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First POST: Juggernautism

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, November 4 2013

Juggernautism

  • NSA Long-reads (1): The Guardian has put together a multimedia presentation on the NSA Files that not only pulls together its groundbreaking reporting, but also includes short and evocative video statements from many key participants in the debate. If you are one of those people still asking, "Why should I care about this?" the Guardian's report will help you figure out why. Plus it's a great example of how HTML5 can be used to present stories in a new way.

  • NSA Long-reads (2): The New York Times' Scott Shane's lengthy report in Sunday's paper on the NSA's voracious data-gathering activities demonstrates the complexity of the debate about its overseas activities. On the one hand, he shows that it is collecting far more intelligence than anyone actually uses, out of a kind of bureaucratic juggernautism, and has clearly gone further than policy-makers may have desired in tapping the communications of foreign allies. On the other hand, he shows how its capabilities may also sometimes genuinely stop bad guys, like a human smuggling ring operating out of Kennedy Airport.

  • Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt tells the Wall Street Journal, ""It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true. The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people's privacy, it's not OK." He also criticized the NSA's "alleged" collection of the phone records of millions of Americans, saying, "It's just bad public policy…and perhaps illegal."

  • ICYMI: Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly admitted (in a video speech to the Open Government Partnership Summit) that the NSA went "too far" in some of its activities, saying it was "on automatic pilot." (Last I checked, someone has to put the plane on automatic pilot.)

  • The issue of out-of-control surveillance bubbled up at the Open Government Partnership in other ways, as many civil society participants issued a statement complaining that it had been largely unaddressed by the countries present.

  • Veteran tech journalist Dan Gillmor calls on Google to take on a new "moon shot" project, "to push for fundamental changes in the way we collect and use data, in order to protect us from ourselves and each other in a world where surveillance potential is increasingly embedded into everything we touch"--even if that means Google starts charging its users in exchange for truly secure and private services.

In other news around the web:

  • “All of that is well and good, but if the Web site doesn’t work, nothing else matters.” According to the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, that's how President Obama ended many regular White House staff meetings on the ongoing implementation of his landmark health reform law. They also report that the lack of funding for a federal health care exchange, and vociferous opposition from congressional Republicans, had the effect of fragmenting HealthCare.gov's management. White House political fears also trumped other vital implementation decisions, preventing the publication of planning diagrams that could have assisted state site developers and delaying the announcement of key regulatory rules.

  • Could the President have known that the Web site wasn't ready? A month before Healthcare.gov's launch, Goldstein and Eilperin report, White House officials saw a flawless final demo. But that was because they were shown a "simplified demonstration application," not the real site.

  • The cable giant Comcast is "spending heavily" to defeat incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn of Seattle, The Washington Post reports. McGinn has been pushing a public-private partnership that is planning to offer high-speed affordable broadband service, using fiber that the city owns. The project's price for 1 gigabit per second service is $80/month; Comcast currently offers service ten times as slow for $115/month.

  • Barack Obama is a Huffington Post blogger, pens oped on why Congress needs to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

  • Politico covers the intra-party battle between incumbent Rep. Mike Honda and upstart challenger Ro Khanna, in terms of where Silicon Valley money is flowing. Here's our Sarah Lai Stirland's ongoing coverage of this fascinating fight.

  • The Boston Globe takes a close look at Sen. Elizabeth Warren's decision to be one of the first US politicians to embrace Change.org's new "decision makers" program, which enables users to petition her directly and allows her to respond. The Globe reports that "Massachusetts residents now total 623,000 of the website's 50 million users." Close readers of the article will notice that one person quoted at the end was the best man at the other person's wedding.

News Briefs

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In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

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NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

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