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First POST: Remembering Aaron Swartz

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, January 14 2013

Remembering Aaron Swartz

That's no moon, that's a petition response

  • The White House gave a tongue-in-cheek response to a petition demanding that the U.S. government construct a Death Star, moon-sized weapon of planetary destruction from Star Wars.

    In the answer titled "This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For," Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, declares that "the Administration does not support blowing up planets." The plan would add to the deficit, he explained, adding: "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"

    The White House also responded to a petition seeking Obama's impeachment, those seeking secession for various states, and those seeking deportation for those demanding secession.

    Macon Phillips from the White House Office of Digital Strategy highlighted a Redditor's comment in response to the Death Star answer: "This is the first time in my 65 years I felt a connection to the @WhiteHouse."

    Asked whether the White House would also respond to an Open Access petition, he replied, "respond to petitions that cross the threshold, we will."

Public records, online data, and privacy

  • As the debate rolls on over a map published by a newspaper that names gun owners in Westchester County, your First POST editor suggests that our current definition of "public record" is obsolete:

    While "public equals online" is uncomplicated where "public record" is concerned, the inverse is also true. Online equals public. That can be more complex. Online does not mean "public" as in "public record," as in it's-in-a-cabinet-somewhere, fill-out-this-form-and-the-city-clerk-will-get-back-to-you-next-year-maybe public. Online public means "I can find it on Google" public. When it comes to budget data, what Congress is doing or who's pumping money into elections, that's an automatic improvement. But when the Journal-News posted online a map with the names and addresses of all gun owners in Westchester County, N.Y., public-record public became, suddenly and without warning, online public. This was a concern because the records were not about public officials, but private citizens. If people like that even exist anymore.

  • David Carr writes about the wisdom of publishing public data in the wake of the Journal News case. A Republican state senator in New York blamed the newspaper's map for a break-in.

The Internet in civic life

  • Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: Over the last two years, some of the most serious-minded people focused on how to use the Internet to get more people involved in the care of their cities have been working on Change By Us, an online platform where visitors can propose ideas like a community garden or a neighborhood cleanup, find volunteers, and solicit support from foundations or the city.

    The platform's creators have struggled to bring people to the site, and have made promises to change the system in order to receive continued support. Plus subscribers get a detailed look at the problems facing the project.

Around the web


  • The University of Edinburgh along with thirteen partners from other European countries is launching a €8.5 million project called the Citizen Observatory Web to allow members of the public to collect environmental data for research, decision making and policy formation using crowdsourcing technology.

  • Eleven work and pensions civil servants in Britain have been fired for using social media, and 106 in that department have been fired for that offense since 2009.

  • A report recommends that the British military urgently draw up cybersecurity plans.

  • Reuters recently reported on Britain's plans to ramp-up its rollout of telehealth options for patients at home.

  • The Wall Street Journal looked at how North Korea covered Eric Schmidt's visit.

  • The Guardian recently reported on how "poor but sexy Berlin has tapped talent to be Europe's startup capital."

  • Almost 60 federal bureaucrats in Canada were caught plagiarizing information from the Internet on their promotion applications.

  • CNN recently reported on how the Internet Society of Bangalore is helping to educate local artisans on how to use Internet tools.

First POST is normally available only to Personal Democracy Plus subscribers. But as has been pointed out, it doesn't make much sense to limit access to today's post when the subject of today's headline and lead item is the freedom-of-information activist Aaron Swartz, who died Friday. — Nick Judd, managing editor

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday > Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and And strangely enough, seems to want its early users to ask for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.


monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.


The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.


Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.