148 posts categorized "California" Feed

Can Customs and Border Officials Search Your Phone? These Are Your Rights

[Editor's note: today's guest post is by the reporters at ProPublica. Past actions by CBP, including the search of a domestic flight, have raised privacy concerns among many citizens. Informed consumers know their privacy rights before traveling. This news article first appeared on March 13 and is reprinted with permission.]

by Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica

A NASA scientist heading home to the U.S. said he was detained in January at a Houston airport, where Customs and Border Protection officers pressured him for access to his work phone and its potentially sensitive contents.

Last month, CBP agents checked the identification of passengers leaving a domestic flight at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport during a search for an immigrant with a deportation order.

And in October, border agents seized phones and other work-related material from a Canadian photojournalist. They blocked him from entering the U.S. after he refused to unlock the phones, citing his obligation to protect his sources.

These and other recent incidents have revived confusion and alarm over what powers border officials actually have and, perhaps more importantly, how to know when they are overstepping their authority.

The unsettling fact is that border officials have long had broad powers -- many people just don't know about them. Border officials, for instance, have search powers that extend 100 air miles inland from any external boundary of the U.S. That means border agents can stop and question people at fixed checkpoints dozens of miles from U.S. borders. They can also pull over motorists whom they suspect of a crime as part of "roving" border patrol operations.

Sowing even more uneasiness, ambiguity around the agency's search powers -- especially over electronic devices -- has persisted for years as courts nationwide address legal challenges raised by travelers, privacy advocates and civil-rights groups.

We've dug out answers about the current state-of-play when it comes to border searches, along with links to more detailed resources.

Doesn't the Fourth Amendment protect us from "unreasonable searches and seizures"?

Yes. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution articulates the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." However, those protections are lessened when entering the country at international terminals at airports, other ports of entry and subsequently any location that falls within 100 air miles of an external U.S. boundary.

How broad is Customs and Border Protection's search authority?

According to federal statutes, regulations and court decisions, CBP officers have the authority to inspect, without a warrant, any person trying to gain entry into the country and their belongings. CBP can also question individuals about their citizenship or immigration status and ask for documents that prove admissibility into the country.

This blanket authority for warrantless, routine searches at a port of entry ends when CBP decides to undertake a more invasive procedure, such as a body cavity search. For these kinds of actions, the CBP official needs to have some level of suspicion that a particular person is engaged in illicit activity, not simply that the individual is trying to enter the U.S.

Does CBP's search authority cover electronic devices like smartphones and laptops?

Yes. CBP refers to several statutes and regulations in justifying its authority to examine "computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players, and any other electronic or digital devices."

According to current CBP policy, officials should search electronic devices with a supervisor in the room, when feasible, and also in front of the person being questioned "unless there are national security, law enforcement, or other operational considerations" that take priority. For instance, if allowing a traveler to witness the search would reveal sensitive law enforcement techniques or compromise an investigation, "it may not be appropriate to allow the individual to be aware of or participate in a border search," according to a 2009 privacy impact assessment by the Department of Homeland Security.

CBP says it can conduct these searches "with or without" specific suspicion that the person who possesses the items is involved in a crime.

With a supervisor's sign-off, CBP officers can also seize an electronic device -- or a copy of the information on the device -- "for a brief, reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search." Such seizures typically shouldn't exceed five days, although officers can apply for extensions in up to one-week increments, according to CBP policy. If a review of the device and its contents does not turn up probable cause for seizing it, CBP says it will destroy the copied information and return the device to its owner.

Can CBP really search my electronic devices without any specific suspicion that I might have committed a crime?

The Supreme Court has not directly ruled on this issue. However, a 2013 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit -- one level below the Supreme Court -- provides some guidance on potential limits to CBP's search authority.

In a majority decision, the court affirmed that cursory searches of laptops -- such as having travelers turn their devices on and then examining their contents -- does not require any specific suspicions about the travelers to justify them.

The court, however, raised the bar for a "forensic examination" of the devices, such as using "computer software to analyze a hard drive." For these more powerful, intrusive and comprehensive searches, which could provide access to deleted files and search histories, password-protected information and other private details, border officials must have a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity -- not just a hunch.

As it stands, the 2013 appeals court decision legally applies only to the nine Western states in the Ninth Circuit, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. It's not clear whether CBP has taken the 2013 decision into account more broadly: The last time the agency publicly updated its policy for searching electronic devices was in 2009. CBP is currently reviewing that policy and there is "no specific timeline" for when an updated version might be announced, according to the agency.

"Laptop computers, iPads and the like are simultaneously offices and personal diaries. They contain the most intimate details of our lives," the court's decision said. "It is little comfort to assume that the government -- for now -- does not have the time or resources to seize and search the millions of devices that accompany the millions of travelers who cross our borders. It is the potential unfettered dragnet effect that is troublesome."

During the 2016 fiscal year, CBP officials conducted 23,877 electronic media searches, a five-fold increase from the previous year. In both the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, the agency processed more than 380 million arriving travelers.

Am I legally required to disclose the password for my electronic device or social media, if CBP asks for it?

That's still an unsettled question, according to Liza Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "Until it becomes clear that it's illegal to do that, they're going to continue to ask," she said.

The Fifth Amendment says that no one shall be made to serve as "a witness against himself" in a criminal case. Lower courts, however, have produced differing decisions on how exactly the Fifth Amendment applies to the disclosure of passwords to electronic devices.

Customs officers have the statutory authority "to demand the assistance of any person in making any arrest, search, or seizure authorized by any law enforced or administered by customs officers, if such assistance may be necessary." That statute has traditionally been invoked by immigration agents to enlist the help of local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Whether the statute also compels individuals being interrogated by border officials to divulge their passwords has not been directly addressed by a court, Wessler said.

Even with this legal uncertainty, CBP officials have broad leverage to induce travelers to share password information, especially when someone just wants to catch their flight, get home to family or be allowed to enter the country. "Failure to provide information to assist CBP may result in the detention and/or seizure of the electronic device," according to a statement provided by CBP.

Travelers who refuse to give up passwords could also be detained for longer periods and have their bags searched more intrusively. Foreign visitors could be turned away at the border, and green card holders could be questioned and challenged about their continued legal status.

"People need to think about their own risks when they are deciding what to do. US citizens may be comfortable doing things that non-citizens aren't, because of how CBP may react," Wessler said.

What is some practical advice for protecting my digital information?

Consider which devices you absolutely need to travel with, and which ones you can leave at home. Setting a strong password and encrypting your devices are helpful in protecting your data, but you may still lose access to your devices for undefined periods should border officials decide to seize and examine their contents.

Another option is to leave all of your devices behind and carry a travel-only phone free of most personal information. However, even this approach carries risks. "We also flag the reality that if you go to extreme measures to protect your data at the border, that itself may raise suspicion with border agents," according to Sophia Cope, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's so hard to tell what a single border agent is going to do."

The EFF has released an updated guide to data protection options here.

Does CBP recognize any exceptions to what it can examine on electronic devices?

If CBP officials want to search legal documents, attorney work product or information protected by attorney-client privilege, they may have to follow "special handling procedures," according to agency policy. If there's suspicion that the information includes evidence of a crime or otherwise relates to "the jurisdiction of CBP," the border official must consult the CBP associate/assistant chief counsel before undertaking the search.

As for medical records and journalists' notes, CBP says its officers will follow relevant federal laws and agency policies in handling them. When asked for more information on these procedures, an agency spokesperson said that CBP has "specific provisions" for dealing with this kind of information, but did not elaborate further. Questions that arise regarding these potentially sensitive materials can be handled by the CBP associate/assistant chief counsel, according to CBP policy. The agency also says that it will protect business or commercial information from "unauthorized disclosure."

Am I entitled to a lawyer if I'm detained for further questioning by CBP?

No. According to a statement provided by CBP, "All international travelers arriving to the U.S. are subject to CBP processing, and travelers bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States. Travelers are not entitled to representation during CBP administrative processing, such as primary and secondary inspection."

Even so, some immigration lawyers recommend that travelers carry with them the number for a legal aid hotline or a specific lawyer who will be able to help them, should they get detained for further questioning at a port of entry.

"It is good practice to ask to speak to a lawyer," said Paromita Shah, associate director at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. "We always encourage people to have a number where their attorney can be reached, so they can explain what is happening and their attorney can try to intervene. It's definitely true that they may not be able to get into the actual space, but they can certainly intervene."

Lawyers who fill out this form on behalf of a traveler headed into the United States might be allowed to advocate for that individual, although local practices can vary, according to Shah.

Can I record my interaction with CBP officials?

Individuals on public land are allowed to record and photograph CBP operations so long as their actions do not hinder traffic, according to CBP. However, the agency prohibits recording and photography in locations with special security and privacy concerns, including some parts of international airports and other secure port areas.

Does CBP's power to stop and question people extend beyond the border and ports of entry?

Yes. Federal statutes and regulations empower CBP to conduct warrantless searches for people travelling illegally from another country in any "railway car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle" within 100 air miles from "any external boundary" of the country. About two-thirds of the U.S. population live in this zone, including the residents of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston, according to the ACLU.

As a result, CBP currently operates 35 checkpoints, where they can stop and question motorists traveling in the U.S. about their immigration status and make "quick observations of what is in plain view" in the vehicle without a warrant, according to the agency. Even at a checkpoint, however, border officials cannot search a vehicle's contents or its occupants unless they have probable cause of wrongdoing, the agency says. Failing that, CBP officials can ask motorists to allow them to conduct a search, but travelers are not obligated to give consent.

When asked how many people were stopped at CBP checkpoints in recent years, as well as the proportion of those individuals detained for further scrutiny, CBP said they didn't have the data "on hand" but that the number of people referred for secondary questioning was "minimum." At the same time, the agency says that checkpoints "have proven to be highly effective tools in halting the flow of illegal traffic into the United States."

Within 25 miles of any external boundary, CBP has the additional patrol power to enter onto private land, not including dwellings, without a warrant.

Where can CBP set up checkpoints?

CBP chooses checkpoint locations within the 100-mile zone that help "maximize border enforcement while minimizing effects on legitimate traffic," the agency says.

At airports that fall within the 100-mile zone, CBP can also set up checkpoints next to airport security to screen domestic passengers who are trying to board their flights, according to Chris Rickerd, a policy counsel at the ACLU's National Political Advocacy Department.

"When you fly out of an airport in the southwestern border, say McAllen, Brownsville or El Paso, you have Border Patrol standing beside TSA when they're doing the checks for security. They ask you the same questions as when you're at a checkpoint. 'Are you a US citizen?' They're essentially doing a brief immigration inquiry in the airport because it's part of the 100-mile zone," Rickerd said. "I haven't seen this at the northern border."

Can CBP do anything outside of the 100-mile zone?

Yes. Many of CBP's law enforcement and patrol activities, such as questioning individuals, collecting evidence and making arrests, are not subject to the 100-mile rule, the agency says. For instance, the geographical limit does not apply to stops in which border agents pull a vehicle over as part of a "roving patrol" and not a fixed checkpoint, according to Rickerd of the ACLU. In these scenarios, border agents need reasonable suspicion that an immigration violation or crime has occurred to justify the stop, Rickerd said. For stops outside the 100-mile zone, CBP agents must have probable cause of wrongdoing, the agency said.

