Death and the Mainframe: How data analysis can help document human rights atrocities

Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees.

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The making of Family Restaurant, a short film for kids with LGBT parents by Andrea James

Longtime friend and Boing Boing contributor Andrea James has just completed a Kickstartered short film for children from LGBT families. I saw it this week, and was blown away by how funny and sweet it was. I know how hard she’s worked on this; a true labor of love. I hope kids (and grown-ups) far and wide have a chance to experience both the art and the message. For readers in the SF Bay Area, there’s a screening on Sunday June, 2013 in the Frameline LGBT film festival at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. Andrea writes in to Boing Boing with the backstory.—Xeni Jardin

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How many people have died in the Syrian civil war?

In the fog of war, it's not easy to figure out how many people die. Even in the cleanest combat, accurate records are not really a common military priority. Worse, there are often incentives for one side or the other to play up the death counts (or play them down), alter the picture of who is doing the killing and who is dying, and provide evidence that a conflict is getting better (or worse).

All of that creates a mess for outside observers who want to see accurate patterns in the chaos — patterns that can help us understand whether an evenly matched war has turned into a bloodbath, or a genocide. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group is an organization that takes the messy, often conflicting, information about deaths in a warzone and tries to make sense of it. Today, they released an updated version of a January report on documented killings in the Syrian civil war.

They say that there were 92,901 documented deaths between March 2011 and April 2013. That number is extremely high, and tragic. But the number alone is maybe not the most important thing the data is telling us.

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Long-lost diary of Nazi racial theorist and Hitler confidant recovered


Photo: ICE HSI. Click to enlarge.

In Washington today, US officials and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum representatives announced the seizure of a long-lost diary maintained by a close confidant of Adolf Hitler.

The recovery of this historical document was the result of an extensive investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The author of the so-called "Rosenberg Diary" was Alfred Rosenberg, a leading member of the Third Reich and of the Nazi Party during World War II.

Rosenberg was one of the intellectual authors behind key Nazi beliefs, including persecution of Jewish people, expansionist “lebensraum” (living space) ideology, the "master race" theory, and the rejection of modern art as "degenerate." He was tried at Nuremberg, sentenced to death, and hanged on October 16, 1946, after having been convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The diary will eventually be displayed in the Holocaust Museum. More photos, video from the press conference where the seizure was announced, video of Rosenberg speaking, and more of the story behind this important historic artifact are below.

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Morning prayers at Guantanamo's Camp 5, where hunger strikers are held

At Freedom of the Press Foundation, Jason Leopold writes about this video he shot at the section of Guantánamo where the hunger strikers are being held. What you hear around 3 minutes in is the a Muslim call to prayer being led by the leader of the hunger striking detainees, from inside his cell.

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Guatemala: Audio and video livestreams of genocide trial for ex-dictator Montt

Rios Montt. Photo: James Rodriguez.

As noted in previous Boing Boing posts, former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt is on trial in Guatemala City this week, three decades after the army he presided over massacred Ixil Maya villages in the Central American country's highlands. Former G2 commander Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez is his co-defendant.

Ríos Montt, 86, was trained at the notorious US Army School of the Americas and was celebrated and supported by the Reagan administration as a law-and-order tough guy who promised to bring an end to "indiscriminate violence."

Under his regime, the country entered a new phase of bloodbath; the scope of which Guatemala had never before known. And at last, with this tribunal, a legacy of impunity and silence is challenged. Whether the outcome amounts to justice will be a matter of debate for generations to come. But one of the most notorious mass murderers in Guatemalan history is finally on trial.

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Malware-Industrial Complex: how the trade in software bugs is weaponizing insecurity

Here's a must-read story from Tech Review about the thriving trade in "zero-day exploits" -- critical software bugs that are sold off to military contractors to be integrated into offensive malware, rather than reported to the manufacturer for repair. The stuff built with zero-days -- network appliances that can snoop on a whole country, even supposedly secure conversations; viruses that can hijack the camera and microphone on your phone or laptop; and more -- are the modern equivalent of landmines and cluster bombs: antipersonnel weapons that end up in the hands of criminals, thugs and dictators who use them to figure out whom to arrest, torture, and murder. The US government is encouraging this market by participating actively in it, even as it makes a lot of noise about "cyber-defense."

Exploits for mobile operating systems are particularly valued, says Soghoian, because unlike desktop computers, mobile systems are rarely updated. Apple sends updates to iPhone software a few times a year, meaning that a given flaw could be exploited for a long time. Sometimes the discoverer of a zero-day vulnerability receives a monthly payment as long as a flaw remains undiscovered. “As long as Apple or Microsoft has not fixed it you get paid,” says Soghioan.

No law directly regulates the sale of zero-days in the United States or elsewhere, so some traders pursue it quite openly. A Bangkok, Thailand-based security researcher who goes by the name “the Grugq” has spoken to the press about negotiating deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with government buyers from the United States and western Europe. In a discussion on Twitter last month, in which he was called an “arms dealer,” he tweeted that “exploits are not weapons,” and said that “an exploit is a component of a toolchain … the team that produces & maintains the toolchain is the weapon.”

