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April 17, 2006

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IBM, CSTA Team to Boost Computing Skills Among High School Students
IT News Online (04/16/06)

IBM and ACM's Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) have joined forces to promote computer science in high schools and will develop customized computer-science course materials for more than 36,000 secondary-school teachers, enabling them instantly to access lesson plans, guidebooks, and subject overviews to integrate coding and Web design into math and science classes. IBM says that computer science, long established as a discipline in higher education, has yet to be fully incorporated into the primary and secondary school curricula in the United States. IBM and CSTA are moving forward with the new resources after a successful pilot program. "The structure of the lessons encouraged students to think through the design of a computer program, from problem statement to solution. I have found the design process generally hard to teach and these lessons helped significantly ease my instruction," said Shane Torbert, a teacher at Virginia's Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which participated in the pilot program. The IBM/CSTA program is designed to address the concern that there will not be enough skilled workers to propel the IT industry in the future. The pre-formatted lesson plans adhere to the curriculum guidelines articulated in the "ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science." The new resources also have a strong collaborative focus that will teach students how to work together to solve problems. The IBM Academic Initiative, a training program already in use at more than 1,900 institutions, will support the new resources, which can also be downloaded from CSTA's Web page. Among the resources are an application where students program the video game Pong using Java, as well as modules detailing the design and development of Web pages and project-based learning. For more information on CSTA, visit http://csta.acm.org
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At Computing's Olympics, Russian Teams Take Gold and Silver--and MIT Finishes 7th
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/13/06) Read, Brock

A team from Saratov State University in Russia earned the highest honors at the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) 30th annual International Collegiate Programming Contest on Wednesday. Eighty-three three-student teams competed in the contest where they attempted to solve 10 sophisticated computing problems in five hours. The contest, initially dominated by the United States, has recently seen teams from Europe, Asia, and Australia take top honors. MIT, the only U.S. team to finish in the top 20, placed seventh, solving four of the 10 problems. By successfully completing five problems, the team from Saratov State earned $10,000 scholarships and bragging rights. The team from Altai State Technical University, another Russian school, also solved five problems, though it took longer to do so and settled for second place. Each time a team completed a problem, contest officials let a balloon float to the top of the large, open assembly hall where the students worked. Of the 16 teams from the United States in the contest, only Princeton University and DePaul University joined MIT in finishing in the top half. Schools with noted computer science and engineering departments such as Carnegie Mellon, the California Institute of Technology, and Duke all faltered early. ACM President David Patterson said the decline of U.S. computer science could stem from widely publicized fears of outsourcing. "Every high-school senior thinks every programming job has already gone to India," he said. "There's this assumption that computer science, as a profession, is completely over, even though the facts aren't nearly as dismal as the folklore." Patterson also said that Asian and Eastern European schools take the contest more seriously than U.S. institutions. U.S. teams could simply be falling prey to increased competition, said Martin Rinard, who coached the MIT team. Roughly 5,600 teams attempted to qualify, compared with 1,100 in 1997, the last year a U.S. team won. For more information about the 30th ICPC, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc
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New Linux Look Fuels Old Debate
CNet (04/17/06) Shankland, Stephen

The use of proprietary drivers to bring new graphics to the Linux interface is reviving the debate over whether it is acceptable to use closed applications in the open-source operating system. On the purists' side, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) argues that Linux is under the jurisdiction of the General Public License (GPL), which prohibits the use of proprietary drivers. Chipmakers, however, are refusing to open access to their proprietary 3D graphics drivers. "If Linux expects broader vendor support, the community needs to capitulate to proprietary software involvement," said Raven Zachary of the 451 Group. Developing graphics drivers without the support of leading graphics chipmakers Nvidia and ATI is difficult, and reverse-engineering attempts often fall behind schedule and produce only pale imitations of the commercial drivers. ATI says that its Radeon X1000 driver it proprietary because of intellectual property reasons, while Nvidia's Andrew Fear says the company's GeForce 7 driver is closed because the level of difficulty entailed in making a graphics driver is such that open-source development would not help. His willingness to make some concessions to proprietary technologies, provided they are not derived from the kernel, casts Linux founder Linus Torvalds in stark opposition to the FSF and kernel programmers such as Greg Kroah-Hartman, who developed a patch to block proprietary drivers from loading to his USB subsystem. Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens argues for the business value of open-source drivers, noting that the vast talent pool that supports open-source applications would inevitably improve the product. For its part, Intel is partnering with the open-source community to develop drivers that it says should enable it to compete with Nvidia and ATI. Many also believe that Linux will be more receptive to new drivers once it develops a stable interface.
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Q&A: Gambling on Women Technologists in Las Vegas
Computerworld (04/14/06) Hoffman, Thomas

