Government & Communications

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

Democratic Reps launch ‘no confidence’ resolution against President Trump

A group of Democratic Reps stepped up criticism of President Donald Trump, introducing a “no confidence” resolution that officially questions President Trump’s fitness to serve as commander in chief. It logs a laundry list of controversies swirling around the president — including his campaign’s many contacts with Russian officials, his refusal to release his taxes, his verbal attacks on women and the press, and his firing of FBI Director James Comey. Sponsored by Rep Steve Cohen (D-TN), the resolution has been endorsed by 23 more Democratic Reps, including Reps John Lewis (D-GA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), David Cicilline (D-RI), and Judy Chu (D-CA). President Trump’s track record, Rep Cohen said, exposes “a president that you wouldn’t want your children to look up to." "The way he talks about women, the press, the language he uses, the use of Twitter — you don’t want him to be a role model,” he said.

Court: Warrantless requests to track cellphones, Internet use grew sevenfold in D.C. in three years

Sealed law enforcement requests to track Americans without a warrant through cellphone location records or Internet activity grew sevenfold in the past three years in the District, new information released by a federal judge shows. Details about the growth come as the US Supreme Court weighs whether to rein in such rapidly expanding demands. Legal experts said the disclosure appears to mark a first, and that neither the Justice Department nor private companies have previously made public such specific data about how often law enforcement agencies seek those court orders. The summary data gave counts of requests by year from 2008 through 2016 made in criminal cases handled by the Justice Department or US attorney’s office for the District. Details about each individual case, such as the name of a suspect or what records were sought, were not disclosed.

The requests were made under a 1986 statute that enables law enforcement agencies to obtain court orders requiring ­communication service providers to turn over records about individual customers. The orders do not apply to information about telephone calls, such as the time, date, duration and numbers dialed, which can be obtained in other ways. Instead, the requests seek individuals’ Internet connection records or cellphone tower records. Those records exclude the content of communications but can be highly valuable to investigators seeking to establish a history or pattern of movement, conduct or relationships. The information requests can include Internet browsing logs and activity; the time, date, size, sender and recipient of email, instant or social media messages, or other transaction records; as well as computer identification numbers and information about websites that a user accessed.

Silicon Valley mostly quiet in internet surveillance debate in Congress

Apparently, Facebook, Alphabet's Google, Apple, and other major technology firms are largely absent from a debate over the renewal of a broad US internet surveillance law, weakening prospects for privacy reforms that would further protect customer data. While tech companies often lobby Washington on privacy issues, the major firms have been hesitant to enter a fray over a controversial portion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), industry lobbyists, congressional aides and civil liberties advocates said. Among their concerns is that doing so could jeopardize a trans-Atlantic data transfer pact underpinning billions of dollars in trade in digital services, apparently.

Technology companies and privacy groups have for years complained about the part of FISA known as Section 702 that allows the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect and analyze e-mails and other digital communications of foreigners living overseas. Though targeted at foreigners, the surveillance also collects data on an unknown number of Americans - some privacy advocates have suggested it could be millions - without a search warrant. Section 702 will expire at the end of 2017 unless the Republican-controlled Congress votes to reauthorize it. The White House, U.S. intelligence agencies and many Republican senators want to renew the law, which they consider vital to national security, without changes and make it permanent. A coalition of Democrats and libertarian-leaning conservatives prefer, however, to amend the law with more privacy safeguards.

Has President Trump Turned CNN Into a House of Existential Dread?

After relentless attacks from President Donald Trump and his allies, a series of journalistic problems, and in the shadow of a possible merger, the network’s CEO, Jeff Zucker, is feeling the heat. “I think there’s a real chance that Zucker is being forced out,” said one employee. “That’s going to blow up this organization like nothing in the history of CNN.”

Google's confidentiality rules discourage whistleblowers, US labor official warns

The US Department of Labor has raised concerns that Google’s strict confidentiality agreements have discouraged employees from speaking to the government about discrimination as part of a high-profile wage inequality investigation. Following a judge’s ruling that Google must hand over salary records and employee contact information to federal regulators investigating possible systemic pay disparities, a labor department official said the agency was worried that the technology corporation’s restrictive employee communication policies could impede the next phase of the inquiry.

“We have had employees during the course of the investigation express concerns about whether they are permitted by Google to talk to the government, because the company policy commits them to confidentiality,” Janet Herold, labor department regional solicitor, told the Guardian in an interview after the judge’s order. “When even a single employee expresses that, that means many more people are too concerned to make the call or have the conversation. The chilling effect is quite extreme.”