The Grugq contacted MIT Technology Review to state that he has made no “public statement about exploit sales since the Forbes article.”

Some small companies are similarly up-front about their involvement in the trade. The French security company VUPEN states on its website that it “provides government-grade exploits specifically designed for the Intelligence community and national security agencies to help them achieve their offensive cyber security and lawful intercept missions.” Last year, employees of the company publicly demonstrated a zero-day flaw that compromised Google’s Chrome browser, but they turned down Google’s offer of a $60,000 reward if they would share how it worked. What happened to the exploit is unknown.

Welcome to the Malware-Industrial Complex [Tom Simonite/MIT Technology Review]

(via O'Reilly Radar)

Privacy groups, activists and journalists call on Skype to document its privacy practices

A coalition of journalists, privacy advocates, and Internet activists have published an open letter to Skype and Microsoft, calling on them to "publicly document Skype’s security and privacy practices" in a Transparency Report:

1. Quantitative data regarding the release of Skype user information to third parties, disaggregated by the country of origin of the request, including the number of requests made by governments, the type of data requested, the proportion of requests with which it complied — and the basis for rejecting those requests it does not comply with.

2. Specific details of all user data Microsoft and Skype currently collects, and retention policies.

3. Skype’s best understanding of what user data third-parties, including network providers or potential malicious attackers, may be able to intercept or retain.

4. Documentation regarding the current operational relationship between Skype with TOM Online in China and other third-party licensed users of Skype technology, including Skype’s understanding of the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to as a result of using these alternatives.

5. Skype's interpretation of its responsibilities under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), its policies related to the disclosure of call metadata in response to subpoenas and National Security Letters (NSLs), and more generally, the policies and guidelines for employees followed when Skype receives and responds to requests for user data from law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere.

Open Letter to Skype (via /.)

Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet, Jan. 19–26, 2013

If you're in Southern California, here's a week-long event well worth checking out. Starting this weekend, The Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet (SBST) is hosting a "Tibetan Cultural Week of Celebration and Education to increase awareness in our city of the Tibetan culture’s philosophical and spiritual richness, as well as the challenges it faces."

Here's a schedule of events, all of which are free to the public.

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Death of a Prisoner: short documentary by Laura Poitras on Guantánamo detainee Adnan Latif

Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, who is my colleague on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has a powerful short-form documentary film out today, via the New York Times' "op doc" series.

"Death of a Prisoner: The Tragic Return Home of a Guantánamo Bay Detainee" follows a journey to Yemen, to return the body of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif to his family. In 2012, he "died in solitary confinement at Guantánamo at age 36, after nearly 11 years of imprisonment there, despite never having been charged with a crime."

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Seven steps to learning to love US torture and detention policies, via "Zero Dark Thirty"

A waterboarding scene from the film "Zero Dark Thirty."

Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the New York University Center on Law and Security and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First One Hundred Days, explains seven simple steps to making US torture and detention policies once again acceptable to the American public, as illustrated in "Zero Dark Thirty."

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Mayan Oxlajuj Baktun: "End of an Era, More of the Same," photo essay by James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez, a brave and talented photojournalist in Guatemala, has a striking photo-essay up on his blog.

On this occasion I share a photo essay documenting events in the Guatemalan northern city of Huehuetenango during the much-awaited end of the Mayan Oxlajuj Baktun. These provide a clear reflection of the divisions and challenges faced by Mayan communities today. The media exploited erroneous apocalyptic rumors, the government and business sectors viewed it as an opportunity to gain economically through tourism, and progressive groups seized the opportunity “to strengthen ancestral wisdom and never-ending search for balance” while vindicating what seem never-ending struggles for justice, inclusion, and self-determination.

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Freedom of the Press Foundation launches: crowdsourcing funding for transparency and accountability

I'm proud to serve as a board member for the newly-launched Freedom of the Press Foundation, dedicated to helping promote and fund aggressive, public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government. The project accepts tax-deductible donations to an array of journalism organizations dedicated to government transparency and accountability. The board includes Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow, actor and activist John Cusack, and other journalists and activists with whom I'm honored to serve.

Early news coverage: New York Times, Huffington Post, Firedoglake. An op-ed by Barlow and Ellsberg is here. A press release on the launch is here. A list of beneficiary organizations here. Twitter: @FreedomofPress.

CIA 'tortured, sodomized' terror suspect, European human rights court rules

09kidnap.xlarge1.jpg In a landmark ruling for human rights in the war on terror, the European court of human rights this week found that CIA agents tortured German citizen, Khaled el-Masri. The agents sodomized, shackled, and beat him, as Macedonian state police observed.

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Physical, sexual abuse documented at FL facility for autistic and brain-injured

Investigative reports released under a court order to Bloomberg News show that caregivers at a Florida center for brain-injured and "non-neurotypical" adults physically and sexually abused patients, in a systematic and brutal manner. Caregivers "goaded them to fight each other and fondle female employees and in one instance laughed at complaints of mistreatment." At least five patients have died at the center in question, the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation, from alleged abuse or neglect there since 1998. Two patients died in just the last two years. (Bloomberg)