Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – November 21, 2014

How to protect yourself from PC tech support scams;  Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked;  12-year-old’s online life brings an abductor to her doorstep;  Amnesty, EFF, Privacy International Put Out Free Anti-Surveillance Tool;  How to recycle your phone for cash;  SwiftKey for Android update;  Amazon’s Black Friday blowout starts tomorrow;  G’MIC: An incredibly powerful filtering system for GIMP;  Remove your personal info from data brokers;  Starbucks wireless charging begins;  Far Cry 4 Benchmarked: Graphics & CPU Performance;  Call of Duty Exceeds $10 Billion in Sales;  PayPal takes 18 months to patch critical remote code execution hole;  Got a webcam? pick a stronger password right now;  HBO GO Streaming Now on Xbox One;  The Secret Life of Passwords;  Supercharge your PC’s storage with a RAID setup.

How to protect yourself from PC tech support scams – For at least four years now, scam artists have been trying to pull one over on gullible computer users with phony tech support calls. The FTC said its latest operation was the third such case since 2011. More are sure to come since putting together a scam like this is relatively cheap compared to the potential million dollar windfall. PC users need to be wary of scams like these or risk falling prey to them. We’ve included a few tips that should help you stay scam free.

Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked – Downloading mobile apps from non-official sources has become a lot more dangerous over the last year, with apps now needing more built-in protection, according to a new report. The number of Top 100 iOS apps that have been hacked1 over the past year increased from 56 per cent in 2013 to 87 per cent in 2014. The majority (97 per cent) of top paid Android apps have been hacked, according to Arxan Technologies. As a specialist in application protection, Arxan has an obvious vested interest in talking up the threat from poorly protected mobile apps. However, that’s not to say it isn’t onto something. The recent discovery of the WireLurker iOS malware provides evidence that the issue of tampered apps is a real and present danger.

Amnesty, EFF, Privacy International Put Out Free Anti-Surveillance Tool – Resistance is digital. Human rights charity Amnesty International is one of several organizations behind the release of a free, open source anti-surveillance tool called Detekt. Other partners include Privacy International and digital privacy rights organizations the EFF and Germany’s Digitale Gesellschaft. The tool itself was developed by Berlin-based security researcher Claudio Guarnieri. Detekt has been designed for Windows PC users to scan their machines for “known surveillance spyware” that its makers warn is used to “target and monitor human rights defenders and journalists around the world”.

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HBO GO Streaming Now on Xbox One – Xbox One owners have something to be thankful for before the turkey arrives: HBO GO is now available on Microsoft’s next-gen console. Starting today, those who subscribe to HBO can sign in on their console to watch the channel’s original programming, movies, and more. The app also supports Kinect voice and gesture control, so you can simply yell at your console to turn on Game of Thrones as the Thanksgiving food coma sets in.

How to recycle your phone for cash – Even if you’re not in the market for a new device this fall, owners of ancient, cracked, and broken devices that won’t even turn on can still cash in on this promise of recompense. Here are some practical tips about the different ways you can convert your phone into at least a little bit of cash, pointers that typically apply to big-ticket electronics, too, like digital cameras and laptops. I wouldn’t count on financing a Hawaiian vacation for your efforts, but depending on how much you hoard or how savvy you sell, the dollars could really add up.

How to buy the perfect PC gaming laptop – Sure, traditional desktop PCs offer more expansion options and easier upgrade paths, and can be significantly cheaper for the performance you get. But there’s no denying the appeal of a single, self-contained gaming machine that you can move from the living room to the dining room to even the back porch. You just need to pick your gaming laptop wisely. Your decisions will key into a series of component choices, so let’s dig into them, one by one.

SwiftKey for Android update speeds up performance, adds 12 languages – SwiftKey’s newest update, launching November 20, promises to ramp up the app’s performance. The developers targeted making the keyboard more responsive when typing, to the tune of a claimed 10 to 18 percent performance increase; it also pops up and disappears from the screen faster than before, and refreshes quicker when switching between different forms.

