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First POST: Transparency Theater

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, March 11 2015

Transparency Theater

  • If you want a no-nonsense evaluation of Hillary Clinton's press conference yesterday responding to questions about her reliance on a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State, read Alex Howard's report on techPresident. On both the issues of official record retention and security, her answers--she gave State 30,490 emails she deemed non-private and deleted the rest; and yes, the server was based in her home, set up originally for President Clinton (who doesn't email?!), and guarded by the Secret Service--she left more questions dangling, as he details.

  • That said, the political press is far more interested in the "optics" of the episode, the "how it's playing," than the right or wrong. See for example Glenn Thrush and Gabriel Debenedetti's breathless piece for Politico, which reads more like a theater review, down to detailed comments about the scenery.

  • Similarly, Ben Smith's report in BuzzFeed spends almost as much space describing the line to get into the press conference as it does the substance.

  • Technical experts are not convinced the Clinton's Chappaqua server could have been secure, Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.

  • Chris Cillizza asks in the Washington Post whether Clinton's argument that she did what she did simply out of "convenience," and that "it would have been better" to use an official account will hold up with the public.

  • John Wonderlich, the Sunlight Foundation's policy director, comments, "In no world was paying someone to set up a private email server as Secretary of State in 2009 a matter of convenience."

  • US Attorney General Eric Holder has used three email aliases at his official address, Ryan Reilly reports for The Huffington Post. Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon explains,“This practice is similar to using initials or numbers in an email address and helps guard against security risks and prevent his inbox from being needlessly inundated. It does not in any way impact compliance with FOIA requests. The Attorney General's email address is known to the individuals who process FOIA requests, and his emails are regularly produced, albeit with his exact address redacted.”

  • Last night, the White House digital team started using HTTPS by default, Alex Howard reports. As he notes, "A .gov website that uses HTTPS encryption by default for its visitors is a superb example of 'privacy by design.'"

  • ACLU chief technologist Chris Soghoian has been chiding the White House to "lead by example" on this issue since January 1st. He now jokes that he is going to "start harassing the IRS" to do the same.

  • Fastest-growing "We the People" petition ever? In just one day, a petition to the White House calling on it to charge the 47 Republican Senators with violating the Logan Act by writing to the government of Iran in the midst of ongoing nuclear negations has gathered more than 137,000 signers.

  • Police in Denver pilot-testing the use of body cameras failed to record about 3/4 of the incidents they were involved in that included the use of force, Adolfo Flores reports for BuzzFeed. The city's Office of the Independent Monitor found "The incidents were not recorded by the officers either because the encounters escalated too quickly to activate them, equipment malfunctions or there weren’t enough cameras to go around," Flores notes.

  • At FiveThirtyEight, economics writer Ben Casselman details some of the little-known ways government does a terrible job collecting and disseminating big data and offers some sensible reforms.

  • Your moment of Zen: Asked in a Reddit AMA, "What's the best thing to come from the Internet?" Sir Tim Berners-lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, replies, "The spirit of global collaboration among all the people working on it." Bonus link.