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."

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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." Cory 2

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.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

NYPD claims its Freedom of Information Act policy is a secret "attorney-client communications"


The NYPD runs an intelligence agency that is even more secretive, and practically as corrupt as the NSA. They even fly their own intelligence officers to the scene of terrorist attacks overseas (and interfere with real investigations). What's more, the NYPD has invented its own, extra-legal system of "classified" documents that it has unilaterally decided it doesn't have to provide to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Shawn Musgrave used Muckrock sent the NYPD a FOIA request for its FOIA manual -- the guidelines by which it decides whether or not it will obey the law requiring it to share its internal workings with the public who pay for them -- only to have the NYPD refuse to provide it, because it is "privileged attorney-client work-product."

As Musgrave says, "Handbooks and training materials hardly qualify as 'confidential communications,' particularly when the subject matter is transparency itself."

Read the rest

Ralph Nader: the law must be free!


Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "Ralph Nader argues that the law must be free in a piece in the Huffington Post. Great piece, I wasn't expecting it, so it was a treat to see it pop up (my mother is going to be impressed by this one!)."

Read the rest

Army won't answer Freedom of Information Request on its SGT STAR AI chatbot

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Seven years ago, the U.S. Army launched the SGT STAR program, which uses a virtual recruiter (an AI chatbot) to talk to potential soldiers. We put in a FOIA request for a bunch of documents related to the program, including current and historical input/output scripts. So far, the Army Research and Marketing Group--which is supposed to help with transparency--hasn't responded."

Read the rest

Citizen Lab calls on Canada's telcos to publish transparency report

As American telcoms operators take up the practice of publishing transparency reports showing how many law-enforcement requests they receive, Canadian activists are wondering why Canada's telcoms sector hasn't followed suit. Citizen Lab, whose excellent work at the University of Toronto is documented in lab leader Ron Deibert's must-read book Black Code, has issued public letters addressed to the nation's phone companies and ISPs, formally requesting that they publish aggregate statistics on law-enforcement requests.

Read the rest