Government & Communications

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

ACLU sues President Trump over voter fraud commission

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging President Trump’s voter fraud commission. In a lawsuit filed July 10 in the US District Court of the District of Columbia, the ACLU says the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity violated federal public access requirements by holding its first meeting in private, without public notice.

President Trump formed the 15-member commission with an executive order in May to investigate his claims of voter fraud in 2016’s presidential election. The group is expected to hold its first public meeting on July 19. The ACLU lawsuit notes that Vice President Pence, who chairs the commission, held a 90-minute telephone meeting with its members on June 28. During the call, the suit says Vice Chairman Kris Kobach told members the commission was sending a letter to the 50 states and the District of Columbia requesting information on registered voters, including full names and addresses, political party registration and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. In its complaint, the ACLU argues that the commission has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires all advisory committee meetings to be open to the public and timely noticed in the Federal Register.

No One Wins the Machiavellian Game of Trump vs. the Press

[Commentary] What might have been, decades ago, a compact between an audience and a trusted source of information—we’ll tell you who this gif-making guy is if you need us to—sours into something repugnant. At the same moment the president claims that the press is dangerous, has too much power … a press outlet (out of an overabundance of corporate caution) does something that looks like a dangerous abuse of power. This inversion plunks us all into the darkest possible timeline—the one where a president can “jokingly” hint at violence against reporters and his adherents feel empowered to threaten it more overtly.

On July 7, President Trump spent more than two hours with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the meeting of the G20 countries in Hamburg, and afterward Putin (as Machiavellian a leader as anyone could ask for) joked about the journalists who hurt the president. Presidents have more power than reporters (especially in Russia, where 82 journalists have been killed since 1993, most of them covering politics, corruption, and crime). But the fix is now in: The president says you can’t trust the press and the press says you can’t trust the president. If Machiavelli is right, that’s a recipe for an apocalypse.

Albuquerque police refuse to say if they have stingrays, so ACLU sues

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has sued the city of Albuquerque, seeking records by the city’s police department about its use of stingrays, also known as cell-site simulators. In May 2017, the ACLU of New Mexico filed a public records request to the Albuquerque Police Department (which has been under federal monitoring for years), seeking a slew of information about stingrays. The requested info included confirmation on whether the police had stingrays, "policies and procedures," and contracts with the Harris Corporation, among other materials. Albuquerque denied many of these requests, citing a state law that allows some public records to be withheld on the grounds that they reveal "confidential sources, methods." So, the week of July 3, the ACLU of New Mexico sued.

China Tells Carriers to Block Access to Personal VPNs by February

Apparently, China’s government has told telecommunications carriers to block individuals’ access to virtual private networks by Feb. 1, thereby shutting a major window to the global internet. Beijing has ordered state-run telecommunications firms, which include China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to bar people from using VPNs, services that skirt censorship restrictions by routing web traffic abroad. The clampdown will shutter one of the main ways in which people both local and foreign still manage to access the global, unfiltered web on a daily basis.

In keeping with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “cyber sovereignty” campaign, the government now appears to be cracking down on loopholes around the Great Firewall, a system that blocks information sources from Twitter and Facebook to news websites such as the New York Times and others.

Facebook among tech firms battling gag orders over government surveillance

Tech companies -- including Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft -- are fighting gag orders from US courts preventing them from talking about government surveillance of their users, arguing it has a chilling effect on free speech.

Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft all have policies to notify users of government requests for account information unless they are prohibited by law from doing so in exceptional circumstances such as life-threatening emergencies, child sexual exploitation and terrorism. However, it seems that the US government is attaching gag orders – many with no time limit – to their data requests in about half of all cases. This means that people are having their digital lives ransacked without their knowledge and with no chance for public scrutiny or appeal. Tech companies and civil liberties campaigners argue that the gag orders are unconstitutional, violating the fourth amendment, which gives people the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property, and the first amendment, which protects the companies’ right to talk to their customers and discuss how the government conducts its investigations.

Spyware Sold to Mexican Government Targeted International Officials

A team of international investigators brought to Mexico to unravel one of the nation’s gravest human rights atrocities was targeted with sophisticated surveillance technology sold to the Mexican government to spy on criminals and terrorists. The spying took place during what the investigators call a broad campaign of harassment and interference that prevented them from solving the haunting case of 43 students who disappeared after clashing with the police nearly three years ago.

Sen Klobuchar Warns Against Politicizing AT&T-Time Warner

Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has warned attorney general Jeff Sessions that any political interference in the Justice Department's review of the AT&T-Time Warner merger would be "unacceptable." Sen Klobuchar was responding to a report in the New York Times that White House advisors have discussed leveraging the deal against Time Warner-owned CNN, which President Donald Trump has hammered as fake news—most recently in a tweet featuring him pummeling a figure with a CNN logo for a head.

President Trump said as a candidate his White House would oppose the deal. In a letter to AG Sessions, sen Klobuchar said that while she has "serious questions" about the deal's impact, "the transaction should be judged solely on its impact on competition, innovation, and consumers, not as 'leverage' for political gain." She added: “Any political interference in antitrust enforcement is unacceptable. Even more concerning, in this instance, is that it appears that some advisers to the President may believe that it is appropriate for the government to use its law enforcement authority to alter or censor the press. Such an action would violate the First Amendment.”

The ethics issue: Should we abandon privacy online?

In an age where fear of terrorism is high in the public consciousness, governments are likely to err on the side of safety. Over the past decade, the authorities have been pushing for – and getting – greater powers of surveillance than they have ever had, all in the name of national security. The downsides are not immediately obvious. After all, you might think you have nothing to hide. But most of us have perfectly legal secrets we’d rather someone else didn’t see. And although the chances of the authorities turning up to take you away in a black SUV on the basis of your WhatsApp messages are small in free societies, the chances of insurance companies raising your premiums are not.

President Trump’s leaks crackdown sends chills through national security world

National security officials across the federal government say they are seeing new restrictions on who can access sensitive information, fueling fears in the intelligence and security community that the Trump administration has stepped up a stealthy operation to smoke out leakers. Officials at various national security agencies also say they are becoming more concerned that the administration is carefully tracking what they’re doing and who they’re talking to — then plotting to use them as a scapegoat or accuse them of leaks.

One US official voiced concern over even talking to their superiors about a benign call from a reporter. The agency this official works for had started limiting staff’s access to information, they said, and it would make it far easier to figure out who was talking to people in the media. There was suspicion, the official said, that the agency was even tracking what they printed, to keep tabs on what information they were accessing. A half dozen officials across the national security community described to Politico a series of subtle and no-so-subtle changes that have led to an increasingly tense and paranoid working environment rooted in the White House’s obsession with leaks. President Donald Trump has regularly vented about his intense frustration with anonymously sourced stories, and has specifically targeted federal government entities, including intelligence agencies like the CIA and FBI and the State Department.

President Trump shrugs off 'haters' and media in early morning tweets

President Donald Trump waved off critics and the "Fake News Media" on July 7 as he prepared to meet with world leaders at the annual Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. "I will represent our country well and fight for its interests! Fake News Media will never cover me accurately but who cares! #MAGA," he wrote in an early morning tweet, using an abbreviation for his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again." "My experience yesterday in Poland was a great one. Thank you to everyone, including the haters, for the great reviews of the speech!" the President tweeted.