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How Your Phone Betrays Democracy
USA Created: 22 Dec 2019
In footage from drones hovering above, the nighttime streets of Hong Kong look almost incandescent, a constellation of tens of thousands of cellphone flashlights, swaying in unison. Each twinkle is a marker of attendance and a plea for freedom. The demonstrators, some clad in masks to thwart the government’s network of facial recognition cameras, find safety in numbers.

But in addition to the bright lights, each phone is also emitting another beacon in the darkness — one that’s invisible to the human eye. This signal is captured and collected, sometimes many times per minute, not by a drone but by smartphone apps. The signal keeps broadcasting, long after the protesters turn off their camera lights, head to their homes and take off their masks.

In the United States, and across the world, any protester who brings a phone to a public demonstration is tracked and that person’s presence at the event is duly recorded in commercial datasets. At the same time, political parties are beginning to collect and purchase phone location for voter persuasion.

“Without question it’s sinister,” said Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism at Columbia University and former president of Students for a Democratic Society, a prominent activist group in the 1960s. “It will chill certain constitutionally permitted expressions. If people know they’ll be tracked, it will certainly make them think twice before linking themselves to a movement.”

A trove of location data with more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans obtained by Times Opinion helps to illustrate the risks that such comprehensive monitoring poses to the right of Americans to assemble and participate in a healthy democracy.

Within minutes, with no special training and a little bit of Google searching, Times Opinion was able to single out and identify individuals at public demonstrations large and small from coast to coast.

By tracking specific devices, we followed demonstrators from the 2017 Women’s March back to their homes. We were able to identify individuals at the 2017 Inauguration Day Black Bloc protests. It was easy to follow them to their workplaces. In some instances — for example, a February clash between antifascists and far-right supporters of Milo Yiannopolous in Berkeley, Calif. — it took little effort to identify the homes of protesters and then their family members.

The anonymity of demonstrators has long been a contentious issue. Governments generally don’t like the idea for fear that masked protesters might be more likely to incite riots. Several states, including New York and Georgia, have laws that prohibit wearing masks at public demonstrations. Countries including Canada and Spain have rules to limit or prohibit masks at riots or unlawful gatherings. But in the smartphone era — masked or not — no one can get lost in a sea of faces anymore.

Imagine the following nightmare scenarios: Governments using location data to identify political enemies at major protests. Prosecutors or the police using location information to intimidate criminal defendants into taking plea deals. A rogue employee at an ad-tech location company sharing raw data with a politically motivated group. A megadonor purchasing a location company to help bolster political targeting abilities for his party and using the information to dox protesters. A white supremacist group breaching the insecure servers of a small location startup and learning the home addresses of potential targets.

Lokman Tsui, an activist, researcher and professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told us that third parties that sell this data are a problem because “the standards to buy this information aren’t that rigorous — it’s not like the companies have ethical review boards. The university I’m at is able to buy data, and it’s fairly easy to get it. And the kind of data they can buy makes me raise my eyebrows, ‘Oh, wow, you can buy that?’ Creepy data.”

The data doesn’t even need to leak or transfer hands — its mere existence can have a chilling effect on democratic participation. Word has already spread through the more professional protester circles to leave cellphones at home, toggle them to airplane mode or simply power them off. Many antifascist protesters show up to rallies covering their faces to protect their identities from hate groups, the police and the press. “But that means you’re only getting the diehards to show.... We tell people don’t bring your phone to protests or if you do, keep GPS off at the very least… The more secure you are the less able you are to organize,” an antifascist researcher told us. He agreed to be quoted only if we did not reveal his name.

Joshua Wong, the activist who helped drive Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement and is now a key figure in the city’s continuing protests, said that omnipresent tracking has fundamentally changed the democratic protests in Hong Kong. “In the past, they feel like, if they are not activists or high-profile figures, they are safe from surveillance as they have nothing to hide,” he said. “But they have come to realize recently that surveillance poses a threat to them as more are involved in the protest, and even if they are not high-profile, the government would also target them.”

Even those we identified in the data who were public about their activism were unnerved by their movements’ getting catalogued in databases that can be bought, sold, merged or hacked.

“Personally, I’m happy to protest Trump and have people knowing about it,” said Eric Hensal, who lives in Takoma Park, Md., and appeared in the dataset at a 2016 picket line protest at the Trump Hotel in Washington. “But there’s so much somebody, say, a state actor could determine just by a travel pattern. It’s honestly frightening.”

