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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)

Harry Reid on the Koch Brothers' agenda

Senate majority leader Harry Reid gave a hell of a speech in Congress about the agenda of the billionaire Koch brothers, carbon barons who are the prime beneficiaries of Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that ruled that corporate persons had the free speech right to engage in unlimited campaign finance spending.

The Facts About The Koch Brothers (via Hacker News)

US Embassy and Godaddy conspire to censor dissenting Mexican political site


Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended 1dmx.org after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City." A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request.

Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent. And, as always, Godaddy customers should be on notice that Godaddy is pretty much the worst domain registrar/hosting company in the world, with a long history of meekly knuckling under to absurd, legally dubious censorship claims from random law-enforcement and government agencies, and never, ever going to bat for its customers (I prefer Hover, one of Godaddy's major competitors).

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CIA spied on Senate committee writing damning torture report and Obama knew about it

The CIA's Inspector General has asked the Justice Department to consider criminally charging CIA agents who spied on a senate committee that was engaged in writing a report that was highly critical of the CIA's use of torture. Senator Mark Udall, who sits on a CIA oversight committee and whose staff was spied on by the CIA alleges that the CIA surveilled overseeing senators and their staff with Obama's knowledge and consent.

In a recent hearing, Senator Ron Wyden asked the CIA director repeatedly whether the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America's major anti-hacking statute, applied to the CIA, and whether the CIA spied domestically. CIA director John Brennan replied "yes" and "no," respectively. If Udall's allegations are correct, this means that Brennan lied to Congress (in the second instance) and committed a felony (in the first instance).

The report that caused some CIA agents to spy on their bosses was about how the CIA was wasting time, getting nowhere and doing something illegal and cruel when it kidnapped terror suspects and tortured the shit out of them.

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Obama whirls the copyright lobbyist/government official revolving door

The Obama administration has a new negotiator in its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretly negotiated treaty that includes broad powers to censor and surveil the Internet: Robert Holleyman, one of the chief SOPA lobbyists. Holleyman just retired from serving as head of the Business Software Alliance. His successor is Victoria Espinel, who just quit the Obama administration, where she served as "IP Czar." Obama promised to shut down the revolving door between lobbyists and government, but it's spinning quicker than ever. Cory 54

Barrett Brown legal motion: linking is protected by the First Amendment

Kevin writes, "A motion just filed by the defense in Barrett Brown's case makes the argument that merely linking to information which is already publicly available should be protected by the First Amendment. The government has charged Brown with multiple counts of fraud and identity theft for copy and pasting a link from one chat-room to another. The URL pointed to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor and the unextracted file happened to contain some credit card numbers."

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David Cameron's porn-filter advisor arrested for possession of images of sexual abuse of children


Patrick Rock, a Thatcherite who served as special advisor to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and played an influential role in the Prime Minister's national Internet censorship plan, has been arrested for possession of images depicting the sexual abuse of children. The National Crime Agency is conducting forensic analysis of the computer networks at the Prime Minister's office/residence, Number 10 Downing Street.

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Full NHS hospital records uploaded to Google servers, "infinitely worse" story to come

PA Consulting, a management consulting firm, obtained the entire English and Welsh hospital episode statistics database and uploaded it to Google's Bigquery service. The stats filled 27 DVDs and took "a couple of weeks" to transfer to Google's service, which is hosted in non-EU data centres. This is spectacularly illegal. The NHS dataset includes each patient's NHS number, post code, address, date of birth and gender, as well as all their inpatient, outpatient and emergency hospital records. Google's Bigquery service allows for full data-set sharing with one click.

The news of the breach comes after the collapse of a scheme under which the NHS would sell patient records to pharma companies, insurers and others (there was no easy way to opt out of the scheme, until members of the public created the independent Fax Your GP service).

According to researcher and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre, this story is just the beginning: there's an "infinitely worse" story that is coming shortly.

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US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated trade agreement let by the USA. Though the text is secret, enough drafts have leaked to make it clear that one of its goals is to ensure that foreign corporations can sue governments over laws that impact their profits, especially when it comes to the environment.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have asked Congress to "fast track" the treaty, passing it without any debate or revisions. Naturally, Congress wants to know what the treaty is likely to say before they agree to this.

So in a hearing on Jan 28, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked Michael Froman -- the US Trade Rep running the TPP show -- about the environmental standards in TPP. Froman listed four areas in TPP that were "absolutely non-negotiable from a US standpoint," including "tough new environmental standards."

When the meeting ended, Pocan asked "So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won't send us a deal that doesn't have that stuff in it?' At which point, we learned that the US Trade Rep uses a highly specialized meaning for the phrase "absolutely non-negotiable," meaning "totally up for grabs," because he immediately said, "I didn't say that."

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