How to Make Sense of the Wikileaks Clinton Campaign Email Document Dump and Controversy

It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in the coverage of Wikileaks' ongoing publication of internal emails from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, known as the Podesta emails. There are internet hoaxsters pushing fake emails that are not contained in the actual published files. There are junk reports from prominent newsy websites that are based on obvious misreadings of the files in question. There is Clinton campaign and Democratic party spin seeking to distract from the content of the published emails. There is Trump campaign and Republican party spin exaggerating the content and import of what has been revealed by the leaked documents. And so on. In this article, we'll provide a bit of context on the leak itself, cover some examples of how it is being exploited by hoaxsters, how it is helping to reveal the incompetence of newsy sources of information, and how it is playing out within the context of the presidential campaign itself. We'll conclude with some tips on how to sift through the bullshit.


The Leaks

This article focuses specifically on coverage of the Podesta emails. But it is important to point out the context in which these files have been published. The first thing to note is that there is not just one leak that has resulted in the publication of Democrats' internal documents. Back in June, a hacker or hacker group known as Guccifer 2.0 began releasing a large set of internal files from the Democratic National Committee.

It is speculated that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for Russian hackers, if not a state-sponsored Russian cyberwar group, mostly on the basis of circumstantial evidence. The Guccifer 2.0 documents can be found here. Emails obtained by Guccifer 2.0 were, it appears, also obtained and published by Wikileaks. The Wikileaks DNC email database can be found at the link.

(The name 'Guccifer 2.0' itself is an obvious allusion to a Romanian hacker who called himself Guccifer and released documents on prominent Republican and Democratic party officials in 2013. Guccifer was eventually tracked down and jailed in 2014.)

Then in early October, Wikileaks began publishing a large set of files from the email account of John Podesta, a long-time Democratic party insider, and current chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. This set of documents is known as The Podesta Emails.

The Podesta Emails are not directly related to the larger Hillary Clinton email controversy, which resulted from her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Emails from that controversy were made public by congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act requests. Many, if not most, of those emails have also been published by Wikileaks in its Hillary Clinton Email Archive.

Disinformation

Shortly after Wikileaks began publishing the Podesta email document dump, reports quickly began circulating online purporting to have found "smoking gun" evidence of one sort or another in the files. One of the most prominent of these was a report alleging that Clinton had called Democratic voters a "bucket of losers," in a clear allusion to her comments calling Trump supporters a "basket of deplorables." This claim can be demonstrated to be clearly false with a simple search for the term against the Wikileaks documents themselves. As a testament to their gullibility and refusal to do even basic research, numerous websites still have articles online breathlessly reporting the false claims as if they were true, without correction.

Misinformation

Misinformation campaigns based on the Podesta emails have been equally as successful as the disinformation campaigns waged by the hoaxsters. One widely circulated report claimed that the Podesta emails contained solid evidence of racist comments made by Hillary Clinton. "Racist Hillary DUMPS on African Americans, Calls Them Professional Never-Do-Wells," read one headline at a self-declared right wing news site. That sounds pretty serious! Moreover, the author of the article proclaims that the email confirmed everything she already believed! Yet, as with the hoaxsters, this claim is easily debunked with a minimum of effort. A search for the offending terms among the Wikileaks documents does indeed turn up an email using the offending terms. But anyone who is neither an idiot nor a knave should be able to quickly debunk the claim by reading the email's header, which reveals that it is not from inside the Clinton campaign. It was in fact sent from orca100@upcmail.nl, and addressed to a wide array of media outlets and political insiders. In other words, the purveyors of the "smoking gun" claim are either morons who are incapable of reading an email, or they are just click-bait artists trying to earn a few pennies off bombastic headlines.

Trump Gets Trolled 

Earlier this week, another story that was similarly based on an obvious faulty reading of an email from the Podesta files was published by the Russian state media outlet Sputnik News. The author(s) of the article misread an email in the Podesta files, and did not realize that it was just a forward, and not a personal email. This article was picked up by the Trump campaign, and the Republican candidate read from it at a campaign rally later that day. The embarrassing incident was reported widely in the media when the offending article was debunked later in the day.

Clinton Campaign Spin

The Clinton campaign, for its part, has clearly been put off balance by the publication of the hacked documents, judging from the contradictory statements they have made in its wake. Podesta first claimed that the Wikileaks documents were in fact fake. "They've put out documents that are purported to be from my account," he stated on a Sunday morning talk show. Then later on Twitter, he seemed to walk back this claim, asserting that fake documents had been inserted into the file dump, according to Politico. Finally, by Wednesday, Podesta admitted that his account had in fact been compromised and the the FBI announced that it was investigating the hack. Podesta has now gone on the attack himself, fingering Russia as the source of the hack and claiming coordination with the Trump campaign: "Russian interference in this election and their apparent attempt to influence it on behalf of Mr. Trump . . . should be of utmost concern to all Americans," said Podesta, according to CBS News.

This line of attack builds upon existing campaign narratives that have been articulated by Hillary Clinton herself. As she stated at the second presidential debate: "Putin and the Russian government are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And Wikileaks is part of that, as are other sites . . . we don't even know if it's accurate information . . . believe me, they're not doing it to get me elected. They're doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump."

But Podesta appears to have bigger problems than the Russians. The Clinton campaign chairman's Twitter account was apparently compromised by someone from 4chan's /pol/ board earlier today. Politico reports:"Podesta's Twitter account sent out a strange tweet reading: "I've switched teams. Vote Trump 2015.Hi pol." The tweet was quickly deleted, but the Clinton campaign confirmed the account had been hacked."

For an in-depth analysis of the Democratic response to the hacks and leaks, see Glenn Greenwald's article at The Intercept: "In the Democratic Echo Chamber, Inconvenient Truths Are Recast as Putin Plots."

