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First POST: Changing the Odds

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, November 27 2013

Changing the Odds

  • The Huffington Post reports that the NSA "has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches." The story, by Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher and Ryan Grim, is based on a top-secret document provided by Edward Snowden, dated October 2, 2012. "Without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence," Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for National Intelligence, responded.

  • The Washington Post reports on how Berlin has become a privacy activist haven, with people like journalist Laura Poitras, security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and Wikileaks lawyer Sarah Harrison all bunkering down there.

  • Craig Timberg, Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report that Microsoft, like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, is "moving toward a major new effort to encrypt its Internet traffic" in response to the NSA's surveillance programs. They note that documents from Edward Snowden "suggest--though do not prove--that the company is right to be concerned."

  • Privacy International is calling on Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States--the so-called "Five Eyes" alliance--to make public the covert agreements they have regarding spying and intelligence sharing.

  • Fight for the Future, the web-savvy Internet freedom organizers who were integral to the anti-SOPA/PIPA mobilization, is pushing Bitcoin Black Friday, in tandem with Bitcoin evangelist Jon Holmquist. Tiffiniy Cheng and Holmes Wilson of FFTF argue that using Bitcoin is a way to "level the playing field" and push back against the financial services industry. They also say using Bitcoin "makes it a lot harder to profile you based on your purchases…it's more like cash. Because of that, Bitcoin is more than just money, it supports free speech and social change."

  • Adrian Chen, who first broke the story of how Bitcoin was being used on the Silk Road underground market back in 2011, helping raise the digital currency's profile, has a more skeptical take on Bitcoin in The New York Times today. He writes:

    Bitcoin seems on the brink of respectability. Still, there’s a zaniness about the currency. Bitcoin is built on a weird mix of the most old-fashioned kind of speculative greed, bolstered by a contemporary utopian cyberlibertarian ideology. Boosters say that bitcoin is the currency of the future. I’d argue that the phenomenon is a digital gold rush perfectly emblematic of the present….All I can say is that the crash is going to be great. Bitcoin is too dependent on speculative mania to be of practical use as a currency. But as a symbol of the misguided dream that one can tap into the global data stream and download riches like a pop song, it’s gold.

  • Mike Allen reports on the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential General Election Debates, organized by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and chaired by Anita Dunn and Beth Myers, who were respectively the debate prep coaches for Obama and Romney. "Members said a major goal [of the discussions] is to make more allowance for changing technology and the rise of social media," he reports. The participant list is a who's who of Washington "wise men": Bob Bauer, Robert Barnett, Joel Benenson, Ron Klain and Michael Sheehan for the Democrats; and Ben Ginsberg, Charlie Black, Rick Davis, Jim Perry and Stuart Stevens for the GOP. Jamieson told Allen: "We're not saying something is broken and we're trying to fix it. We're saying there's an enormous potential here for voter learning, and asking if there's a way to increase the number of people who benefit from that." Allen reports that the group is talking to the Commision on Presidential Debates and also "plans a session with people who represent the view of non-major parties, to discuss third-party and independent candidates."

  • In other news, the foxes guarding the henhouse said they would be inviting the chickens over at some point to discuss changes in the henhouse's design.

  • The Harry Potter Alliance fandom is hacking the Hunger Games marketing campaign with their own #Oddsinourfavor campaign, and our Jessica McKenzie has the whole story.

  • ICYMI,, the outgrowth of a Target worker's petition two years ago objecting to his employer's demand that he work the night of Thanksgiving, is developing into an ingenious platform for worker-to-worker networking across common companies. Our Sam Roudman has the details.

  • Social media-fueled protests of Walmart's labor practices are becoming a holiday tradition, our Sarah Lai Stirland reports. New tactics include an anonymous reporting portal called AssociateVoices that is collecting information from company workers. And Walmart is fighting back.

  • Time Magazine has opened up voting on its "Person of the Year," and right now Miley Cyrus is in first with 32% and Edward Snowden is in second with 17%.

  • New York City's city council just voted to allow New Yorkers to make campaign contributions of up to $99 to local candidates via text message. The FEC has already approved donations via mobile phone for federal campaigns.

  • Geek alert: The Sunlight Foundation yesterday announced the release of an API into Docket Wrench, which opens up access to data about the regulatory process. "Users can search the full text of over three million documents, examine the regulatory influence activity of the same prominent corporate actors we track in Influence Explorer, and make sense of very large collections of comments by automatically grouping together form-letter submissions," writes Sunlight's Andrew Pendleton.

  • To all our readers: Have a great Thanksgiving and Chanukah! We'll see you on Monday.

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