Tuesday News: Online spying, speech, censorship, and piracy
What We Know About the NSA and AT&T’s Spying Pact – We talk about mergers like the AT&T + DirectTV deal from an anti-trust standpoint, but new information about AT&T’s “highly collaborative” relationship with the NSA provides a new level of concern about the consolidation of companies with control over a great deal of data and the means by which it is transferred. AT&T’s control over so much internet traffic made so much data and information available that domestic spying was actually a pretty easy endeavor. AT&T was actually building secret rooms to monitor all this data, in projects that sound a lot like they belong in a Bourne thriller. Is it still going on? No one apparently knows (or is, at least, telling), and how many are convinced they’ve actually stopped?
According to the Times, AT&T began turning over emails and other internet data to the spy agency around October 2001, even before the secret rooms were built, in a program dubbed “Fairview.” The program forwarded 400 billion Internet metadata records to the NSA’s headquarters at Ft. Meade in Maryland—which included the senders and recipients of emails and other details, but not the content of the correspondence. AT&T also forwarded more than one million emails a day to be run through the NSA’s keyword selection system. In September 2003, AT&T apparently enabled a new collection capability for the spy agency, which amounted to a “‘live’ presence on the global net.” The Times doesn’t elaborate on what this involved.
In 2011, AT&T also began handing over phone metadata to the NSA, including call records for 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calls a day. –Wired
Reddit caves to Russian censorship – Ah, Reddit: the company that champions free speech when it comes to shaming women and fat people, but not when, say, Russia doesn’t want people accessing a post on how to grow psychedelic mushrooms. Yeah, no philosophical or political conflicts here. And it’s tough, because there really are legitimate discussions to be had around when and why one set of rights or responsibilities trumps another, but given Reddit’s historical tolerance to some of the Internet’s most vile content, I don’t know how thoughtfully or circumspectly they’re contributing to the sorting out of these complicated balancing acts.
A law enforcement agent going down a Reddit rabbit hole has resulted in another round of censorship announcements from the “front page of the Internet.” Reddit announced on its ChillingEffects subreddit Thursday that the company will comply with countries’ local laws, blocking access to content a country deems illegal whenever it receives a request to do so. –Fusion
Lawsuit over two-word tweet—“actually yes”—can move ahead, judge finds – Another interesting facet of speech issues as they relate to K-12 schools and students, this time involving a student who was targeted after a two-word tweet sent in response to another tweet asking if he “made out” with a specific teacher. Minnesota high school student Reid Sagehorn responded “actually, yes,” to the question, which he said was intended as a joke, and not as a literal confirmation. Regardless, Sagehorn was suspended, ultimately had to change schools, and was subjected to some pretty serious accusations from the police chief, whose comments reflect an, uh, interesting interpretation of protected speech and defamation. Now Sagehorn is suing, while the school claims that the tweet was “obscene” and therefore legitimately subject to their policing. Although school students have more limited speech rights (e.g. Morse v. Frederick, the famous “Bong hits 4 Jesus” case), the boundary is under constant negotiation.
In the ensuing weeks, Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen likened the comment to screaming “fire!” in a crowded theater.
Beahen told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, adding that the offense was likely a felony: “If you say something on a very public forum, there are consequences. This young, innocent teacher is the victim here.”
The local prosecuting attorney later confirmed that Sagehorn had committed no crime and the police chief apologized. Sagehorn, for his part, also said he had written an apology to the teacher in question: “I never meant to hurt anybody.”–Ars Technica
Piracy gave me a future – This is the kind of article that I imagine makes anti-piracy zealots vibrate with rage and righteous anger. After all, Daniel Starkey likens piracy to “searching the web for information,” which may justify the argument that there are not enough deterrents to illegal downloading. But that’s not Starkey’s interest in writing this essay. Rather, he’s focused on the economic inequities that make some information and content unavailable to those who do not have the economic means. Which raises larger questions around who has power and how the online environment often reflects and reinforces hierarchies of socio-economic privilege.
Deus Ex was the first game I’d seen that listed its primary influences, which included philosophers like Hobbes, Voltaire, Locke. They were wealthy men, to be sure, but learning about their work set me on the path to learning about sociology, about history, about how much all media is one long chain of slightly modified ideas, with each new link adding a new twist or perspective. The game’s themes also spoke to some of the most personal concerns of my life, including economic class, injustice, about the disempowered fighting against a wealthy ruling class.
It was also a game where actions had serious consequences, and taking the quick, easy path could cause enormous harm to innocent bystanders. It was a message I took to heart. Playing through Deus Ex helped me realize that there are always consequences you can’t quite see, and that my thefts over the years had surely left a wake of victims who had suffered—particularly the ones where I had taken physical goods and money. If they worked for minimum wage, even my quick, pilfered fiver could have been an hour or more of their life.
But what I learned from the game also helped solidify my belief that online piracy, at least in the context of my own circumstances, was still justified. Yes, downloading an illicit digital work can cause a sort of a harm to the creators or corporations that aren’t receiving revenue, particularly independent developers, but when I weighed it against the desperation of my poverty and the worthlessness it made me internalize, there was no comparison. –Boing Boing