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Liveblogging the ‘Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers’ Hearing

5:54 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(photo: Project Counsel)

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime & Terrorism, chaired by GOP Representative James Sensenbrunner, is holding a hearing on the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act” at 10 am ET. The bill might seem like something that would be free from debate, as we all should agree children do not deserve to be subjected to pornography. But, the legislation includes a “data retention” requirement that should fuel debate over rights to privacy.

[*Watch the hearing here.]

The proposed legislation includes a section that reads:

Retention of Certain Records- A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least 18 months the temporarily assigned network addresses the service assigns to each account, unless that address is transmitted by radio communication (as defined in section 3 of the Communications Act of 1934).’. [emphasis added]

Julian Sanchez of the CATO Institute argues, “The handful of provisions in the bill that really deal specifically with child porn are a fig leaf for its true purpose: A sweeping data retention requirement meant to turn Internet Service Providers and online companies into surrogate snoops for the government’s convenience.” And, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in a page outlining the issue of data retention, notes not only is storing large databases of IP data expensive but “mandatory data retention harms individuals’ anonymity, which is crucial for whistleblowers, investigators, journalists, and for political speech.”

I will be live blogging this hearing. The witnesses coming before the committee include: Mr. Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Sheriff Michael J. Brown, Bedford County Sheriff’s Office and Mr. Marc Rotenberg, President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). [Statements that are to be put into the public record will be posted on this blog, as they are made available.]

Here’s the live blog of today’s hearing:

11:32 AM Rep. Sensenbrunner concerned that data retention will be used to investigate crimes other than child pornography.

Sheriff Brown says he is more interested in 18 months. He wants a standard, a uniformed amount of time. Sheriff Brown doesn’t like that there is no standard among ISPs.

Rep. Sensenbrunner addresses subpoena authority in the legislation in Section 11. From the ISP address, how do you know if someone is a registered sex offender?

Allen says that 95% of cases where marshals are able to locate child predators is through Internet-based or communication data.Currently, they have to get all writs act that can take two months. Very nature that he is a fugitive means there has been judicial review. This would allow circumventing the all writs act.

Rep. Sensenbrunner, why do marshals need additional subpoena authority if they are already going after these people? They’re fugitives.

Allen says this is essential tool.

Rep. Sensenbrunner says he has always felt negatively about administrative subpoenas. I fought to keep administrative subpoena authority out of the PATRIOT Act. And what does law enforcement do? They use national security letters (NSLs) to get around the fact that they didn’t get authority.

This could be used for fishing expedition like law enforcement did on PATRIOT Act with NSLs. You should be concerned about that, says Rep. Sensenbrunner.

Thank you witnesses. This bill needs a lot of fixing up. This bill is “not ready for prime time.” Statements being introduced into the record now.

Hearing is adjourned.

11:24 AM Rep. Thomas Marino respects Rotenberg’s opinion but fails to see concern he has over 18 month period of data retention because of what happens to these children and many times the child does not bring information on being victimized til quite some time later. Law enforcement is already finding new techniques for finding perpetrators. Enlighten me.

Rotenberg addresses this remark saying that resources should be given so that law enforcement can go through enormous amounts of data and they would work to focus investigations on perpetrators. Data retention doesn’t focus on the problem. It says we don’t know the problem and will go fishing.

Rep. Marino – Data retention is critical. I’ve been in hospitals with children…Please do more research so you can see what they are put through. We have to double the punishment for child predators. I’ve seen situations where 3 months old children have been exposed.

I can’t find any defense in not increasing 18 month period, concludes Rep. Marino.

11:17 AM Rep. Dan Lungren says sad to say that my own area of Sacramento is one of the top areas for trafficking problems, at least under FBI statistics. There does appear to be a nexus between trafficking and children, trafficking and young women and trafficking and images of child pornography.

He says this is a bipartisan bill and he introduced form of this legislation in the last Congress.

Lungren asks Marc Rotenberg of EPIC, is there a problem that you have with the access to this information by law enforcement in the event or that the extension of time for which they are required to hold this information allows the potential for abuses in other circumstances?

Rotenberg is concerned with government mandate requiring private companies to keep data it wouldn’t otherwise keep. Congress have made adjustments over time to deal with exigencies (like if you can’t get a warrant). Techniques have developed but this would cross line because up to this time in history of Electronic Privacy Act this has not been allowed.

Here’s more from what I think is a critical exchange:

REP. LUNGREN: Our bill provides that it be 18 months. So, why is that different in nature in terms of the action, the activity of the business and the activity of law enforcement when they have a need to get this data?

ROTENBERG: It’s truly a very different view of wiretap law because up to this point in time the general approach has been to say we will come to you when we have some reason to believe that one of your customers is doing something wrong—

REP. LUNGREN: That’s exactly what they are doing here. All they are saying is they want to make sure that the data is retained.

