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First POST: Juggernautism

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, November 4 2013


  • 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'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'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'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.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


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.