The ACLU has sued the government multiple times for data on roving patrol and checkpoint stops. Based on an analysis of records released in response to one of those lawsuits, the ACLU found that CBP officials in Arizona failed "to record any stops that do not lead to an arrest, even when the stop results in a lengthy detention, search, and/or property damage."

The lack of detailed and easily accessible data poses a challenge to those seeking to hold CBP accountable to its duties.

"On the one hand, we fight so hard for reasonable suspicion to actually exist rather than just the whim of an officer to stop someone, but on the other hand, it's not a standard with a lot of teeth," Rickerd said. "The courts would scrutinize it to see if there's anything impermissible about what's going on. But if we don't have data, how do you figure that out?"

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

 


Here's Another Way Wells Fargo Took Advantage Of Customers

[Editor's note: today's article by reporters at ProPublica explores some questionable banking practices. This blog contains coverage about Wells Fargo, including this item from 2011. PropPublica originally published this news story on January 23, 2017. It is reprinted with permission.]

by Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

Wells Fargo logo Wells Fargo, the largest mortgage lender in the country, portrays itself as a stalwart bank that puts customers first. That reputation shattered in September, when it was fined $185 million for illegally opening as many as 2 million deposit and credit-card accounts without customers' knowledge.

Now four former Wells Fargo employees in the Los Angeles region say the bank had another way of chiseling clients: Improperly charging them to extend their promised interest rate when their mortgage paperwork was delayed. The employees say the delays were usually the bank's fault but that management forced them to blame the customers.

The new allegations could exacerbate the lingering damage to the bank's reputation from the fictitious accounts scandal. Last week, Wells Fargo reported declining earnings. In the fourth quarter, new credit card applications tumbled 43 percent from a year earlier, while new checking accounts fell 40 percent.

"I believe the damage done to Wells Fargo mortgage customers in this case is much, much more egregious," than from the sham accounts, a former Wells Fargo loan officer named Frank Chavez wrote in a November letter to Congress that has not previously been made public. "We are talking about millions of dollars, in just the Los Angeles area alone, which were wrongly paid by borrowers/customers instead of Wells Fargo." Chavez, a 10-year Wells Fargo veteran, resigned from his job in the Beverly Hills private mortgage group last April. Chavez sent his letter to the Senate banking committee and the House financial services committee in November. He never got a reply.

Three other former employees of Wells Fargo's residential mortgage business in the Los Angeles area confirmed Chavez's account. Tom Swanson, the Wells Fargo executive in charge of the region, directed the policy, they say.

In response to ProPublica's questions, Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda wrote in an email, "We are reviewing these questions about the implementation of our mortgage rate-lock extension fee policies. Our goal is always to work efficiently, correctly and in the best interests of our customers and we will do a thorough evaluation to ensure that's consistently true of the way we manage our rate-lock extensions." Through the spokesman, Swanson declined a request for an interview.

Wells Fargo's practice of shunting interest rate extension fees for which it was at fault onto the customer appears to have been limited to the Los Angeles region. Two of the former employees say other Wells Fargo employees from different regions told them the bank did not charge the extension fees to customers as a matter of routine.

Three of the former employees, who now work for other banks, say their new employers do not engage in such practices.

Here's how the process works: A loan officer starts a loan application for a client. That entails gathering documents, such as tax returns and bank statements from the customer, as well as getting the title to the property. The loan officer then prepares a credit memo to submit the entire file to the processing department and underwriting department for review. The process should not take more than 60 or 90 days, depending on what kind of loan the customer sought. During this period, the bank allows customers to "lock in" the quoted interest rate on the mortgage, protecting them from rising rates. If the deadline is missed, and rates have gone up, the borrower can extend the initial low rate for a fee, typically about $1,000 to $1,500, depending on the size of the loan.

Wells Fargo's policy is to pay extension fees when it's at fault for delays, according to Goyda. Yet in the Los Angeles region, the former employees say, Wells Fargo made customers pay for its failures to meet deadlines. The former employees attributed the delays to the inexperience and low pay of the processing and underwriting staff. In addition, to keep costs down, the bank understaffed the offices, they say.

"The reason we were not closing on time was predominantly lender related," said a former Wells Fargo employee. When a loan officer asked the bank to pick up the extension fee, "it didn't make a difference if" the written request "was a one-liner or the next War and Peace," said the former employee. "The answer was always the same: No. Declined. 2018Borrower paid,' never 2018Lender paid.'"

Anticipating that it couldn't close on time, the bank adopted a variety of strategies to shift responsibility to customers. The "most blatant methods of attempting to transfer blame onto customers for past and expected future delays," Chavez wrote, included having loan processors flag "the file for 2018missing' customer documentation or information that had already been provided by the borrower." The customers would have to refile, blowing the deadline.

Sometimes loan officers would ask customers to submit extra documents that Wells Fargo did not need for its initial assessments, burdening them with paperwork to ensure they wouldn't meet the deadline. On occasion, employees built in a cushion, quoting a higher fee at the beginning. That way, they didn't have to go back to tell the customer about the extra fee at the end.

One employee says he complained to Swanson's boss about the situation but upper management referred the problem back to Swanson. The employee's immediate manager then scolded him.

Swanson told co-workers that he personally took a hit if the bank paid out too many extension fees, two of the former employees recall. "Swanson would be very upfront that his bonus is tied to extension fees," says one. The other former loan officer says, "During meetings, the branch was told extensions were costing the branch money."

Swanson, an 18 year veteran of the bank, has faced criticism before that he sought profits at the expense of customers. In 2005, customers in Los Angeles sued Wells Fargo for racial discrimination. They contended that Swanson prohibited loan officers in minority neighborhoods from using a software program that gave them the ability to offer borrowers discounted fees. He allowed loan officers to use the same program in white neighborhoods, where residents paid lower fees as a result. Believing that minority borrowers did not shop around for mortgages, Swanson contended Wells Fargo did not need to offer the discounts in their neighborhoods since the bank faced less competition, according to witness testimony at trial.

In 2011, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found that Wells Fargo intentionally discriminated on a portion of the loans in question and awarded plaintiffs $3.5 million, a decision that was upheld on appeal. With interest, the payout rose to just under $6 million. "The verdict in the case was not in line with the law and the facts, and there was no evidence that class members paid a higher price than other similarly situated borrowers," Goyda said. Nevertheless, he added, the bank decided to pay the judgment rather than pursue additional appeals.

"Swanson runs that place," said Barry Cappello, who co-tried the case against Wells Fargo with his partner Leila Noël. "He is the man. They do what he wants done. Despite the lawsuit and the millions they paid out, the guy is still there."

Shifting extension fees onto borrowers may amount to just poor customer service, rather than a regulatory violation. Still, if it is widespread and systematic, the bank could be running afoul of banking laws that ban unfair or deceptive practices, regulators say.

For a couple of years around 2011, when Wells Fargo was originating a heavy volume of mortgages, the bank made a decision to pay all the extension fees, spokesman Goyda said. But, around 2014, it reverted back to its traditional policy of paying fees only when it's at fault.

Chavez says that the problems began in earnest that year and persisted as of the time he left last April. The precise value of the improperly assigned extension fees in the Los Angeles region is unclear. Chavez and another employee estimate they ran into the millions. One of the former employees estimates a quarter of the mortgages at his branch had to be extended. By that measure, if a loan officer did $100 million in loans in a year, those mortgages would rack up about $62,000 in extension fees. The Beverly Hills office alone did around $800 million to $1 billion in underlying mortgages, generating at least half a million dollars in extension fees, the employee estimates. Swanson's region has 19 branches.

Some customers resented having to pay the extension fees, and took their business elsewhere. After one mortgage application faced a delay, a Wells Fargo assistant vice president in Brentwood named Joshua Oleesky called to tell the customer that he had to pay an interest rate lock extension fee. The customer balked, blaming the bank for missing the deadline. Oleesky "started interrogating me on why Wells Fargo was responsible for the delay," the customer wrote in a June 29, 2015, letter of complaint to Michael Heid, then president of Wells Fargo Home Lending. (He cc'd John Stumpf, Wells Fargo's former CEO, who was ousted after the fictitious accounts scandal.) The customer went with another bank for the mortgage. Through the Wells Fargo spokesman, Oleesky declined comment.

According to the customer, Heid didn't answer the letter.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


FTC Lawsuit Claims D-Link Products Have Inadequate Security

Do you use D-Link modem/routers or routers? Do you have or plan to buy smart home appliances or electronics (a/k/a the Internet of Things or IoT) you want to connect via your home WiFi network to these or other brand routers? Are you concerned about the security of IoT devices? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then today's blog post is for you.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against Taiwan-based D-Link Corporation and its U.S. subsidiary alleging the tech company didn't do enough to make its products secure from hacking. The FTC announcement stated that its complaint alleged:

"... that D-Link failed to take reasonable steps to secure its routers and Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, potentially compromising sensitive consumer information, including live video and audio feeds from D-Link IP cameras... D-Link promoted the security of its routers on the company’s website, which included materials headlined “EASY TO SECURE” and “ADVANCED NETWORK SECURITY.” But despite the claims made by D-Link, the FTC alleged, the company failed to take steps to address well-known and easily preventable security flaws, such as: a) "hard-coded" login credentials integrated into D-Link camera software -- such as the username “guest” and the password “guest” -- that could allow unauthorized access to the cameras’ live feed; b) a software flaw known as “command injection” that could enable remote attackers to take control of consumers’ routers by sending them unauthorized commands over the Internet; c) the mishandling of a private key code used to sign into D-Link software, such that it was openly available on a public website for six months; and d) leaving users’ login credentials for D-Link’s mobile app unsecured in clear, readable text on their mobile devices, even though there is free software available to secure the information."

Besides the D-Link shopping site, the company's products are available at many online stores, including Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and Amazon. The FTC complaint (Adobe PDF) stated 5 Counts describing in detail the alleged security lapses, some of  which allegedly contradict advertising claims. The redacted complaint did not list specific product model numbers. Apple Insider reported:

"The security lapses also extended to mobile apps offered by D-Link to access and manage IP cameras and routers from a smartphone or tablet."

If these allegations are true, then item "C" is troubling. it raises questions about how and why a private key code were available on a public, unprotected server and for so long. It raises questions why this information wasn't encrypted. Access codes on a public server may help government intelligence agencies perform their tasks, but it suggests insufficient security for consumers. Access codes and login credentials are the holy grail for criminals. This is the information they seek in order to hack accounts and hijack devices.

Consumers connect via home routers a variety of IoT or smart devices: security systems, cameras, baby monitors, thermostats, home electronics, home appliances, toys, lawn mowers, and more. If true, the vulnerabilities could allow criminals to case home furnishings, eavesdrop on conversations, watch residents' patterns and discover when they are away from home, disable security systems, access tax and financial records, redirect users' Internet usage to fraudulent sites, and more.

