U.S. weekly unemployment claims lowest since 1969

FILE PHOTO: A "Help Wanted" sign sits in the window of a shop in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped to a 49-1/2-year low last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that could temper expectations of a sharp slowdown in economic growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 196,000 for the week ended April 6, the lowest level since early October 1969. Claims have now declined for four straight weeks. Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would rise to 211,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 7,000 to 207,000 last week, the lowest level since early December 1969.

The labor market is the main pillar of support for the economy, which appears to have lost momentum in the first quarter as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades and a trade war between China and the United States and softening global demand hurt exports.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 196,000 jobs in March, well above the roughly 100,000 needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, close to the 3.7 percent Federal Reserve officials project it will be by the end of the year.

Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 13,000 to 1.71 million for the week ended March 30. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims dropped 11,000 to 1.73 million.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao) ((Lucia.Mutikani@thomsonreuters.com; 1 202 898 8315; Reuters Messaging: lucia.mutikani.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)

Republicans want census data on citizenship for redistricting

FILE PHOTO: A community activist holds a sign in Chinese and English at an event to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – John Murante, a conservative Nebraska senator, last year introduced a bill to prevent non-citizens from being counted when the state redraws its voting maps.

He said the effort aimed to ensure each election district contained similar numbers of voters, but opponents argued it intended to undermine the political power of immigrant communities.

Murante’s bill died after its critics pointed out a lack of granular data on where the state’s non-citizens live.

That data may soon be available.

The Trump administration believes its proposed question about citizenship on the 2020 Census will help states that want to draw citizens-only voting districts in the next round of redistricting by providing the first comprehensive data on non-citizens in about 70 years, according to a Reuters review of court and federal register documents and interviews with more than a dozen state lawmakers.

Such a change would provide a new opportunity for Republican-controlled states – those most likely to adopt citizens-only redistricting – to redraw their voting maps in a way that could help their party win more state-level elections.

Currently, state and federal voting districts are drawn to be roughly equal in population, regardless of how many residents can legally vote. That means tallies for district-drawing purposes include non-citizens, such as green-card holders and undocumented immigrants.

Democrats and immigrant rights activists say this system ensures elected leaders represent everyone in their district who depends on public services such as schools and trash pickup, regardless of voting eligibility.

Republicans argue that districts should be the same size so each vote carries the same weight. If one district has far fewer eligible voters than another, each vote there has more influence on election outcomes.

That’s a problem for Republicans because the eligible voters in immigrant-heavy districts tend to support Democrats.

Trump administration officials have been considering the merits of citizens-only redistricting since 2017 – well before announcing their intention in March 2018 to add the citizenship question to the decennial survey, according to court documents filed as part of litigation over the citizenship question.

And in December, the Census Bureau issued a notice in the Federal Register saying that if any states “indicate a need for … citizenship data” to use in redistricting, it would “make a design change” to provide it.

Republican lawmakers in Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Nebraska told Reuters they would consider making use of the citizenship data if it became available.

The tactic is prohibited at the federal level by past U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the U.S. Constitution as requiring that U.S. House districts be based on total population. But the court, in a 2016 case known as Evenwel v. Abbott, left the door open for state-level districts to use other metrics.

The Commerce Department, which includes the Census Bureau, declined to comment on whether redistricting was part of the motivation for proposing the citizenship question.

James Whitehorne, the chief of the Census Bureau’s Redistricting & Voting Rights Office, called the federal register notice routine. “We’re supposed to provide states with what they identify as needing,” he said.

U.S. voting districts are drawn at the state level, most often by state legislators, giving the party in power control over how the lines are redrawn.

While both Republicans and Democrats frame the debate over citizen-only districts around fairness, demographic experts point out that both sides have a lot at stake politically.

Data from the nonpartisan APM Research Lab showed that 95 of the 100 U.S. congressional districts with the highest foreign-born populations are represented by Democrats. Similar data for state-level seats was not available.

Redrawing such districts with citizen-only populations would give Republicans a better shot by expanding the districts into more conservative areas, said Albert Kauffman, a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio who has studied redistricting and opposes excluding non-citizens.

