Concerns raised about RFID and privacy

RFID technology raises privacy concernsThe growth of radio frequency identification (RFID) and related technologies raises questions about how to protect people’s privacy, according to participants at a Federal Trade Commission workshop.

Government officials, industry representatives and consumer advocates met earlier this week to discuss concerns about security, CNET reports.

Some industry representatives argued that regulations relating to these concerns could interfere with the technology’s development, while consumer groups cautioned that privacy standards should be set sooner rather than later.

"Our discomfort stems from the fact that strong security is not always built into the (RFID technology) to begin with," Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America, was quoted as saying. "Very often, it’s an afterthought."

The U.S. Department of State already issues passports that are equipped with a 64-kilobyte RFID chip containing the traveler’s name, nationality, gender, birth date and place, and photograph.

Some states have passed legislation addressing privacy concerns connected to RFID. Washington and California both have laws that limit how RFID may be used.
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Air quality regulations ‘overlook dangerous pollutants’

Particle pollutants are not being regulatedLarge quantities of fine, organic particle pollutants are not being addressed by current air quality regulations, scientists suggest.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that although a large amount of effort has focused on combating pollutants directly emitted by vehicles and industrial processes, the lesser-studied volatile organic compounds (VOC) are being overlooked.

VOCs – vapors from gasoline, paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies and automotive products – are oxidized and condense into existing air particles. These fine particles have a diameter that is equal to less than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.

Lead author Ken Docherty of the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences explained that the study indicates these particles "contribute more significantly to poor air quality, even in very polluted urban regions."

The report, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, also suggests that more research is needed to explore how exposure to these particles may affect people’s health.

Previous research has demonstrated that pollution from vehicles, factories and power plants can cause asthma attacks. According to the National Resources Defense Council, around 30 percent of childhood asthma is a result of environmental factors.
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Health insurance getting more expensive

Insurance costs are risingAmericans are paying more out of their own pockets for health insurance than ever before, according to new statistics.

A survey by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust found that the cost of health insurance premiums in the U.S. increased by an average of 5 percent during the past year, with employees paying $3,354 of that premium, on average.

Premiums have more than doubled in cost since 1999, the study reveals, while the average salary has only increased by 34 percent.

Employees have also been landed with higher deductibles, particularly those who work for smaller firms with fewer than 200 workers.

A total of 18 percent of employees at companies of all sizes faced a deductible of $1,000 or more, a rise from 12 percent in 2007.

"Health insurance is steadily becoming less comprehensive, and it’s no wonder that in today’s tough economic climate many families count health care costs as one of their top pocketbook issues," commented Kaiser CEO Drew Altman.

U.S. expenditures on healthcare totaled nearly $1.9 trillion in 2004, according to the KFF, citing the most recent statistics available.
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Warning about hospital blood thinner errors

Hospitals have made thousands of errors with blood thinnersHospitals made nearly 60,000 errors involving blood thinners over a five-year period, according to a new safety alert from a regulatory group.

The figures, cited by the Joint Commission, come from a database operated by drug standard-setting group U.S. Pharmacopeia.

Responding to these findings, as well as statistics reporting 28 patient deaths between January 1997 and December 2007, the Joint Commission is urging hospitals to enforce stricter guidelines for the use of anticoagulants (blood thinners).

Patients who are given anticoagulants such as Heparin or Warfarin should be monitored for drug and food interactions, the group says.

It also raises concerns that confusion of labeling and packaging of blood thinners can result in widespread confusion among hospital staff and "devastating errors."

"The systems necessary to ensure that these drugs are used safely are not adequate," commented Dr. Mark R. Chassin, president of the Joint Commission.

In July, CBS News reported on a case in which 14 premature babies at Christus Spohn Hospital South in Corpus Christi were given overdoses of Heparin.
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Ron Paul: Big government got us into this mess

Paul says the government meddles too much in the economyRepresentative Ron Paul of Texas has placed the blame for the current economic downturn squarely on missteps taken by U.S. government.

In an exclusive column for CNN, Paul describes how government intervention in the market has resulted in artificially inflated prices that do not match consumer demand.

He criticizes the government support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the Federal Reserve’s "loose monetary policy" that allowed it to manipulate interest rates, as factors that have resulted in the housing bust and subprime mortgage crisis.

