Al Qaida using Internet, official says
The White House's top cybersecurity adviser told Congress on Wednesday that there is evidence al Qaida terrorists have been using the Internet to gather information about possible U.S. targets. "If you put all the unclassified information together, sometimes it adds up to something that ought to be classified," said Richard Clarke, the head of the White House Office of Cyberdefenses. So far there is no evidence that al Qaida members have tried to launch an attack over the Internet itself, Clarke said. But he added that the Bush administration would not rule out direct military attacks in reaction if any terrorist group or foreign country launched a cyberattack. "We reserve the right to respond in any way appropriate: through covert action, through military action, any one of the tools available to the president," Clarke said.
Comcast to halt Web info collection
Cable company Comcast said Wednesday that it would stop collecting information about its high-speed Internet users' browsing habits. The Philadelphia-based company said it had been gathering the Internet addresses of Web pages viewed by customers for about six weeks, but it had not linked those visits with individual users. Privacy advocates, including Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., were among those who challenged Comcast to stop the practice, saying it violated federal law. David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "It looks like they're belatedly doing the right thing." Comcast officials said they had collected the information as part of an effort to make their broadband service faster. David Watson, a Comcast executive vice president, told the Inquirer: "We weren't collecting credit card data or passwords. The only thing we looked at were speed-related performance issues."
IRS not saving money with e-filing
A congressional study says the recent increase in electronic tax filings has not made IRS processing any cheaper. The General Accounting Office found that e-filing increased by 78 percent over the past four years, but the cost of processing tax returns jumped by 11 percent, or as much as $1 billion. Part of the problem is that more people are filing tax returns in general, the GAO said. From 1997 to 2000, as the number of e-files increased dramatically, the number of paper filings decreased only slightly. More information is available at gao.gov.
Harassment common for girls online, survey says
About one-third of teenage girls have experienced some form of sexual harassment in online chat rooms, according to a Girl Scouts study reported by Wired News. About 1,000 girls aged 13 to 18 were questioned for the survey, and 30 percent of them said they had been subjected to harassment such as unsolicited naked pictures of men, demands for personal details such as bra size and requests for chat-room "cyber sex." Of the girls who said they were harassed, only 7 percent reported telling their parents what had happened, while 30 percent said they "didn't tell anyone" about the incidents and another 21 percent said such harassment "happens all the time and is no big deal." Whitney Roban, the survey's senior researcher, told Wired News that many girls don't tell their parents about online harassment because they are "worried they'll be blamed for what happened (and) that parents will take away their Internet connection. Girls don't want to be unplugged."
Academic rebels urged to publish online
An international group of scientists and academics, supported by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, is calling on scholars to use the Internet to free their research from the control of for-profit, printed journals. The so-called Budapest Open Access Initiative calls on scholars to create alternative, Web-based journals available for free to all researchers. Backing from Soros's Open Society Institute will amount to $1 million a year for three years, said society spokesman Darius Cuplinskas. "Having something like the Soros Foundation backing us says to the world this is real, this is not just a bunch of idealistic, naive scientists running around," said University of California genomics professor Michael Eisen. Eisen is a founder of the Public Library of Science, a group trying to start Web-based, free journals dealing with the life sciences. Most research now appears in printed journals, many privately owned and available only by subscription. The cost of such journals, Eisen said, creates "an impediment to the free and open exchange of ideas."
Playstation2 to go online
Sony says it will be launching a new online service for owners of its wildly popular Playstation2 video game console in Japan. Users who pay about $7.50 a month will receive a broadband Internet adapter for the machine and possibly a 40 gigabyte hard drive for storing game data. The rollout of the service in Japan is expected by April, with U.S. and European adaptations of the service not as certain. The big three video-game console makers -- Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo -- see online gaming as a vital part of their products. Microsoft is expected to launch online gaming for its xBox in the United States by the end of 2002.
(Compiled by Joe Warminsky in Washington.)