Judge to Keep AT&T Documents in NSA Spying Case Sealed for Now

AT&T lost its bid to have a former employee forced to return records to the company that may show it let federal intelligence agencies access the phone giant’s records, but won a small victory when a judge issued an order Wednesday that the documents be kept private pending further court action.

The closely watched case involves a suit against AT&T brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in January, which has said it obtained documents from a former employee of the phone company that shows it cooperated with government eavesdropping efforts — a violation of a 70-year-old telecommunications law that prohibits the turning over of customer data to the government without a warrant or court order.

Sensitive Information

Though AT&T had hoped the judge would force the group to return the records, the judge did leave open the possibility that they would never see the light of day in the current court case.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker scheduled a June 23 hearing on motions from both AT&T and the Bush administration to dismiss the EFF’s suit. The government intends to argue that proceeding with the case would put sensitive national security information at risk.

“These are motions that may very well terminate the litigation at an early stage,” Walker said. “I think the best course of action is to preserve the status quo.”

The lawsuit predates last week’s reports that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth had all cooperated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in an effort to create a massive database of tens of millions of phone calls. Since then, both Verizon and BellSouth have denied cooperating in the way news reports, first published in USA Today, claimed. The newspaper has said it stands by its story, which quoted an unnamed intelligence community official.

Multiple Fronts

The courtroom drama unfolded a day before a Congressional hearing began on Bush’s nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Hayden ran the NSA when the phone data collection was said to have begun. Lawmakers have agreed to limit public discussions of surveillance programs to protect national security.

In its court case with the EFF, AT&T said letting the documents become public would harm it from a competitive standpoint and could weaken national security, an argument backed by the Bush administration.

The first round focused on documents that Mark Klein, who worked at AT&T for 22 years before leaving in 2004, took with him. Klein has also said he witnessed the installation of equipment that would give the NSA access to e-mails sent and received by AT&T customers.

The EFF said the ruling was a victory for openness, as was an earlier decision to keep the hearing open to the public.

“Taken together with the court’s refusal to close the courtroom as AT&T had requested, we think today was a real victory for the public’s right to know, and for our ability to litigate this case,” EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston told the E-Commerce Times.

Legal Actions Abound

The case could proceed in unusual fashion, attorneys noted, with the U.S. Justice Department offering to provide classified material for the judge to review that won’t be seen by the EFF, making it difficult for that group to respond to arguments made to dismiss the case.

Experts also say AT&T and other telecommunications companies may be able to avoid culpability under the law if they can show the Bush administration authorized the sharing of data, with exceptions made for such instances. If such authorization does not exist, the phone companies could be liable for tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Immediately after the NSA database reports, a group of attorneys filed suit against Verizon on similar grounds to the EFF suit, which covers both e-mail and telephone records and a separate suit, seeking US$200 billion in damages, was filed against the three major telcos that were said to have cooperated with authorities.

The Electronic Information Privacy Clearinghouse (EPIC) has also asked the Federal Communication Commission to investigate the allegations.

Meanwhile, there are signs the fallout from the NSA disclosures could spread to Internet companies, since the data allegedly being intercepted could include a host of Web services information, from Gmail and Yahoo mail accounts to records of searches performed on the Web. Google won a public relations coup when it refused to turn over copies of Web search records sought by lawmakers attempting to prove the need for more child-pornography protections on the Web.

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Forrester Predicts Net Loss of 1.42 Million US Jobs to Automation by 2032

Automation will claim more than 11 million U.S. jobs over the next decade, according to a report released Tuesday by Forrester.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that at the same time automation will create 9.63 million new jobs, for a net job loss for the period of 1.42 million jobs.

“The gap in jobs will present challenges to public policymakers,” observed one of the authors of the report, Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst J. P. Gownder.

“It will mean that employees need additional reskilling into other professions, which isn’t something that every worker can accomplish on their own,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Yet,” he continued, “the ability of public policy to succeed here will vary. In Germany, where there are tight connections between universities and employers, it will be easier to accomplish than in the United States, where employees are often expected to find their own solutions.”

Reskilling Required

Jayant Narayan, manager of the Global AI Action Alliance of the World Economic Forum, an international non-governmental and lobbying organization based in Cologny, Switzerland, added that those job losses would create challenges for both the government and private sectors.

“For governments, it raises questions around social safety nets, investment in life-long learning programs and STEM training for citizens, among other factors,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Some of these parameters, like reskilling would have a medium to longer-term horizon,” he added, “as there might not be a quick fix or a quick reskilling opportunity.”

“For the private sector,” he added, “this raises questions around helping workers break siloed job functions and developing a broader array of versatile skills.”

Darrell West, vice president of government studies at The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization in Washington, D.C. agreed that a lot of worker retraining is going to be needed.

“There are retraining programs out there, but they’re often not very good, and they don’t qualify people for the new jobs that are being created,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We need better programs because new jobs are going to be created, but many of the people being displaced don’t have the skills needed for the new jobs.”

“A lot of the programs focus on very specific tasks,” he continued, “but the workplace is changing so dramatically it’s hard to find jobs for people who can only do one thing. We need programs that understand what firms need and what skills they are looking for.”

80% of Jobs Touched by Tech

Universities can contribute to reskilling by creating hybrid courses that blend humanities and science, maintained Narayan. “Engineers need to understand the ethics of systems and their ramifications before designing them,” he said.

West, though, asserted that community colleges are doing a better job than four-year institutions in preparing students for jobs.

“Community colleges are more geared to the local job market,” he said. “They’re trying to give people practical skills that will get them jobs. Some universities are training people for the workforce that used to exist, as opposed to the one that is emerging now.”

