FBI Admits: We Spy On Cellphones Without Warrant

The FBI has used sophisticated cellphone tracking equipment to pinpoint callers’ locations and listen in to private conversations without warrant for at least the past five years, an Arizona Federal court learned last week.

The FBI was forced to reveal how it uses a surveillance device called “Stingray” to intercept cellphone information by mimicking a communications tower during testimony in the case of Daniel David Rigmaiden.

Rigmaiden was accused of stealing millions of dollars by filing phony tax returns on the basis of identity theft. Authorities tracked him down in 2008 by locating the 3G card he was using as a modem with Stingray.

During a public testimony last week, FBI officials admitted that the technology is often used to monitor unwitting Americans without a warrant; instead, they justify the warrantless spying as a “tap and trace” order.  Traditionally, however, “tap and trace” orders are issued only to allow investigators to collect so-called “metadata” such as phone numbers calling to or called from a particular number.

An amicus brief filed in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls into question the government’s right to violate Americans’ rights with technology with capabilities of which most judges are likely unaware.

“The government cannot obtain judicial approval for a search using sophisticated, uniquely invasive technology that it never explained to the magistrate,” reads the brief.

“To construe this Order as a valid ‘warrant’ authorizing the use of the stingray would prevent magistrates from making informed determinations on warrant applications and encourage the government to keep magistrates in the dark.”

The ACLU argues that the Stingray technology is powerful enough to search items in a suspect’s home and decipher communications, so a warrant is needed for its use. Another issue brought up by the civil liberties organizations is that the broad net cast when the Stingray is used also gathers the mobile data of innocent people in the surrounding area.

“Judicial supervison of searches is most needed when the government uses new technologies to embark into new and unknown privacy intrusions. But when the government hides what it’s really doing, it removes this important check on government power,” said the EFF in a statement.

“We hope the court sees its been duped, and makes clear to the government that honesty and a warrant are requirements to using a Stingray.”

 

Putin Brings Back Soviet Custom In Russia

In recent years there has been global speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to restore some Soviet-era policies in his nation. On Friday, Putin restored an honorary “Hero of Labor” commendation first awarded in the Lenin era to workers who outperformed communist work quotas.

The Russian President issued a decree to restore the “Hero of Labor” title, which disappeared in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union with an accompanying statement.

“In the Soviet Union, we had a title called the Hero of Socialist Labor, and on the whole, I think this was justified,” Putin said.

“I know that this is the view not only of the machine workers, but of those who generally do things with their hands and use their heads,” he continued.

The award was coveted during the Soviet era by workers who could be recommended for communist party leadership positions if they consistently outperformed work requirements.

Putin, a former KGB agent, once called the dissolution of the Soviet Union one of the greatest tragedies to have happened during the 20th century.

Rand Calls Gun-Hating Celebs’ Use Of Armed Security ‘Hypocrisy’

Famous people who back gun control are being hypocritical when they retain the services of security guards who carry handguns and other firearms, said Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) last week.

Speaking on the “Hannity” show on FOX News, Paul said gun control devotees like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as famous Hollywood types, are right to hire security to protect their famous selves from personal harm; they’re just wrong to oppose the rights of other Americans to own firearms so they can accomplish the same thing.

I don’t begrudge any famous person like Mayor Bloomberg, or the President or the President’s family for having protection — I think they all should; there’s enough crazy people out there who would attack on the right or the left. But I think when you are being protected by people who have weapons, or responsible people, I can’t see why you would be opposed to that for other people.

So yes, many rich Hollywood celebrities have armed guards with them at all times and many regular people who live in a poor neighborhood, who have a business in a poor neighborhood and a neighborhood that may have higher crime — those people have to suffer the vicissitudes of violent crime without protection sometimes, because of gun control laws. So, yes, I think there is a certain amount of hypocrisy.

Paul and other colleagues in the Senate have pledged to filibuster gun-control legislation ahead of an expected vote next month.

Lone Star State Wants Federal Reserve To Hand Back Its Gold

Texas Governor Rick Perry is supporting legislation that would create a bullion depository in the State and bring home $1 billion in gold, currently housed by the Federal Reserve in a New York vault, for State-level protection under the aegis of a new bank that would be created for the purpose.

If the idea sounds like something former Congressman Ron Paul of Texas would have come up with, that’s because he did. Although not officially involved in the current legislation, Paul told the Texas Tribune last week it’s a sound idea:

“If you think gold is a hedge, or a protection, you always want it as close to the individual and the entity as possible,” he said. “Texas is better served is it knows exactly where its gold is, rather than depending on the security of the Federal Reserve.”

