Why U.S. should care about surveillance abroad
April 16th, 2014
09:29 AM ET

Why U.S. should care about surveillance abroad

By Laura Pitter, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Laura Pitter is a senior national security researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Under growing pressure to rein in domestic surveillance, President Barack Obama recently offered a proposal to end the government's bulk collection of Americans' phone records. Under the new plan, those records would stay with phone companies but be accessible to the government with the permission of a judge. While the proposal is a step in the right direction, many questions remain about how exactly it will be implemented. But  even more important, it is just a small part of what needs to be done on comprehensive surveillance reform.

Still left unaddressed are mass bulk collection and indiscriminate U.S. surveillance practices abroad, which affect many more people and include the collection of the actual content of internet activities and phone calls, not just metadata.

A number of media reports, based on documents obtained by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, have exposed the vast and sweeping nature of these programs. According to one story, the NSA taps into main communication links of data centers around the world and collects millions of records every day, including metadata, text, audio and video. Another revealed that a program called "Mystic" had allegedly been recording “every single” telephone conversation taking place in one, unnamed country and then storing them in a 30-day rolling data base that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive. Another, last month, reported that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a court that handles intelligence requests, often in secret, authorized the NSA to monitor "Germany” – as in the country of. And yet another claimed that the NSA has developed and deployed an automated system, codenamed “Turbine,”  that could potentially infect millions of computers and networks worldwide with malware implants that can covertly record audio and video.


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Topics: Spying • Technology
March 25th, 2014
11:47 AM ET

Will computers make human workers obsolete?

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Many people are worried that in tomorrow's economy, a machine might take their job. If you think your job is safe, you would do well to remember Watson – that's the IBM computer that beat Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings. If a computer can handle the complex challenge of playing a trivia game like Jeopardy, it is mastering the kinds of subtle judgments that we used to think of as the sole province of humans.

Eric Brynjolfsson and his MIT colleague Andrew McAfee recently wrote a book called The Second Machine Age – an insightful and sometimes startling look at how computers are becoming smarter by the minute. They note that computers can pull off some truly remarkable tasks these days: driving cars by themselves, and even talking to us.

Why is this happening? It's because while all machines improve over time, computers do so on an exponential scale. Moore's law states that computer processing power doubles every two years or so.

A fascinating way to visualize the power of exponential growth is the myth of the invention of chess. In one telling, the inventor of chess – a brilliant man from India – impresses a ruler with his new game so much so that the ruler invites him to name any reward. The inventor's request seems modest: he asks that just one grain of rice be placed on the first square of a chessboard, and then please double the grains on every new square, until all 64 squares have rice.


February 11th, 2014
05:01 PM ET

Understanding the 'Second Machine Age'

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor of management at MIT's Sloan School, and Andrew McAfee, a scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business about the future of technology and their book The Second Machine Age.

OK, so you guys end the book optimistically. And I want to give you a chance to explain that, even though I think a lot of this will trouble people. So what can you do when confronting this reality of rising productivity and machines that are replacing humans, even at the very high end of the food chain?

McAfee:  Yes.  So for now, we're still adding jobs every month to the economy.  So we have not totally decoupled job growth from economic growth. That indicates that the right policies for right now are to stimulate economic growth. Job growth will come along with it. So let's get our infrastructure in great shape. Let's get our immigration policies correct. Let's fix our educational system and let's create a great environment for entrepreneurship, not because some entrepreneurs get rich and we love rich people, but because entrepreneurs are the great engine of job creation. That's the right Econ 101 playbook for the short-term.

Am I going to be out of a job?

Brynjolfsson: No time soon, but we all have to keep reinventing the way we work together with computers. And that's the part that's lagging right now. The technology is racing ahead, but our skills, our organizations, our economic policies, are lagging behind. We wanted to change the conversation with this book and get people thinking about how to speed up that part of society.

Watch the video for the full interview.

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Topics: GPS Show • Technology
How India can leapfrog to the future
December 29th, 2013
08:08 AM ET

How India can leapfrog to the future

Watch ‘India at a Crossroads,’ a GPS special, this Sunday at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Barnik Maitra and Adil Zainulbhai, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barnik C. Maitra is a partner at McKinsey & Company’s Mumbai office and co-editor of Reimagining India. Adil Zainulbhai is Chairman of McKinsey India and co-editor of Reimagining India. The views expressed are their own.

