Posts with «government» label

Former Boeing chief technical pilot involved in 737 Max testing charged with fraud

Mark A. Forkner, Boeing's former chief technical pilot involved in the company's 737 Max testing, was indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Texas. Due to his position with the company, he was in charge of coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the kind of training a pilot needs to fly a particular plane. The indictment accuses him of deceiving the agency's Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) when it evaluated and certified the 737 Max model. If you'll recall, two 737 Max planes crashed within months of each other in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.

Forkner allegedly provided the FAA with "materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information about a new part of the flight controls for the Boeing 737 MAX called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)." In both crashes, the AEG determined after an investigation that MCAS, a system designed to push the plane's nose down in certain situations, activated during the flight. The planes that crashed — Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — nosedived almost as soon as they took off.

According to the Department of Justice, Forkner discovered an important change to MCAS in November 2016, but he allegedly withheld that information from the AEG. As a result, the FAA removed all reference to MCAS in the pilot training materials for the 737 Max. Acting US Attorney Chad E. Meacham for the Northern District of Texas said in a statement that the former chief pilot's actions were financially motivated:

“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators. His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls. The Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud — especially in industries where the stakes are so high."

Earlier this year, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle the criminal charge that it had conspired to defraud the FAA. It also agreed to work with the FAA's fraud section for any ongoing and future investigations. As for Forkner, he was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts and four counts of wire fraud. He's now facing a sentence of up to 100 years in prison. 

House bill would limit Section 230 protections for 'malicious' algorithms

Congress is once again hoping to limit Section 230 safeguards under certain circumstances. Rep. Frank Pallone and other House Democrats are introducing a bill, the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act (JAMA), that would make internet platforms liable when they "knowingly or recklessly" use algorithms to recommend content that leads to physical or "severe emotional" harm. They're concerned online giants like Facebook are knowingly amplifying harmful material, and that companies should be held responsible for this damage.

The key sponsors, including Reps. Mike Doyle, Jan Schakowsky and Anna Eshoo, pointed to whistleblower Frances Haugen's Senate testimony as supposed evidence of Facebook's algorithm abuse. Her statements were proof Facebook was abusing the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 "well beyond congressional intent," according to Eshoo. Haugen alleged that Facebook knew its social networks were harmful to children and spread "divisive and extreme" content.

The bill only applies to services with over 5 million monthly users, and won't cover basic online infrastructure (such as web hosting) or user-specified searches. JAMA will go before the House on October 15th.

As with past proposed reforms, there are no guarantees JAMA will become law. Provided it passes the House, an equivalent measure still has to clear a Senate that has been hostile to some Democrat bills. The parties have historically disagreed on how to change Section 230 — Democrats believe it doesn't require enough moderation for hate and misinformation, while Republicans have claimed it enables censorship of conservative viewpoints. The bill's vaguer concepts, such as 'reckless' algorithm use and emotional damage, might raise fears of over-broad interpretations.

The bill could still send a message even if it dies, though. Pallone and the other JAMA backers argue the "time for self-regulation is over" — they're no longer convinced social media heavyweights like Facebook can apologize, implement a few changes and carry on. This won't necessarily lead to a more strictly regulated social media space, but it could put more pressure on social networks to implement far-reaching policy changes.

California could ban gas-powered generators and mowers by 2024

California could ban sales of some gas-powered devices, including lawn equipment, generators and pressure washers. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law over the weekend that orders regulators to prohibit the sale of small off-road engines.

The California Air Resources Board was already working on rules to that effect, but Newsom has given the agency deadlines for adopting and applying the regulations. The agency has until July 1st to adopt the rules. The regulations will apply to engines made on or after January 1st, 2024, or whenever is feasible in the state board's opinion — whichever is later. The law also stipulates that regulators will need to offer rebates to lower the cost of switching equipment. The latest state budget set aside $30 million to cover the costs.

The aim of the law is to reduce emissions. As the Associated Press notes, California brought in emission standards for those engines in 1990. Although emissions from cars have generally decreased over the last few decades, that hasn't necessarily been the case for small off-road engines.

State officials have said that a gas-powered leaf blower that's used for one hour emits the same level of pollution as a 2017 Toyota Camry that travels for around 1,100 miles. There are currently more than 16.7 million devices with small off-road engines in California — three million or so more than the number of passenger cars in the state.

