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First POST: Can You Hear Me Now?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, December 17 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

  • Not living in the past: The collection and retention of the phone call "metadata" of all Americans likely violates the Constitution, Federal District Court Judge Richard Leon said yesterday in a preliminary ruling in a case challenging the NSA brought by conservative Larry Klayman. Leon rejected a 1979 precedent, saying, "“Put simply, people in 2013 have an entirely different relationship with phones than they did 34 years ago,” he wrote. “Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic — a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person’s life.”

  • Edward Snowden issued a statement through Glenn Greenwald praising Leon's ruling:

    “I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.'s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”

  • Amy Davidson of The New Yorker zeros in on Judge Leon's Dominos effect. That is, as part of his ruling, he noted if a person the NSA believed reasonably might have something to do with terrorism calls or receives calls from 100 numbers, including a Domino's Pizza shop, the "three-hop" rule would lead the NSA to capturing millions of records by the third hop.

  • Politico rounds up the responses to Leon's ruling from Members of Congress.

  • Edward Snowden has written an open letter to the people of Brazil, offering his help in investigating US spying on them in exchange for asylum. Bizarrely, CNN reports this as an "offer to spy" for Brazil.

  • In a phone call conversation in October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Barack Obama, "This is like the Stasi," speaking of the NSA's activities, the New York Times reports.

  • An anonymous NSA source reached out to Forbes' Andy Greenberg to offer some supportive comments about Edward Snowden, including: "That kid was a genius among geniuses."

In other news around the web:

  • Nancy Scola has a delightfully intimate portrait of Revolution Messaging and its chief impresario, Scott Goodstein, in the December issue of Washingtonian. Goodstein is thankfully recovered from a spring motorcycle accident and making trouble with clients ranging from Americans for Responsible Solutions to Ultraviolet and the AFL-CIO.

  • Want to know how much money political technology and targeting vendors made from the 2012 presidential campaigns? Lee Aitken explains in the Atlantic why "vague and lax" campaign disclosure laws make that impossible.

  • The Internet Archive just unveiled a fascinating data visualization built on top of its huge stash of 400,000 hours of U.S. television news. Kalev Leetaru, a scholar working with the archive, built algorithms that scanned the closed caption text of each broadcast looking for place names anywhere in the world, and then checked the surrounding discussion to disambiguate common place names (for example, to distinguish Springfield, IL from Springfield, MA). The resulting map and 4-year video animation offers a window into the "geography of American television news, beginning to reveal which areas received outsized attention and which are neglected." Wow.

  • NY State Senator Liz Krueger, a target of grass-roots lobbying by members concerned about their Airbnb rentals, pushes back on their efforts, saying they are being misinformed by Peers and don't understand the illegal hotel law.

  • The founder of Airbnb Nathan Blecharcyzk addresses the investigation of his company by NY's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, saying that "With the Attorney General in New York we see eye-to-eye on a lot of facts. They’re concerned about a few users that are quite large that have over 100 properties. We understand you may not want users with that many properties on our service. He asked for data not just on those users but all users. We didn’t think that was appropriate."

  • Facebook just launched a "Donate" button for charities to put on their pages. Carmel Deamicis of PandoDaily explains why most nonprofits aren't thrilled by the gesture.

  • Here's my update on the latest incarnation of Obama's "Organizing for America."

  • Senator Harry Reid tweets that: "My new website has a tool that will allow you track [sic] my voting record. Scroll to the bottom of the home page:" Yes, this is 2013 and most Members of Congress still do not make it easy for their constituents to see their voting records.

News Briefs

RSS Feed 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.


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.