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Texas believes that it is very important that the government control what you’re allow to say or publish in social media

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In The Intercept Jordan Smith has an article that shows how the government—in this case, the Texas government—is getting fed up with people speaking their minds and is taking steps to stop that. From the article (definitely worth reading):

. . . BY THE TIME Hartwell arrived at the Crowne Plaza for the meeting, she was mad; she felt forced by the TDCJ to take offline the Facebook page she had long maintained. And that quickly turned into frustration when a board coordinator approached to deliver a bit of confounding news. Because there were so many people signed up to speak during the public comment period (including three who wanted to speak about the social media rule), the board’s chair had decided to chop in half each speaker’s normal allotted time of three minutes. How many people were signed up? The board rep didn’t know; this is what the chairman has decided, she said.

But throughout the comment period, the rules kept changing, and not everyone got the promised 1 1/2 minutes. First, Chair Dale Wainwright, a former jurist on the Texas Supreme Court, announced that individuals who’d signed up to speak on the same topic would have to coordinate among themselves to figure out who would abridge and deliver comments on behalf of the group — regardless of whether the individuals had similar comments to make. For social media comments, he would offer a total of two minutes. Midway through the meeting, Wainwright changed the rules again, offering each speaker just 60 seconds to communicate their complaints and concerns.

After the comment period — during which board members did not respond to questions (Wainwright promised each speaker would later receive a written response) — Hartwell was quick to link the chair’s actions to concerns about the social media rule. If the board so easily bent its rules for citizen communications, what was to keep the agency from bending its social media rule too? “They’re very arbitrary,” she told The Intercept. “They do what they want to do, and this is what scares me about this stuff.”

The new rule first made news on April 12, when a reporter for the local FOX station in Houston essentially took credit for its creation. According to the reporter, the rule followed from a story he did back in January that drew attention to a Facebook page maintained for a prisoner named Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who in the early 1970s, was an accomplice to the sexual assault and murder of more than two dozen teenage boys. In addition to written posts, Henley’s page was apparently displaying jewelry for sale and other art that he made in prison.

Although he didn’t mention Henley directly, TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark later said the rule was necessary because some inmates had misused their accounts. “Offenders have used social media accounts to sell items over the internet based on the notoriety of their crime, harass victims or victims’ families, and continue their criminal activity,” he told Fusion in an email. Of course, trying to sell so-called murderabilia or threatening or harassing victims is already prohibited under TDCJ rules. Given that the content for Facebook and other internet sites must be transmitted from prison via mail, phone, or in-person visit, all of which are heavily monitored, it is hard to see how banning social media for all prisoners would be necessary to ferret out such violations.

When asked to provide details on incidents that prompted adoption of the rule, Clark referred The Intercept to the agency’s Office of the Inspector General, suggesting we file an open records request for the information. In a follow-up email, he said there was “not one specific incident related to an offender that prompted the new rule.” Rather, he wrote, it was that “it had become more difficult to have an offender’s social media account take down because the agency had no policy that specifically prohibited it.”

AS IT TURNS OUT, Facebook, at least, has been censoring prisoner pages for a number of years — despite its stated goal of giving “people the power to share and to make the world more open and connected.” According toreporting by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, from at least 2011 through early 2015, prison officials and Facebook shared a “special arrangement” whereby a prison could provide Facebook with links for prisoner pages it wanted removed, and Facebook would then suspend those profiles, “often [with] no questions asked, even when it wasn’t clear if any law or Facebook policy was being violated.” . . .

By all means read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2016 at 6:44 pm

How the rise of authoritarian governments will kill the internet

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And we see the authoritarians in the US—the FBI, the NSA, the DEA, the police—jumping on board to undermine privacy and hand over control to the security state. Andrew Fishman reports in The Intercept:

Brazilian internet freedom activists are nervous. On Wednesday, a committee in the lower house of Congress, the Câmera dos Deputados, will vote on seven proposals ostensibly created to combat cybercrime. Critics argue the combined effect will be to substantially restrict open internet in the country by peeling back the right to anonymity, and providing law enforcement with draconian powers to censor online discourse and examine citizens’ personal data without judicial oversight.

