Seven states, all led by Republican governors, are defying a federal law aimed at cracking down on the nationwide epidemic of prison rape—and on Wednesday, the Obama administration started calling them out.
The law in question, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003. In 2012, after years of study by a bipartisan federal commission, President Barack Obama's Justice Department finalized the law's requirements, and gave states about two years to start trying to comply. Forty-three states did. But today, nearly two weeks after the May 15 deadline, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Florida are still not complying with the law—and several GOP governors say they're ignoring the law on purpose.
So far, at least five Republican governors have notified the Justice Department that they aren't going to try to meet the new prison-rape reduction rules. The mandatory standards, "work only to bind the states, and hinder the evolution of even better and safer practices," Indiana Governor Mike Pence wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on May 15. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter missed the deadline, then wrote a letter to the administration complaining the law had "too much red tape." And in a letter dated March 28, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, called the law "counterproductive" and "unnecessarily cumbersome." The prison rape rules "appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails," Perry wrote.
Maya Angelou, acclaimed poet, author, and civil rights activist, died Wednesday at the age of 86. Mother Jones had the opportunity to interview Angelou almost 20 years ago. Our reporter, Ken Kelley, wrote that she "speaks in the lilting cadence of the dancer she was trained to be. She moves with the sure grace of the poet she was born to be." Her words of wisdom are as true now as they were in 1995. Here are seven excerpts from the interview:
1. Not everyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps:
The powerful say, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." But they don't really believe that those living on denuded reservations, or on strip-mined hills, or in ghettos that are destinations for drugs from Colombia and Iraq, can somehow pull themselves up. What they're really saying is, "If you can, do, but if you can't, forget it." It's the most pernicious of all acts of segregation, because it is so subtle.
2. Life isn't about material things:
Somehow, we have come to the erroneous belief that we are all but flesh, blood, and bones, and that's all. So we direct our values to material things. We become what writer Beah Richards calls "exiled to things": If we have three cars rather than two, we'll live a little longer. If we have four more titles, we'll live longer still. And, especially, if we have more money than the next guy, we'll live longer than he. It's so sad. There is something more—the spirit, or the soul.
3. It doesn't matter what a woman is wearing:
I married a man once because of something he said. We were in England, and somebody said that women should always expect to be raped if they wore very short pants and low decolletage and acted "fast." So this man, whom I knew slightly, said, "If a woman has no panties on and sits with her legs wide open, no man has the right to assault her. When a guy tells me, 'I couldn't resist because she did sit in such a provocative way,' all I want to know is if four of her brothers were standing there with baseball bats, would they have resisted?"
4. America is making progress in the fight against racial discrimination, but there's more to do:
We've made a lot of progress—it's dangerous not to say so. Because if we say so, we tell young people, implicitly or explicitly, that there can be no change. Then they compute: "You mean the life and death and work of Malcolm X and Martin King, the Kennedys, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, the life and struggle of Rosa Parks—they did all that and nothing has changed? Well then, what the hell am I doing? There's no point for me to do anything." The truth is, a lot has changed—for the good. And it's gonna keep getting better, according to how we put our courage forward, and thrust our hearts forth.
5. Black children are the representatives of us all:
Those black children are the bravest, without knowing it, representatives of us all. The black kids, the poor white kids, Spanish-speaking kids, and Asian kids in the US—in the face of everything to the contrary, they still bop and bump [snaps fingers], shout and go to school somehow. And dare not only to love somebody else, and even to accept love in return, but dare to love themselves—that's what is most amazing. Their optimism gives me hope.
6. Artists and writers must fight to be heard:
What we ought to be doing is singing in the parks, talking to children, going to gatherings of parents, doing whatever it is we do—dancing, reading poetry, performing—all the time, so that people know, "These artists are my people—you can't kill them, you can't stop them." We then reestablish our footing with the people. All artists must do that, or we will be defanged.
7. Progressives must confront themselves:
We will have to confront. I don't only mean external confrontations. We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay—and rise!
It's no secret that the tech industry can be a brutal place for women trying to work there. The parade of offenses continues: the social coding giant GitHub came under a firestorm of criticism earlier this year after one of the company's few female developers quit, alleging a pattern of sexual and gender-based harassment. And a website called "CodeBabes" launched, offering to teach bros how to code under the tutelage of virtual strippers. It seems there's no end to this type of news; in fact, there's a whole site devoted to tracking these flareups.
