Archive for the ‘Privacy’ Category

sxsw-interactive-logoIf you are in Austin and registered for SXSW Interactive, check out this session today at 3:30 – Commercial Threats to Freedom of Speech Online



Friday, March 13
3:30PM – 4:30PM
Austin Convention Center, Room 10AB

Globally, there has been much attention paid to the threat that government entities may pose to individuals’ rights to speak and share information freely. However, far less attention has been placed on the role that bad acting companies and other commercial interests play in trying to squelch or suppress public statements and expressions online. From corporations suing respected journalists and news media for speech that they claim is libelous, to bad businesses suing users of online review sites for negative reviews, more and more often, people are finding their freedom of speech threatened online.

This panel of experts will discuss the current commercial threats to freedom of speech online and the possible solutions to this growing issue.


  • Amy Austin is the Publisher of Washington City Paper, an influential and award-winning alternative news media company in Washington DC.
  • Evan Mascagni graduated, summa cum laude, from the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law in 2011.
  • Laura Prather is an attorney with Haynes and Boone LLP in the Litigation Practice Group in the Austin office
  • Paul Alan Levy is an attorney with Public Citizen’s Litigation Group

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Photo by Max Anderson

Photo by Max Anderson

Above All Else had their world premiere to a full audience at South by Southwest in Austin on Monday, March 10, 2014. The film takes an intimate look at a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which carries tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The film focuses on David Daniel, a former circus performer who settled down with his family in the woods of East Texas. David and his family wanted to settle down for a quiet life in the country when something unexpected happens: TransCanada tells him they want to put a pipeline through his property. David begins to build a tree-sit on his property with the help of organizers from the Tar Sands Blockade. The film takes a personal look at how David begins to rally his neighbors and allies to try and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Photo by Vanessa Ramos

Photo by Vanessa Ramos

After the film John Fiege, director, his crew and several people featured in the film answered questions about the film from a lively audience.  Julia Trigg Crawford, one of the landowners featured in the film, said, “It is an unbelievable travesty what happened with David. They’ve taken away his First Amendment right.”

John Fiege and his crew made an excellent film that tells the personal stories of individuals who risked financial ruin, their personal safety, and the security of their families. Above All Else will give anyone interested in the Keystone XL and tar sands issue a different perspective of the fight on the ground.

Above All Else will have two more showings at SXSW this week. The next showing is today, March 11, at SXSatellite: Alamo Village from 4:30 PM to 6:04 PM. The final showing will be Saturday, March 15, at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH from 2:00 PM to 3:34 PM. Check out the Above All Else website and the film’s SXSW page.

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At the intersection of Loop 410 and Military Drive on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas lies the Texas Cryptology Center. It’s a huge and intimidatingly bland building, covered in massive A/C units and shrouded in secrecy. Operated by the NSA, the general function of this spy center was unknown until fairly recently. In fact, one of the only public statements released from the center was in response to signals emanating from the building which were interfering with garage door openers.

Photo: Maryland NSA Headquarters

NSA Headquarters

Then in early 2013, the purpose of the Texas Cryptology Center and several other of the NSA’s behemoth computing centers started to become clear. The now infamous NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency had created, through use of the Patriot Act, a vast and sophisticated network of surveillance under the code name PRISM. This program allows the collection of personal data from some of the internet’s most frequented sites. Companies such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and Skype are all participants. It later broke that the NSA was also monitoring vast quantities of phone calls. All this was done under the guise of national security, and preventing terrorism.

NSA officials initially attempted to calm the frenzied media reaction by saying that only data from international communications was being collected. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked at a hearing whether the National Security Agency collects any data on millions of Americans. “No sir … not wittingly,” Clapper responded, acknowledging there are cases “where inadvertently, perhaps the data could be collected.” It turns out that this statement was dangerously close to a blatant lie. In reality, “The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.” To the NSA’s defense, supposedly only “metadata” is being collected. That is the NSA only records the location, duration, and identities of two callers, but not the content. However, it seems plausible that if the NSA officials lied about not collecting Americans data, then they maybe lying about the kind of data being collected. This is currently just speculation, but it wasn’t long ago that people who were paranoid about Big Brother spying on them were labeled as crazies.

In fact, it’s not just American citizens or international terrorist that should be worried about NSA snooping. While Snowden fled to Hong Kong, and then to Russia seeking political asylum, it was leaked that the NSA had bugged the offices of European Union officials. “The leaked documents suggest the aim of the bugging exercise against the EU embassy in central Washington is to gather inside knowledge of policy disagreements on global issues and other rifts between member states.” While governments spying on each other is nothing new, it’s seems quite brazen for the U.S to treat some of its closest allies with the same lack of respect as suspected terrorist.