Amazon Fire TV vs Amazon Fire Stick — What’s the difference? – Amazon has decided that Google’s Chromecast is in need of some proper competition, and so the Fire Stick was announced to fill the void. This is good news for everybody, but it raises a few questions for those who either already own an Amazon Fire TV or now have to choose between a Fire TV and a Fire Stick for their streaming media needs.

Supercharge your PC’s storage with a RAID setup: Everything you need to know – First off, storage performance tends to be one of the main bottlenecks in a typical PC, although the situation has vastly improved with the advent of solid state drives. (Yes, it’s probably your hard drive holding back your high-end PC from even greater glory.) Second, drive failure can lead to the loss of valuable data, and no one wants that. Thankfully, there’s a way to help mitigate both of these problems using a feature that’s supported on virtually every modern computer system: RAID.

G’MIC: An incredibly powerful filtering system for GIMP – What is G’MIC, you ask? It stands for Grey’s Magic for Image Computing, and it’s an easy-to-use GIMP plugin that offers a ton of pre-defined image filters and effects. The plugin is also highly customizable, with the ability to set favorites and even add your own filters. With G’MIC, you’ll find hundreds of possible filters to choose from, each of which can be tweaked to meet your needs. But before you can use G’MIC, you have to install it, because it’s not there by default.

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Google Contributor will let you pay a monthly fee to see select websites without ads – Chances are good that most of your favorite websites are almost entirely supported by advertising. In exchange for free content, the thinking goes, you have to view some ads — but Google is trying to shake up that model a bit with a new system it’s calling Contributor. Instead of dealing with ads, those who use Contributor will donate between $1 and $3 a month to see Contributor partner sites without any advertising. That money goes to the participating sites, though it’s not clear if Google is taking a cut — or if you’ll need to donate that much per site you visit.

No More Broken iPhones? Corning Reveals Gorilla Glass 4 – Good news for accident-prone iPhone users. Your smartphone screen could get a lot more durable in the future. Apple supplier Corning on Thursday introduced its next-generation Gorilla Glass, which it said is two times tougher than any competitive cover glass now in the market. Gorilla Glass 4 was specifically designed to address smartphone users’ No. 1 problem — screen breakage due to everyday drops, Corning said.

Amazon’s Black Friday blowout starts tomorrow, runs for eight days straight – The sales will run for eight days straight, with new deals coming as often as every ten minutes. Amazon says it will run three of its Deals of the Day on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. In addtion to the Black Friday blowout, Amazon will be running a full week of Cyber Monday deals starting on December 1st. As expected, many of the deals include blowout prices on TVs (including a 4K Samsung for $899), laptops, smartphones, fitness trackers, and more.

Staples selling ASUS EeeBook X205 with Windows 8.1 for $99 on Black Friday – On Black Friday, stores across the US try to entice you to venture out at ungodly hours of the morning and if you are in the market for a low-priced notebook, staples has one on-sale for $99.

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Groupon Black Friday Deals Also Starting Early – Groupon, the king of discounts, enters the fray this year to offer deals on an eclectic collection of electronics and devices.

Comcast says it’ll stop wasting your time, offers technician tracking tool – In Thursday blog post titled “Your time is valuable; we don’t want to waste it,” Comcast customer service chief Charlie Herrin detailed a new service that will give customers alerts 30 minutes before a technician. Comcast reduced its four-hour technician arrival windows to two hours a few years ago, and it promises $20 credits or a free premium channel for three months if they arrive late.

Technics Revived As High-Res Music Download Service – Famed turntable brand Technics plans to launch a high-resolution music download service. For what it’s worth, the service, unlike Neil Young’s high-res service Pono, will not hit the states. Starting in January, the platform will spin (get it?) 24-bit tracks to users in UK and Germany. Called Technics Tracks, it’s said to be launching with tens of thousands of tracks encoded in 24-bit FLAC. This isn’t your grandfather’s iTunes.

