March 25, 2014

The Obama administration is preparing to unveil legislation to prevent the National Security Agency from systematically collecting data on phone calls, The New York Times reports. While telephone companies would still keep the call records for 18 months, as currently required by law, the NSA would only have access to that data with permission from a judge.

That's a step in the right direction, according to Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the NSA's bulk collection of call records should end," he tells The Times. "As we've argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance." The data collection was revealed through leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Obama proposal joins several other bills in Congress to address the NSA data culling. Catherine Garcia

6:15 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics to two particle physicists, Takaaki Kajita in Japan and Arthur B. McDonald in Canada, for their discovery of neutrino oscillations and the resulting evidence that subatomic neutrino particles have mass. "The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe," the academy explained in a news release. Those findings "have yielded crucial insights into the all but hidden world of neutrinos. After photons, the particles of light, neutrinos are the most numerous in the entire cosmos."

The two scientists will share the $960,000 prize as well as the honor of winning the same award as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Niels Bohr. Peter Weber

This just in
5:25 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice, the European Union's highest court, threw out a 15-year-old agreement allowing companies to transfer data freely between the U.S. and EU. The ruling, which can't be appealed, appears to prohibit Facebook, Google, and other tech companies large and small from moving data about their European customers to the United States, and nobody is quite sure what will happen next.

The case was started by an Austrian law student, Max Schrems, who sued Facebook in Ireland — Facebook's European headquarters — arguing that due to revelations by U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, European consumer data wasn't given adequate privacy protections by Facebook and other U.S. tech companies. The ECJ agreed, immediately invalidating a "safe harbor" agreement in place since 2000 that allows about 4,000 U.S. and European companies to transfer data overseas on the understanding that that data will be given the privacy safeguards applicable to each country's consumers.

Under the new ruling, national regulators will be able to judge whether companies meet their national privacy rules, and stop them from transferring data if they don't. "Companies may not be able to move people's data until domestic data protection authorities give their approval," London privacy lawyer Marc Dautlich tells The New York Times. "In some of Europe's 28 countries, that is not going to be easy."

The court's decision, and stalled two-year-old negotiations for a new safe harbor agreement highlights "the different approaches to online data protection by the United States, where privacy is viewed as a consumer protection issue, and Europe, where it is almost on a par with such fundamental rights as freedom of expression," notes The New York Times. The European Commission is expected to address the ruling on Tuesday. Peter Weber

last night on late night
4:40 a.m. ET

"I love shopping at Whole Foods," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show, "because I love organic produce, and I cannot stand having money." That was the beginning of a short rundown of a spate of Whole Foods mini-scandals, from overcharging for its prepackaged products to a new apology about selling tilapia and goat cheese made by prisoners. "Prison labor?" Colbert said in mock consternation. "But everything at Whole Foods is supposed to be cage-free!"

But this isn't the last thing Whole Foods will have to apologize for, Colbert predicted, so to help the grocery chain out, he issued a few pre-emptive apologies on their behalf. The mea culpas range from the gross (think "ground Chuck") to the absurd. The crowd favorite? "It is our solemn pledge that our cashiers will now add up the cost of your products, instead of just typing in the highest number they can think of." Watch below. Peter Weber

last night on late night
4:06 a.m. ET

Somebody at The Late Late Show is a dedicated Taylor Swift fan, and it might just be host James Corden. On Monday's show, Corden performed the fairly impressive feat of acting out a soap opera scene using only (mostly) Taylor Swift lyrics. He had some help from Julianne Moore and John Stamos, and while Moore is a fine actress, Stamos clearly has the daytime soap thing down cold. If you don't appreciate smashed vases, Corden as a greaser, and the wisdom of Taylor Swift, well, haters gonna hate (hate hate hate). Peter Weber

colbert nation
3:50 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert was going over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) résumé on Monday's Late Show when McCain stopped him at mention of being the Republican Party's 2008 presidential candidate. "Thanks for bringing that up," he said sarcastically, before softening the line with a joke: "After I lost, I slept like a baby: Sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry." Lest you think there were no hard feelings, McCain followed it up with another zinger. "If you'd won..." Colbert started, and McCain finished: "I wouldn't be on this show." Still, if you think about what could have been, the senior senator from Arizona continued, you'll just needlessly drive yourself crazy. And then McCain had one more quip, which you can watch below. Peter Weber

A little piece of history
2:09 a.m. ET

When Abraham Lincoln Salomon tucked the first-class lunch menu into his jacket pocket on April 14, 1912, he had no idea that 103 years later, the yellowed piece of paper would sell at auction for $88,000.

Salomon was a first-class passenger aboard the Titanic, who survived the shipwreck by securing a spot on Lifeboat No. 1, dubbed the "Money Boat" because it sailed off with only 12 people aboard instead of the 40 it could fit (rumors later circulated that the wealthy passengers bribed crew members to row away from the ship instead of letting more people climb aboard). The menu was expected to bring in $50,000 when it went up for auction Sept. 30, but an anonymous buyer — who may be a relative of a Titanic survivor — shelled out $88,000 for the keepsake, Live Science reports.

During their last lunch aboard the ill-fated ship, first-class passengers enjoyed such dishes as corned ox tongue, fillets of brill, grilled mutton chops, and cockie leekie. Salomon also escaped with his ticket from the ship's Turkish baths, which recorded how much he weighed and was inscribed with the names of three of his fellow lifeboat passengers: Miss Laura Mabel Francatelli, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, and Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon. That tiny piece of history sold at auction for $11,000. Catherine Garcia

1:32 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Facing allegations that the House Select Committee on Benghazi is little more than a long, expensive witch hunt to wreck Hillary Clinton's political future, House Republicans are now accusing panel Democrats of politicizing the hearings. House Democrats sent a letter to committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Monday saying they will release transcripts of closed-door interviews, beginning with Cheryl Mills (pictured), a top Clinton aide. "Despite claims that the Committee would be run with integrity," they wrote, "Republicans have engaged in a series of selective leaks of inaccurate and incomplete information in an effort to attack Secretary Clinton." Committee Democrats gave their Republican colleagues five days to tell them any sections of the Mills transcripts that should be "withheld from the American people," then they will release the rest of the interview.

Republicans responded that none of the interview should be released before the committee is done with its work. In a statement, committee spokesman Jamal Ware said that "by selectively leaking and spinning" the Mills transcript, "Democrats have shown their nakedly political motivation, willingness to violate the letter and spirit of House Rules, and their desire to defend Secretary Clinton without regard for the integrity of the investigation." He added, "Serious investigations hear from all witnesses and the testimony of each witness should be viewed in the context of all available information." And that's something the Democrats on the committee would probably agree with. Peter Weber

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