The question of whether women have broken the glass ceiling in information technology would have to be answered on a company-by-company basis, says Laura Fucci, vice president and CTO of MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, in an interview with Computerworld. "I'm not sure how much of this is about the company and how much of it is about the women and how they've been brought up, how they express themselves, whether they have been taught to hold themselves back, etc.," says Fucci. Nonetheless, Fucci wants to see more young women pursue careers in IT, and she has played a key role in the launch of the Las Vegas chapter of Women in Technology International (WITI). The Las Vegas group, which has attracted 50 members through word-of-mouth promotion, is scheduled to hold its first meeting on May 3 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino during the Interop 2006 conference. The initial gathering will focus on creating a local network for achieving common goals of growth and development, while a June 7 meeting at Southern Nevada Community College will be devoted to gathering ideas on how to get young girls interested in IT. Fucci sees opportunities in mentoring and acting as role models, internships, and scholarships. She says the perception that IT is for geeks has to be changed. "What I hear is that by the time girls hit high school, it's already too late to change those perceptions," says Fucci. For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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In Silicon Valley, a Man Without a Patent
New York Times (04/16/06) P. BU1; Markoff, John

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Geoff Goodfellow came up with the idea of sending email to a wireless device in 1982, though instead of a BlackBerry, Goodfellow was thinking in terms of a pager. He received funding to develop the service in the early 1990s, though it failed, and Goodfellow left the country and got out of the technology business. In 2002, James Wallace, an attorney who represented NTP in its patent dispute against RIM, flew to Prague to introduce himself to Goodfellow out of concern that his earlier research could jeopardize NTP's patent claims. Goodfellow eschews the use of patents to protect his work, however, and Chicago inventor Thomas Compana Jr., who went on to found NTP, patented the concept for wireless email nearly a decade after Goodfellow's work. Compana died in 2004, though his patent led to a $612.5 million settlement reached with RIM last month. Many analysts look to Goodfellow's story as an example of the inherent flaws in the patent system, which they claim now benefits large corporations and lawyers more than it protects individual creativity and innovation. While some experts have argued that Goodfellow's work could constitute relevant prior art and should have been included in the NTP case, he is just as happy to steer clear of patent proceedings altogether, as are many other Silicon Valley innovators. Goodfellow, who was retained by NTP as a contract consultant for several days' work in 2002, developed his idea for wirelessly sending messages in his early days in Silicon Valley, working on the original Arpanet, the precursor to the modern Internet. He published his idea on an Arpanet mailing list in 1982 in a post called, "Electronic Mail for People on the Move." Goodfellow ultimately left Silicon Valley at the peak of the dot-com boom, mildly disillusioned at the false economies and "zero-billion-dollar industries" that were making many of his colleagues wealthy, though he has since returned to chair a startup company developing VoIP technology.
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Report Details DMCA Misuses
InternetNews.com (04/14/06) Miller, David

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has issued a report criticizing many of the misuses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the 1998 law enacted to safeguard intellectual property in the digital era. Among the stories included in "Unintended Consequences: Seven Years Under the DMCA" is graduate student J. Alex Halderman's account of how he waited several weeks before going public with his discovery of the Sony rootkit vulnerability so that he could consult with his attorneys. SunComm executives had threatened Halderman with a DMCA suit in 2003 after he discovered a vulnerability in that company's copy-protection technology. "Rather than being used to stop piracy, the DMCA has predominantly been used to threaten and sue legitimate consumers, scientists, publishers, and competitors," said the EFF's Fred Von Lohmann. The report takes particular issue with Section 1201 of the DMCA, which bars the circumvention of DRM technologies, even in cases when circumvention would be logical and legitimate, such as security research. Violators of the DMCA can face severe civil and even criminal penalties. The EFF report calls for support for the Digital Media Consumers' Right Act, introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) in March 2005, requiring that a CD must plainly state on its label if its content has been copyright-protected, as well as the return policy for the CD in the event that it does not play properly because of the copyright-protection technology. The Consumer Electronics Association also supports Boucher's bill. "We believe that the DMCA is overly broad," said the association's Michael Petricone. "It's a major burden on legitimate innovation and research that chills normal and customary consumer conduct." Others argue that while the DMCA is imperfect, the stories of abuse are vastly outnumbered by the millions of legal downloads that the DMCA has helped protect against illegal copying.
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Collaboration Spurs Progress on Networking Technologies
IST Results (04/13/06)

