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Leading the News

DOJ: Apple’s Arguments In Encryption Dispute Are A “Diversion.”

Several major print and online sources cover the Justice Department’s Thursday court filing in the ongoing legal battle between the government and Apple over San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. Many sources note the pointed tone the government takes in its writing. The filing comes ahead of a hearing in the case set for March 22.

The Washington Post  (3/10, Berman) reports that the Justice Department said on Thursday that “Apple’s attempts at linking an ongoing fight over a locked iPhone to broader questions about encryption are ‘a diversion,’ pushing back against an argument repeatedly made by the company and its supporters in Silicon Valley.” Federal prosecutors argued in a court filing that “this fight is one of Apple’s own making, accusing the company of having ‘deliberately raised technological barriers’ that are keeping the iPhone locked.” The Post notes that Apple “and a number of other major tech firms” have said “the California case could set a dangerous precedent, one that could have a far-reaching impact on privacy in an era where personal information is increasingly protected on encrypted devices.” Mashable  (3/10, Hernandez) further quotes the DOJ that “Apple desperately wants—desperately needs—this case not to be ‘about one isolated iPhone.”

USA Today  (3/10, Johnson) reports that according to the DOJ’s filing, it would take as little as six Apple employees two weeks to assist the FBI in cracking the San Bernardino iPhone. “This burden is not unreasonable,” Justice Department lawyers argued. “The court’s order is modest; it applies to a single iPhone, and it allows Apple to decide the least burdensome means of complying.”

In an analysis piece, PC World  (3/10) reports that the government’s claim that the court order “applies to a single iPhone” clashes with Feb. 25 testimony before Congress by FBI Director Comey and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Both men “admitted that while this specific order is for this specific phone, the government would very likely seek to use this technique again with subsequent orders,” PC World says.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News  (3/10, Mintz) reports that government lawyers accused Apple of relying on “false rhetoric” in its fight against the FBI. “The Order invades no one’s privacy and raises no Fourth Amendment concerns,” Justice Department lawyers wrote. “The government and the community need to know what is on the terrorist’s phone, and the government needs Apple’s assistance to find out,” the lawyers said in the filing. Apple contends that the government is seeking a precedent that would threaten the privacy rights of millions of iPhone users.

CBS News  (3/10) reports online that according to the DOJ, the government has reason to believe that Farook’s locked iPhone contains information related to the attack. “There is probable cause to believe there is evidence of a terrorist attack on that phone, and our legal system gives this Court the authority to see that it can be searched pursuant to a lawful warrant,” government lawyers said in Thursday’s filing. The government’s insistence that Apple help the FBI “is not lawless tyranny. Rather, it is ordered liberty vindicating the rule of law.”

Reuters  (3/10) reports that in the filing, government attorneys responded to Apple’s claims that helping the FBI in the San Bernardino case would make it difficult for the company to deny repressive governments similar assistance by questioning whether the company is actually resisting such requests now. “For example, according to Apple’s own data, China demanded information from Apple regarding over 4,000 iPhones in the first half of 2015, and Apple produced data 74 percent of the time,” the prosecutors wrote.

The New York Times  (3/10, Lichtblau, Benner, Subscription Publication) reports that Apple’s attorneys were “particularly upset” about the government’s statements regarding the company’s relationship with China. Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell said the government cited unidentified sources for its claim that Apple has a special relationship with China. “Mr. Sewell likened the Justice Department’s comments on China to Apple arguing that the F.B.I. cannot be trusted because there are rumors that the bureau was behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy and citing “conspiracytheory.com” as its source,” the Times says.

Top Apple Official: FBI Could Force Us To Turn On iPhone Cameras, Microphones. The Hill (DC)  (3/10, Williams) reports that a top Apple official “is warning the FBI could force the company to turn on users’ cameras and microphones to spy on them if it prevails in the court fight over the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. ‘Someday they will want [Apple] to turn on [a user’s] camera or microphone. We can’t do that now, but what if we’re forced to do that?’ Apple senior vice president of Internet software and services Eddy Cue said to Univision. ‘Where will this stop? In a divorce case? In an immigration case? In a tax case? Some day, someone will be able to turn on a phone’s microphone. That should not happen in this country,’ he continued, according to The Guardian.”

