America’s FAA Shifts Gears Slightly on Certifying Future ‘Flying Taxi’ Pilots

Flying cars — or even electric flying taxis — are the dream of several well-funded manufacturers building “electric vertical-takeoff and landing aircraft” (or eVTOLs).
But will they face stricter government regulations than anticipated? Long-time Slashdot reader
wired_parrot reports that America’s Federal Aviation Administration has shifted gears — “revising it certification requirements for eVTOLS from small aircraft to a powered-lift category.” (The original submission cites a “growing number” of issues for the industry to resolve — and asks whether this raises concerns about the viability of the whole potential eVTOL market.)

Meanwhile, AVWeb reports:
According to a Reuters report, the impetus for the shift came from an ongoing audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General. The IG said so-called Urban Air Mobility vehicles present the FAA with “new and complex safety challenges….”

In a written response to a request for clarification, an FAA spokesperson told AVweb:

“The FAA’s top priority is to make sure the flying public is safe. This obligation includes our oversight of the emerging generation of eVTOL vehicles. The agency is pursuing a predictable framework that will better accommodate the need to train and certify the pilots who will operate these novel aircraft.
“Our process for certifying the aircraft themselves remains unchanged. All of the development work done by current applicants remains valid and the changes in our regulatory approach should not delay their projects. As this segment of the industry continues to grow, we look forward to certifying innovative new technologies that meet the safety standards that the public expects and deserves.”

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How US Billionaires Can Avoid Paying Income Taxes

On April 15th Americans filed their taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS). But on the same day ProPublica was reporting a difference between “the rich and the rest of us” — that their wealth just isn’t easily defined:

For one, wages make up only a small part of their earnings. And they have broad latitude in how they account for their businesses and investments. Their incomes aren’t defined by a tax form. Instead, they represent the triumph of careful planning by skilled professionals who strive to deliver the most-advantageous-yet-still-plausible answers to their clients. For them, a tax return is an opening bid to the IRS. It’s a kind of theory….

We counted at least 16 other billionaires (along with hundreds of other ultrawealthy people, including hedge fund managers and former CEOs) among the stimulus check recipients. This is just how our system works. It’s why, in 2011, Jeff Bezos, then worth $18 billion, qualified for $4,000 in refundable child tax credits. (Bezos didn’t respond to our questions.) A recent study by the Brookings Institution set out with a simple aim: to compare what owners of privately held businesses say they earn with the income that appears on the owners’ tax returns. The findings were stark: “More than half of economic income generated by closely held businesses does not appear on tax returns and that ratio has declined significantly over the past 25 years.”

That doesn’t mean business owners are illegally hiding income from the IRS, though it’s certainly a possible contributor. There are plenty of ways to make income vanish legally. Tax perks like depreciation allow owners to create tax losses even as they expand their businesses… “Losses” from one business can also be used to wipe out income from another. Sometimes spilling red ink can be lots of fun: For billionaires, owning sports teams and thoroughbred racehorses are exciting loss-makers. Congress larded the tax code with these sorts of provisions on the logic that what’s good for businesses is good for the economy. Often, the evidence for this broader effect is thin or nonexistent, but you can be sure all this is great for business owners. The Brookings study found that households worth $10 million or more benefited the most from being able to make income disappear….

In the tax system we have, billionaires who’d really rather not pay income taxes can usually find a way not to. They can bank their accumulating gains tax-free and deploy tax losses to wipe out whatever taxable income they might have. They can even look forward to a few thousand dollars here and there from the government to help them raise their kids or get through a national emergency.
This system also means it’s much harder to catch underreported income on the tax returns of the wealthy, the article points out. And with so many legal deducations, it’s also hard to prove the low incomes really exceed what the law allows. Even then, the wealthy can still hire an army of the best tax lawyers to make their case in court.

And now thousands of auditors have left the agency — and have not been replaced. The end result? “Audits of the wealthy have plummeted.

“Business owners have still more reason to be bold….”

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Bipartisan Proposed Legislation To Curtail Secretive Email Seizure

“A bipartisan proposal in both the House and Senate would sharply limit the ability to seize emails without notice to the owner,” writes longtime Slashdot reader hawk. “It places a six-month limit on the length of gag orders in warrants.” The Hill reports: The Government Surveillance Transparency Act, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers, puts limitations on gag orders that seek to block tech companies from altering users whose data has been seized. It targets a practice brought into the spotlight after journalists from CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post all had their records seized by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The bill requires law enforcement agencies to notify surveillance subjects that their email, location and web browsing data has been seized, aligning with current practices for phone records and bank data.

