A court case that is currently in the federal courts in Pittsburgh could help set a precedent for how law enforcement officials handle global positioning system data.
The issue centers on whether or not police officers should be required to demonstrate probable cause and obtain search warrants before they track suspects using GPS, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials are seeking permission to obtain information on a suspect’s location using data stored by their cell phone – either in real time or via historic records.
They say that electronic surveillance is less expensive and more effective than following someone in a vehicle.
However, some privacy advocates have raised concerns about the possibility that this technology violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Some of the legal questions about the use of GPS concern whether or not a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy when their vehicle is driving on a public road.
"The government and police say they are trying to keep people safe, but our rights do come into question. It’s a balancing act," civil rights attorney Sam Cordes told the news provider.
Developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, GPS uses satellites and monitoring stations to provide 3D location information, along with the time.
Retirees who have been fretting over the state of the stock market and their nest egg have a bit of good news to look forward to – social security benefits are rising by 5.8 percent in 2009.
According to the Social Security Administration, this increase – the largest since 1982 – will mean an average of $63 extra in a retiree’s monthly check.
This year’s jump is a marked departure from the cost of living increases of the past decade, which are tied to inflation. However, recent rises in costs such as food and fuel seem to have pushed the decision.
However, some suggest that despite the increase many seniors will still struggle to maintain their standard of living – or even make ends meet.
"Right now many senior citizens are feeling depressed because things seem out of control," California State economics professor Sung Won Sohn told the Associated Press.
If anything, many people are feeling uncertain about their financial future. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that Americans lost a total of $2 trillion from their retirement accounts over the past 15 months, due to fluctuations in the stock market.
A new law that took effect in Nevada this month aims to help protect data gathered by businesses about their customers, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The legislation states that companies are required to encrypt any personal information, including names and credit card details, that is transmitted electronically.
Firms may help protect themselves and their customers by purchasing email encryption software. Those that flout the law would be liable for unlimited civil penalties.
Other states, including Michigan and Washington, are mulling similar laws. Meanwhile, from January, Massachusetts businesses will be obligated to encrypt sensitive data about residents that is stored on portable devices, such as laptops.
Privacy lawyers in Massachusetts told the news provider that the legislation potentially paves the way for people to file civil lawsuits against firms in the case of a data breach.
In Nevada, it has already been established that firms complying with the law that suffer a data breach would have caps placed on the amount of damages they are forced to pay in a suit.
Some large-scale data breaches have made the headlines over the past couple of years, including an incident in which the credit and debit card details of 45.6 million customers of retailer TJX were put at risk.
Investor Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, has announced that he is buying American stocks.
A bear market provides a perfect opportunity to purchase stocks at a low price, the billionaire suggested in an opinion column in the New York Times.
The Berkshire Hathaway CEO described how he had moved his money from government bonds to U.S. stocks in an attempt to take advantage of market conditions.
He repeated his oft-quoted advice to investors: "Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful."
Buffett explained that although we are in the midst of a frightening economic period, including rising unemployment and falling business activity, the situation will take a turn for the better.
"What is likely … is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up," he wrote.
Savvy investors will not let this opportunity pass them by, he advised.
Buffett ranked number one on Forbes magazine’s 2008 World Billionaires list, with an estimated net worth of $62 billion.
Approximately 160 patients may be at risk of developing a staph infection, following a North Carolina hospital’s admission that it had neglected to sterilize surgical instruments.
Although the tools were cleaned, disinfected, decontaminated and packaged, they were not sterilized, the Fayetteville Observer reports.
Medical officials say that the risk of infection is slight, as the instruments had already undergone all of the other steps of the cleaning process.
However, some patients who have been affected by the scare told the news provider they were unsettled by the news.
One woman who did not want to give her name said, "You are so vulnerable when you’re a surgery patient. You’re at their mercy. You have to believe that they are going to take good care of you."
Dr. Chuck Chima, physician advisor to infection control, said that the patients were at risk of a regular staph infection, but not the antibiotic-resistant MRSA.
