May 7 (AP/UNB)-Microsoft has announced an ambitious effort to make voting secure, verifiable and subject to reliable audits by registering ballots in encrypted form so they can be accurately and independently tracked long after they are cast.
Two of the three top U.S elections vendors have expressed interest in potentially incorporating the open-source software into their voting systems.
The software is being developed with Galois, an Oregon-based company separately creating a secure voting system prototype under contract with the Pentagon's advanced research agency, DARPA. Dubbed "ElectionGuard," it will be available this summer, Microsoft says, with early prototypes ready to pilot for next year's U.S. general elections.
CEO Satya Nadella announced the initiative Monday at a developer's conference in Seattle, saying the software development kit would help "modernize all of the election infrastructure everywhere in the world."
Three little-known U.S. companies control about 90 percent of the market for election equipment, but have long faced criticism for poor security, antiquated technology and insufficient transparency around their proprietary, black-box voting systems.
Open-source software is inherently more secure because the underlying code is easily scrutinized by outside experts but has been shunned by the dominant vendors whose customers — the nation's 10,000 election jurisdictions — are mostly strapped for cash.
None offered bids when Travis County, Texas, home to Austin, sought to build a system with the "end-to-end" verification attributes that ElectionGuard promises to deliver.
Two of the leading vendors, Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska, and Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas, both expressed interest in partnering with Microsoft for ElectionGuard. A spokeswoman for a third vendor, Dominion Voting Systems of Denver, said the company looks forward to "learning more" about the initiative.
Anyone with an existing voting system or developing a new one will be able to incorporate ElectionGuard — at the state or local level in the U.S. or national level for jurisdictions abroad.
"Once the barrier to entry is low enough, hopefully one of the vendors will go for it, and that will bring the rest of them in quickly enough," said Dan Wallach, a Rice University computer scientist who assisted Travis County.
"It can be used with a ballot-marking device. It can be used with an optical scanner, on hand-marked paper ballots," said Josh Benaloh, a senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research and key contributor to the ElectionGuard project. Benaloh helped produce a National Academies of Science report last year that called for an urgent overhaul of the rickety U.S. election system, which Russian hackers infiltrated in 2016 in several states.
That report called for all U.S. elections to be held on human-readable paper ballots by 2020. It also advocated a specific form of routine postelection audits to ensure accurate vote counts — a requirement that "end-to-end' voting verification satisfies.
Election integrity activist Susan Greenhalgh of the National Election Defense Coalition said she hoped it would encourage innovative thinking at the level elections are actually managed.
"We can't have faith-based voting anymore," she said. "This is a great step forward in verifying election results."
ElectionGuard will let voters confirm that their votes are accurately recorded. Beyond that, the unique coded tracker it produces registers an encrypted version of the vote that keeps the ballot choice itself secret while ensuring votes are accurately counted.
That enables reliable postelection audits and recounts.
It also lets outsiders such as election watchdog groups, political parties, journalists — and voters themselves — verify online that votes are properly counted without being altered.
Microsoft executives say they also plan to build a prototype voting system for reference.
One election official who has been in informal conversations with the ElectionGuard project leaders is Dean Logan, who runs elections for Los Angeles County, the nation's most populous, and is building an open-source voting system for it.
A spinoff of Galois called Free & Fair developed the sophisticated postelection audits , known as "risk-limiting," for Colorado, which was the first U.S. state to require the audits recommended in the National Academies of Sciences report.
ElectionGuard is not designed to work with internet voting schemes — which experts consider too easily hackable — and does not currently work with vote-by-mail systems.
ES&S told The Associated Press via email that it was excited to partner with Microsoft and "still exploring the potentials" for incorporated the software kit its voting systems.
Hart InterCivic, the No. 3 vendor, said it planned a pilot project with Microsoft to "incorporate ElectionGuard functionality as an additional feature" layered over its core platform.
A spokeswoman for Dominion, the No. 2 vendor, said "We are very interested in learning more about the initiative and being able to review the various prototypes that are being planned, along with hearing more about other federally-supported efforts in the elections space."
