When the FBI told MLK to kill himself (who are they targeting now?)


We've known for years that the FBI spied on Martin Luther King's personal life and sent him an anonymous letter in 1964 threatening to out him for his sexual indiscretions unless he killed himself in 34 days. Now we have an unredacted version of the notorious letter.

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NSA facial recognition: combining national ID cards, Internet intercepts, and commercial facial databases for millions of people

A newly released set of slides from the Snowden leaks reveals that the NSA is harvesting millions of facial images from the Web for use in facial recognition algorithms through a program called "Identity Intelligence." James Risen and Laura Poitras's NYT piece shows that the NSA is linking these facial images with other biometrics, identity data, and "behavioral" data including "travel, financial, behaviors, social network."

The NSA's goal -- in which it has been moderately successful -- is to match images from disparate databases, including databases of intercepted videoconferences (in February 2014, another Snowden publication revealed that NSA partner GCHQ had intercepted millions of Yahoo video chat stills), images captured by airports of fliers, and hacked national identity card databases from other countries. According to the article, the NSA is trying to hack the national ID card databases of "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran."

This news is likely to be rhetorically useful to campaigners against national ID cards in countries like the UK, where the issue has been hotly debated for years (my own Member of Parliament, Meg Hillier, was the architect of one such programme, and she, along with other advocates for national ID cards, dismissed fears of this sort of use as paranoid ravings).

The development of the's NSA facial recognition technology has been accompanied by a mounting imperative to hack into, or otherwise gain access to, other databases of facial images. For example, the NSA buys facial images from Google's Pittpatt division, while another program scours mass email interceptions for images that appear to be passport photos.

An interesting coda to the piece is that the NSA has developed the capability to infer location by comparing scenery in terrestrial photos to satellite images, which sounds like a pretty gnarly computer-vision problem.

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New NYT editor spiked NSA spying story

Dean Baquet.


Dean Baquet.

Mostly lost in the past week's media gossip around NYT executive editor Jill Abramson's ouster, and Dean Baquet's promotion to her role: Baquet is the former LA Times editor who killed the biggest NSA leak pre-Edward Snowden.

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NSA authorized Australian wiretapping of US law firms in trade-dispute

A new Snowden leak, "SUSLOC (Special US Liaison Office Canberra) Facilitates Sensitive DSD Reporting on Trade Talks," details how the NSA mentored and oversaw Australian spies, and sanctioned their surveillance a of US law firm representing the nation of Indonesia in a trade dispute with Australia. The NSA and their Australian counterparts have captured the master keys for Telkomsel, the Indonesian carrier, and have total access to its communications. It's more evidence that mass surveillance and Internet wiretaps are about economic espionage more than national security -- and more evidence that the NSA is a lawless organization with no respect for foundational principles like attorney-client privilege. Cory 17

NYT vs wget: technologically illiterate Snowden coverage

Explaining the Snowden leaks to people who don't understand technology crucial, but surely there's a better way than the NYT's terrible piece on the whistleblower's use of the common free software tool wget to harvest NSA documents. On Techdirt, Mike Masnick's got some epic snark on the fusty, tone-deaf way the Times approaches technology in its reporting. Cory 22

DHS stops NYT reporters at border, lies about it

Two New York Times reporters are suing the DHS, because the agency stopped them and questioned them extensively at the border, typing their answers into a computer, and then later insisted first that they weren't required to search for records, and then that they had no records at all on the men. Cory 14

NYT endorses brutal, secret, Internet-destroying corporatist TPP trade-deal; write to your lawmaker to fight it

The New York Times has endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership; a trade deal negotiated in utmost secrecy, without public participation, whose text is still not public. From leaks, we know that TPP wasn't just anti-democratic in its process -- it also contains numerous anti-democratic provisions that allow private offshore companies to overturn domestic law, especially laws that allow for free speech and privacy online. TPP is slated for fast-tracking through Congress, minimizing any scrutiny of a deal negotiated behind closed doors before it is turned into law. From what we've seen of TPP, it recapitulates all the worst elements of ACTA and then some. The Electronic Frontier Foundation needs you to write to your lawmaker demanding full and public debate on TPP.