California is tackling emissions from gas-powered engines on other fronts. Last year, the California Air Resources Board said all truck and van manufacturers will have to switch to electric versions by 2045. The state will also ban sales of new combustion engine cars and trucks by 2035. Many auto manufacturers are aiming to switch entirely to EVs by that time. Another zero-emissions rule for light-duty autonomous vehicles will come into effect starting in 2030.

There are already some electric pressure washers and lawn mowers on the market. Zero-emission generators might be harder to come by, though some companies have also attempted to make hydrogen-powered models.

US will bring together 30 countries to tackle ransomware

The Biden administration plans to bring together 30 countries later this month to discuss the threat ransomware attacks pose to global economic and national security. Per CNN, the virtual meeting is part of what the president says will become an ongoing multilateral initiative to tackle the cybersecurity problem.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the network the goal of the meeting is "to accelerate our cooperation in combatting cybercrime, improving law enforcement collaboration, stemming the illicit use of cryptocurrency, and engaging on these issues diplomatically."

The alliance marks the latest effort by the Biden administration to tackle the issue of ransomware following a year in which one such attack on the Colonial Pipeline led to gas shortages across parts of the US. In the aftermath of the incident, the president signed an executive order that called for greater cooperation and information sharing between disparate federal agencies. More recently, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the SUEX cryptocurrency exchange for allegedly facilitating several attacks.

New FCC rules could force telephone companies to block robocalls to 911 call centers

Back in 2012, Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a special do-not-call registry to protect 911 call centers from robocalls. The system was never implemented in part due to security concerns that came up when the FCC and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started looking into the feasibility of the idea. Specifically, there was a worry that a bad actor could use the registry to flood a call center with automated calls and thereby prevent them from helping people in need.

Fast forward to the present and the FCC says it has a better idea on how to accomplish the goal assigned to it by Congress. On Thursday, the agency proposed new rules that would require telephone companies to block robocalls made to those facilities. As Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel points out, the advantage of this approach is that it would limit access to the do-not-call registry to a select group of verified telephone companies and carriers. And by limiting access to that list, the FCC and FTC can put in place better safeguards to protect it. With today’s decision, the FCC isn’t ready yet to implement that system, but what it does plan to do is collect feedback before moving forward. “We believe this is a promising approach, but we want to get this right,” Rosenworcel said. 

California makes zero-emission autonomous vehicles mandatory by 2030

Starting in 2030, California will require all light-duty autonomous vehicles that operate in the state to emit zero emissions. Signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday, SB 500 represents the latest effort by the state to limit the sale of new internal combustion vehicles with an eye towards reducing greenhouse emissions. In 2020, Newsom signed an executive order that effectively banned the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035. That same year, the state’s Air Resources Board mandated that all new trucks sold in California emit zero emissions by 2045.

“We’re grateful for California’s leadership in ensuring this will be the industry standard,” said Prashanthi Raman, head of global government affairs at Cruise, in a statement to Engadget. “The AV industry is primed to lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in cities, and it’s why we’ve operated an all-electric, zero-emissions fleet from the start.” Cruise backed SB 500 through its involvement with the Emission Zero Coalition, a group that also includes autonomous delivery startup Nuro.

Per the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector has been the single largest source of greenhouse emissions in the US since 2019, with light-duty vehicles accounting for more than half of that output. However, autonomous cars currently represent only a tiny fraction of the nearly 15 million vehicles on California roads. Moreover, both Cruise and Waymo, two of the most prominent companies testing fully autonomous taxi services in the state, utilize fleets made almost exclusively of electric and hybrid vehicles. This latest move from California then is about preventing autonomous vehicles from becoming major polluters in the future, particularly if driverless taxi services become popular among commuters.

UK appeals court rules AI cannot be listed as a patent inventor

Add the United Kingdom to the list of countries that says an artificial intelligence can’t be legally credited as an inventor. Per the BBC, the UK Court of Appeal recently ruled against Dr Stephen Thaler in a case involving the country’s Intellectual Property Office. In 2018, Thaler filed two patent applications in which he didn’t list himself as the creator of the inventions mentioned in the documents. Instead, he put down his AI DABUS and said the patent should go to him “by ownership of the creativity machine.”

The Intellectual Property Office told Thaler he had to list a real person on the application. When he didn’t do that, the agency decided he had withdrawn from the process. Thaler took the case to the UK’s High Court. The body ruled against him, leading to the eventual appeal. "Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot," Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing of the Appeal Court wrote in her judgment. "A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person."