Starbucks wireless charging begins nationwide expansion – Customers in 200 Starbucks branches throughout the Bay Area will now be enjoying the hassle-free and tangle-free benefits of wireless charging for their mobile device. The coffee chain giant has just taken off the covers from its initiative to bring Duracell’s Powermat technology to its stores, potentially turning them even more into hubs for mobile users and workers.

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NightOwl Launches So You Can Get Drunker Better Faster Stronger – There’s nothing better than finding that special bar. The one that has your favorite scotch, or makes a mean margarita, or plays the perfect music. Finding that special bar, on the other hand, can be a real pain in the ass. That’s why NightOwl is launching in NYC. The app works almost exactly like Foursquare, but with an exclusive focus on nightlife, including bars and clubs and non-food nightly gatherings.

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App claims to know what wine or beer you’ll like before you taste it – The Next Glass app claims to have isolated the tastes of alcoholic beverages and will tell you how much you’ll like them — or not.

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You can now add Photospheres, Street View to your website – Fancy adding a bit of scenery to your website? Or maybe you want to give viewers even more detailed directions to your place of business than what a map can provide. Whatever your purpose, Google’s got you covered. In addition to the Google Maps Embed API that they expanded last March, the Google Maps team has now added Photospheres and Street Views to their list, allowing developers and website owners to generate HTML snippets that they can then embed in their webpages for all to behold.

Walmart closes price-match loophole after scammers snag $90 PlayStation 4s – Walmart tightened up its online-price matching policy after a few customers took the big box retailer for a ride.

How to delete your Uber account – Have you sworn off Uber for good? If so, here’s how you can delete your account. As The Next Web covered, deleting your account isn’t an automated process.

Security:

NSA chief admits China could cripple U.S. power grid, financial networks – China and “probably one or two” other countries could shut down critical computer networks that could force U.S. power and water grids, aviation systems, and financial services offline. National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers said on Thursday in testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee that hackers have performed “reconnaissance” missions in order to work out how networks function. Those missions can be used to determine weak spots, Rogers hinted.

Pointing up   Let me rewrite the headline here – since, it seems to me, the objective is to portray China as a rogue singularity. Yet again, the U.S. (controlled by a suspect class of politicians), is portrayed as a potential victim.

China is one of a number of countries, including the U.S., that possesses the capabilities to cripple power grids and financial networks.

12-year-old’s online life brings an abductor to her doorstep: Untangling a Baltimore girl’s abduction and rape – On November 10, a 12-year-old girl left her home in the Baltimore suburb of Nottingham at 7:30am, heading to her middle school. She never returned home. When her mother called the school later, she discovered that her daughter had not even arrived. Suddenly, Baltimore County Police were calling in the FBI to assist in their search for a missing person. Luckily, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had Doe’s real name and several aspects of her digital identity to work with, including her Xbox Live gamer tag, her Apple iCloud account, and her social media chat accounts. All of these digital identities played a role in the forensics work used to track down Jane Doe’s abductor. But they also played a major role in her abduction.

PayPal takes 18 months to patch critical remote code execution hole – Paypal has closed a remote code execution vulnerability in its service some 18 months after it was reported. The flaws reported earlier this month rated critical by Vulnerability Lab affected a core Paypal profile application.

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Remove your personal info from data brokers – Don’t want your home address or other personal info published to the world? This weekend, take an hour or two to make yourself a less visible target.

DerpTrolling leaks PSN, 2K, Windows Live customer logins – Hacker group DerpTrolling has released a “very small portion” of usernames and logins for three gaming networks in its possession as a “warning to companies”.

Got a webcam? You might want to pick a stronger password right about now – Privacy watchdog warns on default passwords as website streams video from unsecured webcams.

Tor’s feral fans are its own worst enemy – Summary: The brand image of the world’s must-have anonymity tool is starting to look a bit tattered. The fans don’t like it, but their response isn’t helping their cause.