Furthermore, Paul suggests that the recent bailouts and proposed $700 billion rescue scheme will only exacerbate the situation by further distorting the market and encouraging banks’ risky behavior.

"Using trillions of dollars of taxpayer money to purchase illusory short-term security, the government is actually ensuring greater instability in the financial system in the long term," he writes.

Paul, who serves on the House Committee for Financial Services, is not the only politician who has criticized government bailouts recently. In a speech, Senator John McCain said the Federal Reserve should "get back to its core business of managing our money supply and inflation."
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Govt’s copying of travelers’ information called unconstitutional

Does copying data infringe on civil liberty?Most people who travel with personal and business information stored on their laptops, cell phones and notebooks expect that data to remain private.

However, a report in the Washington Post claims that the U.S. government has been "quietly" introducing changes that affect traveler’s civil liberties, such as allowing federal agents to copy and keep this information at will.

This summer, the Department of Homeland Security said that federal agents were allowed to copy a traveler’s documents, books, and electronic data regardless of whether they had probable cause to suspect a law was being broken.

Some groups, including the Asian Law Caucus, have protested this policy, claiming that it violates First Amendment rights.

It points out that between 1986 and July 2008, the government’s policy stated that agents needed probable cause before they could copy materials.

Responding to this criticism, DHS spokesperson Amy Kudwa told the news provider that the changes reflect "the realities of the post-9/11 environment."

Her comments come after it emerged that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the National Security Agency and members of the Bush administration for what it describes as illegal surveillance.
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Retirees’ wealth hit by stock market turmoil

Retirees struggle to protect their wealthPlanning for retirement is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your wealth, but what if you watched your careful plans crumble due to stock market turmoil?

That is precisely the situation that is currently being faced by millions of retirees, according to a report in the New York Times.

It describes how many older people are experiencing increasing financial uncertainty, with a combination of stock market drops, high fuel costs and decreasing property values behind the pain.

"If you’re 45 and the market goes down, it bothers you, but it comes back," Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, told the publication. "But if you’re retired or about to retire, you might have to sell your assets before they have a chance to recover."

People with assets may be among those most affected by current economic conditions, due to the recent disintegration of the U.S. housing market.

Findings from the AARP reveal that more retirement-age Americans have been consigning themselves to working longer, as well as reducing the amount they contribute to their nest egg in order to pay bills.
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Health concerns over rocket fuel in drinking water

Is rocket fuel in your water?It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but a toxic ingredient found in rocket fuel is also present in some Americans’ drinking water – and the Environmental Protection Agency said it will not take action to get rid of it.

A report reviewed by the Associated Press reveals that perchlorate has been identified in as many as 395 sites across 35 states.

The majority of perchlorate contamination stems from years of defense testing of missiles and rockets, according to congressional investigators.

However, when the EPA was faced with these facts, it decided that cleaning up the water supply would not lead to a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems," the AP reports.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has denied that it has influenced the EPA’s decision, claiming that its conclusions are "based on criteria in the Safe Drinking Water Act."

Recently, a separate AP investigation revealed that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are present in the drinking water of millions of people across the U.S.
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Dollar plummets on bailout worries

Uncertainty is affecting the stock marketInvestors concerned about their wealth were not given much reason to feel optimistic on Monday, as the dollar experienced record losses against the euro.

As of 4:22 p.m. EST, the dollar had fallen 2.33 percent to $1.4802 per euro, according to Fox Business. The day’s losses were the worst seen since the euro was introduced nine years ago.

Some analysts were quick to place the blame on the Fed’s $700 billion bailout plan, which would take bad debts off the balance sheets of banks.

"It’s an indictment of what Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson are trying to pull off," equity strategist Peter Boockvar told the news source.

"People are realizing that the government’s plan is not necessarily going to be the answer," he added.

Meanwhile, investors seeking a more reliable way of growing their wealth turned to gold. Prices of the commodity increased by more than $44 per ounce, according to CNNMoney.com.

In addition to fears about government bailouts, speculation about whether or not the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates also resulted in a weakened dollar.
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GAO: More should be done to protect patient privacy

Hospitals could be putting patient details at riskToday’s medical facilities say they are committed to implementing the most hi-tech patient data systems available, but do they really know how to protect your personal information?

The lack of an adequate system to safeguard Americans’ electronic medical records could be putting their privacy at risk, a new report from the Government Accountability Office claims.