Granular surveillance is still new. But some experts argue the window to define our cultural values around tracking citizens may be closing. Mr. Tsui, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, argued that there are three current competing visions for the internet built by China, the United States and the European Union. China is moving fast and breaking things, including civil rights. The E.U., with its focus on privacy, is making a moral point around surveillance and consent. And the United States, with its powerful tech companies, is caught in the middle, trying to weigh ethical concerns while still pushing forward on innovation for fear of being left behind by China. If China pushes forward, skirting human rights via technology, and the United States follows, Mr. Tsui argued that America could see an uptick in using surveillance, data and artificial intelligence to manipulate and change behavior and direct outcomes. “I hope we don’t end up there,” he said.

Location data is already part of the 2020 race for the White House. Political action committees for Republicans and Democrats have invested in location data to target voters based on their interest. For example, companies are enlisting data brokers to help monitor the movements of churchgoers to find conservative-leaning voters and sway their votes.

In company documents from 2017, Phunware, a Texas-based technology company, describes the race to collect location data to target voters as a “gold rush,” suggesting that “as soon as the first few political campaigns realize the value of mobile ad targeting for voter engagement, the floodgates will open. Which campaigns will get there first and strike it rich?”

The company reportedly signed a deal with American Made Media Consultants, a company set up by the Trump campaign manager, Brad Parscale, to offer location collection services. Phunware touts voters’ smartphones as “the ultimate voter file.” Its marketing claims that mobile data can tell campaigns “everything from the device operating system (iOS or Android) to what other apps are on the device, what Wi-Fi networks the device joins and much more. And that doesn’t even cover the information it’s possible to infer, such as gender, age, lifestyle preferences and so on.”

These are, of course, just the early days. Much of the political manipulation happening now looks no different from serving up a standard political ad at the right moment. The future, however, could get dark quickly. Political candidates rich in location data could combine it with financial information and other personally identifiable details to build deep psychographic profiles designed to manipulate and push voters in unseen directions. Would-be autocrats or despots could leverage this information to misinform or divide voters and keep political enemies from showing up to the polls on election day.

Then, once in power, they could leverage their troves of data to intimidate activists and squash protests. Those brave enough to rebel might be tracked and followed to their homes. At the very least, their names could be put into registries.

Public dissent could quickly become too risky a proposition, given that the record of one’s attendance at a rally could be held against them at a later date. Big Data, once the domain of marketers, could become a means to elevate dictators to power and then frustrate attempts to remove them.

It is not difficult, in other words, to imagine a system of social control arising from infrastructure built for advertising. That’s why regulation is critical. “It is very clear from the examples of the intersection of authoritarianism and surveillance that we’ve seen around the world that a privacy bill of rights is absolutely necessary,” said Edward Markey, the Massachusetts senator who wrote the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. “Privacy needs to start being seen as a human right.”

Carlo Ratti, a professor at M.I.T. and director of its Senseable City Lab, echoed the senator’s concerns. “The present path is untenable,” he told us. “If you have asymmetrical control of information, it is very dangerous. Whether it’s companies or states, they can crush political opponents before they can band together. If we go this route, it is very dangerous and very volatile.”

If Hong Kong has taught the world anything, it is that surveillance systems, once in place, are nearly impossible to uproot.

“I think Hong Kong citizens are worried that they are retroactively surveilled,” Mr. Wong, the activist, said. “As there are more reports revealing the effort and attempts of Beijing in monitoring its people, Hong Kong-ers are worried that they have been subjected to the same treatment.”

Over time, protest could become the exclusive right of those with the means to safeguard themselves technologically, including having a second, “burner” phone. “It’s technologically possible to be anonymous, but it’s hard,” Mr. Tsui told us. “You can only protect privacy with tech right now, and so only those who have money and knowledge can do it. But privacy is not just for the rich or geeks. Privacy is for everyone.”

Even in non-authoritarian countries, the future of unfettered mobile surveillance seems likely to force dissenters into difficult decisions. “The way I see it, there’s two directions this could all go. It could force people to embrace the danger of full exposure,” the antifascist researcher and protester said. “Or things go way underground. And things continue to heat up. It forces governments and other organizations to get more and more militant toward each other.”

The future for the world’s activists may look increasingly like Hong Kong. The leaderless protest movement of the past six months has been made possible by technology. The messageboard LIHKG and encrypted chat apps like Telegram have allowed for the kind of organization that has kept the protests going. But the movement has also been undermined by the very same technology. Protesters and journalists and even law enforcement have been doxxed (had their private information published) by the thousands. A real-time location tracking app used by protesters to identify the positions of law enforcement was taken down by Apple’s App Store — suggesting that governments will have a competitive advantage when it comes to the resource.

And while protesters have rebelled by wearing masks, blocking government cameras with lasers and even tearing down lampposts they suspected were outfitted with beacons and surveillance equipment, their efforts are being quietly undermined by the spies in their pockets. Like the rest of us, they are only as secure as the least secure apps on their phones.

