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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

NSA Collects 250 Million Address Books Each Year

A new document leaked by Edward Snowden suggests that the NSA is harvesting a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and internet messaging accounts. At this point, it goes without saying that many belong to American citizens. During a single typical day last year, it collected 44,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other providers. Address books are a much richer source of data than call records since they often include names, telephone numbers and street addresses as well as business and family information.

The NSA has defended its bulk data collection, saying, “You need the haystack to find the needle.” The majority of e-mail, however, is spam, suggesting this is not the most efficient way to gather information. There’s only a 1-in-10,102 chance that someone identified by the NSA’s PRISM program is actually a terrorist.

Typhoon Threatens Leaking Fukushima

Typhoon Wipha, the strongest storm to approach eastern Japan since October 2004, is expected to make landfall Wednesday morning and pass near the crippled Fukushima power plant. Its arrival coincides with other disheartening news: The U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) suggested that Japanese authorities had underestimated the radiation doses workers got during the initial phases of the Fukushima disaster by as much as 20%.

Morale has been plummeting, and rates of anxiety and health problems are high. At the start of a 40-year decommissioning process, the plant is already facing a shortage of qualified workers; moreover, around 70% had to evacuate their homes after the disaster and are currently living in makeshift accommodations near the plant.

Hundreds Dying in Nigerian Military Detention

Hundreds of people who have been detained by the Nigerian military have gone missing this year, and a new report by Amnesty International suggests that they are likely dead. The rights group says that 950 people have died in military custody from shootings, suffocation in overcrowded cells, lack of medical treatment or starvation as part of the security forces’ crackdown on the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. If the numbers given to Amnesty by a senior Nigerian army officer are correct, more people died in prison this year than were killed by Boko Haram.

Nigeria claimed today that it had repelled another Boko Haram attack, killing 40 militants. Rights groups, however, suspect that most killings of Islamists occur not during battle, but while they’re in custody.

 Majority of Fast Food Workers Need Public Assistance

Data from the US Census Bureau showed that 52% of ‘front-line’ staff in fast-food restaurants had relied on at least one form of public assistance between 2007 and 2011 (this is true for 25% of the overall workforce). Additionally, a study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center reported that during that time, public benefit programs spent $243 billion on the working poor. Fast food workers and their families receive $7 billion a year in public assistance; a single Walmart Supercenter costs the country $1 million a year in public benefits. A second study by the pro-union National Employment Law Project estimated that McDonald’s workers alone received $1.2 billion in assistance; the corporation netted $5.5 billion in 2012 and devoted the same amount to dividends and stock buybacks.

US Rolls Back Limits on Arms Exports

Starting tomorrow, tens of thousands of military items will be moved out from under State Department oversight. This will enable companies to ship these items almost anywhere in the world, including countries subject to UN arms embargoes, with limited oversight. It is a big win for defense companies, will make smuggling weapons easier, the enforcement of arms sanctions harder and could increase the flow of American-made military parts into conflict-ridden regions.

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