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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.

News Briefs

RSS Feed 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.


tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.


Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.


monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.


friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.


The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.