According to MedicineNet.com, there are more than 30 different types of staph bacteria that can cause infections in humans, with the most common being staphylococcus aureus.
Each year, millions of foreign visitors to the U.S. are fingerprinted at the airport – but did you know that some banks may also require prints from American citizens?
Bank of America customer Pauline Pavlis told the Press of Atlantic City about her experience trying to cash a check at one of the bank’s branches.
Because she is not a customer, she was asked to give a thumbprint to prove her identity, a practice which Pavlis questioned.
"I feel like it’s infringing on my personal liberties. You hear all the time about misuse of personal information," she told the news provider.
Fingerprinting is a common requirement for noncustomers at larger banks, the article states. Five years ago, one of these people sued Bank of America because it would not cash his check without a print and a Maryland court of appeals sided with the bank.
Timothy Doherty of the New Jersey Bankers Association, said that banks have a right to give preferential treatment to customers and prevent identity fraud.
He added that "the issue of protecting identities outweighs the issue of people concerned about giving thumbprints."
The government began fingerprinting foreign visitors to the U.S. in 2004.
Questions about the effects of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals that are found in Americans’ drinking water continue to cause concern among both scientists and members of the public.
An ABC News report reveals that while some scientists claim the concentration of prescription medications in tap water is so low that it poses no risk, others are deeply concerned about the long-term effects of exposure.
"The concern is we don’t know what these chemicals do in the body over a lifetime of exposure," Dr. Brian Buckley, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University, told the news provider.
He acknowledged that the amount of contamination is very slight, but said that he would rather "be safe than sorry" in regard to consuming pharmaceuticals through the water supply.
Additionally, Buckley raised concerns about the possibility of "drug-drug interaction," which may not be apparent until a person has consumed tap water over a period of several years.
Earlier this year, an Associated Press investigation uncovered levels of pharmaceuticals present in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas across the country.
With something as serious as your health at stake, you might expect doctors to be able to look at medical research data and produce meaningful results for patients.
A new study, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, may cause you to think again.
The report describes various scenarios in which medical professionals have significantly misinterpreted statistics relating to the effects of drugs, behaviors and procedures.
For example, a pill backed up by research that promises to "double" the chances of a full recovery from an illness may mean raising the figure from one in 10,000 to two in 10,000 – but not all healthcare professionals understand the meaning behind the numbers.
"Many doctors, patients, journalists, and politicians alike do not understand what health statistics mean," the authors write, according to ABC News.
The researchers describe a situation of "statistical illiteracy" that they say is endemic in healthcare, for both patients and physicians.
In one scenario, a group of doctors was presented with a set of figures and asked to estimate the chances that a patient who tested positive for colorectal cancer actually had the disease. Many were unable to do so correctly.
An increasing number of older people are looking to reverse mortgages to boost their cash flow in retirement, according to new figures from a trade group.
The creation of these types of mortgages increased by 4.2 percent during the fiscal year, figures from the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association reveal.
Reverse mortgages are available to homeowners over 61 who want to convert some of the equity in their property into cash without selling, giving up the title or remortgaging. Their income from this transaction is tax-free.
The interest in reverse mortgages has been growing over the past several years, with this year’s total of 112,100 setting a new record for loan volume.
Peter Bell, president of the NRMLA, said that the group expects the number of these home loans to grow even higher in the coming years.
"Reverse mortgages are really one of the only positive stories in financial services this year, because they provide a safe, proven solution to many Americans’ retirement funding needs," he explained.
Effective from November 1st, the Department of Housing and Urban Development states that federally insured reverse mortgages have a single national loan limit of $417,000, Reuters reports.
A new poll reveals a shifting attitude about the role of big government in helping the U.S. out of the credit crunch.
The Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey, conducted on October 10-13, found that a larger number of people support the $700 billion bailout than oppose it.
This finding contrasts with the results of a similar poll conducted by Bloomberg/Times last month, which revealed that the majority of respondents were against the scheme.
