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Paul Merrell

'You Betrayed Us' Billboards Targeting Anti-Privacy Lawmakers Erected - 0 views

  • Billboards targeting legislators who voted to end online privacy measures earlier this year have gone up in key districts, as promised by activists.

    Digital rights group Fight for the Future vowed to put up the ads against Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and John Rutherford (R-Fla.), Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), as well as other lawmakers after they voted in favor of a resolution, introduced by Flake, that overturned federal rules preventing broadband providers from selling user data to third parties without consent.

    Blackburn, Rutherford, Flake, and Heller took large contributions from the telecommunications industry before supporting the resolution, Fight for the Future said. The billboards—paid for through a crowdfunded campaign—encourage viewers to contact the lawmakers’ offices and ask why they voted against their constituents’ privacy rights.

  • Flake’s resolution was introduced under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives lawmakers the authority to overturn recently-introduced agency rules with a simple majority. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented the data-sharing ban in October.

    Once a rule is repealed under the CRA, an agency cannot reintroduce it without specific authorization by a new law.

Paul Merrell

NSA head: We need bulk collection | TheHill - 0 views

  • The head of the National Security Agency on Thursday told Senate lawmakers that preventing his agency from collecting Americans’ information in bulk would make it harder to do its job.

    Under questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Adm. Michael Rogers agreed that ending bulk collection would “significantly reduce [his] operational capabilities.”

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    “Right now, bulk collection gives us the ability ... to generate insights as to what’s going on,” Rogers told the committee.

    The NSA head also referenced a January report from the National Academy of Sciences that concluded there is “no software technique that will fully substitute for bulk collection” because of the ability to search through the storehouse of old information. 

    “That independent, impartial, scientifically-founded body came back and said no, under the current structure there is no real replacement,” Rogers said.

    Rogers was questioned on Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee who has become its most vocal privacy hawk.

  • In response to the NSA head’s comments, Wyden pointed to a 2013 White House review group, which found that one controversial NSA bulk collection program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and that the information obtained by the NSA “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using” other means.

    The debate follows on a congressional clash earlier this year over the NSA’s bulk collection of records about the phone calls of millions of Americans. The records contained information about whom people called and when but not what they talked about.

  • After a brief lapsing of some portions of the Patriot Act, Congress eventually reined in the NSA by forcing it to go through the courts to search private phone companies’ records for a narrower set of records. 

    Many privacy advocates treated the new law, called the USA Freedom Act, as a significant victory, through national security hawks worried that it would make it harder for the NSA to track terrorists.

    Under the new system — which has not gone into effect yet — the amount of time it takes to obtain those records “is probably going to be longer I suspect,” Rogers said.

    Though the phone records database has been the NSA’s most prominent bulk collection program, it is not the only one. The agency’s collection of vast amounts of Internet data has alarmed many privacy advocates and is the target of a current lawsuit from Wikipedia and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Paul Merrell

Lawmakers Say TPP Meetings Classified To Keep Americans in the Dark | Global Research - 0 views

  • US Trade Representative Michael Froman is drawing fire from Congressional Democrats for the Obama adminstration’s continued imposition of secrecy surrounding the Trans-Pacific Parternship. (Photo: AP file)

    Democratic lawmaker says tightly-controlled briefings on Trans-Pacific Partnership deal are aimed at keeping US constituents ignorant about what’s at stake

    Lawmakers in Congress who remain wary of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement are raising further objections this week to the degree of secrecy surrounding briefings on the deal, with some arguing that the main reason at least one meeting has been registered “classified” is to help keep the American public ignorant about giveaways to corporate interests and its long-term implications.

  • Among its other critics, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has slammed the idea of ISDS provisions as a surrender of democratic ideals to corporate interests. According to Warren, ISDS would simply “tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations.” By having unchallenged input on secretive TPP talks, Warren argued last month, these large companies and financial interests “are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like.”

    According to Grayson, putting Wednesday’s ISDS briefing in a classified setting “is part of a multi-year campaign of deception and destruction. Why do we classify information? It’s to keep sensitive information out of the hands of foreign governments. In this case, foreign governments already have this information. They’re the people the administration is negotiating with. The only purpose of classifying this information is to keep it from the American people.”