The risks are real. A prior blog post discussed some of the security issues with IoT devices. Home routers have been hijacked and used to shut down targeted sites. ZDNet warned in May 2015:

"According to a report released by cybersecurity firm Incapsula on Wednesday, lax security practices concerning small office and home office (SOHO) routers has resulted in tens of thousands of routers becoming hijacked -- ending up as slave systems in the botnet network. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are a common way to disrupt networks and online services. The networks are often made up of compromised PCs, routers and other devices. Attackers control the botnet through a command and control center (C&C) in order to flood specific domains with traffic... ISPs, vendors and users themselves -- who do not lay down basic security foundations such as changing default passwords and keeping networks locked -- have likely caused the slavery of "hundreds of thousands [...] more likely millions" of routers now powering DDoS botnets which can cause havoc for both businesses and consumers..."

And a December 7, 2016 report by Incapsula listed about 18 vendors, including D-Link, that were susceptible to the Mirai malware used by botnets. So, the threat is real. Home routers have already been hijacked by bad guys to attack sites.

D-Link posted on its site a response to the FTC complaint:

"D-Link Systems, Inc. will vigorously defend itself against the unwarranted and baseless charges made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)... D-Link Systems maintains a robust range of procedures to address potential security issues, which exist in all Internet of Things (IOT) devices. Notably, the complaint does not allege any breach of a D-Link Systems device. Instead, the FTC speculates that consumers were placed “at risk” to be hacked, but fails to allege, as it must, that actual consumers suffered or are likely to suffer actual substantial injuries."

That response raises more questions. Breaches involve unauthorized persons accessing computers and/or networks. Clearly, botnets are collections of hijacked devices controlled by unauthorized persons using malware. The Incapsula reports clearly documented this. So, how are hijacked home routers and IoT devices with malware not breaches? And, botnets are designed to attack targeted sites, and not necessarily the hijacked routers and devices. So, the "actual substantial injuries" argument falls apart.

Aware consumers don't want their smart televisions, refrigerators, dishwashers, home security systems, baby monitors, cameras, and other devices hijacked by bad guys. The whole situation seems to provide two important reminders for consumers: 1) protect your IoT devices, and 2) be informed shoppers.

Protecting your IoT devices means changing the default passwords, especially on your routers and disabling remote access features. Informed shoppers Inquire before purchase about software security updates for IoT devices. Are those updates included in the product price, available in a separate subscription, or not at all? There are plenty of examples of smart home products with vulnerabilities and questionable security. Informed shoppers know before purchase.

If the product offers a separate subscription for software security updates, the money spent will be well worth it to protect your sensitive personal and financial information, to protect your family's privacy, and to avoid hijacked devices. If the product lacks software security updates, you want to know what you're buying and maybe barter for a lower price. Me? I'd keep shopping for alternatives with better security.

Protect your WiFi-connected home electronics, devices, and appliances. Don't contribute to Internet security problems.

Since most consumers lack the technical expertise to understand and detect breaches on their IoT devices, I am grateful for the FTC enforcement action; and for its guidelines in 2015 for companies offering IoT devices. Plus, the FTC is concerned with industry-wide threats that could hamper commerce. Perhaps, an economist can calculate the negative impacts upon commerce, the U.S. economy, and GDP from botnet attacks.

What are your opinions of the FTC lawsuit against D-Link Corporation? Of the security of IoT devices?


Researchers Conclude Voting Systems In the USA Are Vulnerable To Hacking And Errors

McClatchyDC reported:

"Pennsylvania is one of 11 states where the majority of voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting. There's almost no way to know if they've accurately recorded individual votes — or if anyone tampered with the count... These paperless digital voting machines, used by roughly 1 in 5 U.S. voters last month, present one of the most glaring dangers to the security of the rickety, underfunded U.S. election system."

I strongly suggest that all voters read the entire McClatchyDC article. It is an eye-opener. Let's unpack the above paragraph. There's plenty to consider.

First, a significant number of voting districts across the nation use only paperless digital voting machines. A prior blog post confirmed this usage:

"... half of registered voters (47%) live in jurisdictions that use only optical-scan as their standard voting system, and about 28% live in DRE-only jurisdictions... Another 19% of registered voters live in jurisdictions where both optical-scan and DRE systems are in use... Around 5% of registered voters live in places that conduct elections entirely by mail – the states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington, more than half of the counties in North Dakota, 10 counties in Utah and two in California. And in more than 1,800 small counties, cities and towns – mostly in New England, the Midwest and the inter-mountain West – more than a million voters still use paper ballots that are counted by hand."

That prior blog post also included a map with voting technologies by district. Second, the paperless digital voting machines make recounts difficult to impossible. Why? They lack printed ballots or paper backups to re-scan and verify against the machines' recorded totals. Optical-scan voting machines are better since they use paper ballots. Those paper ballots can be re-scanned during a recount to verify the machines' totals. Reportedly, advanced countries including Germany, Britain, Japan and Singapore all require scannable paper ballots.

Third, all of this means paperless digital voting machines are a hacker's delight. Or a corrupt politician's delight. If one is going to hack voting systems with a low to zero chance of getting caught, then smart hackers would target machines without paper backups where tampering would be impossible to detect during recounts.

Fourth, the vulnerabilities aren't just theory, or what-ifs. The McClathcyDC article also reported:

"But a cadre of computer scientists from major universities backed Stein's recounts to underscore the vulnerability of U.S. elections. These researchers have been successfully hacking e-voting machines for more than a decade in tests commissioned by New York, California, Ohio and other states."

You can easily find reports online about the vulnerable machines, such as the Sequoia AVC Advantage used in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Another example: last year, the State of Virginia de-certified using the AVS WINVote made by Advanced Voting Solutions, which had previously been used also in Pennsylvania and Mississippi. The security review by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (Adobe PDF) is available online.

The Brennan Center for Justice (BCJ) produced a report in 2015: "America's Voting Machines At Risk" (Adobe PDF). The BCJ interviewed more than 30 state and 80 local election officials, plus dozens of election technology, administration and security experts. They also gathered input from "computer scientists, policy analysts, usability experts, election security experts, voting equipment vendors, and various innovators in the field of election technology." The BCJ's report summarized the problem:

"... an impending crisis... from the widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago... Jurisdictions do not have the money to purchase new machines, and legal and market constraints prevent the development of machines they would want even if they had funds..."

The BCJ found:

"Unlike voting machines used in past eras, today’s systems were not designed to last for decades. In part this is due to the pace of technological change... although today’s machines debuted at the beginning of this century, many were designed and engineered in the 1990s... experts agree that for those purchased since 2000, the expected lifespan for the core components of electronic voting machines is between 10 and 20 years, and for most systems it is probably closer to 10 than 20... 43 states are using some machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016. In most of these states, the majority of election districts are using machines that are at least 10 years old. In 14 states, machines will be 15 or more years old.

Nearly every state is using some machines that are no longer manufactured and many election officials struggle to find replacement parts. The longer we delay purchasing new equipment, the more problems we risk. The biggest risk is increased failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes.

Older machines can also have serious security and reliability flaws that are unacceptable today. For example, Virginia recently decertified a voting system used in 24 percent of precincts after finding that an external party could access the machine’s wireless features to “record voting data or inject malicious data... Several election officials mentioned “flipped votes” on touch screen machines, where a voter touches the name of one candidate, but the machine registers it as a selection for another... Election jurisdictions in at least 31 states want to purchase new voting machines in the next five years. Officials from 22 of these states said they did not know where they would get the money to pay for them."

The USA can do better. It must do better. State and local elections officials must find the money. Elected politicians must help them find the money. Our democracy is at stake.

There is a glimmer of good news. Researchers at Rice University have developed a digital voting machine prototype that prints a paper trail. The paper trail provide verification of voters' selections, which would facilitate recounts and should replace the paperless DRE equipment. It is one of three publicly funded projects across the country. Bidding is open for manufacturers to produce the equipment.

While Stein's recount efforts ultimately failed, the vulnerabilities still exist. As McClatchyDC reported:

"The U.S. voting system — a loosely regulated, locally managed patchwork of more than 3,000 jurisdictions overseen by the states — employs more than two dozen types of machinery from 15 manufacturers.

So, something needs to be done soon to increase the security of DRE or paperless digital voting machines. It's time for voters to demand better voting security and accountability from state and local elections officials (and their politicians) who selected paperless voting equipment for their districts. It seems foolish to tighten voter ID and registration procedures while both under-funding and ignoring the vulnerabilities with paperless digital voting machines.

What are your opinions?


Federal Reserve: Monitor Your Bank Accounts For Fraud And Know Where To Get Help

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) issued a warning for consumers to do two things to protect themselves and their finances:

  1. Monitor online accounts for unauthorized transactions, and
  2. Learn where to find help should you find unauthorized transactions in your financial accounts

The FRB's warning also stated:

"Signs of potential problems may include a notice, bill, or debit card for an account that was not activated or authorized, as well as a notice of fees for unsolicited products or services tied to an existing account. Consumers who see questionable activity should contact their financial institution immediately. Consumers who continue to experience issues may also submit a complaint to the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve maintains the Federal Reserve Consumer Help (FRCH) website, which offers an online complaint form and information on filing complaints by fax and phone for consumers. The FRCH website also provides consumer alerts, frequently asked questions, and information about other government agencies. While the Federal Reserve does not have the authority to resolve every problem, it will refer complaints to the relevant federal or state agency. Consumers can contact FRCH at 1-888-851-1920, or at www.federalreserveconsumerhelp.gov."

Other relevant federal agencies may include the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).


Driver's Licenses For 9 States Won't Be Valid ID For Domestic Flights In 2018

Residents in nine states wanting to travel domestically via commercial airlines may need to obtain alternative identification documents. Why? While new identification requirements will become effective in 2018, starting in 2017 federal agencies may no longer accept driver's licenses from these nine states.

On December 12, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announcement explained:

"The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will begin posting signs at airports this week notifying travelers that beginning January 2018 it will start enforcing REAL ID requirements at airport security checkpoints, meaning that travelers seeking to use their state-issued driver’s license or identification card for boarding commercial aircraft may only use such documents if they are issued by a REAL ID compliant state or a non-compliant state with an extension."

The U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 to establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. The Act prohibits federal agencies, including the TSA, from accepting licenses and identification cards for certain official purposes (e.g., boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft) from states that do not meet these minimum standards and have not received an extension for compliance from DHS.

If the nine states change their procedures, then the government may grant each state an extension or approval, as warranted. The nine states which did not receive extensions for 2016 or 2017 are Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington. So, starting January 30, 2017 federal agencies and nuclear power plants may not accept driver's licenses and state IDs from these nine states for identification. Federal officials may continue to accept Enhanced Driver’s Licenses from Minnesota and Washington.

See the DHS site for the compliance status for all states and territories. See the TSAa.gov site for a complete list of identification documents accepted at TSA checkpoints. Below are the notices you may see while traveling through airports.