Conclusion

We live in a new information environment. Barack Obama was hailed as the first president of the social media age. The next president may be the first to inhabit an age of generalized, asymmetrical, information warfare. The Wikileaks Podesta emails file dump has completely muddied the waters in an already dirty presidential campaign. Widely read political news sources have been humiliated by transparent hoaxes. Others have had their shoddy reporting exposed for all to see. One major presidential campaign has been humiliated by spouting faulty Russian state news reports, while the other is getting pwned by 4chan.

Asking yourself a couple simple questions can help dispose of all the bullshit that is tripping people up right and left. Where's the evidence? Where's the corroborating evidence? The great thing about Wikileaks is that any assertions made on the basis of its documents can be verified or debunked by simply searching its archives and reading the primary source materials in question.

For more, check out our previous post on how to spot a fake news article and identify a hoax news website.
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Big Brother In Mother Russia: Putin's New Anti-Terror Bill Wants ALL The Data

Oh, Vlad.  Just when the rest of the world is getting really good at pretending we want to value human rights and raise awareness, you have to go and sign into law an anti-"terrorism" bill so rights-infringey, even some of the pro-Kremlin crowd thinks it goes too far…


Big Comrade is watching you...
(Image courtesy thetimes.co.uk.)


The new Russian law, which theantimedia.com reported Edward Snowden openly decrying as the “Big Brother Law”, gives a pervasive proliferation of powers to the Putin reign.  The legislation, as summarized by the BBC, includes the following edicts:

"1) telecoms companies must keep copies of customers’ phone calls and text messages for six months;
2) phone and text records (but not the messages themselves) must be kept for three years;
3) online services (such as social networks) must keep message records for one year;
4) online services that encrypt data must help security services decrypt any message sent by users, or face a fine;
5) failing to report knowledge of a crime will become a criminal offence – punishable by up to a year in prison;
6) inciting or expressing approval of terrorism online will be regarded as publishing such comments in mass media – punishable by up to seven years in prison; and
7) children aged over 14 can be held criminally liable for 10 new charges such as taking part in terrorism."

If that doesn’t sound ominous enough, the law also demands criminal liability for keeping silent regarding knowledge of any crime that someone “has been planning, is perpetrating, or has perpetrated.”


Careful, Vlad, your KGB roots are showing.
Oh wait...you're proud of that.
(Image courtesy truthrevolt.org.)

And don’t think the persecution stops at freedom of phones and online data.  New restrictions have been proposed against missionary work, relegating such good deeds to be carried out exclusively at approved locations, and only by officially-sanctioned organizations.

The law is different from the Western model, if not in spirit then in letter, regarding how the data is collected.  Advocates of the bill argue that the blanket collection of data would make it less targeted than American law, which requires warrants to specifically seek out data for prosecution (although come on, we all know they’re hanging on to all of it anyway.)


After passing the law, Putin emailed this image
to the White House, bearing the caption,
"Suck it, Obama.  My surveillance state's bigger than yours."
(Image courtesy balkanist.org.)


Also, this.
(Image courtesy putin-being-badass.tumblr.com.)

Russian companies, particularly those requiring updated data storage, have already opposed the bill due to its economic (if not humane) stressors, and many have written to Russia’s upper house of Parliamentdeclaring the laws “technically and economically unfeasible.”  The Russian VPN service Private Internet Access claims it will leave the market due to the new laws, as the new storage necessities alone could bankrupt even a major provider. 


But hey, Putin’s approval rating is still apparently somewhere around 80%...and if you think it should be otherwise, best not to talk about it on the phone…or internet…or around anyone who uses those things…

"No, seriously, please speak out against the state...
...these guys are getting the munchies."
(Image courtesy funnyordie.com.)



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Independence Day For The Internet! New U.N. Resolution Expands E-Freedoms

Congratulations!  If you are reading this right now, you are exercising one of the most recently-expanded universal human rights!  As of July 1st, by order of the United Nations, access to the internet (which had been considered a basic human right since 2011) has been supported even more thoroughly by the organization, who condemned any “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online.”

In grand internet tradition, a cat meme seemed the best way to celebrate.
(Image courtesy funnyjunk.com.)

The edict was a huge blow to nations who would attempt to "SHUT.  DOWN.  EVERYTHING!", including the internet, in times of political, social, or economic strife.  The U.N.'s recognizance of this liberty to freely announce one's situations, hopes, fears, and lunch plans on the internet, particularly social media, is a massive help to those who might otherwise not have their voices heard.

According to Popular Science, this resolution also includes expanded security protocols to protect freedom of internet expression, accountability measures to be taken against those who would impinge on these freshly-declared freedoms, stronger attempts to provide internet access to the disabled, and even updated efforts to provide internet service in locations where it may currently be unavailable.


"Herding hard all day!  But first, a selfie!
#YaHerd?"
(Image courtesy foodtank.com.)

The official resolution builds on the U.N.'s established Article 19 of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which extols, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It further elucidates a 2012 ruling that announced, "the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

Protesting in person is still the best,
but the U.N.'s covering for all the rest!
(Image courtesy newslaundry.com.)

Although the usual oppressive suspects (seriously, Russia/Cuba/China?) tried to quash the proceedings, some 70 nations banded together to ensure that status updates, political declarations, cat pictures, fail videos, and relentless selfies (with or without critical flag overlays) could flow freely through the intertubes for all.

A full account of the resolution, including oral arguments, is available thanks to Article19.org.

Now, don't let us distract you...go surf the mighty waves of internet freedom, from e-sea to shining e-sea!

Go ye forth and conquer!
Don't forget to tag us in the pics!
(Image courtesy memesvault.com.)

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Fighting Trump Fans On Twitter? There's A Bot For That

The 2016 presidential election for the United States has already been weird, dirty, and unsettling, as any form of major or minor media will be happy to inform you of. Now, a chatbot posing as a Donald Trump fan (or foe?) has only added fuel to the fanatical fire…

Yell all you want at the AI Trump supporter...
like the hair of the Don, it is ultimately unflappable.
(Image courtesy play.google.com.)

