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Dec. 10, 2012 at 7:01 PM
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U.S. still opposed to Internet regulation

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- A controversial proposal to put U.S. Internet companies such as Google and Facebook under international regulation has been scrapped, U.S. officials said.

The idea was proposed by a group of Arab countries at a conference in Dubai assembled to draft the first new international telecommunications treaty in nearly a quarter of a century.

Strongly opposed by the United States as a step toward restrictive censorship of the Internet, the proposal was shelved after losing the support of Russia and China, the Financial Times of London reported Monday.

The proposal by the Arab countries put forward Friday would have seen all Internet companies regulated in the same way network operators are, putting them into a regulatory system initially designed for the telecommunications industry long before the development of the Internet.

"In our view, the Internet issues are completely non-negotiable," Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation at the conference, said.

Extending existing regulations would hinder the Internet by increasing censorship and changing its fundamental underlying economic structure, he said.

The United States would not sign any treaty with language supporting extended regulation of the Internet, he said.

Seismic study aimed at smuggler's tunnels

ALBUQUERQUE, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- An effort to use seismic waves to detect tunnels dug by smugglers of drugs, weapons or people is proving difficult with mixed success, U.S. researchers say.

Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have nearly completed a 2-year study with the goal of better understanding the nature of ground around tunnels and why seismic data can reveal some tunnels but misses others, a laboratory release reported.

Nedra Bonal of Sandia's geophysics and atmospheric sciences group says the aim is to develop a seismic detection process for the U.S.-Mexico border and other areas where tunnels create a security threat.

"It would be great if we could use this to do a better job with tunnel detection, so you could scan an area and know if there is or is not a tunnel and find it and stop it," she said.

The new study began when it was discovered that standard seismic refraction and reflection techniques utilized by Sandia were unable successfully detect some tunnels.

One problem, the researchers suspected, was a so-called halo effect around a tunnel caused by fracturing and other geological anomalies that can create diffuse boundaries and hide a tunnel.

The halo effect problem is complex, they said.

"It depends on the geology or the soil as well as the seasonal variation, rain events and the relation to the water table," Bonal said. "So it's a pretty complex regime just from the hydrology standpoint."

But improvements have come from the new study and its efforts to sharpen seismic results, she said.

"I think there are still plenty of questions we have that need to be answered but I am very excited about the progress made so far. I have been able to detect a tunnel that I previously had not seen by other analyses."

Concerns remain over kids' apps privacy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says there has been little progress in addressing privacy concerns regarding mobile applications aimed at children.

There is still insufficient movement toward giving parents guidance in determining what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared or who will have access to it, an FTC release said Monday.

"While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes to protecting kids' privacy, we haven't seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said.

"All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job."

Only 20 percent of the apps reviewed by the FTC disclosed any information about the privacy practices of the apps' developers, the FTC said in its report, "Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade."

Even more worrisome, the commission said, was the review's finding that many of the apps shared certain information -- such as device ID, geolocation or phone number -- with third parties without informing parents of the practice.

"We'll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement," Leibowitz said.

Search for life extends to the stars

TROY, N.Y., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Nighttime flights on an airborne observatory to search newly born stars could turn up evidence of the presence of precursors to life, U.S. astrobiologists say.

A team of researchers, including two from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, will use the observatory's infrared capabilities to search for a collection of molecules in clouds of dust surrounding five young stars, a Rensselaer release reported Monday.

The search will take place aboard a modified Boeing 747 that contains the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, that is the largest airborne observatory in the world.

"We're interested in how the matter that you need to make planetary life came to be: Where did it come from and how was it formed?" Rensselaer astrobiologist and physics Professor Douglas Whittet said.

"And since it happened here in our solar system, is it likely to happen elsewhere as well?

"We can't go back in time to observe our solar system when it was born, but we can look at other regions that we believe are similar and use them as analogs for the early solar system."

Infrared observations of newly born stars by ground-based telescopes have shown the presence of organic molecules and water in the dusty remnants of the clouds from which they formed, remnants that are the raw materials from which new planets may coalesce, the researchers said.

The airborne observatory has the capability to gather more specific data, they said.

"We're trying to look at a part of the spectrum that doesn't get through the atmosphere very well," Whittet said, noting atmospheric moisture absorbs most of the infrared radiation astronomers try to detect.

The aerial observatory's 40,000-foot operating altitude puts it above most of that moisture, he said.

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