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Infographic: EFF's Freedom of Information Act files


Hugh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "Sunshine Week may be just seven days in March, but fighting for government transparency is a year-round mission for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, it's not unusual for litigation over public records to drag on for years upon years. To help make sense of it all, here's a handy infographic illustrating EFF's current Freedom of Information Act caseload." (Thanks, Hugh!)

Irony not dead: Comcast claims it is Net Neutrality's best friend

Since Netflix CEO Reid Hastings published a statement on Net Neutrality and Comcast (whom Netflix has had to bribe in order to secure normal service for its users), Comcast has gone on a charm offensive. The company sent a statement to Consumerist in which it asserts an imaginary history of championing Net Neutrality, a work of Stalin-grade reality-denying fiction that has Consumerist's Chris Morran practically chewing the keyboard in rage:

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Tech companies to Senate Finance Committee chair Wyden: no Fast Track for TPP!

More than 25 tech companies -- including Happy Mutants, LLC, Boing Boing's parent company -- have signed onto a letter asking Senator Ron Wyden (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) to oppose "Fast Track" for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a secretly negotiated trade agreement that allows for big corporations to trump national law, suing governments that pass regulations that limit their profits; it contains a notoriously harsh chapter on Internet regulation that will allow entertainment companies unprecedented power to surveil, censor, and control the Internet.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have demanded that Congress give "Fast Track" status to the TPP, meaning that they would not be allowed to debate the individual clauses of the bill, and would only be able to vote it up or down. The treaty is likely to have lots of sweeteners that will make it hard for key lawmakers to reject it entirely, a manipulative maneuver that, combined with Fast Track, means that the treaty has a substantial chance of passing, even though it means Congress will be surrendering its power to make laws that impact on massive corporations.

Other signatories to the letter include Reddit, Techdirt, Imgur, Duckduckgo, Ifixit, Cheezburger, Automattic (WordPress), and many others.

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Fedbizopps: the US government's searchable database of defense-contractor opportunities


Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "The government often makes itself more accessible to businesses than the general public. For Sunshine Week, we compiled this guide to using FedBizOpps to keep an eye on surveillance technology contracts."

Fedbizopps is a weird, revealing window into the world of creepy surveillance, arms, and technology contractors who build and maintain the most oppressive and unethical parts of the apparatus of the US government. Everything from drone-testing of biological and chemical weapons to license plate cameras to weaponized bugs and other malware are there. The EFF post also has links to data-mining tools that help estimate just how much money the private arms dealers extract from the tax-coffers.

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"Fiber to the press release"

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has a gift for catchy, acerbic shorthand terms to describe shenanigans. He coined the term "Streisand Effect" to describe any situation in which a relatively obscure piece of information becomes widely known through a ham-fisted attempt to censor it. He's done it again: "Fiber to the press-release" is the phenomenon of incumbent carriers like AT&T making showy announcements about their intention to build super-fast broadband networks to replace their creaky, under-invested monopoly infrastructure, without ever mentioning scale, timelines, pricing, or any other specifics, only to have the announcement lapped up and repeated by a credulous press. Cory 5

NSA recording all the voice calls in one country; 5-6 more countries in the pipeline


A new Snowden leak reveals that all the voice calls in an unnamed country are recorded and saved for 30 days on a rolling basis, with millions of voice "cuts" (clippings) harvested from the corpus for long-term storage by the system. The system, called MYSTIC, has been running since 2009, and its search tool, RETRO, has been fully operational against a whole country's phone calls since 2011.

President Obama has stated that " the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security" -- this is a hard statement to square with the idea of recording all the voice calls made in an entire country.

The Washington Post article detailing the programs states at least five more countries are now covered by MYSTIC, with a sixth coming online.

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EFF, Public Knowledge and Engine tell the USPTO how to improve patent quality

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Engine have submitted comments [PDF] to the US Patent and Trademark Office explaining how examiners could improve the quality of patents that the USPTO issues by expanding their search for "prior art" (that is, evidence that the thing under discussion has already been invented) by building searchable databases, and by seeing through the common, misleading practices of using synonyms for common words to make obvious things sound new.

As EFF points out in its post on the filing, the real answer for this is action from Congress to reform patents and end patent-trolling, but these are all useful steps for the USPTO to take in the meantime.

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NYPD claims its Freedom of Information Act policy is a secret "attorney-client communications"


The NYPD runs an intelligence agency that is even more secretive, and practically as corrupt as the NSA. They even fly their own intelligence officers to the scene of terrorist attacks overseas (and interfere with real investigations). What's more, the NYPD has invented its own, extra-legal system of "classified" documents that it has unilaterally decided it doesn't have to provide to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Shawn Musgrave used Muckrock sent the NYPD a FOIA request for its FOIA manual -- the guidelines by which it decides whether or not it will obey the law requiring it to share its internal workings with the public who pay for them -- only to have the NYPD refuse to provide it, because it is "privileged attorney-client work-product."

As Musgrave says, "Handbooks and training materials hardly qualify as 'confidential communications,' particularly when the subject matter is transparency itself."