Edgardo Cortés, a former Virginia elections commissioner now with New York University's Brennan Center, welcomed additional private sector support for election systems.
"I think it'll take a while to catch on and see how beneficial (ElectionGuard) ends up being," he said. "But I think it certainly does have a great deal of potential."
Columbia University will be partnering with Microsoft to audit the pilots.
Dhaka, May 6 (UNB) - Robi, digital services provider, on Monday announced that it will not be a part of the recently proposed merger of Axiata Group and Telenor Group.
It will remain a direct subsidiary of Axiata post completion of the proposed transaction, Robi said in a press release reacting to the discussion between the groups to combine their telecom and infrastructure assets in Asia.
The proposed merger will not impact Bangladesh market as Robi will be separately and independently managed by Axiata.
Earlier, Telenor Group and Axiata Group Berhad announced that they have been discussing to combine their telecom and infrastructure assets in Asia (MergeCo), in which Telenor would take a majority stake.
The parties were aiming to create a leading, well diversified Pan-Asian telco with operations in nine countries with a total population of close to one billion people.
Telenor's Asian footprint includes Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar. Axiata has been operating companies in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and the tower business edotco.
San Francisco, May 4 (AP/UNB) — The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook plans a cryptocurrency-based payment system that it could launch for billions of users worldwide.
The system would use a digital coin similar to bitcoin, but different in that Facebook would aim to keep the coin's value stable. Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies have been susceptible to wild fluctuations in value.
It could reportedly undermine credit cards by sidestepping the processing fees that generate much of their revenue.
The Journal report cited unidentified people familiar with the matter. It said Facebook is recruiting dozens of financial firms and online merchants to launch the network. Facebook's plans may include ways to financially reward users who interact with ads or other features.
Facebook says only that it is exploring many different applications for cryptocurrency technology.
Shenzhen (China), May 3 (UNB) - Graduation ceremony of Huawei’s biggest CSR program 'Seeds for the Future 2019' was held in Shenzhen, China at the headquarters of the company where 10 Bangladeshi ICT talents selected from five renowned received extensive training on technologies.
Yan Lei, Huawei Public Relationship Director, and 10 other students from Ethiopia were present .
This year, the students received wide range of training and technological orientation in China. In Beijing, the students received Comprehensive Chinese language course and learned Chinese Calligraphy and Taiji.
In Shenzhen, they got an overview of telecommunication network, key technologies in ICT, different generations of mobile communication (from 1G to 5G), Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Cloud Computing, Edge Computing, Internet of Things, 4G and 5G Base station configuration, etc.
This year’s Seeds for the Future program started in Bangladesh on February 17 in Dhaka.
Later on, 10 ICT talents were chosen from five renowned universities of Bangladesh through selection round throughout the month of March.
The universities were Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET), Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET), Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET) and Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET).
Before moving to China, Huawei Bangladesh organized the gala event with the 10 students who gave presentations on E-transport, E-education, Safe City & Smart City, E-banking and E-governance, on 3rd April.
Posts,Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar was present as the Chief Guest both at the press conference and gala event.
On 19th April, the students left Dhaka for China and the next day, they visited and learnt about the historical places of China as part of study tour.
On the next day, Huawei welcomed the students in Beijing with opening ceremony at Huawei executive briefing center.
Then in the next two weeks, the students got idea about Chinese culture and language in local university and finally gained practical knowledge in latest technologies at the headquarters of Huawei in Shenzhen, China.
At the graduation ceremony, Yan Lei, Huawei’s Public Relationship Director said, “Congratulations to the top talents of Bangladesh. With increasing number of ICT talents, this country never stops making us impressed. “
“They are truly advancing at a fast speed and we hope that their dream of Digital Bangladesh will be fulfilled in no time. It is an honor to be a part of such a fast moving nation being a close partner of digitalization, “ he said.