Perry also sounded very much like a leader who doesn’t think the United States is immune from a banking debacle similar to the ongoing crisis in Cyprus. Perhaps in mind of Cypriots who can’t get their own money out of failing, thieving banks, Perry went on national radio last week to drive the point home, saying: “If we own it, I will suggest to you that that’s not someone else’s determination — whether we can take possession of it; bring it back or not.”

The idea behind the bill, sponsored by Republican legislator Giovanni Capriglione, isn’t to put the State into a secessionist position by stockpiling a new State bank with bullion and creating its own monetary standard.

Rather, he explained, it’s to ensure Texas is viewed by residents, businesses and anyone considering any type of investment in the State as the kind of place where leaders are serious about fiscal responsibility as they prepare to weather a broader financial crisis.

There’s more than a little concern that the Federal Reserve wouldn’t easily part with Texas’ 6,000-plus gold bars, mainly because of its practice of rehypothecation, in which gold collateral held in a depository is used as collateral yet again by the Feds on leases it makes to bullion banks. In other words, Texas’ gold may be spoken for because the Federal Reserve has encumbered it to make a speculative profit. Until that encumbrance clears, the Feds could tell Texas, “IOU.”

“We don’t want just the certificates,” Capriglione told the Tribune. “We want our gold. And if you’re in the State of Texas, you should be able to get your gold.”

Is North Korea Preparing To Attack?

The Hermit Kingdom is puffing out its chest with state media threatening attacks on the U.S. and its allies and mass military demonstrations taking place in public squares.

On Friday, soldiers and students marched through Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang as a part of a 90-minute rally.

“We will demonstrate with practical military action the firm will of the army and people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Mun Kyong Dok, Chief Secretary of the Pyongyang City Party Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea read from a statement of the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army during the event.

The rally came on the heels of news reports indicating that the North Koreans may have a strike plan in place to attack U.S. targets in California; Washington, D.C.; Georgia; Texas; and Hawaii.

The secretive nation’s ability to actually carry out attacks on the U.S. mainland has been discounted by most expert observers, but U.S. officials say they remain vigilant due to increasingly provocative rhetoric from the regime.

Cement Mixer Gets Eatery In Trouble

SKANE, Sweden (UPI) — A customer complained of discovering a screw in a salad at a Swedish restaurant that uses a cement mixer to make dressing.

The customer complained of finding a screw in his kebab meal at the eatery in Skane in early March, and the owner of the restaurant — whose name wasn’t released — told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper the screw was from a pair of tongs used to make salads, The Local.se reported Friday.

The customer complained to the local council’s environmental office, which sent out inspectors and discovered the restaurant was using a cement mixer painted blue to make salad dressing and sauces.

The inspectors said pieces of paint were flaking off the machine.

“When I took over the restaurant, the previous owner told me that everything had been approved,” the owner told Dagens Nyheter. “When health inspectors pointed out that the cement mixer wasn’t acceptable, I threw it out and bought a rust-free mixer the very same day.”

Brigitte Bardot Offers Reward For Lost Cat

ST. TROPEZ, France (UPI) — French cinema star Brigitte Bardot is offering a reward of more than $750 for the return her favorite cat, which wandered off in a Riviera resort town.

Bardot — a 78-year-old actress, singer, former model and animal rights activist — said 2-year-old Rontonton, her favorite cat, vanished while gardeners were trimming bushes March 26 at her St. Tropez property, The Local.fr reported Friday. The feline does not have a collar or an identifying tattoo.

“My pain is terrible. I cannot sleep,” Bardot told the Nice newspaper Var Matin.

Var Matin said a hotline set up to help find the cat has received about 200 reports of sightings.

Zoo Sets Up April Fools’ Day Hotline

ST. PAUL, Minn. (UPI) — A Minnesota zoo said it is setting up four hotlines for April Fools’ Day pranksters that will offer discounts on animal sponsorships.

The Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in St. Paul said set up an April Fools’ Day hotline last year due to the high number of calls it would receive each year from pranksters asking for pun-infused names such as “Ms. Ellie Fint,” the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported Friday.

The zoo said pranksters can call or trick their friends into calling the numbers for Mr. Lion (651-487-8266), Ms. Ella Fint (651-487-8267), Mr. Wolf (651-487-8268), and Ms. Ann Conda (651-487-8289).

