Tag Archives: transparency

Addictive Ads and Digital Dignity

Social-media firms make almost all their money from advertising. This pushes them to collect as much user data as possible, the better to target ads. Critics call this “surveillance capitalism”. It also gives them every reason to make their services as addictive as possible, so users watch more ads…

The new owner could turn TikTok from a social-media service to a digital commonwealth, governed by a set of rules akin to a constitution with its own checks and balances. User councils (a legislature, if you will) could have a say in writing guidelines for content moderation. Management (the executive branch) would be obliged to follow due process. And people who felt their posts had been wrongfully taken down could appeal to an independent arbiter (the judiciary). Facebook has toyed with platform constitutionalism now has an “oversight board” to hear user appeals…

Why would any company limit itself this way? For one thing, it is what some firms say they want. Microsoft in particular claims to be a responsible tech giant. In January  2020 its chief executive, Satya Nadella, told fellow plutocrats in Davos about the need for “data dignity”—ie, granting users more control over their data and a bigger share of the value these data create…Governments increasingly concur. In its Digital Services Act, to be unveiled in 2020, the European Union is likely to demand transparency and due process from social-media platforms…In the United States, Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate, has launched a campaign to get online firms to pay users a “digital dividend”. Getting ahead of such ideas makes more sense than re-engineering platforms later to comply.

Excerpt from: Reconstituted: Schumpeter, Economist, Sept 5, 2020

See also Utilities for Democracy: WHY AND HOW THE ALGORITHMIC
INFRASTRUCTURE OF FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE MUST BE REGULATED
(2020)

Out-of-Fashion: Aggressive Tax Planning

In December 2019, Royal Dutch Shell voluntarily published its revenue, profit, taxes and other business details in each of 98 countries. The disclosure aligns with a drive by the energy company, which often attracts criticism from environmental activists, to present itself as forward-thinking, transparent and socially-minded.  That didn’t stop the information feeding a predictable host of headlines in the U.K., where the company is partly based, that it didn’t pay taxes in the country (because of losses carried forward and tax refunds). In the U.S., Shell accrued $137 million of tax—a rate of 8%.  This kind of detailed reporting is required by tax authorities in about 100 countries including the U.S. since 2017, based on rules agreed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, but it is rarely made public.

Companies that don’t jump may soon be pushed. Economy ministers from European Union countries are considering a proposal that would require all large companies with total revenue of more than €750 million ($834 million) operating in the bloc to publish the information annually. The Global Reporting Initiative, an organization that establishes sustainability standards, recently agreed to include a similar requirement. Greater transparency could also spur reform efforts and reduce incentives for complex tax arrangements. Companies, investors and states all agree that it is best to find a global solution to the problem of aggressive tax planning.

Excerpts from Rochelle Toplensky, Beginning of the End of Tax Secrecy, WSJ, Dec. 20, 2019

How the Shipping Industry Gets its Way: pollution from ships

Do not give the regulated power over the regulators, unless you want consumers to lose out and producers to game the system. ..That lesson has been learned in many places around the world. National regulators are increasingly independent of the firms they regulate. But international ones still have further to go—and none further than the specialised agencies of the United Nations, such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for shipping where the interests of the shipping industry are upheld d in several ways. The first is the distribution of voting rights between countries. At the IMO, for example, Panama and Liberia, with populations of just 4m and 4.8m respectively, can automatically get seats on its decision-making body as they have the world’s biggest merchant fleets.

The second is the assignment of those voting rights by individual countries. Remarkably, many governments have handed voting rights to private-sector firms… At the IMO least 17 countries have assigned their voting rights to flag registries operated by private firms, reckons Transparency International, an anti-corruption group; that adds up to about a tenth of delegates. At an IMO environmental-committee meeting in 2017, almost a third of countries were represented, at least in part, by business interests.

The third way in which producer interests are protected is through a spectacular lack of transparency. The agenda of the IMO’s council in November 2018 in London is available only to those with a password. Journalists are forbidden to report what delegates say or how they vote. There are no rules on the suitability or conflict of interests of delegates. In 2014 St Lucia appointed a Saudi billionaire without previous shipping experience as its IMO representative; a court in London judged in 2016 that the appointment was obtained in order to gain diplomatic immunity against divorce proceedings. There are no limits on the amount of gifts that can be showered on representatives. Goodies put on top of desks at an IMO assembly meeting last year were so heavy that they broke 137 sets of headphones underneath.