Generic TSA notice about changing ID requirements

TSA notice for noncompliant states about changing ID requirements


Federal Reserve Survey of Experiences of Younger Workers

The Federal Reserve Board (FRB) recently released the results of its survey of younger workers ages 18 to 30 with data through 2015. The survey found that younger workers overall:

"... experienced higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of labor force participation than the general population for at least two decades, and the Great Recession exacerbated this phenomenon. Despite a substantial labor market recovery from 2009 through 2014, vulnerable populations—including the nation’s young adults—continue to experience higher rates of unemployment. Changes in labor market conditions, including globalization and automation, have reduced the availability of well-paid, secure jobs for less-educated persons, particularly those jobs that provide opportunity for advancement. Furthermore, data suggest that young workers entering the labor market are affected by a long-running increase in the use of “contingent” or “alternative” work arrangements, characterized by contracted, part-time, temporary, and seasonal work."

Specific findings about younger workers' attitudes:

"In 2015, the majority of young adults (61 percent) are optimistic about their future job opportunities, showing an increase in optimism from 2013 (45 percent)... the likelihood that a young adult is optimistic about future job opportunities increases with higher levels of education... young adults continue to have a strong preference for steady employment (62 percent) over higher pay (36 percent)... Among respondents who prefer steady employment, 80 percent would rather have one steady job than a stream of steady jobs for the next five years...

Most young adults are not sure how their standard of living will compare with their parents’ standard of living. Young adults with at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) are more likely to believe their standard of living will be lower than their parents (4 percent) when compared with young adults whose parents have a high school education or less (1 percent)...

Specific findings about younger workers' experiences:

"28 percent of respondents are currently enrolled as students in a certificate or degree program. Most students are enrolled in degree programs... most undergraduate students are identified “nontraditional” because they are over age 23, enrolled in school part time, working full time, and/or financially independent. 10 percent of respondents are “non-completers,” meaning they are not currently enrolled in a certificate or degree program they started... 62 percent of respondents with post-secondary education worked while in school to finance all or part of their most recent education. 52 percent of respondents with post-secondary educational experience have parents that contributed financially to their education. 46 percent of respondents incurred debt to pay for some portion of their education or training...

41 percent of respondents believe they have the level of education and training needed for the type of job that they would like to hold in the next five years... 66 percent of young adults received information about jobs and careers during high school. And, 69 percent of young adults received such information in college...

Less than half (45 percent) of employees work in a career field that is closely related to their educational and training background... Many young adults gained early work experience during high school, college, or both. 53 percent of young adults had a paid job during high school, and 77 percent of young adults had a paid job during college..."

A key takeaway: about 30 percent of young adults did not receive information about jobs and careers in high school nor college. That seems to be an area the educational sector must improve upon.

4,135 potential respondents were contacted for the 2015 survey, and 2,035 completed surveys (49 percent response rate). FRB staff designed the survey, which was administered by GfK, an online consumer research company.

More notable statistics from the survey: about 69 percent of survey respondents have some form of paid employment, up from 60 percent in 2013. 63 percent of employees held a single full-time job during the past year, and 18 percent of employees held multiple full-time jobs during the past year. Profile information about employed younger workers:

"78 percent of employees have a permanent/long-term job... 75 percent of employees in the survey have a full-time job... Among part-time employees surveyed, 49 percent were identified as underemployed, as they are working part time because of economic conditions. Meanwhile, 42 percent of part-time employees prefer part-time work... The percent of young workers who have health insurance increased from 2013 (70 percent) to 2015 (82 percent). Likewise, the percent of young workers who received paid time off for sick leave, holidays, or both from any of their paid jobs increased from 2013 (59 percent) to 2015 (62 percent)...

As adults, 43 percent of employees have formed a new household with their immediate family (i.e., spouse/partner), and 20 percent have formed a new household alone or with a roommate..."

Self-sufficiency is important. The report found:

"... 73 percent of employees are able to cover their monthly household expenses with their household income. Meanwhile, 22 percent of employees report that they are sometimes able to cover their monthly household expenses, and 4 percent are not able to cover their monthly household expenses at all... Among employees who are not able to cover their household expenses some or all of the time, 64 percent reduce their monthly expenses to meet the challenge, 56 percent do not pay some bills, 54 percent borrow money from family, 46 percent use their credit cards, 41 percent use savings, and 16 percent borrow from friends.

A key consideration regarding self-sufficiency is the ability of a household to withstand financial disruptions. Among young workers, the ability to go without a paycheck temporarily improved between 2013 and 2015. The percent of young workers who can pay their living expenses if out of work for four weeks improved from 38 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2015..."

The report cited 4 policy implications to address the findings:

  1. Improve Alignment between Education and the Labor Market
  2. Increase Opportunities for Non-degree Education
  3. Provide Assistance and Protections for Workers with Alternative Work Arrangements
  4. Seek Opportunities to Improve Job Growth

There is plenty of information in the 120-page report, which is available at the FRB site and here (Adobe PDF; 1,190.2K bytes).


EPA Concludes Fracking a Threat to U.S. Water Supplies

[Editor's note: Today's guest post is by reporters at ProPublica. This new story was originally published on December 14, 2016. It is reprinted with permission.]

by Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica

Starting in 2008, ProPublica published stories that found hydraulic fracking had damaged drinking water supplies across the country. The reporting examined how fracking in some cases had dislodged methane, which then seeped into water supplies. In other instances, the reporting showed that chemicals related to oil and gas production through fracking were winding up in drinking water, and that waste water resulting from fracking operations was contaminating water sources.

Many environmentalists hailed the reporting. The gas drilling industry, for its part, pushed back, initially dismissing the accounts as anecdotal at best.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its latest and most thorough report on fracking's threat to drinking water, and its findings support ProPublica's reporting. The EPA report found evidence that fracking has contributed to drinking water contamination 2014 "cases of impact" 2014 in all stages of the process: water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing; spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals; injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources; discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.

In an interview, Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council, said the EPA's report was welcome.

"Many of us have been working on this issue for many years, and industry has repeatedly said that there is no evidence that fracking has contaminated drinking water," Mall said.

The EPA report comes a year after its initial set of findings set off fierce criticism by environmental advocates and health professionals. That report, issued in 2015, said the agency had found no evidence that fracking had "led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources." Many accused the agency of pulling its punches and adding to confusion among the public. News organizations throughout the U.S. interpreted the EPA's language to mean it had concluded fracking did not pose a threat to water supplies and public health.

The EPA said in its report this week that the sentence about the lack of evidence of systemic issues had been intentionally removed because the agency's scientists had "concluded it could not be quantitatively supported."

"I think one of the concerns about the original document was that the EPA seemed to say that everything was fine," said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth-system science at Stanford University. "It's important that we understand the ways and the cases where things have gone wrong, to keep them from happening elsewhere."

The EPA's latest declaration comes as a Trump administration apparently hostile to almost any kind of regulation of fracking prepares to assume office. But those worried about fracking's implications for the environment have long been discouraged by the lack of consistent and stringent state or federal regulation.

"Because state regulators have not fully investigated cases of drinking water contamination, and because federal regulators have been handcuffed by Congress into how much they can regulate, the science wasn't as robust as it should have been," said Mall, the analyst at NRDC. "It's a pattern of, the rules are too weak, and the ones that are on the books aren't enforced enough."

The more significant impact of a Trump administration, however, may be in limiting the EPA's appetite for aggressive and continued study. The report issued this week was six years in the making, but made clear there was still much work to be done to better and more comprehensively determine fracking's impact on the environment, chiefly water supplies.

"It was not possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle or fully characterize the severity of impacts," the report said.

The Trump administration's transition team did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment about its position on fracking and the EPA's final report. Trump's transition website promises to "unleash an energy revolution" and "streamline the permitting process for all energy projects." It also says it will "refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans."

Advocates for hydraulic fracturing argue that the final EPA report is not vastly different from the draft version.

"Anecdotal evidence about localized impacts does not disprove the central thesis, which is that there is no evidence of widespread or systemic impacts," said Scott Segal, a partner at Bracewell LLP who represents oil and gas developers. "There's a lot of exaggeration. There's a lot of mischaracterization of the extent of contamination that's based on a desire to enhance recovery in tort liability lawsuits."

Read more of ProPublica's major work on fracking.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


Voting Technologies By County Across The United States

State and local governments across the United States use a variety of voting technologies. Chances are, you voted on Tuesday using one of two dominant technologies: optical-scan ballots or direct-recording electronic (DRE) devices. Optical-scan ballots are paper ballots where voters fill in bubbles or other machine-readable marks. DRE devices include touch-screen devices that store votes in computer memory.

The Pew Research Center analyzed data from the Verified Voting Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, and found that almost:

"... half of registered voters (47%) live in jurisdictions that use only optical-scan as their standard voting system, and about 28% live in DRE-only jurisdictions... Another 19% of registered voters live in jurisdictions where both optical-scan and DRE systems are in use... Around 5% of registered voters live in places that conduct elections entirely by mail – the states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington, more than half of the counties in North Dakota, 10 counties in Utah and two in California. And in more than 1,800 small counties, cities and towns – mostly in New England, the Midwest and the inter-mountain West – more than a million voters still use paper ballots that are counted by hand."

Previously, voting systems nationwide used punch-card devices and "lever machines" which were slowly replaced since 1980 by optical-scan and DRE devices. You may remember voting with one of the old-style lever machines, a self-contained voting booth where voters flips switches for candidates and then pulled a large lever to record their votes:

"Punch cards hung on throughout the 1990s but gradually lost ground to optical-scan and electronic systems – a decline that accelerated sharply after the 2000 Florida election recount debacle that brought the term “hanging chad” to brief prominence. But as punch cards faded away (the last two jurisdictions to use them, Franklin and Shoshone counties in Idaho, abandoned them after the 2014 elections), some voters became concerned that fully electronic voting would not generate any “paper trail” for future recounts. According to Verified Voting, of the 53,608 jurisdictions that use DRE equipment as their major voting method, almost three-quarters use systems that don’t create paper receipts or other hard-copy records of voters’ choices."

In August of this year, Wired reported about the state of security of the DRE devices:

"What people may not remember is the resulting Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002, which among other objectives worked to phase out the use of the punchcard voting systems that had caused millions of ballots to be tossed. In many cases, those dated machines were replaced with electronic voting systems. The intentions were pure. The consequences were a technological train wreck.

“People weren’t thinking about voting system security or all the additional challenges that come with electronic voting systems,” says the Brennan Center’s Lawrence Norden. “Moving to electronic voting systems solved a lot of problems, but created a lot of new ones.”

The list of those problems is what you’d expect from any computer or, more specifically, any computer that’s a decade or older. Most of these machines are running Windows XP, for which Microsoft hasn’t released a security patch since April 2014. Though there’s no evidence of direct voting machine interference to date, researchers have demonstrated that many of them are susceptible to malware or, equally if not more alarming, a well-timed denial of service attack."

Experts have said that, besides better built and more secure DREs, post-election auditing -- checking vote totals against paper ballots -- is the best way to ensure accurate vote totals. Reportedly, more than half of states perform post-election audits.