It explained that although the Department of Health and Human Services had taken actions to identify data security milestones and outcomes, it has still fallen short of ensuring the security of people’s details.

The GAO’s report determined that the HHS had "fallen short" of meeting its security recommendations and may have difficulty winning the trust of the public as a result.

It is not the first time that the office has raised concerns about the U.S. cabinet department’s systems for guarding Americans’ privacy.

For example, a 2006 GAO report found evidence of several data breaches related to Medicare and Medicaid records. More than 40 percent of contractors and state agencies reported a breach during the previous two years.
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Hospital waste raises health concerns

Are pharmaceuticals in your drinking water?Millions of Americans are consuming minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals that are flushed down the drain each year by hospitals, an Associated Press investigation reveals.

The journalists raise concerns that our drinking water is increasingly being contaminated by chemicals that – even in trace amounts – have been shown to cause health problems in animals and in human cells.

Wastewater tests carried out in various European countries and within the U.S. have revealed quantities of hormones, antibiotics, pain relievers and other medicines, the AP states.

And some tests have linked drugs in the water supply to gene mutations that could potentially lead to cancer. For example, a Swiss study found that one antibiotic could disfigure bacterial DNA, though the significance of this discovery for human health is still unclear.

Pharmacist Boris Jolibois, who has participated in research on the issue, told the AP that hospitals should take action as soon as possible regarding their waste disposal.

"Something should be done now. It’s just common sense," he remarked.

Drug disposal in landfills or in incinerators are two options that are raised by the AP, though there are arguments against each of these methods as well.

The Water Quality Association suggests that home filtering systems could help consumers remove some of these contaminants from their drinking water.
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McCain criticizes bailouts, higher taxes

McCain cautions against bailoutsJohn McCain has spoken out against the Federal Reserve’s plans to bail out troubled financial institutions, saying it should "get back to its core business of responsibly managing our money supply and inflation."

Addressing supporters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Republican presidential nominee explained that the Fed "needs to get out of the business of bailouts" and return to fundamentals.

His comments come as President Bush asked Congress for the power to enact a $700 billion rescue plan to buy bad mortgage assets from banks – a proposal that has angered some taxpayers who wonder why their money should be used to help troubled companies.

In his Wisconsin speech, McCain also criticized vice presidential candidate Joe Biden for saying that wealthy people have a patriotic duty to pay more in taxes.

"Raising taxes in a tough economy isn’t patriotic. It isn’t a badge of honor. It’s just plain dumb," the senator said.

One aspect of McCain’s economic plans for the U.S. is to introduce a system to prevent financial institutions from hiding their bad practices from Washington.
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Spying lawsuit brought against U.S. govt

The government is charged with illegal surveillance.The government’s surveillance of American’s telephone calls and internet use is "massively illegal," a lawsuit filed by a nonprofit privacy group claims.

A class-action suit has been filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the National Security Agency, President George Bush and other members of his administration for authorizing the surveillance of people’s online and telephone communications.

The EFF already filed a similar suit in 2006 against AT&T that alleged that the firm had allowed the NSA to access its network without the proper warrants.

However, earlier this year Congress passed a law that granted retroactive immunity to US telecommunications companies for participating in the surveillance efforts, putting a roadblock in the EFF’s legal proceedings.

Although the NSA is not permitted to engage in domestic spying, it is able to obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, which was established to enable wiretapping on U.S. soil.

Some have suggested that this type of activity violates the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects people’s rights against "unreasonable searches and seizures."
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‘Frankenfoods’ for dinner?

Do you know where your food comes from?Genetically engineered (GE) animals could be on their way to a dinner table near you soon, following new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has published proposed rules for how it plans to regulate producers of genetically modified foods – labeled "frankenfoods" by some critics – who are marketing their products for public consumption.

Scientists create GE animals by inserting the gene from one species into the DNA of another. In doing this, they aim to create superior breeds that are resistant to disease, can grow faster or contain more nutrients.

However, some have raised questions about the role of science to interfere with nature – and now there are concerns that the public may not even be aware of where their food comes from.

It came as a surprise to some consumer groups that the FDA is not planning to label many products to differentiate them from conventional meat.

"It is incomprehensible to us that FDA does not view these animals differently from their conventional counterparts," commented Jean Halloran of the Consumers Union.

She added that people have a "right to know" if they are eating a product derived from "pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes."
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