The E-NEXT project has been successful in getting European companies, universities, and research institutions to collaborate on the development of new technologies in mobile and ambient networking, self-aware and service-aware networking, and content distribution. The virtual research center is behind the launch of the European Doctoral School on Advanced Topics in Networking (SATIN) to produce more computer networking researchers, and the CoNEXT conference to engage researchers from the United States and Asia on future networking technologies. E-NEXT technical coordinator Arturo Azcorra views the project serving as a spark for collaboration that makes self-sustainability and investment possible. "It has long been evident that collaboration is profitable in the sense that groups of researchers working together produce better results than a single group of researchers working alone," says Azcorra. E-NEXT is set to end in July, but will be followed up by CONTENT, a three-year initiative that focuses on facilitating collaboration on content distribution networks, peer-to-peer, and interactive multimedia. Considerable technological improvements can be made as the demand for personalized media grows, says Azcorra.
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Computing Project Targets Bird Flu
IDG News Service (04/13/06) Kirk, Jeremy

Approximately 80,000 people from around the world are contributing their computer power via the Internet to assist the Rothberg Institute for Childhood Diseases in the study of potential drug treatments for avian influenza. Volunteers from 93 countries have downloaded a screen saver application that simulates the binding of drug molecules with proteins, or targets, in avian flu. The screen saver appears in a computer's program tray, and the program begins when a computer is idle. The research institute compares what the program does to searching through a batch of keys, or drugs, for the one that fits a protein in the virus. The program then sends the results back to the research institute. The researchers are using the distributed computing approach to send new targets in minutes to volunteers' computers when they are running the program, called the Drug Design and Optimization Lab (D2OL). H5N1 neuraminidase, which officials fear is most likely to spread from birds to humans, is the first avian flu target of the research institute.
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Does Every Vote Count?
San Antonio Express-News (TX) (04/09/06) Chapa, Rebeca

In the wake of recent contentious elections that ended up in a recount of paper ballots, computer experts have been calling for a nationwide mandate that would require all e-voting machines to produce a paper trail. "You can't trust an election that's run with paperless machines," said Avi Rubin, computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University. "There isn't any way to recover the results." Currently, 25 states require their voting machines to contain a voter-verified paper trail, though more are having to wrestle with the issue as they race to purchase new equipment under the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has introduced legislation that would require every precinct to use machines that produce a paper trail and each state to conduct unannounced audits of 2 percent of its jurisdictions. The U.S. General Accounting Office released a report in September touting the potential of e-voting machines to improve the election process, though it mentioned the numerous warnings that have raised "concerns about their security and reliability." If election results are contested, Rubin and Stanford computer scientists David Dill argue that without a voter-verified paper trail, auditors will only be able to reprint the ballots, which would simply reproduce the same errors that the machines made on election day. Nevada has implemented machines with voter-verifiable paper trails in each of its 17 counties, and has met with positive feedback from voters. In Leon County, Fla., elections administrator Ion Sancho sparked controversy last year when he invited security researchers to attempt to hack into the county's Diebold machines. While the security experts succeeded in penetrating the system, Diebold lashed out at Sancho, calling his tests "foolish and irresponsible." With counties throughout the country scrambling to implement new systems, vendors are also having difficulty keeping up with demand. To read USACM's recent report, "Statewide Databases of Registered Voters," visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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An Ever-Widening Web Is Reaching Out to Pull Us In
Baltimore Sun (04/16/06) P. 1F; Williams, Larry

Real-time and archived television streams and downloads, instant messaging, blogging, and mobility are driving the Internet's expansion. About 18,000 computer servers were used to stream games to viewers of CBS SportsLine's free Web broadcasts of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Upwards of 102 billion Internet requests for Web content were made on the first day of the tournament, peaking at 2.3 million requests per second. Web users are already downloading shows from network archives and will soon be able to watch free ad-driven programming. Instant messaging is quickly evolving from the playland of the young to a useful corporate tool that facilitates communications between workers and customers. Standard IM systems now incorporate voice and video options. Content providers such as Yahoo! and Google are utilizing blog capabilities to add members as well as other functions, such as dating services, online data storage, and financial help. Meanwhile, improved mobile online access is putting all these tools in the hands of cell phone users.
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Lack of Communication From ICANN Could Prove Fatal
Computerworld New Zealand (04/12/06) Bell, Stephen