ROTENBERG: No, because the way data retention works and the distinction between data retention and the current data preservation is data retention says at the outset that you are going to keep this information on everybody because we don’t know at this point in time –

LUNGREN: You’re keeping the information on everybody but you are not making a request for everybody. They’re coming to you with a request based on some information they have on a crime having been committed, allegedly.

ROTENBERG: Yes, so there are at least two concerns there. And this goes to the second part of your question. The two concerns are one, everybody and I do mean everybody know is looking more closely at data minimization techniques because they are realizing just how difficult it is to safeguard the information they’re storing.

REP. LUNGREN: So, when you are talking about data minimization, you are talking about cutting down on the amount of information they store as opposed to criminal minimization…

ROTENBERG: That’s correct.

Time expired.

11:11 AM Rep. Cohen asks if sentencing for child predators should be doubled and if that would be effective deterrent?

Sheriff Brown says we need to impose sentences as judges issue them. I would not say they need to be doubled but judges should give predators their due.

Rep. Cohen says judges find sentencing guidelines are too high. He says 71% think sentencing should not be increased.

Rep. Cohen now describing friend who was convicted of having child porn on his computer and he thinks there could have been alternative ways to handle his crime. There is no proof he did anything to children. And he probably had a brother who had some problem… Anyways, I don’t need to go into those details…

11:09 AM Rep. Steve Cohen now asking questions about system of penalties for child predators.

11:07 AM Rep. Ted Poe asks how many cases are going right now and Sheriff Brown says several hundred.

Rep. Poe asks if there would be an issue in civil litigation. Would anyone want to subpoena data that will be available for 18 months?

Rotenberg says yes, if you’re a good lawyer, you might want to subpoena data.

On Rep. Poe’s question on how they could do better job, Sheriff Brown says they could use more funding.

11:07 AM Allen says that many of the perpetrators are parents, someone trusted and in their lives. Already a hurdle to prosecutions.

11:05 AM First nugget that could make significant headlines: Ernie Allen suggests Attorney General Eric J. Holder is for data retention on all crimes. In Rep. Conyers’ line of questioning, Allen doesn’t argue against having data to go after all crimes. This just feeds into the idea that this is a way to start a system that could be expanded to track all users and not just go after child predators. This is the spread of suspect society into cyberspace.

11:00 AM Rotenberg agrees that there would have to be no wireless provider exemption if this were to work.

Rep. Conyers notes the bill might institute accidentally a data retention policy for all crime and is that over the top, Mr. Rotenberg, or just an exaggeration?

Rotenberg says that is clear from the bill. Let’s establish the ability to identify in ISP record every single user.

Rep. Conyers asks Sheriff Brown asks if he might be troubled by idea that we might set up a system that would have retention of all crime. That isn’t what you came to testify for.

Sheriff Brown says his primary concern was with the retention. I am here for that. We need more time for investigations.

Rep. Conyers says that Allen already noted you are already under-resourced. The big problem is that you don’t have resources necessary.

Sheriff Brown agrees law enforcement already needs more.

Rep. Conyers asks again if they want all crime. Don’t you just want to get at child pornography?

Sheriff Brown doesn’t quite know what to say. He is here for child porn cases, only.

10:53 AM Rep. Trey Gowdy asks if Rotenberg is willing to help a sheriff investigate a crime to strike balance between protecting privacy and

It is not clear that this proposal would make it easier to investigate child predators. This has the potential to turn 99.97% of users into criminals.

Rep. Gowdy asks if Rotenberg has a different way of doing this.

Rotenberg suggests their be more strict penalties for child predators.

Rep. Gowdy wants to know how to get computers if you cannot link to an IP address.

Rotenberg talks about information available to get access to data already available. He concedes it won’t be perfect and there may be cases that won’t be able to be solved.

Rep. Gowdy moves on to Ernie Allen and asks if computer generated images are still defended as not a real image of a child. Allen says defenses in cases still argue images aren’t really kids. And this is why we started a unit to identify child victims.

Rep. Gowdy says this is one more layer that law enforcement has to overcome. The fact we have to prove is real child and not computer-generated. He asks if other countries are cooperative.

Allen says virtual global task force is making progress. Absolutely. Interpol is working with us to collect images.

Rep. Gowdy thanks Sheriff Brown for service.

10:51 AM Rep. Scott asks if sheriffs need probable cause to sift through data. Sheriff Brown says they receive “cyber tip” and then they go to ISP to track that information.

Rep. Scott follows up and ask Rotenberg what is retained. Rotenberg then describes what’s logged and says there can be names of files that were transferred and you could see what information was transferred by reading name of files.

10:50 AM Rep. Scott, what would this data be available for?