Meanwhile, the majority of Americans seem to welcome some help from big government with their own financial problems.
The data indicates that a two-to-one proportion of respondents think the government should help homeowners who are facing foreclosure.
According to Bloomberg, some of this increased confidence in government action may be a result of positive activity in the stock market, which occurred just after details of the bailout were made public.
"They have to do something to spur the economy – otherwise, we’ll be further in the hole than we already were," independent voter Mike Hackenberg told the news agency.
The news comes after a recent survey by Reuters and the University of Michigan found that slightly more than half of Americans have lost confidence in the Federal Reserve in the past five years.
Just a few years ago, men and women on the cusp of retirement may have been feeling very good about their nest egg.
However, the economic turmoil of the past year has already done significant damage, according to reports. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that retirement accounts lost a total of around $2 trillion over the past 15 months.
An article in U.S. News and World Report describes how baby boomers have been looking at different options for ensuring they have enough money to fund them throughout retirement.
Maurice Soto, a research associate at the Urban Institute, told the news provider that a potential retiree should make sure they have a portfolio that "reflects the time horizon and taste for risk" of their situation.
"The common advice is for households to reduce their exposure to stocks as they approach retirement," he explained.
Meanwhile, some workers who were hoping to get a different job after retirement or start a new business may want to think again in light of the effects of the credit crunch, the article suggested.
Richard Johnson of the Urban Institute said that new job opportunities – particularly part-time positions and flexible working – are likely to become scarce in the next few years.
Some studies have suggested that the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) could be linked to a number of different health problems, ranging from heart disease to cancer, even in low doses.
So why has the FDA not issued a stronger statement on its use to manufacture baby bottles? That is what the attorney generals from three states would like to know.
These individuals – from Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware – wrote letters to 11 companies that that make containers used to feed babies, requesting that they discontinue their use of BPA.
Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal said that the action was necessary because the FDA "has been asleep at the switch" regarding the regulation of BPA and is "resistant to respecting the scientific evidence" about the chemical’s risks.
Earlier this year, Laura Tarantino of the FDA said that "our tentative conclusion is that [BPA] is safe, so we’re not recommending any change in habits." Scientists estimate that more than 90 percent of Americans have trace amounts of BPA in their bodies.
The FDA has said it is preparing a new statement on the chemical that will be delivered later this month.
President Bush has described the government’s bailout plan – decried by some as meddling in the free market – as an "essential short-term measure" to free up credit and unfreeze the economy.
Some $250 billion of taxpayer money is set to be invested in some of the nation’s largest banks, in an effort to encourage lending and restore confidence in financial institutions.
In a speech, Bush said that the "limited and temporary" actions taken by the government were necessary to avoid a larger recession.
"These measures are not intended to take over the free market, but to preserve it," he explained.
Treasury secretary Henry Paulson also fleshed out further details of the government’s economic plan, including a scheme to guarantee new debt issued by banks for three years and an unlimited FDIC guarantee on bank deposits in non-interest accounts.
Banks that receive investment money will have to agree to limits on executive compensation during the period they are receiving funds, Paulson said.
A recent survey conducted by Reuters and the University of Michigan revealed that 29 percent of Americans said they have "a lot less" confidence in the Federal Reserve than they did five years ago.
New Hampshire hospitals that are guilty of serious errors may soon be required to report these missteps to the public, under a new law that is under consideration in the state.
The legislation centers on so-called "never events," which are defined by the National Quality Forum as medical care errors that are "clearly identifiable, preventable and serious in the consequences for patients – and that indicate a real problem in the safety and credibility of a healthcare facility," the Union Leader reports.
A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 people die as a result of never events in U.S. hospitals each year.
However, New Hampshire is one of the states that does not keep track of such events, which the institute said may include problems such as adverse drug events, improper transfusions, surgical injuries and mistaken identities of patients – among others.
Lori Nerbonne of NH Patient Voices told the publication that it is in the public’s interest to know about hospital errors.
"We pay for this care, and as consumers, have a basic right to know if we or our family has been harmed or died as a result of it," she explained.