App Developers Increase Security Amid FBI/Apple Dispute. Citing a Bloomberg News  (3/10, Kahn) report, Mac Daily News  (3/10) says that amid Apple’s fight with the FBI, communications app developers are working to ramp up the security of their products. “Wire, a messaging app backed by Skype co-founder Janus Friis, is the latest to add end-to-end encryption and secure video communication to its service, the company announced today, as it tries to gain traction against rival communications platforms,” Mac Daily News reports.

Report: US Adults Trail Other Nations In Technological Problem Solving Skills.

Michelle Molnar writes at the Education Week  (3/11) “Digital Education” blog that the nonprofit Change the Equation, which promotes technological literacy in schools, has conducted an analysis of data from the 2012 Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, concluding that “the US education system isn’t adequately preparing students to use technology for problem-solving.” The group studied how millennials performed on the assessment, and found that while millennials are proficient with the basic use of technology, they are less capable of “solving high-level problems with technology.” Moreover, “58 percent of millennials struggle to use digital tools and networks to solve relatively simple problems that involve skills like sorting, searching for, and emailing information from a spreadsheet, the study found.”

NPR’s All Things Considered  (3/10) reports that the study shows that “when it comes to technology skills, we’re dead last compared with other developed countries.” National Center of Education Statistics acting Commissioner Peggy Carr said of the study, “Clearly, we have some work to do in this country.” The study found that the US “was average or well behind” other countries “in literacy, math and technology skills, while the United States’ performance was average or well below average in each category.”

US News & World Report  (3/10) reports in its “Data Mine” blog the report found that US adults “lag far behind adults in other countries when it comes to skills needed for the workplace, especially when it comes to complex problem-solving skills.” The article says US students scored “significantly lower” than students in other countries in “literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving.” This piece quotes Carr saying, “The adult population in the United States is decidedly weaker in numeracy and digital problem-solving skills than in literacy. Troublingly, there are more U.S. adults at the lowest proficiency levels in all of the skills tested than the international average.”

The Wall Street Journal  (3/10, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports that Stephen Provasnik, US technical adviser for the International Assessment for Adult Competency, said that the reduced proficiency levels indicated by the study are owing to falling literacy and numeracy in US students.

The Politico  (3/10) “Morning Education” blog and WTOP-FM  Washington (3/10) also cover this story.

Higher Education

Binghamton University Hosts STEAM Pathways Event.

WICZ-TV  Binghamton, NY (3/11) reports Binghamton University hosted a STEAM Pathways evening Thursday to “increase awareness” of careers or educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. BAE Systems and IBM “had exhibits at the event location.”

Administration Higher Education Adviser Kvaal Stepping Down.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/10) reports that James Kvaal, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, “the quiet force behind President Obama’s push for free community college,” is leaving the Administration to become a “policy maker in residence” at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Kvaal “drove efforts to develop a college-ratings plan (ultimately settling for a revamped College Scorecard), and he helped plan two College Opportunity summits.” During his prior time at ED, Kvaal “put in place the controversial ‘gainful employment rule,’ continuing a crackdown on for-profit colleges started by his predecessor, Robert M. Shireman.”

Inside Higher Ed  (3/10) characterizes Kvaal as “one of the architects of President Obama’s most significant higher education policies,” saying he “was a driving force behind some of Obama’s higher education policy achievements, such as overhauling the federal student loan system and expanding income-based repayment for student loans.” Kvaal “played an influential role in the Obama administration’s long-running duel with for-profit colleges.”

Student Debt Expert: Education Department Seeks To Deprive Defrauded Student Borrowers Of Relief.

Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective, writes in the Washington Post  (3/10, Taylor), that despite federal law and an effort by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. and the Education Department are “on a path to make it nearly impossible for students to get the debt cancellations to which they are entitled.” She argues that federal law requires that “student borrowers whose schools engage in abusive and deceptive practices get relief.” Yet, in the wake of evidence that Corinthian Colleges engaged in such fraud, the Education Department, rather than “discharging people’s federal loans,” has instead “decided to rewrite the regulation.” Taylor argues that there are hundreds of thousands of students who should be eligible for relief. Their treatment, says Taylor, “stands in stark contrast” to the statement last summer by then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan promising “every penny of relief they are entitled to under the law.”