Thaler has filed similar legal challenges in other countries, and the results so far have been mixed. In August, a judge in Australia ruled inventions created by an AI can qualify for a patent. However, only earlier this month, US District Judge Leonie M Brinkema upheld a decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office that said “only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application." Judge Brinkema said there may eventually be a time when AI becomes sophisticated enough to satisfy the accepted definitions of inventorship, but noted, “that time has not yet arrived, and, if it does, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law.”

NASA reorganizes to prepare for future missions to the Moon and Mars

As it moves towards returning to the Moon ideally sometime in 2024, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is creating two new mission directorates. With the move, the agency is separating its existing Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate. NASA said it's making the change in response to the increasing number of missions it's conducting in low-Earth orbit, in addition to the plans it has for exploring deep space in the future.

It also announced who's leading those units. Jim Free, a NASA veteran who has been with the space agency on and off since 1990, is the new associate administrator of ESDMD, while Kathy Lueders is taking on the equivalent position at the Space Operations Mission Directorate. Before becoming the first-ever woman to oversee human spaceflight at NASA, Lueders managed the Commercial Crew Program. As for what the two units will do, ESDMD will oversee the development of programs critical to Project Artemis and eventually manned spaceflight to Mars. Meanwhile, its counterpart will focus on launch operations, including those involving the International Space Station, with an eye towards Moon missions later.     

According to NASA, the reorganization is ultimately about looking forward to the next 20 years. The new structure will allow one unit to focus on human spaceflight while the other builds future space systems. In that way, the agency says there will be a constant cycle of development and operations to help it move forward with its space exploration goals.

"This reorganization positions NASA and the United States for success as we venture farther out into the cosmos than ever before, all while supporting the continued commercialization of space and research on the International Space Station," Nelson said. "This also will allow the United States to maintain its leadership in space for decades to come."

US will reportedly impose crypto sanctions amid ransomware attacks

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration plans to implement new measures to make it more difficult for hackers to profit from ransomware attacks using cryptocurrencies. As early as next week, the Treasury Department will reportedly impose sanctions and guidance designed to discourage organizations from using digital currencies to pay for ransoms.

Per The Journal, among the measures the agency is considering are fines and other penalties aimed at businesses that cooperate with hackers. Later in the year, the Treasury Department is also expected to implement new anti-money laundering and terror-financing regulation to limit further the use of cryptocurrencies as a payment method for ransoms and other illegal activity.

The incoming sanctions will reportedly single out specific traders and exchanges instead of casting a wide net and attempting to disrupt the entire crypto ecosystem. In addition to harming organizations that may have facilitated ransomware payments in the past, the hope is that sanctions will scare most cryptocurrency platforms from processing those types of transactions in the future.

“An action of this kind would be an aggressive, proactive approach to going after those who facilitate ransomware payments,” Ari Redbord, a former Treasury Department official, told The Journal.

The measures would be the latest attempt by the Biden administration to tackle the issue of ransomware attacks following a year in which they’ve increased in frequency and severity. After the Colonial Pipeline attack led to fuel shortages in parts of the US, the president signed an executive order that called for, among other things, improved information sharing between federal agencies. More recently, the Department of Homeland Security laid out mandatory rules that call on pipeline operators to appoint cybersecurity coordinators and report incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

New York passes law that will ban all gas-powered car sales by 2035

In 14 years' time, no fossil fuel-powered vehicles will be sold in New York anymore. The state has passed a new law that bans the sale of gas vehicles starting in 2035, requiring all new cars to be zero emission. New York's Senate and Assembly passed the bill and Governor Kathy Hochul signed it into law last week. The move will help reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent and help it achieve its climate targets, including an 85 reduction in GHG emissions by 2050.

As Ars Technica notes, though, the state has a lot of work ahead of it, considering only around one percent of new vehicles sold in New York at the moment is fully electric. That's why, under the new law, several state agencies are required to work together to conjure a zero-emissions vehicle market development strategy by the end of next year. They'll have to find a feasible way to make sure that even off-road vehicles and equipment sold in the state are emissions-free by 2035. The law also requires all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold in New York to be emissions-free by 2045.

In addition to having to convince people to buy electric within the next 14 years, New York will also have install an extensive charging network across the state. That includes installing charging stations at apartments, groceries, malls and parking lots. 

California also banned the sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035 last year, and Massachusetts followed suit earlier this year. Meanwhile, Washington lawmakers tried to pass a law that prohibits sales of gas-powered cars by 2030, but it was ultimately vetoed by Governor Jay Inslee.