Washington, July 17 (AP/UNB) — Under sharp criticism from senators, a Facebook executive on Tuesday defended the social network's ambitious plan to create a digital currency and pledged to work with regulators to achieve a system that protects the privacy of users' data.
"We know we need to take the time to get this right," David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading the project, told the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing.
But that message did little to assure senators. Members of both parties demanded to know why a company with massive market power and a track record of scandals should be trusted with such a far-reaching project, given the potential for fraud, abuse and criminal activity.
"Facebook is dangerous," asserted Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee's senior Democrat. Like a toddler playing with matches, "Facebook has burned down the house over and over," he told Marcus. "Do you really think people should trust you with their bank accounts and their money?"
Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona said "the core issue here is trust." Users won't be able to opt out of providing their personal data when joining the new digital wallet for Libra, McSally said. "Arizonans will be more likely to be scammed" using the currency, she said.
The litany of criticism came as Congress began two days of hearings on the currency planned by Facebook, to be called Libra. Meanwhile, a House Judiciary subcommittee extended its bipartisan investigation of the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
On the defensive from bursts of aggressive questioning, Facebook's Marcus indicated the currency plan is a work in progress. "We will take the time" to ensure the network won't be open to use by criminals and illicit activity like money laundering and financial fraud. "We hope that we'll avoid conflicts of interest. We have a lot of work to do," Marcus said.
He said the new venture would be headquartered in Switzerland, not to avoid oversight but because the country is a recognized international financial center.
The grilling followed a series of negative comments and warnings about the Libra plan in recent days from President Donald Trump, his treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve.
But some senators emphasized the potential positive benefits of Facebook's plan, meant to bring money transacting at low cost to millions around the globe who don't have bank accounts. Facebook had its strong defenders of the project, too, on the panel.
"To strangle this baby in the crib is wildly premature," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
In that vein, Marcus said Libra "is about developing a safe, secure and low-cost way for people to move money efficiently around the world. We believe that Libra can make real progress toward building a more inclusive financial infrastructure."
The planned digital currency is to be a blend of multiple currencies, so that its value will fluctuate in any given local currency. Because Libra will be backed by a reserve, and because the group of companies managing it will encourage a competitive system of exchanges, the project leaders say, "anyone with Libra has a high degree of assurance they can sell it for local (sovereign) currency based on an exchange rate."
Promising low fees, the new currency system could open online commerce to millions of people around the world who lack access to bank accounts and make it cheaper to send money across borders. But it also raises concerns over the privacy of users' data and the potential for criminals to use it for money laundering and fraud.
To address privacy concerns, Facebook created a nonprofit oversight association, with dozens of partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and MasterCard, to govern Libra. As one among many in the association, Facebook says it won't have any special rights or privileges. It also created a "digital wallet" subsidiary, Calibra, to work on the technology, separately from its main social media business. While Facebook owns and controls Calibra, it won't see financial data from it, the company says.
Senators demanded to know exactly what that separation will entail.
"Facebook isn't a company; it's a country," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Kennedy and other conservative senators took the occasion to air long-standing grievances against Facebook, Twitter and Google for a perceived bias against conservative views.
Facebook's currency proposal has also faced heavy skepticism from the Trump administration.
Trump tweeted last week that the new currency, Libra, "will have little standing or dependability." Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have expressed serious concerns recently that Libra could be used for illicit activity.
The Treasury Department has "very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers," Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday. "This is indeed a national security issue."
Also Tuesday, across the Capitol in the House, the chairman of a Judiciary Committee panel investigating the market power of big tech companies said Congress and antitrust regulators wrongly allowed them to regulate themselves. That enabled companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to operate out of control, dominating the internet and choking off online innovation, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said at the start of a hearing.
"The internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship," he said.
As concerns have mounted over data privacy and market dominance of Big Tech, an increasing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for tighter regulation of customarily free-wheeling companies or even breaking them up. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are pursuing antitrust investigations of the four major companies.
Executives of the companies, testifying at the Judiciary hearing, pushed back against lawmakers' accusations that they operate as monopolies, laying out ways in which they say they compete fairly yet vigorously against rivals in the marketplace.