Despite the fact that all of this already resembles the plot of a spy movie, the type of revelations coming out now may be just the tip of the iceberg. It’s unclear how much insider information Snowden was able to retrieve about the NSA’s operations, or if he will leak anymore statements about the extent of the snooping. As of right now, business is booming for the NSA. Based on a study of property records, the San Antonio NSA campus “has grown by nearly 135,000 square feet, to almost 633,000 square feet. In 2008, the facility was worth $33.5 million; now it is valued at more than $72 million.” Clearly the NSA anticipates no slowdown in their operations. But if the leaks continue, the citizens of San Antonio might just gain some insight into the Texas Cryptology Center, and how their city plays a key role in the emergence of local and global surveillance.

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Howdy folks.  We’re doing a press conference at 2pm with the League of Women Voters in Houston at the Moody Park Community Center (3725 Fulton, Houston, TX), one of the early voting locations with the most complaints of voter intimidation.  These activities must stop, and this highlights how Houston is ground zero for the creep of illegal, corporate money into our elections.  Here’s an early taste of our press statement we are making.  We hope to have some video available later this afternoon, possibly also video of other early voting activities.

I early voted on Friday at Buda City Hall, standing in a line that snaked around City Hall for 40 minutes.  Have you voted yet?  Get out!  Do it now!

Here’s our press release:

October 25, 2010

don't let voter intimidation sway the election





Last week as early voting for the Nov. 2 General Election got under way, there were complaints of poll watchers interfering with or intimidating voters and other potential election violations in Harris and Bexar Counties.  Our organizations–LWV-Texas, Public Citizen, and Common Cause–condemn any and all attempts to sway this election by controlling who gets to vote.

The right to vote is sacred. People have died for this right, both in our nation’s past and even in our recent history.   Registered citizens should never be turned away from being able to vote.  Our greatest patriots, such as Washington and Lincoln, waged war to insure that taxation without representation did not occur and to protect the notion of government for, of, and by the people. It was a Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who pushed through Congress and then signed the Voting Rights Act which protects the rights of all citizens to register and to vote.

We want to encourage everyone, in Harris County, Bexar County, and across the state, to come out and vote, regardless of ideology, gender, race, income, whether your community is urban, suburban, or rural, and whether your preferred party is Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, or Tea.  Do not let tales of intimidation frighten you away.  Instead, let these concerns be a call to action and a reminder of the importance of every citizen’s right to participate.

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After a grueling 23-hour hearing, the Senate passed SB 362, requiring that voters present a photo identification.  No big surprise there.

The AP reports,

No one was surprised that a special Senate panel, which includes all 31 senators and Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, approved the legislation along straight party lines in a 20-12 vote just before 10 a.m. It was, as one Democratic senator observed, a “foregone conclusion.”

Wednesday’s vote all but assures it will pass and be sent to the House as early as Monday.

Andy didn’t make it back to testify, he had to head off to Dallas before his turn came up.  Lots of people didn’t make it to testify… though as many as 150 folks signed up, only around 25 made it through the night to actually speak.

I’m not sure on the official numbers of how many people dropped cards for or against the bill, but I heard through the grapevine that more people commented against it than for.  Thanks to everyone who made it out — get ready to do it all over again in the House!

Reports Vince Leibowitz at Capitol Annex,

The bill is all but assured a similar party-line vote when it comes up before the full Senate as early as Monday for final passage. The bill will then go to the Texas House, where it will likely be assigned to the House Elections Committee.

Sorry my fellow Good Government watchdogs… our work is never done.  And even then, who will watch the watchmen?

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It is 2am.  I have been listening to the Senate debate voter ID suppression for the past 16 hours. I hope all of you have been following us on Twitter, as some of those tweets were quite entertaining.

I have heard the arguments.  Here are my opinions:

Those opposed to voter ID have successfully proved that this is a solution to a problem that does not exist.  Period.  Years of investigations by the AG’s office costing millions of dollars and not a single indictment.

However, those who are in favor of requiring voters to present picture ID also have a compelling argument that they claim not one person has been kept from voting.  But, I hate to ruin a good story with the facts, but that just ain’t so.  According to the Houston Chronicle today yesterday, over 4200 voters were kept from voting in the 2008 election in Georgia alone, whose law the proposed bill is based on.

As I tweeted earlier, one of the expert witnesses claimed that based on demographics and the experience in Georgia and Indiana, 162,901 Texans would be disenfranchised.

Sounds like a big hurdle for voters to “solve” a problem that doesn’t exist.

I have to get up in 4 hours and go to Dallas.  I’m beat.  I’ll keep the Senate testimony on all night and let it permeate my dreams (scary, no?)  Maybe by the time I wake up they will have gotten to public testimony and I can swing back by the Capitol and testify before heading to Dallas.  Not bloody likely, but I can dream….

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