Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

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Access for All Americans

Carl Malamud, who I just realized I might call a personal hero, lays out what information the Federal government owes its citizens.

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All of it.

Transparency Is a Bipartisan Issue

It’s not just the Bush Administration that doesn’t understand what the Freedom of Information Act is about:

Now the Associated Press discloses that the Department of Homeland Security’s techniques for thwarting the president’s FOIA directive have taken a still creepier turn. Political hacks review each request, starting with a probe into the person who sent it:

For at least a year, the Homeland Security Department detoured requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive, according to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. The department abandoned the practice after AP investigated. Inspectors from the department’s Office of Inspector General quietly conducted interviews last week to determine whether political advisers acted improperly.

The closing of the government to its citizens is something that should be pushed back against relentlessly, regardless of whether you like the crew in charge. John Byrne at Rawstory demonstrates:

One year later, Obama’s requests for transparency have apparently gone unheeded. In fact a provision in the Freedom of Information Act law that allows the government to hide records that detail its internal decision-making has been invoked by Obama agencies more often in the past year than during the final year of President George W. Bush.

Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies.

Yes, there will always be legitimate reasons to keep some information secret.  But the vast majority of these failures to disclose, I suspect, serve no legitimate public purpose.

Concerned About Censorship? Look in the Mirror, First

A lesson that should reach far beyond the Israel/Palestine context:

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken warned Monday that self-censorship in the Israeli media poses the greatest threat to the freedom of the press.

[ . . . ]

“Let’s talk about a different kind of censorship,” he said. “Self-censorship that stems from the fact that the media does not want to upset its readership. I am referring to the responses that I get regarding Haaretz articles about the Palestinians’ situation.

“During periods of calm there are no responses, but in turbulent times people send emails to the newspaper, copying in all of their friends, that they are halting their subscription because they are unable to read Gideon Levy or Amira Hass anymore. And the newspaper must ask itself if it wants to absorb this.

Freedom of the press is somewhat beside the point if you don’t have a real press, no?

The RIAA/MPAA Wants To Search You At The Border

I could – and will – go on for days about the obscenely anti-social policy positions pushed by the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  They consistently try to co-opt public resources to force people to participate in their own failing business models.  This is mostly done under the public radar, with very little public realization of the rights that they’re losing.  This, unsurprisingly, emboldens the RIAA/MPAA to take ever more aggressive and ridiculous positions.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) highlights some of the latest efforts:

We’re not easily shocked by entertainment industry overreaching; unfortunately, it’s par for the course. But we were taken aback by the wish list the industry submitted in response to the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator’s request for comments on the forthcoming “Joint Strategic Plan” for intellectual property enforcement. The comments submitted by various organizations provide a kind of window into how these organizations view both intellectual property and the public interest. For example, EFF and other public interest groups have asked the IPEC totake a balanced approach to intellectual property enforcement, paying close attention to the actual harm caused, the potential unexpected consequences of government intervention, and compelling countervailing priorities.

The joint comment filed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and others stands as a sharp contrast, mapping out a vision of the future where Big Media priorities are woven deep into the Internet, law enforcement, and educational institutions.

Like what?  Well, the EFF goes on to quote the MPAA/RIAA filing:

Intimidate and propagandize travelers at the border

Customs authorities should be encouraged to do more to educate the traveling public and entrants into the United States about these issues. In particular, points of entry into the United States are underused venues for educating the public about the threat to our economy (and to public safety) posed by counterfeit and pirate products. Customs forms should be amended to require the disclosure of pirate or counterfeit items being brought into the United States.

Does that iPod in your hand luggage contain copies of songs extracted from friends’ CDs? Is your computer storing movies ripped from DVD (handy for conserving battery life on long trips)? Was that book you bought overseas “licensed” for use in the United States? These are the kinds of questions the industry would like you to answer on your customs form when you cross borders or return home from abroad. What is more, this suggestion also raises the specter of something we’ve heard the entertainment industry suggest before: more searches and seizures of electronic goods at the border. Once border officials are empowered to search every electronic device for “pirated” content, digital privacy will all but disappear, at least for international travelers. From what we’ve learned about the fight over a de minimis border measures search exclusion in the latest leaked text, ACTA might just try to make this a reality.

Remember – there are no Fourth Amendment protections at the US border. Better than even bet that we’ll see this happen. Especially if the public doesn’t pay attention.

Digital Due Process

For reasons quite related to my previous post, this Digital Due Process effort is a step in the right direction:

As part of a broad coalition of privacy groups, think tanks, technology companies, and academics, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today issued recommendations for strengthening the federal privacy law [the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986] that regulates government access to private phone and Internet communications and records, including cell phone location data.

It’s an interesting coalition of rights-advocates (who are focused on the privacy of the individual) and businesses (which would benefit from more clarity in the law insofar as it 1) reduces their costs in dealing with legal uncertainties, and 2) creates more confidence in cloud-based services). Specifically, they want to:

The group’s four recommendations focus on how to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law originally passed in 1986 before the World Wide Web was invented and when the number of American cell phone users numbered in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of millions. The group recommends that the legal standards under which the government can obtain private communications and records be clarified and strengthened in order to:

* Better protect the privacy of communications and documents you store in the cloud

* Better protect you against secret tracking of your location through your cell phone or any other mobile device

* Better protect you against secret monitoring of when and with whom you communicate over the telephone or the Internet

* Better protect innocent Americans against government fishing expeditions through masses of communications data unrelated to a criminal suspect

This is going to be a long-term project, and I think we can expect a lot of pushback from law enforcement (both declared and those in the intelligence fields who would rather exploit the existing grey areas).  But it’s a positive move.

