Boing Boing 

Twitterbot catches Russian State Media anonymously editing MH17 Wikipedia entry

A bot that monitors Wikipedia for edits from Russian government IPs recorded a change to the MH17 entry, assigning blame to "Ukrainian soldiers" (a previous edit had blamed it on "terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation").

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UK government "dries out" its "water damaged" CIA torture files


The Foreign Office said it couldn't provide its files on secret CIA rendition of terrorism suspects for torture, because those files (and only those files) were "water-damaged."

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Twitterbots that tweet anonymous Wikipedia edits from Parliament, Congress

The @parliamentedits account tweets anonymous edits to Wikipedia made from the UK parliament's IP block, and thanks to an open codebase, it's being adapted to watch other legislatures, including the US Congress.

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Anonymous edits to Norwegian Wikipedia from Norwegian government IPs


Here's Jari Bakken's collection of edits made to Norwegian Wikipedia from the IP range assigned to the Norwegian parliament and government offices.

Imagine how great it would be if all these Norwegian bureaucrats, wonks, officials and others declared their interest and made their efforts public, working with Norwegian wikipedians to improve the quality of the encyclopedia in the open.

Anonymous Wikipedia edits from the Norwegian parliament and government offices [Jari Bakken] (via Hacker News)

SWAT teams claim to be private mercenaries, immune to open records laws


The ACLU reports [PDF] that when it made Freedom of Information requests for Massachusetts SWAT team records, the SWATs claimed that because they were organized as "law enforcement councils" (jointly owned by many police departments, with additional federal funding) that they were not government agencies at all, but rather private corporations, and not subject to open records laws.

SWATs are the white-hot center of the increasingly brutal and militarized response of US police forces, which have outfitted themselves with ex-Afghanistan/Iraq military materiel and have deployed it in an escalating violent series of attacks, largely as part of the war on drugs. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post, the SWATs' claim to be private companies doesn't pass the giggle test: they are funded by the government, pay government employees, and do the government's business.

The argument boils down to this: we are not the police, we are private mercenaries armed with automatic weapons and military-grade vehicles and equipment, and when we attack and kill in the streets of American cities, we do so as private soldiers who happen to be funded by the police departments' budgets.

The ACLU is suing the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to challenge this ruse, but even if they win, this should be setting off alarm bells for anyone who believes in good government and responsible policing. The cornerstone of democratic legitimacy is a duty to the public, with all the transparency and respect that implies. When police forces up and down the state structure themselves to create and exploit a loophole that lets them obscure the details of their most violent, most spectacular screw-ups -- which generally result in gruesome injuries and deaths to innocent members of the public -- there is no way they can claim to be acting in the public interest.

The fact that the city governments that oversee these departments and the federal agencies that fund the LECs have been complicit in this suggests that this isn't a matter of police overreach, but rather is a policy that goes literally all the way to the top of the policing regulatory structure in America.

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Lurking inside Obama's secret drone law: another secret drone law


Remember the secret memo explaining the legal justification for assassinating Americans with drones that the ACLU forced the Obama administration to release? Turns out that that memo relies on another secret memo that the Obama administration is also relying on. Obama is a no-fooling Constitutional scholar; you'd think that he'd be wise to the idea that secret law is not law at all.

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How accounting forced transparency on the aristocracy and changed the world


In the 16th century, celebrated Dutch painters did a brisk trade in heroic portraits of accountants and their ledgers. That's because accounting transformed the lowlands, literally bringing accountability to the aristocracy by forcing them to keep track of, and report on, their wealth. As Jacob Soll (author of The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations) writes in the Boston Globe, from the 14th century invention of double-entry bookkeeping until the 19th century -- when accounting became a separate profession instead of something that every educated person was expected to practice -- accountancy upended the social order, elevating financial transparency to a primary virtue.

