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First POST: Reverberations

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, October 7 2013


  • James Ball, Bruce Schneier and Glenn Greenwald unraveled another layer of the NSA surveillance story on Friday with a detailed examination of leaked documents from Edward Snowden exposing the agency's efforts to crack Tor, the online anonymity tool. As they note, the agency hates Tor and has developed a number of only partially successful ways to trace its users. This despite the fact that the Tor Project receives about 60% of its funding from the State Department and the Pentagon.

  • In a sidebar commentary, Schneier explains why the Guardian's Tor story is so important. Public disclosure of online security vulnerabilities, he writes, is critical to making the entire system safer. But:

    The NSA's actions turn that process on its head, which is why the security community is so incensed. The NSA not only develops and purchases vulnerabilities, but deliberately creates them through secret vendor agreements. These actions go against everything we know about improving security on the internet.

  • The Tor story provoked a bit of a "family feud" among the former WikiLeaks volunteers who are in the middle of the many-faceted effort to unpack Snowden's revelations. Foreign Policy captured the tempest on Twitter between Jacob Applebaum, James Ball, Glenn Greenwald and associates. Greenwald has the most important line"If you're in favor of having us dump everything indiscriminately, then you're really, really dumb."

  • After reading through the Snowden files at the Guardian's request, novelist and journalist John Lanchester explains why Brits should be worried about their own version of the NSA, the GCHQ: "the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be." He adds:

    People misunderstand what a police state is. It isn't a country where the police strut around in jackboots; it's a country where the police can do anything they like. Similarly, a security state is one in which the security establishment can do anything it likes.
    We are right on the verge of being an entirely new kind of human society, one involving an unprecedented penetration by the state into areas which have always been regarded as private. Do we agree to that? If we don't, this is the last chance to stop it happening.

  • One more victim of the government shutdown: President Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies has halted operations after its staff was furloughed, Politico reports.

  • The Open Technology Institute's Sascha Meinrath anyway thinks, in comments submitted to the government, that the review group was little more than a "modest" first step towards a real house-cleaning, pointing out that it lacks technical expertise, has no clear mandate and inadequate transparency about its deliberations.

  • Speaking of the shutdown, O'Reilly is giving away free e-book versions of Hacking Healthcare and Open Government while it lasts.

  • MoveOn Political Action commissioned Public Policy Polling to do surveys of registered voters in 24 House congressional districts currently held by Republicans, and they say the surveys show a generic Democrat would beat the incumbent Republican member if elections were held today. Not surprising, but illuminating: large minorities in all of these districts say they support the prospect of the government defaulting if the debt ceiling isn't increased in two weeks, if that is a way to prevent health care reform from proceeding.

  • Got a gig for a furloughed government employee? Looking for one? Go to Among the folks looking for work: a web content developer for the NTSB, a program analyst at the VA, and a geospatial technologist at the EPA.

  • Todd Park, the CTO of the US, tells USA Today that was designed to handle 50,000-60,000 visitors at once, but was overwhelmed by 250,000 at a time. "These bugs were functions of volume,'' Park said. "Take away the volume and it works.''

  • The Wall Street Journal says that, "Among the technical problems thwarting consumers, according to some of those people, is the system to confirm the identities of enrollees. Troubles in the system are causing crashes as users try to create accounts, the first step before they can apply for coverage." Experts consulted by the Journal claim "the site was built on a sloppy software foundation," citing unnecessary code and a failure to cache parts of the site that are used infrequently.

  • The administration says the federally run health care exchange has received 9 million unique visits as of last Friday night.

In other news around the web

  • "We need a leader, not a tweeter," says Steve Lonegan, Cory Booker's Republican opponent in the New Jersey Senate race. Apparently Lonegan is gaining enough traction in what was originally expected to be a blow-out for Booker to impel New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to spend a million dollars on ads supporting his friend and ally Booker. The special election is next Wednesday, October 16.

  • In the Wall Street Journal, Emily Parker reports on the rise of China's "maker" movement.

  • Valleywag jumps on our Sam Roudman's story about the Oakland neighborhood that is trying to crowdfund its own private police force.

  • Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan says, "The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people," adding, "The court hasn't really 'gotten to' email." Good thing we have that other secret court to handle those questions, right?

  • Boston and Chicago are way ahead of New York in how they integrate and share 311 data with their residents, says Adam Forman of the Center for An Urban Future in an oped for the Daily News. Both cities provide real-time, detailed updates; allow residents to view each others service requests; and give programmers access to robust APIs. Meanwhile, he says, "New York has remained insular."

  • Meanwhile, Chicago has issued a request for proposals for an upgrade to its 311 interface to make it more two-way.

  • The New York Times' David Segal reports on a burgeoning industry of websites that post people's mug shots, and then charge people hundreds of dollars to take them down. Legislators are wrestling with the conflict between press freedom (these are public records after all) and privacy, but interestingly enough, the very process of reporting out the article appears to have nudged Google into tweaking its algorithm to push mug shots further down in search results, and caused major credit card companies and PayPal to reconsider their relationship with companies like The proprietor of that site ironically declined having his photo taken by the New York Times for the story.

  •, the web annotation start-up whose founder Dan Whaley spoke at PDF 2013 last June, announces that it has just received a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Coming soon, a prototype of their platform.

  • The CityLab conference, co-sponsored by The Atlantic, The Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies, is streaming live today.