The hundreds of thousands of phones that light up the sky in places like Hong Kong are the expression of peaceful opposition to authority. But the inspiring images and the democratic spirit the glittering devices represent only work if the lights are eventually able to vanish.
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Source: New York Times, Charlie Warzel and Stuart A. Thompson, 21 DEc 2019

City tries to steer wireless antennas away from neighborhoods, schools
USA Created: 20 Dec 2019
New rules in Palo Alto would require telecoms to get exceptions before they can encroach on residential areas.

Palo Alto took its most dramatic action to date to curtail the proliferation of wireless antennas on street poles on Monday night, when the City Council agreed to restrict such equipment in residential neighborhoods.

The new rules aim to alleviate the anxieties of residents who have been arguing for years that the telecommunication equipment causes health, aesthetic and noise impacts. They aim to steer the equipment away from residential zones and toward commercial ones. They also attempt to strike a delicate balance: addressing the anxieties of residents without inviting lawsuits from telecommunication companies.

In the end, neither side was fully satisfied. Dozens of residents submitted letters to the council on Monday to request tougher measures. At the same time, representatives of Verizon and Crown Castle argued in separate briefs that the standards proposed by staff are overly restrictive and illegal.

The council, for its part, acknowledged that the process of adopting standards for wireless equipment remains a work in progress and that the new rules will likely see further changes. By a 6-1 vote, the council agreed that wireless communication facilities should be placed in non-residential districts unless the council grants an exception. The only dissenter was Vice Mayor Adrian Fine, who fully backed the proposed standards but did not support the additions that the rest of his colleagues adopted, including directions to staff to further study the noise impacts of wireless equipment, consider the feasibility of requiring underground vaults for antennas in residential areas and explore proposing a state bill pertaining to wireless equipment.

In addition to giving a preference to equipment in non-residential areas, the newly adopted standards specify that near public schools, wireless equipment should be placed no closer than 600 feet, up from the current standard of 300 feet (an applicant may request an exception to be within 300 feet, but no closer). They also state the city's preference for placing equipment into underground vaults rather than mounting them on poles. And they establish a 20-foot setback from buildings in all zoning districts with no exception.

The discussion comes at a time when the city is seeing a huge influx of applications from wireless companies, with more than 100 antennas recently winning approval in both commercial and residential districts. Planning Director Jonathan Lait told the council that the proposed standards try to "clearly articulate the city's interest to locate wireless communication facilities in the commercial and industrial areas and outside the residential areas."

But for many residents, the 20-foot setback doesn't go nearly far enough. Dozens submitted nearly identical letters arguing that the 20-foot rule "opens the door for the telecom industry to put their ugly, noisy, and potentially hazardous equipment right next to our homes."

Many, including Tina Chow, requested a more meaningful setback. Chow, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, recommended adopting a 100-foot setback requirement, with no exception.

"Otherwise, the whole resolution with objective standards can be sidestepped by wireless companies simply asking for exceptions and having them granted," Chow wrote to the council.

Jeanne Fleming, who is one of the leaders of the effort to oppose new wireless antennas, argued that the city should not provide exceptions to service providers seeking to install equipment in residential zones.

"A setback of 20 feet is an invitation to telecom companies to seek exceptions and they'll place their cell towers wherever they want to," Fleming said.

While many pushed for a 100-foot setback, Lait argued that such a standard would make almost all streetlights and utility poles in residential areas ineligible and put the city in a legally tricky position. The Federal Communications Commission limits local control over communication equipment. In September 2018, the FCC declared in an order that local aesthetic regulations "must be reasonable, objective, non-discriminatory and published in advance" (the order is now being challenged in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals).

Several representatives of telecommunication companies argued that the new rules fall afoul of the federal standards. Paul Albritton, who is representing Verizon, submitted a letter arguing that the proposed standards are both ill-advised and illegal. Rather than prohibiting antennas in residential zones, the city should state its preference for commercial, office and manufacturing zones but still allow a "less-preferred location" if there is no preferred alternative nearby that is available and technically feasible.

"The various location restrictions imposed by the Draft Standards would prohibit small cells in broad areas of Palo Alto," Albritton wrote. "The option for an exception to some restrictions does not excuse such unlawful prohibition. Instead, the City should adopt reasonable, location preferences."

The proposed law, Albritton argued, violates FCC's prohibition on restrictions that "materially inhibit" the ability of telecommunication companies to enhance services.

"With facilities permitted in only non-residential zones, a small cell in a residential zone would require an exception, as would facilities within 300 to 600 feet of schools. ... The city cannot rely on the exception process to excuse such prohibitive restrictions because it requires applicants to satisfy a vague, quasi-judicial finding that federal and/or state law compel approval."

