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Army comes clean about its recruitment AI, accidentally discloses info about pedophile- and terrorist-catching chatbots that roam the net

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Not too long ago, Boing Boing covered EFF's (at the time) unsuccessful attempt to retreive records about Sgt. Star (the Army's recruiter-bot) using the Freedom of Information Act. We've now received the files and compiled our research: It turns out Sgt. Star isn't the only government chatbot -- the FBI and CIA had them first.

The information about the terrorist/child-abuser bots only came to light because the spy agencies failed to fully redact their responses (the type was legible through the black strikeouts).

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Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists


Sarah Harrison, a British journalist who's worked with Wikileaks and the Snowden papers, writes that she will not enter the UK any longer because the nation's overbroad anti-terror laws, combined with the court decision that validates using them to detain journalists who are not suspected of terrorism under any reasonable definition of the term, means that she fears begin detained at the airport and then jailed as a terrorist when she refuses to decrypt her files and grant police access to her online accounts. Under the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000, journalists who write because they hope to expose and halt corruption are liable to being jailed as terrorists because they report on leaks in a way that is "designed to influence the government." And "the government," according to the Act, is any government, anywhere in the world -- meaning that journalists who report on leaks that embarrass any government in the world can be treated as terrorists in the UK.

Nor is this an idle risk: Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained under terrorism rules when he transited through the UK, and a UK judge subsequently found that the detention was justified on these grounds, even though no one suggests that Miranda is involved in terrorism in any way. As Harrison writes, "Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists."

The final paragraphs of Harrison's editorial sum it up neatly:

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White, right-wing terrorist busted...and hardly a peep


Last week, the FBI arrested Robert James Talbot Jr., 38, of Katy, Texas. Talbot was the self-styled head of the American Insurgent Movement, which openly plotted to massacre Moslems at mosques and kill them with automatic weapons, sought to rob armored cars, and recruited followers to sow more mayhem. Talbot is a violent Christian fundamentalist who advertised his intention to murder people wholesale.

Kudos to the FBI for arresting this fellow, but as Death and Taxes point out, where the hell was the national panic that attends every arrest of a jihadi terrorist, no matter how cracked and improbable his plan happened to be? Nowhere to be seen.

Now, if this was a recognition by the press that lone kooks are not an existential threat to the world -- even if they are capable of committing horrible, isolated crimes -- I'd be standing up and cheering. But if Talbot had been a brown-skinned conservative Muslim who'd been arrested after planning to attack Christian churches in America with bombs and machine-guns, I suspect there would have been screaming front-page headlines and round-the-clock intensive CNN coverage for days, not to mention grim, determined reporting on Fox News.

Inside America's illegal "Little Guantánamos"

Prisoners in America's notorious communication management units (called "CMUs" or "Little Guantánamos") are making great strides in their legal action against the US government over the prisons' illegal status, the illegally discriminatory detention of people in CMUs based on their political or religious beliefs, and their inhumane treatment of prisoners.

In this long, excellent piece, Annie P Waldman tells the story of how the CMUs were opened illegally, without the requisite public comment period, and how they've been used as a gulag to punish political and religious prisoners -- more than 70 percent of those imprisoned in CMUs are Muslim -- under inhumane conditions.

Waldman profiles one of the CMU prisoners, Yassin Aref, who has only held his youngest daughter twice since she was five. A Kurdish anti-Saddam Iraqi refugee, he served as an imam after migrating to the USA, and was caught in an FBI terrorism sting in which he agreed to witness a loan involving an paid FBI informant who had told the counterparty (but not Aref) that the money originated with an arms sale. Aref is serving 15 years in the CMU under conditions amounting to

Aref is one of the CMU prisoners who are the named plaintiffs in a surprisingly successful lawsuit against the US government.

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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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British spies lied about getting super-censorship powers over Youtube

Turns out that the claims made by British spies about Youtube granting them the power to censor Youtube videos that they didn't like (but weren't illegal) were bullshit.

The "super-flagger" status they got from Google just means that their complaints get quicker scrutiny, but are (theoretically, anyway) judged by the same criteria as all other complaints about videos that violate Youtube's community standards.

But as Techdirt's Mike Masnick points out, the fact that senior UK government ministers believe that Youtube should remove anything "that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury" is a pretty disturbing insight into the mindset of our censorious masters.

Youtube bids happy 25th to the Web by granting British spies mass-censorship power

The service will allow British security officials to censor videos "at scale" -- but not illegal videos, just material that "certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive." The new "super flaggers" will target jihadi radicalisation videos and, basically, anything they don't like. But what could go wrong? Thanks, Google!

Update: Turns out the British spies who made these claims were lying.

Young Oxford Conservatives leader abuses DMCA to censor reporting of his calling Mandela a "terrorist"


Jeff Vinall, a Conservative Party activist who is director of communications for the Oxford University Tories and is a second year law student at Brasenose College has abused the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act to censor a website that reproduced a posting from his Facebook account in which he called Nelson Mandela a "terrorist," shortly after Mandela's death.

Vinall sent a DMCA takedown notice to the hosts of the UK-based website Political Scrapbook after an initial demand to censor their reporting was declined. The DMCA is an American statute and notices issued under it have no standing in the United Kingdom; furthermore, it's clear that the brief quotation from Vinall qualifies as fair use under the American copyright law and fair dealing under English and Welsh copyright law.

In my opinion, Vinall is trying to have his cake and eat it too. I think he believes that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, but he also believes that saying this aloud brings him and the party into disrepute. At the same time, I think he believes that repudiating his tasteless remarks will alienate a sizable number of Conservative supporters who also hated Mandela and cheered his death -- so using bullying, censorious tactics to suppress the reporting of his remarks is way for him to suppress news of the remarks without having to issue an insincere apology through gritted teeth that would disgust the party's reactionary wing.

