Technology firms seek government surveillance reform
Leading global technology firms have called for "wide-scale changes" to US government surveillance.
Eight firms, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, have formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group.
The group has written a letter to the US President and Congress arguing that current surveillance practice "undermines the freedom" of people.
It comes after recent leaks detailed the extent of surveillance programmes.
"We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide," the group said in an open letter published on its website.
"The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual - rights that are enshrined in our Constitution.
The fact that eight technology giants which are normally bitter rivals have united to condemn the extent of government surveillance shows just how strongly they feel.
In part, this reflects the libertarian thinking that permeates Silicon Valley - but there's also a commercial aspect to their concerns.
Around the world, consumers and governments have begun to question how safe it is to use American technology products, and in the words of Microsoft's signatory to the letter "People won't use technology they don't trust."
The companies have prided themselves on the security of their customers' data. Now they have had to concede that governments have wide access to that data - and they are vowing to use strong encryption to repair the holes in their defences.
But don't expect the intelligence agencies to sit back and do nothing - the scene is set for continuing conflict between the spies and Silicon Valley over control of the internet.
"This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for a change," it added.
The move by the eight firms comes after whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaked information about surveillance carried out by the US government.
Mr Snowden, an ex-US intelligence contractor, leaked documents to the media highlighting the various methods used by agencies to gather information.
The leaks have pointed to agencies collecting phone records, tapping fibre-optic cables that carry global communications and hacking networks.
Members of the group said the revelations indicated that the extent of surveillance needed to be controlled.
"Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information," said Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, the world's biggest social networking firm.
"The US government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."
The scandal first came to light in June this year after the UK's Guardian newspaper published the first leaks by Mr Snowden.
Since then, there have been concerns over how much user data firms have been asked to share with the agencies.
In an attempt to allay such fears over data security, companies have called for permission to publish details of data requests.
"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information," they state.
"In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly."
Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all confirmed they have complied with orders to hand over data relating to "national security matters" to the US authorities, but have been forbidden from saying exactly how many requests they had received or details about their scope.
Larry Page, chief executive of Google, said that security of users data was "critical" for firms, but added that the same had been "undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world".
The group called upon the government to give companies the rights to provide details of any such future data requests to their users,
"Transparency is essential to a debate over governments' surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers," it said.
"Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly".
Amish school shooter's kin: Horror, then healing
by MICHAEL RUBINKAM
STRASBURG, Pa.—Once a week, Terri Roberts spends time with a 13-year-old Amish girl named Rosanna who sits in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Roberts bathes her, sings to her, reads her stories. She can only guess what's going on inside Rosanna's mind because the girl can't talk.
Roberts' son did this to her.
Seven years ago, Charles Carl Roberts IV barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, tied up 10 girls and opened fire, killing five and injuring five others before committing suicide as police closed in.
The Amish responded by offering immediate forgiveness to the killer—even attending his funeral—and embracing his family.
Terri Roberts forgave, too, and now she is sharing her experience with others, saying the world needs more stories about the power of forgiveness and the importance of seeking joy through adversity.
"I realized if I didn't forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had. And a root of bitterness never brings peace to anyone," Roberts said. "We are called to forgive."
Roberts has delivered the message to scores of audiences, from church groups to colleges, and is writing a memoir. She's even considered traveling to speak in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year. But she is cautious, mindful an appearance there could give offense.
One of her sons is making a documentary—called "Hope"—about her remarkable journey from heartbroken mother to inspirational speaker.
Zachary Roberts originally conceived the film to help his mother. But it's also proving to be cathartic for him.
"It was like a step toward getting this off my shoulders and being able to speak about it," said Roberts, 35, who lives in Sweden. "I have a kid now, and I don't want this to be one of those dark family secrets that nobody talks about. I want to be OK with it, and I want my daughter to be OK with it."
After filming on location in Pennsylvania, Zachary Roberts and the documentary's producers recently released a trailer and have turned to a crowd-funding website to raise money to complete production.
Roberts appears in the trailer and doesn't mince words about the challenge that faced his mother after his 32-year-old brother's rampage: "How does the mother of a mass murderer move forward in life?"
Terri Roberts' path toward healing and reconciliation began, surprisingly enough, that very first afternoon.
Her husband, Chuck, had wiped away so many tears that he'd rubbed his skin raw. The retired police officer hung his head, inconsolable. "I will never face my Amish friends again," he said, over and over.