So, it seems appropriate for citizens living in counties that use antiquated DREs, or that don't perform post-election audits, to contact their elected representatives and demand improvements. Good entities to contact are the elections departments in your city, or the Secretary in your state. Find your state in this list. Below is an image of voting technologies by county:

Pew Research Voting technologies by county in the United States. Click to view larger version


Disenfranchised By Bad Design

[Editor's Note: Today's guest post was originally published by ProPublica on October 20, 2016. It is reprinted with permission. Some towns, municipalities, and cities -- such as Boston -- use paper ballots that are scanned. (This facilitates recounts, when needed.) The city provides AutoMARK machines at polling locations to help voters requiring assistance. The machines use audio cues, magnification, and several languages to mark ballots correctly, especially for low-vision and disabled voters. Inquire about this automation or other assistance when you vote.]

by Lena Groeger, ProPublica

This November 8, even if you manage to be registered in time and have the right identification, there is something else that could stop you from exercising your right to vote.

The ballot. Specifically, the ballot's design.

Bad ballot design gained national attention almost 16 years ago when Americans became unwilling experts in butterflies and chads. The now-infamous Palm Beach County butterfly ballot, which interlaced candidate names along a central column of punch holes, was so confusing that many voters accidentally voted for Patrick Buchanan instead of Al Gore.

Pal Beach Country butterfly ballot
Palm Beach county’s infamous butterfly ballot. (Wikimedia Commons)

We've made some progress since then, but we still likely lose hundreds of thousands of votes every election year due to poor ballot design and instructions. In 2008 and 2010 alone, almost half a million people did not have their votes counted due to mistakes filling out the ballot. Bad ballot design also contributes to long lines on election day. And the effects are not the same for all people: the disenfranchised are disproportionately poor, minority, elderly and disabled.

In the predominantly African American city of East St. Louis, the race for United States senator in 2008 was missing a header that specified the type or level of government (Federal, Congressional, Legislative, etc). Almost 10 percent of East St. Louis voters did not have their vote counted for U.S. Senate, compared to the state average of 4.4 percent. Merely adding a header could have solved the problem. Below you can see the original ballot and the Brennan Center redesign.

Brennan Center ballot redesign
Before: no header for the Senate race, after: consistent headers for all contests. (Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)

"When we design things in a way that doesn't work for all voters, we degrade the quality of democracy," said Whitney Quesenbery, a ballot expert and co-director of the Center for Civic Design, an organization that uses design to ensure voters vote the way they want to on Election Day.

Many mistakes can be avoided with tiny tweaks
Designer Marcia Lausen, who directs the School of Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote a whole book about how democracy can be improved with design. She even tackles the infamous butterfly ballot. The 2000 Chicago Cook County judicial retention ballot crammed 73 candidates into 10 pages of a butterfly layout punch card ballot, with punch holes packed much more tightly together than in previous elections. As in Palm Beach, Yes/No votes for the candidates on the left page were confusingly interlaced with Yes/No votes for the right page.

Lausen's proposed redesign eliminates the interlaced Yes/No votes, introduces a more legible typeface, uses shading and outlines to connect names and Yes/No's with the appropriate punch holes, and removes redundant language.

Democracy For Action butterfly ballot image

Democracy For Action butterfly ballot after redesign image
Before and after butterfly ballots. (Design for Democracy)

In the 2002 midterm election in Illinois' Hamilton County, each column of candidate names was next to a series of incomplete arrows. Voters were supposed to indicate their choice of candidate by completing the arrow on the left of the candidate name. But because we read left to right and the candidate names in two races lined up perfectly, many voters marked the arrow to the right. As presented in a Brennan Center analysis, setting the columns a bit further apart and adding borders would have cleared up this confusion:

Suggested redesign of Illinois' Hamilton County ballot
  Illinois’ Hamilton county confusing ballot, and suggested redesign. (Brennan Center)

In Minnesota in 2008, Al Franken beat Norm Coleman for the U.S. Senate seat by a sliver, less than 300 votes. In that race, almost 4,000 absentee ballots were not counted because the envelope was not signed. The Minnesota Secretary of State's office decided to redesign the mailing envelope. After a series of usability tests, they added a big X to mark where people should sign. In the following election in 2010, the rate of missing signatures dropped to 837.

Minnesota's mailing envelope is a good example of how designers can solve design problems well before any election actually happens 2014 by testing those ballots beforehand.

"Test and test and test," recommends Don Norman, a designer and cognitive scientist who wrote the the book on designing objects for everyday life. The most important aspect of ballot design, he says, is considering the needs of the voters. He suggests doing extensive testing of ballots on a sample of people, which should include those who are "blind, deaf, or people with physical disabilities as well as people with language difficulties."

Bad instructions are a design problem, too
Beyond layout and ordering, the unanimous winner for worst part of ballot design? Instructions.

"The instructions are uniformly horrible!" said usability expert Dana Chisnell, who co-directs the Center for Civic Design with Quesenbery. Confusing jargon, run-on sentences, old-fashioned language left over from 100 years ago: all of these plague ballots across the country. Here are a few example instructions (the first from Kansas, the second from Ohio) along with the Brennan Center's redesign:

Brennan Center suggested redesign of Kansas ballot instructions
(Brennan Center, Better Ballots)

Brennan Center suggested redesign of Ohio ballot instructions
(Brennan Center, Better Ballots)

Even if the instructions are clear, placement of instructions has a huge effect on whether people understand them. In usability tests conducted in Florida's Sarasota and Duval counties in 2008, the majority of participants got to the end of the ballot and stopped. Which was a problem, because the ballot continued on the other side. Despite instructions specifically telling people to vote both sides of the ballot, they didn't.

Designers have already put together guidelines for making better ballots
Luckily, there are resources for how to help avoid these predictable problems. In addition to Lausen's book, the Design for Democracy initiative has worked for years at applying design principles to improve elections. A few years ago the design association AIGA combined forces with Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell to condense their best practices into a set of handy field guides.

The ballot-specific guide, Designing Usable Ballots, has this advice:

  1. Use lowercase letters.
  2. Avoid centered type.
  3. Use big enough type.
  4. Pick one sans-serif font.
  5. Support process and navigation.
  6. Use clear, simple language.
  7. Use accurate instructional illustrations.
  8. Use informational icons (only).
  9. Use contrast and color to support meaning.
  10. Show what’s most important.

For the designers, these recommendations may seem obvious. But election officials 2014 the ones responsible for laying out a ballot 2014 are not designers.

Sometimes, reality thwarts good design
Even if officials wanted to follow every design best practice, they probably wouldn't be able to.

That's because ballots are as complicated as the elections they represent. Elections in the U.S. are determined at the local level, and so each ballot must be uniquely crafted to its own jurisdiction. Ballots must combine federal, state, and local contests, display measures and propositions, and sometime require voters to express their choices in various formats 2014 for example ranking their choices versus selecting one candidate for the job.

"There will always be special circumstances that present new problems for ballot design," said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has written extensively on voting behavior and ballot design.

Take what happened this summer in California's Senate race primary. A record number of 34 candidates were running to replace incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer, and the ballot needed to fit them all. In many counties, elections officials simply couldn't follow the good design recommendation of "Put all candidate names in one column."

To make matters worse, bad design is written right into the law
Election officials are often constricted in what they can and can't do by specific language in their local election code. More often than not, the law is to blame for bad design.

For example, numerous jurisdictions require that candidate names and titles be written in capital letters. This goes against huge amounts of evidence that lowercase letters are easier to read. Other requirements like setting a specific font size, making sections bold or center-aligning headers make it next to impossible to follow all the design best practices.

Image of Illinois Election Code
Illinois Election Code used to require candidate names to be printed in capital letters. (Statutes of the State of Illinois)

Some election code requirements just seem to invite clutter. In Kansas, a candidate's hometown must be listed under their name. In California, the candidate's occupation. Designers argue that this additional text complicates the ballot with needless information, but they can't get rid of it without breaking the law.

"It's amazing how many design prescriptions are written into law by non-designers," said designer Drew Davies, who has worked with numerous jurisdictions to improve their ballots and voting materials and is design director of AIGA's Design for Democracy.

Some of those prescriptions border on the comical. In New York, election law requires that each candidate name must be preceded by "the image of a closed fist with index finger extended pointing to the party or independent row." Here's how that actually looks on real New York ballots:

[insert ny closed fist image]

In design, everything matters 2014 even the order of the candidate names
Some design problems are not as obvious as a pointing finger. Take something as simple as the order of the candidates' names. There is a well known advantage for being listed first on the ballot. The "primacy effect" can significantly sway elections, especially in smaller races not widely covered in the media where there is no incumbent. One study of the 1998 Democratic primary in New York found that in seven races the advantage from being listed first was bigger than the margin of victory. In other words, if the runner-up candidates in those races had been listed first on the ballot, they likely would have won.

As one report puts it, "a non-negligible portion of local governmental policies are likely being set by individuals elected only because of their ballot position." To combat this unconscious bias, some states have already mandated that names are randomly ordered on the ballot. Still, many states and jurisdictions do not have a standard system for organizing these names.

The future will bring new design challenges --but also new ways to make voting more accessible
As more and more states adopt absentee and vote-by-mail systems, they make voting more accessible and convenient 2014 but they also introduce new ways of making mistakes. And those errors are only caught after the ballot has been mailed in, too late to change. A polling place acts as a fail-safe, giving you the opportunity to ask a poll worker for help or letting you fill out a new ballot if yours gets rejected by the voting machine. But on an absentee ballot, if you made a mistake and your vote isn't counted, you'll never know.

There are several current efforts to overhaul the ballot entirely. Los Angeles County, for example, has teamed up with the design company IDEO to create an easier and more accessible way to vote. Their customizable device would let people fill out a sample ballot on their own time from a computer or mobile device, and then scan a code at the polling place to automatically transfer their choices to a real ballot.

The Anywhere Ballot is another open-source project that's designed to create a better voting experience for everyone 2014 including voters with low literacy or mild cognitive issues. Their digital ballot template, which came out of extensive user testing and follows all the current ballot design best practices, lets anyone use their own electronic device to mark a ballot.

But of course, the design problems that plague ballots affect all aspects of the voting process.

Voter registration materials, mailed voter guides and education booklets, election department websites and online instructions, poll worker materials 2014 all of these have problems that can be improved with better design.

"Ballots are where all the drama happens," said designer Lausen, "but there is much more to election design."

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


German Regulators Ask Tesla To Stop Advertising 'Autopilot' Term

Government regulators have asked the automaker Tesla to stop using the term "autopilot" for its driver-assist feature. Deutsche Welle (DW) reported that a letter:

"... published in the newspaper "Bild am Sonntag," called on Tesla to take urgent action "in order to prevent misunderstandings and false expectations from clients." The KBA transport regulator said the term "autopilot" was misleading, and called for it to be removed in future advertisements for Tesla products. The self-driving feature has been available on the California-based automaker's Model S since October 2015."

The Autopilot feature manages the car's speed, steers within a lane, changes lanes (when the driver taps a turn signal), scan for a parking space, and parallel parks on command. Officials in Germany are still conducting an investigation into the car's capabilities.

After the fatal crash in May of a Tesla Model S car operating beta-version software for its Autopilot feature, Tesla engineers said in August the problem was with the car's brakes and not its Autopilot feature.

DW also reported:

"... the German transport regulator wrote to Tesla owners warning them that the autopilot function was purely to assist the driver and did not turn the car into a highly-automated vehicle. The feature still required the driver's unrestricted attention at all times, the letter said. Under German road traffic regulations, the driver is required to remain alert and in control of the vehicle at all times when using the system, the letter added."