LATimes Op-Ed: Student Loan Borrowers Should Have Right To Debt Relief.

In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times  (3/10, Collinge), Alan Collinge of StudentLoanJustice.org argues in favor of the right for student loan borrowers to discharge outstanding debt in bankruptcy proceedings. Collinge highlights the statistics that support the growing concern with student loans, including the $1.5 trillion nationwide student loan debt and the 63 percent of 2005 college graduates who were unable to repay their loans under a standard plan by 2010. As the 2016 presidential candidates have not outlined a plan that addresses current outstanding student debt, Collinge calls for each candidate to sponsor legislation that would allow borrowers to use the bankruptcy issue for debt forgiveness.

Study Finds US College Students Able To Manage Money.

Reuters  (3/10, Pinsker) reports that Sallie Mae released a survey on Thursday which found that 77 percent of US college students aged 18-24 pay their bills on time, and 73 percent do so without parents’ help. According to the survey, only 56 percent of this demographic have a credit card, with most preferring to use a debit card with the option of mobile paying services.

From ASEE
I-Corps for Learning Dear Colleague Letter
The I-Corps for Learning program recognizes recent discoveries and promising practices from STEM education research and development and promotes opportunities for their widespread adoption, adaptation, and utilization.

Safe Zone Ally Workhsops
With funding from NSF, ASEE is offering online workshops to become a Safe Zone Ally.

$25K E4U3 Video Contest
The National Academy of Engineering has announced a video contest on Mega Engineering! Most of humankind’s biggest endeavors are mega engineering projects that provide solutions that span disciplines, geographies, and cultural boundaries.

Research and Development

Saudi Researcher Develops “Smart Skin” Using Household Materials.

The Washington Post  (3/10, Blakemore) reports that Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, a professor of electrical engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia has “developed a dirt-cheap ‘smart skin’ that can multitask like the real thing” using “household goods, such as Post-It notes, aluminum foil and tape.” Such technology could “be used to make prosthetics smarter, make wearable technology even more wearable and give robots as more sophisticated sense of touch.” Hussain says past efforts to make “smart skins” have been based on “pricey two-dimensional components such as carbon nanotubes.”

IARPA Mapping Mouse Brain For Potential Future Use In AI.

The AP  (3/10, McGuire) reports that in a project run by IARPA, an “international team of scientists is hoping that the key to building smarter computers and artificial intelligence may be locked inside a tiny portion of a mouse’s brain which they plan on mapping to ultimately allow machines to learn as we do.”

Global Developments

Robots Used In Fukushima Cleanup.

The Los Angeles Times  (3/10, Kaiman) reports Hiroshi Endo “spent a decade building a robotic arm that Japan deployed to the International Space Station in 2010,” yet, his “next challenge made that one look easy.” In 2011, the 61-year-old retired Hitachi engineer “began designing a robot to aid in decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the site of a meltdown that marked the worst nuclear crisis since Ukraine’s Chernobyl disaster in 1986.” In short, “robots have played a crucial role in Japan’s efforts to inspect, decontaminate and ultimately decommission the devastated nuclear reactors – a necessary step to regaining public trust and consigning the accident to history.”

Industry News

US, Canada Vow To Cut Methane Emissions.

The New York Times  (3/10, Shear, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday announced “new commitments to reduce planet-warming emissions of methane,” which is “a chemical contained in natural gas that is about 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide and that can leak from drilling wells and pipelines.” In a joint statement, the leaders vowed the US and Canada would “play a leadership role internationally in the low carbon global economy over the coming decades.” Obama and Trudeau “also pledged new cooperation in preserving the Arctic and focusing on biodiversity, science-based decision-making, indigenous people and building a sustainable Arctic economy.” The countries will also seek to “accelerate the carrying out of agreements made in climate talks in Paris last year.” The Los Angeles Times  (3/10, Yardley) similarly reports “the most notable commitment…is a plan to reduce potent methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025.” The Washington Times  (3/10, Boyer) reports the EPA “will begin developing regulations ‘immediately,’ the White House said.”