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Debating the Great Firewall of Cameron in the NYT

The NYT's "Room for Debate" section asked a variety of people for positions on the UK's Great Firewall of Cameron -- a new rule whereby ISPs must slap an "adult content" filter on every Internet connection in the land, which is meant to stop everything from porn to gambling sites to "esoteric material" (whatever that is). I wrote one of the pieces, as did many others.

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Raising a daughter not to be 'nice'


In a stirring NYT op-ed, author Catherine Newman talks about the kind of girl her daughter has become and who she may yet be. Her daughter, Birdy, is intensely moral, unconcerned with being "pretty," indifferent or hostile to strangers who want to strike up conversations about her appearance. She is polite about things like second helpings of food or asking for assistance in locating her rain-boots, but doesn't care if you know that she thinks gendered toy-aisles are stupid. It's a delicate balance, but an important one.

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Secret rulings from America's shadow Supreme Court legalizes spying in one-sided hearings

America's 11-judge Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has made more than a dozen classified rulings that vastly expanded the powers of America's spy agencies, operating under an obscure legal doctrine called "special needs." Under this doctrine, established in 1989 in a Supreme Court case over drug testing railway workers, a "minimal intrusion on privacy" is allowed in order to help the state mitigate "overriding public danger." FISC's rulings have widened this ruling to allow for wholesale spying in the name of preventing "nuclear proliferation," as well as terrorism. The NYT calls this a "shadow Supreme Court" but notes that FISC proceedings only hear from the government -- no one presents alternatives to the government's arguments. Much of the expansion of surveillance turns on whether metadata collection is intrusive (I think it is):

The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.

This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”

Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.

The court has indicated that while individual pieces of data may not appear “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, the total picture that the bits of data create may in fact be relevant, according to the officials with knowledge of the decisions.

In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A. [Eric Lichtblau/NYT]

(via Hacker News)

Tortured junk-food pushers bare all


A long, investigative feature on junk food, health and the processed food industry in yesterday's NYT consists primarily of interviews with tortured and semi-tortured junk food scientists and execs who have perfected the art of getting you to eat food that makes you sick. It's quite a read:

Eventually, a line of the trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day’s recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the max for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar.

When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. “One article said something like, ‘If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.’ ”

Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. “You bet,” he said. “Plus cookies.”

The prevailing attitude among the company’s food managers — through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern — was one of supply and demand. “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you’re sort of trapped.” (Bible would later press Kraft to reconsider its reliance on salt, sugar and fat.)

Here's another good bit:

To get a better feel for their work, I called on Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote a fascinating guide for industry insiders titled, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.” I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food [NYT/Michael Moss]

(Image: Snakes?, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from reallynuts's photostream)

NYT, 1924: Hitler's tamed by prison, "no longer to be feared"


From the Dec 20, 1924 issue of the New York Times: Adolph Hitler's rehabilitation is now complete, and he is "no longer to be feared."

Hitler Tamed By Prison

Susan Crawford should run the FCC!

Andrew Rasiej sez, "If you're disappointed in the speed, quality, and cost of broadband service in the US you should learn about Susan Crawford who is the greatest US expert on the state of broadband and how the Federal Communications Commission has failed to properly regulate and spur competition or innovation in the marketplace. She has just published an OpEd in the New York Times which could easily be titled 'If I were Chairwoman of the FCC' and she published a book called Captive Audience which details the way various incumbent broadband related companies have gamed the political process and behaved unfairly in protecting their turf. Those who would like to see her actually named should sign this White House petition and send the same to their friends and colleagues. She is like the Elizabeth Warren of telecom and would fundamentally change the status quo."

To get there, the federal government needs to pursue three goals. First, it must remove barriers to investment in local fiber networks. Republican and Democratic mayors around the country are rightly jealous of the new, Google-built fiber network in Kansas City, Mo., which is luring start-ups from across the country. And yet in nearly 20 states, laws sponsored by incumbent network operators have raised barriers for cities wanting to foster competitive networks.