Privacy and civil liberty concerns have been raised about the way that the city of Santa Rosa, California manages the data it collects about residents.
More specifically, privacy advocates have been calling for stricter controls and clear policies to limit who can access information, the Press Democrat reports.
One of the initiatives that is under scrutiny is a scheme currently being carried out by city-hired contractors to photograph every street in the city.
The idea is to create a digital photo database of city-owned property so that future trips to the sites can be avoided, thus increasing efficiency.
However, Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum has said that Santa Rosa’s implementation of this plan has so far been "irresponsible."
"Information held by the government can be used to influence your world in very profound ways," she told the news provider.
In response, the city’s chief technology officer Eric McHenry said that his team had decided to cut back on the number of city employees who have access the street-level photos.
However, legal questions remain about how the information would be shared under California’s open access laws, the publication stated.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain may propose some tax cuts that could inject life into the listless economy, one of his advisors has suggested.
Senator Lindsey Graham told CBS program Face the Nation that McCain has been considering "a host of different courses of action" aimed at freeing up credit for the country’s financial health.
"Now is the time to lower tax rates for investors – capital gains tax, dividend tax rates – to make sure that we can get the economy jump-started," he told the program.
Over the past several weeks, politicians and policymakers have been debating the best method for restarting economic growth in America.
The government has already taken a variety of steps to calm the public’s fears, including the announcement of a $700 billion bailout for banks, but few signs of recovery have been noted.
Graham told Face the Nation that November’s vote may determine the path the country takes in the next four years.
"Senator Obama, who’s masquerading as a centrist, is anything but a centrist when it comes to taxing, spending and social policy," he explained.
On Monday, McCain delivered a stump speech in Virginia during which he attempted to differentiate his economic policies from those of the past eight years and called the country to "change direction."
It seems that the current credit crisis has eroded many Americans’ confidence in financial institutions and the government’s ability to set monetary policy.
A new poll conducted by Reuters and the University of Michigan found that more than half of U.S. consumers say they have less confidence in the Federal Reserve than they did five years ago.
And 29 percent of respondents reported having "a lot less" confidence in the Fed.
Survey director Richard Curtin said that these findings could indicate that "a longer and deeper recession" is on the horizon.
"This loss in confidence will cause consumers to accelerate their spending cutbacks and those reductions are likely to persist through most of 2009," he wrote in the report.
In contrast, following the 1987 stock market crash, less than one in five consumers (19 percent) said they had less confidence in the Fed, with seven percent reporting a lot less confidence.
On Friday, President Bush made a statement about the government’s efforts to combat a more serious economic downturn, saying that it was instigating an "aggressive" plan to restore equilibrium. He also urged Americans to have confidence in the government’s ability to solve the problem.
The National Security Administration is currently under investigation for charges that it listened in on personal phone calls made by military personnel and other Americans living overseas, it has emerged.
Two former employees of the NSA say that staff monitored and shared access to these communications, even though the callers were not suspected of terrorist activities.
In fact, former U.S. Navy Arab linguist David Murfee Faulk told ABC News that staff often listened to intimate conversations between military officers and their spouses or partners in the U.S., sharing the contents of some of the racier calls with colleagues.
Senate intelligence committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, who is investigating the allegations, said that the accusations were "extremely disturbing."
"Any time there is an allegation regarding abuse of the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, it is a very serious matter," he explained.
In September 2007, the New York Times reported that the NSA said that it had stopped the practice of using wiretaps on Americans’ phones without first obtaining a warrant – a measure that had been introduced shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
It seems that each day brings new headlines about financial turmoil and a tumultuous stock market, with the result that the average investor may be uncertain about how to protect their wealth.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, some financial advisors are attempting to keep their clients’ money safe by increasing their cash holdings and exposure to cash and cash-equivalent investments.
Pran Tiku, a wealth manager for Peak Financial Management, told the news provider that he has been selling off lower-quality bonds with a higher yield in order to raise cash.