The bills are ripped straight from what has become a standard international playbook: Propose legislation to combat cybercrime; invoke child pornography, hackers, organized crime, and even terrorism; then slip in measures that also make it easier to identify critical voices online (often without judicial oversight) and either mute them or throw them in jail for defamation — direct threats to free speech.

Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Kuwait, Kenya, the Philippines, Peru, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have all seen similar proposals recently. Some were met with strong resistance and got shelved, some are still pending, and others made it into law.

“Cybercrime is one of the recurring excuses for creating overbroad legislation which place controls on internet activity,” Katitza Rodriguez, international rights director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an email to The Intercept.

In Brazil, the proposals are the result of the nine-month-long Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Cybercrimes, referred to as the CPICiber, created in July 2015 by House President Eduardo Cunha at the request of a congressman from President Dilma Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT). The first draft of the report, released on March 30, provoked a massively negative response from civil society groups.

The Brazilian press has not dedicated much coverage to this story — reporters have their hands full with the monthslong political crisiscurrently enveloping the nation — but the Folha de São Paulo, a major national newspaper, published an editorial on Saturday arguing that the proposals use the “pretext of increasing security” online to “increase the power to censor the web and diminish users’ privacy.” According to Folha,the “provisions attack the pillars of the Marco Civil da Internet, a statute enacted in 2014 which put Brazil at the vanguard of the issue” of internet rights. The paper concluded that “this is the type of control used by countries such as China and Iran.”

One particularly controversial proposal would have required social networks to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 April 2016 at 3:32 pm

After drones: the indelible mark of America’s remote control warfare

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Spencer Ackerman reports in the Guardian:

Nabila’s favorite memories of her grandmother come from weddings. It didn’t matter who was getting married – relative or neighbor – her grandmother, Mamana, was an active participant, owing to her matriarchal perch above their village.

Mamana was as responsible as she was festive. An uneducated woman, she was the local midwife, and served as an impromptu primary care physician, even a veterinarian, when the need arose.

On a fall afternoon in 2012, Mamana called Nabila and a squad of her siblings and cousins outside to the family’s okra fields, part of their sprawling garden in tribalPakistan. It was about to be the Eid festival and the Rehman family needed to gather and prepare vegetables. Nabila, nine years old, had set to work when the drone fired its missiles.

A dark plume of dust rose from the garden and mixed with acrid smoke. It spared Nabila and the other children the sight of their grandmother’s mutilated corpse.

Her older cousins, all male, ran to help the screaming children. Nabila’s hand and her arm were injured with burns and shrapnel. Her three-year-old brother, Safdar, who was watching the harvest from the roof of their home, had fallen to the ground, breaking bones in his chest and shoulders. The teenagers had gotten Nabila and some of the others out of the way when the second round of missiles hit, in what the CIA refers to as a “double-tap”, to make sure it kills its targets.

Timely surgeries saved them. Then began the struggles that would characterize their lives thereafter.

Because US drone strikes are cloaked in secrecy, occur in remote or dangerous locales and target people presumed to be terrorists, Americans rarely hear from survivors or their relatives. But a theme emerges in interviews the Guardian has conducted with more than half a dozen drone survivors: the pain from the strike never ends, as the apparatus of secrecy renders closure unobtainable.

According to six people in Pakistan and Yemen who have lost their brothers, sons and grandparents to drone strikes, the strike lasts a moment and the consequences last a lifetime. Most of them have never told their stories to an American reporter. Some of them have theories about whom the US was targeting, while others are left guessing. The interviews were facilitated by the human rights group Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights and conducted in translation.

The people are left impoverished, anguished and infuriated. Justice, let alone apologies, never arrives, even as a modest amount of blood money flows from the local governments. The United States, which styles itself a force for justice in the world, is to them the remote force that introduced death into their lives and treats them like they are subhuman, fit only to be targeted. At any moment, they fear, another drone could come for them.