Such swampiness matters. The IMO is responsible for limiting emissions from ships, which were excluded from the Paris climate deal.   Some countries are interested in reform. At the imo council meeting this week Australia proposed allowing journalists to report on its meetings as a first step. The Marshall Islands has taken back some of its votes from the private firm that runs its flag registry. But more radical change is needed. Countries should send civil servants, not private actors, as their representatives. The un’s rules on conflicts of interest should be imposed. And voting rights should be allocated with the interests of consumers in mind. These lessons have been widely absorbed within borders. They ought to cross them, too

Excerpts from UN Regulatory Bodies: Agency Problems, Economist, Nov. 24, 2018, at 15

The New Oil – Lithum

As demand heats up for lithium, a group of companies are hastening efforts to shine a light into the long-opaque market for the battery material that metal-industry cheerleaders call the “new oil.” … Auto makers, battery companies, and smartphone and laptop providers have been racing to lock down supplies of lithium from major producers such as Albemarle Corp of United States, the world’s biggest miner of lithium by volume, and Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile, the No. 2 producer. Some of the world’s notable lithium users include Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and TeslaInc.

The surge in demand has sparked efforts to bring transparency to prices for lithium. …Because lithium isn’t traded on any exchange—unlike gold or silver, for instance—buyers have long been at a disadvantage in negotiations with producers, according to market watchers. In opaque markets, producers often have greater access to information about fast-moving market dynamics, such as unintended mine outages or suddenly sagging demand. That is especially the case with lithium, a metal mined by a relatively small group of big suppliers in countries from Chile to Australia…Big lithium miners “may say they support transparency, but they really don’t,” said Chris Berry, founder of New York commodity consultant House Mountain Partners. “Keeping prices secret between themselves and their end users is good for them.”

Excerpts  from Scott Patterson Lithium Boom Raises Question: What Is Its Price? WSJ,  Nov. 27, 2018

Data Mining: CIA, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Among the 38 previously undisclosed companies receiving In-Q-Tel funding, the research focus that stands out is social media mining and surveillance; the portfolio document lists several tech companies pursuing work in this area, including Dataminr, Geofeedia, PATHAR, and TransVoyant….The investments appear to reflect the CIA’s increasing focus on monitoring social media. In September 2015, David Cohen, the CIA’s second-highest ranking official, spoke at length at Cornell University about a litany of challenges stemming from the new media landscape. The Islamic State’s “sophisticated use of Twitter and other social media platforms is a perfect example of the malign use of these technologies,” he said…

The latest round of In-Q-Tel investments comes as the CIA has revamped its outreach to Silicon Valley, establishing a new wing, the Directorate of Digital Innovation…

Dataminr directly licenses a stream of data from Twitter to visualize and quickly spot trends on behalf of law enforcement agencies and hedge funds, among other clients.  Geofeedia collects geotagged social media messages to monitor breaking news events in real time.Geofeedia specializes in collecting geotagged social media messages, from platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, to monitor breaking news events in real time. The company, which counts dozens of local law enforcement agencies as clients, markets its ability to track activist protests on behalf of both corporate interests and police departments.PATHAR mines social media to determine networks of association…

PATHAR’s product, Dunami, is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “mine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media to determine networks of association, centers of influence and potential signs of radicalization,” according to an investigation by Reveal.

TransVoyant analyzes data points to deliver insights and predictions about global events.  TransVoyant, founded by former Lockheed Martin Vice President Dennis Groseclose, provides a similar service by analyzing multiple data points for so-called decision-makers. The firm touts its ability to monitor Twitter to spot “gang incidents” and threats to journalists. A team from TransVoyant has worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan to integrate data from satellites, radar, reconnaissance aircraft, and drones….

