Trump appointees are violating the law that prevents them from regulating their former bosses

A 2009 rule created by Obama in his first days in office says that former executives and lobbyists can't be hired to work for the government in a capacity that gives them oversight over their former employers; they must wait for two years after leaving such employment before working in a regulatory capacity that relates to it. Read the rest

UPDATED: Without warning, after hours, House GOP dismantles ethics watchdog

Update: They've backed down because Trump warned them it would be a distraction from taking away healthcare and giving tax cuts to rich people.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics -- created in 2008 after three Congressmen were jailed for corruption -- has been stripped of its powers by the House GOP, who held an after-hours vote, with no notice, on Monday night. Read the rest

A checklist for figuring out whether your algorithm is a "weapon of math destruction"

The Data & Society institute (dedicated to critical, interdisciplinary perspectives on big data) held an online seminar devoted to Cathy O'Neil's groundbreaking book Weapons of Math Destruction, which showed how badly designed algorithmic decision-making systems can create, magnify and entrench the social problems they're supposed to solve, perpetuating inequality, destabilizing the economy, and making a small number of people very, very rich. Read the rest

U.S. ethics office tweets sarcastically at Trump on his business conflicts

It's come to this, folks. The office of the United States that oversees ethics in government is sending sarcastic tweets to president-elect Donald J. Trump. Yes, he of the still unreleased tax returns, the many conflicts of interest, the recent $25 million fraud settlement, and the late-night Twitter wars.

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Trump to avoid "appearance" of business conflicts

Today President-Elect Trump took to Twitter in an attempt to assure the world he will not let it look like he is making money off the Presidency.

Via the New York Times:

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a liberal nonprofit group that promotes ethics in government, said: “Unless his solution is to sell the business outside the family and put the proceeds in a blind trust, he’s not really doing anything to solve the problem. Just because you say something on Twitter doesn’t make it so.”

It remains unclear what the president-elect’s plan will look like, but simply removing Mr. Trump from operational, day-to-day control of business decisions still could allow him to benefit financially from payments made to his companies by foreign governments, which may be prohibited by the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution, Mr. Eisen said.

And Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts said nothing about whether his children — who serve as advisers on his presidential transition committee — would continue to have roles in his administration.

If the business is run by his children, they must be entirely separated from government operations, Mr. Eisen and Mr. Painter said. That means they could not participate in meetings with world leaders, like the prime minister of Japan, as Ivanka Trump did this month.

“Without an ethics firewall that is set up at once and continues into the administration, scandal is sure to follow,” their statement said.

Aides to Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to requests for more detail.

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1 in 5 snoop on a phone belonging to a friend or loved one

In Snooping on Mobile Phones: Prevalence and Trends, a paper presented at SOUPS 16, computer scientists from UBC and the University of Lisbon show that a rigorous survey reveals that up to one in five people have snooped on a loved one or friend by accessing their phone. Read the rest

Can a sexbot be a murderer?

Paolo Bacigalupi's new short story "Mika Model" is a detective tale about a murdering sexbot. Read the rest

How would you explain the difference between war and terrorism to a space alien?

Author and former CIA officer Barry Eisler spoke at the Association of Former Intelligence Officers opposite ex-CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden on Monday. In front of about a hundred former CIA, FBI, and NSA operatives, Eisler talked about bulk surveillance, whistleblowing, and why intelligence professionals need to take especially great care not to let propaganda pervert their intelligence.

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Big Data Ethics: racially biased training data versus machine learning

Writing in Slate, Cathy "Weapons of Math Destruction" O'Neill, a skeptical data-scientist, describes the ways that Big Data intersects with ethical considerations. Read the rest

The moral character of cryptographic work

Phillip Rogaway, an eminent computer scientist and cryptographer at UC Davis, has made a stir in information security circles with a long, thoughtful paper called The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work. Read the rest

Call for papers: We Robot, a conference on robots, ethics, philosophy and regulation

Michael Froomkin writes, "We Robot is a cool conference that brings together lawyers, engineers, philosophers, robot builders, ethicists, and regulators who are on the front lines of robot theory, design, or development. The 2016 editioni will be in Coral Gables, Florida on April 1-2, 2016 at the University of Miami School of Law. The main conference will be preceded by a day of special workshops on March 31. Full details at Read the rest

Why aren't ethicists better people?

Professional ethicists aren't any more likely to behave ethically than baseline humans who don't get paid to sit around all day and contemplate the difference between right and wrong. Read the rest

North Korean defector to Finland claims evidence of illegal human experiments

The researcher, "Lee," worked in Ganggye, Chagang, and escaped with what he says is 15GB of data detailing illegal human subjects biochemical research, which he is due to present to the European Parliament this month. (Thanks, Sulka!) Read the rest

On ethics in information technology

Our field requires ethical frameworks we accept, instead of rules that remain technically unbroken while we hackers violate their spirit with as much ingenuity as we can muster.

Moral dilemma: rescuing the miners, rescuing the babies:

On Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns presents a tough moral calculus: if you can save 50% of a group of trapped miners with 100% certainty, knowing the remainder will die; or you can try to rescue all the miners, with a 50% chance that they'll all die, which would you choose (And then: what if they were babies, not miners?) Read the rest

Facebook's massive psychology experiment likely illegal

Researchers from Facebook, Cornell and UCSF published a paper describing a mass-scale experiment in which Facebook users' pages were manipulated to see if this could induce and spread certain emotional states. Read the rest

Cold Equations and Moral Hazard: science fiction considered harmful to the future

My latest Locus column is "Cold Equations and Moral Hazard", an essay about the way that our narratives about the future can pave the way for bad people to create, and benefit from, disasters. "If being in a lifeboat gives you the power to make everyone else shut the hell up and listen (or else), then wouldn’t it be awfully convenient if our ship were to go down?" Read the rest

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