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Greenhouse: browser plugin that automatically annotates politicians' names with their funders

Greenhouse is a browser plugin created by Nicholas Rubin, a 16-year-old programmer. It seeks out the names of elected US officials on any web-page you load in your browser and adds a pop-up link to their names listing the major donors to their campaigns. It uses 2012 election-cycle data drawn from Opensecrets's repository.

I've long suggested something like this as a way of improving political coverage. Indeed, you could imagine it going both ways -- any time the name of a company or individual who had made some big campaign contributions shows up in a webpage, you get a list of their political beneficiaries. Ideally, this would be an open framework to which data from any political race could be added.

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Every congresscritter now has an email address, thanks to Sunlight and EFF


Many congresscritters don't have public email addresses -- instead, they have hard-to-locate webforms that slow down activist email campaigns and make it harder for constituents to get in touch. EFF and the Sunlight Foundation has fixed this, giving every member of Congress her or his own email address -- an address that you can send to that will be automatically forwarded through the appropriate webform.

Sunlight has some spam-checking to stop this from being abused, and gathers some of the other information the forms collect so that they can be fully populated by the scripts. Once you're setup in the system, you can email "myreps@opencongress.org" and your message will automatically be forwarded on to you senators and house reps.

88% of Congressional staffers say that their bosses' decisions are affected by constituent email. The data and scripts are up on Github for you to build on.

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After federal document-snatch, ACLU case over Florida cops' phone surveillance collapses

After US marshalls raided a Florida police department to seize documents about to be revealed in an ACLU case over "stingray" mobile phone surveillance, we knew that the case was endangered. Now the worst has happened: state circuit court judge Charles Williams has thrown out the case because he says his court has no jurisdiction over federal agents, so he can't order the critical documents to be returned, so there's no case.

The feds have offered a limited, sealed disclosure to the Florida court, and the ACLU has vowed to fight to unseal them and carry on with the case.

At issue is the widespread police use of "stingray" devices that spoof mobile phones, tricking them into revealing information about their owners' movements, communications, associations, and identity.

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IRS won't fix database of nonprofits, so it goes dark


Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "Due to inaction by the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Congress, Public.Resource.Org has been forced to terminate access to 7,634,050 filings of nonprofit organizations. The problem is that we have been fixing the database, providing better access mechanisms and finding and redacting huge numbers of Social Security Numbers. Our peers such as GuideStar are also fixing their copies of the database."

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Bot alerts you every time the Supreme Court silently alters its rulings


As the New York Times recently reported, the Supreme Court has a habit of silently altering its rulings on its websites. Now, the @SCOTUS_servo feed will alert you when this happens, with links to the diffs and interpretation by David Zvenyach, general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia.

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US official backs Marines' request to classify photos of forces urinating on Taliban corpses

A still from a 2011 video posted online that showed Marines urinating on dead bodies. [Reuters]


A still from a 2011 video posted online that showed Marines urinating on dead bodies. [Reuters]

"In an apparent expansion of the government’s secrecy powers, the top official in charge of the classification system has decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan," reports the NYT's Charlie Savage.

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US Marshals raid Florida cops to prevent release of records of "stingray" surveillance


US Marshals swept into the offices of police in Sarasota, Florida to whisk away records related to operation of "stingray" surveillance tools that the ACLU had requested. The records detailed the farcically low standard for judicial permission to use a stingray (which captures information about the movements, communications and identities of all the people using mobile phones in range of them), and is part of a wider inquiry to their use without a warrant at all -- at least 200 Florida stingray deployments were undertaken without judicial oversight because the police had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the device's manufacturer and they decided that this meant they didn't have to get warrants anymore.

The ACLU has seen a lot of shenanigans in respect of its campaign to document the use and abuse of stingrays, but this is a cake-taker: "We’ve seen our fair share of federal government attempts to keep records about stingrays secret, but we’ve never seen an actual physical raid on state records in order to conceal them from public view."

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Snowden, one year after: Now we know the NSA's secrets

Josh from the ACLU writes, "To mark this Thursday's one-year anniversary of the first NSA revelation from Edward Snowden, we've made a very cool video showing what's happened so far (and yes that is Snowden's voice at the end). You've not seen an NSA video like this before. We've also created a guide (PDF) to what we think needs to be done for surveillance reform by Congress, the president, the courts, and tech companies."

