Google Challenges Obama Administration Over Spying Program Gag Order

Google on Tuesday sharply challenged the federal government’s gag order on its Internet surveillance program, citing what it described as a First Amendment right to divulge how many requests it receives from the government for data about its customers in the name of national security.

The move came in a legal motion filed in the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and was aimed at mending Google’s reputation after it was identified this month as one of nine U.S. Internet companies that gave the National Security Agency access to data on its customers. Revelations about the program, known as PRISM, by a former NSA contractor has cracked open a broader debate about the privacy of American’s communications from government monitoring.

The publication of such data requests would answer questions about the number of Google users or accounts affected by U.S. intelligence activities. But it wouldn’t answer more critical questions on how much data is being disclosed, including whether information belonging to Americans has been swept up into investigations on a foreign targets.

“Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” according to the company’s motion. “Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities.”

Google has previously disclosed the number of data requests it receives from civilian law enforcement.

Read more here.

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Senator Ted Cruz Reads from ‘Twitterverse’ Praising Rand Paul Filibuster

Obama’s DHS Cyber Army Targets Anti-Obama Sites

What happened to the conservative blogosphere?

That’s the title of a recent post by Eric Odom of Liberty News, who’s pondering the question after studying the decline of conservative blogs since he last did a survey in 2009.

Well, in one respect Eric is correct when he notes:

Truthfully, blogging takes a lot of work. Time is required and a lot of it if you want readers. Especially now that an active social media presence is needed to drive growth and personal influence.

He’s exactly right on that one, as I would estimate I spend between 15 and 20 hours a week working on this site. That’s not necessarily just doing the writing, but promotion, attending events I cover, and reading other news sites to pick up ideas and trends. I’ve been blessed with a mind which rarely encounters writer’s block, but as a tradeoff readers may notice I veer onto non-political avenues once in awhile. (The best case in point is my Delmarva Shorebirds coverage, mostly during the summer. Local music also finds its way here.)

Yet if I were to survey the many thousands of bloggers who have left the field since 2009, my wager is that a significant number of them have simply traded in their blogs for other communication venues, particularly Twitter. WordPress is pretty easy for me to work with, but it’s no match for Tweeting to those who used to simply link to another post and perhaps add a line or two of commentary. 140 characters is about the length of a good-sized sentence like the example you’re reading, and for many it’s enough to express a thought. If they need a little more space, there’s always a Facebook page. It’s far easier to be the master of a Facebook page or a Twitter account than the servant of a blog site where new content is demanded regularly.

There’s also the idea of having to build and keep an audience, which is difficult because it requires that same consistent approach. I once read that the key to blogging success is to write 2500 words a day, which is generally more than I put in. My output is usually about half that, although my Ten Question Tuesday segments so far have exceeded that 2500-word figure. Of course, I didn’t have to be creative for those aside from coming up with the questions and tenor of the conversation. To be able to write creatively at such a pace it would also be to have my sole source of income and thus far that’s not been a doable option.

It occurred to me that I had my own (partial) list of blogs from back around that time, as the also now-defunct BlogNetNews used to “rank” conservative websites in Maryland. This was the list I had from 2008 as I compiled my own ranking of these sites – out of those twenty I believe this site, Red Maryland, and The Hedgehog Report are the only ones still posting on a regular basis.

Read more here.

U.N. to Seek Control of the Internet

Next week the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union will meet in Dubai to figure out how to control the Internet. Representatives from 193 nations will attend the nearly two week long meeting, according to news reports.

“Next week the ITU holds a negotiating conference in Dubai, and past months have brought many leaks of proposals for a new treaty. U.S. congressional resolutions and much of the commentary, including in this column, have focused on proposals by authoritarian governments to censor the Internet. Just as objectionable are proposals that ignore how the Internet works, threatening its smooth and open operations,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day. …

Read more here.

Senate bill rewrite lets feds read your e-mail without warrants

A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans’ e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law, CNET has learned.

Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns, according to three individuals who have been negotiating with Leahy’s staff over the changes. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans’ e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Leahy’s rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — to access Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

CNET obtained a draft of the proposed amendments from one of the people involved in the negotiations with Leahy; it’s embedded at the end of this post. The document describes the changes as “Amendments intended to be proposed by Mr. Leahy.”

It’s an abrupt departure from Leahy’s earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill “provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by… requiring that the government obtain a search warrant.”

Leahy had planned a vote on an earlier version of his bill, designed to update a pair of 1980s-vintage surveillance laws, in late September. But after law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association organizations objected to the legislation and asked him to “reconsider acting” on it, Leahy pushed back the vote and reworked the bill as a package of amendments to be offered next Thursday. The package (PDF) is a substitute for H.R. 2471, which the House of Representatives already has approved.

One person participating in Capitol Hill meetings on this topic told CNET that Justice Department officials have expressed their displeasure about Leahy’s original bill. The department is on record as opposing any such requirement: James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, has publicly warned that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations.

Read more here.

U.N. plotting takeover of Internet

The United Nations is about to discuss whether it should have the power to regulate the Internet.

Next month, the 12th World Conference on International Telecommunications, or WCIT-12, will be held in Dubai. At the meeting, the 193 member countries of the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, will consider renegotiating a fairly obscure treaty known as the International Telecommunication Regulations, or ITRs.

The 24-year-old agreement delineates much of the ITU’s rule-making authority over telecommunications.

The hope of several countries is that they can expand the ITU’s jurisdiction to the Internet, replacing the current governing system with one that is controlled by a U.N. bureaucracy.

The member nations will also consider an “Internet tax” designed to collect money from more affluent nations and redistribute it to poorer nations to improve their Internet infrastructure. ITRs do not currently include regulation of the Internet within their jurisdiction, since they have not been revised since the beginning of the Internet communications era.

In testimony given last May at a hearing of a U.S. House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee, Republicans and Democrats were united in their opposition to any move by Russia and China to transfer control of the Internet to the U.N.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said, “Nations from across the globe will meet at a United Nations forum in Dubai at the end of this year, and if we’re not vigilant, just might break the Internet by subjecting it to an international regulatory regime designed for old-fashioned telephone service.”

Read more here.