Company News:

ISS says Microsoft’s Nadella is paid too much – A prominent advisor to big-time investors has urged clients to vote against Microsoft’s pay package for its new CEO, Satya Nadella, saying that his compensation this year was out of whack when compared to competing companies and the firm’s track record. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), which advises institutional shareholders, recommended that they cast a “No” vote at Microsoft’s shareholder meeting two weeks from today.

Microsoft’s lawsuit against Samsung upheld by court – Microsoft’s recent lawsuit against Samsung for defaulting on Android royalties has been upheld by a US court despite Samsung’s plea to put the suit on hold while it files for arbitration.

Following Pressure From U.S. Senate, Uber Hires Data Privacy Expert And Legal Aid To Review Company’s Policies – In light of growing concerns around Uber’s ethics and the way it manages customers’ personal data, the company announced this morning that it has brought on data privacy expert Harriet Pearson and her team at Hogan Lovells to help it conduct an in-depth review of the company’s existing policies, and make recommendations

Google emerging-markets phone gets hung up in India as retailers cry foul – Some of India’s biggest brick-and-mortar retail chains are refusing to sell Android One devices, due to Google’s handling of online sales, as well as low profit margins, says a report.

Google signs ten-year wind deal to power Dutch datacentre – The search giant’s €600m datacentre in the Netherlands will take up one wind farm’s output for the next ten years.

Games and Entertainment:

Block N Load hands-on preview: Minecraft plus guns – I got a chance to play some Block N Load earlier this week and had a damn good time not playing a shooter. Like Team Fortress 2 and Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch, Block N Load is a role-based shooter heavy on teamwork. The key difference, of course, is that Block N Load’s roles balance between both Minecraft and typical FPS archetypes.

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Far Cry 4 Benchmarked: Graphics & CPU Performance – Graphics have always been a selling point of the series as few games offer the same open world environments that can be experienced in Far Cry. The latest iteration is no exception, as it is based on the same Dunia Engine 2 game engine has Far Cry 3. Being an Nvidia “The Way It’s Meant to be Played” title, FC4 has loads of optimizations for GeForce cards, including HBAO+, PCSS, TXAA, Godrays, and HairWorks. We used the latest AMD and Nvidia drivers on 25 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations from both companies covering all price ranges. Our test rig was outfitted with the Intel Core i7-4770K to remove CPU bottlenecks that could influence high-end GPU scores.

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Call of Duty Exceeds $10 Billion in Sales – More than the Transformers, The Hunger Games, Iron Man and The Avengers movie franchises combined. Battle-themed video game Call of Duty has crossed $10 billion in lifetime sales, significantly bolstered by demand for its latest installment Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare earlier this month. Parent company Activison Publishing confirmed that the latest installment had the biggest launch of any entertainment product this year.

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Boxes advertising the newest installment to blockbuster video game Call of Duty is displayed in a Gamestop store in New York City on Nov. 3, 2014

Off Topic (Sort of):

The Secret Life of Passwords – We despise them – yet we imbue them with our hopes and dreams, our dearest memories, our deepest meanings. They unlock much more than our accounts.

Pointing up   Read this, and you’ll never think of passwords the same way again. It may prompt you to change some, if not all, of your passwords.

Google Says It Can Now Launch Up To 20 Project Loon Balloons Per Day – Google’s Project Loon, the company’s effort to deliver Internet access from balloons that travel around the world in the stratosphere, continues to make strides toward a commercial launch. Its balloons, for example, can now stay in the air up to 10 times longer than when the project started last year. Many now last over 100 days — and some even up to 130 days. In total, the balloons have now flown over three million kilometers (though this one, which apparently crashed in Africa a few days ago, probably didn’t make it quite as far).

