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The Top Tech-Politics Developments of 2013, So Far

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, August 1 2013

Every six months or so, we add more items to our "Politics and the Internet" Timeline, a living document that now includes more than 160 items stretching back to 1968 and covering a range of domestic, international and online events. Keep in mind, this isn't an official list but just our best subjective judgment on the most important developments at the intersection of technology and politics. If you would like to suggest something that we've left out, or make a correction to the record, please use this form.

Here's what we've added for the period from January 2013 to the end of July:

January 13:
AARON SWARTZ, OPEN INFORMATION AND DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST, COMMITS SUICIDE
Two years after being arrested for downloading millions of articles from the J-STOR academic archive, using a laptop hidden in an MIT basement, activist Aaron Swartz took his own life. He had been facing escalating charges from federal prosecutors, despite J-STOR's decision not to press charges. His death set off memorials and protests around the world, including calls for reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which he was charged, as well as broader demands for investigation of prosecutorial misconduct. Swartz, who was just 26 when he died, made prodigious contributions to the online ecosystem, working on a version of RSS, coding Creative Commons, co-founding Reddit.com, and co-founding the activist group Demand Progress.

Jan. 15:
WHITE HOUSE RAISES E-PETITION BAR TO 100,000
With usage of the "We the People" petition site rising rapidly in the weeks after the election of 2012, the White House decided to raise the threshold for an official response to 100,000 signatures, from 25,000. The initial threshold when the site launched in September 2011 was 5,000 signatures, but that was soon raised to 25,000.

Jan. 29:
GOOGLE MAPS NORTH KOREA
After years of volunteer contributions via Google's Map Maker tool, many previously hidden details of North Korea's local geography were made available on Google Maps. The once-blank spot occupied by the country was revised to include a wealth of geographic and locational detail, including the stops on Pyongyang’s subway system, historical and cultural sites, hospitals, hotels, and, eerily, a number of prisons, including an isolated, 87-square-mile gulag near the Chinese border.

Feb. 20:
OVER 1 MILLION ONLINE SPANIARDS DEMAND PM RESIGN
After the Spanish press reported secret payments to top political leaders, a petition on Change.org calling for the resignation of People's Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy went viral. It garnered 200,000 signatures in the first twelve hours and hit a million after one week, making it the fastest growing petition yet seen on Change.org.

April 18:
US HOUSE PASSES CISPA BILL
A controversial bill aimed at encouraging the private sector to be more forthcoming with the sharing of potential threat information with U.S. military entities was passed by the House by a vote of 288 to 127, despite a veto threat from the White House earlier this week.The bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, has raised concerns among civil libertarians and digital rights groups because of language in the legislation that seems to preempt current privacy laws.

May 27:
#OCCUPYGEZI PROTESTS SWEEP TURKEY
A small protest by 30 Turkish environmentalists, who pitched tents in Instanbul's Gezi Park on this day, mushroomed nationwide four days later after police violently tried to break up their vigil. While mainstream Turkish media avoided covering the story, social media, led by YouTube and Twitter users in Turkey, filled the gap and helped fuel a massive wave of street demonstrations. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, unused to such widespread dissent, specifically criticized Twitter, calling it a curse. "It's all lies," he said. "That thing called social media is the curse of society today." Iconic images were popularized online, such as a woman in a red dress being pepper sprayed, and a solitary "standing man" whose silent protest in Taksim Square was widely copied.

June 5:
US NSA MASSIVE WORLDWIDE SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS REVEALED
Stories in the Guardian and the Washington Post, written respectively by Glenn Greenwald and by Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, appear, based on leaks of highly classified documents obtained by an NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. The initial stories reveal a secret court order authorizing the collection of millions of Verizon phone records in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, and a secret program called PRISM that enables the NSA to obtain private user information from several top Internet service providers. These revelations are followed by several more stories detailing NSA surveillance of European countries, the EU itself, Middle Eastern countries and in Latin America. On June 9th, Snowden went public with a video interview conducted by Greenwald and Poitras at a hotel where he had taken refuge in Hong Kong. The next day he flew to Moscow, where as of late July 2013 he remained in transit, seeking asylum from Russia and several other countries. On June 14, the United States charged him with espionage.

June 20
THE "BRAZILIAN SPRING" PEAKS
Mass protests against economic inequality, poor services and government corruption sweep Brazil, cresting late in the month of June, with more than a million reported in the streets on June 20th alone--the biggest in two decades. Initiated to a large degree by the Free Fare Movement, the protests are fueled by social media, differing from earlier Brazilian movements rooted more in traditional party and labor movement organizations. A plethora of hashtags suggest that the movement also suffers from some difficulty in coordination.

July 10:
ITALY'S FIVE STAR MOVEMENT LAUNCHES "ELECTRONIC PARLIAMENT"
On this day, the Five Star Movement (M5S) introduced its long awaited "electronic parliament" platform, Five Star Parliament, which allows citizens to vote, comment and even write pieces of legislation. M5S is an anti-government political party led by former comedian Beppe Grillo. The site launched just weeks after 15 members of the Italian parliament had unveilled their own interactive platform, Tu Parlamento. The site differentiates itself from Tu Parlamento by allowing citizens not only to comment and vote on laws but to also help in writing it.

July 18
RUSSIAN ANTICORRUPTION BLOGGER ALEXEI NAVALNY SENTENCED TO 5 YEARS IN PRISON
On this day, a Russian court found opposition leader and Moscow mayoral candidate Aleksei Navalny guilty of embezzling money from a state-controlled timber company. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and the conviction will bar him from running in political races. The ruling singlehandedly eliminated Vladimir Putin's most formidable political foe, who had catalyzed large middle-class protests against Putin in 2012. While the judge read the full sentence, which took more than three hours, Navalny and the rest of the courtroom live-tweeted the proceedings, even after they were ordered to turn off their phones.It was through social media and his blog that Navalny gained prominence as an oppositon leader and exposed corruption in the United Russia party. To the end of his trial, Navalny continued to tweet and to undermine and mock the proceedings even as they took place.

July 30:
BRADLEY MANNING TRIAL ENDS
Pfc. Bradley Manning, who admitted leaking hundreds of thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks, was acquitted of the charge of "aiding the enemy" but convicted of most of the other charges against him, including five counts of violating the Espionage Act. As the New York Times reported, "the case still appears destined to stand as a fierce warning to any government employee who is tempted to make public vast numbers of secret documents. Private Manning’s actions lifted a veil on American military and diplomatic activities around the world, and engendered a broad debate over what information should become public, how the government treats leakers, and what happens to those who see themselves as whistle-blowers." Manning was barred from presenting evidence explaining his motives or demonstrating that his leaks did not cause tangible harm to US security. Julian Assange of Wikileaks denounced the verdict, saying, "It can never be that conveying true information to the public is ’espionage’."