Rotenberg says that this data could be used, if retained, for other cases like divorce, contract disputes, copyright infringement and civil subpoena cases. It may not be limited to child porn cases if the ISPs have it.

10:48 AM Rep. Scott asking if law enforcement has enough resources to pursue child predators. Allen confirms this is a problem.

10:44 AM Allen now says child pornography is exploding; 13 million child pornography images and videos reviewed last year, he alleges

We hear all the time isn’t child pornography just adult pornography. Based on what’s sent to us, overwhelmingly there is problem with kids who don’t tell when their image or video of them is put up.

Allen talks about percentage of child predators victimizing children.

Rep. Smith says he took comments from Rotenberg as sincere, constructive criticism. If it is a 50/50 decision, we are going to give law enforcement benefit of doubt.

10:43 AM Rep. Smith asks Sheriff Brown for examples of cases where ISPs were unable to not obtain data so child predators went free; Sheriff Brown essentially repeats what he said in prepared remarks

10:38 AM Marc Rotenberg’s remarks: Purpose of privacy laws is to protect privacy data that companies obtain from consumers. “Good faith” reason can push companies to turn data over governments.

Draws attention to serious concerns about data retention: We live in time where there is a great deal of data breaches. Companies are not able to provide protection. This would mandate retention of information companies might not keep. The problem is also that Section 5 and 6 create new type of immunity that has never existed. At same time that ISPs might be told to keep information, what ever happens, if improperly accessed or used, you are off the hook.

As we read Section 5 it doesn’t have qualifying language that normally exists when ISPs cooperate with investigations.

Section 6, that creates “good faith” defense is quite broad and would apply under any other law. There are many state laws that require companies to notify consumers when a breach occurs. Now it appears ISPs will not be obligated to notify consumers of harms.

Problem is not just data retention obligation but also the immunity being offered.

Additionally, clearly a movement toward data minimization in security field. It’s a sensible approach that prevents misues. Data retention pulls in wrong direction.

European countries have tried to implement sweeping data retention requirement and users have objected. Users, ISPs and others have objected. Coruts have found obligations unconstitutional. Please consider this.

10:36 AM Sheriff Brown concludes that the act will ensure the predators, most vilest of society, are punished. It will allow us to protect against evil in the world.

10:35 AM ISPs hold data records for days or months. Lack of uniformity in data retention time can significantly hinder law enforcement’s ability to track down child predators. Rep. Lamar Smith and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz have introduced this legislation to address this problem and ensure that when law enforcement contacts ISPs identifying information will still exist.

Sheriff Brown describes a case where they were trying to get information on child predator and the ISP only kept information for 30 days. He says this and hundreds like it demonstrate need to make sure ISPs retain data for significant and standard period of time.

10:33 AM Expansion and development of technology has allowed child porn to become epidemic, says Sheriff Brown. Law enforcement often has tough time unmasking child predators on Internet.

10:31 AM Sheriff Brown begins remarks. He’s a retired officer and part of a National Sheriff’s Association.

10:25 AM Allen says center identifies child porn sites with method of payment. Law enforcement makes purchases and captures information that is reported to payment company so they are able to stop payments.

On Section 2, want to make sure nothing in bill prevents financial companies from stopping payments

On Section 4, we think data retention is reasonable and balanced approach. It doesn’t mean content retained but that connectivity data is retained. We have to establish linkage between IP address and a persons. This is analogous to records phone companies are required to keep.

Many companies have policy on data retention but very widely policies are not kept consistently.

10:22 AM Ernie Allen giving remarks now.

10:21 AM Rep. Conyers concludes: Limit law enforcement’s access to Internet pornography crimes against children. It would institute a data retention requirement for all crimes including street crimes.

The bill’s title is a misnomer. It’s not really about protecting children from this crime. It would not exempt wireless providers and would target child exploitation

10:20 AM Rep. Lamar Smith stops Rep. Conyers to say they are working out way to not exempt wireless providers

10:18 AM Rep. John Conyers continues The ACLU, Center for Democracy & Technology, EPIC and some Internet providers and advocates of children oppose the bill. It fails to protect children from Internet pornographers.

First, eliminate exemption of data retention mandate for wireless providers. They’ve got to be included. If it’s important, why wouldn’t we include them? The bill in current form exempts every wireless service that exists. If it’s good enough for others, it might be very important for wireless internet providers.

10:15 AM Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) discussing the legislation. He says protecting children from child pornographers is laudable and a noble objective but the problem is that the legislation, if enacted, would not achieve that goal. It does other damage that doesn’t exist, would create whole new host of problems. It is not accidental that there are negative views about this proposal that are shared by a wide group of leaders and other organizations.

10:14 PM Internet has become virtual playground for sex predators. Rep. Lamar Smith concludes remarks.

