Google announced Tuesday a new social networking maneuver that will rummage through photos and commentary on its budding social network, Google+, so search results can provide more personal information for web browsing. The addition, which was employed the same day it was announced, will tailor search results by filtering content to the unique interests of each user browsing the Internet.

The company’s six-month-old Plus product is a social networking service Google offered to counter the sweeping popularity of Facebook’s online parlor and Twitter’s status-updating hub. The new feature, called "Search, Plus Your World," was partially activated Tuesday (some users will not see the change immediately) for all searches administered by users logged into Google; deactivating the individually catered results will require changing settings under the user’s personal preferences. Personal search results can also be suspended on a search-by-search basis by clicking an icon on the results page.

Google Fellow Amit Singhal detailed in a blog post three areas that will be affected by the new feature:

The Obama administration gave states and the gambling industry an early Christmas present December 23 in the form of a controversial Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion that reversed years of federal policy covering online gambling. As reported by Reuters News Service, previously the DOJ had held that “online gambling in all forms was illegal under the Wire Act of 1961, which bars wagers via telecommunications that cross state lines or international borders.” The recent DOJ opinion, dated in September but released only in late December, makes the qualification that “[i]nterstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”

The New York Times reported that the opinion, in the form of a memorandum, came in response to “requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961 … prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.” The Times added that while the memorandum “dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.”

 

The lawmakers promoting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) insist that in the long term it will improve the economy by protecting the intellectual property market and the associated industries and jobs. That would increase revenue and would guard American Internet ventures against economic harm perpetrated by foreign websites.

It does seem odd that given the safeguards supposedly established by SOPA, so many online organizations — Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Reddit, and YouTube — have aligned themselves against the measure and are actively working to prevent its passage.

Perhaps these information-age giants are onto something. Perhaps they understand that by granting the government the power to pull the plug on any one of these websites at any time without warning, SOPA is a persuasive disincentive to investment and thus to corporate growth and survival.
 
SOPA, H.R. 3261, was introduced into the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) along with 12 co-sponsors (as of December 16, 2011, there are 31 co-sponsors signed onto the bill). The bill, which endows the federal government with a broad array of powers over Internet content and activity, is now before the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

How did your U.S. Representative and Senators vote on last summer's debt deal that raised the national debt limit while promising to reduce future spending and deficit projections? How did your Representative vote on a measure that would have repealed the federal phaseout of the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb? And how did your Senators vote on an amendment to prohibit U.S. citizens  from being held indefinitely in the ongoing war against terrorism without being given a trial?

The answers to all three questions above are in our latest "Freedom Index" in the January 9, 2012 issue of The New American and also available online as a downloadable PDF.

The New American's "Freedom Index" is a congressional scorecard that rates all members of the House and Senate based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements. The index is published four times each two-year congressional term; each index rates Congressmen based on 10 key votes.

In last Saturday’s print edition of The Economist magazine, staff writers attempted to compare today’s Internet with the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517. Claiming that by nailing his complaints onto a bulletin board, Luther started the Reformation. This was done, according to The Economist’s rewriting of history, “when Martin Luther and his allies took the new media of their day — pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts — and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.” From there the article concentrates on the alleged “social network” that Luther had to promote his views, rather than on the message — the information — contained in those views:

In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them….”

As GOP presidential contender Ron Paul is increasingly becoming a threat to the establishment and to big government advocates on both ends of the political spectrum, some members of his opposition are preparing dirty tactics to thwart him. The secretive hacker group Anonymous, for instance, has already vowed to disrupt the January 3 vote in the Iowa caucuses, which Paul seems poised to win.

Though Paul was initially almost wholly ignored by most politicians and the mainstream media, and treated as though he was a fringe, unviable candidate, he has surged in popularity in poll after poll. Now ignoring him is no longer an option.

According to the most recent Public Policy Poll (PPP), Ron Paul is firmly in first place in Iowa, with 23 percent of the vote, followed by Mitt Romney, with 20 percent, and Gingrich, with just 14 percent of supporters.

Here's the latest "Freedom Index: A Congressional Scorecard Based on the Constitution."

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee unveiled legislation Thursday that would authorize the cybersecurity functions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and establish a quasi-governmental entity to coordinate cybersecurity information-sharing with the private sector. The bill, called the Promoting and Enhancing Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Effectiveness Act (PrECISE), would station a national clearinghouse for information relating to potential attacks on critical infrastructure, such as electric grid, water facilities, and financial service systems.

"The risk of cyberattack by enemies of the United States is real, is ongoing and is growing," warned Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.). "The PrECISE Act, in line with the framework set forth by the Speaker’s Cybersecurity Task Force led by Rep. [Mac] Thornberry [R-Texas], protects our critical infrastructure without a heavy-handed and burdensome regulatory approach that could cost American jobs."

Under Section 226 of the bill, the Secretary of Homeland Security "is authorized to maintain the capability to act as the focal point for cybersecurity through technical expertise and policy development." Further, the Secretary is ordered to "coordinate cybersecurity activities across the Federal Government, designate a lead cybersecurity official within the Department of Homeland Security, publish a cybersecurity strategy and provide appropriate reports to Congress."

Critics of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have pointed to its provisions that permit the indefinite detention of American citizens, without charges and without trial. Additionally, the measure violates individual liberties in another way: by waging war on the Internet.

A major component of the criticism against the NDAA is that it labels all of the United States as a "battlefield" in the "War on Terror," thereby treating virtually all American citizens as potential terrorists. But in addition to that, buried deep in the massive paperwork of the bill is a provision that would allow the Pentagon to treat the Internet as a "battlefield" as well, in order to “defend our Nation, Allies and interests.”

 

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began releasing documents last week related to what it calls the “mass surveillance industry,” a little-known but expansive underworld of contractors offering tools for governments — from brutal dictatorships to more moderate Western states — to monitor citizens and hunt down dissidents. Furious activists reacted to the revelations by calling for stricter controls and measures to hold the firms accountable as “accomplices” to mass murder. 

The information released so far covers over 150 companies spanning more than two dozen nations. The documents highlight the nature and growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry that, in addition to supplying espionage assistance to the most murderous regimes on earth, has been quietly turned against citizens in supposedly “free” countries as well.

“Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange told a press conference in London announcing the new project. “The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now, to countries across the world, mass surveillance systems for all of those products."

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