Michael Shonafelt, an attorney with the firm Newmeyer Dillion, similarly urged the council not to approve the restrictions, which he argued illegally impede the right of wireless companies to use public rights of way. Shonafelt, who is representing Crown Castle, likened the proposed restriction to "discriminatory treatment."

"The resolution singles out wireless telecommunication carriers and infrastructure developers, prescribing onerous aesthetic and engineering restrictions that do not apply to other utilities in the right of way," Shonafelt wrote.

While the council felt comfortable adopting the regulations, despite these objections, City Attorney Molly Stump warned the council not to adopt the broader restrictions proposed by some residents, including an outright ban on wireless communication equipment in residential areas with no exceptions.

"A rule like that would almost certainly be held to be an effective prohibition of wireless services in a large part of our community," Stump said.

As such, it would be subject to a legal challenge, either targeting the ordinance itself or as part of an application for a wireless communication facility, she said.

In declaring commercial areas as a preference for new antennas, city staff pointed to the fact that expressways and major arterials offer larger right of way dimensions and, as such, offer greater opportunities to screen or otherwise conceal a proposed wireless communication facility, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Development Services. Companies requesting exceptions to install equipment in residential areas would need to demonstrate the infeasibility of doing so in commercial districts.

While the new rules limit the abilities of telecoms to mount equipment near schools, they don't go nearly as far as some in the Palo Alto school district had hoped. Todd Collins, president of the Board of Education, cited a resolution that the board passed June calling for a setback of 1,500 feet from schools and requesting that school principals and the district be notified of any applications near school sites.

"I'm not sure what the logic is for the much smaller setbacks," Collins wrote to the council. "There is no value to placing cell towers near schools sites. PAUSD has a total of only 16 school sites in the City of Palo Alto — wireless carriers should be able to give them a wide berth, and still achieve other objectives."

But the council agreed that the standards drafted by staff, while imperfect, represent a major step forward. Councilman Tom DuBois called them "a big improvement" while Mayor Eric Filseth credited staff with "an artful construction that encourages cellphone companies with a combination of carrots and sticks ... not to put these things in residential neighborhoods without strictly excluding the possibility that if they did a bunch of work, they might be able to."

While the city isn't outright banning wireless equipment in residential areas, a move that would likely launch a lawsuit, the city is trying to make telecom companies say, "Do I really want to fight that battle in the residential neighborhood? I'll just stick to the commercial neighborhoods," Filseth said.

"But if we put an outright ban on residential neighborhoods, they can say, 'We can beat that in court in a week so let's do it,'" Filseth said.
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Source: Palo Alto Weekly, Gennady Sheyner, 17 Dec 2019

Verizon Wireless Suing City of Jackson
USA Created: 20 Dec 2019
Verizon Wireless is suing the City of Jackson over what it claims is an unlawful and discriminatory denial of its application to build a cellphone tower in the city. The 90-page lawsuit will proceed to trial after Jackson City Council voted earlier this week to reject reaching a settlement with the corporation.

The lawsuit comes following the council's 3-to-1 vote last September to deny Verizon's application for a permit to build a 150-foot cell phone tower in south Jackson, located in Ward 6. Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks, who voted against the permit approval, said that he opposed the construction on the basis of residents' concerns. Those concerns primarily centered on the appearance of the proposed tower, which some residents consider an "eyesore."

On Oct. 16, Alltel Communications filed a lawsuit against the City in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. It claims that the City's decision was not backed by substantial evidence and violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which prevents state and local governments from regulating wireless services. Verizon also claims that the council's vote is discriminatory, since cell-phone towers exist elsewhere in the city, including those owned by other companies.

Verizon applied for a permit to build the tower at 196 Lakeshore Road on July 18. That location, Verizon has maintained, is "critical," as it is the only one that would allow the company "to develop a seamless wireless telecommunications network and to fill a significant gap in coverage and capacity in the area," court documents show.

Jackson Zoning Administrator Ester E. Ainsworth prepared a report on Aug 12 stating that the cell-phone tower construction would not "be detrimental to the continued use, value, or development of properties in the vicinity." On Aug 28, the Jackson Planning Board voted 6-to-3 to recommend that the council approve Verizon's application for a use permit to construct the tower.

But Verizon claims that its plan became derailed after a Sept. 16 public hearing, during which "a single local resident," whom the lawsuit also identifies as "a former City employee," raised "subjective and unsubstantiated opinions" to oppose the construction. The resident, Claude McCants, who is vice president of the Association of South Jackson, voiced concerns about radio frequency emissions stemming from the proposed tower and its detrimental impacts on the environment and potentially even on property values.

The American Cancer Society has stated that cell-phone towers are not linked to any health effects.

Following the public hearing, the zoning administrator sent a letter to Verizon on behalf of the city council. The letter served as an official notice to the company of the council's decision to deny Verizon's application for a use permit.

