Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Monday, 9 June 2014

Banks Share Customer Withdrawals, Money Moves With Spy Agencies... -

Banks Share Customer Withdrawals, Money Moves With Spy Agencies... - 

The U.S. Treasury Department said it sets limits while allowing the nation’s intelligence agencies to access reports that banks file on suspicious or large money moves by customers, including information about Americans.

The Treasury, saying it was responding to a public records request, released the protocol at the end of last week, describing how it provides some information in bulk to the National Counterterrorism Center, the hub of the government’s anti-terrorism intelligence efforts. The document, partially redacted, also sets conditions for searching the database.

The 2010 memorandum of understanding between the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the NCTC requires intelligence agencies to make “best efforts” to tap information valuable only to specific cases and immediately destroy data obtained in error. Redistribution is limited.

The Obama administration has been seeking to assure the U.S. public and allies that they’re not subject to continual surveillance, while defending intelligence collection as vital to stopping terrorism. Unlike the vast data tombs unveiled by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the U.S. has publicly required financial firms for decades to report suspicious activity to the Treasury for anti-money-laundering efforts. The information can be shared with law enforcement and has been used in past terrorism cases.

“Financial data can be some of the most relevant as to how people are connected,” NCTC Director Matthew Olsen said in an interview. “That’s why it’s vital that we have access” to the FinCEN database, he said.

While his unit also looks at travel patterns, phone records and other pertinent data when investigating potential international terrorist activity, tracking the money is key, he said. FinCEN data, for example, can help map financial flows from individuals in the U.S. to terrorist networks in Yemen or Syria, he said.

“Financial connections are the most binding between people,” he said. “When we can find connections based on money, it’s not a smoking-gun piece, but it helps with analysis.”

U.S. banks file more than 15 million currency-transaction reports each year, spurred by movements of $10,000 or more into or out of an account, according to FinCEN. Financial institutions -- including banks, brokerages, money-transfer businesses and casinos -- also file more than 1.5 million suspicious-activity reports annually.

“The data we collect is publicly known,” FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery said in an interview. “It’s not raw data. It’s suspicious, large-cash transactions that meet a threshold.”

The guidelines seek to balance privacy and the prevention of national-security threats, she said. “We think we’ve gotten that balance right, although it is something we must always be ready to re-examine.”


'GOOGLE Nearby' will remotely access mic, WiFi, Bluetooth on all devices... -

'GOOGLE Nearby' will remotely access mic, WiFi, Bluetooth on all devices... - 

A couple of months ago, we posted one of our early Google Search/Now rumors, and it was something of a long range rumor compared to others. While things like parking reminders, proper timer management, and bill pay reminders have already seen their public release, the ability to set contact-based reminders ("remind me when I'm with this person"), hasn't come forward yet. But it will likely appear very soon with a new feature in Android called Nearby, which will allow new interactions between you and nearby people, places, and things.