The recent wave of investments in social media-related companies suggests the CIA has accelerated the drive to make collection of user-generated online data a priority. Alongside its investments in start-ups, In-Q-Tel has also developed a special technology laboratory in Silicon Valley, called Lab41, to provide tools for the intelligence community to connect the dots in large sets of data.  In February, Lab41 published an article exploring the ways in which a Twitter user’s location could be predicted with a degree of certainty through the location of the user’s friends. On Github, an open source website for developers, Lab41 currently has a project to ascertain the “feasibility of using architectures such as Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Networks to classify the positive, negative, or neutral sentiment of Twitter messages towards a specific topic.”

Collecting intelligence on foreign adversaries has potential benefits for counterterrorism, but such CIA-supported surveillance technology is also used for domestic law enforcement and by the private sector to spy on activist groups.

Palantir, one of In-Q-Tel’s earliest investments in the social media analytics realm, was exposed in 2011 by the hacker group LulzSec to be innegotiation for a proposal to track labor union activists and other critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying group in Washington. The company, now celebrated as a “tech unicorn” …

Geofeedia, for instance, promotes its research into Greenpeace activists, student demonstrations, minimum wage advocates, and other political movements. Police departments in Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, and other major municipalities havecontracted with Geofeedia, as well as private firms such as the Mall of America and McDonald’s.

Lee Guthman, an executive at Geofeedia, told reporter John Knefel that his company could predict the potential for violence at Black Lives Matter protests just by using the location and sentiment of tweets. Guthman said the technology could gauge sentiment by attaching “positive and negative points” to certain phrases, while measuring “proximity of words to certain words.”

Privacy advocates, however, have expressed concern about these sorts of automated judgments.“When you have private companies deciding which algorithms get you a so-called threat score, or make you a person of interest, there’s obviously room for targeting people based on viewpoints or even unlawfully targeting people based on race or religion,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Excerpt from Lee Fang, THE CIA IS INVESTING IN FIRMS THAT MINE YOUR TWEETS AND INSTAGRAM PHOTOS, Intercept, Apr. 14, 2016

Do Not Forget Fukushima

The nuclear disaster was a sensitive subject at the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction for Civil Society that took place in Sendai, Japan, March 2015 .  Masaaki Ohashi, the co-chair of   Japan Civil Society Organization Coalition  (JCC) a coalition of humanitarian NGOs formed ahead of the summit, praised the new Sendai disaster reduction framework for stating clearly that it applies to man-made and technological hazards – which covers nuclear power – as well as natural hazards.

He and others also noted the importance of an official presentation made at the conference about the lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis.  “The Japanese government, represented by the Cabinet Office, has clearly indicated that they are breaking away from the ‘safety’ myth around nuclear power plants, so we’re seeing a step forward,” said Takeshi Komino, general secretary of aid agency CWS Japan.

“Our preparedness (for Fukushima) was totally inefficient – we assumed the incident would affect a 10 km radius from the plant, but it was more than 30 km,” he said.The operation to evacuate people living in the danger zone was confused and not enough support was provided, he said. Failings meant that some hospital patients died at evacuation centres, he noted.A disaster prevention and evacuation plan has since been drawn up for 550,000 people, Yamamoto said. The government is continuing with its decontamination work, and is monitoring health in Fukushima, offering tests for thyroid cancer to those aged 18 and under, he added.

Civil society groups supporting Fukushima residents still struggling with the aftermath of the crisis launched a booklet at the Sendai conference containing 10 key lessons from the disaster, available in several languages including English.,,Komino of CWS Japan said it should be up to countries and communities to decide whether they want nuclear power, but “we are against the creation of the safety myth”.  “Pro-active risk identification and risk disclosure to the communities prior to the installation of such facilities is critical,” he emphasised.

JCC2015’s Ohashi said that, as the Japanese government aims to export nuclear energy technology to developing countries, it bears a “producer’s responsibility” to share its knowledge about the risks and how to deal with them….

For example, in some countries that have shown interest in nuclear power, such as Bangladesh and Thailand, it may be difficult for people to shut themselves inside concrete buildings in the event of an accident. And in others, low literacy levels make written public education materials less useful than comic strip versions.  Takeuchi questioned the legitimacy of suggesting that nuclear emergencies could really be prevented.  “Even if you can put risk reduction measures in place, it would cost a ridiculous amount,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Fukushima…

Of the 160,000 people who left their homes after the nuclear accident, around 120,000 are still classified as evacuees. Some remain in cramped temporary accommodation, in prefabricated buildings erected on parks and other public land.   In places like Iwaki City, south of the evacuation zone, the influx of displaced people seeking new homes and jobs has stirred resentment among residents  Even though local officials have made preparations to revitalize empty towns and villages once they are decreed safe, there is concern that only older generations will want to return, raising questions about their future viability.