In Texas, a citizens-only map could strip Latino voters of majorities in two or three state senate seats and six or seven state representative seats, Kauffman said, pointing out that Hispanic voters traditionally lean left.

“Democrats know they would probably lose seats at every level,” Kauffman said.

SUPREME CHALLENGE

Immigrant rights activists and Democratic-led cities and states have sued the Trump administration to prevent it from asking census respondents about their citizenship, and the Supreme Court will decide by June if the question can remain.

Opponents argue the administration aims to use the question to intimidate immigrants out of responding to the census, which would cost their communities political representation and a share of about $800 billion in annual federal aid allocated based on population.

The administration disputes that. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his decision to add the question was aimed at getting the Justice Department the comprehensive citizenship data it needs to better enforce Voting Rights Act provisions that protect minorities from discrimination.

Ross has not publicly commented on how citizenship data might be used in redistricting. But Census records, as well as emails released during the litigation over the citizenship question, showed he was thinking about citizens-only redistricting well before he announced plans to add the question.

In April of 2017, at the behest of former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Ross spoke with former Kansas Secretary of State and noted immigration hawk Kris Kobach, according to the emails. One topic of discussion was “the problem that aliens … are still counted for congressional apportionment,” according to a subsequent email from Kobach to Ross describing their conversation.

The following month, Ross asked Commerce Senior Policy Advisor David Langdon to look into whether non-citizens, including illegal immigrants, are included in voting maps, according to Langdon’s deposition in the litigation over the citizenship question.

Kobach and Langdon did not respond to requests for comment.

ATTRACTING INTEREST

A handful of states will likely request the census data on citizenship if the question survives its legal challenges, state lawmakers and a Republican strategist told Reuters.

Lawmakers and state officials from Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas said in interviews they are considering citizen-only districts. Republicans in Tennessee also voiced support for citizens-only redistricting in court papers filed in the Evenwel Supreme Court case. Reuters reached out to several of the Tennessee lawmakers who signed the court brief, but all declined to comment.

Missouri Representative Dean Plocher, a Republican who sponsored unsuccessful legislation last year to base Missouri’s voting districts on citizen population, said the effort is aimed solely at equalizing the power of all votes in the state. He said he hadn’t considered how such changes might affect his party’s chances in elections.

Nebraska’s Murante – the former senator behind his state’s failed citizens-only redistricting bill and now the state’s treasurer – said he supports citizens-only maps because the state’s constitution requires that “aliens” be excluded from voting districts.

Immigrant rights activists counter that citizens-only districts could be forced to expand in ways that weaken the political influence of immigrant communities.

The effect could be particularly pronounced in places such as south Texas, where immigrants make up more than a quarter of the population, said Juan Hinojosa, a Democratic state senator.

Hinojosa’s district includes areas known as colonias — informal communities of poor, largely Hispanic families. Citizen-only redistricting would make it more likely that anti-immigration Republicans would win elections in the border region, Hinojosa said.

The question of how to count non-citizens in voting districts may end up at the Supreme Court, said Kel Seliger, a Republican Texas state senator, who told Reuters that lawmakers there would explore citizen-only maps.

“You’ve got be careful,” he said, “that the Republican bias doesn’t get us on the wrong side of the Constitution.”

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Brian Thevenot and Paul Thomasch)

NASA space probe ‘phones home’ in landmark mission to solar system’s edge

New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is seen before a news conference after the team received confirmation from the New Horizons spacecraft that it has completed the flyby of Ultima Thule, January 1, 2019 at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, U.S., January 1, 2019. NASA/Joel KowskyHandout via REUTERS.

By Joey Roulette

(Reuters) – NASA’s New Horizons explorer successfully “phoned home” on Tuesday after a journey to the most distant world ever explored by humankind, a frozen rock at the edge of the solar system that scientists hope will uncover secrets to its creation.

The nuclear-powered space probe has traveled 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) to come within 2,200 miles (3,540 km) of Ultima Thule, an apparently peanut-shaped, 20-mile-long (32-km-long) space rock in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt. The belt is a ring of icy celestial bodies just outside Neptune’s orbit.

Engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland cheered when the spacecraft’s first signals came through the National Aeronautic and Space Agency’s Deep Space Network at 10:28 a.m. EST (1528 GMT).

“We have a healthy spacecraft,” Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman declared.

The spacecraft will ping back more detailed images and data from Thule in the coming days, NASA said.

Launched in January 2006, New Horizons embarked on its 4 billion-mile journey toward the solar system’s edge to study the dwarf planet Pluto and its five moons.

“Last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern told a news conference at the Johns Hopkins facility in Laurel, Maryland.

An image of Thule, sent overnight and barely more detailed than previous images, deepens the mystery of whether Thule is a single rock shaped like an asymmetrical peanut or actually two rocks orbiting each other, “blurred together because of their proximity,” Stern said.

During a 2015 fly-by, the probe found Pluto to be slightly larger than previously thought. In March, it revealed methane-rich dunes on the icy dwarf planet&rsquo’s surface.

Now 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto for its second mission into the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons will study the makeup of Ultima Thule’s atmosphere and terrain in a months-long study to seek clues about the formation of the solar system and its planets.

Scientists had not discovered Ultima Thule when the probe was launched, according to NASA, making the mission unique in that respect. In 2014, astronomers found Thule using the Hubble Space Telescope and the following year selected it for New Horizon’s extended mission.

As the probe flies 2,200 miles (3,540 km) above Thule’s surface, scientists hope it will detect the chemical composition of its atmosphere and terrain in what NASA says will be the closest observation of a body so remote.

“We are straining the capabilities of this spacecraft, and by tomorrow we’ll know how we did,” Stern told reporters on Monday. “There are no second chances for New Horizons.”

While the mission marks the farthest close encounter of an object within our solar system, NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2, a pair of deep-space probes launched in 1977, have reached greater distances on a mission to survey extrasolar bodies. Both probes are still operational.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis)

Facebook to change privacy controls in wake of data scandal

Figurines are seen in front of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Facebook announced a series of changes on Wednesday to give users more control over their data, after a huge data scandal which has wiped more than $100 billion from its stock market value.

The company has faced a global outcry after a whistleblower revealed, on March 17, that data from 50 million users was improperly harvested to target U.S. and British voters in close-run elections.

“The last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies, and to help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data,” Erin Egan, Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer, and Ashlie Beringer, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Facebook, wrote in a blog post.

“So in addition to Mark’s announcements last week – cracking down on abuse of the Facebook platform, strengthening our policies, and making it easier for people to revoke apps’ ability to use your data – we’re taking additional steps in the coming weeks to put people in more control over their privacy.”

The measures come ahead of a landmark European Union data protection law in May. The social network will add a new “Privacy Shortcuts” menu which will let users worldwide review what they’ve shared and delete it, as well as features enabling them to download their data and move it to another service.

Facebook shares have fallen almost 18 percent since March 17. Users’ data was improperly accessed by British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has repeatedly apologized and bought full-page advertisements in U.S. and British newspapers promising to do more to restrict access to users’ information.

While Facebook said on Wednesday the changes it was announcing had been in the works for some time, it said the events of the “past several days underscore their importance.”

The Privacy Shortcuts menu will allow users to control their data in a few taps, including by letting them add more protection to their account, like two-factor authentication.

“You can review what you’ve shared and delete it if you want to. This includes posts you’ve shared or reacted to, friend requests you’ve sent, and things you’ve searched for on Facebook,” Egan and Beringer wrote.

Users will also be able to manage the information Facebook utilizes to serve them ads and download the data they have shared with Facebook – including photos, contacts and posts – and move it to another service.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation enters into force on May 25 and requires companies to give people a “right to portability”, namely to take their data with them.

It also introduces hefty fines for companies breaking the law, running up to 4 percent of global revenues.

Lawmakers in the United States and Europe are demanding to know more about Facebook’s privacy practices and Zuckerberg is due to testify before the U.S. Congress.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Zuckerberg apologizes for Facebook mistakes with user data, vows curbs

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the Alumni Exercises following the 366th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Sny

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized on Wednesday for mistakes his company made in how it handled data belonging to 50 million of its users, and promised tougher steps to restrict developers’ access to such information.