10:13 AM Data retention allows law enforcement to get the abusers and stop children from being abused. By the time investigators discover child pornographers, ISPs have already purged the records. Claims both Democrats and Republicans have wanted data retention for decade. ISPs in deleting records delete data to save a child.

The bill strengthens child witnesses and victims.

10:10 AM Rep. Lamar Smith reading his prepared remarks says that this will protect our children from pornography. He claims that ISPs make it difficult if not impossible to access data to apprehend child pornographers.

Bill does not threaten any legitimate privacy interest of Internet users, Smith claims.

Smith says the 18-month data retention requirement mirrors a requirement that has been placed on phone companies.

10:06 AM Rep. Bobby Scott  reads prepared remarks and says  data retention requirement, which adds unknown costs to ISPs. Information before me doesn’t indicate there will be benefit.

In 80% of cases they are able to obtained the data they need. ISPs already hold data for 6-12 months. Rather than addressing the myriad factors against child pornography prosecutions, bill focuses on data retention requirements.

Bill ignores issues of resources and it could add data that would exacerbate an already growing back log of cases.

DOJ has more data than it has adequate personnel to investigate. Budgets cuts already call for cuts to number of FBI agents.

Blanket exemption for all wireless providers, in addition to child porn cases, is concerning. By the end of the year, there were over 300 million wireless connections in the US. This exemption undermines the legislation.

Could data be vulnerable to hacking? Concerns we need to look into.

I too am concerned about the administrative subpoena.


Rupert Murdoch Shuts Down Tabloid at Center of UK Phone Hacking Scandal

11:28 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(update below)

Rupert Murdoch’s News International, a subsidiary of News Corp, is at the center of political and media scrutiny in the United Kingdom, as details surface on a scandal involving a tabloid newspaper he owns, News of the World. The scandal involves allegations that the newspaper illegally hacked into the voicemail of phones owned by celebrities, politicians, royal aides, sport stars and victims of crimes.  And, to tamp down the growing controversy, today Murdoch announced the News of the World newspaper will be shut down.

Details on the phone hacking scandal have been largely absent from US news. For months, an unfolding story centered on tabloids hacking into phones has been taking shape in the UK. But, just recently, The Guardian reported News of the World targeted “missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler and her family in March 2002, interfering with police inquiries into her disappearance.” This revelation indicates not only were typical targets of any tabloid newspaper hacked but so too were members of the public.

James Murdoch, News International’s company chairman and son of Rupert Murdoch, who has been implicated in the scandal and accused of authorizing his company to pay money to silence individuals who had been hacked to cover up his company’s illegal behavior, stated, “The good things the News of the World does have been sullied by behavior that was wrong.” And, “If recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company.”

Rebekah Brooks, editor of News of the World, is alleged to be at the center of the hacking scandal as well, but she has refused to resign from her job as a chief executive of News International. Rupert Murdoch has come to her defense saying she will not be stepping down. Read the rest of this entry →

At the President’s Twitter Townhall, #AskObama About His Pathetic & Disgusting Civil Liberties Record

6:23 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

*Update:For my report on the Twitter town hall event, go here.

President Barack Obama will be participating in a first-ever Twitter @townhall event. The town hall, moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, is to be limited to discussion of jobs and the economy.

Effectively limiting the discussion to jobs and the economy leaves out an array of issues on the state of freedom, justice and liberty in America that warrant conversation. Should we the people really allow the White House to limit this discussion to just the economy?

The Obama Administration came in pledging to be different than the Bush Administration. It has continued and expanded on many of the Bush Administration “war on terrorism” policies, which effectively shredded the Constitution and eroded American civil liberties. President Obama has been outright atrocious when it comes to protecting American civil liberties and so bad it is no longer clear that he is the lesser evil when compared to former President George W. Bush.

Here are some questions that he should be made to address at the town hall to be held at 2 pm ET:

The Justice Dept has been sending letters indicating state laws may not override federal law on medical marijuana.

#AskObama What’s your position on state moves to decriminalize marijuana so it can be used for medicinal purposes?

Or, to frame the question in terms of jobs and the economy:

#AskObama: What’s your position on growing the economy and increasing jobs by further decriminalizing medicinal marijuana production & use?

Illinois recently recalled and abolished the death penalty.

#AskObama Would you like to see more states follow in the footsteps of Illinois and pass their own legislation to abolish the death penalty?

President George W. Bush admits he authorized waterboarding or torture against detainees as president.

#AskObama Why should US not fulfill legal obligation under Torture Convention & investigate & prosecute fmr Bush officials for torture?

You  missed the deadline for closing Guantanamo.

#AskObama What plans, if any, does your administration have to shut down Guantanamo? Do you still plan to shut it down?

#AskObama While demonstrating interest in closing Guantanamo, you have embraced policy of indefinite detention for detainees. Why?

Your administration’s statistics show the “Secure Communities” initiative invites racial profiling and leads to deportations of people who have committed no crimes or very minor offenses.

