Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 17, 2013

A judge says NSA data mining is probably unconstitutional, Japan bulks up its military to counter China, and more

1. Judge calls NSA surveillance unconstitutionalA federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's data collection probably violates the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the mining of phone and email records, exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was "almost Orwellian," but he delayed calling an injunction on the program pending a near-certain appeal. Snowden, who fled to Russia to avoid being prosecuted for releasing government secrets, said the ruling justified his disclosures, but the White House said he still wouldn't get amnesty. [CBS News, Guardian] ………………………………………………………………………………

2. Japan increases military spending to counter ChinaThe Japanese government said Tuesday it would boost its military spending by five percent over the next five years, reversing decades of cutbacks. Japan will buy more jet fighters and destroyers, and its first surveillance drones, in response to China's military expansion and tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government also plans to strengthen ties with Asian allies, although some Japanese citizens fear this signals an end to Japan's post-World War II pacifism. [Associated Press] ………………………………………………………………………………

3. Snowden offers Brazil an asylum-for-secrets dealNSA leaker Edward Snowden is offering to assist the Brazilian government in its investigation of U.S. spying in exchange for asylum. In an "open letter to the people of Brazil" published Tuesday in Brazil's Folha newspaper, Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, said he wants to help but can't because of U.S. pressure. "Until a country grants me permanent political asylum," Snowden writes, "the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out." [USA Today]………………………………………………………………………………

4. Bomb threat disrupts exam week at HarvardOfficials at Harvard University shut down part of the historic Harvard Yard section of campus on Monday after someone sent an email warning that explosives had been planted in four buildings — a freshman dorm, two lecture hall buildings, and the Science Center. The bomb scare disrupted students and faculty at a particularly sensitive time — final exams for the fall term are scheduled for this week. No bombs were found. [Boston Globe]………………………………………………………………………………

5. Tech leaders to urge Obama to back surveillance limits President Obama is expected to meet with leading technology executives on Tuesday to hear their arguments in favor of new limits on government surveillance. Top executives at Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and eight other tech giants are urging Obama to support imposing new limits on National Security Agency surveillance programs after months of revelations on broad phone and internet data collection detailed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. [Washington Post]………………………………………………………………………………

6. Senate staffer freed to await child pornography trialA federal judge has allowed Ryan Loskarn, the fired chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), to be released from jail so he can live with his parents in Maryland, while he awaits prosecution on charges that he possessed and tried to distribute child pornography. Magistrate Judge John Facciola ordered Loskarn, 35, to wear an electronic monitor. Loskarn also must be prohibited from accessing the internet. His defense argued that he should be freed because he had no prior arrests. [CBS/AP]………………………………………………………………………………

7. China arrests suspects following "terrorist attack" in XinjiangChinese police arrested six people in the turbulent Xinjiang region on Monday for violence that killed 16 people on Sunday. Two police officers were among the dead. They were killed when a mob, reportedly made up by ethnic Uyghers, threw makeshift bombs. Fourteen alleged gang members were also killed in the clash. Authorities confiscated explosive devices and homemade guns used in what they called a premeditated "terrorist attack." The mostly Muslim Uyghers say they are fighting government repression. [South China Morning Post]………………………………………………………………………………

8. FDA questions the effectiveness of antibacterial soapThe Food and Drug Administration unveiled a proposed rule on Monday that would require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soap and body wash to prove their products are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing the spread of germs. The FDA said there was no evidence the products offer better protection against illness, but some studies suggest long-term exposure to some of their ingredients could pose health threats, such as bacterial resistance. [CNN]………………………………………………………………………………

9. Innovative country singer Ray Price dies Country music trailblazer Ray Price, known for hit singles such as the 1956 smash "Crazy Arms," died Monday. He was 87. Price pioneered several innovations that changed the country sound. He was among the first country artists to add drums to his recordings. He also added orchestral strings to the traditional fiddles, and made the music more danceable by popularizing the 4/4 shuffle, which became known as "the Ray Price beat." [Associated Press]………………………………………………………………………………

10. Rodman heads back to North KoreaFormer NBA star Dennis Rodman says he is going ahead with another trip to North Korea this week despite political turmoil there. Pyongyang last week said it had executed leader Kim Jong Un's once powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek, for plotting a coup. The U.S. advised Americans to stay away after the arrest of an 85-year-old Korean War veteran in October, but Rodman's advisers have told the basketball star he's safe. He plans to depart Thursday with a documentary crew, and help train North Korean basketball players. [New York Times]

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