The world’s largest social media network is facing growing government scrutiny in Europe and the United States. This follows allegations by a whistleblower that British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed users’ information to build profiles on American voters that were later used to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

“This was a major breach of trust. I’m really sorry this happened. We have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data,” Zuckerberg told CNN, breaking a public silence since the scandal erupted at the weekend.

Zuckerberg said in a post on Facebook the company “made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”

He said the social network planned to conduct an investigation of thousands of apps that have used Facebook’s platform, restrict developer access to data, and give members a tool that lets them disable access to their Facebook data more easily.

His plans did not represent a big reduction of advertisers’ ability to use Facebook data, which is the company’s lifeblood.

European governments expressed dissatisfaction with Facebook’s response and said the scandal showed the need for strong regulation.

“It shouldn’t be for a company to decide what is the appropriate balance between privacy and innovation and use of data. Those rules should be set by society as a whole and so by parliament,” British minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, told BBC Radio. “The big tech companies need to abide by the law and we’re strengthening the law.”

Germany’s justice minister Katarina Barley demanded that Facebook executives explain to her whether the site’s 30 million German users had been affected.

Zuckerberg said he was open to additional government regulation and happy to testify before the U.S. Congress if he was the right person.

“I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” he told CNN. “I actually think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than yes or no, should it be regulated? … People should know who is buying the ads that they see on Facebook.”

Zuckerberg said Facebook was committed to stopping interference in the U.S. midterm election in November and elections in India and Brazil.

INVESTOR FEARS

Facebook shares fell 1.5 percent in premarket trading on Thursday as the apology failed to quell Wall Street nerves.

The company has lost nearly $46 billion of its stock market value over the past three days on investors’ fears that any failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users and invite tougher regulation.

Zuckerberg told the New York Times in an interview published on Wednesday he had not seen a “meaningful number of people” deleting their accounts over the scandal.

Facebook representatives met U.S. congressional staff on Wednesday and planned to continue meetings on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Facebook was unable to answer many questions, two aides who attended the briefing said.

Zuckerberg told the website Recode that fixes to protect users’ data would cost “many millions of dollars.”

The whistleblower who launched the scandal, Christopher Wylie, formerly of Cambridge Analytica, said on Twitter he had accepted invitations to testify before U.S. and UK lawmakers.

‘SCAPEGOAT’

On Tuesday, the board of Cambridge Analytica suspended its Chief Executive Alexander Nix, who was caught in a secret recording boasting that his company played a decisive role in Trump’s victory.

Psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who provided the data, dismissed on Wednesday Cambridge Analytica’s assertions that the information was “incredibly accurate”.

Kogan, who gathered the data by running a survey app on Facebook, also said he was being made a scapegoat by the social media firm and Cambridge Analytica. Both companies have blamed Kogan for alleged data misuse.

About 300,000 Facebook users responded to Kogan’s quiz, but that gave the researcher access to those people’s Facebook friends as well, who had not agreed to share information, producing details on 50 million users.

Facebook has said it subsequently made changes that prevent people from sharing data about friends and maintains that no breach occurred because the original users gave permission. Critics say that it essentially was a breach because data of unsuspecting friends was taken.

Analysts say the incident may reduce user engagement with Facebook, lessening its clout with advertisers. Three Wall Street brokerages cut their price targets.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz and David Shepardson in Washington and Kate Holton in London; Writing by Susan Thomas; Editing by Bill Rigby, Lisa Shumaker, Paul Tait and David Stamp)

FBI chief calls unbreakable encryption ‘urgent public safety issue’

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Christopher Wray delivers remarks to a graduation ceremony at the FBI Academy on the grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Virginia, U.S. December 15, 2017.

By Dustin Volz

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an “urgent public safety issue,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency’s work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York.

The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added.

“This is an urgent public safety issue,” Wray added, while saying that a solution is “not so clear cut.”

Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBI’s attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspect’s cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant.

Wray’s comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August.

The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable.

“We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence,” Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires “significant innovation,” Wray said, “but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible.”

