Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

China’s Internet Censors Play a Tougher Game of Cat and Mouse

China has embarked on an internet campaign that signals a profound shift in the way it thinks of online censorship.

For years, the China government appeared content to use methods that kept the majority of people from reading or using material it did not like, such as foreign news outlets, Facebook and Google. For the tech savvy or truly determined, experts say, China often tolerated a bit of wiggle room, leading to online users’ playing a cat-and-mouse game with censors for more than a decade. Now the authorities are targeting the very tools many people use to vault the Great Firewall. In recent days, Apple has pulled apps that offer access to such tools — called virtual private networks, or VPNs — off its China app store, while Amazon’s Chinese partner warned customers on its cloud computing service against hosting those tools on their sites.

Over the past two months a number of the most popular Chinese VPNs have been shut down, while two popular sites hosting foreign television shows and movies were wiped clean. The shift — which could affect a swath of users from researchers to businesses — suggests that China is increasingly worried about the power of the internet, experts said.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Impanels Washington Grand Jury in Russia Probe

Apparently, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase. The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, signals that Mueller’s inquiry will likely continue for months. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort. Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.

Kelly cracks down on West Wing back channels to President Trump

When new White House chief of staff John Kelly huddled with senior staff on his first day at work, he outlined a key problem in President Donald Trump’s White House that he planned to fix: bad information getting into the president’s hands. Kelly told the staff that information needed to flow through him — whether on paper or in briefings — because the president would make better decisions if given good information. Kelly, a retired Marine general, faces an uphill path when it comes to his stated goal of instilling order in the White House, from aides who have directly reported to the president and don’t want to see their power curbed to President Trump’s own itchy Twitter finger. In talks with congressional leaders, friends and longtime associates, he has bluntly described how serious the problems he faces in the West Wing are, apparently.

The White House asked Apple, Google and other tech giants to help upgrade the federal government

The White House has asked the likes of Apple, Amazon, Oracle and Qualcomm to lend some of their digital expertise to Washington (DC) in the coming months to help the Trump administration rethink the way that federal agencies use technology. On a private call with those and other major tech companies Aug 3, top advisers to the president, including Jared Kushner, announced the White House would be forming small “centers of excellence,” teams focused on reducing regulation while trying to get federal agencies to embrace cloud computing and make more of their data available for private-sector use, apprently. As part of those centers, Kushner and his aides with the Office of American Innovation asked the tech industry for its help — potentially through a system where leading tech engineers can do brief “tours of duty” advising the U.S. government on some of its digital challenges.

For now, the effort is still early, but the huddle marks the next step for Kushner’s effort to modernize government after Trump convened the chief executives of Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley staples at the White House in June — part of the administration’s push that month with “tech week.”

President Trump touts Veterans Affairs 'tele-health' program with new appointment scheduling application

President Donald Trump touted a new program to increase veterans' electronic access to medical care as part of a broader tele-health push at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The initiative connects veterans with health providers via mobile phones or computers, and is intended to improve medical care especially for those needing mental health and suicide prevention services, President Trump said. “It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular,” President Trump said at the White House with VA Secretary David Shulkin. The application allows veterans to schedule appointments via their smart phones. Shulkin also previewed a regulation allowing VA providers to provide tele-health services to veterans anywhere in the country.

President Trump tweet about 'very civil conversation' with Australian PM resurfaces after transcript leaked

A February tweet from President Donald Trump in which he said he had a “very civil conversation” with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has resurfaced in the wake of the call’s recently released transcript showing President Trump calling the call “unpleasant.”

“Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about,” Trump tweeted last February, amid reports he lashed out at his Australian counterpart over the phone. The tweet’s resurfacing comes after The Washington Post obtained the transcript of the call, which shows a heated interaction between the leaders of the two traditional allies. “I have had it,” Trump told Turnbull in the January 28 conversation. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.” President Trump said his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin “was a pleasant call” by comparison.

Data empowers journalism independence in Trump’s era

[Commentary] Journalists are facing the challenge of covering one of the most unusual and unreliable governments in modern history: President Donald Trump disseminates lies, twisted facts, and changes in policy in real time through his Twitter account. His advisors send contradictory messages on sensitive national topics and change policies at the last minute, surprising even Cabinet members. Federal data vanishes from the “thin cloud” on matters such as climate change and the environment. Despite—or perhaps because of—all of this, investigative journalism is flourishing and growing as it did during the Watergate days. However, this time, journalists are much better equipped for finding the truth independently, thanks to data and technology. The challenge for journalists is to thoroughly and selectively grasp the power of technology while upholding the profession’s core journalistic mission. To that end, the Columbia Journalism School is launching a Master of Science in Data Journalism that we hope will advance data journalism education and contribute to building the next generation of newsroom leaders.

[Giannina Segnini is director of the Master of Science in Data Journalism program at the Columbia Journalism School.]

President Trump critics say latest leaks go too far

Even critics of President Trump seem to agree: The leakers have gone too far. Many in Washington are expressing alarm that the transcripts of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were leaked to The Washington Post, warning that the action could undermine the U.S. government and imperil national security. “This is beyond the pale and will have a chilling effect going forward on the ability of the commander in chief to have candid discussions with his counterparts,” said Ned Price, a former National Security Council official under President Barack Obama. “Granted, the White House contributed to this atmosphere by welcoming the free-for-all environment, where anonymous leaks are commonplace. But we must draw the line somewhere.”

Why Leaking Transcripts of Trump's Calls Is So Dangerous

[Commentary] Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous. It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.

Aug 3’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington (DC)—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.

[David Frum is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.]

President Trump urged Mexican president to end his public defiance on border wall, transcript reveals

President Donald Trump made building a wall along the southern US border and forcing Mexico to pay for it core pledges of his campaign. But in his first White House call with Mexico’s president, President Trump described his vow to charge Mexico as a growing political problem, pressuring the Mexican leader to stop saying publicly that his government would never pay. “You cannot say that to the press,” President Trump said repeatedly, according to a transcript of the Jan 27 call obtained by The Washington Post.

President Trump made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto continued to make defiant statements. The funding “will work out in the formula somehow,” President Trump said, adding later that “it will come out in the wash, and that is okay.” But “if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.”