Weekend news round-up: Secret court grants NSA more powers; Snowden offered asylum

8 Jul 2013

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The US National Security Agency (NSA) appears to have been given greater powers by a secret court to monitor US citizens; whistleblower Edward Snowden, who remains on the run, has been offered asylum in , Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua; Microsoft is to shutter MSN TV; and the indomitable spirit of entrepreneur Michael Birch could see Bebo get a third chance.

Secret court broadens NSA powers

In the latest fallout from the Edward Snowden affair, The New York Times has reported that a secret court in the US has created a body of law giving the NSA the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only suspected terrorists but also those involved in espionage and cyberattacks.

“The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s decisions,” the paper reported.

“The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.”

Snowden offered asylum in Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua

Former CIA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has been offered asylum in three countries, according to The Guardian.

“The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, and his Nicaraguan counterpart, Daniel Ortega, made the asylum offers on Friday, shortly after they and other Latin-American leaders met to denounce the diversion of a plane carrying the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, due to suspicions that Snowden might have been on board.”

Shortly after, Morales also said Bolivia would grant asylum to Snowden, if asked. On Saturday, Venezuela’s offer was given a warm reception by an influential member of the Russian parliament.”

Building Bebo and back again

A few years ago, Michael Birch and his wife Xochi sold the social network Bebo to AOL for US$850m. Last week, Michael Birch bought back Bebo from a venture company for US$1m and is determined to see it rise from the cyber ashes.

Silicon Valley tech blog Pandodaily compiled an insightful profile of Birch that shows he is a man that refuses to give up.

“Yes, Birch was lucky, but he also made his own luck. While he’s often viewed as a ponytailed Brit who came out of nowhere to hit pay dirt, the man paid his dues. The first three start-ups he launched after toiling for six years in London for an insurance company failed miserably. Each was designed to be a viral business but they didn’t scale. Nevertheless, Birch learned from his mistakes. It was these failures, I would argue, that made Bebo possible.”

RIAA surpasses 25 millionth Google take-down notice

According to TorrentFreak, record industry organisation RIAA has now removed 25m URL listings from the world’s largest search engine. However, rather than getting better the problem appears to be getting worse.

“It now seems that either the RIAA are getting faster and better at sending notices, or the situation is somehow getting worse. It’s quite possibly a combination of the two.

“After taking just over a year to send 20m takedowns, just a few moments ago Google processed the RIAA’s 25 millionth URL takedown request. That means that in just six weeks the RIAA has achieved something that previously took it a quarter of a year.”

Microsoft quietly shutters MSN TV

According to AllThingsD, Microsoft will be closing its MSN TV service at the end of September.

“The software giant bought it at the height of the Web 1.0 boom in mid-1997, paying US$425m.

“The service, which included a dedicated hardware device attached to a television, went through a number of iterations over the years, including being rebranded as MSN TV in 2001. Some of its technology went into the Xbox, but – in general – its recent history was one of dwindling users.

“Microsoft’s TV unit also went on to do Mediaroom, software for set-top boxes used by AT&T for U-verse. That business is in the process of being sold to Ericsson (and probably explains the timing of this shut down).”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com