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First POST: Battle Lines

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, January 15 2014

Battle Lines

  • The New York Times Peter Baker and Charlie Savage preview President Obama's Friday speech on NSA reformreporting that he "trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies." If their report proves accurate, Obama's changes will probably satisfy no one, least of all the civil liberties community.

  • On the storage of bulk data, Obama is reportedly going to leave it in NSA hands for now, but ask Congress to weigh in. Worse, he is considering reducing the number of "hops" that the NSA can take when examining the connections and records of a target, from three to…two.

  • Since the NSA argues that storing Americans phone records can't be done efficiently unless held by one party rather than several, and no independent entity to do so currently exists, Baker and Savage report that "he will ask Congress to work with him to determine the best way to store the data."

  • This should go about as well as the plan to close Guantanamo.

  • Also roiling the waters, a former chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wrote to the congressional oversight committees to express opposition to the creation of an independent public advocate that could argue against the Justice Department in secret proceedings (which are currently completely one-sided.).

  • Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and member of his NSA review panel, responded, “We respectfully disagree with that one, on the ground that the judge sometimes is not in the ideal position to know whether a particular view needs representation and that in our tradition, standardly, the judge doesn’t decide whether one or another view gets a lawyer.”

  • Members of President Obama's NSA review panel testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday questioning the justification for the mass collection of phone metadata.

  • The NSA has bugged 100,000 computers around the world and devised methods to use radio to spy on computers not connected to the Internet, the New York Times David Sanger and Thom Shanker report. Their story expands on Dutch and German reporting on the NSA spy program and the hardware it uses.

  • Notably, Sanger and Shanker reveal that the Times "withheld some of those details, at the request of American intelligence officials, when it reported, in the summer of 2012, on American cyberattacks on Iran."

  • Edward Snowden is joining the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, formally aligning himself with fellow board members Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Daniel Ellsberg.

Whither Net Neutrality

  • Ruling for Verizon, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the FCC's "open internet" rule.

  • Is "sponsored data" the future post-net-neutrality? That is, you get "free" data services but only because certain providers of content are subsidizing the cost in exchange for preferential treatment by the pipe owners? BuzzFeed's John Herrman explains.

  • On Reddit, net freedom advocates Josh Levy, Tim Wu, Susan Crawford and Marvin Ammori explained what the DC court's decision in the Verizon case means for the future of net neutrality. What's needed next? They say the FCC needs to assert its authority and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service (not an information service) under Title II of the Communications Act and insist that common carrier rules apply.

  • In Slate, Ammori blames former FCC chair Julius Genachowski for the loss in court, comparing him to the coward Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter novels, who makes a deal with Voldemort.

  • Columbia law professor Tim Wu, author of the term "net neutrality" tells Brian Fung of the Washington Post that the FCC "blew it on the legal strategy…It's like, FEMA-level fail."

  • TechFreedom senior fellows Geoffrey Manne and Berin Szoka disagree, and say the court gave the FCC new and broad powers to regulate the Internet, just as long as it doesn't treat broadband providers as common carriers.

  • Senator Al Franken told TechCrunch the court's decision was worrying.

  • The only silver lining in the court's ruling: it upheld the FCC's power to insist on transparency from carriers, so customers may know who is blocking content or tilting their network's speed.

  • The man who said in 2008 said that he would "take a back seat to no one" in his support for net neutrality did not make a comment on the court's ruling.

    In other news around the web:

  • "It seems like they don't use Facebook anymore." That's President Obama talking with a group of 20-somethings in a Washington cafe, as overheard by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic.

  • The winners of the New Media Ventures Innovation Fund have been announced. They include (which we covered not long ago on techPresident), Hollaback and OPEN (the global network of nation-based digital campaigning organizations.

  • The Knight News Challenge Health winners were also announced. They include DoSomething's Crisis Text Line (which Nancy Lublin previewed at last year's Personal Democracy Forum), Public Lab's Homebrew Sensing Project, and the Ohana API from Code for America.

  • The Washington Post's Erik Wemple continues his critique of Politico's Mike Allen, noting that Allen's extensive excerpting of Gabriel Sherman's new critical biography of Fox's Roger Ailes left out all the critical parts.

  • News Briefs

    RSS Feed thursday >

    Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

    New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

    China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

    It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.


    wednesday >

    Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

    The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

    What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

    Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

    At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

    Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

    Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

    Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.


    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.