#AskObama Why have you ignored law enforcement and political leaders’ concerns on the “Secure Communities” program?

Your administration has deported 779,000 people, more than President George W. Bush’s last two years in office. ICE apparently has a mandate of deportation of 400,000 individuals per year.

#AskObama Why should ICE’s dragnet enforcement that is tearing apart immigrant families in America be acceptable or tolerated?

On same-sex marriage:

#AskObama Why do you think same-sex marriage is a states’ rights issue & why do you seem afraid to become moral leader on this issue?

More and more state legislatures are pushing laws that require drug testing for individuals to be drug tested if they receive public assistance.

#AskObama Do you think it is fair that more & more state are requiring drug testing in order to receive public assistance?

On the continued mass incarceration of people in America, especially people of color:

#AskObama US has 25% of world’s prison population. Are you concerned about mass incarceration of people in America & what should be done?

Government is employing more and more technology, which enables surveillance of US citizens. Police powers are being expanded, with the US Supreme Court often coming down on the side of law enforcement’s efforts make their job easier by not having to be concerned with citizens’ civil liberties.

#AskObama Should citizens abandon expectations of Fourth Amendment rights in the 21st Century?

Hot watches, cell phone tracking, x-ray vans that can see through walls or people’s clothing, etc are new methods of surveillance being used on citizens.

#AskObama Do citizens have a right to know if and when they are under government surveillance & should they?

The PATRIOT Act recently had three key provisions extended.

#AskObama As a constitutional professor, do any parts of the PATRIOT Act concern you any longer?

A religious rights issue:

#AskObama When does your administration plan to make changes to terrorism financing laws so they don’t unfairly target Muslims?

State legislatures around the country are stripping women of their right to an abortion. Some recent state laws are so extreme that they outright degrade and humiliate women, who dare to consider exercising their right to choose.

#AskObama What kind of leadership on reproductive freedom issues does your administration plan to show, if any?

There are currently antiwar and international solidarity activists under investigation by a federal grand jury based in your hometown of Chicago.

#AskObama How do you think your administration has done when it comes to protecting the right to dissent? #stopfbi

Also:

#AskObama Do you find it acceptable that the State Dept would like to criminalize US citizens delivering aid to Gaza? #flotilla2

You tremendously failed (and perhaps tainted the case) the last time this question was asked of you. So, I know you might be afraid to answer, but give it another shot. I’ll even ask about him in a different way.

#AskObama Why do you think Bradley Manning, if he did release classified info, isn’t military whistleblower protected under law? #WikiLeaks

And, finally:

#AskObama Why is your administration prosecuting war on whistleblowing & going after people like Thomas Drake, James Risen?

UK Police Stop & Search Striking Citizens to Prevent Possible ‘Hooliganism’

7:03 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(photo: David King)

Public workers, up to seven hundred and fifty thousand teachers and civil servants, are alleged to have participated in a June 30 general strike called for in the United Kingdom after UK Parliament passed changes to pensions and retirement, specifically, increasing the amount an employee has to contribute.

At 1:31 pm London Time, Hélène Mulholland reported from the end of “the Strand, by Trafalgar Square,” that a march had been “good-natured” so far. “ She said it is clear that the turn out has been good, that quite a few in the UK believe the government did not properly negotiate the new pension and retirement changes. And she also reported, “There doesn’t seem to have been much trouble,” except for the stopping and searching of minority students.

Around 12 pm London Time, she “walked past five police officers stopping and searching two non-white 17-year-old sixth formers, Aamir Kadir and Jean-Claude Goddard, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to the dismay of onlookers.” Mulholland said they were searched because they were wearing keffiyeh scarves, a traditional headdress for Arab men. While there were white women with scarves standing around the two young men who were stopped, the police said they stopped the two because the scarves might be used to commit violence. They said they were stopped out of “empirical judgment” because “people use keffiyehs to mask their identity.”

Throughout the strikes today, the UK police have claimed stop and search powers under section 60 of the Criminal Public Order Act. Here is how this provision allowing police the legal right to stop citizens and search them in public is described on the Metropolitan Police website:

Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time when they believe, with good reason, that: there is the possibility of serious violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality. This law has to be authorized by a senior officer and is used mainly to tackle football hooliganism and gang fights.

In this case, the police are using Section 60 to thwart the “hooliganism” of public and civil servants who feel they just got a bad deal from their government, who are upset they might have more trouble making ends meet for their family.
Read the rest of this entry →

Thanks to the Internet, We Have Lost Anonymity

7:35 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


On June 6th and 7th in New York City, citizens from all over the world came together to discuss technology and how it is reshaping politics, governance and society. The roster of speakers touched on freedom of expression, freedom of information, open government, privacy, using technology to build social movements and how governments use technology to suppress citizens.