Excerpts from MEGAN ROWLING , Japan wants to share the lessons it learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Business Insider Australia, Mar. 27, 2015

UK Nuclear Tests in Australia: Maralinga

In the mid-1950s, seven bombs were tested at Maralinga in the south-west Australian outback. The combined force of the weapons doubled that of the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two.  In archive video footage, British and Australian soldiers can be seen looking on, wearing short sleeves and shorts and doing little to protect themselves other than turning their backs and covering their eyes with their hands.Some reported the flashes of the blasts being so bright that they could see the bones of their fingers, like x-rays as they pressed against their faces.

A cloud hangs over Australia’s Monte Bello Islands after Britain tested its first atomic bomb
Much has been written about the health problems suffered by the servicemen as a result of radiation poisoning. Far less well-documented is the plight of the Aboriginal people who were living close to Maralinga at the time….”A lot of people got sick and died,” said Mima Smart, an aboriginal community leader.”It was like a cancer on them. People were having lung disease, liver problems, and kidney problems. A lot of them died,” she said, adding that communities around Maralinga have been paid little by way of compensation.  It’s a ten hour drive to the nearest big city, Adelaide. But people here say that the Australian government was wrong to let the tests go ahead and that Britain acted irresponsibly…

“They didn’t want to do it in their own back yard because their back yard wasn’t big enough,” said Robin Matthews, caretaker of the Maralinga Nuclear Test Site.”They thought they’d pick a supposedly uninhabited spot out in the Australian desert. Only they got it wrong. There were people here.”During the 1960s and 70s, there were several large clean-up operations to try and decontaminate the site.  All the test buildings and equipment were destroyed and buried. Large areas of the surface around the blast sites was also scraped up and buried.

But Mr Matthews said the clean-up, as well as the tests themselves, were done very much behind closed doors with a high level of secrecy.“You’ve got to remember that this was during the height of the Cold War. The British were terrified that Russian spies might try and access the site,” he said.  The indigenous communities say many locals involved in the clean-up operation also got sick.  Soil at the nuclear site grow so hot from the blast that it melted and turned to silicon has long been declared safe. There are even plans to open up the site to tourism.

But it was only a few months ago that the last of the land was finally handed back to the Aboriginal people. Most, though, say they have no desire to return there….And even almost 60 years on, the land still hasn’t recovered. Huge concrete plinths mark the spots where each of the bombs was detonate

Excerpt from Jon Donnison, Lingering impact of British nuclear tests in the Australian outback, BBC, Dec. 31, 2014

States Captured by their Energy Companies – Canada

Few governments have aligned their interests so closely to those of their country’s energy and mining firms as Canada’s Conservative administration. The prime minister, Stephen Harper, has boasted of Canada as an “emerging energy superpower”. Under the banner of “responsible resource development”, his government has done its best to ease the way for minerals firms, at home and abroad, including directing some foreign aid to countries where Canadian firms wanted to drill. Ministers point with pride to the C$174 billion ($169 billion) in export revenues from sales of minerals, oil and gas in 2013 and to the fact that Canada is home to more than half of the world’s publicly listed exploration and mining companies.

But the downside of seeming so cosy with extractive firms is that whenever one of them gets in trouble—an inevitable occurrence with 1,500 firms active in more than 100 countries—the country’s image is tarnished too. So the government has recently begun to reduce that vulnerability by taking a stricter line on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and bribery by Canadian firms operating abroad. Protecting the national brand is “a huge part of it,” says Andrew Bauer of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, a group that monitors the industry and lobbies for openness.