Callers will receive $10 off the price of an animal sponsorship at the zoo.

Police: Thief Tried To Trade Dogs For Cash

ST. CLOUD, Fla. (UPI) — Florida authorities said they arrested a woman accused of stealing two dogs and arranging to return them in exchange for money.

The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said a St. Cloud, Fla., man reported his two dogs, a pit bull and a black Labrador, were taken from his home while he was away last Saturday. A neighbor told deputies a woman was seen taking pictures on the property before driving away with the dogs, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Friday.

The homeowner said he found a note, written on green construction paper, on his door two days later.

“Dogs Found, Neglected and Abused … Please Text,” the note read.

The man texted the phone number and made arrangements to trade money for the return of his dogs.

Police said a woman identified as Nicole Lee Moses, 29, of St. Cloud, was arrested when she arrived in the area of the arranged meeting.

The charges against the woman weren’t detailed by the Sun Sentinel.

The dogs were returned to their owner.

Police: Suspect Was Trying To Make Haircut

SALT SPRINGS, Fla. (UPI) — Authorities in Florida said a man accused of crashing his car through a construction barricade told deputies he was rushing to get to a haircut appointment.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said William Faulkner, 76, allegedly drove his 2001 Lincoln through a construction barricade blocking an entrance to Salts Springs Square, the location of Hair Solutions for Ladies and Gents, and struck a construction worker who tried to get him to back up, the Ocala (Fla.) Star Banner reported Friday.

The man, who spoke to deputies while having his hair cut, told them he did not see the traffic barricade, and while he did see the worker who tried to get him to back up, he did not want to take the time to go to a different entrance because he was trying to make his appointment on time.

Faulkner told deputies he had thought the worker would get out of the way before he was struck.

The worker said he was struck in the knee, but refused medical attention.

Faulkner was arrested on an aggravated battery charge.

U.S. Consumer Spending Rose In February

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Consumer spending rose 0.7 percent and incomes were up 1.1 percent in February, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday.

Personal spending rose by $77.2 billion, with help from a $143.2 billion boost in incomes.

Disposable incomes increased by $127.8 billion, or 1.1 percent, the department said.

The figures represent a turnaround for workers, who had incomes drop by 3.7 percent and disposable incomes slide 4 percent in January.

Wages regained almost to the dollar what had been lost in January. The $42.7 billion drop in wages in January turned to a $42.4 billion gain in wages and salary disbursements in February.

Personal savings in February totaled $310.9 billion, up from $262.5 billion in January. The savings rate — personal savings as a percentage of disposable income — rose to 2.6 percent in February from 2.2 percent in the previous month.

SAC Capital Money Manager Arrested

NEW YORK (UPI) — U.S. authorities said they arrested a SAC Capital Advisors portfolio manager in New York as part of an insider trading investigation.

The arrest of Michael Steinberg at his Park Avenue apartment makes a total of nine SAC employees implicated in the case. Four have entered guilty pleas, The New York Times reported Friday.

Steinberg’s attorney Barry Berke said his client was innocent. Steinberg was caught in the crossfire of aggressive investigations of others,” Berke said.

“There is no basis for even the slightest blemish on his spotless reputation,” Berke said.

However, Jon Horvath, a former employee at the firm who worked for Steinberg, named him as part of an alleged insider-trading ring that involved illegal trades of technology company stock, specifically shares of Dell and Nvidia.

Horvath pleaded guilty and said he passed along confidential business information to Steinberg, who bought and sold stock based on the information.

Two other money managers tied to Horvath and Steinberg have been convicted of insider trading charges in jury trials, the Times reported.

BofA Saddled With Top Spot In Complaints

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Bank of America’s purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp. pushed it to the No. 1 spot on a list of consumer complaints, data from a watchdog agency show.

BofA responded to the complaints data by praising the goal of transparency at the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the watchdog agency that was created in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

BofA also pointed out that 98 percent of the complaints reported by the agency were listed as resolved.

But the data show BofA was way out in front on complaints complied since December 2011 and that its purchase of Countrywide was the principle reason.

BofA bought Countrywide in 2008, just as the financial meltdown was unfolding and the California lender at the time was the country’s largest mortgage firm. Its specialty: risky, subprime mortgages.

By the numbers, the CFPA said BofA had 15,136 complaints since December 2011, about 30 percent of all complaints the agency handled. Two-thirds of the BofA complaints involved mortgage modifications, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

The information “enforces what we already knew – that Countrywide was a hot mess,” said banking industry analyst Nancy Bush.