An Amish neighbor named Henry told him otherwise. "Roberts, we love you. We don't hold anything against you or your son," Terri Roberts recalled Henry saying as he massaged Roberts' slumped shoulders. "We're a forgiving people."
It was an extraordinary gesture, one that gave Terri Roberts her first glimmer of hope. She calls Henry her "angel in black."
That same day, a counselor helped her realize that "we do not need to live in our sorrow." Her son's rampage was one part of his life, a terrible snapshot, the counselor said. Better to focus on all the good years.
"I can't tell you what that did for me. That was just so helpful for me, and I feel now that it's helped many other people," Roberts said.
Charlie Roberts said in suicide notes and a last call with his wife that he was tormented by unsubstantiated memories of having molested a couple of young relatives and by the death of his daughter in 1997, shortly after she was born.
His mother first shared her story nine months after the Oct. 2, 2006, slayings at West Nickel Mines Amish School, when a friend from work asked her to speak to some Japanese exchange students. The message resonated, and Roberts said she felt a calling from God.
Roberts remains close with Charlie Roberts' wife, Marie Monville, who is also breaking her silence with a book, "One Light Still Shines," which shares a similar message of hope amid despair. Like her former mother-in-law, Monville has relied on her Christian faith to carry her through the worst time in her life.
"The message of the book is that it doesn't matter how dark the day is, the love of the Lord continues, and he is capable of writing a redemption story over our lives even in those dark places," said Monville, who has since remarried.
She said God has given her "healing and freedom from the weight of Charlie's choices and from the words, 'the shooter's wife,' that tried to define who I was."
The Amish were celebrated for how they responded to the massacre. Yet forgiveness doesn't always come easily or automatically, even for this Christian sect whose members are known for their plain dress and simple ways.
Rosanna King's father, Christ King, said the Amish are like anyone else, with the same frailties and emotions.
"We hope that we have forgiven, but there actually are times that we struggle with that, and I have to ask myself, 'Have I really forgiven?'" King said.
"We have a lot of work to do to live up to what we are bragged up to be," he continued. "Everyone was talking about this forgiveness thing, and I felt that was putting a lot of weight on our shoulders to live up to that."
Rosanna wasn't expected to survive after being shot in the head. She laughs, cries and responds to stimuli, and King said she is mentally alert. But she requires constant care.
Terri Roberts' weekly visits with Rosanna force her to confront the damage her son caused. But Roberts also finds peace as she spends time with Rosanna and provides some relief to the teen's family, if only for a few hours.
"Beautiful young woman, but life is not as it should've been for this little girl. So my mind will never forget the hardship that day has caused in many people's lives," Roberts said.
"And yet," she said, "none of us needs to live in the saddest part of our lives 24/7."
Audit Finds Progress in BART Police Reforms Since Oscar Grant Killing
A report by an independent expert has found that BART police have made significant progress in adopting reforms since the fatal police shooting of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale station in 2009.
by Jeff Shuttleworth
A report issued this past week by an independent expert found that BART police have made significant progress in enacting reforms since unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by police at the Fruitvale station in 2009.
Patrick Oliver, who formerly headed several police departments in Ohio, said the key areas where BART police have improved are: the use of force, officer training, community engagement and organizational statements.
Organizational statements consist of having a mission statement, having core values and defining the police department's purpose, Oliver said after presenting his assessment at a special BART board meeting today.
Earlier this year, BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey selected Oliver to conduct an assessment of the reforms the agency has made since Grant was killed by BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle on the platform of the Fruitvale station early the morning of Jan. 1, 2009.
Oliver was the lead evaluator in a review that the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, or NOBLE, conducted after Grant was killed.
Rainey said BART police have adopted 55 of that group's 81 recommendations so far.
"This audit serves as a barometer of our organizational change efforts and states that the BART Police Department has made significant and substantial progress since the original NOBLE audit," Rainey said.
He said, "Not only did we adopt a strategic direction, we reorganized the department, implemented stronger community policing initiatives, updated our policies and procedures and enhanced the training of our officers."
Although the report found that BART police are doing a good job of implementing the reforms, Rainey said the most important thing is to continue to work to gain the community's trust.
"None of this matters if the community doesn't trust us," Rainey said.
Oliver said BART police are doing "a good job of opening up the organization to the community and getting the community involved."
He said BART police have more work to do to continue to get better, but that the audit shows that "they have become a good agency and are on their way to becoming a great agency."