They Knew Our Secrets. One Year Later, We Know Theirs.

NSA can't find any emails from Snowden, then it can (convenient, no?)

Yesterday, the NSA released an email from Edward Snowden to his superiors asking about the legality of NSA spying, claiming it was the only evidence they had that he ever tried to go through channels before turning leaker; on its face, this is pretty damning. But there's one problem: six months ago, the NSA claimed that they had no emails of the sort from Snowden, and then this one happened to turn up just in time to counter Snowden's allegations on US TV that he'd tried to blow the whistle from inside. My guess? Someone as canny as Snowden kept copies of all the communiques he made and flags he raised, and will be shortly making the NSA look like pathetic liars (again).

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Crowdfunding for Cryptome, oldest radical secrets-leaking site online

nya-kick.largeWithout Cryptome.org, there would have been no Wikileaks, though the two organizations' history and methods of operation couldn't be more different. I'm pretty sure it's the oldest continuously-running website devoted to the public exposure of secret documents for the public good, and has weathered constant attack and intimidation by entities who would rather that websites like Cryptome not exist.

The website run by John Young and Deborah Natsios has a kickstarter campaign, and it's worth considering kicking in if radical transparency is something you support.

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Anti-Net Neutrality Congresscritters made serious bank from the cable companies


The Congressmen who sent letters to the FCC condemning Net Neutrality received 2.3 times more campaign contributions from the cable industry than average. The analysis, conducted with Maplight's Congressional transparency tools, shows that Dems are cheaper to bribe than Republicans (GOP members received 5x the Congressional average from Big Cable; Dems only 1.2x) and shows what a chairmanship of a powerful committee is worth: Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the FCC-overseeing Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, got $109,250 (the average congressscritter got $11,651).

29 Congresscritters own stock in Comcast, and Comcast is the 25th most-held stock in Congress.

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Obama administration proves why we need someone to leak CIA Torture Report

image: Reuters


image: Reuters

It’s now been over a month since the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to force the Obama administration to declassify parts of the Committee’s landmark report on CIA torture, and the public still has not seen a word of the 6,000 page investigation.

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Political TV advertising in the USA: scofflaw broadcasters hide the dark money of political influence

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation writes, "Today, Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center, represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, filed complaints at the Federal Communications Commission against 11 broadcasters in nine markets for failing to comply with the agency's political ad disclosure rules. Broadcasters are required by law to keep information about political ads they air in their stations' public files. Sunlight and CLC found and documented several violations of these rules, and examples are included in the complaints."

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US federal judges resisting law enforcement demands for electronic evidence

(Photo courtesy of Stephen Smith) - One of the shirts that Judge James Orenstein of Brooklyn designed.


Photo via Washington Post, courtesy of magistrate judge Stephen Smith: A t-shirt designed by Judge James Orenstein of Brooklyn.

"Judges at the lowest levels of the federal judiciary are balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights," reports the Washington Post.

"This rising assertiveness by magistrate judges — the worker bees of the federal court system — has produced rulings that elate civil libertarians and frustrate investigators, forcing them to meet or challenge tighter rules for collecting electronic evidence."

An interesting footnote observed by Freedom of the Press Foundation's Trevor Timm: "All federal magistrate judges are on a giant email list where they ask each other legal questions."

Muslims sue FBI: kept on no-fly list because they wouldn't turn informant


A suit brought by four Muslim-American men with no criminal records asserts that the FBI put them on the no-fly list in order to pressure them to inform on their communities. Brooklynite Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs, says that he was denied boarding for a flight to visit his sickly grandmother in Pakistan in 2012, and that subsequently, the FBI told him they would remove him from the no-fly list only if he worked as an FBI informant. Sajjad's has tried all the official means of getting himself removed from the no-fly list, without any success. Sajjad's co-plaintiffs tell similar stories.