The Los Angeles Times reported:

"Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has repeatedly said he’s sticking with the name, and the company responded to the German report as it does every time the subject comes up: The term “autopilot” has a long history in aerospace, where human pilots and autopilot systems work together to fly a plane."


Report Documents The Problems And Privacy Risks With Unregulated Facial Recognition Databases By Law Enforcement

According to a report by the Center on Privacy and Technology (CPT) at Georgetown Law school, about 48 percent of adult Americans -- 117 million people-- are already profiled in facial-recognition databases by law enforcement. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains a facial-recognition database, but local police departments do, too.

Issues raised by findings in the report:

"Across the country, state and local police departments are building their own face recognition systems, many of them more advanced than the FBI’s. We know very little about these systems. We don’t know how they impact privacy and civil liberties. We don’t know how they address accuracy problems. And we don’t know how any of these systems—local, state, or federal—affect racial and ethnic minorities."

Facial recognition software is not new, and the report acknowledges that its use is inevitable by law enforcement. The facts include:

"FBI face recognition searches are more common than federal court-ordered wiretaps. At least one out of four state or local police departments has the option to run face recognition searches through their or another agency’s system. At least 26 states (and potentially as many as 30) allow law enforcement to run or request searches against their databases of driver’s license and ID photos. Roughly one in two American adults has their photos searched this way... Historically, FBI fingerprint and DNA databases have been primarily or exclusively made up of information from criminal arrests or investigations. By running face recognition searches against 16 states’ driver’s license photo databases, the FBI has built a biometric network that primarily includes law-abiding Americans. This is unprecedented and highly problematic..."

The report does not want to stop facial-recognition software usage, and it acknowledges that most law enforcement personnel do not want to invade citizens' privacy. The report' raises concerns based upon the data collection primarily includes law-abiding citizens and not just criminals; plus the lack of transparency and regulation regarding accuracy, training, and deployment. Some of the uses that raise concerns:

"Real-time face recognition lets police continuously scan the faces of pedestrians walking by a street surveillance camera... at least five major police departments—including agencies in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles—either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology that can do so, or expressed a written interest in buying it... A face recognition search conducted in the field to verify the identity of someone who has been legally stopped or arrested is different, in principle and effect, than an investigatory search of an ATM photo against a driver’s license database, or continuous, real-time scans of people walking by a surveillance camera. The former is targeted and public. The latter are generalized and invisible. While some agencies, like the San Diego Association of Governments, limit themselves to more targeted use of the technology, others are embracing high and very high risk deployments."

The report described specific examples of usage at the state and local levels:

"No state has passed a law comprehensively regulating police face recognition. We are not aware of any agency that requires warrants for searches or limits them to serious crimes. This has consequences. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office enrolled all of Honduras’ driver’s licenses and mug shots into its database. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office system runs 8,000 monthly searches on the faces of seven million Florida drivers—without requiring that officers have even a reasonable suspicion before running a search..."

A major concern the report discussed is the:

"... real risk that police face recognition will be used to stifle free speech. There is also a history of FBI and police surveillance of civil rights protests. Of the 52 agencies that we found to use (or have used) face recognition, we found only one, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, whose face recognition use policy expressly prohibits its officers from using face recognition to track individuals engaging in political, religious, or other protected free speech."

Another major concern the report discussed:

"Face recognition is less accurate than fingerprinting, particularly when used in real-time or on large databases. Yet we found only two agencies, the San Francisco Police Department and the Seattle region’s South Sound 911, that conditioned purchase of the technology on accuracy tests or thresholds. There is a need for testing. One major face recognition company, FaceFirst, publicly advertises a 95% accuracy rate but disclaims liability for failing to meet that threshold in contracts with the San Diego Association of Governments... Companies and police departments largely rely on police officers to decide whether a candidate photo is in fact a match. Yet a recent study showed that, without specialized training, human users make the wrong decision about a match half the time... an FBI co-authored study suggests that face recognition may be less accurate on black people..."

Regarding the lack of transparency by law enforcement:

"Ohio’s face recognition system remained almost entirely unknown to the public for five years. The New York Police Department acknowledges using face recognition; press reports suggest it has an advanced system. Yet NYPD denied our records request entirely. The Los Angeles Police Department has repeatedly announced new face recognition initiatives—including a “smart car” equipped with face recognition and real-time face recognition cameras—yet the agency claimed to have “no records responsive” to our document request. Of 52 agencies, only four (less than 10%) have a publicly available use policy. And only one agency, the San Diego Association of Governments, received legislative approval for its policy... Maryland’s system, which includes the license photos of over two million residents, was launched in 2011. It has never been audited. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office system is almost 15 years old and may be the most frequently used system in the country. When asked if his office audits searches for misuse, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri replied, “No, not really.” Despite assurances to Congress, the FBI has not audited use of its face recognition system, either..."

Learn more about the expanded facial-recognition system the FBI deployed in 2014. The New York Times reported last year about some of the problems:

"Facial recognition software, which American military and intelligence agencies used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify potential terrorists, is being eagerly adopted by dozens of police departments around the country to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects. But because it is being used with few guidelines and with little oversight or public disclosure... Law enforcement officers say the technology is much faster than fingerprinting at identifying suspects, although it is unclear how much it is helping the police make arrests... "

The CPT report proposed the following solutions to address privacy concerns:

  • Use mug-shot databases (and not driver’s license databases and ID photos) as the default for facial recognition searches. Periodically purge them of innocent persons,
  • Searches of driver's license databases and ID photos should require a court order showing probable cause, except in instances of identity theft and fraud,
  • Notify the public if the policy includes searches of databases maintained by motor-vehicle agencies,
  • Local communities should decide real-time facial recognition surveillance is used in public places of the public and/or with police-worn body cameras. Real-time facial recognition surveilance should be a last resort used only in life-threatening emergencies supported by probable cause with limits as to scope and duration.

The year-long investigation by the CPT included more than 100 records requests to police departments around the country. Read the full report: "The Perpetual Line-up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America."

We know the National Security Agency (NSA) uses facial recognition software. Some agencies probably acquire photos and related information from them, too. If so, this should be disclosed. In 2012, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed guidelines for facial-recognition by social networking sites, companies, and retail stores. Since governments are supposed to report to and serve citizens, similar guidelines should apply to law enforcement.

What are your opinions of real-time facial recognition surveillance? Of the issues raised by the CDT report?


Wells Fargo Tries To Do The Right Thing For Its Customers

Wells Fargo logo After the massive $185 million fine for its phony accounts scam, Wells Fargo bank is trying to do right by its customers. The bank published this statement with promises:

"Steps we have taken to ensure our Community Bank sales culture is wholly aligned with our customers’ interests include: 1) Eliminating product sales goals for all retail bankers to make certain nothing gets in the way of doing what is right for our customers; 2) Sending customers a confirmation email within one hour of opening any deposit account and an acknowledgement letter after submitting a credit card application; 3) Contacting all deposit customers across the country to invite them to review their accounts with their banker and calling the credit card customers identified in the review to confirm whether they need or want their credit card; 4) Expanding the remediation review to 2009 and 2010; and 5) Conducting an independent, enterprise-wide review of our sales practices."

There is more. A September 27th news release by Wells Fargo stated:

"The Independent Directors of the Board of Directors of Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) today announced that they have launched an independent investigation into the Company’s retail banking sales practices and related matters. A Special Committee of Independent Directors will lead the investigation, working with the Board’s Human Resources Committee and independent counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP. Chairman and CEO John Stumpf, a member of the Board, has recused himself from all matters related to the Independent Directors’ investigation and deliberations.

The Independent Directors have taken a number of initial steps they believe are appropriate to promote accountability at the Company. They have agreed with Mr. Stumpf that he will forfeit all of his outstanding unvested equity awards, valued at approximately $41 million based on today’s closing share price, and that he will forgo his salary during the pendency of the investigation. In addition, he will not receive a bonus for 2016. Carrie Tolstedt, until recently Head of Community Banking, has left the Company, and the Independent Directors have determined that she will forfeit all of her outstanding unvested equity awards, valued at approximately $19 million based on today’s closing share price. Ms. Tolstedt will not receive a bonus for 2016 and will not be paid severance or receive any retirement enhancements in connection with her separation from the Company. She has also agreed that she will not exercise her outstanding options during the pendency of the investigation. These initial actions will not preclude additional steps being taken with respect to Mr. Stumpf, Ms. Tolstedt or other executives as a consequence of the information developed in the investigation."

Conducting an investigation? That means the bank's senior executives still don't know what happened, or may still be happening -- or even worse, some executives know and haven't admitted important facts. Is this a bank to do business with? John Chiang, the Treasurer for the State of California announced on Wednesday that the State has suspended doing business with Wells Fargo for 12 months. Chiang issued this explanation:

"... the Treasurer oversees nearly $2 trillion in annual banking transactions, manages a $75 billion investment pool, and is the nation’s largest issuer of municipal debt... The Treasurer announced in a letter to Wells Fargo Chairman John G. Stumpf and board members that he has ordered the suspension of Wells Fargo’s participation in its most highly profitable business relationships with the State of California. Those sanctions include: i) Suspension of investments by the Treasurer’s Office in all Wells Fargo securities; ii) Suspension of the use of Wells Fargo as a broker-dealer for purchasing of investments by his office; and iii) Suspension of Wells Fargo as a managing underwriter on negotiated sales of California state bonds where the Treasurer appoints the underwriter... These sanctions take effect immediately and will remain in place for the next twelve months. Wells Fargo is expected to comply with all of the terms of the consent orders it has entered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Los Angeles City Attorney, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency... The letter warns the bank that if it fails to demonstrate compliance with the Consent Orders or evidence surfaces that Wells Fargo has engaged in the same behavior it will face tougher sanctions up to and including complete and permanent severance of all ties between the Treasurer’s Office and Wells Fargo..."

Hopefully, the board will assess more penalties upon Stumpf, Tolstedt, and senior bank executives. The penalties mentioned above seem woefully insufficient, since they penalize the executives in 2016 for activities that perpetuated during the last five years.

The bank's statement was also silent about important issues: a) remedies for customers whose credit ratings were damaged by the phony new accounts, and b) compensation for customers for lost interest revenues when their money was withdrawn from interest-bearing accounts to set up the phony new accounts.

The bank's news release included this statement by Stephen Sanger, Lead Independent Director:

"... We will conduct this investigation with the diligence it deserves -- and will follow the facts wherever they lead. Our thousands of outstanding team members and millions of loyal customers and shareholders deserve no less. Based on the results of the investigation, the Independent Members of the Board will take such other actions as they collectively deem appropriate, which may include further compensation actions before any additional equity awards vest or bonus decisions are made early next year, clawbacks of compensation already paid out, and other employment-related actions. We will proceed with a sense of urgency but will take the time we need to conduct a thorough investigation. We will then take all appropriate actions to reinforce the right culture and ensure that lessons are learned, misconduct is addressed, and systems and processes are improved so there can be no repetition of similar conduct."

