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First POST: Self-censorship

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, December 16 2013


  • The NSA doesn't "spy" on Americans. It just collects and keeps the phone records of everyone, going back five years. But General Keith Alexander insisted to 60 Minutes that that was not spying.

  • Also, in a new claim for the NSA, Alexander told 60 Minutes that it had foiled a plot to take over computers in America, which could have "impact[ed] and destroy[ed] major portions of our financial system."

  • A top NSA official alsohas told 60 Minutes that he would consider recommending amnesty for Edward Snowden in exchange for documents that have not yet been given to journalists. Though Snowden has said he gave all the documents he downloaded to journalists, the NSA apparently believes he has access to more.

  • 60 Minutes got lots of flak on Twitter from the likes of Glenn Greenwald, Tim Karr of Free Press, Amy Davidson of the New Yorker, and Jay Rosen for its fairly uncritical story on the NSA.

  • “What’s clear is that tracking technologies have outpaced democratic controls,” Ben Wizner, the director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the A.C.L.U., told Nick Bilton of the New York Times. “What we’ve learned this year is that agencies are determined to conduct surveillance on us, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.” He added, on a more optimistic note:

    “This may be one of those once-in-a-generation moments when we recalibrate the powers of the citizens and the state. And that change can happen on the technological side, where the technologists that are disillusioned by the incessant tracking will use their skills to make surveillance more costly.”

  • With facial recognition software getting better and better, a movement has begun to counter its powers. One example, CV Dazzle, or anti-face fashion, was featured in Sunday's New York Times.

  • Facebook keeps track of the posts you don't publish, which it calls "self-censorship." That's according to a paper by two Facebook researchers uncovered by Jennifer Golbeck of Slate. Why do they care? Golbeck reports, the researchers

    "argue that self-censorship can be bad because it withholds valuable information. If someone chooses not to post, they claim, "[Facebook] loses value from the lack of content generation." After all, Facebook shows you ads based on what you post. Furthermore, they argue that it’s not fair if someone decides not to post because he doesn't want to spam his hundreds of friends—a few people could be interested in the message. "Consider, for example, the college student who wants to promote a social event for a special interest group, but does not for fear of spamming his other friends—some of who may, in fact, appreciate his efforts,” they write.

  • Joshua Kopstein takes a close look in The New Yorker at various efforts to revive the decentralized Internet, including ArkOS, Diaspora, Freedom Box, Mailpile, Bitcoin, Bitmessage, and Namecoin.

  • For on the decentralized Internet movement, check out

In other news around the web:

  • Kenneth Vogel reports for Politico on Ready for Hillary's quiet efforts to get a jump on the Big Data campaign for 2016, hiring NGP-VAN for a massive voter file project.

    We're looking forward to this bill getting read out on the House floor. The 416d65726963612043616e20436f646520 Act of 2013, also known as the America Can Code Act," introduced by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Cute), is aimed at pushing the teaching of computer science in schools as early as kindergarden. “416d65726963612043616e20436f646520” is the hexadecimal code translation of “America Can Code.”

  • Techies need to become better urbanists, writes Allison Arieff in the New York Times. Noting that when big tech companies like Google and Twitter settle in urban cores, they tend to both throw local rents out of joint (leading to more evictions) and keep their employees ensconced in their own private quarters, she writes, "they might as well have stayed in their suburban corporate settings for the interacting they do with the outside world." She points to some good examples too, like Zendesk and 5M.

  • Talk to your browser: That is, if you're using Chrome. The future envisioned in Star Trek, when you talk to your computer and it understand you? Maybe not that far off.

  • Alan Feuer explores "The Bitcoin ideology," finding a lot of libertarianism, some anarchism and some humanitarianism too.

  • NPR is announcing $17 million in new grants, almost $10 million of which will pay for building a "seamless local-national listening platform."

  • Tickets for Personal Democracy Forum 2014, taking place June 5-6 in New York City, are on sale now. Early-bird prices are the best time to buy and the supply is limited.

News Briefs

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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.


wednesday >

Everything You Need to Know About Social Media and India's General Election

The biggest democratic election in the world to date is taking place in India from April 7 to May 14, and, for the first time in India, the results might hinge on who runs a better social media campaign. The Mumbai research firm Iris Knowledge Foundation has said that Facebook will “wield a tremendous influence” but Indian politicians are not limiting their attentions to India's most popular social media platform. In addition to virtual campaigning are initiatives to inform, educate and encourage Indians to participate in their democracy.


EU Court Rejects Data Retention Law, But Data Retention Won't End Overnight

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg struck down a data retention law Tuesday that required telecoms to keep customers' communications data for up to two years, declaring it violated privacy rights. However, experts warn that the ruling will have no automatic effect on relevant laws in member states, which could lead to “messy consequences.”