The case echoes that of Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, the first person to successfully appeal being placed on the US no-fly list. In her case, it emerged that she had been put on the list due to an administrative error (an FBI officer ticked the wrong box on a form) and that subsequently the DHS, Justice Department and FBI conspired to use state secrecy to cover up their error, even though they knew that there was no conceivable reason to keep Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

Sajjad and co will have to overcome the same secrecy privilege and the same culture of ass-covering indifference to innocence from the FBI and its allies in government. I don't like their chances, but I wish them luck.

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Reddit's /r/technology demoted over scandal of secret censorship that blocked Internet freedom stories


Alan sez, "According to various media reports (e.g. BBC) the technology subreddit has scrubbed its moderator team after users discovered that the sub was holding a secret censorship list of banned words that included 'National Security Agency', 'GCHQ', 'Anonymous', 'anti-piracy', 'Bitcoin', 'Snowden', 'net neutrality', 'EU Court', 'startup' and 'Assange'.

On its face, this looks like a list of politicized terms, and blocking them looks like a highly political and partisan act -- for example, by blocking "net neutrality," then stories that are critical of network discrimination would be blocked, while straight news stories that overwhelmingly quoted corporate spokespeople using uncritical terms would make the front door.

More charitably, it may have been the act of overworked (and ultimately irresponsible) moderators to simply ban hot-button topics altogether.

Here's the Reddit post that outed /r/technology's moderators.

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Appeals court orders Obama administration to disclose the legal theory for assassination of Americans

The Obama administration has lost a high-stakes lawsuit brought against it by the New York Times and the ACLU over its refusal to divulge the legal basis for its extrajudicial assassination program against US citizens. The Obama administration declared that it had the right to assassinate Americans overseas, far from the field of battle, on the basis of a secret legal theory. When it refused to divulge that theory in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Times and the ACLU sued. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has found in the Times's and ACLU's favor.

The Obama administration had insisted that the legal memo in question was protected as a national security secret. However, the court found that because the administration had made statements about the memo, assuring the public that the assassinations were legal, it had waived its right to keep the memo a secret. There's no work on whether the administration will appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Daniel Ellsberg to keynote HOPE X in NYC this summer

2600 Magazine's Emmanuel Goldstein writes, "Acclaimed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg will be keynoting at this summer's HOPE X conference in New York City. Ellsberg leaked the infamous Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages of documents that wound up changing American history forever. Today's whistleblowers are treated far more harshly, both by the authorities and the mainstream media, often facing lengthly prison terms or a life on the run. Fortunately, Ellsberg has remained involved and connected. A whole new generation will hear his words in person and hopefully be inspired to reveal the truth from whatever corporate or government position they find themselves in."

Chinese censor prosecuted for taking bribes to censor remarks companies and government officials disliked

Censorship invites abuse. In China, the widespread practice of Internet censorship means that lots of people are authorized to hand down censorship orders and lots more people naturally turn to censorship when something on the Internet bugs them. This week, Chinese authorities prosecuted an "Internet policeman" who took payments from companies in return for censoring unfavorable remarks about them on social media. He's accused of censoring more than 2,500 posts in return for over $300K in payments. He also collaborated with another official to censor critical remarks about government officials. It seems unlikely that Gu, the Internet policeman who was arrested, and Liu, his collaborator, were the only two censors-for-hire in the Chinese system.

Lest you think that this problem is uniquely Chinese, consider that when Wikileaks leaked the Great Firewall of Australia's blacklist, we learned that more the half the sites on the list didn't meet the censorship criteria. And when the Danish and Swedish blacklists were analyzed, it emerged that more than 98 percent of the sites blocked did not meet the official criteria for censorship. And in the UK, the national firewall once blocked all of Wikipedia.

China Prosecuted Internet Policeman In Paid Deletion Cases

Big Data Kafka: US Government Watchlists and the secrecy whose justification is a secret


In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.

The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.

In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.

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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!)

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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