Government & Communications

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

White House reporters fume over off-camera briefings

The White House press corps vented frustration June 19 with press secretary Sean Spicer for conducting off-camera briefings in place of the usual publicly broadcast briefings. Spicer conducted an off-camera briefing with reporters on June 19 in which the press was told it could not film or broadcast audio of the proceedings. Spicer conducted the last on-camera briefing June 12. “The White House press secretary is getting to a point where he’s just kind of useless,” CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta said after the briefing. “If they’re getting to this point where he’s not going to answer questions or go on camera or have audio, why are we even having these briefings or gaggles in the first place?”

Spicer searching for candidates to take over White House briefing

Apparently, White House press secretary Sean Spicer is leading a search for his own replacement at the briefing room podium as part of a larger plan to shake up the White House communications operations. The week of June 12, Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus reached out to Fox News personality Laura Ingraham about the role of press secretary and Daily Mail editor David Martosko about the role of communications director, apparently.

Deletion of Agenda Item for June 2017 Open Meeting

The following Agenda item has been adopted by the Commission, and deleted from the list of items scheduled for consideration at the Thursday, June 22, 2017, Open Meeting and previously listed in the Commission’s Notice of June 15, 2017:
Electronic Annual Notice Declaratory Ruling (MB Docket No. 16-126): The Commission will consider a Declaratory Ruling which would clarify that the "written information" that cable operators must provide to their subscribers via annual notices pursuant to Section 76.1602(b) of the Commission's rules may be provided via e-mail.

Ensuring a Future for Detecting Internet Disruptions

Today, two-thirds of the world’s internet users live in countries where content that challenges political regimes, social conventions, or national security is subject to censorship. Over time, internet censorship has expanded from restricting access to IP addresses and domain names for websites, to blocking applications and persecuting users for their online activities.

Does It Matter if Millions of People Send Comments to the FCC?

[Commentary] The 2015 Open Internet Order received 3.7 million comments total, and the current rulemaking has received almost 5 million to date. Counting is easy. Knowing what that count means is not...

Despite the rhetoric, few in DC have much incentive to want the issue to go away. Millions of comments to the Federal Communications Commission also represent millions of fundraising opportunities. Groups arguing all sides of the issue financially benefit from the ongoing argument. Congress, meanwhile, probably will not weigh in before the 2018 election regardless of what the Federal Communications Commission does because that would mean giving up a campaign issue likely to be lucrative to members on both sides of the aisle. Thus, in the end, I suspect that millions of comments mostly mean that even after the current rulemaking is resolved, we will be stuck with this issue at least until sometime after the 2018 election and probably longer. Setting aside politics, it still remains the case that if the issue is to take into account broader public opinion then Congress is the only institution that can resolve it and, regardless of broad interest, only legislation has a chance of leading to a stable solution. Then, we can all finally move on to something else.

[Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute]

Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Journalists and Their Families

Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. The targets include lawyers looking into the mass disappearance of 43 students, a highly respected academic who helped write anti-corruption legislation, two of Mexico’s most influential journalists and an American representing victims of sexual abuse by the police. The spying even swept up family members, including a teenage boy.

Since 2011, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased about $80 million worth of spyware created by an Israeli cyberarms manufacturer. The software, known as Pegasus, infiltrates smartphones to monitor every detail of a person’s cellular life — calls, texts, e-mail, contacts and calendars. It can even use the microphone and camera on phones for surveillance, turning a target’s smartphone into a personal bug. The company that makes the software, the NSO Group, says it sells the tool exclusively to governments, with an explicit agreement that it be used only to battle terrorists or the drug cartels and criminal groups that have long kidnapped and killed Mexicans. But according to dozens of messages examined by The New York Times and independent forensic analysts, the software has been used against some of the government’s most outspoken critics and their families, in what many view as an unprecedented effort to thwart the fight against the corruption infecting every limb of Mexican society.

A Republican contractor’s database of nearly every voter was left exposed on the Internet for 12 days, researcher says

A Republican analytics firm's database of nearly every registered American voter was left vulnerable to theft on a public server for 12 days in June, according to a cybersecurity researcher who found and downloaded the trove of data. The lapse in security was striking for putting at risk the identities, voting histories and views of voters across the political spectrum, with data drawn from a wide range of sources including social media, public government records and proprietary polling by political groups.

Chris Vickery, a risk analyst at cybersecurity firm UpGuard, said he found a spreadsheet of nearly 200 million Americans on a server run by Amazon's cloud hosting business that was left without a password or any other protection. Anyone with Internet access who found the server could also have downloaded the entire file. The server contained data from Deep Root Analytics, which created a database of information from a variety of sources including the Republican National Committee, one of the company's clients. Deep Root Analytics used Amazon Web Services for server storage, and Vickery said he came up on the server's address as he scanned the Internet for unsecured databases.

Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Activists and Their Families

Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. The targets include lawyers looking into the mass disappearance of 43 students, a highly respected academic who helped write anti-corruption legislation, two of Mexico’s most influential journalists and an American representing victims of sexual abuse by the police. The spying even swept up family members, including a teenage boy.

President Trump appears to confirm obstruction investigation, attack Rosenstein in morning tweet rant

President Donald Trump fired off tweets June 16 attacking the special counsel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and apparently, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the president said on Twitter. The somewhat vague tweet seems to refer to Rosenstein, who wrote a memo outlining an argument against then-FBI director James B. Comey. The White House initially claimed that Rosenstein's memo contributed to Trump's decision to fire Comey. But later, President Trump said in an interview that he would have fired Comey “regardless” of Rosenstein's recommendation.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the special investigation is currently being led by another former FBI director. Robert Mueller reports to Rosenstein, but is authorized to pursue the investigation independently. And there is no evidence that Mueller recommended to President Trump that he fire Comey. President Trump also seemed to confirm reports in The Washington Post and other publications that Mueller's investigation has expanded to include allegations that he attempted to obstruct the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the election and his campaign associates' possible collusion with Russians.

Deputy AG Rosenstein sends out an odd warning about “anonymous” press leaks

A day after press reports of new revelations in the Russia investigation, the Justice Department warned Americans in an official statement to be skeptical of reports that rely on information from anonymous sources. The warning came seemingly out of nowhere, and did not gesture toward any report in particular. But it did come in the midst of a two-day running twitter rant from President Donald Trump about the Russia investigation.

On the night of June 15, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein released the following statement: "Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous 'officials,' particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-standing policy to neither confirm or deny such allegations." Although Rosenstein didn’t mention any specific media reports, it appears it could be in response to a Washington Post story published June 14, alleging that the special counsel in the Russia probe is investigating President Trump for potential obstruction of justice, related to his firing of then-FBI Director James Comey. The story relies on information from five anonymous officials, without mentioning what agencies they work for or what level of seniority they have. But, given the succession and nature of recent leaks, the statement could also be in anticipation of a story that will break soon, one that the Department of Justice was notified of, and decided to preempt this way.