The Switchboard: ‘Warrant canary’ could alert Apple users to secret surveillance

November 6, 2013

(Photo by Majd Mohabek)

Published every weekday, The Switchboard highlights five tech stories you need to read.

Apple takes strong privacy stance in new report, publishes rare “warrant canary.” "Apple has become one of the first big-name tech companies to use a novel legal tactic to indicate whether the government has requested user information in conjunction with a gag order," according to Ars Technica. In a Tuesday report, the tech giant stated that “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act," the provision that the government has used to seek calling records from phone companies including Verizon. If Apple ever does receive an order under Section 215, it may be able to take this notice down as a signal to privacy-conscious customers.

New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler promises to stress competition over regulation. "Tom Wheeler began his job Tuesday as the nation’s top telecommunications regulator with a promise to promote competition in the thriving broadband Internet industry and ensure that no Americans are left out of the digital technology boom," reports our own Cecelia Kang. "In a speech to the staff of the Federal Communications Commission, Wheeler, the new FCC chairman, reiterated his philosophy that market competition, not regulation, will guide the growth of the telecom sector and provide greater options for consumers."

Wyden backs USA Freedom Act. "Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a vocal critic of NSA surveillance programs, announced Tuesday his support for the surveillance-limiting USA Freedom Act," the Hill reports. "The bill, introduced late last month and sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and USA Patriot Act author Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), would rein in the NSA's surveillance power."

Security experts fear ACA vulnerabilities. "Early stumbles on the hobbled Obamacare website — password glitches, incomplete testing and fractured development — underscore considerable safety risks and hint at deeper vulnerabilities," data security experts tell Politico. One expert opined that "some of these things are real amateur hour."

Bigger than Google Fiber: LA plans citywide gigabit for homes and businesses. "Los Angeles is about to unleash one of the most ambitious city-led broadband projects to date, with the goal of bringing fiber to all of its 3.5 million residents and all businesses," Ars Technica reports. The city will solicit plans for "fiber to be run to every residence, every business, and every government entity within the city limits of Los Angeles."

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Timothy B. Lee | November 5, 2013