“When the government obtains someone’s emails or other digital information, users have a right to know,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a release. “Our bill ensures that no investigation will be compromised, but makes sure the government can’t hide surveillance forever by misusing sealing and gag orders to prevent the American people from understanding the enormous scale of government surveillance, as well as ensuring that the targets eventually learn their personal information has been searched.”

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Congressional Bills Would Ban Tech Mergers Over $5 Billion

Senator Elizabeth Warren and House Representative Mondaire Jones have introduced legislation in their respective congressional chambers that would effectively ban large technology mergers. Engadget reports: The Prohibiting Anticompetitive Mergers Act (PAMA) would make it illegal to pursue “prohibited mergers,” including those worth more than $5 billion or which provide market shares beyond 25 percent for employers and 33 percent for sellers. The bills would also give antitrust regulators more power to halt and review mergers. They would have authority to reject mergers outright, without requiring court orders. They would likewise bar mergers from companies with track records of antitrust violations or other instances of “corporate crime” in the past decade. Officials would have to gauge the impact of these acquisition on labor forces, and wouldn’t be allowed to negotiate with the companies to secure “remedies” for clearing mergers.

Crucially, PAMA would formalize procedures for reviewing past mergers and breaking up “harmful deals” that allegedly hurt competition. The Federal Trade Commission has signaled a willingness to split up tech giants like Meta despite approving mergers years earlier. PAMA might make it easier to unwind those acquisitions and force brands like Instagram and WhatsApp to operate as separate businesses.

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Bill Targeting NDAs Used By Tech Companies Passes In Washington State

Landmark legislation that will drastically curtail tech companies’ ability to stop employees from talking about mistreatment is headed to the governor’s desk in Washington state. GeekWire reports: Last week, Washington legislators approved House Bill 1795 — also called the Silenced No More Act — in major victory for activists who have fought to limit non-disclosures and non-disparagement agreements. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), makes it illegal for companies to ban employees from discussing “illegal acts of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage and hour violations, and sexual assault.”

“This bill is about empowering workers,” said Berry in a statement last week. “It is about giving workers a voice. Despite the progress we’ve made in recent years, too many workers are still forced to sign NDAs and settlement agreements that silence them. This bill will allow all survivors of inappropriate or illegal workplace misconduct to share their experiences if they choose to do so.” NDAs have long been common practice at many large tech companies, and often state that employees will have to repay severance money or face other financial ramifications if they violate the agreement.

Washington state will be the second state to ban these types of gag orders; California passed its own Silenced No More Act last year. There, the legislation passed despite vocal opposition from trade groups, which argued that employees could end up getting hurt if companies decide to limit severance payments, or to forgo them altogether.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Journalist Labeled ‘Hacker’ By Missouri’s Governor Will Not Be Prosecuted

Remember when more than 100,000 Social Security numbers of Missouri teachers were revealed in the HTML code of a state web site? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s reporter informed the state government and delayed publishings his findings until they’d fixed the hole — but the state’s governor then demanded the reporter’s prosecution, labelling him “a hacker.” In the months that followed, throughout a probe — which for some reason was run by the state’s Highway Patrol — the governor had continued to suggest that prosecution of that reporter was imminent.

But it’s not. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist will not be charged after pointing out a weakness in a state computer database, the prosecuting attorney for Cole County said Friday. Prosecutor Locke Thompson issued a statement to television station KRCG Friday, saying he appreciated Gov. Mike Parson for forwarding his concerns but would not be filing charges….

Parson, who had suggested prosecution was imminent throughout the probe, issued a statement saying Thompson’s office believed the decision “was properly addressed….” Post-Dispatch Publisher Ian Caso said in a statement Friday: “We are pleased the prosecutor recognized there was no legitimate basis for any charges against the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or our reporter. While an investigation of how the state allowed this information to be accessible was appropriate, the accusations against our reporter were unfounded and made to deflect embarrassment for the state’s failures and for political purposes….”