Longtime ICANN participant Vittorio Bertola of Italy claims that ICANN's public board meetings are no longer serving their purpose of being a forum for dialogue, and that ICANN may push people elsewhere if things continue. Bertola says that, these days, the public portions of ICANN board meetings consist mostly of reports, with only 5 percent of the time devoted to brief comments by attendees. ICANN's proposed renewal of VeriSign's .com contract also has rankled some Internet governance participants. "This room [was] practically empty," says Bertola of the last ICANN public board meeting in New Zealand. Bertola sees this empty room as a sign that people are going elsewhere. ICANN business constituency participant Grant Forsyth from New Zealand says ICANN has ignored public input on the VeriSign contract. Forsyth says the business community has written to the U.S. Department of Commerce about the contract. ISP advocate Tony Holmes agrees that ICANN's board has not digested public input on this issue.
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MANIAC Challenge to Stimulate Student Experimentation in Wireless Networking
Virginia Tech News (04/04/06) Nystrom, Lynn

NSF has awarded a three-year, $450,000 grant to two Virginia Tech researchers to develop the Mobile Ad Hoc Networking Interoperability And Cooperation Challenge (MANIAC) to encourage student interest in wireless networking. The researchers looked at open competitions in software engineering, robotics, and automotive design, and noted that no similar contest exists in wireless networking. "These competitions are very motivating, not to mention fun. Also, failure often teaches us more than success, and implementation is always more convincing than simulation," said Luiz DaSilva, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "The kind of informal exchange of ideas that occurs naturally in a competition like this tends to move research forward in unexpected ways." The contest will pose students with the central challenges of the industry, including the extent to which bandwidth, signal strength, or speed should be compromised to ensure that the system is reliable and effective. DaSilva and Allen MacKenzie, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, expect the contest to produce new networking techniques and algorithms as students send data over ad hoc networks. Entries will be evaluated on speed and efficiency. The 2007 contest will consist of a video and data relay race on the mobile ad hoc network (MANET) where contestants will only be able to deliver traffic with the help of others. The software will also contribute to researchers' body of knowledge about ad hoc networks by monitoring the behavior of nodes and system effectiveness, providing a real testbed in a field long dominated by simulation. "There has recently been some soul searching by the networking community regarding the prevailing use of simulation as the main research methodology," DaSilva said. "This competition will provide researchers with a unique opportunity to study real-life network behavior in the wild."
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More Cash for the Labs?
Electronic Business (04/06) Vol. 32, No. 4, P. 14; Crotty, Cameron

With the announcement of the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) at his State of the Union address in January, President Bush vindicated the efforts of a long-frustrated technology lobby that had been trying for years to elevate basic research to a top funding priority. Though the announcement of a sweeping program to double government investment in basic scientific research over 10 years was roundly welcomed, research advocates will now turn their attention to the details as the spending bills appear in Congress. Increased research funding enjoys bipartisan support, but Daryl Hatano of the Semiconductor Industry Association noted that funding this year is very limited. "The president talked about the need to hold in discretionary spending, and Congress will have a lot of priorities as well," he said. To support the basic, high-risk research that aims to benefit the entire industry, rather than leading to a specific product, the ACI calls for increases in funding for the NSF, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology over 10 years, and increasing the basic-research budget at the Department of Defense by about 8 percent in 2007. The presidential program joins the National Innovation Act and the Protecting America's Competitive Edge (PACE) package of three bills, two pending legislative initiatives in the Senate also aiming to increase funding for research. Despite the renewed focus on innovation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports that the Bush administration's proposed 2007 budget only increases research funding by 1.9 percent from 2006, not even enough to keep up with an expected inflation increase 2.2 percent. Even if the numbers fall short of expectations, the industry can take heart that most proposals have addressed issues such as education and tax credits for research, in addition to increasing government funding.
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Can Wireless Standards Work Together?
Sensors (04/06) Vol. 23, No. 4, P. 20; Fuhr, Peter; Kagan, Hesh

Current and future users of wireless technology must pick their way through a quagmire of technologies, standards, and operating principles. This scenario leads to speculation as to whether the wireless industrial sector will soon experience a frenzy of activity similar to the industrial bus wars at the close of the 20th century, or whether the switch to wireless networking will be smooth through a deeper comprehension of current technology and past experience. There are so many varieties of wireless, each supported by corporate/marketing partnerships and vast numbers of products, that their coexistence in the same frequency and physical footprint is debatable. Two IEEE standards groups--the Recommended Practice for Coexistence in Unlicensed Bands group and the Coexistence of Wireless Data Transport group--are trying to tackle the coexistence challenge. Meanwhile, the Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation (ISA) Society is working on a reconciliation between wireless standards and industrial deployment activities. The ISA's SP100 Committee, whose responsibility is the delivery of functional wireless technology to the industrial sector, has defined the key terms of coexistence, interoperability, and interworking. Coexistence is termed as a system's ability to execute a task in an environment where other systems that may or may not be employing a similar set of rules are present; interoperability is two systems' ability to perform a single task using one set of rules; and interworking is the ability of two systems to carry out a task where different rules apply to each system.
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Supercomputing Is Here!
Campus Technology (04/06) Vol. 19, No. 8, P. 44; Villano, Matt

