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First POST: Interception

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, February 10 2014

Interception

  • The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill's new digital magazine, is up with its first stories today:

    • A Scahill-Greenwald jointly bylined report on how the NSA uses its ability to zero in on cell phone SIM cards in real-time to help the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) target lethal drone strikes--and how their failure to use human intelligence on the ground to confirm metadata about presumed terrorist targets is "an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people." The story relies heavily on a new anonymous whistleblower from inside the drone targeting program, along with testimony from Brandon Bryant, a former "stick monkey" turned antiwar activist, and supporting documents from the Snowden Files.
    • Spectacular new photos of the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters, as well as the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, taken by artist Trevor Paglen, who specializes in seeing the secret state. He writes, "If we look in the right places at the right times, we can begin to glimpse America’s vast intelligence infrastructure." He is placing the photos in the public domain without restriction.
    • A mission statement: short-term, " to provide a platform and an editorial structure in which to aggressively report on the disclosures provided to us by our source, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden" and long-term: "to provide aggressive and independent adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues, from secrecy, criminal and civil justice abuses and civil liberties violations to media conduct, societal inequality and all forms of financial and political corruption."
    • A secure document drop for whistleblowers.
  • One open question about The Intercept: Will other mainstream outlets like The Guardian and the New York Times pick up and amplify its reports? Or will they bite the hand that fed them?

  • Yesterday's front-page New York Times story by David Sanger and Eric Schmitt reporting that US intelligence officials have determined that Edward Snowden used "web crawler" software that automated his downloading of highly classified files did not earn much respect from some top software engineers. Marc Andreesen, for example, tweeted making fun of the "scare quotes" used around words like "web crawler" and "scraper" and "wiki" in the Times story. Kurt Smith, a data scientist at Twitter, mocked up a picture of a snow scraper to illustrate the story.

  • Snowden's comment on the story, made through his ACLU lawyer, was equally snarky: “It’s ironic that officials are giving classified information to journalists in an effort to discredit me for giving classified information to journalists. The difference is that I did so to inform the public about the government’s actions, and they’re doing so to misinform the public about mine.”

  • Eli Lake parses this latest news and writes in The Daily Beast that American officials may well be exaggerating the extent of Snowden's spying and its threat to national security.

  • Matt Richtel and Nicholas Confessore profile Aaron Ginn of Republican techie-scouting start-up Lincoln Labs and Andrew Barkett, CTO of the RNC and Data Trust, looking at their efforts to find young right-leaning coders to help the GOP catch up to the Democrats. Amusing irony note: apparently knowing someone's zipcode, profession, and voting history isn't enough for Ginn and Barkett to know if a coder at a hackathon is likely to be Republican-leaning (the article describes them gingerly raising political topics with attendees in order to find potential recruits), while the work they are being sought for is all about the virtues of political targeting data.

  • An analysis of open data covering the bus stops used by tech companies private San Francisco shuttles combined with recent business licenses and the city's property assessment rolls, done by independent data journalist Chris Walker, shows that the arrival of the private buses sped up the gentrification of those neighborhoods.

  • Wikipedia is taking steps to insure that it doesn't get left behind as more Internet users shift to mobile.

  • The Freelancers Union, which has more than 145,000 members in New York City alone, gets profiled in the New York Times.

  • FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler insists that "We will preserve and protect the open Internet."

  • AskThem.io, a new interactive platform for asking questions of public officials and other figures, launches today with the prominent participation of politicians from New York, Austin, Philadelphia and San Jose.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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