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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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."

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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!)."

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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."

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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.

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Congress requires publicly funded research to be publicly available

The new Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which Congress passed yesterday, contains an important -- and fantastic -- provision: it requires that scientific research funded by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education be placed in a free online repository within 12 months of their publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

There are some caveats (this only covers research from agencies with budgets of $100M or more) and it could have been better (immediate publication and all work placed in the pubic domain), but this is still a major stride forward. To be frank, it's well beyond what I'd hoped we'd get from Congress, who are traditionally more than willing to let private firms wall away pubic access from the research that tax-payers fund.

Here's the inside dirt from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Adi Kamdar:

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Congress calls on Schneier to give it answers that the NSA won't

Congress has grown so weary of the NSA's duck-and-weave routine when asked to explain its spying that yesterday, six members of Congress called in Bruce Schneier to give it the answers that the NSA can't or won't give. Schneier, who's seen some of the Snowden leaks, called the meeting "surreal" and "extremely freaky." Cory 12

Congress agrees: the law can't be copyrighted

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a 3-hour hearing on revisions to the U.S. Copyright Act. I was surprised and gratified by the number of Members of Congress who stood up and forcefully endorsed the principle that the law belongs to the people. It was a bipartisan show of force and gave me real hope."

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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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Requirements for DRM in HTML5 are a secret


The work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on adding DRM to HTML5 is one of the most disturbing developments in the recent history of technology. The W3C's mailing lists have been full of controversy about this ever since the decision was announced.

Most recently, a thread in the restricted media list asked about the requirements for DRM from the studios -- who have pushed for DRM, largely through their partner Netflix -- and discoverd that these requirements are secret.

It's hard to overstate how weird this is.

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Carl Malamud's testimony on copyrighting the law

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "On Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10AM, the House Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings on the Scope of Copyright Protection. I will be testifying on the subject of Edicts of Government, including copyright assertions over state laws and federally-mandated public safety codes. My prepared statement is available and I would like to express my appreciation to the Committee for giving me the opportunity to testify."

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Hospitals will happily tell you the cost of parking; procedures, not so much

Fourteen-year-old Jillian Bernstein got herself published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by comparing the transparency of medical costs at Philadelphia hospitals with the transparency of parking rates at the same hospitals. Out of 20 hospitals, 19 were happy to provide information on the cost to park a car. Only three, however, were willing to tell her how much it would cost an uninsured person to get an electrocardiogram, and those prices were ridiculously variable — $137, $600 and $1,200, depending on the hospital.

Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership sucks: short, funny animation

Spocko sez, "Here's a short animated video explaining why the Trans-Pacific Partnership sucks. starring my imitation of Ross Perot! Remember, Ross knew all about the 'Giant sucking sound from the South' that became NAFTA. I pulled concepts from both the left and the right to inform this video."

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Harper government wants lifetime gag agreements from Canadian parliamentary staffers

Robbo sez, "In order to receive their negotiated raises and any holiday bonus, Parliament Hill staffers are being required to sign a lifetime confidentiality agreement, with hefty penalties for any breach, designed to thwart whistleblowers. So much for transparency in government."

(Not?) Coincidentally, the Harper government is embroiled in a potentially fatal scandal involving the Prime Minister's Office conspiring to cover up hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of expenses fraud by prominent Tory senators, and the only reason the PM is still in office is that none of his staffers have directly fingered him (yet?).

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Glenn Greenwald on what he's learned

Esquire's profile of Glenn Greenwald, the American-born, Brazilian-based journalist at the center of the Snowden leaks, is a terrific, insightful piece that lets Greenwald's own reflections on power, bravery, secrecy and justice speak for themselves: "I think the real Obama reveres institutional authority. He believes that it might need to be a little more efficient, but he has zero interest in undermining the powerful, permanent factions that have run Washington."

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