On Thursday, a fed-up group of women technologists and leaders published an open letter about how women are treated in tech, and ways to do better. It was published it in Model View Culture,a startup media site that covers issues of culture and inclusion in tech. The cosigners include DivyaManian, a product manager at Adobe, Sabrina Majeed, iOS designer at Buzzfeed, Angelina Fabbro, who is on the developers tools team at Mozilla, and Jessica Dillon, a software engineer at Bugsnag, a San Francisco-based startup.
Our experiences? They’re just like the stories you hear about. But maybe you thought because we weren’t as loud, that this stuff doesn’t happen to us. We've been harassed on mailing lists and called ‘whore’/‘cunt’ without any action being taken against aggressors. We get asked about our relationships at interviews, and we each have tales of being groped at public events. We’ve been put in the uncomfortable situation of having men attempt to turn business meetings into dates.
We regularly receive creepy, rapey e-mails where men describe what a perfect wife we would be and exactly how we should expect to be subjugated. Sometimes there are angry e-mails that threaten us to leave the industry, because ‘it doesn’t need anymore c**ts ruining it’...
We’d rather be writing blog posts about best practices for development, design, and tech management instead of the one we’re writing now. We are tired of pretending this stuff doesn’t happen, but continuing to keep having these experiences again and again. We keep our heads down, working at our jobs, hoping that if we just work hard at what we do, maybe somehow the problem will go away...
Imagine if you were the only person like you on your team and when you left your computer and came back there was very graphic porn on your screen (a specific example that we have experienced)...
On Thursday, the House voted 303-121 to pass the USA Freedom Act, a bill intended to end the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, which privacy-minded House members on the left and right originally cheered. The measure lost support from NSA critics after the House Rules Committee gutted key reforms in the 11th hour. On the House floor Thursday, a largely bipartisan group of legislators who once supported the bill opposed the measure because they believe it will actually codify the NSA's controversial surveillance.
"I'm disappointed that this popular bipartisan bill has been so drastically weakened," Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), a sponsor of the original bill, said. Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) asked, "How could anyone vote for legislation that doesn't uphold the constitutional standard of probable cause?" Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich), also an original sponsor who voted against the new version, wrote in a lengthy Facebook post, that the revised bill "doesn't look much like the Freedom Act...It mocks our system of government that [President Obama and lawmakers] worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors."
It was an odd turn of events that led previous backers of the measure to now call for its defeat. One big issue was whether the revised version of the USA Freedom Act will really end the NSA's practice of hoovering up American's phone metadata in bulk. The bill's defenders include Republican and Democrat intelligence committee members—at the debate, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) referred to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a "traitor" who made "criminal" disclosures—and NSA critics who argued that the legislation is better than nothing. But the bill's critics charge that the language in the new version is so ambiguous that large-scale collection of phone records will still be permissible. Additionally, according to The Guardian, a tech coalition including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AOL, Dropbox, Twitter, Yahoo and LinkedIn noted that the revised version creates an "unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of internet users' data."
The 51 Republicans and 70 Democrats voted against the bill make up an unusual political coalition. Republicans who voted no include Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) "Under the finalized floor version of the USA Freedom Act, it would be completely legal for the NSA to request all records for an area code, zip code, or even all of the emails for accounts that start with the letter ‘A,’ all without a warrant," Massie said on Facebook. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) said at the debate that she could not support the bill because it did not end bulk collection. Rep. Peter Welch, (D-V.T.) tweeted, "It's progress, but doesn't do enough to rein in NSA."
With such a bipartisan group opposing the bill, the debate over NSA surveillance will continue, with reforms arriving further down the road. "The American people demand that the Constitution be respected, that our rights and liberties be secured, and that the government stay out of our private lives," Amash wrote. "Fortunately, there is a growing group of representatives on both sides of the aisle who get it."