However, the Streisand Effect is in full effect; The Oxford Tab has picked up the story and reproduced Vinall's remarks. They have spoken to Apartheid refugees, who expressed shock and horror at Vinall's callous remarks and his willingness to take the side of the totalitarian monsters who branded Mandela a terrorist and imprisoned him for a quarter-century.

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Make your own DHS threat-level chart


Personalthreatlevel lets you create your own custom DHS-style threat-level that will serve you well as a means of frightening the people in your life with nebulous, ill-defined scariness. Here's Bruce Sterling's Tumblr version.

The Current Threat Level is...

Militant commander accidentally blows up dozens of trainee suicide bombers

The commander of the Iraqi militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly blew up 21 suicide bombers in training when he made an error during a live explosives exercise. 15 other trainees were injured. The popular imagination paints terrorists as hundred-foot-tall supermen with the power to destroy entire states simply by staring crosseyed at them, but the reality is that people who are willing to be suicide bombers -- and those who exploit them -- may not be very bright at all. Cory 67

"A reason to hang him": how mass surveillance, secret courts, confirmation bias and the FBI can ruin your life


Brandon Mayfield was a US Army veteran and an attorney in Portland, OR. After the 2004 Madrid train bombing, his fingerprint was partially matched to one belonging to one of the suspected bombers, but the match was a poor one. But by this point, the FBI was already convinced they had their man, so they rationalized away the non-matching elements of the print, and set in motion a train of events that led to Mayfield being jailed without charge; his home and office burgled by the FBI; his client-attorney privilege violated; his life upended.

At every turn, the FBI treated evidence that contradicted their theory as evidence that confirmed it. Mayfield's passport had expired and he couldn't possibly have been in Madrid? Proof that he was a terrorist: he must be using his connections with Al Qaeda to get false papers so that his own passport isn't recorded as crossing any borders. Mayfield starts to freak out once he realizes he's under surveillance? Aha! Only the guilty worry about having their homes burgled by G-men!

The FBI was so sure of their theory that they lied to a judge during their campaign against him. His story is the perfect embodiment of "confirmation bias" -- the tendency of human beings to give undue weight to evidence that confirms their existing belief and to discount evidence that rebuts it. Confirmation bias is one of the underappreciated problems of mass surveillance: gather enough facts about anyone's life and you can find facts that confirm whatever theory you have about them.

Or, as Cardinal De Richelieu said: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." This line is the epitaph in my story Scroogled (here's Wil Wheaton's reading of it), about the risks of automated, unaccountable attributions of guilt based on algorithms that are not subject to scrutiny. But as bad as the automated attribution as guilt can be, it's nothing compared to the directed attribution of guilt from cops who are absolutely sure that they have their man.

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Who is still imprisoned in Guantanamo?


With Obama pledging in the latest State of the Union address to finally shutter the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay -- something he's been promising to do since his 2008 election campaign -- it's worth revisiting the people who remain imprisoned there, more than a decade after the GW Bush administration declared its War on Terror.

There are 155 men in Guantanamo. 77 have been cleared for transfer but there is no country to which they can be sent. 45 men are in "indefinite detention" -- unable to be prosecuted, often because of the brutal torture inflicted on them by Guantanamo's jailers, but unable to be released because the US government considers them to be a threat. 31 more are awaiting prosecution.

This month, the American Psychology Association dropped all proceedings against a member who designed, oversaw, and participated in the torture at Guantanamo. They had previously denied a request to censure other members who participated in torture.

The protocol designed by John Leso, the doctor that the APA will not censure, involved intravenously hydrating a victim until he urinated on himself; sleep deprivation; forcing the victim to bark like a dog; keeping the victim naked and subjecting him to extreme cold; spinning the victim in a swiveling chair to disorient him; putting the victim into stress positions; depriving the victim of mattresses and other bedding; keeping the victim in isolation from all human contact; and more.

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HSBC settlement approved: no criminal charges, 5 weeks' profit in fines, deferred bonuses for laundering billions for narco-terrorists


Remember when HSBC got caught laundering billions for Mexican narco-terror cartels? Remember how they offered to pay five weeks' profits in fines and to defer their executive bonuses to escape criminal charges?

The crime-fighting legal eagles at the Department of Justice approved the settlement last week. Remember, though, if you are suspected of laundering money or selling drugs, the DoJ will take your house away and put you in jail for the rest of your life. Nice to be "too big to jail." Still, deferring multimillion-dollar bonuses has gotta hurt, huh?

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Petition: kill the Oakland "Domain Awareness Center" spy-program


Eddan sez, "The Oakland City Council is in the final stretch of approving the funding of the Domain Awareness Center to be built in Oakland. Though there has been a great deal of public outcry at the City Council itself, it just keeps going forward especially because they're now trying to pitch this as a crime-fighting law enforcement tool. Which is especially important to be on the right side of in Oakland during a City Council/Mayor election year. The Public Safety Committee to meet Jan. 28 is made up of most of the City Council members that are most skeptical and least supportive of the way this Department of Homeland Security new gadget funding is dangled before a resource-poor and embattled police department."

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Judge rules TSA no-fly procedures unconstitutional

Despite a series of disgraceful dirty tricks, the TSA has lost its case against Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian academic who had been wrongly put on the no-fly list. The DHS engaged in witness tampering (denying Dr Ibrahim and her witnesses access to the courtroom by putting them on the no-fly list) and argued that neither Dr Ibrahim nor her lawyers should be allowed to see the evidence against her (because terrorism).

Lowering the Bar does a great job of summing up the ruling, which held the no-fly list unconstitutional because citizens are "entitled to a remedy that requires the government to correct its lists and records... and to certify under oath that such correction(s) have been made."

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