In a village 100 miles from any cities in Andhra Pradesh, a young woman, three months pregnant, is getting her first and only medical check-up. This is happening on board a visiting medical van that now comes to the village every month. The paramedic gives her basic vitamins and enters various vital parameters into an online data base.  Two weeks later, when she feels a little unwell, she calls a toll-free number from her family’s mobile phone, connects a $1 monitor to it, and talks to a doctor. He studies her vital signs through the monitor and reassures her that everything is fine this time. Five months and five such virtual check-ups later, it is time for her to go to the hospital. The online doctor sends her an ambulance, which drops her 90 miles away at the nearest hospital, for a safe delivery.

Thousands of mothers in Andhra Pradesh and around India are benefiting from the frugal technologies of wireless connectivity, sensors, software, and having a safer childbirth.


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Topics: India • Technology
December 2nd, 2013
10:53 AM ET

The end of the World Wide Web?

By Bhaskar Chakravorti, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bhaskar Chakravorti is the senior associate dean of International Business & Finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and founding executive director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. He is the author of the book The Slow Pace of Fast Change.  The views expressed are his own.

In a flat world, unflattering news moves quickly. The snowballing effects of the Snowden revelations about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance of Internet traffic threaten to break up the World Wide Web. Consider some of the news since the scandal broke: 100,000 Germans have signed up for a service called Email Made in Germany that guarantees that German email is stored in German servers; some Indian government employees have been advised to switch to typewriters (yes, you read that right) for sensitive documents; the Brazilians are reportedly planning a BRICS-only fiber-optic cable from Fortaleza in Brazil to Vladivostok in Russia, with stops along the way in Cape Town, Chennai and Shantou; the usually unflappable Swiss have begun to build a domestic cloud service for fear of American surveillance.

The chorus of voices to de-Americanize the Internet has grown well beyond those of the usual suspects of Russia, China, Iran and United Arab Emirates. Now, with the grumbling of the EU and the BRICS countries, the dissent risks reaching a tipping point.


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Topics: Technology
Why China isn’t an innovation powerhouse
October 24th, 2013
10:23 AM ET

Why China isn’t an innovation powerhouse

By Guy de Jonquières, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Guy de Jonquières is a senior fellow at the European Centre for International Political Economy. This article is based on his recently published paper, Who’s Afraid of China’s High-Tech Challenge?

Some of the sheen may be wearing off China’s miracle growth story as it faces a growing array of economic challenges. But the country’s drive to become an innovation powerhouse and global leader in science and advanced technologies continues to inspire shock and awe abroad.

China has already overtaken the United States and Japan to become the largest recipient of patent applications and is forecast to outstrip the U.S. as the biggest source of scientific publications by 2020. Its universities turn out about 2 million engineering graduates annually, more than any other country.

Beijing’s plans are more breathtaking still. The most far-reaching is the Strategic Emerging Industries initiative, which is backed by state funding of as much as $2 trillion over five years and aims to leapfrog today’s global leaders in sectors such as clean energy, information technology, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and new materials.

However, as so often in China, all is not quite as it seems. Surging national patent applications, it turns out, have been spurred less by an explosion of innovation than by numerical government targets for filings and lavish state incentives to ensure they are met. This looks suspiciously like a case of “Never mind the quality, just feel the weight.”


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Topics: China • Technology
October 2nd, 2013
09:31 AM ET

How to write a constitution with Google

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Google launched a new website called “Constitute” last week with the Comparative Constitution Project. The site is a digital archive of constitutions and other founding documents from more than 175 countries. One of its goals is to assist countries like Egypt that are emerging from political crisis to amend or replace their constitutions.

There’s more demand for this kind of thing than you will think. Every year, approximately five new constitutions are written and as many as 30 are amended or revised. More than 900 have been written since 1789.

If you want to read all of the constitutions in full, you can. But additionally passages of each constitution have been tagged with a topic. Interested in freedom of religion? Looks like you have 167 choices. The right to bear arms, many fewer options. That’s where America is exceptional.

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Topics: Last Look • Technology
August 9th, 2013
07:37 PM ET

What we're reading: Lavabit and the NSA

By Fareed Zakaria

“The N.S.A. is not supposed to spy on Americans. There are times when its mission – to identify foreign national-security threats – leads it to communications involving Americans. There are warrants for that, issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, or at least there are supposed to be,” writes Amy Davidson in the New Yorker.

“Some of the documents released by Snowden showed that the FISA court had given the N.S.A. vague and general dispensations; others showed how it got around the question of individualized warrants entirely in the bulk collection of data like call records. This was done, in part, by redefining simple words like “relevant” and “collect” – and, now, “about.” This is the other alarming part of Savage’s piece: the further confirmation of the degradation of language. Every time the Administration says not to worry – that surveillance does not “target” Americans – the word seems to mean less and less, to the point where one expects it to argue that an American does not count as its target – with the legal protections that word implies – unless he is wearing a dartboard with a bull’s eye around his neck.”


