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First POST: Hearing

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, September 27 2013


  • Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee heard testimony from top NSA officials, and took steps toward moving a bill proposed by its co-chairs, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxy Chambliss, that would "change but preserve" the agency's collection of phone metadata. Feinstein says "a majority of the committee" supports the call log program.

  • That's all you would learn if you read the New York Times account. Over at Firedoglake, Kevin Gosztola reports on an interchange between dissenting Sen. Mark Udall and NSA Director Keith Alexander. Udall asked if there were any "upper limits" on the number of phone records the NSA could collect and whether the agency's goal was to "collect the phone records of all Americans." Alexander said there was "no upper limit." He added, "“I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lock box that we can search when the nation needs to do it, yes."

  • And TechDirt's Mike Masnick points out that committee chair Feinstein also used part of her speaking time to scold the press for calling the phone metadata collection a surveillance program. "We have a simple request," he retorts. "Since metadata is no big deal and it's not surveillance, when will Senator Feinstein release all of the metadata on all of the phone calls to and from her various offices, mobile phones and home phones?"

  • The NSA's Inspector General has given Sen. Charles Grassley details on 12 "substantiated instances of intentional misuse" of its surveillance capabilities by some of its employees. Though the details are limited, the incidents mostly involved analysts spying on spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends.

In other news around the web:

  • The one article that will make you stop clicking on Upworthy links. For a few hours.

  • ActBlue, the Democratic mega-platform for small donations to candidates, political committees and non-profits, has just unveiled a one-click donation feature called Express Lane that it says is producing "eye-popping" increases in converting activists to donors. They share a lot of nitty-gritty "dos and don'ts" of using Express Lane here.

  • Wired Enterprise has an unsatisfying profile of that gives an overview of the company's business model, but mostly serves to air misgivings from Clay Johnson, co-founder of Blue State Digital, who has criticized the company for using a dot-org url while not being a nonprofit. What's unsatisfying is that the debate isn't fully joined--Wired's story doesn't help the reader determine whether Change is actually empowering people, though it does air Johnson's charge that "what presents as evidence for its effectiveness is anecdotal."

  • Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweets, "I feel like i'm witnessing a tectonic shift in the geo-political landscape reading @HassanRouhani tweets. Fascinating." Rouhani is the new President of Iran, and his Twitter account is at the leading edge of his current charm campaign. It may not be a tectonic shift, but it is quite a shift from the days when the State Department leaned to Twitter to delay some downtime to keep supporting the #IranElection protests.

  • Prizewinning uber-blogger Josh Marshall went to college with Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz. More, as he recalls in this fascinating post, his wife, who also went to Princeton as an undergrad, was also with Cruz at Harvard Law School. Apparently everyone who remembers Cruz from his university days uses one word again and again to describe him. And it's not flattering.

  • Tom Watson reports on Chelsea Clinton's sit-down with a group of bloggers covering the Clinton Global Initiative. He notes that she acknowledged the work of “young feminist bloggers who are trying to figure our how to create a safe space to take action [against] gender based violence here at home.”

  • Nick Grossman argues in a post on PBS's Idealab that instead of building more civic apps, we need to help the big ones "become more civic." Noting that the social traffic-avoiding app Waze has more potholes reported on it than all civic startups combined (a bit of lore from Citivox founder Oscar Salazar that sounds true, but has yet to be actually proven), Grossman says governments should do more to "tap into the people-power in web networks." We agree, but the challenge is how to get "sharing economy" companies to care more about the sharing than the economy.