I will be publishing some posts over the next month that highlight the talks that were given, as many of them were very informative, engaging and enlightening.

Eben Moglen, professor at Columbia University, director of the Software Freedom Law Center and founder of the new Freedom Box Foundation, has been fighting for software freedom for a number of years. His talk called attention to how we need to be mindful of how there are forces on the net that are chipping away at freedom each and every day.

He singles out four forces:

There are governments concerned about the possible loss of control that comes from the freedom to tell stories any we want and escape the framing that power puts around things. There are so-called content owners who believe that their bits are sacred and the possibility that those bits might be copied by anybody justifies controlling the net down to each end point at every eyeball and every eardrum. There are data miners who are the industry of the future, the industry of the twenty-first century. Their job is to know what you want before you know what you want so they can sell you to somebody. And all that is required is that they read your email and watch every party you go to and check every conversation that you have and have arranged that to make it possible. And the fourth are the network operators who are turning the net that my dear friend Larry Lessig wrote about ten years ago into the everything must come to us and all your life are belong to us and aren’t you happy people. And among the four, well, we have platforms.

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Administration Does Not Want Lawmakers to Debate National Security

9:10 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Photo by David Dees

Three provisions of the PATRIOT Act set to expire were extended yesterday as Senate leaders effectively shut off debate and worked to block attempts to amend the Patriot Act to include privacy protections. The reauthorized provisions went to the House for approval and, after passing through Congress, the legislation was flown to US President Barack Obama in France so he could sign the reauthorization.

The continued granting of overly broad powers, which directly threaten Americans’ right to privacy without unreasonable search or seizure, was accompanied by passage in the House of a National Defense programs bill that included language granting the Executive Branch the authority to wage worldwide war.

A handful of lawmakers in the House and Senate attempted to make amendments or block the passage of measures that would allow powers granted to the state to greatly expand. A trans-partisan group of House representatives introduced an amendment that would have struck down the worldwide war provision.  Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mark Udall and Senator Ron Wyden each made valiant attempts to have a comprehensive debate on the provisions before granting reauthorization but the Obama Administration discouraged debate.

Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake and Mike Riggs of Reason.com reported Sen. Harry Reid and others in Congress were using Obama Administration fearmongering and talking points to prevent provisions from expiration. Debate (and in effect democracy) was being obstructed because the White House was asserting, “The FBI would be able to continue using orders it had already obtained, but it would not be able to apply for new ones if further tips and leads came in about a possible terrorist operation…no one could predict what the consequences of a temporary lapse might be.”
Read the rest of this entry →

Deafening Liberal Silence as the Senate Moves to Extend the Patriot Act

7:52 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The United States Senate came one step closer to extending provisions of the PATRIOT Act, as only eight senators stood up and called for the provisions to be reformed or not extended. The provisions, slated to expire on Friday, now must pass in a final vote later in the week.

Provisions slated to expire include: the “roving wiretap provision,” which permits government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders without identifying the person or the facility being tapped (Section 206 of the Act); the “Lone Wolf” provision, which permits intelligence agencies to survey non-US persons not affiliated with a foreign organization (Section 6001 of the Act); and Section 215, which grants government authorization to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no evidence the “thing” pertains to the terrorist or terrorist activity under investigation.

One senator, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who would like to “sunset the entire PATRIOT Act and protect American civil liberties,” delivered a speech on the Senate floor in defense of freedom and privacy in America.

What the PATRIOT Act has done, explained Paul, is “taken away some of the protections of the Fourth Amendment.” Under the Fourth Amendment, the government must “name the person and place to be searched.” Those protections are gone.

No longer does government need to have “probable cause.” As Paul stated, the Act has taken away those rights and made it so if it’s “relevant” or they think the search or seizure is related to the investigation authorities can conduct searches and seizures.

Paul raised the issue of national security letters (NSLs), something that candidate Barack Obama opposed. They allow the FBI to write warrants without review by a judge, Paul stated. This throws off our nation’s system of checks and balances.

“Do we want a government that looks at our records and is finding out what our reading habits are?” asked Paul. “One of the provisions apply to library records. Do you want the government to find out what you’re reading at the library?”

Additionally, Paul asked, “We now have a president that wants to know where you contributed before you do work for the government. Do we want that kind of all-encompassing government that is looking at every record from top to bottom and invading our privacy?”
Read the rest of this entry →

At US Chamber of Commerce, US Government Strategy for “Identity Ecosystems” in Cyberspace Unveiled

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), which some believe could establish and require Internet users to have ID on the Internet, was unveiled today at the US Chamber of Commerce. NSTIC aims to establish “identity ecosystems,” what the National Institute for Standards in Technology describes as a “a user-centric online environment, a set of technologies, policies, and agreed upon standards that securely supports transactions ranging from anonymous to fully authenticated and from low to high value.”

