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First POST: Decay

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, May 21 2014


  • After unanimously clearing the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees two weeks ago, the USA Freedom Act surveillance reform bill looks like it's in trouble, after being weakened by the Rules Committee in response to pressure from the White House on House leaders.

  • The Open Technology Institute has withdrawn its support, with its policy counsel Robyn Greene noting that the amended bill "may still allow data collection on a dangerously massive scale" and its policy director Kevin Bankston decrying the watering down of the bill's transparency reporting provisions.

  • The Internet freedom group Access also pulled its support for the bill.

  • A federal court has ruled that a 50-year-old secret CIA history on the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation can remain classified and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under a provision that protects government agencies' interest in receiving candid advice, Josh Gerstein reports for Politico. National Security Archive executive director Tom Blanton commented, "This decision would put off limits half the contents of the National Archives. This decision gives total discretion to every bureaucrat to withhold anything they want."

  • The Obama administration's flagship "open government" project,, just turned five, and the Sunlight Foundation's John Wonderlich has posted a tough and pithy review of its value. He writes:

    Administration data transparency efforts have so lost their ambition that a new “Impact” section was recently announced, and featured only commercial reuse of government data, alongside financial valuation statistics for so-called open data companies. I don’t know of a better example of the decay of the administration’s transparency ambitions — once aimed at strengthening democracy, and now attempting to legitimize itself through proximity to private profit. (Though there’s a strong competitor in Obama’s campaign finance evolution, where the campaign finance reformer has been completely subsumed by the dark money innovator.)
    The Obama vision of using technology to democratize power has decayed into economic boosterism, finding validation primarily through the activity of private industry.

  • First Look Media, Pierre Omidyar's news startup, has made $550,000 in grants to three organizations: Freedom of the Press Foundation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The grants represent First Look's strong commitment to finding new tools that will support the First Amendment, Lynn Oberlander, the organization's general counsel, commented.

  • Germany is quietly banning government contracts to tech companies that won't certify that they aren't cooperating with any foreign secret services, a rule that is presumably aimed at American companies, Suddeutsche Zeitung reports.

  • Lavabit founder Ladar Levison explains in The Guardian why he was compelled to shut down his privacy company.

  • Six young Iranians have been arrested and forced to repent on state television for posting a "Happy in Tehran" music video on YouTube, part of the worldwide wave of people posting their own cover version of the Pharell Williams hit song, Robert Mackey reports for the New York Times.

News Briefs

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In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.


thursday >

NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.