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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

April 2, 2013 at 7:06 PM   |   Comments

EU to investigate Google privacy practices

BRUSSELS, April 2 (UPI) -- Six European data protection agencies say they are contemplating legal action against Google over the search engine company's privacy policies.

Regulatory watchdogs in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain said they may take action after a four-month deadline for Google to make changes to its policies expired, the BBC reported Tuesday.

In October, a European Commission working party said Google's privacy policy didn't meet commission standards on data protection and gave the company four months to comply with recommendations to bring the policy into line with European law.

Those recommendations included allowing users to see what information was being held, provide tools to manage the data and ensure Google didn't retain too much data about users.

"After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures," French data watchdog CNIL, which headed the investigation into the company's privacy policy, said in a statement.

As a result, all six data protection bodies said they would open new investigations into Google and how it handled privacy.

A spokesman for Google said its privacy policy "respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services."

"We have engaged fully with the DPAs involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward," the spokesman said.


Biothreat detector being developed

LIVERMORE, Calif., April 2 (UPI) -- Researchers in California say they're developing a medical instrument that can quickly detect a number of biothreat agents such as anthrax or botulism.

Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore say the instruments will also detect substances like ricin, shiga and SEB toxin, all of which could be used in bioterrorism attacks.

Once perfected and approved by the Food and Drug Administration and commercialized, such detectors would most likely be used in emergency rooms in the event of a bioterrorism incident, a laboratory release said Tuesday.

"This is an unmet need for the nation's biodefense program," Anup Singh of Sandia's biological science and technology group said. "A point-of-care device does not exist."

The need for diagnostic devices for biodefense will always be with us, Singh said, since new diseases that lack good diagnostic assays are always being discovered.

"Plus, we want dual-use devices that combat both man-made and nature-made problems," he said. "We're not just going to wait for the next anthrax letter incident to happen for our devices to be used and tested; we want them to be useful for other things as well, like infectious diseases."

Sandia's research is being funded by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.


White House unveils brain research plan

WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama announced a research initiative to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind while creating jobs.

The BRAIN -- Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies -- Initiative was unveiled by the president at the White House Tuesday morning.

The initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how it records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior, a White House release said.

The ultimate goal is to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

The initiative will receive investments in 2014 totaling $100 million from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

The president said funding for research and the jobs it creates was vital to keep America at the forefront of science.

"When our leading thinkers wonder if it still makes sense to encourage young people to get involved in science in the first place because they're not sure whether the research funding and the grants will be there to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that's something we should worry about," he said at a news conference.

"What we do know is if we keep investing in the most prominent, promising solutions to our toughest problems, then things will get better. And if we keep taking bold steps like the one we're talking about to learn about the brain, then I'm confident America will continue to lead the world in the next frontiers of human understanding," he said.


Canada to probe 'muzzling' of scientists

OTTAWA, April 2 (UPI) -- A Canadian commission says it will investigate allegations the government blocked requests by journalists to interview government scientists about their work.

In response to a complaint filed by academics and a government watchdog group, Canada's Information Minister Suzanne Legualt has announced an investigation into six government departments over the so-called muzzling of government scientists, the Toronto Star reported Monday.

The University of Victoria Environmental Law Center and the non-partisan Democracy Watch had asked for a probe into "systematic efforts by the government of Canada to obstruct the right of the media -- and through them, the Canadian public -- to timely access to government scientists."

Veronique Morin, former president of the Canadian Science Writers Association, said the commission must investigate whether Canada's government has in effect been carrying out a policy of censorship.

"Vital stories pertaining to the environment, natural resources, food safety, fisheries and oceans are not coming out in Canada because, for several years now, the government has imposed rules which prevents its scientists from speaking freely about their publicly funded research," Morin said.

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reported the commission would investigate the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources, National Defense departments, as well as the Treasury Board Secretariat, National Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

"Government scientists and experts are readily available to share their research with the media and the public," the office of Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in a statement Monday. "Last year, Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued nearly 1,000 scientific publications, and Natural Resources Canada published nearly 500 studies."

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