And Google executive Karan Bhatia, at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on online bias, insisted that the company's search engine does not filter on the basis of political views. "We surface the results that are most responsive," he said. "We don't use political (markers) to blacklist or whitelist."
Cape Canaveral, July 17 (AP/UNB) — Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned Tuesday to the exact spot where he flew to the moon 50 years ago with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Collins had the spotlight to himself this time — Armstrong has been gone for seven years and Aldrin canceled. Collins said he wished his two moonwalking colleagues could have shared the moment at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, the departure point for humanity's first moon landing.
"Wonderful feeling to be back," the 88-year-old command module pilot said on NASA TV. "There's a difference this time. I want to turn and ask Neil a question and maybe tell Buzz Aldrin something, and of course, I'm here by myself."
At NASA's invitation, Collins marked the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that the Saturn V rocket blasted off. He was seated at the base of the pad alongside Kennedy's director, Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander.
Collins recalled the tension surrounding the crew that day.
"Apollo 11 ... was serious business. We, crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could," he said.
Collins remained in lunar orbit, tending to Columbia, the mother ship, while Armstrong and Aldrin landed in the Eagle on July 20, 1969, and spent 2 ½ hours walking the gray, dusty lunar surface.
A reunion Tuesday at the Kennedy firing room by past and present launch controllers — and Collins' return to the pad, now leased to SpaceX — kicked off a week of celebrations marking each day of Apollo 11's eight-day voyage.
In Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V was developed, some 4,900 model rockets lifted off simultaneously, commemorating the moment the Apollo 11 crew blasted off for the moon. More than 1,000 youngsters attending Space Camp counted down ... "5, 4, 3, 2, 1!" — and cheered as the red, white and blue rockets created a gray cloud, at least for a few moments, in the sky.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center was shooting for an altitude of at least 100 feet (30 meters) in order to set a new Guinness Book of World Records. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden helped with the mass launching. Also present: all three children of German-born rocket genius Wernher von Braun, who masterminded the Saturn V.
"This was a blast. This was an absolute blast," said spectator Scott Hayek of Ellicott City, Maryland. "And, you know, what a tribute - and, a visceral tribute - to see the rockets going off."
Another spectator, Karin Wise, of Jonesboro, Georgia, was 19 during Apollo 11 and recalled being glued to TV coverage.
"So, to bring my grandchildren here for the 50 anniversary, was so special," she said. "I hope they're around for the 100th anniversary."
At the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, the spacesuit that Armstrong wore went back on display in mint condition, complete with lunar dust left on the suit's knees, thighs and elbows. On hand for the unveiling were Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Armstrong's older son, Rick. Armstrong died in 2012.
A fundraising campaign took just five days to raise the $500,000 needed for the restoration. It was taken off display 13 years ago because it was deteriorating, said museum curator Cathleen Lewis. It took four years to rehab it.
Calling Armstrong a hero, Pence said "the American people express their gratitude by preserving this symbol of courage."
Back at Kennedy, NASA televised original launch video of Apollo 11, timed down to the second. Then Cabana turned his conversation with Collins to NASA's next moonshot program, Artemis, named after the twin sister of Greek mythology's Apollo. It seeks to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface — the moon's south pole — by 2024. President John F. Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of 1969 took eight years to achieve.
Collins said he likes the name Artemis and, even more, likes the concept behind Artemis.
"But I don't want to go back to the moon," Collins told Cabana. "I want to go direct to Mars. I call it the JFK Mars Express."
Collins noted that the moon-first crowd has merit to its argument and he pointed out Armstrong himself was among those who believed returning to the moon "would assist us mightily in our attempt to go to Mars."
Cabana assured Collins, "We believe the faster we get to the moon, the faster we get to Mars as we develop those systems that we need to make that happen."
About 100 of the original 500 launch controllers and managers on July 16, 1969, reunited in the firing room Tuesday morning. The crowd also included members of NASA's next moon management team, including Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the still-in-development Space Launch System moon rocket. The SLS will surpass the Saturn V, the world's most powerful rocket to fly to date.