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New Crisis Line Aims to Help Transgender People at Risk of Suicide – On Nov. 20, people are gathering at events around the nation to read names of transgender people who have died in the past year in violent crimes. On this somber day, an organization based in the Bay Area is trying to get the word out that there’s a new resource available to fight what may be an even deadlier problem among transgender people: suicide. According to the most definitive report on transgender issues in recent years, 41% of transgender people attempt to commit suicide, a statistic that doesn’t necessarily factor in successful attempts. That’s a number that the people behind Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860), a crisis hotline staffed entirely by transgender people, want to see decreased.

Deep brain stimulation easily beats caffeine for boosting mental agility – These lightweight, helmet-like rigs decrease some neurons’ resistance to firing, making brain activity energetically easier. The tech has long been under investigation by the military for its ability to improve hand-eye coordination, but new research is increasingly focusing on its potential to improve overall brain functioning.

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Watch This TV Reporter Get Hit in the Head by a Flying Skateboard – Mike Amor, the U.S. bureau chief for Australia’s Seven Network, was reporting from a skate park in Los Angeles when a rogue skateboard walloped him in the head. From the looks of the people around it was pretty painful, but displaying true antipodean pluck, Amor walked away with just a bump.

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The CIA’s Review Of Glenn Greenwald’s Snowden Book Is Hilarious – Earlier this year, journalist Glenn Greenwald released a book titled No Place to Hide, chronicling the Snowden leaks, and breaking new ground on the NSA itself. The book garnered a grip of positive reviews upon publication, and has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon. Not bad, all told. But the most recent review of the book is by far the best. Hayden Peake, listed by the CIA’s website as the “curator of the CIA Historical Intelligence Collection,” reviewed three books on Snowden for the agency. His take on Greenwald’s tome — read the full review here for complete fun — is accidentally hilarious.

Something to think about:

“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it.”

–      H.L. Mencken

Today’s Free Downloads:

Detekt – Detekt is a free tool that scans your Windows computer for traces of known surveillance spyware used to target and monitor human rights defenders and journalists around the world.

In recent years we have witnessed a huge growth in the adoption and trade in communication surveillance technologies. Such spyware provides the ability to read personal emails, listen-in skype conversations or even remotely turn on a computers camera and microphone without its owner knowing about it.

Some of this software is widely available on the Internet, while some more sophisticated alternatives are made and sold by private companies based in industrialized countries to state law enforcement and intelligence agencies in countries across the world.

There is little to no regulation currently in place to safeguard against these technologies being sold or used by repressive governments or others who are likely to use them for serious human rights violations and abuses.

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Pointing up   Started a quick run on a personal machine just to get a shot of the GUI – pretty simple.

Please be aware that Detekt is a best effort tool. While it may have been effective in previous investigations, it does not provide a conclusive guarantee that your computer is not compromised by the spyware it aims to detect. The tool is provided as is, without warranties or guarantees of any kind.

Bacon Root Toolkit – Unlocking, rooting, relocking and unrooting simplified! (and much more!) From the author of the popular Nexus Root Toolkit.

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BlueStacks Beta – BlueStacks runs Android OS and apps on Windows PCs with instant switch between Android and Windows – no reboot is required. End consumers can now enjoy their favorite Android apps on Windows PCs. Android apps can appear either as icons on the Windows desktop, or within a full-blown Android environment.

BlueStacks helps PC manufacturers to ride the Android momentum by enabling Android apps on x86-based tablets, netbooks, notebooks, convertibles and AiO Windows PCs. With the new hybrid convertible form factors, BlueStacks completely eliminates the need to carry two devices. The end consumer benefits from getting both Android and Windows at the price of a single PC.

BlueStacks integrates seamlessly with Citrix and Microsoft software delivery infrastructure and with Citrix’s Enterprise App Store. With BlueStacks, enterprise IT can deliver Android apps securely and effortlessly to any end point running Windows.