Ed Fast, the international trade minister, admitted as much on November 14th, as he introduced new rules that require Canadian resources firms involved in disputes with local communities to take part in a resolution process. If any firms refuse, the government will withdraw its economic diplomacy on their behalf…[In the meantime there are ] protests against Canadian firms’ projects, from Romania where environmentalists are objecting to plans for an opencast gold mine, to Guatemala, where guards at a nickel mine have been accused of gang rape…

A new Canadian law  was introduced in October 2014 to curb bribery by mining and energy firms by demanding more transparency from them. The law, which still must be fleshed out in detailed regulations, requires them to disclose all payments made to domestic and foreign governments…It helped that the law was backed by an unusual coalition of non-government organisations and mining companies themselves. T  It seems that the miners’ experience in dealing with local communities is making them more sensitive to their concerns about corruption and other ills. In contrast, the oil and gas firms are lobbying for the transparency law to be weakened. They want to be given exemptions in countries whose local laws conveniently prohibit the disclosure of such payments. They also want to avoid having to give a project-by-project breakdown of their payments, without which the information would be of little use.

Excerpt Canada’s natural-resources companies: Reputation management, Economist, Nov. 22, 2014

Predictive Policing

PredPol Places, a US company, has developed] one of a range of tools using better data, more finely crunched, to predict crime. They seem to promise better law-enforcement. But they also bring worries about privacy, and of justice systems run by machines not people.  Criminal offences, like infectious disease, form patterns in time and space….

Cops working with predictive systems respond to call-outs as usual, but when they are free they return to the spots which the computer suggests. Officers may talk to locals or report problems, like broken lights or unsecured properties, that could encourage crime. Within six months of introducing predictive techniques in the Foothill area of Los Angeles, in late 2011, property crimes had fallen 12% compared with the previous year; in neighbouring districts they rose 0.5%…

For now, the predictive approach works best against burglary and thefts of vehicles or their contents. These common crimes provide plenty of historical data to chew on. But adding extra types of information, such as details of road networks, can fine-tune forecasts further. Offenders like places where vulnerable targets are simple to spot, access is easy and getaways speedy, says Shane Johnson, a criminologist at University College London. Systems devised by IBM, a technology firm, watch how big local events, proximity to payday and the weather affect the frequency and location of lawbreaking. “Muggers don’t like getting wet,” says Ron Fellows, IBM’s expert.

Predicting and forestalling crime does not solve its root causes. Positioning police in hotspots discourages opportunistic wrongdoing, but may encourage other criminals to move to less likely areas. And while data-crunching may make it easier to identify high-risk offenders—about half of American states use some form of statistical analysis to decide when to parole prisoners—there is little that it can do to change their motivation.

Misuse and overuse of data can amplify biases….But mathematical models might make policing more equitable by curbing prejudice…

This sort of transparency about what goes on in predictive systems, and what their assumptions are, may also be a partial solution to worries voiced by Andrew Ferguson, a law professor in Washington, DC. Mr Ferguson fears that judges and juries could come to place too much credence in the accuracy of crime prediction tools, jeopardising justice.

The legal limits on using social media to fish out likely wrongdoers, or create files on them, are contested. Most laws governing police investigations pre-date social networking, and some forces assert that all information posted to public forums is fair game. But Jamie Bartlett of Demos, a British think-tank, says citizens and police forces need clearer guidance about how to map physical-world privacy rights onto online spaces. He thinks gathering information about how someone behaves on social sites ought to require the same clearance needed to monitor them doggedly in public places. Officers who register anonymously or pseudonymously to read content, or send web crawlers to trawl sites against their owner’s wishes, would require yet more supervision.

Identifying true villains among the oddballs and loudmouths found by social-media searches is tricky. Most police efforts are embryonic. Evgeny Morozov, an academic and technology writer, thinks the privacy-conscious have more to fear from crime detection algorithms cooked up by social networks themselves. Some of those firms already alert investigators when they suspect users of soliciting minors. Unlike the cops they employ clever coders who can process private messages and other data that police may access only with a court order.

These projects make life difficult for many criminals. But smart ones use the internet to make predictions of their own. Nearly 80% of previously arrested burglars surveyed in 2011 by Friedland, a security firm, said information drawn from social media helps thieves plan coups. Status updates and photographs generate handy lists of tempting properties with absent owners. It does not take a crystal ball to work out what comes next.

Predictive policing: Don’t even think about it, Economist,July 20, 2013, at 24

Who is Cryptome?