Perhaps we were too quick to remember the debacle of “Tay”, Microsoft’s ill-fated teenage-girl AI who, when fed advice, verbiage, and general knowledge from the internet, became a racist, conspiratorial bigot within 24 hours. This bot operates on a similar principle, but under the assumption that people would simply think its exhortations were those of a supporter of (or possibly just agent provocateur affiliated with) the presidential candidate Donald Trump.

According to The Daily Beast, the Twitter handle @Assbott is actually not a human being at all, no matter how hard you’ve tried to argue with it. In fact, it is a bot that is comprised of randomly-combined elements from creator @Nasboat‘s previous tweets.


You get the idea.
(Image courtesy dankmeme.net.)

“The bot is just a mishmash of my tweets. @AwfulJack is the one who started the account. I’m clueless on the technical side,” @Nasboat explained. “There had been a few other bots made from other users we know and follow, and I thought it was a funny concept and wanted one of my own. I sent him my archive, and he got it up and running.”

Using the coding technique of Markov chains, @Nasboat’s tweets are chopped up and reassembled as responses to Trump tweets in one weird, wonderful new “thought”, like, “He likes to lick em, he likes to ride hogs, bro, you seem v nice.” That was the automatic reply to one fellow Trump supporter’s staunch declaration that Trump should not delete his Twitter account, as @Assbott had demanded.

@Assbott actually just always demands that Trump delete his account, a tweet triggered to automatically post itself each time Trump makes any statement on Twitter, at all.


That "Mr. President" zinger is solid...but painful to ponder in real-life.
(Image courtesy thedailybeast.com.)

Does @Assbott or his human father @Nasboat worry that this social experiment is promoting a wrongfully random reality, and that it's surprising to find so many humans banging their heads against what is essentially a computer terminal?

“Not really, because I’ve learned never to underestimate the gullibility or lack of awareness of people online, especially on Twitter,” @Nasboat said. “Plus, the bot tends to get pretty inflammatory and makes no sense, which I think clearly speaks to the kind of person who supports Trump.”

Well, @Nasboat might be right about that.
It takes a special kind of mindlessness...
(Image courtesy cloudpro.co.uk.)

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A New Don: "Yuuuge"-ly Popular App Lets Players Build Trump's Wall

The race for the presidency of the United States is heating up, with vitriol, intrigue, and computer "warfare" the likes of which society has never seen.  Hillary Clinton has spent millions trying to convince shills to talk her up online and detract from her opponents (all while playing ignorant to a swath of computer crimes), while Bernie Sanders has crowdfunded a surprisingly vibrant support network via his online followers.

However, it is the nimbly adaptable Donald Trump who has used modern technology to encompass a uniquely strong spectrum, beginning with developing an oddly-enthusiastic contingent of "alt-right" supporters who create memes and catchphrases to exult the admittedly-engaging rhetoric of "Make America Great Again."

And now, as any good leader of the future would have, there is an app that supports his vision.


Could this be the ticket to resolving decades of lax leadership?
Or is an app just the start of more political games?
(Image courtesy twitter.com.)


According to Koin.com, a new Donald Trump-themed app called "Trump's Wall" is currently at the top of the charts.  The humorously-intended game uses simple claw-game style mechanics, and the objective is (of course!) to build a wall as high as possible - a threat/promise the construction-magnate Trump has frequently propositioned regarding the U.S. border with Mexico.

The game positions the wall outside of a building that closely resembles the White House, but bearing Trump's name atop the edifice.  As the height escalates, the digital Trump avatar spouts some of his classic slogans, telling you how "yuuuuge" your creation will be.

Not a screencap from the game, but possibly
a glimpse into the future?
(Image courtesy www.guancha.cn.)

Of course, if you fail, he proclaims, "You're fired!"

Could this app usher in a new facet of political cognizance, where electronically actualizing goals set by candidates or those in office helps to inspire the general populace to further ponder their possible successes and failures if extrapolated into real life?  Or it is just "Angry Birds" with bricks and a comb-over?

The game is not a first-person shooter, so calm down those
preemptively-hurt feelings, liberal snowflakes.
(Image courtesy reddit.com.)

Only time and tenacious touchscreen-tapping will tell.  By the way, if you hate Trump too much to even entertain the idea of his success, you can keep yourself amused with the free computer game Drumpulous, where you shoot pixelated dildos at Trump's head.

Remember kids, don't delay...now's the time to start training athletically and packing your go-bags for the likely apocalypse this November.  Don't assume for a second that all of this isn't going to get much, much crazier.


Still better than a war criminal though, right?
Maybe?
(Image courtesy drumpulous.itch.io.)

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New "Greenhouse" Plug-In Exposes Corporate Political Pay-Outs

It's been a running joke for some time that American politicians should wear advertising logos, a'la racecar drivers, to indicate which corporations they are shilling for.  Despite this idea not yet rising to prominence, now, there's an easier way to tell who (and how much) has been paid to play in politics.


Usually when teenagers say "Greenhouse", weed is somehow involved.
Surprisingly, not this time.
(Image courtesy welikeit.fr.)


According to Vice.com, the new browser plug-in, Greenhouse, was developed by a now-18-year-old programmer named Nick Rubin.  Using the crafty tagline of "Some are red.  Some are blue.  All are green", the intrepid app aims to shed light on some of our elected officials' most egregious cash-ins.  Free to use and operable on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers, the plug-in identifies politicians by name when they appear in articles, and offers readers a breakdown of the payments received during these politicians' campaigns.

Rubin - who became interested in the topic of political finance when doing a school project on corporate personhood - stated, "I think the one problem is that the sources of income for members of congress haven’t been simple and easily accessible when people have needed it."  He remedied this with his own programming skills, working nights and weekends on Greenhouse's development.

Let's just hope he doesn't end up like Snowden...or worse.
(Image courtesy ora.tv.)


Rubin's persevering passion is well-rooted in American altruism, as he noted in Greenhouse's website's description:

"Exactly one hundred years ago, in Harper's Weekly, Louis Brandeis made the frequently quoted statement that "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." Brandeis's preceding sentence in the article may be less well known, but it is equally important: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases." I created Greenhouse to shine light on a "social and industrial disease" of today: the undue influence of money in our Congress. This influence is everywhere, even if it is hidden. I aim to expose and publicize that disease through technology that puts important data where it is most useful, on websites where people read about the actions, or inaction, of members of Congress every day."