Forrester explained that the new jobs created by automation will be in professional services and information technology, as well as in new industries, such as renewable energy, green buildings and smart cities and infrastructure.

Chart: Cumulative US jobs lost and created

Source: Forrester’s Future of Jobs Forecast | Chart Credit: Forrester Research, Inc. | Reproduced with permission.

Gownder noted that people working in the new jobs will have to be conversant in working side-by-side with machines. “Whether or not you have technical skills, you need to be comfortable working on a mixed team of humans plus machines in which intelligent software plays a key role,” he said.

It added that the greatest impact of technology during the period will come in altering the tasks that make up any given job, not in taking over the job itself.

Ceding a specific task — like automating expense reports, augmenting the ability to solve data problems, or allowing a robot to mop a floor — changes the composition of a given job rather than replacing it, the report explained. Forrester expects 80 percent of jobs to be touched in that way by 2030, driving improvements in employee experience as specific tasks pass to machines.

“A lot of organizations are bringing in technologies that can augment human performance, as opposed to replacing it,” observed West. “We need to figure out how humans and robots can coexist.”

Attitude Change

Forrester also found a change in attitude among leaders about automation. Leaders have stopped viewing it primarily as a cost reduction effort and now see a broader array of perceived benefits, it explained.

It cited Forrester data showing that 41 percent of data and analytics decision-makers named cost savings as a benefit of adopting automation in 2018, but only 25 percent said the same in 2021.

Additionally, Forrester found a notable rise in the proportion of leaders noting deeper insights and competitive differentiation as benefits.

While the proportion that rated freeing up personnel to work on higher-value tasks held steady, it added, it’s now the benefit with the most resonance.

Among the broader array of perceived benefits from automation cited in the report are filling talent gaps, freeing up personnel to perform more advanced work, driving customer experience, improving quality and safety and gaining deeper insights from data to improve tasks and processes.

“Automation can be beneficial in relieving humans from dirty or dangerous jobs, and jobs that are completely routine and mundane,” West said.

Trust-Building Process

Forrester’s report noted that fears that automation will destroy jobs remain commonplace, and they aren’t totally unfounded. But the future of jobs will see a much milder impact from technologies like automation and AI than many observers expect.

Instead, it continued, technology and human workers will increasingly engage in iterative, interrelated collaborations, forming human/machine teams that drive new levels of quality, productivity, and customer — and employee — experience.

“This is a trust-building process,” Narayan said. “Workers should feel that they are part of the journey.”

“The most important thing companies can do is retrain their own ranks,” West added. “If people see an employer bringing automation in but training people for other types of jobs, workers will be more receptive to that. What workers don’t want is to be thrown out on the curb with no income.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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War in Ukraine Takes Toll on European Software Development Market

An unintended consequence of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is the loss of technical talent that will impact supply chain and software innovation for years to come.

With more than 300,000 technology professionals, Ukraine boasts one of the largest developer communities in Europe. The region is known as Eastern Europe’s Silicon Valley.

Prior to the Russian invasion, the country was a major player in software development near-shoring services for European customers and potentially elsewhere. Gartner estimates more than one million IT professionals work in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, with one-quarter (250,000) working for consulting or outsourcing firms.

“Imagine that 10-15 percent of the European developer workforce vanished overnight. In Europe we are currently experiencing a developer market crunch, with clients looking to quickly fill in the absent resources and ensure business continuity,” Saulius Kaukenas, CEO of Agmis, told TechNewsWorld.

Agmis, a software developer in the Baltic states, creates smart solutions for customers worldwide. The company’s product division develops AI and computer vision applications for retail, industrial, and aerodiagnostics applications.

Another part in the Agmis group — Bluelark — is the first certified Salesforce partner in the Baltic states. Agmis employs more than 100 highly-skilled specialists; its solutions are deployed in more than 30 countries across four continents.

Unconventional Circumstances

The technology ecosystem in Ukraine was preparing for a force majeure, with employee relocations to the western part of the country. That plan anticipated moving key staff abroad or expanding capacities in offices in other countries, according to Kaukenas.

The “force majeure” (French for “superior force”) clause is a contract provision that relieves the parties from performing their contractual obligations when certain circumstances beyond their control arise. It is applicable when performance is inadvisable, commercially impracticable, illegal, or impossible.

However, nothing could have prepared for the barbaric targeting of civilian infrastructure and a humanitarian catastrophe executed by the invading Russian troops.

“We hear these tales of people delivering code in between air raid sirens or developers going into active military service to defend their country. This is truly heroic and only indicates the resilience of Ukrainian people,” offered Kaukenas.

Hub for Tech Talent

Ukraine was punching above its weight in the global software development market, added Kaukenas. The country was home to a qualified technology workforce.

“The current crisis made evident how many global companies relied on Ukraine as one of their development bases. I have no doubt that this crisis is only temporary, and the technology industry will be one of the pillars to rebuild Ukraine after the war is over,” he predicted.

Belarus was also a significant player in the developer sourcing ecosystem. But it competed in the lower-end, low-cost part of the market. While Ukrainian companies face temporary challenges, Belarusian technology ecosystem issues are more of a permanent nature, added the Agmis CEO.

More than three million people have already fled Ukraine with millions more internally displaced. Lithuania has launched simplified processes for Ukrainian refugees to work in the country.

Lithuania’s technology community also stepped up to offer temporary or permanent working arrangements to support families during the war, according to Kaukenas.

Technology Suffers

The CEO sees a new digital iron curtain set up in Europe. While current economic sanctions imposed on Belarus are less severe, they indicate the global moral outlook toward a military aggressor.

Kaukenas added that “a cultural backlash, fears over the protection of intellectual property, and the general rule of law are just a few of the reasons why Western companies are exiting Belarus as their development hub.”

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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