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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.

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.


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.


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.