Indiana University, the University of Utah, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the University of Florida show how the latest academic supercomputing deployments are surpassing most people's expectations in terms of computing power. Indiana University aims to revolutionize dangerous weather forecasting so that governments can better prepare for natural catastrophes and reduce casualties through the Linked Environments for Atmospheric Discovery (LEAD) initiative, a National Science Foundation-funded project that utilizes a grid computing methodology for "building an adaptive, on-demand computer and network infrastructure that responds to complex weather-driven events," says co-principal investigator Dennis Gannon. Incoming weather data is interpreted by software agents that study the data for specific hazardous patterns; once such patterns are identified, the information is sent to numerous high-performance computers across private networks for real-time processing and assessment. Meanwhile, Embry-Riddle is using the new Beowulf cluster to speed up various research projects, including those focusing on the study of upper-atmospheric acoustic-gravity waves. Among the cluster's challenges was the need for heavy code modification in order to explore Beowulf's multiple processing capabilities. University of Florida researchers will undertake advanced "multi-scale" climate modeling, molecular dynamics, and aerodynamic engineering projects with a 200-node supercomputer at the High Performance Center (HPC), which enlisted Cisco Systems to supply all the internodal networking connections, as well as to help the university link all of its on-campus clusters so HPC can carry out more grid-based computations. A loose-coupling node architecture is used for grid applications, while a tight-coupling architecture is employed in the UF cluster. Finally, the University of Utah has acquired a metacluster to support advanced bioinformatics applications, and it comes with a "condominium"-style sub-cluster where extra capacity can be added.
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Extreme Computing
Redmond (04/06) Vol. 12, No. 4, P. 28; Desmond, Michael

General-purpose computers are being modified and redesigned to function reliably in extremely inhospitable environments that range from deserts to polar regions to outer space. Few people think ruggedized equipment alone is sufficient, and they recommend the inclusion of redundant systems. For example, a Special Forces team led by Master Sergeant Ben Thomas used Panasonic Toughbooks during a nine-month stint in Afghanistan to communicate, map out, and plan missions in dusty and dirty conditions, but the team also carried stock radio equipment for communications in the most volatile field operations. A key requirement for the use of Hewlett-Packard's iPaq 1510 personal digital assistants (PDAs) aboard the International Space Station was thorough testing and, when necessary, alteration of the handheld to ensure safety. HP electrical engineer Scott Briggs notes that the iPaq's dry capacitors--a necessity because of its small size and low power consumption--eliminated concerns of liquid-filled capacitors leaking in zero gravity, while the PDA's small electrical circuits restricted the effects of gamma rays. Worries that a blow to the iPaq would dislodge shards of glass so small they could be inhaled by the astronauts were allayed by the addition of a commercially available laminate screen cover. The threat of malware is just as real in hostile environments as it is in less volatile ones, and measures people are taking to reduce or eliminate this danger include preventing key systems from accessing the Internet, and the deployment of remediation tools, layered defenses, and knowledgeable personnel.
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Big Brother Is Listening
Atlantic Monthly (04/06) Vol. 297, No. 3, P. 65; Bamford, James

Technological advancements have widened the scope of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, while the legal barriers to such eavesdropping have been lowered with a White House mandate that permits the NSA to place Americans on watch lists and monitor their communications without first obtaining permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court. Previously a court order was required, and could only be secured if the NSA showed that it had probable cause to eavesdrop on people suspected of involvement with terrorist organizations. Now people can be placed on watch lists by NSA shift supervisors who have a "reasonable belief" of involvement, and the number of Americans targeted by the NSA has consequently ballooned from perhaps 12 annually to 5,000 over the last four years, according to sources. If innocent people are marked because they fulfill these highly subjective criteria, they may be denied visas, federal jobs, or other services and privileges without ever knowing why. The NSA's surveillance methodology is signal intelligence, in which electronic communications containing vast quantities of emails and phone calls are intercepted and run through computers that flag specific words, phrases, names, phone numbers, and Internet addresses, and forward these communications to analysts. Also clearing the way for greater NSA surveillance is the FCC's extension of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to cover "any type of broadband Internet access service" and new Internet phone services, while the two congressional intelligence committees tasked with protecting the public from privacy abuses have abnegated their responsibilities. The NSA likes to hire people away from providers of critical telecommunications system components, offering them the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment and contribute to national security. Furthermore, a great deal of the telecommunications industry secretly cooperates with the NSA in its eavesdropping efforts.
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