“The lack of infrastructure at Countrywide left Bank of America in the lurch from day one when it came to enacting the tsunami of directives that came at them [from regulators] after the meltdown,” Bush said.

BofA handles 15 percent of all U.S. residential mortgages.

Wells Fargo handles a larger share of the market, servicing 21.5 percent of the country’s home loans but was responsible for less than 16 percent of complaints involving mortgages.

JPMorgan Chase customers generated 10 percent of the mortgage complaints, while that firm handles 12.7 percent of the market share.

Citibank and U.S. Bancorp round out the top five, serving 5.2 percent and 2.9 percent of the market, respectively. Those banks generated 4.8 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, of all the mortgage-related complaints, the Times said.

Hollande Proposes Payroll Tax On Wealthy

PARIS (UPI) — French President Francois Hollande said he would try a new approach to raising taxes on the wealthiest wage earners with a  75 percent payroll tax.

An earlier proposal to make the top tax rate in France 75 percent, which would apply to those earning more than $1,300,000 per year, was shot down by a judiciary council.

In a late-night television appearance, Hollande said he would take another approach to the problem.

“The Constitutional Council made a decision. I respect it. So, I’m going to take a different path,” he said.

CNNMoney reported Friday that Hollande proposed a payroll tax, shifting the responsibility for payment from individuals to the companies where they work.

As France’s economy remains in a slump, Hollande’s popularity is waning. His first proposal stirred up emotions among those for and against the tax hike.

French actor Gerard Depardieu reacted to the proposal by becoming a Russian citizen and moving his residence to Belgium. That move stirred up emotions as well, with some angry and some sympathetic to Depardieu’s decision.

200,000 Knockoffs Seized In Italy

TURIN, Italy (UPI) — Italian authorities said they seized more than 200,000 reproductions of jewelry and other items and were trying to find the source of the counterfeits.

Turin police seized knockoffs of Louis Vuitton, Guess, Chanel and Bulgari merchandise, ANSA reported Friday.

Authorities said they were concerned that the fraudulently labeled items could pose and environmental or health risk, as some of items contained various chemicals, ANSA said.

Plague Of Locusts Hits Madagascar

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (UPI) — The worst plague of locusts in 60 years has infested about half of Madagascar, threatening crops and creating worries of food shortages, a U.N. agency says.

More than half of the population could be at risk of hunger as the plant-devouring insects scour the countryside, the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization said.

An FAO locust control expert said the plague posed a major threat to the Indian Ocean island, a country struggling with poverty.

“Nearly 60 percent of the island’s more than 22 million people could be threatened by a significant worsening of hunger,” Annie Monard told the BBC.

“The last [locust plague] was in the 1950s and it had a duration of 17 years so if nothing is done it can last for five to 10 years, depending on the conditions,” she said.

More than $22 million in emergency funding was needed so a full-scale spraying campaign could be initiated, the FAO said.

“FAO estimates that about two-thirds of the island country will be affected by the locust plague by September 2013 if no action is taken,” the organization said in a statement.

Lasers Could Yield Particle Research Tool

SOUTHAMPTON, England (UPI) — A laser system using telecom technology may produce a next-generation particle accelerator similar to the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, physicists say.

The International Coherent Amplification Network consortium, an international group of physicists from a number of research organizations, said a laser system composed of massive arrays of thousands of fiber lasers could be used for both fundamental research at laboratories such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, Switzerland, and more applied tasks such as proton therapy and nuclear transmutation.

Lasers can provide extremely short bursts of energy of great power measured in petawatts — 1,000 times the power of all the power plants in the world, the consortium said in a study published in Nature Photonics.

Such a system could be used for applied tasks in medicine, such as proton therapy for cancer treatment, or the environment, where they could offer the prospect of reducing the lifetime of dangerous nuclear waste from 100,000 years to decades or less, a release from Britain’s Southampton University, a consortium participant, said Thursday.

Such laser accelerators would be much more compact than present day systems, the researchers said.

“One important application demonstrated today has been the possibility to accelerate particles to high energy over very short distances measured in centimeters rather than kilometers as it is the case today with conventional technology,” said Gerard Mourou of Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, another consortium institution.

“This feature is of paramount importance when we know that today high energy physics is limited by the prohibitive size of accelerators, of the size of tens of kilometers, and cost billions of euros.