Wray’s remarks echoed those of his predecessor, James Comey, who before being fired by President Donald Trump in May frequently spoke about the dangers of unbreakable encryption.

Tech companies and many cyber security experts have said that any measure ensuring that law enforcement authorities are able to access data from encrypted products would weaken cyber security for everyone.

U.S. officials have said that default encryption settings on cellphones and other devices hinder their ability to collect evidence needed to pursue criminals.

The matter came to a head in 2016 when the Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to force Apple Inc to break into an iPhone used by a gunman during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

The Trump administration at times has taken a tougher stance on the issue than former President Barack Obama’s administration. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in October chastised technology companies for building strongly encrypted products, suggesting Silicon Valley is more willing to comply with foreign government demands for data than those made by their home country.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Will Dunham)

Major internet providers say will not sell customer browsing histories

The NBC and Comcast logo are displayed on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, formerly known as the GE building, in midtown Manhattan in New York July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Comcast Corp, Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc said Friday they would not sell customers’ individual internet browsing information, days after the U.S. Congress approved legislation reversing Obama administration era internet privacy rules.

The bill would repeal regulations adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission under former President Barack Obama requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s Google or Facebook Inc.

The easing of restrictions has sparked growing anger on social media sites.

“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so,” said Gerard Lewis, Comcast’s chief privacy officer.

He added Comcast is revising its privacy policy to make more clear that “we do not sell our customers’ individual web browsing information to third parties.”

Verizon does not sell personal web browsing histories and has no plans to do so in the future, said spokesman Richard Young.

Verizon privacy officer Karen Zacharia said in a blog post Friday the company has two programs that use customer browsing data. One allows marketers to access “de-identified information to determine which customers fit into groups that advertisers are trying to reach” while the other “provides aggregate insights that might be useful for advertisers and other businesses.”

Republicans in Congress Tuesday narrowly passed the repeal of the rules with no Democratic support and over the objections of privacy advocates.

The vote was a win for internet providers such as AT&T Inc, Comcast and Verizon. Websites are governed by a less restrictive set of privacy rules.

The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump plans to sign the repeal of the rules, which had not taken effect.

Under the rules, internet providers would have needed to obtain consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing. Websites do not need the same affirmative consent.

Some in Congress suggested providers would begin selling personal data to the highest bidder, while others vowed to raise money to buy browsing histories of Republicans.

AT&T says in its privacy statement it “will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period.” In a blog post Friday, AT&T said it would not change those policies after Trump signs the repeal.

Websites and internet service providers do use and sell aggregated customer data to advertisers. Republicans say the rules unfairly would give websites the ability to harvest more data than internet providers.

Trade group USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter said in an op-ed Friday for website Axios that individual “browser history is already being aggregated and sold to advertising networks – by virtually every site you visit on the internet.”

This week, 46 Senate Democrats urged Trump not to sign the bill, arguing most Americans “believe that their private information should be just that.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

FCC chair to block stricter broadband data privacy rules

File Photo: Ajit Pai speaks at a FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will block some Obama administration rules that subject broadband providers to stricter scrutiny than websites, a spokesman said on Friday, in a victory for internet providers such as AT&T Inc <T.N>, Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> and Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N>.

The rules approved by the FCC in October in a 3-2 vote were aimed at protecting sensitive personal consumer data, but the spokesman said Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Donald Trump, believes all companies in the “online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government should not favor one set of companies over another.”

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said in a statement that the suspension affects only the data security rules, which are set to take effect on March 2. Some other aspects of the rules are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Pai plans by March 2 to delay the implementation of some rules, which subject companies to stricter oversight than websites under Federal Trade Commission rules, the spokesman said. Such a temporary stay is a first step toward permanently preventing the rules from taking effect.

The rules would subject broadband internet service providers to more stringent requirements than websites like Facebook Inc <FB.O>, Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> or Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> Google.

Providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using certain user data for advertising and internal marketing. They would be required to get consent for details like precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, Web browsing history, app usage history and communication content.

For less sensitive information such as email addresses or service tiers, consumers would be able to opt out.

Republican commissioners including Pai, said in October the rules unfairly give websites the ability to harvest more data than service providers and dominate digital advertising.