While clawbacks into executives' compensation during prior years sounds good, the key takeaway seems to be: the board still does not know what is happening in its bank, nor what corrective actions to implement beyond the promises listed above. And it can't rely on Stumpf to tell them. Stumpf should be fired immediately for not keeping the board informed. Same for Tolstedt. In a perfect world, both would be in prison. Fraud is fraud.

What are your opinions about Wells Fargo? Would you do business with the bank?


News About The Massive Data Breach At Yahoo Isn't Pretty

Yahoo logo The news about Yahoo's massive data breach seems to be getting worse. The Oregonian reported:

" "Data breaches on the scale of Yahoo are the security equivalent of ecological disasters," said Matt Blaze, a security researcher who directs the Distributed Systems Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, in a message posted to Twitter. A big worry is a cybercriminal technique known as "credential stuffing," which works by throwing leaked username and password combinations at a series of websites in an effort to break in, a bit like a thief finding a ring of keys in an apartment lobby and trying them, one after the other, in every door in the building. Software makes the trial-and-error process practically instantaneous. Credential stuffing typically succeeds between 0.1 percent and 2 percent of the time..."

Apply those success rates to half a billion stolen credentials and criminals have plenty of opportunities to break into consumers' online accounts. And, this list of seven ways the breach has exposed consumers to online banking fraud is definitely accurate.

The tech company's stock has dropped 4 percent since September 22. During an interview, Tim Amstrong, the head of Verizon's AOL would not comment about whether Verizon might renegotiate its $4.8 billion purchase price cash offer for Yahoo's core business. Experts have speculated about whether or not the breach might trigger the "material adverse effect" clause in the purchase transaction.

Tech Week Europe reported:

"Cybersecurity specialist Venafi conducted research into how well Yahoo reacted to the breach, in particular the cryptographic controls Yahoo still has in place, and said the results were “damning.” Researchers said Yahoo had still not “taken the action necessary to ensure they are not still exposed and that the hackers do not still have access to their systems and encrypted communications.” Furthermore Venafi warned that “Yahoo is still using cryptography (MD5) that has been known to be vulnerable for many years now.” "

On Monday, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) requested that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigate Yahoo and its executives. Senator Warner said in a statement:

"Data security increasingly represents an issue of vital importance to management, customers, and shareholders, with major corporate liability, business continuity, and governance implications," wrote Sen. Warner, a former technology executive. "Yahoo’s September filing asserting lack of knowledge of security incidents involving its IT systems creates serious concerns about truthfulness in representations to the public. The public ought to know what senior executives at Yahoo knew of the breach, and when they knew it."

Senator Warner called on the SEC:

"... to investigate whether Yahoo and its senior executives fulfilled their obligations to keep investors and the public informed, and whether the company made complete and accurate representations about the security of its IT systems. Additionally, since published reports indicate fewer than 100 of approximately 9,000 publicly listed companies have reported a material data breach since 2010, I encourage you to evaluate the adequacy of current SEC thresholds for disclosing events of this nature,

Also, six U.S. Senators sent a letter on September 27 to Marissa Meyer, the Chief executive Officer at Yahoo, demanding answers about precisely how and why the massive breach went undetected for so long. The letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden read in part:

"We are even more disturbed that user information was first compromised in 2014, yet the company only announced the breach last week. That means millions of Americans' data may have been compromised for two years. That is unacceptable. This breach is the latest in a series of data breaches that have impacted the privacy of millions of Americans in recent years, but it is by far the largest. Consumers put their trust in companies when they share personal and sensitive information with them, and they expect all possible steps to be taken to protect that information."

Indeed. Consumers have these reasonable and valid expectations. The letter demands that the tech company provide a briefing to the Senators' staffs with answers to a set of eight questions including a detailed timeline of events, specific systems and services affected, steps being taken to prevent a massive breach from happening again, and how it responded to any communications and warnings by government officials about state-sponsored hacking activity.

Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom (UK), released a statement on September 23 demanding answers from Yahoo:

"The vast number of people affected by this cyber attack is staggering and demonstrates just how severe the consequences of a security hack can be. The US authorities will be looking to track down the hackers, but it is our job to ask serious questions of Yahoo on behalf of British citizens and I am doing that today. We don’t yet know all the details of how this hack happened, but there is a sobering and important message here for companies that acquire and handle personal data. People’s personal information must be securely protected..."

Some consumers aren't waiting for lawmakers. The Mercury News reported:

"... a class-action suit accusing the Sunnyvale tech firm of putting their finances at risk and failing to notify them earlier about the breach. “While investigating another potential data breach, Yahoo uncovered this data breach, dating back to 2014,” the lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, said. “Two years is unusually long period of time in which to identify a data breach.” On Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, a second class-action suit was filed over the hack. Plaintiff Ronald Schwartz, of New York, claims his personal information was stolen. His suit calls Yahoo’s treatment of users’ data “grossly negligent” and alleges that circumstantial evidence indicates “Yahoo insiders” knew of the breach “long before it was disclosed.” "

Reportedly, one of the plaintiffs has already experienced financial fraud as a result of identity theft from the data breach.


Data Breaches At HEI Hotels & Resorts Affects 20 Properties In At Least 10 States

HEI Hotels and Resorts logo On Friday, Hei Hotels and Resorts (HEI) announced data breaches that affected 20 properties in 11 states. According to the company's breach notice, hackers installed malware within the company's payment processing systems to collect customers' payment data.

The payment information stolen included the names, payment card account numbers, card expiration dates, and verification codes of customers who used their payment cards at point-of-sale terminals. The list of hotels by state:

State City & Property
California La Jolla: San Diego Marriott La Jolla
Pasadena: The Westin Pasadena
San Diego: Renaissance San Diego Downtown Hotel
San Francisco: Le Meridien San Francisco
Santa Barbara: Hyatt Centri Santa Barbara
Colorado Snowmass Village: The Westin Snowmass Resort
District of Columbia Washington: The Westin Washington DC City Center
Florida Boca Raton: Boca Raton Marriott at Boca Center
Fort Lauderdale: The Westin Fort Lauderdale
Miami: Royal Palm South Beach Miami
Tampa: InterContinental Tampa Bay
Illinois Chicago: Hotel Chicago Downtown
Minnesota Minneapolis: The Hotel Minneapolis Autograph Collection
Minneapolis: The Westin Minneapolis
Pennsylvania Philadelphia: The Westin Philadelphia
Tennessee Nashville: Sheraton Music City Hotel
Texas Fort Worth: Dallas Fort Worth Marriott Hotel & Golf Club
Vermont Manchester Village; Equinox Resort Golf Resort & Spa
Virginia Arlington: Le Meridien Arlington
Arlington: Sheraton Pentagon City

The exact date of the breaches varied by property. Some breaches occurred as early as March, 2015 while others continued until as recent as June 17, 2016. A card processor notified HEI of the breach. The HEI breach notice stated:

"We are treating this matter as a top priority, and took steps to address and contain this incident promptly after it was discovered, including engaging outside data forensic experts to assist us in investigating and re mediating the situation and promptly transitioning payment card processing to a stand-alone system that is completely separated from the rest of our network. In addition, we have disabled the malware and are in the process of re configuring various components of our network and payment systems to enhance the security of these systems. We have contacted law enforcement and will continue to cooperate with their investigation. We are also coordinating with the banks and payment card companies. While we are continuing to review and enhance our security measures, the incident has now been contained and customers can safely use payment cards at all HEI properties."

HEI is notifying affected customers and consumers that may have been affected:

"... We recommend that customers review credit and debit card account statements as soon as possible in order to determine if there are any discrepancies or unusual activity listed. We urge customers to remain vigilant and continue to monitor statements for unusual activity going forward. If they see anything they do not understand or that looks suspicious, or if they suspect that any fraudulent transactions have taken place, customers should immediately notify the issuer of the credit or debit card. In instances of payment card fraud, it is important to note that federal laws and cardholder policies may limit cardholders’ responsibility for fraudulent activity; we therefore recommend reporting any suspicious activity in a timely fashion to the bank that issued the card..."

The HEI breach notice contains more information for affected consumers to review their credit reports, place Fraud Alerts, and place Credit Freezes.

HEI appears to have been caught unprepared. It did not detect the intrusion, and its breach notice did not arrange for any free credit monitoring for affected consumers. Hopefully, more information is forthcoming.

If you received a breach notice from HEI, what are your opinions of the breach? Of HEI's response so far?


Smart Wine Bottles

Does wine go stale in your home? If so, then Kuvée Wine has a solution for you. The solution uses Internet-connected or "smart" wine bottles that reportedly keep your wine fresh for up to 30 days. Each bottle holds 5 glasses or 750 ml of wine. Included wines are 2013 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir, 2013 BR Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, and 2014 Coppola Director's Chardonnay.

Residents in some states can pre-order wine now. Orders from California and Massachusetts residents start shipping in October. Orders from residents in New York, Washington, and Oregon start shipping in December. See the website for terms for other states. The price is $199.00, which includes the Kuvée smart wine bottle plus four bottles of wine.

Since everything is "smart" in today's world, I guess this was bound to happen. Is it a good deal? You can decide for yourself. I'm not a big wine drinker. Heck, I'm not a big drinker -- period. This entertaining video from The Verge provides a perspective about how the Kuvée smart wine bottle works:


National Parks Celebrate Their 100th Anniversary

For your next vacation, consider visiting a national park. This summer, the United States National Park Service (NPS) celebrates 100 years of operations on August 25, 2016 with special discounts, programs, and events. The NPS was created to preserve:

“…unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

When you visit a national park, you see what your ancestors saw. That includes trees, plants, wildlife, lakes, rivers, mountains, and glaciers. The NPS includes 411 areas covering all 50 States, plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lake shores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers, and trails.

The largest NPS site is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska) at 13.2 million acres. The smallest site is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial (Pennsylvania) at 0.02 acres. 307 million people visited NPS sites during 2015. The NPS is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. The Director of the NPS is nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Some of the favorite national parks:

  • Yosemite National Park (California): this park is famous for outdoor activities including hiking, fishing, biking, camping, rock climbing, photography, and more
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota): enjoy marvelous views of the 60-foot-tall heads of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): view dazzling colors and the Colorado River, as it makes its way through the mile-deep canyon, which is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide
  • Glacier National Park (Montana): with more than 700 miles of trails, this park features pristine forests, alpine meadows, and majestic mountains
  • Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii): volcanoes created the Hawaiian islands, and the park features two massive volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, that erupt periodically with slow lava flows down the mountainside. Mauna Loa is 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) high, as measured from the sea floor.

The parks operate programs for adults, families, and children. Some of the programs for children include the Junior Rangers, Web Rangers, Every Kid in a Park, and mobile apps for citizen science. Check the NPS site for event times and locations.

View from atop Haleakala. Click to view larger version It is easy to combine a visit to a national park with a cruise vacation. My wife and I visited the Volcanoes National Park in 2004 during a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. We sailed on Norwegian Cruise Line round-trip from Honolulu. At night, we saw red lava flows into the ocean. That cruise also included a port stop at the island of Maui, where we visited Haleakala National Park. Our bicycle ride down the mountainside started above the clouds.

