Friday news roundup for Feb. 3

This week’s news roundup, with an effort to find more good news:

Brian CheskyAirbnb is offering free housing for refugees and others whom the US has turned away. Co-founder Brian Chesky wrote, “Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right, and we must stand with those who are affected.”

The US government subjected Twitter to two National Security Letters, one in 2015 and one in 2016. The NSLs “requested” “a large amount of data.” The gag orders were lifted only in January 2017.
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Effects of the Muslim ban on the tech world

Trump’s ban on non-citizens (at first including permanent residents) from seven countries entering the US has hurt a broad range of people. Let’s take a look at its effects on the tech world.

Sanaz Ahari LemelsonThe Guardian reports that “the ban dealt a blow to the technology industry, which relies heavily on foreign-born software engineers.” It cites examples such as Sanaz Ahari Lemelson, a Canadian citizen who was born in Iran and has a green card in the US. She’s the director of product management at Google. Her parents, who live in Vancouver, can’t visit her in Seattle.
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The Tor Project and browser

Using the Web can seriously dangerous in some places. People who post criticism of authorities could be jailed, flogged, or even killed if they’re caught. The Tor Project tries to protect these people by giving them hard-to-trace Web access.

Homeland Security doesn’t like it when Americans can communicate without being spied on. In 2015, the Kilton Library in Lebanon, NH, set up a Tor node. DHS paid them a “visit” to let them know they didn’t like it. The node was suspended for a while, but DHS in fact had no legal authority to tell them to stop. Backed by strong community support, the node came back and is still running. The Library Freedom Project promotes the use of Tor nodes and other anti-surveillance technologies in libraries.
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The return of Lavabit

Lavabit is back.

In 2013, the federal government launched an all-out attack on the secure Lavabit email service in its efforts to get Edward Snowden. This led to Lavabit’s shutdown. It was a classic secret police operation; at the time, Ladar Levison wasn’t even allowed to talk about what the government was demanding. In 2014, Levison published more details.

The Feds ordered the installation of surveillance equipment on Lavabit and demanded its private SSL keys. This would have let the Feds read anything that users sent over the supposedly secure connection to the site, including their passwords. Levison endured weeks of outrageous treatment by the legal system. Just read his article; no summary could do it justice. In the end, he faced the choice of letting the government snoop all 400,000 of Lavabit’s customers’ accounts or shutting it down. He shut it down.

All this was under Obama. We can only expect worse from Trump. So it was on Trump’s inauguration day that Levison chose to relaunch Lavabit.
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