Russian spy agency complains about Gmail, Skype

Russia’s domestic security service called for access to encrypted communication providers like Gmail, Hotmail and Skype on Friday, saying the uncontrolled use of such services could threaten national security.

The proposal by the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB secret police raised concerns some senior Russian officials would like to limit Internet access to stave off any potential protests ahead of the 2012 presidential election — via

Fire, brimstone & the blackboard

Department official Christine Pinto informed Mr Heasley that they were obligated to offer the classes, if approached by an accredited instructor, and that they were forbidden from scheduling alternate classes for students not taking part.

While this seems somewhat wasteful – students not taking part in SRI classes are described in the VCAT complaint launched by Heasley and fellow parents at Hawthorn West as being given free time, which involves playing with Lego, drawing and reading – I’m more worried about the fact that schools are forced to offer these classes if approached by accredited organisations. I hold concerns about the group responsible for 96 per cent of all SRI classes offered. Furthermore, I’m worried about how little training representatives of this group require to be allowed in front of children — via

US to fund $20m remake of Sesame Street for Pakistan

The United States is funding a Pakistani remake of the popular TV children’s show Sesame Street.

In a new effort to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, USAID – the development arm of the US government – is donating $20m (£12m) to the country to create a local Urdu version of the show.

The project aims to boost education in Pakistan, where many children have no access to regular schooling.

The show is to be filmed in Lahore and aired later in the year — via

Maine legalizing switchblades for one-armed people

Maine lawmakers on Wednesday approved legalizing switchblades for people with one arm, moving close to becoming the first state to make such an exception to laws that ban use of the spring-action knives.

Backers of the measure say legalizing switchblades would eliminate a need for one-armed people to be forced to open folding knives with their teeth in emergencies — via

Net giants challenge French data law

Google and Facebook are among a group of net heavyweights taking the French government to court this week.

The legal challenge has been brought by The French Association of Internet Community Services (ASIC) and relates to government plans to keep web users’ personal data for a year.

The case will be heard by the State Council, France’s highest judicial body.

More than 20 firms are involved, including eBay and Dailymotion — via

Interpol chief calls for global electronic identity card system

The head of INTERPOL has emphasized the need for a globally verifiable electronic identity card (e-ID) system for migrant workers at an international forum on citizen ID projects, e-passports, and border control management.

Speaking at the fourth Annual EMEA ID WORLD summit, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K Noble said that regulating migration levels and managing borders presented security challenges for countries and for the world that INTERPOL was ideally-placed to help address — via

Seoul tears down an urban highway and the city can breathe again

As a sustainability-loving transportation planner, I was thrilled to learn that Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang would be visiting Vancouver and talking about the project that has made Seoul, Korea a legend in urban planning circles: the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project.

What he and his colleagues accomplished — tearing down a busy, elevated freeway, re-daylighting the river that had been buried beneath it, and creating a spectacular downtown green space, all in under two and a half years — is nothing short of amazing, not because it actually worked (there was plenty of evidence from other cities to suggest that it could), but because they were able to get public support for it. It’s the stuff urban planners dream about — not to mention a timeline for a major freeway project that would make Seattle drool.

I went to the lecture ready to record all the juicy stats I was sure he was going to throw out: peak hour traffic flows, mode shares, level of service, lane miles. What I got instead was a story told not in numbers and data, but a story about people and the profound impact the project had on the city

— via

Tomes’ time might be up at Newport Beach library

In a sign of the times, Newport Beach is considering closing the city’s original library and replacing it with a community center that would offer all the same features — except for the books.

Instead of a reference librarian, patrons would be greeted by a kiosk equipped with video-calling software that would allow them to speak with employees elsewhere. And books — when ordered — would be dropped off at a locker for pickup.