“Reducing the size and cost by a large amount is of critical importance for the future of high energy physics,” he said.

India Leopards Show No Fear Of Humans

NEW YORK (UPI) — Areas of western India completely devoid of wilderness and with high human populations are attracting backyard wildlife including leopards, experts say.

A study led by Vidya Athreaya of the Wildlife Conservations Society found as many as five adult large carnivores, including leopards and striped hyenas, per 38 square miles, a density never before reported in a human-dominated landscape.

Evidence from camera traps showed leopards often ranged close to houses at night although remaining largely undetected by the public, and despite this close proximity between leopards and people there are few reports of attacks in the region, a release from WCS headquarters in New York reported Thursday.

The research was conducted in the western state of Maharashtra.

“Human attacks by leopards were rare despite a potentially volatile situation considering that the leopard has been involved in serious conflict, including human deaths in adjoining areas,” WCS big cat expert Ullas Karanth said.

The camera traps also photographed rusty spotted cats, small Indian civets, Indian foxes, jungle cats, jackals and mongoose, the researchers said.

“The results of our work push the frontiers of our understanding of the adaptability of both humans and wildlife to each other’s presence,” Karanth said.

Small, Shallow Quake Hits California

SAN SIMEON, Calif. (UPI) — A shallow earthquake of 3.8 magnitude was recorded 6 miles from San Simeon, Calif., Thursday evening, seismologists say.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor occurred at 6:22 p.m. at a depth of 3.7 miles, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A 3.2 earthquake at almost the exact same epicenter and at the approximate same depth was recorded Feb. 1, the Times noted.

There were no injuries or damages reported in Thursday’s event.

Study finds magma deep below Pacific OceanThursday, March 28, 2013 7:43 PMSAN DIEGO, March 28 (UPI) —  U.S. scientists say studies of magma deep beneath a Pacific Ocean seafloor volcano are yielding clues to how new seafloor is created.

Since the plate tectonics theory of the 1960s scientists have known new seafloor is created in the world’s major ocean basins at linear chains of volcanoes known as mid-ocean ridges, but have been unsure where the erupting magma comes from.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, say their capturing of a unique image of a site deep in the Earth where magma is generated could lead to a better understanding of the process.

Using electromagnetic technology, the researchers mapped a large area beneath the seafloor off Central America at the northern East Pacific Rise, a seafloor volcano located on a section of the global mid-ocean ridges that together form the largest and most active chain of volcanoes on Earth.

The cross-section area of the melting region they mapped would rival the size of San Diego County, they said.

“Our data show that mantle upwelling beneath the mid-ocean ridge creates a deeper and broader melting region than previously thought,” Scripps geophysicist Kerry Key said. “This was the largest project of its kind, enabling us to image the mantle with a level of detail not possible with previous studies.”

The marine electromagnetic technology behind the study was originally at Scripps in the 1960s and has been used by the energy industry to map offshore geology as an aid to exploring for oil and gas reservoirs.

Scripps researchers said were pleased at how it has now been used to advance the science of plate tectonics.

“We have been working on developing our instruments and interpretation software for decades, and it is really exciting to see it all come together to provide insights into the fundamental processes of plate tectonics,” Scripps geophysicist Steven Constable said. “It was really a surprise to discover that melting started so deep in the mantle — much deeper than was expected.”

New Candid Ads Urge Smokers To Quit

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Similar to a series of ads last year, a new series of stories of former smokers living with smoking-related diseases urge smokers to quit, an official says.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, said beginning Monday, ads will run for at least 12 weeks on television, radio, billboards, online, and in theaters, magazines and newspapers nationwide.

The ads, funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, tell the story of how people’s lives were changed forever due to their smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.

The ads feature smoking-related health conditions — including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe adult asthma and complications from diabetes, such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and amputation — and candidly describe the losses from smoking and the gains from quitting.

“This campaign is saving lives and saving dollars by giving people the facts about smoking in an easy-to-understand way that encourages quitting,” Sebelius said in a statement. “The increase in calls to quit lines after last year’s campaign shows that more people are trying to quit smoking as a result of these ads.”

Despite the known dangers of tobacco use, nearly 1-in-5 U.S. adults still smoke. Almost 90 percent of smokers started before they were 18, and many of them experience life-changing health effects at a relatively early age, Sebelius said.

The ads encourage smokers to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a toll-free number to access quit support across the country, or visit www.cdc.gov/tips to view the personal stories from the campaign and for free help quitting.