Seeds for the Future is the most heavily invested CSR program of Huawei which began in 2008. It has reached 108 countries and regions benefitting more than 30,000 students from 350 universities of the world.
Among them, 3,600 students have experienced practical work experience during the study tour to Huawei's headquarters.
The main objective of this program is to help develop industry oriented skills among the students to bridge the gap between academia and industry.
About the progamme, Tasfia Zahin ,Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology student) and Student Representative of Seeds for the Future Bangladesh 2019, said, “ We learned about key technologies in ICT, the four generations of mobile communication and most importantly the 5th generation network or 5g. “
San Francisco, May 3 (AP/UNB) — After years of pressure to crack down on hate and bigotry, Facebook has banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on "dangerous individuals."
The company also removed right-wing personalities Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Jones' site, Infowars, which often posts conspiracy theories. The latest bans apply to both Facebook's main service and to Instagram and extend to fan pages and other related accounts.
Decried as censorship by several of those who got the ax, the move signals a renewed effort by the social media giant to remove people and groups promoting objectionable material such as hate, racism and anti-Semitism.
Removing some of the best-known figures of the U.S. political extreme takes away an important virtual megaphone that Facebook has provided the likes of Jones, Yiannopoulos and others over the years. But it does not address what might be done with lesser known figures and those who stay on the margins of what Facebook's policies allow.
Critics praised the move but said there is more to be done on both Facebook and Instagram.
"We know that there are still white supremacists and other extremist figures who are actively using both platforms to spread their hatred and bigotry," said Keegan Hankes, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the U.S.
Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook executive and an internet policy expert at Harvard, said the ban isn't as big a step as Facebook appears to be painting it — it's just enforcing its existing policy.
"There will always be more purveyors of hate speech that try to come on these platforms," he said. "Will advocates have to push year after year just to get (a handful of) individuals off? At this rate it seems likely. And this doesn't address the problem of what happens at the margins."
Facebook has previously suspended Jones from its flagship service temporarily; this suspension is permanent and includes Instagram. Twitter has also banned Loomer, Jones and Yiannopoulos, though Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam long known for provocative comments widely considered anti-Semitic, still had an account Thursday. So did Watson, who rose to popularity as editor-at-large at Infowars and has nearly a million followers on the site.
Facebook said the newly banned accounts violated its policy against dangerous individuals and organizations. The company says it has always banned people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology.
It added that when it bans someone under this policy, the company said it also prohibits anyone else from praising or supporting them.
For years, social media companies have been under pressure from civil rights groups and other activists to clamp down on hate speech on their services. Following the deadly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Google, Facebook and PayPal began banishing extremist groups and individuals who identified as or supported white supremacists.
A year later, widespread bans of Jones and Infowars reflected a more aggressive enforcement of policies against hate speech. But Facebook instituted only a 30-day suspension (though Twitter banned him permanently).
It is not clear what events led to Thursday's announcement. In a statement, Facebook merely said, "The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today."
Last month, it extended its ban on hate speech to prohibit the promotion and support of white nationalism and white separatism. It had previously allowed such material even though it has long banned white supremacists.
Asked to comment on the bans, Yiannopoulos emailed only "You're next."
Jones reacted angrily Thursday during a live stream of his show on his Infowars website.
"They didn't just ban me. They just defamed us. Why did Zuckerberg even do this?" Jones said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Jones called himself a victim of "racketeering" by "cartels."
"There's a new world now, man, where they're banning everybody and then they tell Congress nobody is getting banned," he said.
Watson, meanwhile, tweeted that he was not given a reason and that he "broke none of their rules."
"Hopefully, other prominent conservatives will speak out about me being banned, knowing that they are next if we don't pressure the Trump administration to take action," he wrote.
Farrakhan, Nehlen and Loomer did not immediately return messages for comment.
Harvard's Ghosh said kicking off individuals with big followings, such as Jones, goes against Facebook's commercial interest.
"As soon as they kick Alex Jones or Laura Loomer off their platform, it immediately ticks of a huge number of people," he said.