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First POST: Fingerprints and Fire Insurance

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, February 18 2014

Fingerprints and Fire Insurance

  • A new report from Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher in The Intercept details how the NSA and GCHQ went after WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and Pirate Bay. The IP addresses of visitors to those of Americans--were collected by GCHQ. They also report that NSA analysts considered designating WikiLeaks a "malicious foreign actor," which would have allowed far greater levels of surveillance, including the capture of information about Americans visiting the site, but say it is unclear whether the designation was actually made. The NSA's Office of General Counsel also advised that if an analyst discovered that they had been surveilling an American, the incident had to be mentioned in a quarterly report "but it's nothing to worry about."

  • Among this year's winners of the 2013 George Polk Awards in Journalism: Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras of the Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, for their investigative stories based on Edward Snowden's leaked NSA documents.

  • The question now arises, will Greenwald and Poitras, who have each been living in quasi-exile, respectively in Rio and Berlin, come home to pick up the award in person at the April 11 ceremony? (My prediction: yes.)

  • Poitras commented to Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept: “I would love to accept the Polk award in person with Glenn and Ewen, but I’m not sure I feel safe to travel to the U.S. Listening to senior members of the government describe reporters working on the NSA story as ‘accomplices’ concerns me. On the other hand, receiving this award for the NSA reporting might be the perfect moment to confront this kind of intimidation.”

  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tells the Daily Beast's Eli Lake that the NSA should have been more open with Americans after 9-11, when it began the mass collection of phone metadata under an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. …But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.” He also compared the program to buying "fire insurance."

  • Hillary Clinton has had little to say about the NSA surveillance issue, Josh Gerstein of Politico reports, and "she's beginning to face pressure to outline her views … more clearly."

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's call to "build up a communication network inside Europe…so that one shouldn't have to send emails and other information across the Atlantic," could signal the tectonic shift in the Internet's open structure that many net-heads have feared would be the most destructive impact of the NSA's mass surveillance programs.

In other news around the web:

  • Consumers for Paper Options, a lobby group set up by the Envelope Manufacturers Association and backed by much of the US paper industry, is working Capitol Hill to slow the move toward digital documents, Lisa Rein of the Washington Post reports. Now, if only the candle-making industry had set up a lobby group to fight the Rural Electrification Administration in the 1930s!

  • Paul Krugman opposes the Comcast-Time Warner deal, arguing that monopoly is a barrier to innovation as well as good consumer service.

  • Prediction: The number of daily news stories and editorials in the mainstream media about the Comcast-Time Warner shall soon drop to zero, in keeping with the general tendency of American news outlets to not report about media monopoly issues.

  • The Breitbart News Network of conservative online news sites is expanding.

  • Open Data Day (Feb 22) is almost here and David Eaves, one of its founders, has a preview of how to make the most of it. At least 100 self-organized Open Data Day events are happening around the world.

  • In Detroit, the city has started a massive project to "blext" its blighted properties, working with experts from local data-startup Loveland Technologies. (Jerry Paffendorf, Loveland's founder, will be speaking at PDF 2014).

  • Andrew Leonard of Salon opines that "the sharing economy" is just a cover for corporate greed and venture capitalists.

  • Just because someone has shared a piece of content online by retweeting it or liking it on Facebook, it doesn't mean they've actually read or watched it, Adrianne Jeffries reports for The Verge. Duh.

  • Smart light fixtures that can also surveil their surroundings, and also store and send data about what they see, are spriding faster than many realize and privacy advocates are raising an alarm.

  • Twestival, the worldwide networked fundraising phenomenon that amazed observers five years ago when it burst into view, is closing down. Amanda Rose, one of the founders of the event, told “I've decided to bring Twestival to a close after five years. It is time as Twitter has evolved as a community and I didn't have the time to put into leading it this year.

  • Tonite, in New York City, as part of Social Media Week, I'll be participating in a debate titled, "Social Media for Social Good: Hope or Hype?" along with Sloane Davidson, Susan MacPherson and Aria Finger. Sloane and I are taking the "hype" side. You can still get tickets here.

News Briefs

RSS Feed 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.


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.