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[liberationtech] Various News Items

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Tue Aug 11 20:29:09 PDT 2009

Saturday, Aug. 08, 2009

Tehran's Trials: Blaming the West, Google and Twitter
By TIME Staff

Iran's hard-line regime sharply escalated the postelection confrontation on
Aug. 8 by putting two foreign embassy staffers and a French teacher on trial
alongside dozens of political dissidents. The stepped-up campaign to
characterize the widespread unrest since the June 12 presidential election
as a foreign-led attempted "soft overthrow" appears to be an effort by the
ruling faction to rally the increasingly splintered conservative base
against a popular — and old — enemy: the West.

Following on the heels of an unprecedented mass trial of 100 opposition
figures a week ago, Saturday's session at Tehran's Revolutionary Court
focused on the British embassy's chief political analyst, Hossein Rassam; a
local staff member of the French embassy, Nazak Afshar; and a 24-year-old
French teacher, Clotilde Reisse, who was working and studying in Isfahan,
according to IRNA, Iran's official news agency. In a vague and rambling
indictment, the three were charged with espionage and "acting against the
national security," and for inciting "riots." It went on to blame a litany
of Western intelligence agencies, media organizations and software companies
— including Israel's Mossad spy agency, Facebook, Twitter, the Voice of
America, BBC Persia and even Google's new Persian-to-English translation
software — for their roles in the supposedly vast conspiracy. (See pictures
of protests against the Iranian regime around the world.)

The trial will no doubt bring further condemnation from the international
community. Indeed, the British embassy was stunned that Rassam had been put
on trial: he had been released from the notorious Evin prison on July 19 on
$100,000 bail. But the regime's judicial maneuvers aren't being staged for
an overseas audience, even as it blames foreign powers for trying to topple
the government; rather, Saturday's trial was part of an aggressive strategy
to unite its power base, the coalition of conservative clerics in Qum and
the Tehran-based commanders of the country's sprawling security apparatus.
The masterminds behind the trial — believed to be either Supreme Leader
Ayatullah Ali Khamenei or the commander of the Revolutionary Guards,
Mohammad Ali Jafari, or both — probably realize the proceedings will
convince few supporters of the opposition or the average Tehrani. But the
confessions may galvanize the still substantial bloc of conservative voters,
many of whom are older and rely on state media for news.

In Tehran, a man in his late 50s said he had demonstrated in front of the
British embassy in the aftermath of the election, writing nationalistic
signs like "You are no longer a superpower. We are." He said he has no doubt
that Western intelligence agencies played a significant role in fomenting
postelection unrest, perhaps even in killing protesters. A 60-year-old
veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, who lives in Qum, one of the most consistently
conservative cities in Iran, wholeheartedly agreed with the regime's
scripted story. "Our current problems are all because of foreign agents like
the BBC ... This country is now under attack," he said.

However, it appears to be the opposition that continues to come under
physical attack by the regime. According to reformist website Mosharekat,
relatives and supporters of the dozens of defendants on trial gathered
outside the courthouse and chanted Allahu akbar (God is great) until riot
police moved in to disperse the crowd with tear gas. The other defendants,
who all wore gray prison garb, include Ali Tajernia, a former opposition
lawmaker; Shahaboddin Tabatabaei, a leader of the country's largest
reformist party; and Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist who has written
critically of the regime.

As in the previous trial, confessions were recited. Rassam, the British
embassy's most senior Iranian employee, admitted to his involvement in the
plot, according to IRNA, one of the few state news agencies permitted to
attend the closed proceedings. He said the embassy had a budget of $500,000
to finance opposition groups and political activists and that he personally
contacted the office of thwarted presidential candidate and now leading
opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the run-up to the election. He also
admitted that a local staffer wore green, the color of Mousavi's campaign,
to one of the demonstrations. (See pictures of Mir-Hossein Mousavi behind
the scenes.)

"The British embassy, due to its hostile policies in Iran and fear of
exposure of its contacts inside Iran, employed local staff to establish such
contacts," Rassam was quoted as saying. "I established such contacts based
on orders from embassy officials." The admissions of gathering intelligence
on the demonstrations and opposition movement, according to the prosecutors,
amount to espionage.