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke delivered the following remarks:

“I’m optimistic that NSTIC will jump-start a range of private-sector initiatives to enhance the security of online transactions. This strategy will leverage the power and imagination of entrepreneurs in the private sector to find uniquely American solutions. Other countries have chosen to rely on government-led initiatives to essentially create national ID cards. We don’t think that’s a good model, despite what you might have read on blogs frequented by the conspiracy theory set. To the contrary, we expect the private sector to lead the way in fulfilling the goals of NSTIC. Having a single issuer of identities creates unacceptable privacy and civil liberties issues. We also want to spur innovation, not limit it. And we want to set a floor for privacy protection that is higher than what we see today, without placing a ceiling on the potential of American innovators to make additional improvements over time. “

What might this mean for the Internet as citizens of the world know it today? As the US government, in cooperation with the private sector, works to preserve cyber infrastructure or networks that it considers to be “strategic national assets,” how might this protection of assets fundamentally alter key characteristics of the Internet, which many have grown to appreciate? In the age of WikiLeaks and Anonymous, in an era where the US government has been unable to prevent the Chinese government and military from stealing usernames and passwords for State Department computers, it seems that this strategic plan could transform the Internet into a realm that requires you to prove your identity with an approved and issued identification card every time you move in to a new website.

President George W. Bush, in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, used the climate to fundamentally transform security. The “global war on terror” was launched and the Bush Administration led a conditioning and recalibration of the way citizens in the country thought of civil liberties. This made possible a warrantless wiretapping program, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) considers to be “part of a broad pattern of the executive branch using “national security” as an excuse for encroaching on the privacy and free speech rights of Americans without adequate oversight.”

The memory of a horrific tragedy allowed for the metamorphosis of society into a suspect society. Born were two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other countries became zones for launching unmanned aircraft or drone strikes. And, citizens saw the US government detain and imprison indefinitely terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Baghram Air Force Base and other prisons denying them due process and in many cases subjecting them to harsh interrogations or torture.

All of these developments have, for the most part, become something US citizens have found a way to justify. In a society where citizens are told “if they see something, say something,” they believe the escalation of security, the detention, the strikes, and all the expansions of the deep state, which controls and operates the national security apparatuses in the US, is allowable. The civil liberties one has are not to be given up except in cases where one might be in danger and then, in that case, it is okay. So, in the past months, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expanded the scope of its security forcing travelers to go through body scanners that might pose a risk to travelers’ health because of radiation or be subject to a pat-down procedure that if witnessed in public by a police officer would likely lead to the arrest of the person doing the pat-down.

Now, the connecting of systems in more and more ways, the increased complexity that has come as a result of innovation and the reality that, without cyber-connectivity, the economy of the United States could grind to a halt and its national security could be breached has pushed the US government in the past years to work in concert with the private sector to begin to bring order to a networked public sphere that many value because it does not require you to authenticate your identity and does not require you to be inspected before moving along to your destination.
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WikiLeaks Demonstrates Where Citizens Need to Apply Pressure for Media Reform & Justice

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) put on by Free Press took place over the weekend. Thousands of attendees gathered to discuss the state of media and democracy in the US and how best to fight for better media. While the discussions tended to be general conversations on policy and politics, social justice and movement building, journalism and public media, the role of culture and art in media making, or technology and innovation, one subject was continuously mentioned in panel sessions: WikiLeaks.

It would be a stretch to suggest this if it weren’t for the fact that at the “Media and Corporate Power: Beating Back the K Street Juggernaut” panel The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel mentioned an individual in Russia, who has drawn inspiration from WikiLeaks, and now plans to publish corporate documents from Russia to his own “leak portal” website. Vanden Heuvel wondered why media reformers don’t get their own “leak portal” website established for the sole purpose of giving whistleblowers a place to turn and having a central location for Americans to see the truth about corporate power in the US. Following her remark, Bob Edgar of Common Cause thought it important to add the US should stop torturing or abusing the soldier alleged to have leaked information to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning.

The panel had nothing to do with WikiLeaks except for the fact that the issue of corporate power and transparency is critical to the story of WikiLeaks. The organization’s commitment to exposing secrets makes the organization an enemy of corporations, especially any corporation that has a well-established relationship with the political class in Washington and has records to prove just how they mutually work together to subvert democracy.

An organization like Free Press may prefer to not elevate WikiLeaks or any stateless news organization like it too much by making it a component of their agenda. That is understandable given the fact that the Knight Foundation, prior to the release of the Iraq War Logs and the beginning of Cablegate, awarded twelve groups with a “News Challenge” grant but did not award WikiLeaks a grant despite the organization’s request to spend about a half a million dollars “over two years to bring its anonymous method of leaking documents to local newspapers.” But, no organization in the world has exposed the fault lines in media and democracy like WikiLeaks has in the past year.

