Digest: 25 March 2014




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In Invasion of the Data Snatchers, Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood (via TomDispatch) discuss the growth of the “Internet of Things”.  Appliances and other electronic devices in the home are increasingly being fitted with sensors to be networked online. The information they impart is collected by companies called information aggregators that specialize in developing as complete a picture as possible on as many people as possible. The benign justification for this is that companies will be better equipped to serve customers if they know what customers are likely to want, but the other side of the coin is the fast approaching total dissolution of privacy not only as regards our movements and communications, but also our habits within our homes. The area is minimally regulated and the government is a key user of the aggregators’ product.


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In 7 Million Premature Deaths Annually Linked to Air Pollution, the World Health Organization present their recent finding that air pollution is now the single largest environmental health risk. Based on 2012 mortality data and global data mapping of pollution emissions, air pollution has now been more strongly linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other serious respiratory ailments.  These rising health costs are expected to outweigh the short-term benefits of unsustainable policies in a variety of sectors.


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In Mr. Putin and the Art of the Offensive Defense, Fiona Hill (via Brookings Institution) examines the basis of Putin’s approach to domestic and foreign policy.  First she looks at his personal and ideological background and considers how it informs his approach to issues of state. She argues that Putin can best be understood as a composite of six identities: the Statist, History Man, Survivalist, Outsider, Free Marketeer, and KGB Case Officer. Then she considers his approach to foreign policy and what he considers to be the major threats to Russia: territorial integrity, political sovereignty, and national identity. Finally she considers what exactly Putin’s game plan is as regards Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and the message he means to send by taking Crimea – essentially, Russian interests must be taken into account or there will be consequences.

In First Amendment Train Wreck in the Making: US Senate Tries to Define Who Is a Journalist, Zaid Jilani (via AlterNet) discusses a bill sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that protects journalists from having to give up their sources. The bill however protects only “covered journalists” and these are defined such as to likely exclude anyone who does not work for an established news source. Traditional media organizations would become the gatekeepers for the publishing of leaks and new media and non-traditional unaffiliated journalists such as bloggers, let alone entities like WikiLeaks, will not be protected.

In A Failure to Protect Our Rights, Faiza Patel (via Al Jazeera America) discusses how the courts and Congress have allowed the intelligence community to overreach.  The Senate and House Intelligence Committees and the FISA Court were created to contain the intelligence agencies, but they have not done so and cannot be expected to do so in their current form.  Until recently, when the CIA spied on Diane Feinstein’s staffers, she had been outspoken in defense of the NSA collection of data, as the President has been. They argue that Congress and the FISA Court are adequate checks, but until the Snowden leak there really hadn’t been any checks to speak of.  It remains to be seen whether this will change.


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In More Americans Killed By Police Than By Terrorists: With Crime Down, Why Is Police Aggression Up?, Dave Lindorff (via AlterNet) discusses the increasing militarization of police and police tactics in the US.  Despite falling crime figures that are not causally aligned with police militarization or even necessarily with increased police funding, US spending on policing has increased from forty to a hundred billion dollars since 1982. SWAT team raids have increased dramatically and now count in the high tens of thousands per year.  Police lives are better protected, but the number of collateral civilian deaths has been rising and officers are rarely held accountable for their mistakes that result in the killing of innocents.  Public indifference is evident as the US is quickly turning into a paramilitary police state.

In The Curious Nature of Sharing Cascades on Facebook, MIT Technology Review discusses advances in efforts to predict the popularity of a photograph shared on Facebook. Researchers have been studying the share-cascade patterns of photographs to determine the factors that contribute to their success.  Until recently it had been difficult to predict success due to the high number of factors at play, but now it seems that certain characteristics of cascades can be predicted with remarkable accuracy, and this will be able to be applied to predict the likelihood of viral sharing. It is thought that the findings will not only be applicable to Facebook sharing, but will prove to be relevant in other settings as well.