Cryptome unfamiliar to the general public, is well-known in circles where intelligence tactics, government secrets and whistle-blowing are primary concerns. Since its creation in 1996, Cryptome has amassed more than 70,000 files — including lists of secret agents, high-resolution photos of nuclear power plants, and much more.

Its co-founder and webmaster, a feisty 77-year-old architect, doesn’t hesitate when asked why.  “I’m a fierce opponent of government secrets of all kinds,” says John Young. “The scale is tipped so far the other way that I’m willing to stick my neck out and say there should be none.”  Young describes several exchanges with federal agents over postings related to espionage and potential security breaches, though no charges have ever been filed. And he notes that corporate complaints of alleged copyright violations and efforts to shut Cryptome down have gone nowhere.

For Young, there’s a more persistent annoyance than these: the inevitable comparisons of Cryptome to WikiLeaks, the more famous online secret-sharing organization launched by Julian Assange and others in 2006.  Young briefly collaborated with WikiLeaks’ creators but says he was dropped from their network after questioning plans for multimillion-dollar fundraising. Cryptome operates on a minimal budget — less than $2,000 a year, according to Young, who also shuns WikiLeaks-style publicity campaigns.  “We like the scholarly approach — slow, almost boring,” says Young. He likens Cryptome to a “dusty, dimly lit library.”  That’s not quite the image that Reader’s Digest evoked in 2005, in an article titled “Let’s Shut Them Down.” Author Michael Crowley assailed Cryptome as an “invitation to terrorists,” notably because of its postings on potential security vulnerabilities.Cryptome’s admirers also don’t fully buy into Young’s minimalist self-description….

Young considers himself a freedom-of-information militant, saying he is unbothered by “the stigma of seeming to go too far.” Claims that Cryptome aids terrorists or endangers intelligence agents are “hokum,” he said. “We couldn’t possibly publish information to aid terrorists that they couldn’t get on their own,” he said, depicting his postings about security gaps as civic-minded.  “If you know a weakness, expose it, don’t hide it,” he said…

As a motto of sorts, the Cryptome home page offers a quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung: “The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community.”  The website says Cryptome welcomes classified and confidential documents from governments worldwide, “in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance.”  Young attributes Cryptome’s longevity and stature to its legion of contributors, most of them anonymous, who provide a steady stream of material to post.  Among the most frequently downloaded of Cryptome’s recent postings were high-resolution photos of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after it was badly damaged in the March 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster.

Cryptome also was a pivotal outlet last year for amorous emails between national security expert Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon, which led McGurk to withdraw as the Obama administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq.  Other documents on the site list names of people purported to be CIA sources, officers of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, and spies with Japan’s Public Security Investigation Agency….

Another exchange with the FBI came in November 2003, according to Young, when two agents paid him a visit to discuss recent Cryptome postings intended to expose national security gaps. The postings included maps and photos of rail tunnels and gas lines leading toward New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention was to be held the next year….Another confrontation occurred in 2010, when Cryptome posted Microsoft’s confidential Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, outlining its policies for conducting online surveillance on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Contending that the posting was a copyright violation, Microsoft asked that Cryptome be shut down by its host, Network Solutions. Criticism of Microsoft followed, from advocates of online free speech, and the complaint was withdrawn within a few days….

Moreover, Young urges Cryptome’s patrons to be skeptical of anything placed on the site, given that the motives of the contributors may not be known.  “Cryptome, aspiring to be a free public library, accepts that libraries are chock full of contaminated material, hoaxes, forgeries, propaganda,” Young has written on the site. “Astute readers, seeking relief from manufactured and branded information, will pick and choose…”

Excerpts from DAVID CRARY, Older, Quieter Than WikiLeaks, Cryptome Perseveres, Associated Press, Mar. 9, 2013

Lack of Transparency – Drone Strikes

As scrutiny and debate over the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) [drones or UAVs] by the American military increased last month, the Air Force reversed a policy of sharing the number of airstrikes launched from RPAs in Afghanistan and quietly scrubbed those statistics from previous releases kept on their website.  In October 2012, Air Force Central Command started tallying weapons releases from RPAs, broken down into monthly updates.

