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First POST: Precognition

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, August 30 2013


  • In a NYTimes oped, privacy advocate Ginger McCall warns that rapid advances in facial recognition technologies being developed by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI must be addressed by new legal safeguards to insure "some degree of anonymity in public" or else "mission creep [will turn] crime-fighting programs into instruments of abuse."

  • In related news, Reuters reports that "Facebook is considering incorporating most of its 1 billion-plus members' profile photos into its growing facial recognition database."

  • Earlier this week, Facebook revealed that in the first six months of 2013, it had received more than 25,000 inquires on more than 38,000 users from 71 governments around the world. The greatest number of requests and accounts affected came from the US.

  • The classified "black budget" isn't a black box anymore, thanks to a new story by Barton Gellman and Greg Miller in the Washington Post. Based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, they report that for fiscal 2103, $52.6 billion is paying for 107,000 employees spread over 16 spy agencies--double what America's spooks were getting in 2001. The news includes: "aggressive new…'offensive cyber-operations'," "priority targets" include not just adversaries like China, Russia and Iran but also Israel; blind spots include details on Hezbollah, questions about Pakistan nuclear security, and facts about the capabilities of China's new fighter planes.

  • A little more than a quarter billion of that budget goes to pay telephone companies for the costs of assisting with government access to their networks, Craig Timberg and Gellman also report. "“It turns surveillance into a revenue stream, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. “The fact that the government is paying money to telephone companies to turn over information that they are compelled to turn over is very troubling.”

  • NBC News says Snowden's job as a systems administrator enabled him to impersonate NSA staff with higher security clearances than his own, and thus obtain documents by using their office accounts surreptitiously. “Every day, they are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was,” said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the case. “This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”

  • Buzzfeed reports that rather than fix reported computer security flaws, the Department of Defense makes soldiers who report such problems sign non-disclosure agreements.


  • The New York Times asks: Is an 11-year-old son of Syrian president Bashar Assad taunting the United States on Facebook?

  • Related: Facebook's Richard Allan confirmed to the Turkish press that the company has closed the accounts of Kurdish politicians for posting content expressing approval of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group. "“It is against our rules to praise a person or an organization that is listed on the international terrorism list. The use of images of flags or other symbols of terrorist organizations is also banned. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), Colombia's Marxist FARC, Spain's ETA and in Turkey, the PKK, are among those organizations,” Allan said.

  • Can you place Damascus on a world map? Most people can't.

In other news around the web

  • The RNC's new CTO, Andy Barkett, shares some of his priorities with the Ace of Spaces blog. Among his ideas: "to move the needle and do a little better with the under-30 crowd," to do better with "niche markets" like "Filipino people who speak Tagalog in Daly City, California," and to improve the RNC's ability to micro-target to individual voters. Also, he notes, compared to his last job at Facebook, "I'm not used to having such a big office."

  • Joe Trippi predicts that with the rise of micro-targeted advertising, local TV broadcasters longtime bonanza from political advertising is likely to collapse by 2016: “Running the old Internet model, where it’s used only to raise money, at a time when messaging can pinpoint targeted individuals is an invitation to defeat. What we’re seeing already in terms of targeting pre-rolls, for example, or other messaging paths directly to someone interested is just barely scratching the surface of what’s going to be possible.”

  • In the Atlantic, Ron Fournier argues that the millennial generation is giving up on traditional government. Quoting PDM friend Nicco Mele:

    "These kids are starting their own things at a rapid rate -- in part because there isn’t much of a job for them in the old institutions,. If you’re a super-talented, super-smart 22-year-old and it looks like you need to take an unpaid internship and lick envelopes to get into a field you’re interested in, forget it. Better to start something new.”

  • Fedscoop profiles PDM friend Greg Elin, who is stepping down from his post as the FCC's chief data officer to launch a startup called GitMachines with funding from the Knight News Challenge.

  • Your weekend must-read: Sami Ben Gharbia, the co-founder of, a leading Tunisian pro-democracy group, explains how Chelsea Manning helped spark the Arab Spring, detailing how a critical leak of State Department cables on Tunisia got into his hands and, from there, into the hearts and minds of his countrymen. He writes:

    "…the release of the cables started with Private Chelsea Manning, alone in the Iraqi desert. She, like Assange and Snowden and many less famous and mostly anonymous activists, are the deities of a new mythology that no prison can ever detain. The battle for a transparent and accountable world is spreading, despite all the measures of repression and surveillance. It’s being carried by a worldwide movement exposing secrecy, corruption and human rights abuses, for which Chelsea Manning will be an inspirational and iconic figure, as free as her ideas and dreams while her body is behind walls and bars. After she was sentenced to 35 years in prison Chelsea Manning said in her statement that “Sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.” I don’t know if she knows that she helped us, in this part of the world, to move toward that noble goal. Closing a cell door on a prisoner with a free mind has opened a thousand and one doors for a free society."

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.


wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.


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.