Every well-paid, health-insured, vacation-subsidized day.
(Image courtesy exposingtruth.com.)

Greenhouse also allows users to sort results by industry and donation size, so certain bully businesses and overly-generous contributors can be shown with no doubt as to the moneyed miscreants that they are.  Tabs are also available to show which campaign finance reforms each politician is in favor of, as well as which small donors patronize their causes.


A typical Greenhouse breakdown of one politician's contributors.
Yes, yes it is quite a bit of money when you look at it like that.
(Image courtesy aattp.org.)

Rubin isn't suggesting this as a quick fix to the myriad woes of money and politics, however he is happy that the information is out there.  As he told Vice, "I just want it to educate people because that’s really the first step toward a solution...Easy access to data empowers voters to make better decisions."

You can download Greenhouse here - not just for free, but for freedom.


And if corporations are "people", shouldn't they be paying taxes?
Wait a second...
(Image courtesy elevate.us.)

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Bullets, Bomb Blasts, and Barbeque: Top Tech For Independence Day!

Alright, look.  It's the 4th of July weekend in America right now, and we are gonna celebrate some freedom in the manner that befits us best...mayhem.

America the Beautiful...bless it with fire!
(Image courtesy pinterest.com.)




Have you ever wondered if the iPhone that you love so dearly would return the favor and save your life?  Is it even possible?  Apparently, according to The Daily Mail, the answer is that you would need FIVE precious phonepieces to stop a bullet fired from an AK-74.

*beebeebeep*  CALL LOST.
(Image credit dailymail.co.uk.)


Bullets fired from the high-powered weapon can travel at up to 2,900 feet per second, inflicting ridiculous damage on their intended target.  So if you happen to want to play hero in a situation involving these wicked weapons, well, there's no app for that.  Check out the video for maximum madness.





That's not enough for celebrating, though.  Let's have some fake-but-still-fiery explosions as an artistic and technological testament to the history of rockets' red glaring.  Yes, we know there's so many to choose from, so how about an extensive profile of some of film's finest?  Thanks to Consequence Of Sound, just such a national treasure exists.  Explosions in everything from the obvious ("Independence Day") to the awesomely abundant ("Mad Max: Fury Road") are chronicled for your fireworks-pregaming fun.

If you like detonations that end a little more depraved, here's Happy's Places crazy compilation of real-life fireworks gone wrong.  Have a blast!



Or, if you don't like violent imagery/sounds, here's the Boston Pops
playing "Stars And Stripes Forever."


And after all this American awesomeness, you've probably worked up a hearty appetite.  How about some technology to benefit your barbeque?  Popular Mechanics has reported on five new BBQ breakthroughs that will help your steaks sear, burgers burn, and dogs darken most deliciously.  From a Roomba-esque grill cleaning device to a glass-ceramic material specifically engineered to distribute heat for maximum meat-roasting magnificence, you can now fire things up like the perfect pitmaster.


Well done!
(Image courtesy pcmag.com.)

Happy Independence Day to all Americans, aliens, wannabe Americans, expatriates who still harbor feelings for the motherland, and anyone else who just feel like celebrating freedom on a Saturday.  Enjoy your day tomorrow, from screen to shining screen!


It's worth a try to go outside and celebrate tomorrow.
There might be fireworks!
(Image courtesy sodahead.com.)




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Nothing to Hide: Privacy and Surveillance in New York City

"If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of." This is perhaps the most well known slogan of anti-privacy advocates and would-be totalitarians the world over. At one and the same time, this simple statement both criminalizes the practice of privacy while excusing some of the most heinous attacks on the rights and liberties of individuals by governments and corporations.

Of course, the notion that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of" is absurd on its face, at least in any society that is predicated upon the civilizational principle separating the public and private spheres. Perhaps the simplest way to undermine this dangerous idea is to ask some rather simple questions of those who espouse it. For example: What is your name? What is your Social Security Number? What is your bank account number? What is the password to your main email account?

Recently, we decided to head out onto the streets of New York City with actor and comedian Adrian Sexton to ask folks if they agreed with the statement "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of." And if they answered in the affirmative, we then asked them to provide us with rather sensitive information. Some of the replies were rather surprising. Check it out below:

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We See What You Did There: Edward Snowden Given Human Rights Award By Sweden

While the United States remains steadfast in putting Edward Snowden in the "whistleblower spy" archive of history, other nations consider his efforts a laudable fight against the subtle tyranny of the surveillance state.  This week in Sweden, Snowden was awarded the Right Livelihood award, a humanitarian recognition of his work to free Americans (and others) from the zoo of Big Brother's surveillance amusement.

And we, in good conscience, shouldn't let them.
(Image courtesy garymvasey.files.com.)

According to the Guardian UK, Snowden was not physically able to attend the ceremony, as he considered it a threat to his safety (he is wanted on charges under the Espionage Act in the United States, whose notorious record of "renditions" would have rightly worried Snowden.)  However, he spoke with the committee via teleconference from Moscow, where he is currently living in exile.  In a show of solidarity for Mr. Snowden's deplorably alienated circumstances, none of his family members would accept the award in his absence, noting only that someday Snowden himself should be able to do so.

Informed and angry.  He's not wrong.
(Image courtesy reddit.com.)

The award jury noted that Snowden was being commended “for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights."

No one cares you have nothing to hide.  Something can be used against you.
(Image courtesy car-memes.com.)

President Barack Obama, who did not comment on Snowden's award, had previously campaigned with a strong intent to protect American whistleblowers.


They spelled Obama's name wrong, but everything else about this is sadly correct.
(Image courtesy csnbbs.com.)



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This Message Will Self-Destruct: CIA and Homeland Security Seek To Officially Destroy Thousands Of Emails

When you delete your emails, it's likely just to remove clutter, liberating your inbox from constant coupons, ads, e-pleas, etc.  But when the CIA and Homeland Security want to delete emails, considerably more eyebrows are raised.

