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First POST: Our Surveillance Society

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, May 14 2014

Our Surveillance Society

  • Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are charging that the Justice Department has been misleading the Supreme Court about how the NSA has been implementing its surveillance programs, referring to a recent case where the Court dismissed Amnesty International's challenge to the agency's warrantless wiretapping program, saying they couldn't prove their communications had been intercepted, Charlie Savage reports.

  • The two Senators wrote the Justice Department's solicitor general, saying "We are concerned that the executive branch's decade-long reliance on a secret body of surveillance law has given rise to a culture of misinformation, and led senior officials to repeatedly make misleading statements to the public, Congress and the courts about domestic surveillance."

  • As Josh Gerstein and Stephanie Simon write in an excellent Politico story on private-sector data collection and consumer privacy, none of this is being done by the NSA:

    The technological advances and cheap data storage have created surveillance opportunities that make logging phone calls look downright quaint. At the mall, the corner store or the casino, hidden cameras may be snapping photos of your face and relaying them to companies that identify you, note your habits and trace your movements. At home, smart meters can tell whether you have a plasma TV and what time you cook dinner. (Or even, perhaps, whether you’re growing marijuana in the basement.) If you take more conventional prescription drugs, your pill bottles may soon email your doctor to let him know if you’ve been taking your medication. Your car may let your mechanic know that your tires need rotating. Your TV’s set-top box may soon be able to sense what you’re doing while you’re watching a show — snacking? snuggling? mopping? — and broadcast ads appropriate to the situation. At school, your child’s online textbooks may be tracking his every click to understand how his brain works. Some publishers boast that they can tell when a student is on the verge of forgetting, say, how to multiply fractions — and can then send him a lesson custom-tailored to his learning style to fix that skill permanently in his memory.

  • As Matt Stoller wrote for techPresident back in March, we've become a surveillance society--the question is for what purposes.

  • It's not clear how much Google will have to change in response to the European Court of Justice's ruling yesterday that people have the right to be forgotten online. David Streitfeld's front-pager in the New York Times suggests that the issue may be resolved on a case-by-case basis (translation: lawyers rejoice!).

  • The Times' editorial board opines that the high court's ruling "could undermine press freedoms and free speech" by opening "the floodgates for people living in the 28 countries of the European Union to demand that Google and other search engines remove millions of links from search results. Such a purge would leave Europeans less well informed and make it harder for journalists and dissidents to have their voices heard."

  • In a statement, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which includes Google, Microsoft and Yahoo amongst its members, said that the ruling "opens the door to large scale private censorship in Europe," and "our concern is it could also be misused by politicians or others with something to hide who could demand to have information taken down," reports The Wall Street Journal

  • The heads of AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and 25 other major Internet service providers have written a joint letter to the FCC that is perfectly pitched to make reclassification of their services sound like big government run amok. They write:

    “Reclassification of broadband Internet access offerings as Title II – telecommunications services — would impose great costs, allowing unprecedented government micromanagement of all aspects of the Internet economy….An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of ‘Government may I?’ requests from American entrepreneurs. That cannot be, and must not become, the U.S. Internet of tomorrow.”

  • At Re/Code, Amy Schatz rounds up the latest FCC net neutrality news, noting that Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian is crowdfunding the plastering of protest posters on bus shelters across Washington, DC.

  • The Washington Post's Brian Fung writes up FCC senior legal advisor Gigi Sohn's Twitter chat on net neutrality yesterday.

  • Fung also reports on the Occupy FCC protestors camped out in front of the agency's headquarters.

  • At, net neutrality activists are urging website owners to insert code on their home pages demonstrating to visitors what "the FCC's 'slow lane'" would look like. Here's what it looks like in, um, inaction.

  • Lawrence Lessig's MayDayPac hit its first million in pledges two weeks early, and it's now shooting to raise another five million.

  • Digital news start-ups FiveThirtyEight, The Upshot and Vox are starting share some of their data and code, reports Erin Kissane for OpenNews.

  • Watch this link--we'll be posting the full PDF 2014 line-up of breakout sessions and speakers midday today.