The proposed bookless library is a reflection of how both the economy and a shift in visitors’ habits are forcing city libraries to redefine their services — via

BitTorrent Case Judge Is a Former RIAA Lobbyist and Pirate Chaser

Less than a week after her investiture ceremony, US District Court Judge Beryl Howell laid down a landmark verdict that will make it easy for copyright holders to send cash demands to people they suspect of copyright infringement. Many people called the decision into doubt, and the revelation that Judge Howell previously worked as an RIAA lobbyist and as the Managing Director of a pirate-chasing outfit hints at a conflict of interest — via

Mexico Makes Major Raid On Exotic Animal Traffickers

Hundreds of police raided illicit markets to crack down on the lucrative trade in wild animals and rare flowers, arresting 15 traffickers across Mexico this weekend in one of the biggest swoops of its kind.

Rich in flora and fauna, Mexico is a major hub for animal trafficking where locals buy lizards, macaws and tropical fish in city markets and smugglers move endangered species across the country’s border with the United States.

In three days of raids, authorities netted 4,725 wild plants and animals — 113 different species — including 762 parrots and other types of birds and 67 reptiles — via

Drugged, raped, then jailed for ‘adultery’

A Brisbane woman is suing a luxury United Arab Emirates resort after she was jailed for adultery when she complained of being drugged and raped by three men.

Alicia Gali was sentenced to 12 months in prison after an assault by three co-workers while drinking at the Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort staff bar in Fujairah, UAE in June 2008.

After reporting the incident to police, Ms Gali was jailed for adultery and served eight months before being pardoned in March 2009 and returning to Australia. — via Brisbane Times

John Pilger: ‘Silencing WikiLeaks is the aim, smear the method’

This is a secret document. It is dated September 29, 2009. It was leaked by the Ministry of Defence in London to WikiLeaks. It identifies what it calls the greatest threats to the national security of the West.

At the top of the list, a terrorist and Russian spies. Yes, Russian spies.

But by far the biggest threat is said to come from one group: journalists. Investigative journalists! How gratifying that is.

In other words, journalists who do their job, who tell you, the public, how and why politicians lie to you and start wars in your name and threaten our security must somehow be stopped. Coerced, even smeared — via

A man is known by the company he keeps

My mother used to have a homely saying for it: Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.

If this adage is to be applied to the events of last week, it would appear that Tony Abbott is raving ratbag, a ranting bigot whose ignorance of science is matched only by his lack of manners.

The howling mob who surrounded him at the mini-rally outside Parliament House last Wednesday undoubtedly included some who were genuinely concerned about the impact a carbon tax might have on their household budgets and the wider economy, but the ones making the noise – including the majority of the speakers – came straight from la-la land — via

Backlash as God forced into schools

The Victorian Education Department is forcing public primary schools to run Christian education classes taught by volunteers, angering parents and schools that do not want to host them.

An email exchange, obtained by The Sunday Age, reveals the department told one parent that his school must keep its Christian religious instructor whether it wanted to or not — via

Holding up Gunns through secret deals

Gunns, once the billion dollar super company of Tasmania, is today on its knees and needing its pulp mill — a project now seven years old and still without finance — to simply stay in existence. Its share price is abysmal and it reportedly owes millions to its principal supplier of trees, Forestry Tasmania.

Ironically, to get a funding partner that will help finance the mill Gunns now desperately needs the support of conservationists — the much-vaunted social licence — via

German officials order all stray cats to be neutered

All stray cats in the north German city of Bremen are to be neutered under plans by the local council which campaigners hope could be extended to the whole country.

The drastic measure has been proposed by Bremen’s interior minister, Ulrich Mäurer, in an attempt to control the city’s burgeoning feline population, which is threatening local songbirds — via

Microsoft Shuts off HTTPS in Hotmail for Over a Dozen Countries

Microsoft appears to have turned off the always-use-HTTPS option in Hotmail for users in more than a dozen countries, including Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Hotmail users who have set their location to any of these countries receive the following error message when they attempt to turn on the always-use-HTTPS feature in order to read their mail securely:

Your Windows Live ID can’t use HTTPS automatically because this feature is not available for your account type

— via

State sanctioned violence on asylum seekers

The use of rubber bullets by security officers last week at the Christmas Island detention centre is a chilling reminder that our society allows state sanctioned violence against asylum seekers in a way that would be considered intolerable even in the most repressive parts of our prison system.