We've received information indicating that Nearby will come with an upcoming Google Play Services update. While we still caution readers that anything related to a leak can change, we are not treating this as a rumor, as our information is reliable and complete enough to inspire full confidence that this functionality will be revealed (in an official capacity) soon.
What is Nearby?
Before we get started, here's the copy from the Nearby onboarding screen, which gives a nice overview of what we'll be discussing.
Nearby lets you connect, share, and do more with people, places, and things near you.
When Nearby is turned on for your account, Google can periodically turn on the mic, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and similar features on all your current and future devices. Google+ and other Google services need this access to help you connect, share, and more.
When you turn on Nearby, you're also turning on Location History for your account and Location Reporting for this device. Google needs these services to periodically store your location data for use by Nearby, other Google services, and more.
You'd be forgiven for not registering the full impact of Nearby from that snippet. The key takeaway from this is that Nearby will allow enabled devices, with extreme precision, to know when they are near each other, and interact according to the context.
Remember when Google bought Bump? The service used the bumping motion as well as location data to know when two devices wanted to interact. Google also acquired SlickLogin in February, which can use audio, Bluetooth, and WiFi to authenticate. Nearby would wrap up all these techniques without you even touching your device. To protect privacy, the information gathered from these various sources on your device would likely travel to Google, and be matched with others' information there, with only the acknowledgement of proximity being revealed to other devices.
Users, according to our information, will also be able to choose who (and presumably what) they are visible to. This will limit the ways that Nearby can automatically interact on a user's behalf.
While it's still early in its life cycle, and settings don't appear to be fully built out yet, it's easy to imagine Nearby coming in handy for extremely targeted Wallet offers, reminders, or other location-based interactions, but the important part here is that a user wouldn't need to interact with their phone or tablet to let other devices (be they mobile or otherwise) know they are around, and switching on Nearby once would allow the functionality to work with all of a user's devices.
This would open up the possibility of automated functionality in tons of spaces beyond the commercial world, from home automation to everyday user-to-user interaction, to the interaction between your own devices. This is especially interesting in light of Apple's recent announcement of Continuity, an iOS and OS X feature that allows Apple-made devices to interact with each other in really smart ways automatically, based on proximity.
Readers may remember "Easy Unlock," an unfinished Chrome OS feature that would let users unlock their Chromebook simply by being near it with their phone. It's unclear whether that specific function is related, but it would certainly make sense. There's also a hint at automated proximity-based functionality in the Android Wear promo video, in which a user opens their garage door by simply saying "Ok Google, open garage."


Montana residents finding gold in their tap water... -

Montana residents finding gold in their tap water... - 

Gold in drinking water

Two Whitehall residents say they're finding gold flakes in their tap water and that it's raising concerns about what else might be in the water.
Whitehall is about 25 miles southeast of Butte in Jefferson County. The town gets its drinking water from two wells -- one off Division Street and another a half block east of Whitehall Street. Both wells are right in the middle of town.

NBC Montana was in Whitehall today and saw firsthand gold flakes coming from the faucet.

Mark Brown told us his wife Sharon was finishing up the dishes earlier this week when she noticed something unusual.

Brown explained, "She had pulled the plug to let the water out and there were glistening, gleaming little flecks."

They showed us what they found -- small gold-colored flakes, right in the bottom of the sink.

Brown recalled their disbelief, "That couldn't possibly be gold, huh? And I was sure it wasn't."

He showed us how they are finding the flakes in their tap water and also the toilet tank. They ran multiple tests on the flakes and found one of the most precious metals on earth -- gold -- was coming out of the tap.

Brown said, "Everything I tried to do to dispel this, I got nothing. And I can't explain it either. It's bizarre."

Among the tests run on the gold flakes was a chemical test where a solution is used to dissolve any metal that isn't pure gold.

Paul Harper lives next door to the Browns. He's also seeing gold in his tap water. He deals in antiques and gold and is the one who conducted the chemical test. He told us, "There was no dissolving at all of the gold."

Harper ran the test again for us. There was no reaction on the flakes, but when the chemical hit gold-painted foil, it melted away.

Harper and the Browns are concerned about what their findings mean for the town's water supply and its filtration.

"If we're seeing heavy metals that you can see with the naked eye," said Brown, "what else might be in there?"

We spoke to Whitehall Public Works Director Jerry Ward Wednesday afternoon. He tells us there is nothing to indicate anything harmful in the water.

Gold is no stranger to Whitehall. In 1982, the Golden Sunlight open pit gold mine went into operation. The mine is located about 5 miles northeast of Whitehall. The pit mine is visible from Interstate 90.

State water quality officials say there is no reason to suspect whatever the homeowners found in their water came from that mine.

We dug into Whitehall's periodic water quality reports. The city's water has never tested positive for contamination from any metal. It's important to note gold is not a regulated contaminate in drinking water.

An official with the State Department of Environmental Quality told us he suspects the flakes reported came from pipes or a pump, or some approved equipment tied to the Whitehall water supply.

We're told a sample has been sent to a lab in Butte. Estimates are it will take at least 24 hours to find out what's in the water. When they do, we'll let you know.

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