Part of the new news ecosystem that has arisen from what Yochai Benkler calls the “networked public sphere,” Benkler describes in piece of writing found in a book titled, “Will the Last Reporter Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It,” which was handed out to attendees at the conference:

On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released a leaked video from a US military helicopter that appeared to show US pilots callously killing combatants and civilians alike, including two Reuters news staff. Reuters had been seeking release of the video unsuccessfully, under FOIA, for over two years. The video became front-page news in all the leading papers the next day. WikiLeaks is a very-low-budget nonprofit hosted in Sweden. The site originally described its origins as having been “founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa.” Its $600,000 annual budget is raised from contributions from around the world. Its resources are documents or videos uploaded by anyone, anywhere, securely and anonymously. It is a Wikipedia for leaks, produced by anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time.

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Attendees at the NCMR in Boston appeared to be keenly aware of the dangerous precedents, which would be set for media and democracy in the US, if the government were allowed to continue to suppress WikiLeaks and make an example of the organization as it has done. Keep in mind, already US-based companies like Visa and MasterCard have refused to process donations to WikiLeaks or Assange. PayPal has refused to allow WikiLeaks to use the service for donations. Amazon has censored the Wikileaks website, forcing it to go offline temporarily. Tableau opted to prohibit WikiLeaks from using its graphics service for data visualizations. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University warned students to refrain from commenting on the leaked diplomatic cables on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter–to not post links to the documents if they hoped to ever work for the State Department (while at the same time pledging to host World Press Freedom Day in 2011). The Obama Administration and the Department of Defense ordered hundreds of thousands of federal workers to not view the once secret cables or else. And, HBGary, a cybersecurity services firm, developed a plan to sabotage WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America (it now will likely face a Congressional probe).

WikiLeaks has demonstrated where media reform activists need to apply pressure to expand freedom and justice in American society.

On policy and politics, the issue of net neutrality is made clear. As Timothy Karr of Free Press said on an edition of Democracy Now!, “Should companies or the government be allowed to censor and block content that’s on the web at will, or do they need to follow constitutional law?” The US government’s current answer to that question is why WikiLeaks has asked individuals or organization to set up mirror sites to host the leaked information it has released.

Additionally, the organization has seen individuals sympathetic to it targeted. Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp, each with links to WikiLeaks, face an order from the Department of Justice to allow government to look at their Twitter account data to help with the government’s investigation of WikiLeaks. The case touches on issues of privacy, as the judge hearing the three’s legal arguments against disclosing information has argued the order is “a routine compelled disclosure of non-content information which petitioners voluntarily provided to Twitter pursuant to Twitter’s Privacy Policy.”

WikiLeaks has shown how movements can benefit from making a commitment to government openness and transparency a component of their struggle. US State Embassy cables were faxed into Egypt during the Egyptian uprising. Information activists believed the cables had the power to move Egyptians to join the revolution.

When it comes to journalism and public media, WikiLeaks shows how professional journalists in the corporate or Beltway media find themselves to be part of an elite class. They think citizens need them to understand and process current events and the political issues of the day. They find they should be deciding what to cover and what to leak and should cooperate with government when making decisions on coverage and leaks. Their worst fear is an organization like WikiLeaks that levels the playing field and challenges their “gatekeeper” role in society by publishing previously secret information for the public to read and cover on their own blog. They do not want citizen journalists to become as credible as they have historically been because then they might have to confront their allegiance and fealty to power. They do not want to be held accountable for failing to engage in the investigative journalism Americans should expect from the press.

WikiLeaks does not have a base of operations in the United States. Its founder Julian Assange is not a US citizen. Yet, the government has opened up a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia to investigate WikiLeaks and politicians like Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein would like to go after Assange and prosecute him under the Espionage Act. Bradley Manning, alleged to have leaked the information, continues to face inhumane treatment at Quantico Marine brig in Virginia. And, the political class remains committed to ensuring whistleblower protections for federal employees are further curtailed.

Media reform activists should learn from the government’s response to WikiLeaks. Organizations within the movement for media reform and justice should note how the limits of freedom in American democracy have been exposed.

The press’ indifference to WikiLeaks means media reform activists must increase their investment and reliance on independent media willing to openly admit, as the great muckraker I.F. Stone said, governments lie. It means singling out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others that promote Internet freedom abroad but overtly or covertly subvert it within the US. And, it means working to make it harder for the US government to criminalize and discredit those who use technology and innovation to its full potential.

Whether US citizens accept the limits power seeks to prescribe or impose will greatly determine the future of media and democracy, especially as media work to tell the stories of workers and the poor–that are being forced to bear the brunt of revitalizing an economy the financial sector helped collapse–and fight to expose the work of corporations that have hijacked American democracy.