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News in brief: Week of June 10

Jun. 9, 2013 - 01:46PM   |  
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NSA taps data from 9 major Net firms

Under watch from the National Security Agency and the FBI, Internet traffic of people outside the United States is being closely monitored by Silicon Valley Internet giants in a massive data-snooping agreement.

The National Security Agency and the FBI are siphoning personal data from the main computer servers of nine major U.S. Internet firms, The Washington Post and the London-based Guardian reported last week.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, acknowledged existence of the program June 6 and blasted the reports as “reprehensible” and inaccurate.

Clapper said the program does not allow the targeting of U.S. citizens or any person in the United States.

He ordered information about the program declassified so the public can understand what information is being collected.

“I believe it is important for the American people to understand the limits of this targeted counterterrorism program and the principles that govern its use,” he said. “In order to provide a more thorough understanding of the program, I have directed that certain information related to the ‘business records’ provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be declassified and immediately released to the public.

“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans,” Clapper said in a statement.

The agencies are grabbing data from the servers of nine U.S. Internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, according to the documents. The cloud storage device Dropbox was described as “coming soon,” along with other unidentified firms.

Air Force lifts furloughs for Okla. tornado victims

The Air Force said June 3 it will cancel furloughs for its civilian employees who were affected by the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Civilian employees at Tinker Air Force Base whose homes were destroyed or left uninhabitable by the May 20 and 31 tornadoes will be excepted from Defense Department furloughs, the Air Force said. DoD will furlough some 680,000 employees — most of its civilian workforce — beginning July 8 to help it absorb steep budget cuts known as the sequester.

“This is the right thing to do,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said. “Despite some facing devastating personal circumstances, our Oklahoma-based civilian employees have shown their resilience time and time again. The least we can do is remove this additional burden.”

The Air Force is still trying to figure out how many Air Force civilians at Tinker were affected by the tornadoes and will be exempted. Tinker public affairs director Ralph Monson said that a total of 350 military service members and civilian employees from all branches lost their homes or were displaced due to damage.

Policing of Medicare fraud explodes over two years

The government has revoked the ability of 14,663 providers and suppliers to bill Medicare over the past two years — almost 2½ times more than had been revoked in the previous two years, new Health and Human Services Department statistics show.

“We have always been doing some of this,” said Peter Budetti, Center for Medicare Services deputy administrator for program integrity. “But there has been a special focus under the Affordable Care Act.”

Administration officials announced the new fraud numbers last week as they push for more help from seniors in fighting fraud. One proposed rule would allow people who report fraud to earn up to $9.9 million in reward money in a new fraud-prevention program. Before today, beneficiaries could receive up to $10,000 for tips leading to recovery of fraud money.

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