Local diplomatic staffer Afshar, who works in the cultural mission of the
French embassy, wept as she explained her role in the postelection unrest,
"I physically attended gatherings ... Brothers at the Intelligence Ministry
made me understand my mistake." Human-rights activists believe the
confessions at these trials have been made under duress. In last week's
trial, observers noted that former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi
appeared confused and seemed to have lost some 20 lb. during his monthlong

Find this article at:,8599,1915399,00.html

Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 22:55:44 -0400 (EDT)
From: George Lessard <media at>
From: David P. Dillard <jwne at>

Chinese Bloggers Shuffling Words to Avoid Censorship

Bloggers in China are taking creative measures, such
as shuffling words and posting screenshots of text,
to avoid government censorship, reported.

According to's Graham Webster, the word
shuffling is particularly effective because of the
Chinese language's ideographic writing system, which
makes it "easier to read in odd inversions than most
alphabetic languages."

The screenshot method, Webster says, is also effective,
because "censors aren't very good at parsing text in
a JPEG file."

For more, go to:


>From Slashdot:

Every time a bunch of academics show vulnerabilities in electronic voting
machines, critics complain that the attacks aren't realistic, that attackers
won't have access to source code, or design documents, or be able to
manipulate the hardware, etc. So this time a bunch of computer scientists
from UCSD, Michigan, and Princeton offered a rebuttal. They completely own
the AVC Advantage using no access to source code or design
and deliver a complete working attack in a plug-in cartridge that could be
used by anyone with a few private minutes with the machine. Moreover, they
came up with some cool tricks to do this on a machine protected against
traditional code injection attacks (the AVC processor will only execute
instructions from ROM). The research was presented at this week's USENIX

The government to track web users

A White House proposal to end a long-standing policy forbidding government
websites from tracking users could lead to "the mass collection of personal
information of every user of a federal government website," says the ACLU.

Civil liberties groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information
Center are lining up against a plan, proposed by the Obama administration,
to end a policy that has been in place since 2000 preventing government
websites from installing tracking cookies on users' computers.

“This is a sea change in government privacy policy,” said Michael
Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in
a statement. “Without explaining this reversal of policy, the [White House
Office of Management and Budget] is seeking to allow the mass collection of
personal information of every user of a federal government website. Until
the OMB answers the multitude of questions surrounding this policy shift, we
will continue to raise our strenuous objections.”

Opponents of the proposal point out that tracking cookies can be used not
only to keep track of what an individual has done or seen on the website in
question, but also to track what other websites that person has visited, and
what personal information they have handed over to the website. Thus, it is
often possible to identify a computer user based on data stored in tracking

"It appears that these companies are forcing the government to lower the
privacy protections that the government had promised the American people,"
Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the
Washington Post. "The government should be requiring companies to raise the
level of privacy protection if they want government contracts."

According to the Post, the EFF and EPIC are pointing to "an unnamed federal
government agency" that signed a contract with Google earlier this year that
"carved out an exemption from the ban so that the agency could use Google's
YouTube video player."

To many privacy watchdogs, that agreement is the thin end of the wedge that
will allow the government to monitor ever more closely people's activities
on government websites.

"EPIC strongly favors public access to new media and the government’s
innovative use of new technology," the group said in a statement. "At the
same time, we think it is unnecessary and shortsighted to allow government
agencies to stalk citizens with persistent identifiers."

But supporters of the proposed change to government policy "say social
networking and similar services, which often take advantage of the tracking
technologies, have transformed how people communicate over the Internet, and
Obama's aides say those services can make government more transparent and
increase public involvement," the Post reports.

-- Daniel Tencer

Forbes O'Reilly Insights

Gov 2.0: The Promise Of Innovation
Tim O'Reilly, 08.10.09, 6:00 PM ET

Over the past 15 years, the World Wide Web has created remarkable new
business models reshaping our economy. As the Web has undermined old media
and software companies, it has demonstrated the enormous power of a new
model, often referred to as Web 2.0.