On Monday, US officials announced the arrest of more than 90 people allegedly connected to an organization called Blackshades, which sold software that allows hackers to easily take over a Microsoft Windows computer remotely. Last year, a college student used the tool to take nude photos of Miss Teen USA via her personal computer's webcam. According to the FBI and law enforcement officials, the program has been sold and distributed to "thousands" of people in more than 100 countries since 2010, affecting some 700,000 victims. Here's why you might want to update your anti-virus software, or, if you're prone to dancing around your room naked, at least put a piece of tape over your webcam.
What is Blackshades?
Blackshades is the name of an organization allegedly owned by a Swedish 24-year-old named Alex Yücel. According to government officials, Yücel and Michael Hogue, a 23-year-old US citizen who was arrested in 2012 as part of the feds' tangential investigation into Blackshades, codeveloped the Blackshades remote access tool (RAT). This tool, which sold for as little as $40at bshades.eu and other sites, essentially allowed buyers to act as peeping Toms on strangers' computers. The organization made more than $350,000 between September 2010 and April 2014, according to the FBI.
How does the Blackshades Remote Access Tool (RAT) work?
The Blackshades RAT isn't any different than what your IT person at work uses to get remote access to your computer, explains Runa Sandvik, staff technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). But if your IT department were accessing your computer, "you'd have a heads up," she says. "In this case you won't even know [the hacker] is on your computer."
After buying a copy of the RAT software, a hacker has to install the program on a target's computer, by, say, deceiving a person into clicking on a malicious link. Then, once the hacker has access to a computer, he or she can then use the RAT software to easily record a person's keystrokes or passwords, take screenshots, rummage through computer files, or turn on the person's web camera, according to the feds. Anything you can do on your computer, the hacker can do, too. And the software makes it all super easy. In fact, it's "marketed principally for buyers who wouldn't know how to hack their way out of a paper bag," writesKrebson Security. Here's what the command and control panel looks like:
The program also includes "spreaders," which help hackers send out malicious links from peoples' social-media accounts, and a file hijacker tool. That tool, according to the FBI press release, allows users "to encrypt, or lock, a victim's files and demand a 'ransom' payment to unlock them. The RAT even came with a prepared script demanding such a ransom."
What do hackers use remote access tools for?
The FBI says the Blackshades RAT has been used to exploit credit cards, bank accounts, and personal information. But perhaps the creepiest way people can use remote accessing tools is to take photos and video via webcam. In November of last year, a college student pleaded guilty to hacking the webcam of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf with the Blackshades software, and attempting to blackmail her. He allegedly said he had up to 40 other "slave computers," according to the original criminal complaint.
Last year, Ars Technica wrote about a thread on a hacker forum that was more than 134 pages long and filled with images captured through unsuspecting women's webcams. Hackers wielding remote accessing tools—it's unknown whether they were using Blackshades or other software—called the women their "slaves" and wrote about picking out "the 'good' [sexual] stuff" and categorizing it using names and passwords, according to the news outlet. And last year, a 17-year-old boy in Detroit paid hackers in the Philippines more than $1,000in blackmail money after they collected video of him via webcam. This tool has been used for political purposes as well. In 2012, the software was sent by alleged pro-government attackers to try and infect the computers of anti-government Syrian activists.
Now that people have been arrested in connection with Blackshades, does this mean I'm in the clear?
Nope. While the sale of Blackshades software, whose main website has now been shut down, was already on the decline (there were more than 1,300 infections last spring, but fewer than 400 in April 2014, according to Symantec), there are other remote accessing tools out there. "Even if there are just 100 people using Blackshades, there are another 100 using a tool with a different name that works exactly the same way," says CDT's Sandvik. Additionally, it's not clear that the FBI will be able to get the Blackshades charges to stick. As the Daily Beast notes, it may be hard for prosecutors to prove whether the defendants who possessed the software used it for illegal activity.
What should I do to keep my computer private?
Follow best security practices. The FBI and security experts recommend that you update your software, including anti-virus software, install a good firewall, don't open suspicious email attachments or URLs—even if they come from people on your contact list—and create strong passwords. The FBI has also published a list of files that you can search for on your hard drive to see if your computer has been infected. "Regardless of the specific kind, if you get malware on your system, it's bad," says Christopher Budd, a spokesman for Trend Micro, a Japanese security software company. "But people shouldn't worry about malware, they should take concrete steps." And if you put tape over your webcam, too, no one will judge you. "I do," says Sandvik.