  • “I’m not happy about it,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) told the Huffington Post, referring to the briefing with Froman and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Wednesday. The meeting—focused on the section of the TPP that deals with the controversial ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) mechanism—has been labeled “classified,” so that lawmakers and any of their staff who attend will be barred, under threat of punishment, of revealing what they learn with constituents or outside experts.

    According to the Huffington Post:

    ISDS has been part of U.S. free trade agreements since NAFTA was signed into law in 1993, and has become a particularly popular tool for multinational firms over the past few years.

    But while the topic remains controversial, particularly with Democrats, many critics of the administration emphasize that applying national security-style restrictions on such information is an abuse of the classified information system. An additional meeting earlier on Wednesday on currency manipulation with Froman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is not classified.

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  • As The Hill reports:

    Members will be allowed to attend the briefing on the proposed trade pact with 12 Latin American and Asian countries with one staff member who possesses an “active Secret-level or high clearance” compliant with House security rules. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told The Hill that the administration is being “needlessly secretive.”

    “Even now, when they are finally beginning to share details of the proposed deal with members of Congress, they are denying us the ability to consult with our staff or discuss details of the agreement with experts,” DeLauro told The Hill.

    Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) condemned the classified briefing.

    “Making it classified further ensures that, even if we accidentally learn something, we cannot share it. What is [Froman]working so hard to hide? What is the specific legal basis for all this senseless secrecy?” Doggett said to The Hill.

    “Open trade should begin with open access,” Doggett said. “Members expected to vote on trade deals should be able to read the unredacted negotiating text.”

Paul Merrell

We finally gave Congress email addresses - Sunlight Foundation Blog - 0 views

  • On OpenCongress, you can now email your representatives and senators just as easily as you would a friend or colleague.

    We've added a new feature to OpenCongress. It's not flashy. It doesn't use D3 or integrate with social media. But we still think it's pretty cool. You might've already heard of it.

    Email.

    This may not sound like a big deal, but it's been a long time coming. A lot of people are surprised to learn that Congress doesn't have publicly available email addresses. It's the number one feature request that we hear from users of our APIs. Until recently, we didn't have a good response.

    That's because members of Congress typically put their feedback mechanisms behind captchas and zip code requirements. Sometimes these forms break; sometimes their requirements improperly lock out actual constituents. And they always make it harder to email your congressional delegation than it should be.

  • This is a real problem. According to the Congressional Management Foundation, 88% of Capitol Hill staffers agree that electronic messages from constituents influence their bosses' decisions. We think that it's inappropriate to erect technical barriers around such an essential democratic mechanism.

    Congress itself is addressing the problem. That effort has just entered its second decade, and people are feeling optimistic that a launch to a closed set of partners might be coming soon. But we weren't content to wait.

    So when the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) approached us about this problem, we were excited to really make some progress. Building on groundwork first done by the Participatory Politics Foundation and more recent work within Sunlight, a network of 150 volunteers collected the data we needed from congressional websites in just two days. That information is now on Github, available to all who want to build the next generation of constituent communication tools. The EFF is already working on some exciting things to that end.

  • But we just wanted to be able to email our representatives like normal people. So now, if you visit a legislator's page on OpenCongress, you'll see an email address in the right-hand sidebar that looks like Sen.Reid@opencongress.org or Rep.Boehner@opencongress.org. You can also email myreps@opencongress.org to email both of your senators and your House representatives at once.

    The first time we get an email from you, we'll send one back asking for some additional details. This is necessary because our code submits your message by navigating those aforementioned congressional webforms, and we don't want to enter incorrect information. But for emails after the first one, all you'll have to do is click a link that says, "Yes, I meant to send that email."

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  • One more thing: For now, our system will only let you email your own representatives. A lot of people dislike this. We do, too. In an age of increasing polarization, party discipline means that congressional leaders must be accountable to citizens outside their districts. But the unfortunate truth is that Congress typically won't bother reading messages from non-constituents — that's why those zip code requirements exist in the first place. Until that changes, we don't want our users to waste their time.

    So that's it. If it seems simple, it's because it is. But we think that unbreaking how Congress connects to the Internet is important. You should be able to send a call to action in a tweet, easily forward a listserv message to your representative and interact with your government using the tools you use to interact with everyone else.

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