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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  • The Open Technology Institute has withdrawn its support, with its policy counsel Robyn Greene noting that the amended bill "may still allow data collection on a dangerously massive scale" and its policy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.