The seamless user experience, simultaneous use of Android and Windows apps, and multi-touch enablement are built on ground breaking virtualization technology which requires zero configuration and is transparent to the end consumer.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

NSA director: No changes in telephone record collection coming – The NSA will continue to collect U.S. telephone records in bulk, while operating under some restrictions that President Obama put on the program in January, Admiral Michael Rogers, the NSA’s director, said during a House of Representatives hearing on cybersecurity Thursday. The NSA would rather wait to see what specific changes to the program Congress will require before making major changes, he told the House Intelligence Committee.

Data exchange talks lag, jeopardizing US firms’ ability to operate in Europe – Thanks to revelations about government spying, a revamped version of a 15-year-old agreement governing the exchange of personal data between EU and the U.S. still seems a long way off, threatening the ability of American companies to do business in Europe.

The E.U. Safe Harbor framework is a set of standards for protecting the privacy of EU residents when their data is transmitted to the U.S. It contains policy directives that must be taken into account in order for companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and thousands of small companies in all sorts of businesses to process data in the U.S. from EU citizens.

However, the revelations by Edward Snowden about U.S. National Security Agency spying have shaken European confidence about data exchanges between the EU and the U.S. In November last year, about five months after Snowden’s leaks appeared in the press, the European Commission sent a list of 13 demands to the U.S., basically saying: This is what we need you to do to keep the Safe Harbor agreement in place.

U.S. Firms Accused of Enabling Surveillance in Despotic Central Asian Regimes – U.S. and Israeli companies have been selling surveillance systems to Central Asian countries with records of political repression and human rights abuse, according to a new report by Privacy International. The U.K.-based watchdog charges that the American firms Verint and Netronome enable surveillance in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Verint’s Israeli arm provides those countries with monitoring centers “capable of mass interception of telephone, mobile, and IP networks,” the report says, as does the Israeli company NICE systems. Verint also enlisted California-based Netronome to give Uzbek agents the ability to intercept encrypted communications, Privacy International says, though it’s not clear whether the program was carried out successfully.

The report provides a broad picture of surveillance in a region that is marked by repression. Kazakhstan has been condemned for laws restricting free speech and assembly, flawed trials, and torture. As for Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch bluntly characterizes the country’s human rights record as “atrocious.” Privacy International includes testimony from lawyers, journalists, and bloggers in Uzbekistan who had transcripts of private Skype calls used against them in trial, or had interactions with intelligence officers that made it clear the authorities had access to their private communications.

Utah lawmaker wants to shut off NSA’s water supply for good – A bill is moving forward in the Utah State Legislature that aims to eventually shut down water to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) new massive data storage facility at Bluffdale, just south of Salt Lake City.

Since July 2013, NSA’s water usage at Bluffdale site has fallen by 55 percent.

On Wednesday, the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee discussed the bill that “prohibits cooperation between a federal agency that collects electronic data and any political subdivisions of the state.”

Rep. Marc Roberts, the bill’s author, did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. As currently drafted, the bill would let the Bluffdale contract with the NSA continue until it runs out.

In this desert state, water has been a key issue at the Bluffdale site—particularly since a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, Nate Carlisle, has been actively trying to figure out how much water the NSA uses in the Beehive State.

Julian Assange’s arrest warrant still stands, Swedish appeals court rules – On Thursday, the Svea Court of Appeal upheld a city court’s decision, saying in an online statement that “Julian Assange is suspected on probable cause of crimes including rape (less serious crime) and that there is a great risk that he will evade legal proceedings or punishment.”

The Australian remains wanted in Sweden for questioning relating to alleged sex offenses dating back to 2010—however, Assange has not yet been formally charged with a crime. According to Assange’s own September 2013 affidavit, he stated that the women he slept with specifically said they were not accusing him of rape and that police “made up the charges.”

As a result of the case, Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum in 2012. The embassy, in turn, is constantly surrounded by London police—the city government is spending around $16,000 each day to keep an eye on Assange. He refuses to go to Sweden over fears that he will be extradited to the United States to face further potential charges relating to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified material.

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