"If the credit crunch is as ominous as it seems and does not have a resolution, then cash becomes a very important investment to hold," he said.
In a more even-keeled market, Tiku said that he holds at least five percent of someone’s portfolio in cash and cash-equivalent short-term investments.
However, the current climate has prompted him to raise this proportion to 30 percent, while decreasing the amount held in bonds from 30 to seven percent.
Last week, Fortune magazine writer Eugenia Levinson suggested that people consider purchasing tax-exempt money market funds, which currently offer an unusually high average yield.
When a child’s health is at stake, parents may expect complete candor from doctors and pediatricians – but in reality, is this always the case?
A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reveals that children’s doctors differ in their approach to disclosing a medical error.
Researchers led by Dr. David J. Loren of the University of Washington School of Medicine polled more than 200 pediatricians about their responses to scenarios in which a child was hospitalized due to an error on their part.
In one of the examples, parents were more likely to be aware of the mistake, while in the other it was more easily concealed.
The survey results revealed a tendency to be more likely to acknowledge an error when it would already be obvious to the family involved.
"This study demonstrated marked variation in when and how pediatricians might disclose medical errors and found that they may be less likely to disclose an error that was less apparent to the family," the researchers wrote.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, medication errors result in around 770,000 injuries and deaths each year in the U.S.
U.S. government agencies should be obligated to assess the impact of counterterrorism initiatives on people’s privacy before they begin, a new report claims.
The National Research Council looked at the methodology, effectiveness and privacy implications of a variety of surveillance techniques used by the government.
In the report, the council noted that data on members of the public is regularly recorded in a number of ways – for example, through telephone calls, credit card usage and taxes – and that the government has access to a great deal of this information.
Former U.S. secretary of defense William Perry, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, said that although technology should be used to prevent potential terrorist attacks, there should be a structure in place to protect privacy.
"The threat [of terrorism] does not justify government activities that violate the law, or fundamental changes in the level of privacy protection to which Americans are entitled," he commented.
In addition to preliminary evaluation of privacy concerns, a framework for regular oversight should be established, the report said.
The National Research Council has a mission to inform and improve the policies and actions of the U.S. government, according to its website.
Steve Forbes, publisher and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, has spoken out against policies that raise taxes in times of financial crisis, claiming that they stifle the economy.
"It was the Roosevelt-Hoover policies that were a disaster in the 30s [and] inflationary, pro-tax policies in the 70s, that turned that decade into a decade of stagnation – and Reagan reversed it," he told CNBC, according to Newsmax.
Forbes has been constantly vocal about the need for tax reform, particularly during his two bids for the presidency in 1996 and 2000.
He has suggested that the U.S. government dispose of the current tax code completely and replace it with a flat tax of 17 percent. He also opposes taxes on social security, pensions, personal savings and capital gains.
In the CNBC interview, Forbes also called for an end to market-to-market accounting rules, which he blamed for the downfall of firms such as AIG and Lehman Brothers.
"This thing is now 14 months old, when it should have been 14 weeks," he added, referring to the credit crisis.
A lawsuit has been filed against pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, alleging that the company attempted to suppress negative research about its epilepsy drug, Neurontin.
Documents submitted by the plaintiffs allege that the drug company delayed publication of certain studies regarding the medication’s success for conditions other than epilepsy.
They also claim that Pfizer used spin techniques to make results seem more positive and combined both favorable and negative findings together, which distorted research.
The pharmaceutical giant has denied it is at fault, releasing a statement saying it is "committed to the communication of medically or scientifically significant results of all studies, regardless of outcome."
According to the New York Times, some of the studies in question raised doubts about how effectively Neurontin was at treating bipolar disorder, some types of pain and migraines.
In 2004, the drug company paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit claiming Neurontin was promoted to treat unapproved conditions by Warner-Lambert, a firm which was purchased by Pfizer in 2000.
Pfizer stopped marketing Neurontin in 2004, when it lost its patent protection. The company’s 2007 revenue was $48.4 billion.