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First POST: Commandeered

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, August 13 2013


  • Peter Maass has a must-read cover story in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine on documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who with Glenn Greenwald and separately Barton Gellman, broke the Snowden story. (Oddly, Gellman isn't mentioned at all in the article.) Before she started working on her current project, a documentary about surveillance, she had made several award-winning films on the effects of the US invasion of Iraq, which apparently made American authorities place her on a terrorist watch list. Here's how she describes her many experiences with US border security since then:

    “It’s a total violation. That’s how it feels. They are interested in information that pertains to the work I am doing that’s clearly private and privileged. It’s an intimidating situation when people with guns meet you when you get off an airplane.”
    Though she has written to members of Congress and has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, Poitras has never received any explanation for why she was put on a watch list. “It’s infuriating that I have to speculate why,” she said. “When did that universe begin, that people are put on a list and are never told and are stopped for six years? I have no idea why they did it. It’s the complete suspension of due process.” She added: “I’ve been told nothing, I’ve been asked nothing, and I’ve done nothing. It’s like Kafka. Nobody ever tells you what the accusation is.”

  • Security expert Bruce Schneier says the big Internet companies better start fighting the government on behalf of their users: "It's time we called the government's actions what it really is: commandeering. Commandeering is a practice we're used to in wartime, where commercial ships are taken for military use, or production lines are converted to military production. But now it's happening in peacetime. Vast swaths of the Internet are being commandeered to support this surveillance state."

  • Fast Company gets an interview with White House CIO Steve VanRoekel, and manages to ask him how the administration's support for open data comports with its NSA surveillance programs. VanRoekel's answer is deeply ironic:

    One of the important parts of formulating the digital strategy and open data policy was to be very clear to people on two fronts. One was that with government data, you need to have a process by which we are not releasing any data that is confidential, that violates any citizens’ or Americans’ privacy, or has any national security implications.
    The second part is examining something called the mosaic effect. That means if I released some data independently, there is high likelihood that that data released doesn’t have any private or publicly identifiable information in it. But if I release that data along with another piece of data, and overlay those two sources, then I could garner some identifiable information. For example, if I have a report on geographically dispersed diseases in this relatively unpopulated state, like North Dakota, then release another piece of data that details who lives in certain census blocks, you could suddenly tell who has that disease. That’d break personally identifiable information guidelines. So we’ve asked agencies to set up governance and be very diligent on issues related to privacy, confidentiality, or national security.

  • Actual Washington Post headline: "The man who misled Congress on spying will pick Obama's intelligence review panel." Recall, as Marcy Wheeler points out, that just last Friday, Obama promised an "independent" "high-level group of outside experts" would be conducting this review. TechDirt's Mike Masnick and The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorfpile on.

Other news from around the web

  • Half the public now says the Internet is a main source for where they go for national and international news, up from 43% two years ago, the Pew Research Center Reports. For people under the age of 50, the Internet is their primary source. TV and radio are also up as news sources, while, no surprise, newspapers continue their slow decline. The public also credits press criticism of political leaders, saying it keeps them "from doing things that shouldn't be done" (as opposed to preventing leaders from doing their jobs). Young people in particular are cottoning to this view of the press's role, with 75% of 18-29 year olds agreeing that the press's watchdog role matters.

  • Deep Root Analytics (DRA), a relatively new Republican tech consultancy specializing in data-driven campaigns (which sports the principals of TargetPoint Consulting among its founders), has just announced a new partnership with FourthWall Media, which specializes in cable set top box viewing data. Translation: Republican candidates may now be able to benefit from the same kind of analytical smarts that enabled the Obama campaign to spend its TV ad budget so efficiently. Says Alex Lundry of DRA, "What FourthWall’s exclusive second-by-second viewership data gives us is the ability to spend our advertising dollars more effectively and to target our message into individual homes for maximum political impact.”

  • "US getting savvier about open data", headlines the Wall Street Journal. You don't say.

  • The Sunlight Foundation has published an updated version of its "Open Data Policy Guidelines," covering what data should be public, how to make data public and how to implement policy.

  • The first 104 pages of the late Aaron Swartz's Secret Service file have been released to Wired's Kevin Poulsen, and he's posted them online. A total of 14,500 pages of documents are being processed for release.

  • Brian Stelter reports: A coalition of progressive online groups and the NY Working Families Party have delivered 300,000 petitions to local public TV flagship WNET to broadcast the controversial "Citizen Koch" documentary, which lost public funding last year under a cloud of questions about behind-the-scenes machinations at the behest of the Koch's, whose libertarian politics and deep pockets have made them highly influential political actors. Several thousand backers on Kickstarter have made up for the film's lost funding.

  • Mashable has published a "crowdsourced Digital Bill of Rights."