"The City Council was of the opinion that the criteria for granting the Use Permit had not been met," the letter read.

In the lawsuit, Verizon claims that it "has exhausted all of its administrative remedies." It refers to the injunction as "an appropriate remedy for violation of the TCA."

During its Dec. 10 regular meeting, city council voted 3-to-2 to reject the City's legal department's request to settle with Verizon, meaning that the City will now head to court.

"Being that this is a legal matter, I don't want to speak in detail, but I will say, I stand in support of the Ward 6 residents," Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said.

Banks derided Verizon for its "unwillingness to meet with (Jackson) constituents and to help find a workable way" out of the situation. He characterized Verizon's conduct as "a direct insult to not only this city but to the constituents we represent."

"I will say that zoning and land use is the most important thing we do as a city. ... We should have the ability to land use and zone our city as we see fit," Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps said.

Council President Virgi Lindsay said that while the decision has been a difficult one, it has forced the City to re-evaluate its land use plans and ordinances.

"I think that is the most positive thing that came out of this," she said.
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Source: Jackson Free Press, Seyma Bayram, 12 Dec 2019

U.S. Supreme Court rejects challenge to Berkeley cell phone law
USA Created: 9 Dec 2019
The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected a free speech challenge brought by a trade group against a regulation issued by the California city of Berkeley that requires cell phone retailers to tell customers of certain radiation risks.

The justices left in place a July 2019 decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that refused to block the 2015 regulation that industry group CTIA appealed.

CTIA said the regulation violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech rights, because the government, without the necessary justification that supports other types of regulations, is forcing retailers to spread a message they disagree with.

The 2015 regulation requires retailers to provider a notice to customers saying that carrying a cell phone can exceed Federal Communications Commission guidelines for exposure to radio-frequency radiation.

“If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines,” the notice says.

CTIA disputed the content of the notice, saying it is misleading because the FCC has concluded that carrying a cell phone is safe.
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Source: Reuters, Lawrence Hurley, 9 Dec 2019

Defense Secretary Asks FCC To Limit 5G Deployment
USA Created: 9 Dec 2019
Telecommunications business, with the urging and support of President Donald Trump, have been rushing to rollout the next level in wireless communications: 5G. But in a little noticed letter Monday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to restrict that rollout, citing “national security, civil service, and the economic benefit of the nation” as the reasons.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Secretary Esper said, “I request that the FCC reject the license modification request and not allow the proposed system to be deployed.”

The license to which Esper is referring is proposal by Ligado Networks, LLC, to use some of the federally regulated radio spectrum to deploy 5G across the country.

Esper believes, according to the letter, the granting of this license has “the potential for widespread disruption and degradation of GPS services,” and goes on to conclude, “I request that the FCC reject the license modification request and not allow the proposed system to be deployed.”

In a November 21, 2019 letter to the FCC obtained by the Daily Caller, Valerie Green, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Ligado, argued the GPS interference objection is an old issue that has been addressed. “The issue raised by the DOD letter is not new to the Commission, and the record contains ample evidence for the Commission to conclude that the assertions in the letter lack merit.” Green stressed that “no entity has the authority to squat on someone else’s spectrum and seek to use spectrum not allocated to it.”

Dennis A. Roberson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Roberson and Associates and Chair of the Federal Communications Commission’s Technology Advisory Counsel said, “GPS devices tested did not experience harmful interference from power levels equal to those in Ligado’s proposed operation.”

President Trump has been a vocal proponent of 5G deployment, with some Republicans going as far as calling for the nationalization of the technology. Currently, China is out-spending the US in 5G deployment, according to CNBC, and the Wall Street Journal reports China will soon “leapfrog” the US in availability.

Deployment in the US has been hampered by fears of radiation and other health risks, with states and localities blocking 5G cells.
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Source: Daily Caller, Derek Hunter, 22 Nov 2019

Could your next cell phone wreck our weather forecasts?
USA Created: 3 Dec 2019
Faint signals from water vapor power our super-accurate forecasts—and if we’re not careful, scientists warn, 5G could drown some of them out.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy came barreling down on the East Coast. It slammed into the New York region and sat there for several days, dumping torrential rain that caused over a hundred deaths, flooded entire communities, and wrecked local infrastructure.

The destruction almost certainly would have been higher without the detailed, precise forecasts of how the storm would proceed along its track, which scientists were able to feed to emergency management personnel well before the storm made landfall.

Meteorological science has gotten better and better over past decades, squeezing ever more information out of the data gathered at Earth’s surface, through the atmosphere, and from instruments mounted on satellites spinning overhead. The result is increasingly sophisticated, far-reaching, and accurate forecasts.

