Public opinion of Congress reaches a new low

A new Gallup poll on Americans' attitudes towards their institutions finds the nation in a massive crisis of confidence, with low levels of confidence in many institutions. Congress's public perception continues to fall, reaching an all-time low of 7%.

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Atheism remains least-trusted characteristic in American politics


A Pew Study from last month found that atheism remain the most untrusted attribute in American politicians, although the degree of animosity has declined from 63% in 2007 to 53% in 2014.

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Kim Dotcom offering $5M bounty for information on how his case was rigged

Kim Dotcom, proprietor of the defunct Megaupload, is convinced that the raid on his company was crooked, and he's put up a $5M bounty on information that will help him prove misdeeds on the part of the US or New Zealand authorities:

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Let the People Draw the Lines Act: longshot bill to fight gerrymandering

Let the People Draw the Lines Act, a bill introduced by Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), would appoint panels of independent experts to adjust electoral district boundaries in an attempt to remove the "safe seats" created through gerrymandering, by which electoral districts are torturously redrawn to include as many voters likely to keep the incumbent in and to exclude everyone else. As Wonkblog explains, the bill is a long-shot, but it's also a shining example of the kind of legislation that fights corruption and creates a climate of real representative democracy. The fact that this bill is wildly unlikely to pass doesn't make it laughable: it makes Congress irredeemable.

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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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Majority of Americans think Snowden was right to leak


A forthcoming Yougov survey found that 55 percent of Americans believe Edward Snowden was right to leak the details of Prism (it's not clear whether they were surveyed on other leaks).

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Warrantless spying makes spying-with-a-warrant impossible

Tim Bray's taxonomy of privacy levels makes a compact and compelling argument that the existence of warrantless spying and security sabotage is what drives people to adopt cryptographic techniques that can't be broken even with a warrant. Cory 1

Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino: a $55 Starbucks drink


The Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino now holds the record for most expensive on-menu Starbucks beverage, coming in at a whopping $54; the 128 oz drink had 55 shots of espresso, with an estimated caffeine dose of 4.5g. Its owner, Andrew Chifari, spent about five days consuming it. He ordered it as his free bonus drink on the Starbucks loyalty card scheme, which gets him one free drink for every 12 (my own joke about this, worn as thin as onion-paper, goes like this: every tenth drink, I ask the folks at Giddy Up to give me "one of everything in a bucket with a piece of banana bread stuck in the top"). Andrew set out to break previous most-expensive-Starbucks-beverage record by enlisting the assistance of the baristas, as he explained to Consumerist:

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Ottawa Public Library and US Embassy open makerspace

Mark Shainblum writes, "The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa have collaborated to open Ottawa's first public makerspace, entitled Imagine Space -- an American corner." Cory 2

Visual gags in comedies: US vs UK

Tony Zhou created this fantastic, 7-minute critique of the visual style of comedy in US films, as compared with UK films (especially the films of Edgar "Shaun of the Dead" Wright). Zhou makes a compelling case for the superiority of British sight-gags and visual comedy -- and the fundamental laziness of US directors in their use of visuals to get a laugh.

For further reading, Zhou recommends David Bordwell's Funny Framings as well as the hilarious Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal video.

(via Kottke)

How to request your US Border file (and what you're likely to get)


Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency for his own travel records, including the notoriously comprehensive "Passenger Name Record" -- what he got was '72 pages of shit,' a redacted jumble of arbitrarily collected and retained nonsense. He didn't get his PNR. If you want to give it a try, he's signposted the procedure.

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The Internet With a Human Face: Maciej Cegłowski on the things we need to fix


Maciej Cegłowski's latest talk, The Internet With A Human Face, is a perfect companion to both his Our Comrade the Electron and Peter Watts's Scorched Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy: a narrative that explains how the Internet of liberation became the Internet of inhuman and total surveillance. Increasingly, I'm heartened by the people who understand that the right debate to have is "How do we make the Internet a better place for human habitation?" and not "Is the Internet good or bad for us?" I'm also heartened to see the growth of the view that aggregated personal data is a kind of immortal toxic waste and that the best way to prevent spills is to not collect it in the first place.

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Pornoscanners head to prisons

Normally technology migrates from prisons to schools to airports -- think CCTVs and Pre-Check -- but for the late and unlamented radioactive pornoscanners that the TSA had to give up on, the technology path went the other way -- if you're lucky enough to be incarcerated in the USA (which incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth), you may be treated to one or more TSA-surplus pornoscans.

House leaders gut NSA-curbing USA FREEDOM Act


The Snowden revelations kickstarted a national dialog on surveillance and a Congressional promise to rein in mass spying through a bill called the USA FREEDOM Act. But as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, the cowardly leaders of the House have capitulated to Big Spook, gutting the bill so thoroughly that it might actually make things worse.

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NSA records every cell phone call in the Bahamas


The NSA and US DEA trick contractors working for the Bahamian phone companies into letting them record the full audio of every call placed in the Bahamas, according to newly published Snowden leaks released in an article in The Intercept. The NSA exploits the "lawful interception" system for conducting wiretaps without having to notify phone companies in order to harvest the full run of cellular calls, apparently as an engineering proof-of-concept in order to scale the program up to larger nations. The Bahamas is an ally of the US, identified by the State Department to be a "stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States."

It's not clear whether the DEA conducts "parallel construction" with the NSA intelligence (this is when the DEA overtly takes a warrant to get intelligence it already has through an NSA covert operation). The phone calls are intercepted through two NSA programs: MYSTIC (which conducts analysis) and SOMALGET (which intercepts and stores the calls). These programs are used to capture the full audio of all cellular calls in another unnamed country, and are used to analyze metadata in the Philippines, Mexico and Kenya.

The NSA documents reveal that the intelligence gathered in the Bahamas did not focus on money-launderers and tax-haven banks -- rather, they are mostly used to catch drug traffickers.

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