The Air Force maintained that policy for the statistics reports for November, December and January. But the February numbers, released March 7, contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been. Additionally, monthly reports hosted on the Air Force website have had the RPA data removed.   Those files still contained the RPA data as of Feb. 16, according to archived web pages accessed via Archive.org. Metadata included in the new, RPA-less versions of the reports show the files were all created Feb. 22.

Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks said the department was not involved in the decision to remove the statistics. AFCENT did not respond to a request for comment by press time.The data removal coincided with increased scrutiny on RPA policy caused by President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan faced opposition in the Senate over the use of RPAs and his defense of their legality in his role as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).  That same day, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told a crowd in South Carolina that strikes by American RPAs have killed 4,700 people.  “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida,” Graham was quoted by the Patch website as saying.

Excerpts, Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta AF removes RPA airstrike number from summary, Air Force Times, Mar 8, 2013

 

Keep Talking, the State Listens

DARPA is funding a project that uses crowdsourcing to improve how machines analyze our speech. Even more radical: DARPA wants to make systems so accurate, you’ll be able to easily record, transcribe and recall all the conversations you ever have... But it’s not just about better recordings of what you say. It’ll lead to more recorded conversations, quickly transcribed and then stored in perpetuity — like a Twitter feed or e-mail archive for everyday speech. Imagine living in a world where every errant utterance you make is preserved forever.

University of Texas computer scientist Matt Lease… has attracted enough attention for Darpa to award him a $300,000 award over two years to study the new project, called “Blending Crowdsourcing with Automation for Fast, Cheap, and Accurate Analysis of Spontaneous Speech.” The project envisions a world that is both radically transparent and a little freaky.

The idea is that business meetings or even conversations with your friends and family could be stored in archives and easily searched. The stored recordings could be held in servers, owned either by individuals or their employers….

How? The answer, Lease says, is in widespread use of recording technologies like smartphones, cameras and audio recorders — a kind of “democratizing force of everyday people recording and sharing their daily lives and experiences through their conversations.” But the trick to making the concept functional and searchable, says Lease, is blending automated voice analysis machines with large numbers of human analysts through crowdsourcing. That could be through involving people “strategically,” to clean up transcripts where machines made a mistake. Darpa’s older EARS project relied entirely on automation, which has its drawbacks….

Crowdsourcing is all about harnessing distributed networks of people — crowds — to do tasks better and more efficiently than individuals or machines. Recently, that’s meant harnessing large numbers of people to build digital maps, raising funds for a film project at Kickstarter, or doing odd-jobs at Amazon Mechanical Turk — one system being studied as part of the project. Darpa has also taken an interest in crowdsourcing as a way to analyze vast volumes of intelligence data, and Darpa’s sibling in the intelligence community, IARPA, has researched crowdsourcing as a way to find the best intelligence predictions.

It also raises some thorny legal and social questions about privacy. For one, there is an issue with “respecting the privacy rights of multiple people involved,” Lease says. One solution, for a business conference that’s storing and transcribing everything said by the participants, could be a mutual agreement between all parties. He adds that technical issues when it comes to archiving recorded speech are still open questions, but people could potentially hold their cell phone conversations on remote servers; or on individual, privately-held servers.

The other problem is figuring out how to search massive amounts of transcribed speech, like how search engines such as Google use complex algorithms to match and optimize search queries with results that are likely to be relevant. Fast and cheap web analytics — judging what people type and matching it up to what they click — is one way to do it. Studying focus groups are more precise, but expensive. A third way, Lease suggests, is using more crowdsourcing as a sort of a “middle-ground” between the two methods.

But it’s unknown how the research will be applied to the military. Lease wouldn’t speculate, and it’s still very much a basic research project. Though if it’s similar to EARS at all, then it may not be too difficult to figure out. A 2003 memorandum from the Congressional Research Service described EARS as focusing on speech picked up from broadcasts and telephone conversations, “as well as extract clues about the identity of speakers” for “the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities.” Though Lease didn’t mention automatically recognizing voices. But the research may not have to go that far — if we’re going to be recording ourselves.