But the precision we’ve become accustomed to from those forecasts may be under threat, scientists are warning. Our ability to predict with confidence what’s coming down the road weather wise could be set back by 40 years, and a key forecasting tool could be seriously degraded.

Telecommunications technologies like 5G internet need space on the electromagnetic spectrum, the range of all types of electromagnetic radiation that includes microwaves, infrared and ultraviolet light, gamma and X-rays. Today that space is at a premium. And much of the information that feeds into sophisticated weather models comes from parts of the spectrum that are right next door to areas telecommunications companies want to use for the new technologies.

“It’s like an apartment building of sorts,” explains Jordan Gerth, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “There’s some general expectation that everybody keeps relatively quiet. In the spectrum land, we have our meteorological application, our science applications, and those that require a very quiet environment and adjacent environment. But the telecom signals are typically very loud, and are also susceptible to leaking outside their space.

“It’s like trying to run a daycare for small children who want to take a nap, but one that’s adjacent to a sports bar. There may be a wall between them, but you’re still going to get noise bleeding through.”

Over the past month delegates from countries and trade groups have gathered at the World Radiocommunications Conference to decide on international rules about how strictly to protect the “bands” of the electromagnetic spectrum crucial to weather forecasting—in other words, how much noise from the sports bar they’ll allow to be heard in the nap room.

In the end they came to a decision that some scientists—including Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA—say may degrade the forecasts in a dangerous way, perhaps irreparably.
What’s at stake

One of the crucial bands, says William Blackwell, an atmospheric scientist and engineer at MIT, is around 23.8 GHz. Water vapor absorbs in this microwave band, leaving behind a faint signal that can be read by satellite-mounted instruments that look at the microwave part of the spectrum. The problem now is that telecommunications companies are interested in using parts of the spectrum right next to that water vapor signal.

The electromagnetic spectrum is like water in a river: There’s only so much of it. Some of the water is necessary to keep the habitat healthy, just like some of the spectrum is necessary for making weather forecasts. But most of the rest of the spectrum has already been allocated for all different kinds of wireless communication—GPS, radio navigation, satellite controls, telecommunications, and more. So demands on the remaining clear bits are growing.

“The reason we’re in this tug of war, it’s because of all these cell phones, just like the one that I’m holding,” says Tom Ackerman, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington.

In the past, the communications uses were kept far away from the bands used for weather and climate science work.

“But we’re running out of spectrum real estate,” says Ackerman. “Before, we could coexist nicely, but now the sandbox is full.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission auctioned off part of the microwave spectrum right next to the 23.8 GHz water vapor band. Companies, eager for access to the new space, bid over $2 billion.

Prior to the auction, though, Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA, warned that interference—“leaking” of the big 5G signal into the faint water vapor signal in the 23.8GHz band—could degrade forecast quality to levels not seen since before the microwave sounder era, in the mid-1970s.

At around the same time, NOAA’s acting deputy administrator, Neil Jacobs, told a congressional committee that telecommunications activity in the nearby parts of the spectrum could degrade forecasting accuracy by 30 percent, and could cause the lead time on forecasts of hurricanes to decrease by 2 to 3 days, he said.

They and other scientists asked for strict limits on how “loud” the next-door emissions could be—asking for something like the World Meteorological Association had suggested, a limit of -42 decibel watts (more negative numbers mean stronger limits). Instead, the FCC decided to use a limit of -20 decibel watts.

At the World Radiocommunications Conference this month, the decisions fell in between. The interference, decision-makers landed on, could be -33 decibel watts until 2027, at which point the limits would strengthen slightly to -39 decibel watts.

That’s better than what the FCC proposed, says Gerth, but still far from ideal. “This problem isn’t one that’s going to go away,” he says.

The leading trade group for the U.S. wireless industry, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), disagrees. Their executive vice president, Brad Gillen, wrote in a blog post that the NOAA and NASA analyses were based on the wrong microwave sounder instrument, and if more modern ones are considered, the problem goes away. But NOAA and NASA and the Navy disagree.

The internal NOAA and NASA studies analyzing this particular issue are not yet public, so non-government weather scientists are still unable to vet the claims directly.
The satellite era changed weather forecasting

A century ago, the best weather forecasts in the world were mostly well-informed guesswork. Cloud patterns and the feel of wind could provide hints about what the atmosphere might get up to in the next few hours, but looking beyond that was impossible. Today scientists can look more than a week into the future and make a solid prediction of what to expect: rain, snow, sunshine, hurricanes.

By the 1970s, scientists had built the bones of the weather forecasting system we know today. They had developed computer models that described the complicated physics that controls the way air flows around the atmosphere. The more they honed in on the details of the physics, the better their predictions got.