Pai said in October the FCC “adopted one-sided rules that will cement edge providers’ dominance in the online advertising market.” Google and Facebook dominate that market and account for about two-thirds of all revenue.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who authored the privacy rules, told Reuters on Friday that they are necessary because consumers have few options when it comes to broadband providers. “The fact of the matter is it’s the consumer’s information,” he said. “It’s not the network’s information.”

Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, said Pai’s decision was a good move because “because the real question isn’t a policy question but a legal one: does the FCC even have authority to regulate broadband privacy?”

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Anjali Athavaley in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Grant McCool)

EU-U.S. commercial data transfer pact enters into force

Servers in Iceland

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A new commercial data pact between the European Union and the United States entered into force on Tuesday, ending months of uncertainty over cross-border data flows, and companies such as Google <GOOGL.O>, Facebook <FB.O> and Microsoft <MSFT.O> can sign up from Aug. 1.

The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield will give businesses moving personal data across the Atlantic – from human resources information to people’s browsing histories to hotel bookings – an easy way to do so without falling foul of tough EU data transferral rules.

The previous such framework, Safe Harbour, was struck down by the EU’s top court in October on the grounds that it allowed U.S. agents too much access to Europeans’ data.

Revelations three years ago from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of mass U.S. surveillance practices caused political outrage in Europe and stoked mistrust of big U.S. tech companies.

In the months that followed the EU ruling companies have had to rely on other more cumbersome mechanisms for legally transferring data to the United States.

The Privacy Shield will underpin over $250 billion dollars of transatlantic trade in digital services annually.

Google and Microsoft said they would sign up to the Privacy Shield and would work with European data protection authorities in case of inquiries.

A person familiar with social network Facebook’s thinking said the company had not yet decided whether to sign up.

“It’s too early to say as we haven’t seen the full text yet but like other companies we will be evaluating the text in the coming weeks,” the person said.

The Privacy Shield seeks to strengthen the protection of Europeans whose data is moved to U.S. servers by giving EU citizens greater means to seek redress in case of disputes, including through a new privacy ombudsman within the State Department who will deal with complaints from EU citizens about U.S. spying.

However the framework also faces criticism from privacy advocates for not going far enough in protecting Europeans’ data and is widely expected to be challenged in court.

Max Schrems, the Austrian law student who successfully challenged Safe Harbour, said the Privacy Shield was “little more than a little upgrade to Safe Harbour”. However he added that he did not have plans to challenge it himself for the time being.

“We are confident the framework will withstand further scrutiny,” Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, told a news conference.

EU data protection authorities, who had demanded improvements to the Privacy Shield in April, said they were analyzing the framework and would finalize a position by July 25.

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Louise Heavens)

Officials State Hackers Stole 5.6 Million Fingerprints, More Than Previously Reported

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that 5.6 million fingerprints were stolen in April’s cyber attack, more than five times the amount the agency first reported.

The hackers were able to obtain fingerprints, social security numbers, names, addresses, health information, and financial data from millions of government employees. The OPM stated in June that personnel records of 4.2 million people had been compromised in the cyber attack. A month later, the agency announced a second attack that was targeting 21.5 million people and only 1.1 million fingerprints had been stolen.

“The fact that the number [of fingerprints breached] just increased by a factor of five is pretty mind-boggling,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “I’m surprised they didn’t have structures in place to determine the number of fingerprints compromised earlier during the investigation.”

The OPM tried to downplay the situation by stating that the ability to abuse fingerprint data was “currently limited.” The agency did warn that as technology improved there could be a higher chance of someone using their fingerprints as a guarantee of identity. Considering there are now security measures for unlocking smartphones and home security systems using a person’s fingerprints, that day may not be as far as the OPM states.

Investigations are continuing as officials are still trying to find who was responsible for the cyber attacks. Meanwhile, the OPM is still in the process of notifying everyone who had information stolen. According to the agency, they will provide free identity theft and fraud protection services to those who were affected by the cyber attack.

U.S. officials have blamed China for the OPM breach. China has continued to deny the attacks. The announcement comes during the second day that Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting the United States. Jinping is due to meet President Obama in Washington on Friday.