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Vote to Repeal rules in US that limit how internet service providers can use customer data, Sparks Interest in VPNs

VPNs cloak a customer's web-surfing history and searches the Web on the customer's behalf without revealing the destination addresses

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An RSA SecurID dongle used for internet VPN tunnelling , VOA
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March 30, 2017: The vote by the U.S. Congress to repeal rules that limit how internet service providers can use customer data has generated renewed interest in an old internet technology: virtual private networks, or VPNs.

VPNs cloak a customer’s web-surfing history by making an encrypted connection to a private server, which then searches the Web on the customer’s behalf without revealing the destination addresses. VPNs are often used to connect to a secure business network, or in countries such as China and
Turkey to bypass government restrictions on Web surfing.

Privacy-conscious techies are now talking of using VPNs as a matter of course to guard against broadband providers collecting data about which internet sites and services they are using.

“Time to start using a VPN at home,” Vijaya Gadde, general counsel of Twitter Inc, said in a tweet on Tuesday that was retweeted by Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey.

Gadde was not immediately available for comment. Twitter said she was commenting in her personal capacity and not on behalf of the company.

The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 215-205 on Tuesday to repeal rules adopted last year by the Federal Communications Commission under then-President Barack Obama to require broadband providers to obtain consumer consent before using their data for advertising or marketing.

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The U.S. Senate, also controlled by Republicans, voted 50-48 last week to reverse the rules. The White House said President Donald Trump supported the repeal measure.

Supporters of the repeal said the FCC unfairly required internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s
Google or Facebook Inc.

Critics said the repeal would weaken consumers’ privacy protections.

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VPN advantages, drawbacks:

Protected data includes a customer’s web-browsing history, which in turn can be used to discover other types of information, including health and financial data.

Some smaller broadband providers are now seizing on privacy as a competitive advantage. Sonic, a California-based broadband provider, offers a free VPN service to its customers so they can connect to its network when they are not home. That ensures that when Sonic users log on to wi-fi at a coffee shop or hotel, for example, their data is not collected by that establishment’s broadband provider.

“We see VPN as being important for our customers when they’re not on our network. They can take it with them on the road,” CEO Dane Jasper said.

In many areas of the country, there is no option to choose an independent broadband provider and consumers will have to pay for a VPN service to shield their browsing habits.

Private Internet Access, a VPN provider, took a visible stand against the repeal measure when it bought a full-page ad in the New York Times on Sunday. But the company, which boasts about a million subscribers, potentially stands to benefit from the legislation, acknowledged marketing director Caleb Chen.

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VPNs have drawbacks. They funnel all user traffic through one point, so they are an attractive target for hackers and spies. The biggest obstacle to their routine use as a privacy safeguard is that they can be too much of a hassle to set up for many customers. They also cost money.

“The further along toward being a computer scientist you have to be to use a VPN, the smaller a portion of the population we’re talking about that can use it,” said Ernesto Falcon, a legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposed the bill. (VOA)

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USA: Everything you want to know about Security Clearance; Find out here!

A security clearance allows a person access to classified national security information or restricted areas.

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Former CIA Director John O. Brennan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, March 11, 2014. President Donald Trump revoked Brennan's security clearance Wednesday. VOA
Former CIA Director John O. Brennan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, March 11, 2014. President Donald Trump revoked Brennan's security clearance Wednesday. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. We take a look at what that means.

What is a security clearance?

A security clearance allows a person access to classified national security information or restricted areas after completion of a background check. The clearance by itself does not guarantee unlimited access. The agency seeking the clearance must determine what specific area of information the person needs to access.

What are the different levels of security clearance?

There are three levels: Confidential, secret and top secret. Security clearances don’t expire. But, top secret clearances are reinvestigated every five years, secret clearances every 10 years and confidential clearances every 15 years.

All federal agencies follow a list of 13 potential justifications for revoking or denying a clearance. VOA
All federal agencies follow a list of 13 potential justifications for revoking or denying a clearance. VOA

Who has security clearances?

According to a Government Accountability Office report released last year, about 4.2 million people had a security clearance as of 2015, they included military personnel, civil servants, and government contractors.

Why does one need a security clearance in retirement?

Retired senior intelligence officials and military officers need their security clearances in case they are called to consult on sensitive issues.

Also Read: Governments Across The World Request Apple for 30,000 Device Information

Can the president revoke a security clearance?

Apparently. But there is no precedent for a president revoking someone’s security clearance. A security clearance is usually revoked by the agency that sought it for an employee or contractor. All federal agencies follow a list of 13 potential justifications for revoking or denying a clearance, which can include criminal acts, lack of allegiance to the United States, behavior or situation that could compromise an individual and security violations. (VOA)