In 2005, we visited Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska) during a cruise-tour on Princess Cruises. A cruise-tour combines sea and land travel, so you see the best of everything – the inland wilderness, wildlife, glaciers, parks, and mountains. The land portion of our cruise-tour included 5 days and 4 nights traveling from Fairbanks to Anchorage, with hotel stays at several Princess Lodges across Alaska. The cruise-tour price included everything, and it was easy! The cruise line handled our luggage and checked us into each lodge. Then, our 7-night cruise sailed southbound from Whittier (near Anchorage) to Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada).

Southbound via train in Alaska. June, 2005 The land portion of our cruise-tour included travel by bus and train. If you love trains, this is a must-experience vacation. Each cruise line has their own rail cars with glass-domes, so you sit comfortably and easily watch the spectacular countryside pass by. The trains don't travel fast, which makes photography and filming easy. Some rail cars have open-air platforms for photographers wanting to avoid reflections created by glass windows.

Clear view of Mount Denali in 2005. Click to view larger image Before visiting Denali National Park, we stayed at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. When you visit the park, allow enough time for the full-day tour. The park is massive, about the size of the State of New Hampshire. You won't see much if you book the half-day tour. We stayed the next night at the Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, which featured a spectacular view of the mountain. We were lucky because clouds didn't obstruct views of Denali (a/k/a Mount McKinley).

View of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. Click to view larger version During a trip to Las Vegas in 2012, we visited Grand Canyon National Park. The hotel offered an excursion package that included both air and bus travel. You could rent a car and drive, but short one-hour flight was faster and offered spectacular aerial views of Hoover Dam!

Words cannot describe the splendor and beauty of these national parks. If you haven’t visited a national park, I strongly encourage you to visit one this year. Don’t wait. You’ll be glad you did. Filmmaker and historian Ken Burns said it best in the title of his documentary series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

If you don’t want to drive or fly, you can easily visit a park via train. Amtrak serves many NPS sites including Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Everglades, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Rocky Mountain, and more.

For the 100-year celebration, the national parks will waive entry fees for 16 days including August 25 through 28, September 24, and November 11. To find a national park near you, use the Find A Park search tool. To prevent damage to the environment, off-road vehicles are illegal with the national parks. And, leave your drone at home. The use of drones are banned in all national parks.

Which national parks have you visited?

Princess Lodge in Denali, Alaska


In The Modern Era, More Young Adults Live With Their Parents

As a parent of three children who are now adults, this news item caught my attention. The Pew Research Center reported:

"Broad demographic shifts in marital status, educational attainment and employment have transformed the way young adults in the U.S. are living, and an analysis of census data highlights the implications of these changes for the most basic element of their lives – where they call home. In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household."

The data:

  Percent of Adults
Ages 18 to 34
Living Arrangement 1880 1940 1960 2014
Living at home with parents 30 35 20 32.1
Married or co-habitation in own household 45 46 62 31.6
Living alone, single parents, and other head of household 3 3 5 14
Other living arrangement 22 16 13 22

Several factors contributed to this shift:

"The first is the postponement of, if not retreat from, marriage. The median age of first marriage has risen steadily for decades. In addition, a growing share of young adults may be eschewing marriage altogether. A previous Pew Research Center analysis projected that as many as one-in-four of today’s young adults may never marry. While cohabitation has been on the rise, the overall share of young adults either married or living with an unmarried partner has substantially fallen since 1990.

In addition... employed young men are much less likely to live at home than young men without a job, and employment among young men has fallen significantly in recent decades. The share of young men with jobs peaked around 1960 at 84%. In 2014, only 71% of 18- to 34-year-old men were employed. Similarly with earnings, young men’s wages (after adjusting for inflation) have been on a downward trajectory since 1970 and fell significantly from 2000 to 2010. As wages have fallen, the share of young men living in the home of their parent(s) has risen."

And there are differences by gender:

"For men ages 18 to 34, living at home with mom and/or dad has been the dominant living arrangement since 2009. 'In 2014, 28 percent of young men were living with a spouse or partner in their own home, while 35 percent were living in the home of their parent(s). For their part, young women are on the cusp of crossing over this threshold: They are still more likely to be living with a spouse or romantic partner (35%) than they are to be living with their parent(s) (29%). In 2014, more young women (16%) than young men (13%) were heading up a household without a spouse or partner. This is mainly because women are more likely than men to be single parents living with their children..."

Additional findings:

"In 2014, 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds who had not completed high school lived with parent(s), the highest rate observed since the 1940 Census when information on educational attainment was first collected.

Young adults in states in the South Atlantic, West South Central and Pacific United States have recently experienced the highest rates on record of living with parent(s).

With few exceptions, since 1880 young men across all races and ethnicities have been more likely than young women to live in the home of their parent(s)."

The methodology included decennial census data and large samples, typically 1 percent of young adults nationwide.


FCC Proposed New Privacy Rules To Help Consumers With Broadband Internet Services

Federal Communications Commission logo Earlier this month, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new privacy rules to help consumers when subscribing to high-speed Internet services. The rules clarify when Internet Service providers (ISPs) must obtain the consumer's approval. A summary:

"Consent Inherent in Customer Decision to Purchase ISP’s Services: Customer data necessary to provide broadband services and for marketing the type of broadband service purchased by a customer – and for certain other purposes consistent with customer expectations, such as contacting public safety – would require no additional customer consent beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.

Opt-out: Broadband providers would be allowed to use customer data for the purposes of marketing other communications-related services and to share customer data with their affiliates that provide communications-related services for the purposes of marketing such services unless the customer affirmatively opts out.

Opt-in: All other uses and sharing of consumer data would require express, affirmative “opt-in” consent from customers."

Additional rules require ISPs to clearly provide notices, opt-in mechanisms, and opt-out mechanisms:

"Transparency requirements that require ISPs to provide customers with clear, conspicuous and persistent notice about what information they collect, use and share with third parties, and how customers can change their privacy preferences;

Robust and flexible data security requirements for broadband providers that include requirements to adopt risk management practices; institute personnel training practices; implement strong customer authentication requirements; identify a senior manager responsible for data security; and take responsibility for use and protection of customer information when shared with third parties;

Common-sense data breach notification requirements to encourage ISPs to protect the confidentiality of customer data, and to give consumers and law enforcement notice of failures to protect such information."

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM - Adobe format) contains the detailed statements. (The document is also available here.) Privacy is critical, since broadband Internet access is critical to do anything today. In January, 50 consumer and privacy groups urged the FCC to tighten broadband privacy rules for ISPs. In March, the FCC released a broadband privacy Fact Sheet, which stated in part:

"Telephone networks have had clear, enforceable privacy rules for decades, but broadband networks currently do not... An ISP handles all of its customers’ network traffic, which means it has an unobstructed view of all of their unencrypted online activity – the websites they visit, the applications they use. If customers have a mobile device, their provider can track their physical and online activities throughout the day in real time. Even when data is encrypted, broadband providers can still see the websites that a customer visits, how often they visit them, and the amount of time they spend on each website. Using this information, ISPs can piece together enormous amounts of information about their customers – including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems. A consumer’s relationship with her ISP is very different than the one she has with a website or app. Consumers can move instantaneously to a different website, search engine or application. But once they sign up for broadband service, consumers can scarcely avoid the network for which they are paying a monthly fee."

You don't need to look far to find abuses and questionable customer service historically by ISPs. This blog has covered many of those abuses:

Historically, ISPs have sought increased revenues and viewed targeted (behavioral) advertising as the means. To do this, they partnered with several technology companies (some went out of business after class-action lawsuits) to spy on consumers without notice, without consent, and without providing opt-out  mechanisms. Consumers should control their privacy, not ISPs.

These proposed rules seem reasonable and common-sense. Consumers should be able to register for (e.g., opt-in) for additional desired programs and unsubscribe (e.g., opt-out) of undesired programs offered by their ISP.

Like any newly proposed rules, there is a comment period where the FCC seeks feedback from both consumers and companies. (A democracy requires participation.) If you like, or dislike, or want the proposed rules modified, then tell the FCC and explain why. The deadline for submitting feedback is May 27, 2016. Submit feedback online at the FCC website. The site lists several open proceedings for comments, so use Docket Number 16-106: "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services."


Report: Significant Security Risks With Healthcare And Financial Services Mobile Apps

Arxan Technologies logo Arxan Technologies recently released its fifth annual report about the state of application security. This latest report also highlighted some differences between how information technology (I.T.) professionals and consumers view the security of healthcare and financial services mobile apps. Overall, Arxan found critical vulnerabilities:

"84 percent of the US FDA-approved apps tested did not adequately address at least two of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Mobile Top 10 Risks. Similarly, 80 percent of the apps tested that were formerly approved by the UK National Health Service (NHS) did not adequately address at least two of the OWASP Mobile Top 10 Risks... 95 percent of the FDA-approved apps, and 100 percent of the apps formerly approved by the NHS, lacked binary protection, which could result in privacy violations, theft of personal health information, and tampering... 100 percent of the mobile finance apps tested, which are commonly used for mobile banking and for electronic payments, were shown to be susceptible to code tampering and reverse-engineering..."

Some background about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA revised its guidelines for mobile medical apps in September, 2015. The top of that document clearly stated, "Contains Nonbinding Regulations." The document also explained which apps the FDA regulates (link added):

"Many mobile apps are not medical devices (meaning such mobile apps do not meet the definition of a device under section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)), and FDA does not regulate them. Some mobile apps may meet the definition of a medical device but because they pose a lower risk to the public, FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion over these devices (meaning it will not enforce requirements under the FD&C Act). The majority of mobile apps on the market at this time fit into these two categories. Consistent with the FDA’s existing oversight approach that considers functionality rather than platform, the FDA intends to apply its regulatory oversight to only those mobile apps that are medical devices and whose functionality could pose a risk to a patient’s safety if the mobile app were to not function as intended. This subset of mobile apps the FDA refers to as mobile medical apps."

The Arxan report found that consumers are concerned about app mobile security:

80 percent of mobile app users would change providers if they knew the apps they were using were not secure. 82 percent would change providers if they knew alternative apps offered by similar service providers were more secure."

Arxan commissioned a a third party which surveyed 1,083 persons in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan during November, 2015. 268 survey participants were I.T. professionals and 815 participants were consumers. Also, Arxan hired Mi3 to test mobile apps during October and November, 2015. Those tests included 126 health and financial mobile apps covering both the Apple iOS and Android platforms, 19 mobile health apps approved by the FDA, and 15 mobile health apps approved3 by the UK NHS.

One difference in app security perceptions between the two groups: 82 percent of I.T. professionals believe "everything is being done to protect my apps" while only 57 percent of consumers hold that belief. To maintain privacy and protect sensitive personal information, Arxan advises consumers to:

  1. Buy apps only from reputable app stores,
  2. Don't "jail break" your mobile devices, and
  3. Demand that app developers disclose upfront the security methods and features in their apps.

The infographic below presents more results from the consolidated report. Three reports by Arxan Technologies are available: consolidated, healthcare, and financial services.

Arxan Technologies. 5th Annual State of App Security infographic
Infographic reprinted with permission.