The White House has said it will soon release of a tally of drone deaths. Relatives of the dead and survivors of the attacks expect little of it to include the truth, and doubt it will lead to the public apologies they desire – particularly since a senior aide to Barack Obama recently told the Atlantic that the president “has not had a second thought about drones”.

The CIA would not comment for this piece. An Obama administration official said: “It is certainly not the case that lives of a certain nationality are more valuable to us than those of any other. What is true, however, is that the president has said … that the American people need information to hold their government accountable. That is in part why we have been especially transparent when it comes to the deaths of US citizens.”

Nabila’s father, and Mamana’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, took a different view. “If America kills any westerner, one of their own, white people, they apologize and compensate. But if it’s Pakistanis like us, they don’t care. In my opinion, America treats us worse than animals.”

The taxi driver

Mohammed al-Qawli just wanted to bury his brother.

It was the evening of 23 January 2013. Mohammed, now 43, rushed to the cratered road east of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, where his brother and cousin were killed. He found Ali, his 34-year-old brother, in pieces.

After fainting from grief, Mohammed took Ali’s body to the local hospital in preparation for burial. But when he returned the next morning, he learned that what remained of Ali was no longer there. Mohammed would have to go to a military hospital. It was his first indication that the manner in which his brother died would result in bureaucratic complications over laying him to rest.

The military told Mohammed to go to the governor of Sana’a province. The governor was respectful, offering a token apology – and money.

“At first I didn’t accept it,” Mohammed said. Doing so would amount to an admission that Ali and their cousin, Salim, were terrorists. But they had died because of hitchhiking.

That afternoon, Ali and Salem had stopped by a market to pick up groceries after the school where Ali taught had let out. They occasionally used their Toyota Hilux as a taxi to make extra money, and a stranger known as Rabia, along with a companion, flagged them down. Mohammed explains that Yemen has a culture of hitchhiking that encourages drivers to offer strangers rides.

It would be a fateful decision. Rabia and his friend asked Ali and Salim to drive them through an area winding through military checkpoints. When they stopped at their destination to drop off the passengers, two Hellfires from an overhead US drone killed them all.

Mohammed believes Rabia was the target. Rabia is suspected of having served as a bodyguard for someone in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaida affiliate considered the global terrorist group’s most competent. For years, the CIA and the US Joint Special Operations Command had conducted parallel programs of drone strikes against the group under a cloak of secrecy. The al-Qawli cousins were collateral damage. . .

Continue reading.

The drone campaign may well create more terrorists than it kills—perhaps that’s why so much of it is kept secret.

Do read the entire story. The drone war will in time be seen as another shameful chapter in US history.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2016 at 2:35 pm

Inside the Devastation of America’s Drone Wars

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Pratrap Chatterjee reports at

In our part of the world, it’s not often that potential “collateral damage” speaks, but it happened last week.  A Pakistani tribal leader, Malik Jalal, flew to England to plead in anewspaper piece he wrote and in media interviews to be taken off the Obama White House’s “kill list.”  (“I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead.”)  Jalal, who lives in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, is a local leader and part of a peace committee sanctioned by the Pakistani government that is trying to tamp down the violence in the region.  He believes that he’s been targeted for assassination by Washington.  (Four drone missiles, he claims, have just missed him or his car.)  His family, he says, is traumatized by the drones.  “I don’t want to end up a ‘Bugsplat’ — the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone,” he writes. “More importantly, I don’t want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized.” 

Normally, what “they” do to us, or our European counterparts (think: Brussels, Paris, or San Bernardino), preoccupies us 24/7.  What we do to “them” — and “them” turns out to be far more than groups of terrorists — seldom touches our world at all.  As TomDispatch readers know, this website has paid careful attention to the almost 300 wedding celebrants killed by U.S. air power between late 2001 and the end of 2013 — eight wedding parties eviscerated in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen).  These are deaths that, unlike the 14 Americans murdered in San Bernardino, the 32 Belgians and others killed in Brussels, and the 130 French and others slaughtered in Paris, have caused not even a ripple here (though imagine for a second the reaction if even a single wedding, no less eight of them and hundreds of revelers, had been wiped out by a terror attack in the U.S. in these years).

Any sense of sadness or regret for Washington’s actions, when it comes to the many killed, wounded, or traumatized in its never-ending, implacable, and remarkably unsuccessful war on terror, is notable mainly for its absence from our world.  So it’s an extraordinary moment when any Americans — no less a group that has been deeply involved in prosecuting the drone war on terror — publicly expresses empathy for the “collateral damage” inflicted in that ongoing conflict.  That’s why TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee brings genuine news today from the heart of America’s drone wars, from those who should best be able to assess the grim reality of just what Washington has been doing in our name. Tom

Drone Whistleblowers Step Out of the Shadows
In Washington’s Drone Wars, Collateral Damage Comes Home
By Pratap Chatterjee

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East — not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage.  In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.

“Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 dronestrike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears in National Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake.  In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.

“I Was Under the Impression That America Was Saving the World”

“When we are in our darkest places and we have a lot to worry about and we feel guilty about our past actions, it’s really tough to describe what that feeling is like,” says Daniel, a whistleblower who took part in drone operations and whose last name is not revealed in National Bird. Speaking of the suicidal feelings that sometimes plagued him while he was involved in killing halfway across the planet, he adds, “Having the image in your head of taking your own life is not a good feeling.”

National Bird is not the first muckraking documentary on Washington’s drone wars. Robert Greenwald’s Unmanned, Tonje Schei’s Drone, and Madiha Tahrir’s Wounds of Waziristan have already shone much-needed light on how drone warfare really works. But as Kennebeck told me, when she set out to make a film about the wages of the newest form of war known to humanity, she wanted those doing the targeting, as well as those they were targeting, to speak for themselves.  She wanted them to reveal the psychological impact of sending robot assassins, often operated by “pilots” halfway around the world, into the Greater Middle East to fight Washington’s war on terror. In her film, there’s no narrator, nor experts in suits working for think tanks in Washington, nor retired generals debating the value of drone strikes when it comes to defeating terrorism.

Instead, what you see is far less commonplace: low-level recruits in President Obama’s never-ending drone wars, those Air Force personnel who remotely direct the robotic vehicles to their targets, analyze the information they send back, and relay that information to the pilots who unleash Hellfire missiles that will devastate distant villages. If recent history is any guide, these drones do not just kill terrorists; in their target areas, they also create anxiety, upset, and a desire for revenge in a larger population and so have proven a powerful weapon in spreading terror movements across the Greater Middle East.

These previously faceless but distinctly non-robotic Air Force recruits are the cannon fodder of America’s drone wars.  You meet two twenty-somethings: Daniel, a self-described down-and-out homeless kid, every male member of whose family has been in jail on petty charges of one kind or another, and Heather, a small town high school graduate trying to escape rural Pennsylvania. You also meet Lisa, a former Army nurse from California, who initially saw the military as a path to a more meaningful life.

The three of them worked on Air Force bases scattered around the country from California to Virginia. The equipment they handled hovered above war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Pakistan and Yemen (where the U.S. Air Force was supporting assassination missions on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency).

“That is so cool, unmanned aircraft. That’s really bad-ass.” So Heather thought when she first saw recruitment posters for the drone program. “I was under the impression,” she told Kennebeck, “that America was saving the world, like that we were Big Brother and we were helping everyone out.”

Initially, Lisa felt similarly: “When I first got into the military, I mean I was thinking it was a win-win. It was a force for good in the world. I thought I was going to be on the right side of history.”

And that was hardly surprising.  After all, you’re talking about the “perfect weapon,” the totally high-tech, “precise” and “surgical,” no-(American)-casualties, sci-fi version of war that Washington has been promoting for years as its answer to al-Qaeda and other terror outfits.  President Obama who has personally overseen the drone campaigns — with a “kill list” and “terror Tuesday” meetings at the White House — vividly described his version of such a modern war in a 2013 speech at the National Defense University:

“This is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense. We were attacked on 9/11. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces… America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”

That distinctly Hollywood vision of America’s drone wars (with a Terminatoredge) was the one that had filtered down to the level of Kennebeck’s three drone-team interviewees when they signed on.  It looked to them then like a war worth fighting and a life worth leading.  Today, as they speak out, their version of such warfare looks nothing like what either Hollywood or Washington might imagine.

“Excuse Me, Sir, Can I Have Your Driver’s License?”

National Bird does more than look at the devastation caused by drones in far away lands and the overwhelming anxiety it produces among those who live under the distant buzzing and constant threat of those robotic aircraft on an almost daily basis. Kennebeck also turns her camera on the men and women who helped make the strikes possible, trying to assess what the impact of their war has been on them. Their raw and unfiltered responses should deeply trouble us all.

Kennebeck’s interviewees are among at least a dozen whistleblowers who have stepped forward, or are preparing to do so, in order to denounce Washington’s drone wars as morally unjustified, as in fact nightmares both for those who fight them and those living in the lands that are on the receiving end. The realities of the day-in, day-out war they fought for years were, as they tell it, deeply destructive and filled with collateral damage of every sort.  Worse yet, drone operators turn out to have little real idea about, and almost no confirmation of, whom exactly they’ve blown away. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2016 at 11:38 am

Neither snow nor ice nor water can stop these trucks

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2016 at 12:58 pm

Why Senators Burr and Feinstein are ignorant or stupid or both

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The video is via this Motherboard article by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

For almost two years, the FBI has been trying to tell us that phones and computers that use hard-to-break encryption would doom us all to a future of unsolvable crimes and uncatchable criminals.

Earlier this year, when the FBI couldn’t get into the phone of a dead terrorist, the encryption debate, which has actually been going on and off for more than 20 years, finally had its moment in the sun. The debate is extremely complex, but the position of the FBI can be boiled down to a simple concept: There shouldn’t be unbreakable locks, because nobody is above the law. (By the way, that’s actually pretty much what a much-anticipated—and then much-ridiculedSenate bill says.)

But is that really true? And why should you, common law-abiding citizen care? John Oliver already did a pretty good job at answering that question, but a new animated video from CGP Grey might be the best simple explainer we’ve seen to date. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2016 at 12:02 pm

Senators Barr and Feinstein Promise to ‘Solicit Input’ for Anti-Encryption Bill

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Though so far the only input they seem interested to hear is from people who agree with them. Joshua Kopstein reports at Motherboard:

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr have officially released a draft of their long-awaited encryption bill, which was met with widespread mockery and horrorfrom security experts when it leaked last week.

The bill’s official discussion draft is substantively identical to the leaked version, and would force companies to provide law enforcement with access to encrypted communications when they are compelled by a court—effectively mandating the creation of backdoors in their products and imposing a ban on end-to-end encrypted communications apps.

“Today, terrorists and criminals are increasingly using encryption to foil law enforcement efforts, even in the face of a court order,” wrote Feinstein in a press release Wednesday. “We need strong encryption to protect personal data, but we also need to know when terrorists are plotting to kill Americans.”

The senators also state they will “solicit input from the public and key stakeholders” before the bill is formally introduced in Congress.

But so far, the only “stakeholders” Feinstein and Burr seem interested in discussing the bill with are non-technical people who are already on their side. On Monday, the senators announced a briefing on the bill with a panel composed entirely of cops and prosecutors.

“You would think they would be interested in feedback from a more diverse set of stakeholders even before releasing the draft text, but here we are,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “We will certainly give our feedback, and we always aim to be constructive, although it won’t be pretty and they won’t like it.”

Meanwhile, many tech experts and privacy advocates have already given theirunsolicited input, calling the proposal “ludicrous, dangerous” and “technically illiterate.”

“The essential contradiction here with Burr-Feinstein is that strong encryption is a creature of math, and relatively simple math at that, whereas court orders are legal instrument,” Hall told Motherboard in an email. “To say math can’t trump court orders doesn’t make sense. To say a business can’t offer a product that does complicated math is even less sensical.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2016 at 11:40 am


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