Blackwell-Thompson said she got goosebumps listening to the replay of the Apollo 11 countdown. Hearing Collins' "personal account of what that was like was absolutely amazing."
The lone female launch controller for Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan, enjoyed seeing the much updated- firing room. One thing was notably missing, though: stacks of paper. "We could have walked to the moon on the paper," Morgan said.
Collins was reunited later Tuesday with two other Apollo astronauts at an evening gala at Kennedy, including Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke, who was the capsule communicator in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Only four of the 12 moonwalkers from 1969 through 1972 are still alive: Aldrin, Duke, Apollo 15's David Scott and Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt.
Among the gala attendees: Eight former shuttle astronauts, including Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and "space lover" and aspiring space tourist Vesa Heilala, 52, who traveled from Helsinki to Florida for the anniversary.
"I had to come here because in Finland we don't have rockets and we don't have astronauts for 50 years," said Heilala, who was collecting astronaut autographs on his colorful propeller cap.
Huntsville's rocket center also had a special anniversary dinner Tuesday night, with some retired Apollo and Skylab astronauts and rocket scientists. Aldrin was set to attend but was traveling Tuesday and likely wouldn't make it on time, a center official said.
Aldrin, 89, hosted a gala in Southern California last Saturday.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said Aldrin bowed out of the Florida launch pad visit, citing his intense schedule of appearances. Aldrin and Collins may reunite in Washington on Friday or Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing.
Avon, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Over six weeks, the vandals kept coming, knocking the school system's network offline several times a day.
There was no breach of sensitive data files, but the attacks in which somebody deliberately overwhelmed the Avon Public Schools system in Connecticut still proved costly. Classroom lesson plans built around access to the internet had come to a halt.
"The first time I called the FBI, their first question was, 'Well, what did it cost you?'" said Robert Vojtek, the district's technology director. "It's like, 'Well, we were down for three quarters of a day, we have 4,000 students, we have almost 500 adults, and teaching and learning stopped for an entire day.' So how do you put a price tag on that?"
The kind of attacks more commonly reserved for banks and other institutions holding sensitive data are increasingly targeting school systems around the country. The widespread adoption of education technology, which generates data that officials say can make schools more of a target for hackers, also worsens an attack's effects when instructional tools are rendered useless by internet outages.
Schools are attractive targets because they hold sensitive data and provide critical public services, according to the FBI, which said in a written statement that perpetrators include criminals motivated by profit, juvenile pranksters and possibly foreign governments. Attacks against schools have become common, the FBI said, but it is impossible to know how frequently they occur because many go unreported to law enforcement when data is not compromised.
Attacks often have forced districts to pull the plug on smart boards, student laptops and other internet-powered tools.
Schools in the Florida Keys took themselves offline for several days last September after a district employee discovered a malware attack. Monroe County schools Superintendent Mark Porter said teachers had to do things differently but adapted quickly.
"I heard a little grumbling at the beginning and then the comment was, 'I guess we'll have to go old school,'" Porter said. "And they went back to work and did it the way they probably did it just a few years ago."
Schools with few or no employees dedicated to information security often are surprised to find themselves as targets.
The 2,000-student Coventry Local School District in Ohio had to close schools in May as staff worked to fight a virus of that had infected the network. The FBI helped to guide the district through the recovery and offered assistance on best practices.
The school system did not have cybersecurity insurance, said Kelly Kendrick, the district's technology director, and her three-person department is still working to debug devices affected by the attack.
FBI officials told the district that the attackers apparently did not obtain sensitive information, but that it was clear they were after data of some kind, she said.
"Why this little school in Akron, Ohio? Why was it a target?" Kendrick said. "It has really opened my eyes to how data of any kind is marketable, sellable."
In September, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning the growth of education technologies and widespread collection of student identification data along with other information including academic progress and classroom activities "could have privacy and safety implications if compromised or exploited."
Malicious use of the data could lead to bullying, tracking, identity theft and other threats, it said.
Penalties can be severe. Students suspected of involvement in disruptive cyber pranks often have been hit with felony charges.