According to engadget.com, two of our most totally-not-shady Big Brother organizations want to delete all of their emails that are seven years or older, as well as the emails of all CIA employees who have been retired for 3 years.  A plan of action was shown to the National Records and Archives Administration (NARA) that indicated this intent, with only 22 top officials' correspondence to survive the digital culling.

History now seems to be written by the digital winners.
(Image courtesy news.yahoo.com.)

For two organizations who thrive on intelligence (one where it's in the very title of the company), this seems like a bad idea.  Numerous senators, including Dianne Fenstien (D-CA), are actively opposing this plan, fearing the expunging of evidence.

The motion was made by the CIA as part of an effort to help streamline its email collection for better management, a mission that NARA had asked of all government agencies to figure out a plan for.  Homeland Security's excuse was that it would free up valuable server space ($50 a terabyte per month) and that deletion could also possibly thwart the intended intelligence-gathering of Einstein, their government-website traffic-tracker.

They can stash endless info on regular citizens, but heaven forbid their own emails get retained.
(Artwork by Will Varner / Image courtesy twistedsifter.com.)

While this would be a win for private privacy, the overarching scope of government intel is something that people don't want to be able to simply vanish like so many extraordinary renditions before it.

Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Gizmodo, "It's kind of sad. I want to applaud the government for choosing to discard unnecessary data about people. But we have good reason to question the government's reasons because of what we've learned about what we've NOT been told."

If you think the government shouldn't be doing the modern equivalent of shredding countless files and burning the confetti, you can tell NARA right here.

Uh...thanks but no thanks.
(Image courtesy reanimatedresidue.wordpress.com.)

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Congressman Rogers: Google Being Unpatriotic For Halting Pro-NSA Bill

"Unpatriotic" is the new "communism" when it comes to slinging mud, and Congressman Mike Rogers has gotten down and dirty on Silicon Valley.

Heavily insinuating that companies like Google and Microsoft were acting unpatriotically for their disapproval of the FISA bill (which did not go far enough enacting measures that would prevent the NSA from broadly expanding its powers of espionage over the internet), Rogers tried to rationalize things in terms of money, like a good politician.

According to www.techdirt.com, Rogers was quoted at a CIA conference on national security, saying, "One sixth of our economy now, is through the internet! One sixth! So this notion that we're all going to say "well the government should do nothing and just completely keep away" -- and I'm not for regulation, by the way, that's not what I mean, but I mean in some way to... to help defend these private networks or allow them to defend themselves -- if we don't get it right, one-sixth of our economy is going to go away. Like that (*snaps*). If every time you turn it on, you lose money, how many times are you going to turn it on and use the internet for commerce? You're not!"

Hypocritically, in the same speech, Rogers had previously attacked the Silicon Valley companies' ethics due to their discreetly-worded rebuttal of the FISA bill.  The companies had rejected the bill citing worries over losses of European profits. As in, Europe would be smart enough to immediately distrust this bill, despite incompetents like former Congressman Rogers (who is retiring to become a talk-radio bloviator) trying to pull the wool over peoples' eyes.


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Congressman Repays Official ISP Bribes with Sweetheart Bill

Don't say you're surprised.  Ars Technica has the gory details:
US Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) on Wednesday filed legislation that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from attempting to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility.
It probably won't surprise you that Internet service providers have enthusiastically given money to this congressman. As we reported in our May 16 story "Bankrolled by broadband donors, lawmakers lobby FCC on net neutrality," Latta received $51,000 from cable company interests in the two-year period ending December 2013.
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Congress Pretends to Curb Illegal and Unconstitutional Wiretapping Program

The Democratic and Republican parties are among the greatest threats to the people and Constitution of the United States.  From Wired:

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records. Unfortunately, it may not end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records.
The House voted 303 to 121 Thursday in favor of the USA Freedom Act, broad legislation aimed at reforming the NSA’s surveillance powers exposed by Edward Snowden. The central provision of the bill, which now moves on to debate in the Senate, is intended to limit what the intelligence community calls “bulk” collection–the indiscriminate vacuuming of citizen’s phone and internet records. But privacy advocates and civil libertarians say last-minute changes to the legislation supported by the White House added ambiguous language that could essentially give the NSA a broad loophole through which it can continue its massive domestic data collection.
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FCC Caves to Corporate Masters of the Democratic and Republican Parties

Anyone who expected a group of Democrats and Republicans to do anything other than continue to carry water for their corporate overlords on this issue, as with all other issues, seriously needs to have their head examined. From the Washington Post:
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted in favor of advancing a proposal that could dramatically reshape the way consumers experience the Internet, opening the possibility of Internet service providers charging Web sites for higher-quality delivery of their content to American consumers.
The plan, approved in a three-to-two vote along party lines, could unleash a new economy on the Web where an Internet service provider such as Verizon would charge a Web site such as Netflix for the guarantee of flawless video streaming.
The proposal is not a final rule, but the vote on Thursday is a significant step forward on a controversial idea that has invited fierce opposition from consumer advocates, Silicon Valley heavyweights, and Democratic lawmakers. The FCC will now open the proposal to a total 120 days of public comment. Final rules, aimed for the end of the year, could be rewritten after the agency reviews the public comments.
Again, supporting the Democratic or Republican parties in any way, shape or form is effectively tantamount to declaring oneself in active opposition to the most basic interests, rights and liberties of the people of the United States. 
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Unintended Consequences of the Snowden Leak

