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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 today >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

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.