Excerpt, BY ROBERT BECKHUSEN, Darpa Wants You to Transcribe, and Instantly Recall, All of Your Conversations, Wired, Mar. 4, 2013

Coerced Transparency: Leaked Climate Change Report

The fifth assessment report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is not due to be published in full until September 2013, was uploaded onto a website called Stop Green Suicide on Thursday and has since been mirrored elsewhere on the internet.  The IPCC, which confirmed the draft is genuine, said in a statement: “The IPCC regrets this unauthorized posting which interferes with the process of assessment and review. We will continue not to comment on the contents of draft reports, as they are works in progress.”

A little-known US-based climate sceptic called Alex Rawls, who had been accepted by the IPCC to be one of the report’s 800 expert reviewers, admitted to leaking the document. In a statement posted online, he sought to justify the leak: “The addition of one single sentence [discussing the influence of cosmic rays on the earth’s climate] demands the release of the whole. That sentence is an astounding bit of honesty, a killing admission that completely undercuts the main premise and the main conclusion of the full report, revealing the fundamental dishonesty of the whole.”  Climate sceptics have heralded the sentence – which they interpret as meaning that cosmic rays could have a greater warming influence on the planet than mankind’s emissions – as “game-changing”.

The isolation by climate sceptics of one sentence in the 14-chapter draft report was described as “completely ridiculous” by one of the report’s lead authors. Prof Steve Sherwood, a director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, told ABC Radio in Australia: “You could go and read those paragraphs yourself and the summary of it and see that we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible … It’s a pretty severe case of [cherry-picking], because even the sentence doesn’t say what [climate sceptics] say and certainly if you look at the context, we’re really saying the opposite.”  The leaked draft “summary for policymakers” contains a statement that appears to contradict the climate sceptics’ interpretation.  It says: “There is consistent evidence from observations of a net energy uptake of the earth system due to an imbalance in the energy budget. It is virtually certain that this is caused by human activities, primarily by the increase in CO2 concentrations. There is very high confidence that natural forcing contributes only a small fraction to this imbalance.”  By “virtually certain”, the scientists say they mean they are now 99% sure that man’s emissions are responsible. By comparison, in the IPCC’s last report, published in 2007, the scientists said they had a “very high confidence” – 90% sure – humans were principally responsible for causing the planet to warm.

Richard Betts, a climate scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre and an AR5 lead author, tweeted that the report is still a draft and could well change: “Worth pointing out that the wording in the leaked IPCC WG1 [working group 1, which examines the “physical science basis” of climate change] draft chapters may still change in the final versions, following review comments.”  Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said that Rawls appeared to have broken the confidentiality agreement signed by reviewers: “As a registered reviewer of the IPCC report, I condemn the decision by a climate change sceptic to violate the confidentiality of the review process. The review of the IPCC report is being carried out in line with the principles of peer review which operate throughout academic science, including an expectation of high standards of ethical behaviour by reviewers. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that climate change sceptics have been unable to meet these high standards of ethical behaviour.”

The IPCC, which publishes a detailed synthesis of the latest climate science every seven years to help guide policy makers, has experienced leaks before. In 2000, the third assessment report was leaked to the New York Times, while the fourth assessment report was published in 2006 by the US government a year ahead of its official publication.

Prof Bill McGuire, Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London and contributing author on the recent IPCC report on climate change and extreme events, said that sceptics’ reading of the draft was incorrect: “Alex Rawls’ interpretation of what IPCC5 says is quite simply wrong. In fact, while temperatures have been ramping up in recent decades, solar activity has been pretty subdued, so any interaction with cosmic rays is clearly having minimal – if any – effects. IPCC AR5 reiterates what we can be absolutely certain of: that contemporary climate change is not a natural process, but the consequence of human activities.”

Prof Piers Forster, Professor of Climate Change at the University of Leeds, said: “Although this may seem like a ‘leak’, the draft IPCC reports are not kept secret and the review process is open. The rationale in not disseminating the findings until the final version is complete, is to try and iron out all the errors and inconsistencies which might be inadvertently included. Personally, I would be happy if the whole IPCC process were even more open and public, and I think we as scientists need to explore how we can best match the development of measured critical arguments with those of the Twitter generation.”

Landmark climate change report leaked online, Guardian, Dec. 14,2012