But they found that the atmosphere was a fickle beast to understand. To predict what would happen with the weather in the future, they needed to know exactly what the weather conditions were right now, they found: The physics only worked if they had really good understandings of exactly where things started.

The game, scientists and engineers around the world recognized, was to get the absolute best possible data about the current state of the atmosphere. That would get them the best possible predictions of the future, they thought.

More and more effort went into developing instruments that could very precisely map the entire three-dimensional expanse of the atmosphere, things like exactly how warm the air was from the surface up to the stratosphere, and how much water vapor was streaked through the lower sections of the atmosphere versus higher up, over Chicago and Jakarta and in the middle of the ocean.

One of the critical developments was figuring out exactly how much and where the water vapor was. To do that, scientists relied on the fact that water vapor absorbs electromagnetic radiation at several different frequencies.

As the satellite observations improved, so did the precision and accuracy of weather forecasts. Today’s five-day forecasts are as accurate as a one-day forecast in the early 1980s.

More recently, observations from the many instruments called microwave sounders attached to different satellites orbiting the planet have become even more valuable to forecasters. In the last decade, research from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF, considered the premier weather forecasting agency in the world) shows that microwave frequency data play a critical role in short-term weather forecasting, providing about 20 percent of the information critical to the forecast models.

Microwave sounders mounted on satellites like NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System and the European Meteorological Operational (MetOp) satellites sense the amount of microwave radiation coming out of the atmosphere each time they pass overhead. They can tell how much water vapor is present by looking at the emissions in a suite of different bands—one of which is at 23.8 GHz. The water vapor signal in that band, though, is small, like a streamlet. The microwave sounders are now very good at measuring that faint signal.

Even if the part of the spectrum used for weather forecasting is protected thoroughly—and MIT’s Blackwell is not convinced it will be—there are many more bands crucial to weather forecasting that are under threat of similar encroachment.

“The same thing is happening in other parts of the spectrum,” he says. “The 5G spectrum is cozying up to those bands, to this sacred spectral territory. And that’s going to be a problem.”
Click here to view the source article.
Source: National Geographic, Alejandra Borunda, 26 Nov 2019

Yet another School experiment kills Watercress with Wi-Fi
USA Created: 21 Nov 2019
Pioneers Of Science, part 1.

Watch the video of the 1st experiment (4½ minutes):
https://vimeo.com/359157026

The young scientists plan to repeat the experiment while controlling for changes in temperature, humidity etc.

More on that when it happens.

Related news:
Dec 2015, Argentina: Confirmed: Watercress growth damaged by microwave radiation
Apr 2014, USA: 2'nd grader with Biologist Mom replicates Danish watercress experiment
May 2013, Denmark: Experiments with cress seeds in 9th Class attracts international attention
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Smooth Feathers Film Productions, Pioneers of Science, 2019-11-21

New 5G flaws can track phone locations and spoof emergency alerts
USA Created: 13 Nov 2019
Security researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa have found close to a dozen vulnerabilities, which they say can be used to track a victim’s real-time location, spoof emergency alerts that can trigger panic or silently disconnect a 5G-connected phone from the network altogether.

5G is said to be more secure than its 4G predecessor, able to withstand exploits used to target users of older cellular network protocols like 2G and 3G like the use of cell site simulators — known as “stingrays.” But the researchers’ findings confirm that weaknesses undermine the newer security and privacy protections in 5G.

Worse, the researchers said some of the new attacks also could be exploited on existing 4G networks.

The researchers expanded on their previous findings to build a new tool, dubbed 5GReasoner, which was used to find 11 new 5G vulnerabilities. By creating a malicious radio base station, an attacker can carry out several attacks against a target’s connected phone used for both surveillance and disruption.

In one attack, the researchers said they were able to obtain both old and new temporary network identifiers of a victim’s phone, allowing them to discover the paging occasion, which can be used to track the phone’s location — or even hijack the paging channel to broadcast fake emergency alerts. This could lead to “artificial chaos,” the researcher said, similar to when a mistakenly sent emergency alert claimed Hawaii was about to be hit by a ballistic missile amid heightened nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. (A similar vulnerability was found in the 4G protocol by University of Colorado Boulder researchers in June.)

Another attack could be used to create a “prolonged” denial-of-service condition against a target’s phone from the cellular network.

In some cases, the flaws could be used to downgrade a cellular connection to a less-secure standard, which makes it possible for law enforcement — and capable hackers — to launch surveillance attacks against their targets using specialist “stingray” equipment.

All of the new attacks can be exploited by anyone with practical knowledge of 4G and 5G networks and a low-cost software-defined radio, said Syed Rafiul Hussain, one of the co-authors of the new paper.