In the aftermath of the Snowden NSA leak last year, supporters of the National Security Police State and Surveillance Society in the Republican and Democratic parties quickly ran to the media arguing that the leak represented a grave threat to national security because it would potentially reveal sensitive intelligence sources and methods.  It is now being reported by the WSJ that, in response to the Snowden leaks, Al Qaeda have changed up their crypto protocols and rolled their own encryption software.  And the uninformed  responses from the professional hysterics in the media and blogosphere are not hard to find.  Take some guy named Bob Cesca at the Daily Banter, for example. He writes:
So this is just peachy. I’ve always been very, very cautious to not over-emphasize the general scope of the terrorist threat, but this has more to do with stupidly and recklessly helping the ones that are out there, and it appears as if Snowden & Company have done precisely that.
What this reveals is that Bob Cesca doesn't know the first thing about the basic tenets of cryptography. One of the first things anyone learns when doing the most rudimentary study of cryptography and cryptanalysis is that "home-brewed," closed source  cryptographic software is essentially broken by definition, since by definition it cannot be subjected to rigorous review.  This makes it easier to break.  So, ironically, by switching up their crypto, Al Qaeda are likely providing new attack vectors for intelligence agencies the world over.  And this is in fact the view of at least one actual expert in cryptography, Bruce Schneier, as opposed to the uninformed reactions of professional political whiners.  He writes:
The Web intelligence company Recorded Future is reporting -- picked up by the Wall Street Journal -- that al Qaeda is using new encryption software in the wake of the Snowden stories. I've been fielding press queries, asking me how this will adversely affect US intelligence efforts.
I think the reverse is true. I think this will help US intelligence efforts. Cryptography is hard, and the odds that a home-brew encryption product is better than a well-studied open-source tool is slight. Last fall, Matt Blaze said to me that he thought that the Snowden documents will usher in a new dark age of cryptography, as people abandon good algorithms and software for snake oil of their own devising. My guess is that this an example of that.
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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Project on Track in 2014

By L. Lawless 

With all of the earthly unpleasantry of the ever-encroaching surveillance state, it is nice to think that NASA is using its powers of sight to gaze upon the galaxy like never before. The James Webb Space Telescope, currently being completed at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland, is due to launch in 2018 and will use infrared capabilities to observe the universe from a gravitationally-stable location (known as the “L2” LaGrange point) 1.6 million kilometers away. However, fluctuating annual budget issues are putting the project (NASA’s most ambitious telescope launch since the Hubble) in possible jeopardy, with administrators worried that sequestration-induced budget cuts may further delay the launch (which at the time of the project’s conception had been slated for no later than 2011).

Currently at Goddard, several elements of the telescope are being prepared for testing in the facility’s cryogenic chamber, which simulates the environment of outer space by using liquid nitrogen to create a super-cooled sealed environment. The Fine Guidance Sensor, Mid-Infrared Instrument, Near Infrared Spectrograph and Near Infrared Camera will be subjected to Goddard’s thermal vacuum chamber this year in what may prove to be an expensive round of testing. Due to the necessity of continued testing for both the flight and engineering models of the telescope’s equipment, the Webb’s 2013 budget of $627.6 billion would not have been enough to continue to sustain the project as planned. However, thanks to sequestration negotiations and the White House’s interest in the telescope as a major space initiative, Congress recently granted the project $658.2 million for 2014. If further sequestration issues are not dealt with in the years to come, the volatility of the budget will force NASA to take money from other projects to assure the continued development of the Webb project.

The extremely sensitive thermal imaging cameras and optics must be extensively calibrated so that the telescope will have the capacity not just to identify planets, but to characterize their composition. The Webb’s primary optic (main mirror) is 6.5 meters across, and is comprised of 18 smaller hexagonal mirrors that will be folded into the nosecone of a rocket and then deployed once in space. Once in place, mirror calibration is made possible by small activators that can manipulate and hold the mirrors in place for weeks at a time (working as one unit, calibrated down to nanometers) in conditions that could reach -400C. The mirrors themselves are made of gold-coated beryllium substrate, which is optimum for maintaining stability in an unpredictable space environment. Concise testing of these elements is critical, as the mirrors and actuators must be calibrated down to billionths of a meter to achieve the project’s peak results. The Webb telescope will use its precise thermal imaging array not just to see and characterize planets, star formations, and various other phenomena through clouds of space dust, but also to examine remnants of light from the early universe that may lend clues as to the nature of space’s oldest galaxies.

Sources

Lee Lawless is a writer and musician living in New York City.
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Obama Admin Proposes Overhaul of Illegal NSA Surveillance Programs

From the NYT:
The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials.
Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
Of course, these assertions by anonymous administration officials are less than worthless until we see the actual details of the proposal.  Anyone who's been paying attention should be quite amused by this trial balloon.  Remember, just a few months ago, the Democrats and Republicans were running around telling us that all this illegal surveillance was necessary to "protect" us from the "terrorists".  It is time to repeal the Patriot Act, which continues to provide the legal excuse for these unconstitutional encroachments on the rights and liberties of the people, and to remove the Democrats and Republicans from all public offices. 
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Top Senate Witch Spooked by CIA

Senator Diane Feinstein of California is one of the most outspoken supporters of turning the United States into a totalitarian surveillance society.  Apparently, however, she only supports these policies when it is everyday folks whose rights are being trampled upon by the lawless spy agencies that are eroding our rights and liberties.  When it is her and the rest of the degenerate parasites in the Congress who are under the microscope, she appears to have a different view.  From CNN:
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee suggested Tuesday the CIA violated federal law by secretly pulling classified documents from her panel's computers during a staff probe of the spy agency's controversial detention and interrogation program.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan told her in January that agency personnel searched the computers because they believed the panel's investigators might have gained access to materials on an internal review they were not authorized to see.
"The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it," Feinstein said in blistering remarks on the Senate floor. "Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee's computer."
Feinstein said that she had "grave concerns" the search may have violated federal law regarding domestic spying as well as congressional oversight responsibilities under the Constitution.
Note that Feinstein engaged in no such concern trolling to defend the people's rights against unlawful search and seizure when they are routinely violated by the federal government.  Throw this witch to the curb. 