The Hill (DC)  (3/10, Cama) reports Obama said, “I’m especially pleased to say the United States and Canada are fully united in combating climate change.” Obama added, “Canada’s joining us in our aggressive goal to bring down methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors in both of our countries. And together we’re going to move swiftly to establish comprehensive standards to meet that goal.” Trudeau said, “The president and I share a common goal,” adding, “Want the clean growth economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all of our citizens. And I’m confident that by working together we’ll get there sooner than we think.” The Los Angeles Times  (3/10, Yardley) reports that the announcement yesterday on methane emissions “served as a broader reaffirmation of the cooperative spirit long shared between the countries – strained in recent years – that has moved forward significantly since Trudeau’s election in October.”

The Houston Chronicle  (3/10, Osborne) reports the move by the White House yesterday “to expand methane emission limits to all oil and natural gas wells upped the stakes in the administration’s campaign to fight climate change.” The Chronicle adds that “the change would bring federal pollution rules in line with President Barack Obama’s earlier stated promise to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling at least 40 percent by 2025, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.” At a news conference yesterday, McCarthy said, “Based on this growing body of science, it’s become clear it’s come time for EPA to take additional action. … We’ll start this work immediately, and we intend to work quickly.”

The Hill (DC)  (3/10, Cama) reports the American Petroleum Institute criticized the announcement as “catering to environmental extremists at the expense of American consumers.” API vice president for regulations Kyle Isakower said, “Additional regulations on methane by the administration could discourage the shale energy revolution that has helped America lead the world in reducing emissions while significantly lowering the costs of energy to consumers. … We need to make sure that new regulations are necessary, not duplicative, and that they are based on sound science.” Bloomberg News  (3/10, Dlouhy) reports that the decision “imposes new costs on an industry that’s already reeling.” Energy In Depth spokesman Steve Everley said, “The economic impacts of these new regulations could be serious, especially for the men and women working in the oil and natural gas industry already suffering from a difficult market.”

Politico  (3/10, Restuccia), the Wall Street Journal  (3/10, Lee, Vieira, Subscription Publication), the Christian Science Monitor  (3/10, Hinckley), Reuters  (3/10, Ljunggren, Gardner), the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (3/10, Conti) and the Financial Times  (3/10, Dyer, Crooks, Subscription Publication) reports,

Toyota Hires Whole AI Company For Autonomous Car Program.

Fortune  (3/10, Hackett) reports that Toyota has hired the entire 16-person team at Jaybridge Robotics, an artificial intelligence software firm that originated at MIT, for its Toyota Research Institute advanced projects lab, led by former DARPA program manager Gill Pratt. Jaybridge CEO Jeremy Brown said in a statement that the team is excited to begin “going after the big one: helping to reduce the nearly 1.25 million traffic fatalities each year, worldwide.” Engadget  (3/10, Rigg) and Seeking Alpha  (3/10, Minkoff) also report.

Engineering and Public Policy

New US Rule Would Give Foreign Grads In STEM Fields An Extended Stay.

The New York Times  (3/9, Robbins, Subscription Publication) reports the federal government will publish a rule Friday making international students earning graduate degrees in STEM fields in the US eligible to stay for three years of on-the-job training, a seven-month extension of a 2008 rule. The Times says that beyond more experience, the extension allows foreign students additional opportunities to apply for work visas should they not receive the limited number given each year. While some say such visas hurt American workers, the new rule, expected to be put in place in May, “states directly” that “a STEM OPT student would not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.”

Pennsylvania Engineer Pleads Guilty To Role In Providing False Statements To EPA.

The Allentown (PA) Morning Call  (3/10) reports Pennsylvania engineer William Barnes “has admitted he rubber-stamped false reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the owners of two Lehigh Valley biofuel companies charged in a $50 million clean energy scam.” Barnes pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court “to two charges of conspiring to provide false statements related to engineering reviews he performed” for Allentown’s Environmental Energy Recycling Corp. and Smarter Fuel Inc. of Wind Gap. The owners of the companies were charged in December “in an 101-count indictment alleging they overstated the amount of clean diesel and heating oil their companies produced between 2010 and 2012.”

DOE Awards Vouchers To Link National Laboratories With Small Businesses.

