How Cutting-Edge Technology & Science Are Powering The Future TPM Idealab

The Internal Revenue Service took a bold step for a government agency and released a smartphone application. Titled IRS2Go, the app lets users check their tax return status. But IRS2Go's relatively limited functionality signals a future challenge for federal agencies releasing iPhone/Android applications: how do you give people the functionality they want while still complying with a variety of outdated rules that govern agencies' interactions with the public.

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While none of the telecom giants appeared to be thrilled with the net neutrality regulations passed last month, only Verizon and Metro PCS have taken a swing, challenging the FCC. But are the other cellular giants -- AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile -- just letting Verizon take the lead, or are the backing net neutrality?

Both, and neither, according to various sources: they would apparently rather spend their money fighting issues they see as more key to their success, and may see their acceptance of the popular initiative as a competitive advantage.

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Imagine a future in which each row of annuals and perennials in the flowerbed outside your house was a line of defense against dangerous chemicals and explosives. Biologist June Medford and her team at Colorado State University made a big step towards turning plants into chemical security guards when they recently inserted a computer-redesigned receptor protein into a living plant -- giving it the ability to detect explosives.

Medford described her research to TPM: "Okay. I'm a plant. There is a chemical on the outside, and I'm going to recognize this and do something about it on the inside."

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Anyone who carries a cell phone can easily be tracked by law enforcement -- and the courts don't require them to get a warrant to do it. Cell phones ping cell towers creating a way of triangulating location -- information mobile providers like AT&T and Verizon collect and distribute to law enforcement upon request.

Sen. Ron. Wyden, D-Ore., said Friday that it's time to rethink the laws that allow law enforcement easy access to that data.

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Senate Democrats this week unveiled their latest attempt to clarify and modernize the security of the country's critical information technology infrastructure. An attempt to pass cybersecurity legislation introduced by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) stalled on December 15 when the full Senate failed to act on the measure after it was voted unanimously out of committee.

The currently skeletal legislation, S.21, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and seven committee chairs, is anticipated to include most of the Lieberman-Collins measure. But given its yet-to-be-determined final form, debate about its effects on privacy and executive power have reemerged.

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Lockheed Martin opened a virtual reality and simulation laboratory in Littleton, Colo, where they can use virtual reality technology to simulate tests of new products and processes before bringing them into the real world.

Some say that the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL) facility sounds a whole lot like the holodecks on Star Trek. Lockheed Martin spokespeople won't go that far, but the similarities are unmistakable. It's a do-it-all kind of facility.

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Scientists working on a project sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory now have a forecasting model that they claim can accurately predict civil unrest against foreign governments.

A team composed of academics at Kansas State University and New York's Binghamton University developed the Predictive Societal Indicators of Radicalism Model of Domestic Political Violence Forecast. The KSU/Binghamton plans to integrate their forecasting model into applications developed by Milcord, a firm that develops web and mobile applications for various government agencies. According to Milcord's Alper Caglayan, the model "will be integrated into strategic planning, early crisis warning and contingency planning-type operations."

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It's a question privacy advocates and law enforcement have been grappling with for years: Does the protection of Little Sister justify Big Brother's prying eyes?

House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security met Tuesday morning to try to answer that question, with help from the Department of Justice, the United States Internet Service Provider Association and others. At issue is how long internet service providers should be required to keep massive amounts of user data for law enforcement to potentially sort through later.

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