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Congress was giving spies a pass back in 1975, too


If you are outraged by American spies getting a free pass from their political masters (and you really should be), remember that this is an age-old tradition. Matt Stoller revisits the 1975 Congressional hearings in which radical Congresswoman Bella Abzug grilled CIA director William Colby over the CIA's records of the membership rolls of peaceful, domestic protest groups, only to have Arizona Congressman Sam Steiger suck up to the spook-in-chief, expressing concern that anti-American terrorists could destroy the CIA by sending it too many Freedom of Information Act requests.

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Florida set to delete Hampton, a town with a questing, rent-seeking, corrupt wang

Hampton, Florida is a town so corrupt that it offends the Florida Legislature, a body with a notoriously high tolerance for sleaze. With fewer than 500 inhabitants, Hampton's major source of revenue is a diseased, questing wang that it has protruded from its main mass onto a 0.2 mile stretch of Highway 301 -- a stretch where the speed limit dips from 65 to 55. Hampton's hard-working traffic cops write an average of 17 tickets a day against out-of-towners, clearing $419,624 in 2011 and 2012. However, the town also operated at a deficit during this time.

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FBI recommended felony counts against Joe Arpaio's cronies


The FBI has turned over a redacted set of documents from its investigative archives related to Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious strong-man whose antics have cost the taxpayers millions in civil suit settlements for actions ranging from racial profiling to stealing a defendant's paperwork in open court to arresting newspaper owners who refused to turn over readers' identities to torching a house and killing a puppy in the process of investigating traffic citations.

The FBI archives, which go back to 2008, reveal that the Bureau recommended that some or all of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Arpaio and his officers be indicted for felony counts of "obstructing criminal investigations of prosecutions, theft by threats, tampering with witnesses, perjury and theft by extortion." This recommendation was ignored by federal prosecutors, who concluded that there was not enough evidence to proceed.

County officials who tried to rein in Arpaio have had their offices swept for bugs, believing that Arpaio's regime engages in dirty tricks and illegal wiretapping against local politicians that are hostile to his tactics. Arpaio's office filed several charges against hostile local politicians, none of which led to convictions (by contrast, Arpaio's friendly county attorney Andrew Thomas was unable to get reelected and was eventually barred from practicing law altogether).

Arpaio's bid to quash the FBI investigation and his campaign against local politicians have cost Arizona taxpayers over $44M to date.

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UK university admissions service sells applicants' data to energy drink companies


UCAS is the UK post-secondary admissions service, and is the sole means of applying to most British tertiary institutions. It has been caught selling its applicants' data to marketing departments hoping to sell Microsoft products, mobile phone contracts and energy beverages to young people. UCAS warehouses data on children as young as 16. UCAS doesn't deny selling applicants' data, but insists that it violated no laws, because the students whose data it sold did not opt out of "mailings" (opting out of mailings with UCAS also means you won't receive information from educational institutions and potential employers).

UCAS's "UCAS Media" offshoot advertises access to children's data with the slogan, "We help them reach uni – we help you reach them." Another UCAS company, UCAS Progress, collects data on children aged 13-16 and asks them to opt into marketing pitches as well. A third of UCAS's income comes from selling university applicants' data to third parties.

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Guardian Cities: how Hackney council let developers demolish the startups of "Silicon Roundabout"

I've written a guest editorial for the new Guardian Cities site about the way that the offices that house the startups of London's famed "Silicon Roundabout" are being systematically demolished by developers who are put up cheap, high-rise private student housing to take advantage of a foreign-student bubble.

(Note: this went up briefly last week by accident and came down again, apologies if you see this twice)

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Videos of individual Trustycon talks

I linked to the seven-hour video file from Trustycon, the convention held as an alternative to RSA's annual security event, inspired by the revelation that RSA took money from the NSA to sabotage its own products.

Now Al has broken down the video into the individual talks, uploading them to Youtube. This is very handy -- thanks, Al!

TrustyCon Videos Available (Thanks, Al!)

Complaint: WIPO director illegally collected staff DNA in order to out whistleblower


In this International Labour Office complaint, Miranda Brown, a former employee of the World Intellectual Property Agency, alleges that WIPO Director General Francis Gurry illegally collected DNA samples from WIPO staffers in order to out a whistleblower. The complaint stems from Gurry's campaign to secure the Director General's job, during which an anonymous staffer posted letters alleging that Gurry engaged in sexual harassment and financial improprieties. Brown, who was forced to resign, says that Gurry secretly directed UN security officers to covertly collect lipstick, dental floss, and other personal items from WIPO staffers in order to attain DNA samples that could be used to identify the letters' author. Gurry is also implicated in a multi-million dollar construction scandal over the building of the new WIPO HQ, which took place when he was legal counsel to the agency.

The entire affair is incredibly sordid, with multiple cover-ups. The complaint paints a picture of a reign of absolute terror, with staffers fearful of reprisals from Gurry over any questioning or reporting of a pattern of bullying, impropriety, harassment and defamation. Having served as a delegate to WIPO, I find it all rather easy to believe. I have never encountered a body more openly corrupt in my life.

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR OFFICE ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL [PDF] via Copyfight)

(Image: HL Dialogue No 3, ICT Innovations and Standards, a CC-BY image from itupictures)