The AP  (3/10) reports the Energy Department announced yesterday that the Federal government is investing almost “$7 million in 33 small businesses” across the US “to build partnerships with national laboratories in hopes of speeding up development of clean energy technology.” The businesses that were selected “represent only a fraction of the hundreds that applied to participate in the first round of a new small business voucher pilot project.” The businesses “represent 20 different states and will be working with nine national labs.” An additional “$13 million in vouchers will be awarded to small businesses in subsequent rounds, and officials have asked for a budget increase for the next fiscal year to expand the project.” DOE assistant secretary David Danielson said during a conference call, “If we really want to accelerate our transition to a low-carbon economy, we have to accelerate the process of lab technology reaching the market and help our labs to collaborate with the private sector.”

E&E News PM  (3/11, Subscription Publication) reports the aim “of the new Small Business Vouchers Pilot is to allow small companies to tap resources such as supercomputers to speed up the development of promising energy technologies.”

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (3/10) reports that technologies developed by Sandia National Laboratories were on display Thursday at a technology showcase event where DOE and NNSA officials “got a first-hand look at lab programs that assist businesses in moving cutting-edge innovation to market.” The Journal explains that Sandia participates in the DOE’s new Small Business Vouchers pilot program which “includes $20 million in federal funding to help businesses gain access to resources and expertise at DOE labs to develop or improve clean-energy technology.”

New Study Says New Mexico Could Benefit From Proactive Approach To Achieving Clean Power Plan Targets.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (3/10, Robinson-Avila) reports that a new study released on Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says New Mexico could gain “economic, consumer, and social and health benefits by moving toward more clean energy sources,” according to UCS analyst Jeff Deyette. The article says the new study recommends New Mexico be “proactive” in achieving the Clean Power Plan’s emission reduction targets for electric power plants because new state policy initiatives could “encourage $2.7 billion in new investments in” green energy, “reduce average household electric costs,” “generate…revenue from carbon-credit trading,” and “provide about $223 million in health and economic benefits…from pollution reduction at power plants.”

Sources: Westar Energy Considering Possible Sale.

Bloomberg News  (3/10, Monks) reports that Kansas utility Westar Energy is talking with potential financial advisers as it evaluates options that could lead to a sale, according to unnamed sources. “The potential sale comes amid a boom in utilities deal-making, as power companies grappling with flat electricity demand and rising costs seek growth via acquisitions.” Westar operates in a single state, making regulatory approval less complicated.

Westar Seeks Residential, School Rate Hikes. The AP  (3/10) reports that Westar Energy “is asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to allow it to increase rates for residential customers and schools and to reduce them for most businesses.” Rates would rise 29 percent for schools and most residential customer would pay $4 per month more. Large commercial and industrial customers would get a 4 percent reduction. “If approved, the proposed changes would bring in another $25 million a year for Westar, which received a $78 million general rate increase in September.”

Oregon Governor To Sign Renewable Energy Legislation Into Law On Friday.

The Portland (OR) Business Journal  (3/10, Cronin, Subscription Publication) reports that on Friday Governor Kate Brown will sign the “Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan into law,” which requires Pacific Power and Portland General Electric to eliminate coal use in supplying electricity and provide half of the state’s electric demand with renewable energy by 2040.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Education Expert Describes Differences Between Personalized Learning, Blended Learning.

In commentary for the Hechinger Report  (3/10), LEAP Innovations CEO Phyllis Lockett writes about the differences between personalized learning and blended learning, two concepts she says are often lumped together. She writes that blended learning “is teaching and learning infused with technology,” while personalized learning “includes both a tailored learner profile and pathway and evidence of competency-based progression,” neither of which require classroom technology.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

King Promotes Maker Spaces, Calls For Congress To Reauthorize Perkins Act At Baltimore Nonprofit.
CFPB Pushing Student Loan Companies To Avoid “Confusing Fine Print.”
UMass Researchers Develop Improved Wind Turbine Anchoring System.
IT Security Careers On The Rise.
IBM Opens Johannesburg Cloud Data Center.
FTC Chief Technologist Says Frequent Password Changes May Not Improve Cybersecurity.
Florida Democrat Places Hold On Flint Aid, Energy Bill.

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