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NSA Can Legally Access Metadata of 25,000 Callers Based on a Single Suspect’s Phone

Despite changes to the law, the U.S. National Security Agency can still request metadata from tens of thousands of private phones if they are indirectly connected to the phone number of a suspected terrorist, according to a new analysis. The study is one of the first to quantify the impact of policy changes intended to narrow the agency’s previously unfettered access to private phone records, which was first revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. 

For years before Snowden went public, the U.S. National Security Agency legally obtained metadata not only from suspects’ phones but also from those of their contacts and their contacts’ contacts (and even their contacts’ contacts’ contacts) in order to trace terrorist networks. This metadata included information about whom a user has called, when the call was placed, and how long these calls lasted.

Today, federal rules permit the NSA to recover metadata from phones within "two hops" of a suspect, which means someone who called someone who called the suspect in the past 18 months. Previously, federal regulations were more generous, permitting recovery of metadata from "three hops" away dating back to five years.

A new analysis led by researchers at Stanford University’s Computer Security Laboratory quantifies just what this policy change has meant, discovering that, under the old five-year three-hop rules the NSA could legally recover metadata from about 20 million phones per suspect and “the majority of the entire U.S. population” if it analyzed all its suspects.  Now, the stricter 18-month "two hop" rule permits the agency to recover metadata from about 25,000 phones with a single request, according to the Stanford study.

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Mark Suster defended one of his investments, uBeam.

Engineer and Investor in Spat About Wireless Charging Startup uBeam

The engineer whose critical blog post has roiled high-profile wireless power company uBeam is challenging statements made about him by Mark Suster, a prominent venture capitalist and uBeam investor.

Paul Reynolds, a former engineering vice president at uBeam, recently began publishing an anonymous blog that described uBeam as “the next Theranos” (a troubled biotech startup). Reynolds, who confirmed that he is the author of the post, raises substantial questions about whether uBeam can deliver the “world without wires” that it has been promising for many years.

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An RFID chip using RF-only logic lacks a rectifier and its associated circuitry.

RF-Only Logic Makes RFID Tags Tinier

Engineers at North Carolina State University have applied a new technology called RF-only logic to create passive RFID tags that are 25 percent smaller than today’s. And a smaller tag means a cheaper tag.

The space savings comes from eliminating a circuit usually considered crucial to the chip’s operation—the rectifier. Passive RFID tags, the most common ones, are powered by an RF signal provided by the tag reader when it’s nearby. The RFID’s rectifier takes the AC radio signal and turns it into DC for use by the chip’s logic circuits. The innovation was to develop a set of circuit techniques that eliminate the need for the rectifier, allowing the logic to run directly from the oscillating radio signal.

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Building Myanmar’s First Mobile Network From The Ground Up

In the past five years, no place in the world has witnessed a shift in mobile use so dramatic as the one taking place in Myanmar. The country, also known as Burma, was ruled by a military junta for nearly 50 years before a democratically-elected government was installed in 2011. At that time, only three percent of Myanmar’s 50 million residents had access to mobile phones.

Since then, the country’s newest carriers have rapidly built out infrastructure for connecting millions of new customers for the first time. These newcomers have generated enormous demand for service, which carriers and their contractors are scrambling to meet.

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Researchers set up this 128-antenna array in March at the University of Bristol to carry out the first of several attempts to achieve greater spectrum efficiency.

5G Researchers Set New World Record For Spectrum Efficiency

A team of 5G researchers has set a new world record for spectrum efficiency. Their achievement with massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) arrays, which are cellular base stations comprised of dozens of antennas, is further evidence that this technology is a promising option for wireless engineers working to construct networks to deliver ultra-fast data speeds to more smartphones and tablets than ever before.

In an experiment on Wednesday, the group achieved a rate of 145.6 (bits/s)/Hz for 22 users, each modulated with 256-QAM, on a shared 20 MHz radio channel at 3.51 GHz with an 128-antenna massive MIMO array. That represents a 22-fold increase in spectrum efficiency over today’s existing 4G networks.

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Advanced Research Projects from DARPA's Pentagon Demo Day

Yesterday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a Demo Day for the Department of Defense in the courtyard at the center of the Pentagon to give the defense community “an up-close look at the Agency's diverse portfolio of innovative technologies and military systems at various stages of development and readiness.” In other words, prototypes of ultra-futuristic, high-risk high-reward hardware and software.