The White House Endorses the FCC’s effort to roll back its net neutrality rules

The Trump Administration has signaled that it stands behind efforts by the Federal Communications Commission and its Chairman, Ajit Pai, to roll back the agency's network neutrality regulations for Internet providers. Speaking to reporters (audio only) on July 18, administration officials said that while rules can be helpful, the Obama administration “went about this the wrong way.” “We support the FCC chair's efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules,” said deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty.”

The administration's move recalls similar efforts by the White House, during the Obama Administration, to make its opinion known on the issue of net neutrality. “The process raises serious questions about the president's inappropriate influence over what is supposed to be an independent agency that derives its authority from Congress and not the White House,” Sen Ron Johnson (R-WI) said at the time in a letter to the FCC criticizing the matter. Still, some analysts say, any attempt by a White House to address pending FCC matters should be out of bounds. It was wrong when President Obama asserted himself, and it would be wrong for Trump to do so now, said Scott Wallsten, an economist and president of the Technology Policy Institute. “If the agency is independent, then the executive branch should stay out, plain and simple,” he said.

US Digital Services Shares First Priorities Under Trump

In the US Digital Serivces' annual report to Congress, Acting Administrator Matt Cutts—the Google transplant responsible for Gmail's spam filter—outlined the team's current priorities, many of which were established under President Barack Obama. The team reports to the Office of Management and Budget's acting deputy director and is now part of the American Technology Council, a convocation of prominent business leaders that President Donald Trump taps for advice on federal problems. USDS also works with the White House Office of American Innovation, a new team led by Jared Kushner aiming to modernize government technology, according to Cutts.

Despite stark differences between the two administrations' broader priorities—some experts predicted Trump would keep the tech teams but assign them to new projects—USDS appears to be continuing the progress it made under Obama. For instance, Kushner has listed the VA's internal technology as one of the Office of American Innovation's top priorities, and USDS has been working on various VA projects for years, the report noted. A USDS team built and deployed a system that could process claims for disability compensation in 2016, and piloted a new tool that would let lawyers and judges review evidence from those claims in April. It also helped launch Vets.gov, an online portal consolidating the thousands of federal benefit sites for veterans, in 2015; in November USDS added a check claim status tool, applications for education benefits, and other new features. USDS is still collaborating with the U.S. Citizenship and Innovation Services to digitize the immigration paperwork processing system, the report said.

China’s Censors Can Now Erase Images Mid-Transmission

China’s already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength—the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them. The ability is part of a broader technology push by Beijing’s censors to step up surveillance and get ahead of activists and others communicating online in China. Displays of this new image-filtering capability kicked into high gear recently as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo lay dying from liver cancer and politically minded Chinese tried to pay tribute to him, according to activists and a new research report.

Wu Yangwei, a friend of the long-jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said he used popular messaging app WeChat to send friends a photo of a haggard Liu embracing his wife. Wu believed the transmissions were successful, but he said his friends never saw them. “Sometimes you can get around censors by rotating the photo,” said Wu, a writer better known by his pen name, Ye Du. “But that doesn’t always work."

Voters trust media more than President Trump: poll

A majority of American voters trusts major media outlets more than President Trump, according to a new survey from a left-leaning polling firm. Fifty-four percent of Americans told Public Policy Polling they trust CNN more than Trump, while 39 percent said they trust the president more than the cable news network. Seven percent of voters said they were not sure. Majorities also said they trust ABC and NBC more than the commander in chief, at 56 percent apiece, while 38 percent responded to separate questions that they trust the president more than the news networks. Six percent said they were not sure in their responses. Fifty-five percent, meanwhile, said they trust The New York Times more than the president, while 38 percent chose Trump and 7 percent said they were not sure. And 53 percent said they trust The Washington Post more than the president, while 38 percent chose Trump and 9 percent were not sure.

The White House is trying to kill the daily press briefing

[Commentary] On June 29, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held an on-camera press briefing. The White House hasn't done one since. That's more than 2 weeks on the calendar -- and 12 work days. That's bad. 12 days. Zero on-camera briefings. This is not an accident. What the White House is doing is working to kill off the daily press briefing -- a ritual that has long functioned as the best (and often only) way for reporters to get the White House on record and on video about various issues affecting the country and the world. And even in the increasingly common off-camera briefings -- which were a very occasional occurrence in past White Houses -- Sanders and White House press secretary Sean Spicer appear to be working hard to be, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, openly misleading.