And in March, Olukayode Lawal, a Nigerian man living in Smyrna, Georgia, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and ordered to be deported for his role in an email scheme that used tax information from Connecticut school employees to falsely claim tax refunds.
In many cases, school officials say they never learn who was behind the attacks.
In North Dakota, where a third of schools statewide were hit with a malware attack last year, it was traced to North Korea, although it's unclear if that country was the origin of the attack or just the location of a device that was used as a stepping stone, according to Sean Wiese, the state's chief information security officer.
School networks "may be considered easy targets because they're a little bit more open than your traditional corporate culture," Wiese said. "I do feel that is changing, just not quickly enough."
In New York state, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last October to investigate and help prevent future intrusions after a series of attacks caused outages at 50 school districts.
The denial-of-service attacks, designed to overload and deny access to the network, he said, "subverted teacher lesson plans and interrupted student learning."
The outages were disruptive particularly because many of the state's schools have issued digital devices to each student, part of a transition to a model where students spend part of a school day working at their own speed, according to Pam Mazzaferro, director of the Central New York Regional Information Center.
Vojtek, whose department was tasked with responding to the denial-of-service attacks on Avon schools in late 2017, said it was difficult being the one to answer to educators for why the network was down.
"It was just tough to get a handle on it and people are not resilient when it comes to their teaching resources," he said. "So if those are gone, somebody needs to pay."
Cape Canaveral, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Apollo 11's astronauts are returning to the exact spot from where they flew to the moon 50 years ago.
NASA has invited Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A on Tuesday. They will mark the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that their Saturn V rocket departed on humanity's first moon landing. Mission commander Neil Armstrong — who took the first lunar footsteps — died in 2012.
It kicks off eight days of golden anniversary celebrations for each day of Apollo 11's voyage.
Also Tuesday morning, 5,000 model rockets are set to launch simultaneously at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. At the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, Armstrong's newly restored spacesuit goes on display.
Rome, July 16 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies will invest 3.1 billion U.S. dollars over the next three years in Italy, local media reported on Monday.
Addressing the press on the sidelines of an exhibition in Milan, Huawei's Italian unit chief executive Thomas Miao said the investment plan would allow 1,000 new direct jobs in the period 2019-2021, according to Ansa news agency.
More specifically, the plan would consist of some 1.2 billion U.S. dollars invested in operations and marketing, and 1.9 billion U.S. dollars in direct supplies, while 52 million U.S. dollars would be added for research and development activities, Ansa also said.
Speaking to reporters, Miao stressed the solidity of Sino-Italian commercial ties.
"They are two well-paired countries: Italy needs China, and vice versa, and I am very optimistic from a business point of view," state broadcaster RAI News24 cited him as saying.
The country CEO also urged Italy to make a "transparent, efficient, and fair" use of its golden power on the development of 5G networks.
On Friday, in fact, the Italian government passed a decree boosting the so-called "golden power" legislation, and increasing the power of the state to intervene in the private sector of ICT infrastructure networks -- including 5G -- due to "urgent need to strengthen national security in strategic sectors".
Under the new decree -- which needs approval by parliament within 60 days -- Italian public and private companies must now inform the government of any purchase of 5G technologies from non-European suppliers.
Huawei-Italy's CEO called for the new rules to be fair "for all suppliers", and not applied to extra-European providers only.
"The 5G technology is very important," RAI cited Miao as saying.
The CEO added the new 5G golden power rules should be neutral and "apply to all, in order to be sure that -- from the first day -- we have a safe and reliable infrastructure, since the country needs to be ready before the roll-out".
Operating in the country since 2004, Huawei now employs some 850 people in Italy, and has inaugurated its new headquarters in Milan earlier this year.
In its 15-year activity, it has opened four innovations centers in cooperation with Italian ICT operators and a Joint Innovation Center for Smart & Safe City in cooperation with the regional government of Sardinia and its Center for Advanced Studies, Research, and Development (CRS4).
Huawei is the largest of five global companies currently selling 5G equipment and systems, the others being Chinese ZTE, Finnish Nokia, Swedish Ericsson, and South Korean's Samsung.