There is no authorization required to examine public websites, but some researchers say overly broad hacking laws in many jurisdictions let embarrassed institutions lob hacking allegations against good Samaritans who try to flag vulnerabilities before they’re exploited….
A political action committee supporting Parson ran an ad attacking the newspaper over the computer incident, saying the governor was “standing up to the fake news media.”
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader UnknowingFool for submitting the story.

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Not Just the IRS – 20 US Agencies Are Already Set Up For Selfie IDs

America’s Internal Revenue Service created an uproar with early plans to require live-video-feed selfies to verify identities for online tax services (via an outside company called ID.me).

But Wired points out that more than 20 U.S. federal agencies are already using a digital identification system (named Login.gov and built on services from LexisNexis) that “can use selfies for account verification.”

It’s run by America’s General Services Administration, or GSA….
The GSA’s director of technology transformation services Dave Zvenyach says facial recognition is being tested for fairness and accessibility and not yet used when people access government services through Login.gov. The GSA’s administrator said last year that 30 million citizens have Login.gov accounts and that it expects the number to grow significantly as more agencies adopt the system.

“ID.me is supplying something many governments ask for and require companies to do,” says Elizabeth Goodman, who previously worked on Login.gov and is now senior director of design at federal contractor A1M Solutions. Countries including the UK, New Zealand, and Denmark use similar processes to ID.me’s to establish digital identities used to access government services. Many international security standards are broadly in line with those of the U.S., written by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Goodman says that such programs need to provide offline options such as visiting a post office for people unable or unwilling to use phone apps or internet services….

In fact, Wired argues that in many cases, a selfie or biometric data is virtually required by U.S. federal security guidelines from 2017:

NIST’s 2017 standard says that access to systems that can leak sensitive data or harm public programs should require verifying a person’s identity by comparing them to a photo — either remotely or in person — or using biometrics such as a fingerprint scanner. It says that a remote check can be done either by video with a trained agent, or using software that checks for an ID’s authenticity and the “liveness” of a person’s photo or video…. California’s Employment Development Department said that ID.me blocked more than 350,000 fraudulent claims in the last three months of 2020. But the state auditor said an estimated 20 percent of legitimate claimants were unable to verify their identities with ID.me.

Caitlin Seeley George, director of campaigns and operations with nonprofit Fight for the Future, says ID.me uses the specter of fraud to sell technology that locks out vulnerable people and creates a stockpile of highly sensitive data that itself will be targeted by criminals. …

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In High-Tech San Francisco, a Pilot Program Tries Guaranteed Incomes for Artists

In 2015 the San Francisco Arts Commission surveyed nearly 600 local artists. “More than 70% of them had either already left San Francisco or were about to be displaced from their work, home or both,” reports SFGate.com, adding “The pandemic has only intensified these problems. A report by Americans for the Arts found that 53% of artists have no savings whatsoever as a result of the pandemic.”

Would it help to give over 100 artists their own Universal Basic Income?

In an effort to mitigate what appears to be an existential threat to the arts, in March 2021, the city of San Francisco partnered with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts [YBCA] to launch a guaranteed income pilot, called the SF Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists, or SF-GIPA, that gives 130 local low-income artists who have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic $1,000 a month, no strings attached, for 18 months…. At the time, YBCA was planning to launch its own guaranteed income project for artists, and this allowed it to combine forces and take both projects further. The first six months of funding for the SF-GIPA project came from the Arts Impact Endowment, which is funded by San Francisco’s hotel tax and designated for underserved communities. YBCA extended the project by an additional 12 months with private funding from the Start Small Foundation, a philanthropic initiative by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey….

Though the additional income from SF-GIPA is a welcome relief, as the project moves past its halfway point, the question remains: Will 18 months be enough time to truly make a difference in these artists’ lives? YBCA is currently scrambling to find a way to continue supporting guaranteed income recipients after the project’s scheduled end in October 2023…. “It’s just so sad; people come to San Francisco because of the art and culture, but the art and culture makers can’t afford to live here,” says Stephanie Imah, who is leading YBCA’s pilot. “This is very much a rental problem. It’s really hard for artists living in San Francisco unless they work in tech. It’s clear we need long-term solutions.” For YBCA, that means advocating for big policy changes down the line.

“Our eyes are on the federal government,” YBCA CEO Deborah Cullinan explains in an interview with Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre. “We’d like to see guaranteed income programs across the country for all people.” For now, the organization is focused on collecting “university standard research” in order to make an irrefutable case for universal basic income as a viable long-term solution to poverty.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.