Furthermore, it says something very sad about Australia that there is not an outcry by the media, politicians and the community against the use of such instruments of violence on children and women. Would we sit on our hands and say nothing if the police threw tear gas into a group of demonstrators in Martin Place or Collins Street? — via

Japan Yakuza Mafia Aid Earthquake Tsunami Rescue Efforts

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s losers aka the Japanese mafia, the yakuza.

Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving — via

Dr Abhay Bang: the revolutionary paediatrician

Dr Abhay Bang does not look like a pioneer. He sits across the table in a London conference room, his posture slight and upright, his beard neatly trimmed. He is wearing a grey suit and tie, his hair brushed precisely to the right. And yet despite the conventional appearance, this is the man who has revolutionised healthcare for the poorest people in India and who has overseen a programme that has sent infant mortality rates plummeting in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world. Medical experts now believe that Dr Bang’s radical beliefs hold the key to tackling the myriad endemic health problems that blight the developing word — via

The million-pound mutt: Red Tibetan Mastiff becomes world’s most expensive dog

They say money can’t buy love – but £1million will get you man’s most expensive best friend.

A red Tibetan mastiff has become the priciest dog in the world after being sold for 10 million Chinese yuan, or £945,000.

Big Splash, or Hong Dong in Chinese, was bought by a coal baron from the north of China — via

Dutch Court Rules WiFi Hacking Is Now Legal

Breaking in to an encrypted router and using the WiFi connection is not an criminal offence, a Dutch court ruled. WiFi hackers can not be prosecuted for breaching router security.

A court in The Hague ruled earlier this month that it is legal to break WiFi security to use the internet connection. The court also decided that piggybacking on open WiFi networks in bars and hotels can not be prosecuted. In many countries both actions are illegal and often can be fined — via

Japan Quake

Today’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan has had surprisingly limited impacts on the structure and routing dynamics of the regional Internet. Of roughly 6,000 Japanese network prefixes in the global routing table, only about 100 were temporarily withdrawn from service — and that number has actually decreased in the hours since the event. Other carriers around the region have reported congestion and drops in traffic due to follow-on effects of the quake, but most websites are up and operational, and the Internet is available to support critical communications.

Those who have been following our blogs on Libya will be familiar with the excellent Google Transparency Report, which summarizes the rate of queries coming from each country over time. Despite terrible fires, floods, and power outages, traffic from Japanese clients just keeps going. It’s quite a remarkable plot — via

Weak rule of law lets down Australian politics

Are both major political parties are failing us – you betcha they are! And this proposition is no better exemplified than in their abject failure to uphold that fundamental pillar of liberal democracy – the rule of law.

It is not only manifest in the egregious and outrageous cases such as the Liberal-National parties Tampa laws, with which a supine ALP agreed in 2001, but it is in the blithely ignorant or at worst, opportunistic and cynical, statements of our current Prime Minister Julia Gillard about Julian Assange’s conduct — via

Gmail disruption in China could signal tighter control

Chinese Internet users have reported greater difficulty accessing Gmail in recent weeks, prompting speculation that the Chinese government is again stepping up its efforts to control the flow of information on the again stepping up its efforts to control the flow of information on the Web.

Gmail users are complaining on Chinese microblogs that the service has been slow or inaccessible. Google has reported no problems with access in China, but the complaints are ongoing and appear to have started late last month — via

Queensland gets tough on animal cruelty

The maximum penalty for serious animal cruelty will be tripled in Queensland following a spate of attacks.

The state’s criminal code will be amended to create a new serious animal cruelty offence carrying a maximum seven years’ jail, increasing the penalty from the current maximum of two years’ imprisonment, Premier Anna Bligh said on Monday — via