STEM Scene: Sept. 14

by Arjun Barrett, Asst. STEM Editor

Australia passes controversial surveillance bill

Nicole Tian

The Australian government passed the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021 on Aug. 25. The bill, intended to disrupt cybercrime, created three new types of warrants: data disruption warrants, network activity warrants and account takeover warrants.

A data disruption grants law enforcement agencies the power to add, delete, copy or modify data on devices. Network activity warrants allow them to monitor traffic on online networks and communication platforms. Account takeover warrants can be used to take control of or impersonate online accounts. All three of these warrants can be obtained either in court or via an emergency authorization process, which does not require court approval.

Digital rights activists expressed concerns about the scope of the bill to the legislature, claiming that the bill would allow individual law enforcement officers to conduct surveillance on civilians, falsify evidence of criminal activity and impersonate online account owners using the emergency authorization process.

China limits online gaming time for minors

Arely Sun

China has restricted gaming time to three hours per week for citizens under 18 years of age. Young gamers will only be allowed to play from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Previously, minors were allowed 1.5 hours of gaming daily and three hours on holidays. State officials have stated that the goal is to counteract gaming addiction in teens.

The change comes as part of China’s crackdown on private industries, particularly in the tech sector. Video game publishers and studios will be required to employ age verification with real names for all Chinese players outside of the permitted gaming hours. China has the largest gamer population of any country, and the majority of Chinese minors are active players. The news of the restriction has caused shares of gaming companies such as Ubisoft and Tencent to fall. Users of the Chinese social media site Weibo have called the new limit overly restrictive and complained that it will hinder China’s success in the growing eSports industry.

Perseverance rover collects its first Martian rock

Arely Sun

NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has successfully extracted a sample of a Martian rock after a failed attempt. Perseverance was initially set to extract a rock sample on Aug. 6, but the rock crumbled before being drawn into the rover.

On Sept. 1, Perseverance successfully drilled a sample out of a rock named Rochette before sealing it inside a sample chamber five days later. Perseverance collected another sample from the same rock on Sept. 8. The samples, named Montdenier and Montagnac, are two of around 35 samples that NASA hopes to collect from the Jezero Crater. Rochette contains a large proportion of basalt and volcanic minerals, which will make radiometric dating possible. Analysis of the samples could answer questions about the disappearance of Jezero Lake and the existence of life on Mars.

Facebook develops “smart” glasses

Arely Sun

Facebook released its first line of smart glasses on Sept. 9. The Ray-Ban Stories, starting at $299, are augmented reality (AR) glasses that can play music, take phone calls and capture photos or videos. The glasses also include a voice assistant named Facebook Assistant that can help capture hands-free photos. Andrew Bosworth, vice president of augmented and virtual reality at Facebook, claims that unlike previous smart eyewear products such as Google Glass and Snap Spectacles, the Ray-Ban Stories focus more on fashion than technology.

The company has stated that the glasses include warnings against using the technology in private areas such as bathrooms and that the glasses will use an indicator light to show others when the camera is active. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that this launch is part of the company’s initiative to create a “metaverse” of virtual experiences that integrate with the real world.