Given the nature of the vulnerabilities, the researchers said they have no plans to release their proof-of-concept exploitation code publicly. However, the researchers did notify the GSM Association (GSMA), a trade body that represents cell networks worldwide, of their findings.

Although the researchers were recognized by GSMA’s mobile security “hall of fame,” spokesperson Claire Cranton said the vulnerabilities were “judged as nil or low-impact in practice.” The GSMA did not say if the vulnerabilities would be fixed — or give a timeline for any fixes. But the spokesperson said the researchers’ findings “may lead to clarifications” to the standard where it’s written ambiguously.

Hussain told TechCrunch that while some of the fixes can be easily fixed in the existing design, the remaining vulnerabilities call for “a reasonable amount of change in the protocol.”

It’s the second round of research from the academics released in as many weeks. Last week, the researchers found several security flaws in the baseband protocol of popular Android models — including Huawei’s Nexus 6P and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+ — making them vulnerable to snooping attacks on their owners.
Click here to view the source article.
Source: TechCrunch, Zack Whittaker, 12 Nov 2019

Will WHO Kick Its ICNIRP Habit?
USA Created: 4 Nov 2019
Recognition of Non-Thermal Effects Hangs in the Balance.

After eight years of work, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reopening its review of the health effects of RF radiation for a summary report intended to serve as a benchmark for its more than 150 member countries.

The move might suggest that the WHO EMF/RF program is poised to reassess its long-held policy of rejecting non-thermal effects, and to loosen its deep ties to ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation with its heat-only dogma.

The reputation of both organizations has never recovered from the rampant industry cronyism of Mike Repacholi, who created them in the 1990s. A close look at the WHO radiation program and its approach to this new review show that not much has changed in Geneva.

In other words: Don't count ICNIRP out just yet.

Read our latest story here: https://microwavenews.com/news-center/can-who-kick-icnirp-habit

Louis Slesin, PhD
Editor, Microwave News
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Microwave News, Louis Slesin, 04 Nov 2019

Council urged to study health effects of 5G network
USA Created: 3 Nov 2019
A handful of citizens urged Aspen City Council to do all it can to prevent a barrage of 5G towers coming into town.

The concerns were voiced during public comment, led by Tom Lankering, a chiropractor from Basalt, and focused on the health effects of pervasive 5G signals.

Lankering held up a blank piece of paper, telling the council it was a list on the safety studies on 5G.

“That is the biggest issue we are talking about now, is that there are no safety studies,” Lankering said.

As Aspen has faced the incoming advent of 5G wireless devices and networks, city staff have been preparing to keep as much of a handle on new cell towers as they can. However, in public memos they have cited legislation passed in 1997 that bans local governments from regulating small cell wireless facilities based on health reasons.

“I’m sure this has been relayed to you by all of us that we feel our hands are tied by the FCC and other regulations,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said in response to the public comment.

“That is only part of the misinformation that has been put out,” Lankering said.

He said other communities are finding ways to ban or delay the implementation of 5G. He also told the council that there is a movement in the statehouse now to repeal HB 17-1193, which he said was passed due to pressure from wireless companies at the expense of public health.

“Part of this is about being able to reclaim our right to protect our own health,” Lankering said.

Lankering asked that a safety study be done before 5G is allowed in town. He offered his own free time, as well as that of a group of citizens who have been gathering to fight the implementation of 5G.

“Electromagnetic radiation is devastating, it’s destructive and destroys brains,” Lankering said, invoking fears of dementia, alzheimers and cancers, as well as social health effects and depression.

5G waves are smaller and thus do not travel as far. This means more towers are needed in any given area than with current cell towers. It is estimated that Aspen would need more than 100 new towers in order to create a reliable 5G network in town. The county as a whole is years away from implementing 5G networks, even though some cell carriers advertise their networks as 5G currently.

Business owner Andrew Sandler told council that he can feel the effects of 4G towers when he travels to areas in Denver that have heavy 4G network. He also voiced concern about the health effects, even from the wi-fi signals created through the network of cell phones present in the council chambers.

“Picture walking through a haze of smoke and pretend that is the wifi frequency that is coming at you,” Sandler said. “Everyone in the room is sitting in a haze of junk and it’s killing us.”

Public comment on the health risks of 5G continued for about 20 minutes, with clapping from the room as each citizen voiced their concerns.

City Attorney Jim True said the city’s legal team is working on crafting Aspen’s own regulations to stay compliant with state and federal codes while also caring for the health and aesthetic preferences of local citizens. He encouraged those who spoke during public comment to send along examples of ways other communities are addressing the health concerns.

“This is just the biggest experiment on humankind that will even happen,” Lankering told the council, “but people are rising up.”
Click here to view the source article.
Source: Aspen Daily News, Alycin Bektesh, 23 Oct 2019

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