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Policy Makers Likely Even More Ignorant Than the Public on Tech Security Matters

The other day, we poked some fun at the US public for ignorance of basic tech-related terminology.  Much more serious, however, is the depth of ignorance and incompetence common among public officials who hold sway over cyber-policy decisions.  Whether it is a "cybersecurity" official who doesn't know what an ISP is, a judge who doesn't understand  email or a technophobic luddite who controls the Department of Homeland Security . . .  these people's ignorance actually puts the public at large in danger, and represent real threats to our security not to mention our civil liberties.  Of course, one would not expect anything less from the Democrats and Republicans.  From the Guardian:
One of the world’s leading cyberwarfare experts has warned of the damaging lack of government literacy in cybersecurity issues, pointing out that some senior officials don’t know how to use email, and that one US representative about to negotiate cybersecurity with China asked him what an “ISP” was. . . .

Yet former head of US homeland security Janet Napolitano once told Singer. “Don’t laugh, but I just don’t use email at all,” Singer recalled. “It wasn’t a fear of privacy or security - it’s because she just didn’t think it was useful. A supreme court justice also told me ‘I haven’t got round to email yet’ - and this is someone who will get to vote on everything from net neutrality to the NSA negotiations.”

Obama himself, Singer said, had expressed concern that the complexity of the issue was overwhelming policy makers.
Ignorance hiding behind complexity.  I'm sure they'll find a way to simply it for themselves while making the rest of us less secure and less free at the same time.  Win/win from their end, I suppose.  
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Europe Considers Digital Independence

From the Register:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lent her support to the idea of building
out new European data networks to help keep Europeans' email and other data out of the hands of US spies.
In the latest edition of her weekly podcast on Saturday, Merkel said she planned to raise the issue among other topics in a meeting with French President François Hollande this week.
"We'll talk, above all, about which European suppliers we have that provide security for the citizens," Merkel said, speaking in German, "that they need not cross the Atlantic with their emails and other things, but we can also build communications networks within Europe."
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Big Government and Big Business Collude to Outlaw Municipal Broadband

As if you needed another reason to detest the dictatorship of the two-party state.  From Ars Technica:
It's no secret that private Internet service providers hate when cities and towns decide to enter the telecommunications business themselves. But with private ISPs facing little competition and offering slow speeds for high prices, municipalities occasionally get fed up and decide to build their own broadband networks.
To prevent this assault on their lucrative revenue streams, ISPs have teamed up with friends in state legislatures to pass laws that make it more difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband service.
Attorney James Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group has been fighting attempts to restrict municipal broadband projects for years. He's catalogued restrictions placed upon public Internet service in 20 states, and that number could be much higher already if not for the efforts of consumer advocates.
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The Internet Strikes Back

From the reddit blog:
Today we must fight back against mass, suspicionless surveillance. Today we must protect both our civil liberties and the digital tools connecting us all.

Indiscriminate bulk surveillance programs by the NSA and their allies (detailed below) violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens' right to speak and associate anonymously, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy.

In addition to individual privacy issues, these surveillance programs are damaging for online businesses like reddit. These programs undermine the basic freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables.  The potential for a business to be legally and secretly compelled to violate the privacy of both foreign and domestic users casts a pall over any U.S.-based site. In turn, this threatens to place U.S.-based internet companies, one of the most dynamic and booming sectors of our economy, at a global disadvantage.

Fortunately, there are real opportunities for reform, but they need our support. Please consider joining us in taking action today. Together we can push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action. Together, we can make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.

If you're in the U.S., Call Congress today. Dial 202-552-0505 or click here to enter your phone number and have the call tool connect you. Ask your legislators to oppose the FISA Improvements Act (a bill that attempts to legalize bulk data collection of phone records), support the USA Freedom Act (a bill that works to curtail NSA surveillance abuses), and enact protections for non-Americans. Details on these bills and other legislation can be found below.

Here's what you should say:

I'd like Senator/Representative __ to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like you to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I'd like you to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards and to protect the privacy rights of non-Americans.
If you're not in the U.S., demand that privacy protections be instituted.

You can also join in one of the offline protests happening today around the world. A partial list is available at thedaywefightback.org/events.

Below are detailed resources on what the NSA is doing, what legislation is out there, and common excuses for NSA surveillance—and how to bust them, courtesy of the EFF.
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UT: ISPs Continue Fight Against Competition and Better Service

From Ars Technica:

Kansas isn't the only state considering legislation that would limit the growth of government-funded broadband networks that threaten incumbent Internet service providers.

The latest such attempt we've learned of is a Utah House bill called the "Interlocal Entity Service Prohibition," which would prevent a regional fiber consortium from building infrastructure outside the boundaries of its member cities and towns.

While it would affect any such group, the bill seems to be directed at UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, a consortium of 16 cities that operates a fiber-to-the-premises broadband network. The bill explicitly targets fiber only, not affecting cable or other types of networks.
"It actually is aimed specifically at UTOPIA," the group's legislative policy director, Gary Crane, told Ars. Crane is also a city attorney for Layton, one of UTOPIA's member municipalities. "I think there's probably a lot of fear in those who hold the monopoly currently in our cities that this model may be a good model for other cities to adopt." 
The bill, sponsored by Republican legislator Curt Webb, "prohibits an interlocal entity that provides telecommunication service through a fiber optic network from constructing infrastructure or providing telecommunication service in locations outside the boundaries of its members."

We've tried to reach Webb by e-mail and phone but haven't heard back yet.
UTOPIA's network is open access, allowing private Internet service providers to sell broadband over the fiber.
Of course, this is not surprising, the very notion of utopia is anathema to the alliance of Big Business and Big Government.
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NJ: Professional Political Hysteric Demands to Interrogate Students Over Proof-of-Concept Program

