Weekend news round-up: Bugging controversy heats up; NYSE prepares for Twitter IPO

29 Oct 2013

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Our round-up of the top tech stories from the weekend begins with news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have been under US surveillance for up to 10 years.

Merkel under surveillance by US for 10 years?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have been under US surveillance for up to 10 years, according to a report on The Verge.

“(US) President Barack Obama told Merkel that he was not aware her phone was being bugged, or he would have stopped it. However, he declined to say whether her phone had been monitored in the past. A separate report in Die Welt said the number of Merkel’s Nokia 6120 Slide was listed in leaked NSA (US National Security Agency) documents, although she’s since switched to a BlackBerry Z10 smartphone.

“The White House assured Merkel that her phone is not being tapped now. But today’s report suggests that the surveillance went back as far as 2002, when Merkel was the head of her political party, the Christian Democratic Union.” She became chancellor in 2005.

Thousands gather to protest surveillance

The Guardian reported that thousands of protesters had gathered outside the NSA’s Washington headquarters, where a statement from former CIA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden was read to the crowd. The gathering featured protesters from right across the entire political spectrum.

“Billed by organisers as ‘the largest rally yet to protest mass surveillance’, Stop Watching Us was sponsored by an unusually broad coalition of left- and right-wing groups, including everything from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Green Party, Color of Change and Daily Kos to the Libertarian Party, FreedomWorks and Young Americans for Liberty.

“The events began outside Union Station, a few blocks away from the Capitol. Props abounded, with a model drone hoisted by one member of the crowd and a large parachute carried by others. One member of the left-wing protest group Code Pink wore a large Barack Obama mascot head and carried around a cardboard camera. Organisers supplied placards reading ‘Stop Watching _____’, allowing protesters to fill in their own name – or other slogans and occasional profanities. Homemade signs were more colourful, reading ‘Don’t Tap Me, Bro’ ‘Yes, We Scan’ and ’No Snitching Allowed’.”

Pouring cold water on hyped IPOs

The New York Times appeared to play down the hype surrounding Twitter’s looming IPO after the social networking player set its stock price at between US$17 and US$20 a share last week, reminding the public it is one of 160 IPOs taking place this year in the US.

“According to research from Fidelity Investments, the number of IPOs so far this year is up 40pc from the same point last year, and the dollar values of those offerings has increased 10pc. Of those offerings, the top 3 sectors were energy, financial services and healthcare companies. Technology was in fifth place, with just 12pc of the offerings.

“Twitter is the type of IPO that creates attention that others like USA Compression Partners, the first company to go public in 2013, or Evertec, the largest technology IPO of the year to date, cannot. (USA Compression makes equipment related to shale drilling; Evertec processes payments from Latin America.) And that might entice people to try to buy the stock without thinking it through.”

But just in case …

Reuters reported that the New York Stock Exchange on Saturday did a test run of Twitter’s highly anticipated market debut, as it seeks to avoid the types of problems that plagued Facebook’s initial public offering on rival NASDAQ.

“The NYSE was testing mainly for two things: To see if its systems could handle the amount of message traffic that might be generated by the IPO; and to make sure that once the IPO took place any firms that placed orders would promptly receive the reports telling them that their orders had been executed.

“It can also be seen as part of NYSE’s struggle with NASDAQ for supremacy in technology listings. Both exchanges vied to be home to Twitter’s stock, and many analysts said the trading disruptions that occurred on Facebook’s NASDAQ debut likely played to NYSE’s favour, as it tries to become the destination of choice for technology listings, something NASDAQ once dominated.”

These hackers are getting younger and younger

A 12-year-old Quebec boy is responsible for hacking several government and police websites during the student uprising in spring 2012, creating computer havoc and causing Cdn$60,000 damage, according to the Toronto Sun.

“Some sites were out of service for up to two days and the boy did it in the name of the activist/hacktivist group Anonymous.

“The Grade 5 student from the Montreal suburb of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, whose actions were not politically motivated, traded pirated information to Anonymous for video games, court was told.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com