The Pentagon Courtyard was filled with displays centered around ten different theme areas: air, biology, counterterrorism, cyber, ground warfare, maritime, microsystems, seeds of surprise, space, and spectrum. That last one is probably why we were invited, and we came back with this gallery full of pictures of all of the coolest new stuff.

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Gauntlets of Levitation, Living Desktops, and More: Video Highlights from The 2016 Human-Computer Interaction Conference

The 2016 Computer Human Interaction Conference (CHI, which is pronounced “kai” like the Greek letter) is taking place this week in San Jose, Calif. The conference is all about the ways in which the future of interaction technology is advancing, and how it will shape the ways in which we experience our environment (and each other). Really, this is just a complicated way of saying that the conference provides a great excuse for researchers to explore new and crazy ways of using computers, and some of the stuff that they’ve come up with will blow your mind. Think power tools that tell you what to do with themselves, or a couch that’s also a huge touch controller, or projection-augmented 3-D printing on your skin, or gloves that let you levitate objects: all of these are functional prototypes that researchers described at this year’s conference.

You can watch all 281 video previews here, or you can have a look at this baker’s dozen of videos that we’ve hand selected for overall future-ness, technical bewonderment, transformational potential, and generalized weirditude.

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Facebook Revises Bot Platform to Place Messenger Users Firmly in Control

Facebook’s big announcement at the annual F8 developer conference in April was its unveiling of a bot platform that developers could use to build digital assistants that operate within Messenger. The move was meant to expand the functionality of the messaging service, now used by nearly a billion people worldwide, so that it can also deliver customized news and facilitate e-commerce.

Immediate reactions were mixed, and the announcement spurred a lot of discussion about whether users would embrace this newest experiment from one of the world’s largest tech companies. Commenters also mused about  how Messenger bots might evolve to play a role in our daily lives. That could depend as much on Facebook’s ability to seamlessly integrate new notifications and chats into the user expereince as on the ability of developers to devise clever functions for all those digital bots.

To keep the bot platform under wraps, Facebook did not conduct any external tests before its release. Now, soon after launch, user and developer feedback is quickly reshaping its future. On Tuesday, at 2016 TechCrunch Disrupt in Brooklyn, N.Y., Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for Messenger, said his team is already making some early revisions to its new bot world.

In one update, Facebook addressed concerns over bot-generated spam. The company knows that if busy bots send too many notifications to users or don’t deliver useful content, their behavior could erode the messaging service’s current status as a highly valued link between friends.

To prevent this, Chudnovsky says Facebook swapped the original “Block” button that appears in the upper right hand corner of each new bot chat to a “Manage” option that permits users to choose the type of messages they wish to receive. “Giving people more control seems to be what people want to have,” he said.

Facebook is also looking at ways to differentiate between messages that are immediately important to users (perhaps those sent by a friend or which include breaking news) and those that can be read later (the pesky bot variety). In practice, this could mean that the company designates a different ringtone or vibration pattern when users receive an urgent message, or that it simply filters certain messages from the instant stream and issues them in a group alert a few times throughout the day.

Overall, Chudnovsky is pleased with the launch and said more than 10,000 developers have begun building bots. He points out that more than 2,500 merchants on Shopify, the company’s virtual marketplace, offer bot-based customer service. “You have a bunch of early signs that the platform is starting to work,” he says.

Of course, it’s not yet clear to users or the company which bots will become most integral to users’ lives. Chudnovsky compares that uncertainty to the early days of Apple’s App Store, when many of today’s most successful apps weren’t yet obvious or even imagined.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Picks Passive Levitation for Pods

The forward motion of its subsonic, people-carrying pods will provide the necessary magnetic levitation as a side effect, says Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a Southern Calif.-based startup, in an announcement made this morning

Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO and founder of HTT, told IEEE Spectrum that this passive leviation saves energy and trouble. “One of the biggest problems is the need for a high-powered track; this allows us to achieve leviation without having power stations all along the track,” he said.

Forward motion is important to HTT as well, which has been generating news stories with some regularity as it courts partners and investors to help realize Elon Musk’s 2013 vision of a partially evacuated, superfast tubular train: the Hyperloop. Back in March HTT said it had come to an agreement with the government of Slovakia to explore building a track in that country. Later this week, the company is to stage a media event in Las Vegas.

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