New Jersey's Attorney General, John Hoffman, and the rest of his office appear to be nothing more than a technophobic gaggle of professional hysterics.  And they are out to prove it by harassing a group of young student programmers who came up with an interesting new decentralized Bitcoin app.  It appears these students may get a real lesson on the ignorance, arrogance and degeneracy of the ruling political class.  From the EFF:
As the popularity of Bitcoins has increased, government officials are concerned about criminal activity associated with the virtual currency. But a recent issued by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to 19-year-old Bitcoin developer and MIT student Jeremy Rubin goes too far, and we're fighting back by moving to quash it.
subpoena
Rubin and some other MIT classmates developed a computer code called Tidbit for the Node Knockout Hackathon in November 2013. Tidbit uses a client's computer to mine for Bitcoins as an alternative to website advertising: in exchange for removing ads from a website, a user would give some CPU cycles to mine for Bitcoins instead. Tidbit was clearly presented as a proof of concept, with the developers making clear the code was configured not to mine for Bitcoins. That's because in addition to refining the code, they needed to work out the legal details, like drafting a terms of service, and the ethical details, like making sure there was a way for users to opt-in to the service so their computers weren't being used to mine Bitcoins without their knowledge. Tidbit won the Node Knockout award for innovation and the students thought they were on their way to continuing with their project.
But in December, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs issued a subpoena to Rubin, requesting he turn over Tidbit's past and current source code, as well as other documents and agreements with any third parties. It also issued 27 interrogatories -- formal written questions -- requesting additional documents and ordering Rubin to turn over information like the names and identities of all Bitcoin wallet addresses associated with Tidbit, a list of all websites running Tidbit's code and the name of anybody whose computer mined for Bitcoins through the use of Tidbit, although Tidbit's code was not configured to mine for Bitcoins.
Who exactly are the people who continue to vote for the brain dead politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties?  And what the hell is wrong with them? 
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Clueless Judge Thinks Government Can Be Trusted

Here's a funny little tidbit from the ongoing court case surrounding the former Lavabit secure email service. An appeals court judge believes that the government can be trusted not to abuse its powers.  From Ars Technica:
In the summer of 2013, Lavabit was ordered to provide real-time e-mail monitoring of one of its users, widely believed to be Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-leaker. When Lavabit told the feds that the only way it could hand over communications was through an internal process that would deliver results 60 days after any communication was sent, the authorities returned with a search warrant for Lavabit's SSL keys, which could decrypt the traffic of all of Lavabit's users. Ladar Levison, the CEO of Lavabit, handed over the SSL keys but then shut down his 10-year-old business rather than expose all of Lavabit's users.

The first report of the appeals argument from PC World suggests that while Levison may be a hero with privacy advocates, he's going to have a tougher time convincing the judges on the appeals court. The case was “blown out of proportion with all these contentions” of what the FBI would do with the SSL keys, said US Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer. "There’s such a willingness to believe” that the keys will be misused and that "the government will spy on everyone,” he said.
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Regulatory Hearings on Bitcoin Begin in NYC

From the NYT:
A hearing on the regulatory future of Bitcoin on Tuesday turned into a forum on the shortcomings of the traditional banking industry.  The hearing, called by New York State’s top financial regulator, Benjamin M. Lawsky, gave five Bitcoin advocates the chance to enumerate what they view as the advantages Bitcoin could provide over current systems of moving money around the world. 

“Solutions don’t really come from the current industry,” said Cameron Winklevoss, who, with his twin brother, Tyler, has invested in Bitcoin companies. They were early players in Facebook.  Even Mr. Lawsky got in some digs when he complained that it takes three days for his bank to transfer money to pay a credit card bill at the same bank.

When Mr. Lawsky asked about efforts by banks to create their own Bitcoin alternatives, Fred Wilson, a leading venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, said “no one is going to build on top of JPMorgan Chase’s Bitcoin.”
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Bitcoin Company Operator Arrested, Big Bank Money Launderers Continue to Walk Free

From Business Insider:
The CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested at JFK airport and charged with money laundering.  Charlie Shrem, along with a co-conspirator, is accused of selling over $1 million in bitcoins to Silk Road users, who would then use them to buy drugs and other illicit items.
Meanwhile, global money laundering operations like those at HSBC skate by with a cost-of-doing-business fine and no arrests.  From Reuters:
U.S. regulators continue to find weaknesses in the way HSBC Holdings tries to prevent money laundering, according to people familiar with the matter, even after the British bank was forced to pay nearly $2 billion in penalties and invested millions in increasing its compliance.
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NYT Profiles Ross Ulbricht

From the NYT:
Ross Ulbricht’s last moments as a free man were noisy enough to draw a crowd. Employees at the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco library heard a crashing sound and rushed to the s
cience fiction section, expecting to find a patron had hit the floor. Instead, they found a handful of federal agents surrounding a slender 29-year-old man with light brown hair and wearing a T-shirt and jeans.

The goal of the arrest, at 3:15 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2013, was not simply to apprehend Mr. Ulbricht, but also to prevent him from performing the most mundane of tasks: closing his laptop. That computer, according to the F.B.I., was the command center of Silk Road, the world’s largest and most notorious black market for drugs. In just two and a half years, the government says, Silk Road had become a hub for more than $1.2 billion worth of transactions, many of them in cocaine, heroin and LSD. 
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Amazon Warehouse Workers to Vote on Unionization

From GigaOM:
A group of Amazon warehouse workers in Delaware will decide Wednesday on whether to create a union. The vote covers just a tiny sub-set of the retail giant’s workforce but has heavy symbolic significance at a time when Amazon faces ongoing criticism over its labor practices.
The vote comes after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers filed a petition on December 6 on behalf of  30 equipment maintenance and repair technicians in Middletown, Delaware. If a majority of the workers vote in favor, it will be the first Amazon union shop in the U.S.
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NH: Politicians Seek to Criminalize Aerial Photography

From Tech Dirt:
Some politicians in New Hampshire have put forth a bill that would make it illegal to do aerial photography of any "residential dwelling." The key text of HB-619-FN is as follows:
A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor if such person knowingly creates or assists in creating an image of the exterior of any residential dwelling in this state where such image is created by or with the assistance of a satellite, drone, or any device that is not supported by the ground. This prohibition shall not apply where the image does not reveal forms identifiable as human beings or man-made objects.
If you're thinking that this would make it a misdemeanor (which is still a crime...) for people to work on things like Mapquest, Google Maps and Bing Maps -- all of which have "aerial" views (often called "satellite view," though some are assisted by airplanes as well) -- to even exist, well, then, you have a point. . . .
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