get going with that in full force before the market collapsed,” he said.

The company settled for cutting costs and raising $40 million from its existing investors. Musk says he’s backing half of the $40 million round. He has already poured $55 million of his own money into the company.

Read moreTesla CEO: GM couldn’t afford us now

National road toll devices to be tested by drivers next year

Trial could lead to £1.30-a-mile charges

Hundreds of drivers are being recruited to take part in government-funded road-pricing trials that could result in charges of up to £1.30 a mile on the most congested roads.

The test runs will start early next year in four locations and will involve fitting a satellite-tracking device to the vehicles of volunteers. An on-board unit will automatically deduct payments from a shadow account set up in the driver’s name.

Paul Clark, the Transport Minister, confirmed yesterday that the trials would proceed despite previous statements from the Government suggesting that it had abandoned the idea of a national road-pricing scheme. In 2004 a feasibility study considered a range of possible prices, up to £1.30 a mile. It said that the highest rate “would be paid by only 0.5 per cent of traffic”.

The on-board unit could be used to collect all road charges, such as congestion charges in London and Manchester and tolls for crossing bridges and using new lanes on motorways.

In the longer term the technology could be used to introduce pricing on all roads, with the price varying according to the time of day, direction of travel and the level of congestion.

Drivers would use the internet to check all their payments on a single bill. They would choose whether the bill showed where they had travelled or simply the amounts they had paid.

Read moreNational road toll devices to be tested by drivers next year

Space station trash plunging to Earth

Tank of toxic ammonia coolant thrown from station more than a year ago


NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, an Expedition 15 flight engineer, tosses a hefty unneeded ammonia tank the size of a refrigerator ovebboard from the space station during a July 23, 2007 spacewalk. The tank is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 2, 2008.

A piece of space station trash the size of a refrigerator is poised to plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere late Sunday, more than a year after an astronaut tossed it overboard.

NASA and the U.S. Space Surveillance Network are tracking the object – a 1,400-pound (635-kilogram) tank of toxic ammonia coolant thrown from the international space station – to make sure it does not endanger people on Earth. Exactly where the tank will inevitably fall is currently unknown, though it is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere Sunday afternoon or later that evening, NASA officials said.

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Police will use new device to take fingerprints in street

Civil rights campaigners say images must not be added to databases


Photograph: Roger Tooth

Every police force in the UK is to be equipped with mobile fingerprint scanners – handheld devices that allow police to carry out identity checks on people in the street.

The new technology, which ultimately may be able to receive pictures of suspects, is likely to be in widespread use within 18 months. Tens of thousands of sets – as compact as BlackBerry smartphones – are expected to be distributed.

The police claim the scheme, called Project Midas, will transform the speed of criminal investigations. A similar, heavier machine has been tested during limited trials with motorway patrols.

To address fears about mass surveillance and random searches, the police insist fingerprints taken by the scanners will not be stored or added to databases.

Liberty, the civil rights group, cautioned that the law required fingerprints taken in such circumstances to be deleted after use. Gareth Crossman, Liberty’s policy director, said: “Saving time with new technology could help police performance but officers must make absolutely certain that they take fingerprints only when they suspect an individual of an offence and can’t establish his identity.”

Read morePolice will use new device to take fingerprints in street

Darpa Wants to See Inside Your House

The Pentagon wants to be able to peer inside your apartment building — picking out where all the major rooms, stairways, and dens of evil-doers are.

The U.S. military is getting better and better at spotting its enemies, when they’re roaming around the streets. But once those foes duck into houses, they become a whole lot harder to spot. That’s why Darpa, the Defense Department’s way-out research arm, is looking to develop a suite of tools for “external sensing deep inside buildings.” The ultimate goal of this Harnessing Infrastructure for Building Reconnaissance (HIBR) project: “reverse the adversaries’ advantage of urban familiarity and sanctuary and provide U.S. Forces with complete above- and below-ground awareness.”

By the end of the project, Darpa wants a set of technologies that can see into a 10-story building with a two-level basement in a “high-density urban block” — and produce a kind of digital blueprint of the place. Using sensors mounted on backpacks, vehicles, or aircraft, the HIBR gear would, hopefully, be able to pick out every room, wall, stairway, and basement in the building — as well as all of the “electrical, plumbing, and installation systems.”

Darpa doesn’t come out and say it openly. But it appears that the agency wants these HIBR gadgets to be able to track the people inside these buildings, as well. Why else would these sensors be required to “provide real-time updates” once U.S. troops enter the building? Perhaps there’s more about the people-spotting tech, in the “classified appendix” to HIBR’s request for proposals.

Read moreDarpa Wants to See Inside Your House

The International Interphone Study Confirms: The Use Of Mobile Phone Is Carcinogenic

The official publication of the first intermediate results of the International Interphone Study from the International Research Centre on Cancer (CIRC) dependent on WHO confirms the increased tumors and cancer cases due to the use of mobile phone.

The Use Of Mobile Phone Is Carcinogenic: Here (PDF)

INTERPHONE Results latest update Oct. 08, 2008: Interphone Results Update (PDF)

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Phoenix Lander sees snow falling on Mars


In this artist conception, the Phoenix Mars Lander, which launched in August 2007 and the first project in NASA’s Mars Scout missions, landed on Mars on May 25, 2008. (UPI Photo/NASA)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says its Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds, vaporizing before reaching the planet’s surface.

And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says that, plus soil test experiments, have proven evidence of past interaction between minerals and liquid water — both processes that occur on Earth.

“A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and surface interact on Mars detected snow from clouds about 2.5 miles above the spacecraft’s landing site,” NASA said, adding data shows the snow vaporizing before reaching the ground.

“Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, of Canada’s York University, the lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. “We’ll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground.”

Since landing May 25, Phoenix has also confirmed a hard subsurface layer at its far-northern site contains water-ice. NASA said determining whether that ice ever thaws will help answer whether the environment there has been favorable for life, a key aim of the mission.

Published: Sept. 29, 2008 at 3:40 PM
Source: UPI

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Canadian laser gadget finds snow in Martian sky

OTTAWA – Trust a Canadian weather instrument to find snow. Even on Mars.

A Canadian university’s laser aboard a NASA Mars lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds about four kilometres above the landing site, and vaporizing before reaching the ground.

Read morePhoenix Lander sees snow falling on Mars

Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind

Baggage searches are SOOOOOO early-21st century. Homeland Security is now testing the next generation of security screening – a body scanner that can read your mind.

Most preventive screening looks for explosives or metals that pose a threat. But a new system called MALINTENT turns the old school approach on its head. This Orwellian-sounding machine detects the person – not the device – set to wreak havoc and terror.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security’s directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye – signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.

But this is no polygraph test. Subjects do not get hooked up or strapped down for a careful reading; those sensors do all the work without any actual physical contact. It’s like an X-ray for bad intentions.

Read moreHomeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind