Country Courant

"All the News Informing Spaceless Media, or something."

US Government defends Wikileaks probe of Twitter

Declan McCullagh reports of the U.S. Justice Department on Friday dismissing as “absurd” any privacy and free speech concerns about its request for access to the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks volunteers.

Last Friday’s brief follows an appeal that attorneys representing the WikiLeaks volunteers filed Mar. 25. A hearing has been set for later this month in Arlington, Va., before U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady.

The attorneys’ appeal to O’Grady seeks to throw out a magistrate judge’s ruling on Mar. 11 that granted prosecutors access to the accounts, including information about what Internet and e-mail addresses are associated with them. The government sought the court order as part of a grand jury probe that appears to be investigating whether WikiLeaks principals, including editor Julian Assange, violated American criminal laws.

The Justice Department’s brief, which asks O’Grady to “direct Twitter to fully and promptly comply,” also raises a series of other arguments including: criminal procedures instead of civil should apply; the order complied with the Stored Communications Act; and that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply.

In their own brief last month, attorneys for the Twitter account holders said prosecutors’ request violates federal law, “intrudes upon” their clients’ First Amendment right to freedom of association, and “threatens” their right to privacy.

Damn straight it does. The DOJ is seeking the logs and other information about the account, not any actual messages between the parties involved or the matter of their content. Twitter, at best, is a weak connection between the suspects, and should not be used to substantiate conjectures made by the DOJ. A lot of people retweeted, replied to, and were messaged by Assange in his time on Twitter. Just because a few of those people had pasts that the Justice Department think relevant doesn’t mean their private information can be leveraged from Twitter.

This case is important for determining the future of social networking sites like Twitter regarding privacy and freedom of association. If the DOJ continues to insist on having access to private information released to companies like Google and Facebook, all of us become susceptible all kinds of potential abuse.

Resource: PEJ News and New Media indexes.

Over on, the site for Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, you can find weekly indexes for various types of media that track the trends of topics in News Coverage, New (Social) Media, Campaigns, and Talk Shows.

Their indexes are designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of that media narrative, and the differences among news platforms. The PEJ presents this data through many methods. With News Coverage, percentages are based on a topic’s “newshole,” or the space devoted to each subject in print and online and time on radio and TV.  For New Media, PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on news articles linked to by bloggers, and analyzes the results. 

According to PEJ:

The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ’s New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

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Wikileaks Founder Assange debates NY Times on investigative journalism, media

Over at PBS’s Mediashift, Mark Glaser has been diligently covering the exclusive Logan Symposium, held annually at University of California at Berkley.

Here, Glaser has published an excellent summary of events, which included a partially-paraphrased introduction by Lowell Bergman, UC Berkeley:

We’ll have a series of talks about WikiLeaks, along with a videotape we produced with Julian Assange. He was here last year, and can’t be here this year, obviously. We did send an invitation to Bradley Manning but he can’t make it.

Julian is not really a source. He’s a new kind of person, with a new kind of vocation. We all need to do a lot of thinking about it. He’s not a source, and he’s not a legacy journalist. He’s an advocate and that’s not rare among journalists these days.

Glaser also has excerpts from a debate between representatives from the news outlets that worked with and published the Wikileaks (New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel,) and Julian Assagne. Assange joined the discussion from the U.K. via satellite, because he’s internationally-cool like that. 

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Net Neutrality, Free Speech Suffer Defeat

Yesterday, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a resolution to repeal the FCC’s rules regarding Internet Regulation.

I’ve written extensively on the principles of Net Neutrality before, so I won’t go into their detail, but the basic tenets are as follows:

  1. Net Neutrality ensures that Internet users have the right to access and post lawful content of their choosing, free of discrimination or degradation by network providers.
  2. Equal access at an equal price, which ensures fair competition among Internet Service Providers and their affiliate technologies - despite popular belief, ISPs would still able to charge a higher rate for faster services under Net Neutrality.
  3. Finally, consumers must be allowed to choose the equipment they can attach to the network.

It is important to understand that these principles are attempting to reinforce the columns that support the Great Open Forum of the Internet. We are capable of public dialogue through the Internet, and I don’t think anyone would argue that it is a vital part of their daily communications.

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Analysis of a Pollster:

Tonight, as some of you already know, marked the eve of potential government shutdown. I wanted to get a feeling of how the American public felt about the looming bureaucratic nightmare, so I headed over to Gallup and found this poll, which claims that Americans favor budget compromise over government shutdown, 58%-33%.

I wanted to use the flagrant theatrics of the budget ”crisis” as an opportunity to measure the degree to which the attitudes of the general population are reflected in the elected representatives in Washington. If only I could wish away  the conclusions to which I’ve come about public and private matters of interest. I was hoping the disenfranchised spirit stirred within the American people was just hyperbolic cynicism borne out of miserable economic conditions. But as a rational person I must have confidence in some of my conclusions that only empirical evidence could substantiate.

In order to even attempt an analysis of this relationship, I need to make sure the poll results are accurate enough to use as a base for my conjectures. I decided to apply the essential characteristics of a properly-conducted poll. Note, all good polls will provide information on the following:

  1. The question(s) asked.
  2. The sample size.
  3. How the sample was drawn.
  4. When the poll was conducted.
  5. How it compares with other polls.

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Republicans on the move against Abortion

Republicans began committee work this week on two bills that would greatly expand restrictions on financing for and access to abortions. One bill has drawn fire over language that undercuts a longstanding exemption on the ban on using federal money for abortions in the case of rape or incest; the measure narrows the definition of rape to “forcible rape” (Steinhauer). According to Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, “Both bills are designed to drive coverage for abortion out of health insurance plans” (Steinhauer). This has angered Democrats like Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, who compared the proposals to “a Third World country that’s requiring women to wear head shawls to cover their faces even if they don’t want to do it.”

By attempting to narrow the word rape to “forcible rape”, an otherwise undefined term, the committee is opening up the possibility of victims of statutory rape and other crimes being denied federal money for abortions (Steinhauer). For instance, if a woman becomes pregnant before the age of consent, and could not afford the proper procedure to abort the pregnancy, she has no choice but to have the child. This scenario demonstrates the legislature using the power of federal law to influence the young woman to do something she wouldn’t normally do (Millstone Lecture). Sen. Lautenberg is bringing attention to the oppressive nature of these proposals when he compares them to foreign countries requiring women to wear head shawls, despite their wanting to or not (Steinhauer).

The legislature has legitimate authority to govern by federal law, but how that authority is used is a matter of unending contention (Millstone Lecture). These bills show that House Republicans have an extreme position on women’s healthcare, and are not afraid to use their new majority to promote that agenda (Steinhauer).

Disappointed with the moderate

I’m beginning to think the Conservative agenda of “less government” is simply a thinly veiled way to maintain what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “negative peace”. 

From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "Letter from a Birmingham jail":

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

America: The Grim Truth

A hyperbolic letter from an American expat to the people he left behind. Despite it’s inflate prose, the piece makes some really uncomfortable points. I believe American society is suffering from the same postmodern dilemmas facing social theory, philosophy, and the sciences in general. That to stand up and want to change your country, as any good American would do, involves eliciting the very problems inherent in what it means to be American. This is exactly what the increasingly popular position of American capitalism being a failure describes, and because the social structure that congeals America as a country has been irreversibly woven into our economy, there is no alternative. The way things appear to be headed, America cannot exist for much longer as it is, and lo, She cannot change.

Of course, these conjectures are all derived from recursive history, and therefore are the proverbial violinist playing as the ship goes down. America’s mind screaming for vocalization while its lips only manage a whimper.

Afghan air war peaks with 1,000 air strikes in October

Since Gen. David Petraeus took command of the war effort in late June, coalition aircraft have flown 2,600 attack sorties. That’s 50% more than they did during the same period in 2009. Not surprisingly, civilian casualties are on the rise, as well.