Langevin alarmed after cyber attacks on U.S. Chamber, Stratfor

December 29th, 2011 at 11:45 am by under Nesi's Notes

In the wake of two high-profile reports of cyber attacks this month – first against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, then the elite consultancy Stratfor Global Intelligence – Congressman Jim Langevin is renewing his call for Washington to take stronger steps to protect the nation’s digital infrastructure.

The Stratfor attack is particularly concerning, Langevin said. ”When you have a major firm specializing in cybersecurity getting hacked this way, it gives you an idea of how difficult this problem is and how much ground still needs to be covered to better secure our cyber networks,” he said Wednesday in a statement.

“Consider also that many of our most critical industries still aren’t taking cyber threats seriously, even though they do not have the level of expertise that Stratfor does and an attack on them could result in much more serious damage than this incident,” Langevin said. In the past, he’s pointed to electric and water utilities as potential targets.

Rhode Island’s 2nd District congressman has become one of Congress’s leading authorities on digital threats and is cofounder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. In June he authored an op-ed for The Hill’s website entitled “Preventing a cyber Sept. 11.” (For more on the topic, try David Scharfenberg’s May Providence Phoenix story.)

However, Langevin has yet to weigh in on the top hot-button digital debate roiling Congress these days: the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that’s before the House Judiciary Committee. But considering the concerns experts have raised about its potential to compromise cybersecurity, it won’t be surprising if he decides to oppose it.

Segal: On piracy, it’s time Congress finally heeds the geeks

December 23rd, 2011 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By David Segal

The Geeks are ascendant in the halls of Capitol Hill. After a decade or two of know-nothing dominance of political dialogue, people who, you know, know things, are finally having their piece. During a hearing last week on the far-reaching, technically complex Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Congressman Jason Chaffetz admonished his colleagues to “bring the nerds in and get this right.”

The grassroots activist group Demand Progress – which I helped start about a year ago and has since grown to nearly a million members – has helped lead the fight against SOPA, moving hundreds of thousands of constituent contacts to Congress, organizing activists and techies to fight the bill, and meeting with legislators and folks in the White House to express our members’ concerns.

SOPA would give the government new powers to shut down websites that are accused of facilitating copyright infringement. All of the Web’s best sites – especially the social networks that rely on user-generated content and make the Web fun and politically relevant – could fall victim to such claims.


How to get the most out of Twitter without sending a tweet

November 29th, 2011 at 10:15 am by under Nesi's Notes

Like a lot of other journalists these days, I use my Twitter feed as a sort of mini-blog where I post other news items, quick thoughts and new briefs that aren’t worth a full post here.

Lately, I’ve been hearing from more and more people who say they want to use Twitter but aren’t sure they have anything to tweet about. That, I think, misses what makes Twitter valuable – it’s more a brilliant little broadcasting tool than a Facebook-esque social network. “Following” smart people who highlight great writing is what makes Twitter terrific.

Twitter investor Bill Gurley explained that well in a sort of “Twitter 101″ blog post earlier this month:

Twitter suffers from two key misperceptions that need to be resolved before the business can reach its true potential. The first misperception is that Twitter is simply another social network, like Facebook. … Twitter, on the other hand, is a one-to-many information broadcast network. … [O]n Twitter, I can get something out of following Shaquile O’Neil who has no social obligation to follow me back. …

The second, and more critical, Twitter misperception is that you need to tweet, to have something to say and broadcast, for the service to be meaningful to you. For many non-Twitter users, Twitter is an intimidating proposition. “Why would I tweet?,” and “…but I don’t want to tweet” are two common refrains from the non-adopter that highlight this key misperception. But this completely misses the point as to why Twitter has become such an amazingly powerful Internet destination for 100 million others. For the vast majority of Twitter’s next 900 million users, the core usage modality will have very little to do with “tweeting,” and everything to do with “listening” or “hearing.”

Read the rest here - and then why don’t you try his advice out by following me on Twitter?

Chafee-backed digital sales tax bill gains steam in Congress

June 7th, 2011 at 1:20 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Rhode Island got cut off from’s affiliate program two years ago this month after the General Assembly passed a law to force e-retailers to collect sales tax. The measure hasn’t brought in any new revenue, but policymakers have stuck to their guns in saying Internet sellers shouldn’t be exempt from collecting the tax.

Among those who make that argument is Governor Chafee. His controversial 1% sales tax proposal was specifically “designed to sunset upon Congress’s enactment of the proposed Main Street Fairness Act,” which would force Amazon and others to collect state sales tax, he wrote in a March letter to lawmakers. The administration estimates the state will miss out on $70.4 million in tax revenue in 2011-12 for purchases made from Amazon and other “remote sellers.”

The question has always been whether the Main Street Fairness Act actually stands any chance of passing in Congress. Now it looks like the legislation’s prospects may be brightening, Politico’s Michelle Quinn reports:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is expected to step into the escalating Internet sales tax battle as soon as this week with a bill that would allow the 44 states — plus Washington, D.C. — that collect sales taxes to require out-of-state online retailers to pay up.

Durbin’s Main Street Fairness Act is similar to some previous congressional efforts to weigh in on whether states can force online businesses to collect sales taxes on items sold to state residents. But while those efforts failed, this year may be different. …

Similar legislation introduced last year by former Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) went nowhere. However, the dynamics in Congress may have changed now that a growing number of states have passed or are considering bills to address the issue and online businesses are faced with the possibility of complying with many different state laws and many different state sales tax rates.

Durbin isn’t just any senator, either. He’s the Majority Whip – the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat – and a close ally of President Obama who hails from the same state, Illinois, which is among those suffering from huge budget deficits and seeking to get Amazon to start collecting sales tax.

The politics of the legislation are interesting, too, since the business community won’t necessarily be united in opposition to it. Brick-and-mortar retailers don’t like how the sales tax exemption gives Amazon and other e-retailers a competitive advantage, and Amazon itself has said it favors a national-level resolution to the issue.

(photo: Inc.)