Now, a new generation has come of age with the Web and is committed to using
its lessons of creativity and collaboration to address challenges facing our
country and the world. The Facebook Causes application has more than 60
million registered users who are leveraging the power of social networks to
raise money for charity. helps interest groups formed on the Web
get together in person--and a remarkable number of groups do so for civic
purposes. A quick search turns up nearly 20,000 meetups devoted to cleaning
up local parks, streets and neighborhoods. Twitter and YouTube have played
major roles in helping organize political protests in Iran's recent
election. Everyblock and Stumblesafely take government crime statistics and
turn them into public safety applications for the Web or iPhone. The list
goes on.

Meanwhile, with the proliferation of issues and not enough resources to
address them all, many government leaders recognize the opportunities
inherent in harnessing a highly motivated and diverse population not just to
help them get elected, but to help them do a better job. By analogy, many
are calling this movement "Government 2.0."

President Obama exhorted us to rise to the challenge: "We must use all
available technologies and methods to open up the federal government,
creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted
in Washington, and giving Americans the chance to participate in government
deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few
years ago."

There is a new compact on the horizon: Government maintains information on a
variety of issues, and that information should rightly be considered a
national asset. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill
sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as
nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens
where and when they need it. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation
that will result in an improved approach to governance.

This is a radical departure from the old model of government, which Donald
Kettl so aptly named "vending machine government." We pay our taxes; we get
back services. And when we don't get what we expect, our "participation" is
limited to protest--essentially, shaking the vending machine.

In the vending-machine model, the full menu of available services is
determined beforehand. A small number of vendors have the ability to get
their products into the machine, and as a result, the choices are limited,
and the prices are high.

Yet there is an alternate model, which is much closer to the kind of
government envisioned by our nation's founders, a model in which, as Thomas
Jefferson wrote in a letter to Joseph Cabel, "every man … feels that he is a
participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day
in the year, but every day." In this model, government is a convener and an
enabler--ultimately, it is a vehicle for coordinating the collective action
of citizens.

So far, you may hear echoes of the dialog between liberals and conservatives
that has so dominated political discourse in recent decades. But big
government versus small government is in many ways beside the point. To
frame the debate in terms familiar to technologists, the question is whether
government is successful as a platform.

If you look at the history of the computer industry, the most successful
companies are those that build frameworks that enable a whole ecosystem of
participation from other companies large and small. The personal computer
was such a platform. So was the World Wide Web. But this platform dynamic
can be seen most vividly in the recent success of the Apple iPhone. Where
other phones have a limited menu of applications developed by the phone
provider and a few carefully chosen partners, Apple built a framework that
allowed virtually anyone to build applications for the phone, leading to an
explosion of creativity, with more than 50,000 applications appearing for
the phone in less than a year, and more than 3,000 new ones now appearing
every week.

This is the right way to frame the question of "Government 2.0." How does
government itself become an open platform that allows people inside and
outside government to innovate? How do you design a system in which all of
the outcomes aren't specified beforehand, but instead evolve through
interactions between the technology provider and its user community?

The Obama administration's technology team has taken the first steps toward
rethinking government as a platform provider. One of the first acts by Vivek
Kundra, the national CTO, was to create, a catalog of all the
federal government's Web services. (Web services, as opposed to static
government Web sites, provide raw government data, allowing third parties to
build alternate services and interfaces to government programs.) The
Sunlight Foundation's Apps for America Contest (modeled on the successful
Apps for Democracy program that Kundra ran while CIO of Washington, D.C.) is
seeking to kick off the virtuous circle of citizen innovation using these
data services.

Rather than licensing government data to a few select "value added"
providers, who then license the data downstream, the federal government (and
many state and local governments) are beginning to provide an open platform
that enables anyone with a good idea to build innovative services that
connect government to citizens, give citizens visibility into the actions of
government and even allow citizens to participate directly in policy-making.

That's Government 2.0: technology helping build the kind of government the
nation's founders intended: of, for and by the people.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, a premier computer
book publisher. O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics.
Tim is chairing the upcoming Gov 2.0 Summit with Richard O'Neill, founder
and president of The Highlands Group. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar,
"watches the alpha geeks" and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues
of importance to the technical community. He can also be found as
@timoreilly on Twitter.
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