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U.S. House passes bill to renew NSA warrantless internet surveillance

(Reuters) — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program, overcoming objections from privacy advocates and confusion prompted by morning tweets from President Donald Trump that initially questioned the spying tool.

The legislation, which passed 256-164 and split party lines, is the culmination of a years-long debate in Congress on the proper scope of U.S. intelligence collection – one fueled by the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Senior Democrats in the House had urged cancellation of the vote after Trump appeared to cast doubt on the merits of the program, but Republicans forged ahead.

Trump initially wrote on Twitter that the surveillance program, first created in secret after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and later legally authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), had been used against him but later said it was needed.

Some conservative, libertarian-leaning Republicans and liberal Democrats attempted to persuade colleagues to include more privacy protections. They failed on Thursday to pass an amendment to include a requirement for a warrant before the NSA or other intelligence agencies could scrutinize communications belonging to an American whose data is incidentally collected.

Thursday’s vote was a major blow to privacy and civil liberties advocates, who just two years ago celebrated passage of a law effectively ending the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone call records, another top-secret program exposed by Snowden.

The bill as passed by the House would extend the NSA’s spying program for six years with minimal changes. Some privacy groups said it would actually expand the NSA’s surveillance powers.

Most lawmakers expect it to become law, although it still would require Senate approval and Trump’s signature. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden immediately vowed to filibuster the measure, but it was unclear whether they could persuade enough colleagues to force changes.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote on the bill next week after it returns from a break, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday.

“The intelligence community and the Justice Department depend on these vital authorities to protect the homeland and keep Americans safe,” McConnell, a Republican, said in a statement.

The White House, U.S. intelligence agencies and Republican leaders in Congress have said they consider the surveillance program indispensable and in need of little or no revision.

Before the vote, a tweet from Trump had contradicted the official White House position and renewed unsubstantiated allegations that the previous Democratic administration of Barack Obama improperly surveilled the Republican’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” the president wrote in a tweet.

“We need it!”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request to clarify Trump’s tweet, but he posted a follow-up less than two hours later, after speaking on the phone with House Republican leader Paul Ryan.

“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!” Trump tweeted.

Unmasking refers to the largely separate issue of how Americans’ names kept secret in intelligence reports can be revealed.

After the vote Thursday, Ryan, asked about his conversation with the president, said Trump’s concerns regarded other parts of the law.

“It’s well known that he has concerns about the domestic FISA law. That’s not what we’re doing today. Today was 702, which is a different part of that law. … He knows that and he, I think, put out something that clarifies that,” Ryan told reporters.

Asked by Reuters at a conference in New York about Trump’s tweets, Rob Joyce, the top White House cyber official, said there was no confusion within the Oval Office about the value of the surveillance program and that there have been no cases of it being used improperly for political purposes.

Trump’s tweets on surveillance marked the second time this week that he appeared to veer from the administration’s position. During a meeting on Tuesday to discuss immigration with a bipartisan group of legislators he initially voiced support when Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein suggested a “clean” bill to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy pointed out that a “clean” bill would not include the security and border wall that Trump has insisted be part of any immigration plan.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters there was no contradiction in Trump’s tweets on the surveillance program and that he was voicing broader concerns about FISA.

Without congressional action, legal support for Section 702 will expire next week, although intelligence officials say it could continue through April.

Section 702 allows the NSA to eavesdrop on vast amounts of digital communications from foreigners living outside the United States through U.S. companies such as Facebook, Verizon Communications, and Alphabet’s Google.

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My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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Adobe’s AI-powered Photoshop update is a time-saver

Adobe has unveiled Photoshop 19.1 with a much-anticipated AI-based feature for photo retouchers and a fix for longstanding Windows display issues. The first feature is called "select subject," and uses Adobe's Sensei deep-learning algorithms to make it much easier to isolate subjects from backgrounds. Adobe sent Engadget a preview copy of Photoshop to test, and I found that it's a big time-saver that doesn't always work, especially if your subject and what's behind it are too similar.

The tool is certainly simple to use. You load up your photo and choose either the "quick selection," "magic wand", or "select and mask" tools to bring up the "select subject" option at the top of the screen. Once you choose that, the AI does the rest, attempting to find the subject in the shot, whether an animal, human or prominent inanimate object.

To be clear, Adobe does not tout this as a feature that can automatically and perfectly select things for you, in the same way as dedicated apps like Fluid Mask. Rather, it aims to do a decent job of getting you started, making the rest of the manual process much simpler.

For instance, photo retouching specialists often separate models from their backgrounds in order to do things like change their skin tone or blur the background more. The first step of that is often to use a magic wand or manually outline the person, both of which are hit and miss and time-consuming. The select subject feature does the entire first step in one shot, freeing your time to fine tune the selection in areas like hair or clothing.

I tried it myself on a bunch of scenes of people, cameras, dogs and cats, and as you'd expect, how well it worked depended completely on the photo (see the gallery, above). If the subjects are well-separated from their backgrounds in terms of colors, shape and depth of field, the system works well. On the other hand, if the background is similar or overly complex, then the feature failed to varying degrees. (To be fair, a subject not well-separated from its background means you probably took a bad photo.)

Even if the selection was poor, the system still saved me a bit of time. Sometimes, however, it was easier to just punt and select things manually from scratch. Overall, it's a nice addition, but hopefully Adobe will improve it to the point that it makes everything more automatic.

The other primary improvement in Photoshop 19.1 is high-resolution monitor support for Windows 10 Creator's Edition. Up until today, users with high-resolution QHD or 4K laptop or desktop monitors could end up with tiny text, making the app nearly unusable without a lot of fiddling. That sucks considering that many folks probably bought their high-res screens to do Photoshop better.

With the new release, Photoshop "now offers a full range of choices for UI scale factors from 100 percent to 400 percent, in 25 percent increments ... so that the Photoshop user interface will look crisp, beautiful, and the right size no matter the density of your monitor," Adobe said. The app will automatically adjust itself based on your Windows settings.

What's more, Photoshop also works better for those of us who use dual monitor setups with multiple resolutions (I have a 3,200 x 1,800 pixel laptop, and 4K primary display, for instance). "One monitor can have a scale factor of 175 percent and another a scale factor of 400 percent," Adobe said. "This allows Windows users to choose either the highest-end 13-inch laptops with 4k screens, the more affordable 1080p models, or tap into the new 8k desktop monitors, each with an uncompromised experience."

Speaking of Microsoft, Adobe also improved support for the Dial controller. The feature is no longer a technical preview, and you can now change brush settings on the fly while you paint, rather than between strokes as before. Photoshop 19.1 rolls out today with other Adobe CC products and should be available in your neck of the woods soon.

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