Just Trust Us

This is just one of many reasons why you should be contributing to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

A couple weeks ago, Sen. Rockefeller partnered with Sen. Olympia Snowe to introduce a major revision to the bill that, among other things, made changes the emergency “kill switch” provision. The revision was adopted by the committee last Thursday and the bill was approved. It’s now ready for consideration by the full Senate.

The revised bill would require the President to develop an “emergency response an restoration” plan with the help of private industry and other government agencies, but it is vague enough that it does not actually limit what the plan can include. The President would still have authority to declare an emergency and implement the plan without first seeking congressional approval, though he would have to report to Congress within 48 hours after declaring an emergency. The revised bill also doesn’t require the plan to be made public, so it could potentially give the President the same authority to restrict internet access as the original bill did, just without being explicitly and publicly stated in the legislation itself.

I’m sure people like former DNI Mike McConnell will trot out their cyberscare stories (see this great piece on how anyone using “cyber” is usually full of it.) declaring just how essential it is that we lock down the Internet.  Not too long ago, McConnell was out pushing this line:

We need to develop an early-warning system to monitor cyberspace, identify intrusions and locate the source of attacks with a trail of evidence that can support diplomatic, military and legal options — and we must be able to do this in milliseconds. More specifically, we need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment — who did it, from where, why and what was the result — more manageable. The technologies are already available from public and private sources and can be further developed if we have the will to build them into our systems and to work with our allies and trading partners so they will do the same.

Wired’s Ryan Singel helps clarify that:

Re-read that sentence. He’s talking about changing the internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation if the U.S. government doesn’t like what’s written in an e-mail, what search terms were used, what movies were downloaded. Or the tech could be useful if a computer got hijacked without your knowledge and used as part of a botnet.

Yeah, I think I’m going to pass on the advice of industry players that have devoted their lives to concealing the truth from the public.  I just fear that they’ll be as successful with this effort as they have been before.  That is, they never do manage to actually conceal the truth.  All they need to do is convince enough of the generally-uninterested public to trust their version, and the public will go along with it.  And, for the most part, that’s been a massively successful strategy.   I used to think the Internet would help put an end to that.  But more and more it looks like that might help put an end to the Internet.

Bing’s Mapping Projects

I really had no idea that Bing was doing any of this.

I’m in awe. It makes me want to create a million things.

World’s Fair Use Day

It’s World’s Fair Use Day! Err, what’s that?

World’s Fair Use Day (WFUD) is a free, all-day celebration of the doctrine of fair use: the legal right that allows innovators and creators to make particular uses of copyrighted materials. WFUD will take place at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday January 12, 2010, and will be organized by Public Knowledge (PK), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit, consumer-advocacy group. PK works to ensure that communications and intellectual property policies encourage creativity, further free expression and discourse and provide universal access to knowledge. As part of its campaign to return balance to copyright law, PK hopes to use WFUD to educate the public about the importance of fair use in an information society.

That’s where I’ll be all day. Sound interesting to you? You can watch the proceedings below, and participate via the connected chat and Twitter hashtag #wfud (which I expect will be projected behind the speakers for most of the day).

(moved embed to the flip b/c it’s autoplaying)

A Good Idea from C-SPAN

Calling Obama on his promise push Congress to be transparent:

The C-SPAN television network is calling on congressional leaders to open health care talks to cameras — something President Barack Obama promised as a candidate.

Instead the most critical negotiations on Obama’s health plan have taken place behind closed doors, as Republicans repeatedly point out. In a Dec. 30 letter to House and Senate leaders released Tuesday, C-SPAN chief executive Brian Lamb asked for negotiations on a compromise bill to be opened up for public viewing, as Democrats work to reconcile differences between legislation passed by the two chambers.

It is going to happen? No. Should it? Absolutely. I’d rather see the ugly truths – that really aren’t going anywhere – in the open. I’m probably in the minority, though.

Recommended: WAMU on Sunday Evenings

I’ve often said that Washington-area radio is an abysmal affair, and that Atlanta – Atlanta! – has a far more vibrant and interesting broadcasting scene.   While that’s quite true, American University’s WAMU is the one bright spot.  I credit WAMU with bringing me into the bluegrass fold, keeping me informed on local matters with Kojo Nnamdi, and sustaining the rarity of intelligent national talk radio via the Diane Rehm Show.  And there’s one more thing, that I really really love – the Big Broadcast on Sunday nights.  Specifically, the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar part of the show.

Yep, the man with the action-packed expense account still makes me stop and listen, even though the shows are now 50+ years old.  I don’t usually plan to listen to these episodes (say, the way I intentionally flip on the Kojo Nnamdi show at noon on Fridays), but I often end up hearing the beginning while I’m doing the things you do on Sunday night.  And almost every time, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, take a seat, maybe turn off the lights, and listen to the rest of the show.

Thanks for that, WAMU.

(And all of you who don’t live in DC?  Can still listen to everything I’ve mentioned via WAMU.org)

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