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Topics: Lavabit • Technology
Time to tear down the internet ‘walls’
June 26th, 2013
09:33 AM ET

Time to tear down the internet ‘walls’

By Katrina Lantos Swett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katrina Lantos Swett is the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Fifty years ago today, on June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy stood in West Berlin and condemned the newly erected Berlin Wall. Twenty-four years later, President Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

In the decades between these speeches, human rights and religious freedom advocates behind the Iron Curtain defied the walls of tyranny by relying on the samizdat, a clandestine system to print and distribute government-suppressed material. Today, many use the internet in much the same way, raising both challenges and opportunities as the forces of repression and freedom clash in the virtual and physical worlds.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized the internet as “the public space of the 21st century.” The challenge is to keep this space free, open, and secure – a global platform to express ideas and exchange information, not a tool to repress people.


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Topics: Human Rights • Internet • Technology
How big data helps fight flu
May 29th, 2013
12:22 PM ET

How big data helps fight flu

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Kenneth Cukier, data editor of The Economist, and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, a professor at Oxford’s Internet Institute, about the applications of “big data.”

So, what’s the big story here?  I mean, we’ve always had data. Why is big data a quantum leap?

Cukier: Well, first we have vastly more data than we ever had before. That’s new. But secondly, we have more data on things that we never had rendered into a data format before. It was always informational, but not data. So you can take where you are, a location, as one example. Words in books that are now digitized and also datafied, is another. When you think about social media platforms like Facebook, it “datafies” our friendships. LinkedIn datafies our professional contacts. And we can do new things with that.

You have an example about the flu that’s fascinating, how Google and big data allowed people to figure out where flus were breaking.

Mayer-Schonberger: Yes, indeed. Think back at the H1N1 flu crisis that we had. And the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta wanted to find out where the flu was. And they asked doctors to report every flu case. But, by the time they had collected all the information and tabulated it, two weeks went by. And that’s an eternity if you have a pandemic at hand. And Google, at that time, thought that they could do better just by looking at what people searched for online.


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Topics: GPS Show • Health • Technology
April 27th, 2013
09:44 PM ET

Schmidt: Internet overwhelmingly used in positive way

Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Google Executive Director Eric Schmidt about the role of technology in society and his trip to North Korea, which was detailed in his daughter’s blog.

So when you watched this Boston episode, what did you think about the power of technology, for this process of self-radicalizing on the Internet is just fascinating. Where people no longer need a community, they no longer need a leader, they can just kind of find all that information out there.

Look, this is a terrible thing in Boston and obviously, we don't want it to happen again.  There were some good digital stories about it, the use of the crowd sourcing of the photos, the fact that somebody left a cell phone that was tracked to help find and ultimately cause the shootout with the two that killed the one, etc.

The fact of the matter is, people have gotten bad information from books and so forth. Now it's more readily available on the Internet. But overwhelmingly, the Internet is used for a positive force and it can be used to catch these people.

And that's why, at the end of the day, you say look, we can look at the way in which China monitors the Internet, or people use the Internet for bad reasons, but ultimately, it's a hopeful story, you think.

It is. And one way to understand it is that we're all going through a journey together. And that journey goes from relatively little connectivity and little knowledge to having everyone in the world be connected.

That is overwhelmingly positive for medical care, for education, for safety, for security, for commerce, for global expansion, for trade – for a number of the things that we care about, it's overwhelmingly good.

Now, it also brings some bad people to the table that we didn't hear from before. And we need to figure out a way to anticipate that and deal with them. But overwhelmingly, people are good – 99.99 percent of the people in the world are very, very good. That's our solution.

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Topics: Technology
March 12th, 2013
11:34 AM ET

The trouble with U.S. drone policy

For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET

By Global Public Square staff

Senator Rand Paul decided to drone on last week about drones. He employed a rare talking filibuster to stall a confirmation vote for John Brennan as the CIA's director. All told, he went on for 12 hours and 52 minutes, including when he took questions from his Republican colleagues.

Washington also saw some tough questioning for Eric Holder. The attorney general was forced to admit it would unconstitutional to kill an American citizen with drone strikes on U.S. soil unless there was a Pearl Harbor-type imminent threat.

Usually, filibusters can be viewed as a bizarre, quasi-constitutional mechanism that is basically anti-democratic. But it's important to have a serious debate about drones, not just on the legality of whether they can be used to kill an American citizen, but a broader debate about them.


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Topics: Conflict • Taliban • Technology • Terrorism • United States • What in the World?
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