In response, Congress must act to restore local communities’ right to self-determination by pre-empting these unfair and anticompetitive state laws. We must also create infrastructure banks that provide long-term, low-interest financing to support the initial costs of building these networks.

Second, the F.C.C. must make reasonably priced high-speed access available to everyone. In the 20th century, we made a commitment to provide universal telephone service to every American and to subsidize that utility service for our poor and rural neighbors. High-speed Internet access is now undisputedly the dominant communications technology of our era. We need to make sure that subsidies are available for competitive companies willing to extend world-class service to more Americans.

The F.C.C.’s Connect America Fund, which is supposed to promote such expansion, is mostly funneled back through existing communications companies. This isn’t the way to encourage new wired network providers to enter local markets. Nor will voluntary programs run by local monopoly cable distributors like Comcast meet our country’s needs.

Finally, the F.C.C. must foster more competition by changing the rules that keep the status quo in place. There is a raft of regulations and processes at the F.C.C. that incumbents wield to maintain their market power, including rules about access to programming and to telephone poles that favor existing providers. The agency has ample administrative power to fix these details and to gather the information it needs to develop and enforce effective policies.

How to Get America Online

Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age

(Thanks, Andrew!)

More on "Escape From Tomorrow," the guerrilla art-house movie shot at Walt Disney World and Disneyland

The New York Times's Brooks Barnes has some tantalizing details on "Escape From Tomorrow," the art-house movie I blogged about yesterday, which was shot in part at Walt Disney World and Disneyland:

His cast and crew spent about 10 days filming at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and two weeks at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., he said. The end credits cite the involvement of over 200 cast and crew members, although only small groups entered the Disney parks at one time to avoid drawing attention.

Still, there were moments during filming that Disney clearly knew something was up, Mr. Moore said. “I think they probably just thought we were crazy fans making a YouTube video, which is something that happens a fair amount,” he said. He added, “Look, I have amazing memories as a kid from going to the parks. I think Walt Disney was a genius. I just wish his vision hadn’t grown into something quite so corporate.”

Barnes (and the headline writer) focus on whether this infringes Disney's copyright. Judging from what I've read about the film, this sounds like fair use to me. Film insurers routinely require that filmmakers go far beyond what copyright demands and act as though fair use doesn't exist, but the Stanford Fair Use Center has an insurer that will extend coverage to any film that complies with its broad, sensible fair use guidelines.

There's a possible trademark claim, and I suppose that Disney could conceivable bring suit for violating the park's terms of use, but these are much harder cases to make than copyright, and don't have built-in, easy Internet censorship in the form of DMCA takedown notices.

Disney World Horror Fantasy Raises Knotty Copyright Issues (Thanks, Jim!)

Stolen wallet recovered 40 years later is a miniature time-capsule


A 2011 piece from the NYT's David W. Dunlap tells the story of the recovery of a long-lost wallet that was stolen from a Times art director in 1970, and which was recovered from "a void between an old unused window on the second floor and the masonry seal behind it" in fall of 2010. The wallet is a miniature time-capsule of iconic and odd items from the era, collected in this Retronaut set.

Mr. Rodriguez happened to be on duty at the security desk and seized his opportunity. He showed the wallet to Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson called this reporter, who's something of a Times historian. This reporter called Mr. Resta, who retired in 1999 but still lives in New York. Mr. Resta, laying aside his understandable suspicions, agreed to meet all of us at 229 West 43rd Street, share some memories and get his wallet back.

When Mr. Cisneros handed the wallet to him, Mr. Resta opened it gingerly and turned away for a moment, overcome by the tide of memory. After composing himself, he gave Mr. Cisneros a grateful kiss. And he didn't lose a moment showing off the glamor-puss shot of Mrs. Resta from 1963. ''She still is glamorous,'' he said, with evident pride and pleasure.

Before coming into Manhattan on the morning of our meeting in November, Mr. Resta told his wife that he knew he'd find a clipping in the wallet from 1968 - Senator Edward M. Kennedy's eulogy for his brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Resta can still recite the phrase that meant so much to him: ''Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.''

CITY ROOM; Long-Lost Wallet Is Returned, Memories Intact (via Making Light)